If an editorial can induce aneurysms, the Washington Post may have killed or wounded a significant slice of left-leaning America with their effort on Sunday - in "A Good Leak" they both defend Libby's leak of the NIE to Judy Miller and beat on Joe Wilson. Since they also buried a seemingly-significant story about who at the White House knew what and when on the Niger-uranium question, we wonder if there has been a Ben Domenech-inspired coup at the WaPo. [A more serious defense of the WaPo is here - basically, Woodward, Pincus, and the editors have insider knowledge about who leaked and why.]
First, their praise of the leak, with emphasis added:
A Good Leak
President Bush declassified some of the intelligence he used to decide on war in Iraq. Is that a scandal?
PRESIDENT BUSH was right to approve the declassification of parts of a National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq three years ago in order to make clear why he had believed that Saddam Hussein was seeking nuclear weapons. Presidents are authorized to declassify sensitive material, and the public benefits when they do. But the administration handled the release clumsily, exposing Mr. Bush to the hyperbolic charges of misconduct and hypocrisy that Democrats are leveling.
...There was nothing illegal or even particularly unusual about that; nor is this presidentially authorized leak necessarily comparable to other, unauthorized disclosures that the president believes, rightly or wrongly, compromise national security. Nevertheless, Mr. Cheney's tactics make Mr. Bush look foolish for having subsequently denounced a different leak in the same controversy and vowing to "get to the bottom" of it.
Wow. Of course, these are presumably the same editors hyping the "punish Wilson" excerpt from the Fitzgerald filing, so go figure.
LOTS of reaction at Memeorandum; I may scout a few lefty sites to perform a body count, but let me try to anticipate their outrage on the Wilson segment. To do that I have to take the unaccustomed role of Joe Wilson apologist, but here we go:
Mr. Wilson originally claimed in a 2003 New York Times op-ed and in conversations with numerous reporters that he had debunked a report that Iraq was seeking to purchase uranium from Niger and that Mr. Bush's subsequent inclusion of that allegation in his State of the Union address showed that he had deliberately "twisted" intelligence "to exaggerate the Iraq threat." The material that Mr. Bush ordered declassified established, as have several subsequent investigations, that Mr. Wilson was the one guilty of twisting the truth. In fact, his report supported the conclusion that Iraq had sought uranium.
Well, per the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report from July 2004, it is true that there were aspects of his report that supported that conclusion, since Wilson noted an Iraqi overture from 1999 that may have been related to uranium. However, his report was considered inconclusive. From the report:
Conclusion 13. The report on the former ambassador's trip to Niger, disseminated in March 2002, did not change any analysts' assessments of the Iraq-Niger uranium deal. For most analysts, the information in the report lent more credibility to the original Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports on the uranium deal, but State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) analysts believed that the report supported their assessment that Niger was unlikely to be willing or able to sell uranium to Iraq.
Let's go back to the editorial:
Mr. Wilson subsequently claimed that the White House set out to punish him for his supposed whistle-blowing by deliberately blowing the cover of his wife, Valerie Plame, who he said was an undercover CIA operative. This prompted the investigation by Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald. After more than 2 1/2 years of investigation, Mr. Fitzgerald has reported no evidence to support Mr. Wilson's charge.
As much as I agree, this editorial is appearing in the very same paper that reported this on Saturday, in the lead:
As he drew back the curtain this week on the evidence against Vice President Cheney's former top aide, Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald for the first time described a "concerted action" by "multiple people in the White House" -- using classified information -- to "discredit, punish or seek revenge against" a critic of President Bush's war in Iraq.
And this was in the Friday edition:
Fitzgerald's brief uses unusually strong language to rebut this claim. In light of the grand jury testimony, the prosecutor said, "it is hard to conceive of what evidence there could be that would disprove the existence of White House efforts to 'punish' Wilson."
My goodness, regular readers of the WaPo risk whiplash. [That said, the WaPo editors surely know who Bob Woodward's source is for his Plame leak; they also must know Walter Pincus' source. So they may have unpublished reasons to be skeptical of the "punishment" theory.] Let's press on:
Mr. Libby's motive in allegedly disclosing her name to reporters, Mr. Fitzgerald said, was to disprove yet another false assertion, that Mr. Wilson had been dispatched to Niger by Mr. Cheney. In fact Mr. Wilson was recommended for the trip by his wife.
Devoted Wilso-philes will swoon at the notion that Libby's motive may have been to correct the record. As to the idea that it is a "fact" that Wilson's wife recommended him for the trip, stand back!
Wilson's position has shown admirable flexibility in the face of new facts; here he is chatting with TIME in the famous Matt Cooper article:
In an interview with TIME, Wilson, who served as an ambassador to Gabon and as a senior American diplomat in Baghdad under the current president's father, angrily said that his wife had nothing to do with his trip to Africa. "That is bulls__t. That is absolutely not the case," Wilson told TIME. "I met with between six and eight analysts and operators from CIA and elsewhere [before the Feb 2002 trip]. None of the people in that meeting did I know, and they took the decision to send me. This is a smear job."
The Senate report told a different story - here is Susan Schmidt of the WaPo from July 2004:
Former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, dispatched by the CIA in February 2002 to investigate reports that Iraq sought to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program with uranium from Africa, was specifically recommended for the mission by his wife, a CIA employee, contrary to what he has said publicly.
In any case, both Wilson's position and the coverage at TIME have been evolving - here is a TIME account from August 2005:
...That means Wilson was also shading the story: "Valerie had nothing to do with the matter," he wrote in his 2004 book The Politics of Truth. "She definitely had not proposed that I make the trip." When asked last week by TIME if he still denies that she was the origin of his involvement in the trip, he avoided answering. But he has maintained all along that Administration officials conducted a "smear job" on him and outed his wife in revenge.
Time to survey the battlefield.
MORE: Odd - Joe Wilson emails SusanG at the Daily Kos, but skips past the spousal question to focus on the schizophrenia at the WaPo. Joe and I, thinking as one - that ought to make at least one of us uncomfortable.
CLAIM: Wilson said Cheney sent him to Africa “Mr. Libby’s motive in allegedly disclosing her name to reporters, Mr. Fitzgerald said, was to disprove yet another false assertion, that Mr. Wilson had been dispatched to Niger by Mr. Cheney.” [Washington Post, 4/9/06]
Wilson never said that Cheney sent him, only that the vice president’s office had questions about an intelligence report that referred to the sale of uranium yellowcake to Iraq from Niger. Wilson, in his New York Times article, said CIA officials were informed of Cheney’s questions. [Bloomberg, 7/14/05]
Groan - Nick Kristof is hazy on who said it or how it got started, but *someone* asserted that Wilson was sent "at the behest" (Kristof's phrase) of the office of the Vice President, and the White House certainly felt pressured to rebut it. Here, for example, is the fact-proof Chris Matthews insisting repeatedly that Wilson was sent "at the behest" of the VP's office. Perhaps the WaPo editors should have separated the office from the man, but to pretend that the idea was not out there (following, we should note, the Kristof columns (May 6, 2003; June 13, 2003) with Wilson as an anonymous source) is not reasonable.
MORE: And if Wilson did not say Cheney sent him, he ought to ask his publicist to correct his current on-line bio. or maybe the WaPo made their mistake by reading his bio, which says this:
Wilson is now at the center of a major political maelstrom involving the White House, the C.I.A. and the second gulf war in Iraq. In 2002, at the request of Vice President Dick Cheney, Wilson was assigned by the C.I.A. to investigate claims that Saddam Hussein was seeking to acquire uranium from Niger for the purpose of advancing his nuclear program. When his investigation turned up nothing, Wilson reported back to officials in Washington that there was no basis for the claims.
Hat tip to Maybee.