NOTE - My latest thoughts, a quick summary, and links to the main stories, are here, or at the main menu. Carry on!
David Corn, whose piece in "The Nation" started this scandal, had predicted that the investigation would die in the CIA - George Tenet would stay loyal to George Bush and quash this. Evidently not. One guess - Mr. Tenet, pondering Bush's declining poll numbers and faced with in-house annoyance, decided to do the right thing. One presumes that, with Congress back in town, Mr. Tenet checked with his suporters on both sides of the aisle before proceeding.
So, does this mean that Ambassador Wilson has been telling the truth? A fair response would be, about what? If the CIA thinks a crime may have occurred, it certainly suggests his wife had covert status. However, the MSNBC story suggests that there are two relevant statutes - "Revealing the identities of covert officials is a violation of two laws, the National Agents’ Identity Act and the Unauthorized Release of Classified Information Act." This has me wondering whether Ms. Wilson was not covert, but that her identity was protected by the "Unauthorized Release of Classified Information Act", which is a point to which I will revert after I finish being a Saturday Morning Soccer Dad.
That said, the Ambassador was careful to always speak in hypotheticals about his wife - she may in fact have covert status, but the act of identifying her may not have represented the dire security breach he speculated about with David Corn:
Naming her this way would have compromised every operation, every relationship, every network with which she had been associated in her entire career. This is the stuff of Kim Philby and Aldrich Ames."
I am not ready to jump on his bandwagon just yet, given his earlier exaggerations. However, the fact that the CIA found a basis for a criminal referral is certainly a blow to the White House.
Now, is there a way to pretend that this is all OK for the folks at 1600 Pennsylvania? Not really. Certainly, John Ashcroft may just sit on this. And there is another angle - suppose there were some Congressmen determined to bring this "Ms. Wilson" question up, perhaps during a hearing on the special appropriation for Iraqi reconstruction. Now, the Administration can play the "we don't comment on active criminal investigations" game, which may buy time at the expense of ghastly headlines.
But buy time for what? This story will become the classic cover-up tale the media live for, we will be treated to regular leaks as to the progress (or lack thereof) in the investigation, and for what? Watergate was about protecting Nixon; Whitewater was about protecting Billary!; no one thinks George Bush is involved in this. Losing Karl Rove would be a terrible blow to the White House, but that seems to be the current worst case. Only a cover-up can raise the stakes.
In my humble opinion, the White House needs to get a senior Admin official in front of a friendly Congressional Chairman, admit that it was an innocent mistake, take the pain, and exit. The Hearing Room, if not the Administration.
And was it an innocent mistake? Who knows? Although NBC News does not mention it, the original Robert Novak piece mentioned CIA sources, as well as "senior government officials". TIME magazine found "government officials" willing to chat about Ms. Wilson's status, in a story that also cited "Administration" officials. If one can presume that TIME understands how to attribute sources, it suggests that there were people discussing her covert status beyond the "senior administration officials" focussed upon by David Corn and NBC News.
I initially muddy the waters with this post, and summarize this theme in the timeline. Alternative explanations abound!
UPDATE: TIME pounces on the story! And does the website load the story with a "Twilight Zone" soundtrack, or is that just my imagination? TIME describes the reporting of Robert Novak, but makes no reference whatsoever to their own earlier reporting, including this sentence:
And some government officials have noted to TIME in interviews, (as well as to syndicated columnist Robert Novak) that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. These officials have suggested that she was involved in her husband's being dispatched Niger to investigate reports that Saddam Hussein's government had sought to purchase large quantities of uranium ore, sometimes referred to as yellow cake, which is used to build nuclear devices.
Look, whoever these officials are, they are clearly part of the story. For TIME to feign ignorance of this is bizarre; if the ignorance is unfeigned, it is laughable.
That said, they do link to their earlier story. Maybe they think we are lazy, or stupid.
MORE: Check the comments - Dwight Meredith guides us to more, and we don't even have a cup of coffee before reacting, also in the comments, with more below, and here.
The media silence on this story has puzzled blogspheric observers up to now, but the haze lifts a bit with the WaPo story. Apparently, two White House officials peddled the "Wilson and wife" story to at least six reporters; if Novak was one of them, we doubt the others included the Akron Daily - presumably the WaPo and the NY Times were on the call list.
In which case, in covering this story (or not) the NY Times has spent the summer in the odd position of writing about a White House cover-up of a secret shared by, among others, Rovert Novak, a NY Times reporter, and (if they gossip a bit) the Washington Post. Some dark conspiracy! Furthermore, if Mr. Novak is telling the truth (And TIME's reporting seems to confirm it), the CIA at least initially did not warn people away from Ms. Plame, when given the chance.
OK, Mark Kleiman has thoughts, as does the CalPundit. Josh Marshall has several posts - start here and work down (and maybe up - the day is young). I should move my reaction out of the comments and into a real post. However, it is fascinating that they see darkness where I see light.
MORE: Round up the usual suspects! The perps were probably part of the White House Iraq Group:
Systematic coordination began in August , when Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. formed the White House Iraq Group, or WHIG, to set strategy for each stage of the confrontation with Baghdad. A senior official who participated in its work called it "an internal working group, like many formed for priority issues, to make sure each part of the White House was fulfilling its responsibilities."
...The group met weekly in the Situation Room. Among the regular participants were Karl Rove, the president's senior political adviser; communications strategists Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin and James R. Wilkinson; legislative liaison Nicholas E. Calio; and policy advisers led by Rice and her deputy, Stephen J. Hadley, along with I. Lewis Libby, Cheney's chief of staff.
Hadley and Libby, then.