We appraise the WSJ:
The Yellowcake Con
The Wilson-Plame "scandal" was political pulp fiction.
Take me to Mickey D's, I'm loving it (although I will have indigestion shortly). I'll skip past the discussion of thre Butler report and focus on Joe Wilson:
The news is also relevant to the question of whether any crime was committed when a still unknown Administration official told columnist Robert Novak that Mr. Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA employee and that's why he had been recommended for a sensitive mission to Niger.
...In that New York Times piece, readers will recall, Mr. Wilson outed himself as the person who had been sent to Niger by the CIA in February 2002 to investigate claims that Iraq might have been seeking yellowcake ore for its weapons program.
...After the Novak column appeared, Mr. Wilson charged that his wife was outed solely as punishment for his daring dissent from White House policy.
Punishment, revenge, intimidation of other potential whistleblowers - I think all these charges were made, but maybe not all by Wilson. Wilson focussed on intimidation of others, as in the Corn piece. Whatever.
To that end, he has repeatedly denied that his wife played a role in his selection for the mission. "Valerie had nothing to do with the matter," he wrote in his book "The Politics of Truth." "She definitely had not proposed that I make the trip." A huge political uproar ensued.
...But very little of what Mr. Wilson has said has turned out to be true. For starters, his wife did recommend him for that trip. The Senate report quotes from a February 12, 2002, memo from Ms. Plame: "my husband has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity."
So far, so good - I'll accept their recounting (and I know that "recommend" is controversial; "involved" is a slam-dunk). But here comes the legal analysis:
This matters a lot. There's a big difference both legally and ethically between revealing an agent's identity for the revenge purpose of ruining her career, and citing nepotism (truthfully!) to explain to a puzzled reporter why an undistinguished and obviously partisan former ambassador had been sent to investigate this "crazy report" (his wife's words to the Senate). We'd argue that once her husband broke his own cover to become a partisan actor, Ms. Plame's own motives in recommending her husband deserved to become part of the public debate. She had herself become political.
I'll accept that motive matters in terms of political impact, in terms of plausible explanations to a jury, and to the world's ethicists.
However, Ms. Plame's own motives in recommending her husband deserved to become part of the public debate. She had herself become political." does not jibe with the statute. Especially since neither we now, nor the leakers at the time, seemed to believe that she was strongly involved, and was acting with some political motive.
By which I mean, suppose the leakers seriously believed that Ms. Plame was the sinister mastermind of a plot to embarrass Bush. Her plan - send her hubby to Africa, don't sign him to a confidentiality agreement, then hide behind her covert status while feeding him misleading info which he passed to the press. In that wild, unalleged scenario, the prosecutor might find her behavior to be sufficient reason not to charge the heroic White House aides who risked their careers to thwart her.
I don't think that is what the White House staffers believed, and if they did, there are a lot of ways they could have leaked this without legally compromising themselves. My guess - they didn't know her status and, since most CIA agents are not covert, never checked. Reckless disregard is not a compelling defense, however.
Mr. Wilson also seems to have dissembled about how he concluded that there was nothing to the Iraq-Niger uranium story...
I could listen to this story every night.
The Senate Intelligence Committee found, finally, that far from debunking the Iraq-Niger story, Mr. Wilson's debrief was interpreted as providing "some confirmation of foreign government service reporting" that Iraq had sought uranium in Niger.
All of this matters because Mr. Wilson's disinformation became the vanguard of a year-long assault on Mr. Bush's credibility. The political goal was to portray the President as a "liar," regardless of the facts. Now that we know those facts, Americans can decide who the real liars are.
I disagree with their legal theory, but the summary strikes me as accurate. I may not be the best judge of "fair", of course.
And a point to ponder: It's all very well to criticize the media for its silence, but part of the howling in the press was caused by Dems howling to them. The Bush War Room is not shy about putting its message to the press (and they know it will be an uphill tussle on this one), and Bush is certainly out there speaking - this issue will surely come back if the Bush team wants it to.
My guess - the "16 Words" were true, but Clintonian. If the SOTU speechwriters had proposed "23 Words", starting with "The British Government has learned, but we have been unable to verify...", the clause would almost surely have been dropped as confusing and unconvincing. Darn it.
And yes, it did not take speeches from Kerry to trigger a Judith Miller retrospective at the Times. But that's the way it is.