Newsweek sneak previews an upcoming Isikoff/Corn book confirming the non-news that then-deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was Bob Novak's primary source for the Plame leak. We certainly believe Armitgae was Novak's primary source for the Plame leak; the rest of his story we are taking with multiple grains of salt:
In the early morning of Oct. 1, 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell received an urgent phone call from his No. 2 at the State Department. Richard Armitage was clearly agitated. As recounted in a new book, "Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War" Armitage had been at home reading the newspaper and had come across a column by journalist Robert Novak. Months earlier, Novak had caused a huge stir when he revealed that Valerie Plame, wife of Iraq-war critic Joseph Wilson, was a CIA officer. Ever since, Washington had been trying to find out who leaked the information to Novak. The columnist himself had kept quiet. But now, in a second column, Novak provided a tantalizing clue: his primary source, he wrote, was a "senior administration official" who was "not a partisan gunslinger." Armitage was shaken. After reading the column, he knew immediately who the leaker was. On the phone with Powell that morning, Armitage was "in deep distress," says a source directly familiar with the conversation who asked not to be identified because of legal sensitivities. "I'm sure he's talking about me."
David Corn has more at his blog:
One mystery solved.
It was Richard Armitage, when he was deputy secretary of state in July 2003, who first disclosed to conservative columnist Robert Novak that the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson was a CIA employee.
A Newsweek article--based on the new book I cowrote with Newsweek correspondent Michael Isikoff, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War--discloses that Armitage passed this classified information to Novak during a July 8, 2003 interview. Though Armitage's role as Novak's primary source has been a subject of speculation, the case is now closed. Our sources for this are three government officials who spoke to us confidentially and who had direct knowledge of Armitage's conversation with Novak. Carl Ford Jr., who was head of the State Department's intelligence branch at the time, told us--on the record--that after Armitage testified before the grand jury investigating the leak case, he told Ford, "I'm afraid I may be the guy that caused the whole thing."
Well - one mystery solved, other mysteries unresolved.
First, let's note that the outline of Armitage's story (he had no idea he was Novak's source until he read an Oct 1 Novak column, after which he huddled with Colin Powell and the State Department counsel and then called the FBI to apprise them of his role) merits a bit of skepticism.
Keep in mind - Armitage "forgot" to tell Special Counsel Fitzgerald about his leak to Bob Woodward until after the Libby indictment in Oct 2005, even though Woodward asked him for permission to move with a story during 2004.
Can anyone think of a motive for that? Well, by waiting until after the indictment, Armitage got a pretty good idea of the evidence gathered by Fitzgerald and the testimony provided by other reporters. And why might he care? *MAYBE* there were other reporters also protecting Armitage.
Just for example, Judy Miller spent months in jail resisting her subpoena from Fitzgerald until she had assurance that Fitzgerald would only grill her about her interactions with I. Lewis Libby. Having received that assurance, Ms. Miller then produced notebooks strongly suggesting she had discussed "Valerie Flame" with other; alas, her memory failed as to who that might have been.
However, Ms. Miller has plenty of by-lined stories with State Department sources, and both she and Mr. Armitage were members of the Aspen Institute (he is still with the Aspen Strategy Group). Is it possible that Mr. Armitage has *still* forgotten to mention to Special Counsel Fitzgerald that he leaked to Ms. Miller?
Or from another tack - per the Newsweek story, Armitage learned about Ms. Plame from the famous INR memo, which did not mention her undercover background and named her as Valerie Wilson.
But Armitages's biography strongly suggest an intel background, so it seems fair to guess he had contacts in the intel community.
7. On or about June 11, 2003, LIBBY spoke with a senior officer of the CIA [later revealed to be Grenier] to ask about the origin and circumstances of Wilson's trip, and was advised by the CIA officer that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and was believed to be responsible for sending Wilson on the trip.
I don't think that Grenier was relying on the INR memo for the news that "Wilson's wife... was believed to be responsible for sending Wilson on the trip". But I do think that Grenier, as a top CIA guy, was a bureaucratically appropriate contact for a chap like Armitage. As a bonus, since he had been with the CIA forever I bet that Grenier met Ms. Plame back when she *was* Ms. Plame, and remembered her by that name rather than her more recent married name.
Just speculation, of course. But I bet that the Armitage story on display here is only the first fallback - at no other point in this story has he been candid or forthcoming about his role and I doubt he was in October 2003 (did he mention his Woodward chat to Powell, and did Powell urge a cover-up of that? I doubt it.)
Last bit of speculation - if (I say *IF*) the "Plame" name came to Novak via Armitage and Grenier, where did "Operative" come from in Novak's famous column?
Good question, and let me ask another - where did Andrea Mitchell get "operative" in her July 8, 2003 report? She attributes it to CIA sources in a story about who might get blamed for allowing the "16 Words" into the State of the union address:
MITCHELL: Well, people at the CIA say that it's not going to be George Tenet; and, in fact, that high-level people at the CIA did not really know that it was false, never even looked at Joe Wilson's verbal report or notes from that report, didn't even know that it was he who had made this report, because he was sent over by some of the covert operatives in the CIA at a very low level, not, in fact, tasked by the vice president.
That jibes with Tenet's official statement a few days later:
In an effort to inquire about certain reports involving Niger, CIA's counter-proliferation experts, on their own initiative, asked an individual with ties to the region to make a visit to see what he could learn.
Emphasis added, or, in other words, don't blame us top guys for that Wilson trip - we had no idea what the underlings were up to.
So where did "operative" come from? Andrea Mitchell cites CIA sources, and her report certainly reads like high level CYA from the CIA. Reuters had something similar the same day:
A U.S. intelligence official said [Joseph] Wilson was sent to investigate the Niger reports by mid-level CIA officers, not by top-level Bush administration officials. There is no record of his report being flagged to top level officials, the intelligence official said.
Was Reuter's "intelligence official" with the CIA, as per Andrea Mitchell, or did Reuters have a different source? Did Novak share a source with Andrea Mitchell, or catch her on the news, or via Lexis? My impression is that reporters are not avid users of footnotes.
Well. Bob Novak has not convinced us yet, although his latest story was that he got the "Plame" name from Who's Who. Maybe Armitage will have some answers.
MORE: Links to follow, sorry. And I want to rattle on about the One x Two x Six link eventually.
BUTTER WOULDN'T MELT IN HIS MOUTH: I love this from David Corn:
When Armitage testified before the Iran-contra grand jury many years earlier, he had described himself as "a terrible gossip." Iran-contra independent counsel Lawrence Walsh subsequently accused him of providing "false testimony" to investigators but said that he could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Armitage's misstatements had been "deliberate."
I believe Armitage leaked to Novak, all right; I just don't believe a whole lot else about his story.
I NEED SOME HELP HERE: David Corn tries to rationalize the notion that the Armitage leak reflects White House machinations. OK, it is a stretch, but I think he also advances his case by making stuff up:
The Armitage leak was not directly a part of the White House's fierce anti-Wilson crusade. But as Hubris notes, it was, in a way, linked to the White House effort, for Amitage had been sent a key memo about Wilson's trip that referred to his wife and her CIA connection, and this memo had been written, according to special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, at the request of I. Lewis Scooter Libby, the vice president's chief of staff. Libby had asked for the memo because he was looking to protect his boss from the mounting criticism that Bush and Cheney had misrepresented the WMD intelligence to garner public support for the invasion of Iraq.
The memo included information on Valerie Wilson's role in a meeting at the CIA that led to her husband's trip. This critical memo was--as Hubris discloses--based on notes that were not accurate. (You're going to have to read the book for more on this.) But because of Libby's request, a memo did circulate among State Department officials, including Armitage, that briefly mentioned Wilson's wife.
And what does Corn mean by "this memo had been written, according to special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, at the request of I. Lewis Scooter Libby"? What is the source for that? Per the indictment, Libby was advised orally about the memo, but apparently did not get a copy:
6. On or about June 11 or 12, 2003, the Under Secretary of State orally advised LIBBY in the White House that, in sum and substance, Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and that State Department personnel were saying that Wilson's wife was involved in the planning of his trip.
And although that was in the indictment, Libby disputed (p. 5 of 29) that the conversation occurred:
During his grand jury appearances, Mr. Libby testified that he did not recall any conversations with Mr. Grossman about Mr. Wilson’s wife. The defense is absolutely entitled to investigate whether the conversation alleged by Mr. Grossman actually occurred and to test Mr. Grossman’s memory and credibility about what he did or did not say to Mr. Libby at trial. Like every fact alleged in the indictment, the facts surrounding Mr. Grossman’s alleged conversation with Mr. Libby have not yet been established – they are in dispute.
Surely if the prosecution had a memo addressed to Libby on this topic, the defense would not be going down this road. What am I missing here, or what is Corn going on about? [TS9 opines that Corn is telling us that Marc Grossman of State asked for a memo because he needed answers for Libby; that is 'almost' like Libby asking for a memo, then, right? Uh huh.
Let's summarize - Libby asked a lot of questions, thereby triggering a leak from Armitage. Hmm, why not blame the inquiring press, or Joe Wilson himself for chatting with Pincus and Kristof? Seems like there were lots of folks other than Libby that set Armitage in motion.]
KEEP HOPE ALIVE! Corn is pretty funny here:
The outing of Armitage does change the contours of the leak case. The initial leaker was not plotting vengeance. He and Powell had not been gung-ho supporters of the war. Yet Bush backers cannot claim the leak was merely an innocent slip. Rove confirmed the classified information to Novak and then leaked it himself as part of an effort to undermine a White House critic.
"Rove confirmed the classified information to Novak"! Well, yes, but did he know it was classified? If so, how did he learn that? C'mon, it's over - if Corn or Fitzgerald had any evidence that Rove knew of Ms. Plame's classified status, we would have heard it by now.
LET'S ASK AGAIN: Can Armitage keep his seat on McCain's Straight Talk Express? Clarice Feldman notes that Sir Richard Armitage kept quiet and protected his own sorry situation while the Special Counsel probed hither and yon for two years. Armitage could have let a lot of air out of the political balloon a long time ago.
Bob Novak was right on "Meet The Press" today when he said that "I believe that the time has way passed for my source to identify himself".
WHAT DID COLIN POWELL KNOW and when did he know it? One of the requests by the Libby defense team (p. 19 of 39) was for
Any notes from the September 2003 meeting in the Situation Room at which Colin Powell is reported to have said that (a) everyone knows that Mr. Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA and that (b) it was Mr. Wilson’s wife who suggested that the CIA send her husband on a mission to Niger.
September still precedes October, yes? And Colin Powell was asking about the Plame question in the Situation Room, if this is accurate. But he never asked Armitage about her before October 1?
Or if Powell did discuss the Plame leak with Armitage, what did Armitage tell him, back in September before his memory was jogged?
Let me hat tip TS9 for a very good question. Now, IIRC, the prosecution had no notes that were responsive to this request, but I welcome clarification and a memory jog of my own.
BYRON YORK WONDERS WHAT AN "AGGRESSIVE" INVESTIGATION LOOKS LIKE:
And Fitzgerald "aggressively investigated" Armitage? Did he have the Armitage calendars from June 2003, recently obtained via the Freedom of Information Act by the Associated Press, showing that Armitage had met with Bob Woodward during that time? If so, why was the aggressive investigator surprised when Woodward came forward to reveal that he, too, had been told about Plame?