The lady doth protest too much. Is Andrea Mitchell sitting on a Bob Woodward style revelation about Fitzgerald's investigation into the Plame leak? Does her nagging conscience want her to reveal that she had received an early leak of the news that Ms. Plame was at the CIA?
Twice now, Don Imus has asked Andrea Mitchell to explain why she said, back in October 2003, that among reporters probing the story of the Wilson trip to Niger it was "widely known" that Joe Wilson's wife worked at the CIA.
On November 10, Ms. Mitchell was unprepared, and gave an answer that was comically absurd.
And last Wednesday, November 23, Ms. Mitchell delivered a Thanksgiving turkey. Her new explanation for her Oct 2003 statement is elegant in its simplicity - "I screwed it up". Hmm. Maybe Scooter could try that on at his trial.
However, Don Imus also asked her whether she had been contacted by Fitzgerald's investigation. Her current denial - "in no way" - stands in stark opposition to her comments of Oct 29, 2005 when she appeared on The Tim Russert Show" on CNBC. Is she being deeply evasive and deceptive with her current answer? We can provide a motive!
We roll the transcripts in this recent post, but here is the gist: Ms. Mitchell now claims that when she said, back in 2003, that many reporters had become aware that Ms. Plame was at the CIA, she had become confused about the timeline. What she meant to say, she explains, was that she became aware of Ms. Plame's CIA role when the rest of us did - upon the publication of Bob Novak's column.
Our rebuttal is that in the 2003 interview, Ms. Mitchell had addressed confusion about the timeline in the previous question. Did she become confused herself in the space of fifteen seconds?
As to her new evasion, that "in no way" had she been in contact with the Fitzgerald investigation, the kindest guess we can make is that when speaking with Mr. Imus she became confused and "screwed it up" with her latest answer.
Our less kind guess is that she is being Clintonian - perhaps she talked with investigators before Special Counsel Fitzgerald took over the case on December 30, 2003. But why so deceptive?
And our third choice is that she is, gosh, we don't like this word, lying. According to this Newsday excerpt from March 2004, Ms. Mitchell was certainly intriguing to Mr. Fitzgerald when he issued some subpoenas in January 2004 - not only was she a reporter whose White House contacts were of interest, but she almost certainly appeared on the guest list of the White House reception honoring her husband, Alan Greenspan. She should have had lots to talk about with an FBI investigator, who should have arrived at her doorstep at the behest of Special Counsel Fitzgerald. Yet now she is saying that the conversation never occurred.
Why might she now be so coy about the possibility that she once had a chat with investigators, when she was willing to admit just that only a month ago?
One guess - it was October 29 when she told Tim Russert she had talked with the FBI. Two days later, on November 1, James Taranto of the WSJ unearthed the Oct 2003 transcript, thereby raising the stakes - did Ms. Mitchell tell the FBI that she had prior knowledge of Ms. Plame's CIA employment? Did she specifically deny it? Did they even ask?
We sense her awkwardness - I would be astonished if Fitzgerald went after any journalists for false statements, but he might cast some stony looks in the direction of an uncooperative reporter.
But beyond any problem she might have with Fitzgerald, there is a significant news story here. Ms. Mitchell is not bound by any legal rules or source protection if she wants to describe her own experience with the Plame investigation. What did the investigators ask her about? If they completely ignored her Oct 2003 statement, well, that surely calls into question the thoroughness of their work.
Or, if they did ask about it, what did she tell them? Did she name the sources for her information (unlikely), invoke journalistic privilege, or what? And, as with Woodward, folks might like to know how much of this was shared with her editors, and why it was concealed from her viewers. (Hmm, but Woodward has been getting hammered - maybe she would prefer to avoid that by denying everything? Just a wild guess.)
And keep in mind - the Fitzgerald subpoena in January 2004 was for White House contacts with Ms. Mitchell. If she received a leak about Ms. Plame from one of her State Department sources (as Bob Woodward may have done), Fitzgerald's investigative net might have missed it, and she would the same reason Woodward did to keep mum. News is waiting to be broken!
And who is going to break it? The main stream media seems to be deeply reluctant to chase each other's sources on this story - the prevailing ethos seems to be that each outfit handles their own laundry.
Or maybe there is nothing here; Matt Yglesias of TAPPED notes my earlier post and explains that "I think it's always been clear that Mitchell was somewhere on the mistaken/lying continuum with that one."
Really? Let me add two bits of evidence.
First, we have the living example of Bob Woodward, who did receive an early leak and chose to protect his source by keeping keep quiet rather than risking a court fight he would probably lose. Cliff May, who may know whereof he speaks, addresses this. If keeping quiet was good enough for a Washington legend, who is to say that Ms. Mitchell could not eventually come to a similar realization?
Secondly, check this cryptic comment by Nick Kristof, from his Oct 2003 column in which he described (with no mention of any sources at all!) Ms. Plame's CIA career:
Mrs. Wilson's intelligence connections became known a bit in Washington as she rose in the CIA and moved to State Department cover, but her job remained a closely held secret.
Isn't that pretty much what Ms. Mitchell said?
It [The fact that she worked for the CIA] was widely known among those of us who cover the intelligence community and who were actively engaged in trying to track down who among the foreign service community was the envoy to Niger. So a number of us began to pick up on that. But frankly I wasn't aware of her actual role at the CIA and the fact that she had a covert role involving weapons of mass destruction, not until Bob Novak wrote it.
Let's see - Bob Woodward received a leak and kept quiet. Nick Kristof says Ms. Plame's intelligence connections were "known a bit", although her specific job was not. And Andrea Mitchell said that, among the presumably small group of reporters following the Niger story, her employment at the CIA was "widely known", although her actual role was not.
Those puzzle pieces fit quite nicely - why assume she was wrong, or lying, back then? Especially when her motive to
lie be confused today is so clear.
I would think the press would be buzzing around this. The Woodward revelation was a front page story, so where would similar news about Andrea Mitchell end up?
And who is going to break it? One presumes, at this point, that Tim Russert and Andrea Mitchell have chosen to bury this.
However, if media watchdogs such as Howard Kurtz of the WaPo/CNN, James Taranto of the WSJ, Jack Shafer of Slate, Stephen Spruiell of NRO, and Garrett Graff of FishBowl DC took a look at this, could she duck them all?
I bet she could! But it would be fun to watch her try. Meanwhile, Bernie McGuirk and Don Imus can torment her on a bi-weekly basis.
MORE: We will come back to Nick Kristof, but check his non-denial of prior knowledge of Valerie Plame's CIA connection:
I know Mrs. Wilson, but I knew nothing about her CIA career and hadn't realized she's "a hell of a shot with an AK-47,'' as a classmates at the CIA training "farm,'' Jim Marcinkowski, recalls. I'll be more careful around her, for she also turns out to be skilled in throwing hand grenades and to have lived abroad and run covert operations in some of the world's messier spots. (Mrs. Wilson was not a source for this column or any other that I've written about the intelligence community.)
Uh huh. Well, I know Nick Kristof is a Times columnist, but I don't know his "career" at the Times; maybe he knew Ms. Plame had a desk job at Langley, but did not know her career, either.
And telling us that "Ms. Wilson was not a source for this column or any other that I've written about the intelligence community" certainly does not exclude her prior use as a source on a column about, for example, Iran's nuclear aspirations.