Bob Woodward tosses a spanner into the Plame leak chronology developed by Special Counsel Fitzgerald:
Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward testified under oath Monday in the CIA leak case that a senior administration official told him about CIA operative Valerie Plame and her position at the agency nearly a month before her identity was disclosed.
In a more than two-hour deposition, Woodward told Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald that the official casually told him in mid-June 2003 that Plame worked as a CIA analyst on weapons of mass destruction, and that he did not believe the information to be classified or sensitive, according to a statement Woodward released yesterday.
As noted by Libby's counsel, that does not jibe well with the assertion made by Mr. Fitzgerald at his press conference that "In fact, Mr. Libby was the first official known to have told a reporter when he talked to Judith Miller in June of 2003 about Valerie Wilson." (Give Fitzgerald props for qualifying this with "known to", but check (f) in the ERRATA).
This disclosure by Woodward raises many questions, starting with, why is he only coming forward now, and why is the "senior Administration official" only coming forward now [Note - it seems to be an "Administration official" in Woodward's statement].
However - the goal of the Libby defense team will be to create reasonable doubt about the scenario being presented by Fitzgerald (see indictment). With Bob Woodward as a potential witness, the defense can have fun with an updated version of the old Watergate question - "What else did Fitzgerald not know, and when did he not know it?"
For starters, Andrea Mitchell of NBC has recently backpedaled from her statement of Oct 3, 2003, when she admitted that, among reporters who were probing the Wilson/Niger story, it was "widely known" that Joe Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.
Based on the Woodward story, we have clear indications that at least one reporter, Woodward, knew about a Wilson and wife connection and kept quiet. Is he the only one?
If Fitzgerald lacks for names, we have some here: In addition to Ms. Mitchell, Martin Peretz, Hugh Sidey, Cliff May, and General Vallely may be worth a chat.
The defense is going to hammer this point - reporters are not interested in giving up their sources, and the best way for reporters to avoid a court fight is to conceal the fact that they have relevant information. If Fitzgerald was waiting around for volunteers, that wasn't going to get it done.
Fitzgerald blew it - he had White House phone logs, he had sign in sheets, he had Libby's notes, he had testimony from many, many people, he had two years, and still, somehow, he did not include Bob Woodward on his contacts-of-interest list.
As to the specifics of the Libby indictment, a bold prosecutor might press ahead - arguably, Libby's statement that he believed he was hearing about Plame for the first time when he spoke to Russert is still false, and arguably, Libby's assertions that he sourced his knowledge to other reporters when he spoke to Miller and Cooper are also false.
But it will take a mighty straight-faced jury to focus exclusively on that if the defense can bring in a parade of reporters that may have, directly or indirectly, put the Wilson and wife story in Libby's ear.
And in the court of public opinion, a Bush pardon in Jan 2009 becomes a lot less politically charged if earnest Reps (and John McCain!) are convinced that the prosecution was deeply flawed.
ERRATA: (a) Per the WaPo story, Woodward spoke with "a senior administration official". But in Woodward's statement, he "testified under oath...about small portions of interviews I conducted with three current or former Bush administration officials".
Did the WaPo award a battlefield promotion to one of Woodward's sources? And let's keep an eye on "former".
(b) The WaPo tells us that Libby and Woodward met on June 27. Fair enough, but they also spoke by phone on June 23, the day Libby spoke with Judy Miller. Woodward does not recall a discussion of Wilson's wife, but he has no notes. Groan.
Bonus puzzle - did Libby testify about this conversation? Was it in his notebook, or phone logs? Was he emphatic that he and Woodward did *not* discuss Wilson's wife? Obviously, some answers are better than others for Libby's defense.
(c) Apparently, Woodward spoke with "X" in "mid-June", "Y" on June 20 [the WaPo tells us that "Y" is Andy Card], and Libby on June 23 (telephone) and June 27 (a meeting).
Woodward says that with "Y", "I have no recollection of asking about [Wilson's wife], and that the tape-recorded interview contains no indication that the subject arose."
Well. Why so coy about the first date? If revealing the date would reveal a key clue about the source, it strongly suggests that the source was in on "the secret" from the start. The infamous INR memo was circulated at the State Dept and (we presume) discussed at a White House meeting in mid-June.
(d) Not a flicker at Gamblers Anonymous, where the contract for Libby Guilty has been steady at a 50% probability.
(e) This revelation by Woodward, and the possibility of more by other reporters, may force Fitzgerald to cross the Rubicon and confront the issue of whether Libby, or anyone else, can be prosecuted for misuse of classified information. The earlier analysis was that, by lying about his information from reporters, Libby made that prosecution problematic (mens rea, state of mind, intent - all relevant, all potentially mitigated if Libby thought he was passing along harmless buzz). To counter that, Fitzgerald, figuring that jail is jail, went for the seemingly easier perjury/obstruction charges against Libby.
But if it turns out that it cannot be proven that Libby was lying about hearing it from reporters, Fitzgerald may come back with the big stick. Or go back to Chicago.
(f) Later in his press conference, Fitzgerald says this:
At the end of the day what appears is that Mr. Libby's story that he was at the tail end of a chain of phone calls, passing on from one reporter what he heard from another, was not true.
It was false. He was at the beginning of the chain of phone calls, the first official to disclose this information outside the government to a reporter. And then he lied about it afterwards, under oath and repeatedly.
That looks a bit light just now.
(g) How about Dick Cheney as Woodward's source? I am intrigued by the idea of Cheney emerging from his secure undisclosed location to throw Libby a rope. And I wonder whether Fitzgerald would even think about indicting Cheney for misuse of classified information - can't Cheney go with a "I'm the VP, it's declassified when I say it is?" defense? I don't know the answer to that, but I don't need to.
If Cheney was Woodward's source, I want him impeached on totally different grounds - utter gutlessness. C'mon, the guy who is leading the fight against Al Qaeda can't even stand up in July 2003 and say, "You're damn right I ordered the Code Red"?
If one of Cheney's aides, or someone at State, or even Colin Powell himself wanted to steer clear of legal trouble and watch Fitzgerald's investigation play out, well, whatever. But that won't work with Cheney - if he knew he had personally leaked this in June of 2003, he should have said so a long time ago (I'll settle for October 2003, when the criminal referral was announced).
MORE REACTION: Best title, and contending for best round-up - Decision '08, "Bob Woodward: The Grinch Who Stole Fitzmas".
From Editor and Publisher: Walter Pincus explains his chat with Bob Woodward, and Former Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee throws another log on my fire while defending Bob Woodward's two years of silence:
Former Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee today defended Bob Woodward, who revealed in a story Wednesday that he waited more than two years before disclosing to current Post editors a conversation he had in 2003 with a White House official about CIA Agent Valerie Plame.
"I don't see anything wrong with that," said Bradlee, who ran the Post during the turbulent Watergate coverage that made Woodward famous. "He doesn't have to disclose every goddamn thing he knows."
Really? If this was conventional journalistic ethics at work, how about Andrea Mitchell, then? How about Walter Pincus, who was all over this story in June, has never denied receiving other leaks, and, apparently, was never asked that question by Fitzgerald?
MORE: A quick survey of my friends on the left finds reactions ranging from anger to denial. I take that as good news for Libby.
Ms. Hamsher is focusing on Woodward's report that the national security implications of the Plame leak were minimal. I have more on that here, but let's say, I am skeptical of the leak in the WaPo telling us this:
The CIA has not conducted a formal damage assessment, as is routinely done in cases of espionage and after any legal proceedings have been exhausted.
Please - lives on the line, networks in jeopardy, and the CIA wants to wait three years until the investigation and trial is complete to see if there is a problem?
Nonsense - the CIA doesn't want to prepare an official "No Damage" report that will be subpoenaed by the defense; the informal assessment was (my guess) just as Woodward said.
Jeralyn Merritt: She bets the source is David Wurmser.
I disagree - I am having a hard time believing that the "senior Administration official" (WaPo) who recently stepped forward has previously testified to Fitzgerald or his investigators - what questions could the investigators have been asking that the contact with Woodward never came up?
Per Jane Hamsher, neither Fred Fleitz nor John Bolton have given evidence to Fitzgerald (we are both sure about Bolton; I don't think she is more sure about Fleitz than I am, but I am counting on her).
Other little hints that might support Fleitz - the WaPo says this:
It is unclear what prompted Woodward's original unnamed source to alert Fitzgerald to the mid-June 2003 mention of Plame to Woodward. Once he did, Fitzgerald sought Woodward's testimony, and three officials released him to testify about conversations he had with them. Downie, Woodward and a Post lawyer declined to discuss why the official may have stepped forward this month.
Downie defended the newspaper's decision not to release certain details about what triggered Woodward's deposition because "we can't do anything in any way to unravel the confidentiality agreements our reporters make."
Woodward never mentioned this contact -- which was at the center of a criminal investigation and a high-stakes First Amendment legal battle between the prosecutor and two news organizations -- to his supervisors until last month. Downie said in an interview yesterday that Woodward told him about the contact to alert him to a possible story.
Well. If the question was, why did the official come forward a week late (as opposed to, say, a year late), maybe he/she was traveling, sick, on leave or some such. We have a bit of a hint from Steve Clemons on Oct 27:
...a short while ago -- one of America's top journalists called me to ask what I knew about Fleitz. He said rumors were swirling everywhere and that a "really wild rumor" was that Bob Woodward had a piece appearing in tomorrow's Washington Post focusing on Fleitz. Realize -- NOTHING substantiated here.
Part of the rumor is that Fleitz is on leave.
I just tried to track that down. I just called Fred Fleitz, but got his answering machine and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. I then called Under Secretary of State Bob Joseph's office and talked to a person who told me that Fleitz was on leave for two days but would return to the office Monday morning.
If Woodward was planning a big story, that would tie to the news that he disclosed his situation to Downie last month. Does support for part of the rumor strengthen the whole?
And what happened with Fleitz - cold feet?
Armando at Daily Kos is in denial - Woodward has no cred, this his no effect on the case, move on. Whatever.
Josh Marshall is scratching his head while playing media critic, noting that Woodward should have disclosed his status before opining on this case so often over the past few years. Yes, but the "all reporters are liars" theme hardly helps Fitzgerald.
Finally, the Walter Pincus angle is intriguing. Woodward says he mentioned it to Pincus in June, Pincus says he never could have forgotten that. Puzzling, but we have a different question.
Walter Pincus was all over the Niger/uranium story in June. If Woodward got this leak (he says he did) and Andrea Mitchell got it (she said so, once), how did Pincus miss this angle?
Or did he? It may be worth going back over his reporting to see just what he admitted, and denied. His testimony to Fitzgerald may well have focused exclusively on the specific leak to Pincus that he reported as ocurring on July 12, and skated past the broader question of whether others were leaking in June.
And I'll tell you why I ask - I have always been bothered by a detail in his story. Mr. Pincus says he got a leak similar to the Novak leak on July 12, but didn't believe it. My bafflement - why not, unless he had other, contradictory information? So, had he kicked the "Wilson and wife" story around in June, and satisfied himself, via CIA sources, that there was nothing to it? One wonders.
A lot of the WaPo reporting seems to have been re-archived, because links that worked last summer are failing now. However, here is what Pincus wrote on Oct 12, 2003 that earned him a subpoena:
On July 12, two days before Novak's column, a Post reporter was told by an administration official that the White House had not paid attention to the former ambassador's CIA-sponsored trip to Niger because it was set up as a boondoggle by his wife, an analyst with the agency working on weapons of mass destruction. Plame's name was never mentioned and the purpose of the disclosure did not appear to be to generate an article, but rather to undermine Wilson's report.
I would not describe that as an exhaustive attempt by Mr. Pincus to document his every discussion with Administration officials abput Ms. Plame.