What a Load
September 15, 2006; Page A12
The Wall Street Journal
Richard Armitage has finally emerged
from the cover-my-backside closet, "apologizing" on CBS for keeping quiet
for almost three years about being the original source for Robert Novak's
July 14, 2003 column stating that Joe Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, worked
for the CIA and had suggested him for a mission to Niger. He disingenuously
blames his silence on Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's non-legally based
request -- any witness is free to talk about his or her testimony -- not to
discuss the matter.
Put aside hundreds of thousands of
dollars of taxpayer funds squandered on the investigation, New York Times
reporter Judith Miller's 85 days in jail, the angst and legal fees of scores
of witnesses, the White House held siege to a criminal investigation while
fighting the war on terror, Karl Rove's reputation maligned, and "Scooter"
Libby's resignation and indictment. By his silence, Mr. Armitage is
responsible for one of the most factually distorted investigations in
There is a reason the old Watergate
question -- What did he know and when did he know it? -- has become part of
our investigative culture. It provides a paradigm for parsing a complicated
• Joseph Wilson: In July 2003, when he demanded
an investigation of a White House cabal for violating the Intelligence
Identities Protection Act by "outing" his wife, Mr. Wilson knew Ms. Plame
did not meet the factual requirements for covert status under the Act. She
was neither covert at the time of publication nor had a covert foreign
assignment within five years. He acknowledged so in his book: "My move
back to Washington [in June 1997] coincided with the return to D.C. of a
woman named Valerie Plame." As the Senate negotiator for this 1982 Act, I
know a trip or two by Ms. Plame to a foreign country while assigned to
Langley, where she worked in July 2003, is not considered a foreign
assignment. I also know covert officers are not assigned to Langley.
• Richard Armitage: Mr. Armitage now
claims he only knew on Oct. 1, 2003 that he was Mr. Novak's source. We
should question that claim in light of Mr. Novak's account this week that
Mr. Armitage "made clear he considered [the information about Ms. Plame]
especially suited for my column."
Mr. Armitage also knew he had met
with Bob Woodward on June 13, 2003, telling him about Mr. Wilson's wife's
CIA employment and her role in her husband's trip to Niger. But when the FBI
interviewed Mr. Armitage on Oct. 2, he admitted to the Novak conversation
only, notably forgetting meeting with one of our country's premier
investigative reporters. By attributing his longtime silence to Mr.
Fitzgerald's request, Mr. Armitage must have forgotten Mr. Fitzgerald was
not appointed until Dec. 30, 2003. If Mr. Armitage had come forward during
those three months, there might never have been a special counsel.
• Patrick Fitzgerald: What Mr. Fitzgerald knew,
and chose to ignore, is troublesome. Despite what some CIA good ol' boys
might have told Mr. Fitzgerald, he knew from the day he took office that
the facts did not support a violation of the Act; therefore, there was no
crime to investigate. Although he claimed in Mr. Libby's indictment that
Ms. Plame's employment status was "classified," Mr. Fitzgerald refuses to
provide the basis for that fact and, even if true, can point to no law
that would be violated by revealing a "classified" (not covert)
employment. It was this gap in the law that created the need to pass the
Act in the first place.
Mr. Armitage intimated on CBS that,
although his "chitchat" was careless, there was perhaps "a conspiracy" in
the White House to retaliate against Mr. Wilson. However, Mr. Fitzgerald
knew (prior to indicting Mr. Libby) that Mr. Armitage was Mr. Novak's
original source, Mr. Libby never spoke to Mr. Novak, and Messrs. Rove and
Libby had merely responded to reporters' questions. Hardly acts of
initiating a criminal conspiracy. Mr. Fitzgerald knows it is not criminal to
discredit a mendacious attack on the president. There was a crime only if
Ms. Plame were covert and the person revealed that fact with knowledge of
her status. Mr. Fitzgerald learned during the investigation that not one
person had any basis to think she was covert. Just ask Mr. Armitage, who
asserted in his apologia, "I had never seen a covered agent's name in any
memo . . . in 28 years of government."
During the investigation Mr.
Fitzgerald learned that a former New York Times reporter, Cliff May, twice
told the FBI that, prior to Mr. Novak's column, he had heard in an offhand
way from a nongovernment employee that Mr. Wilson's wife worked for the CIA,
a clear indication that her employment was known on the street. Ditto
columnist Hugh Sidey, who wrote that Ms. Plame's name was "knocking around
in the sub rosa world. . . for a long time."
Mr. Armitage, who came forward after
Mr. Libby was indicted, was told in February 2006, after two grand jury
appearances, he would not be indicted. Mr. Rove, however, after five grand
jury appearances, was not informed until July 2006 he would not be charged.
Mr. Fitzgerald made the Rove decision appear strained, a close call. Yet of
the two men's conduct, Mr. Armitage's deserved more scrutiny. And Mr.
Fitzgerald knew it. Each had testified before the grand jury about a
conversation with Mr. Novak. Each had forgotten about a conversation with an
additional reporter: Mr. Armitage with Mr. Woodward, Mr. Rove with Time's
Matt Cooper. However, Mr. Rove came forward pre-indictment, immediately,
when reminded of the second conversation. When Mr. Woodward attempted to ask
Mr. Armitage about the matter, on two separate occasions pre-indictment, Mr.
Armitage refused to discuss it and abruptly cut him off. To be charitable,
assume he did not independently recall his conversation with Mr. Woodward.
Would not two phone calls requesting to talk about the matter refresh his
recollection? Now we also know Messrs. Armitage and Novak have vastly
different recollections of their conversation. Isn't that what Mr. Libby was
What Mr. Fitzgerald chose not to know
is even more troublesome than what he chose to ignore. When Mr. Armitage
came forth in October 2003, why did Mr. Fitzgerald not request his
appointment calendar from early May, the time the first story appeared in
the national press about an unnamed former ambassador's trip to Niger? Mr.
Fitzgerald demanded this type of information from White House personnel.
Just think, if he had done so of Mr. Armitage, he would have learned prior
to indictment about Mr. Woodward's appointment.
By the time he indicted Mr. Libby on
Oct. 28, 2005, Mr. Fitzgerald knew two conflicting facts about the
classified nature of the Niger trip: since at least early May 2003, Mr.
Wilson was discussing his Niger trip with the press (Nicholas Kristof, the
New York Times) and claimed in his July 2003 NYT op-ed that his mission was
"discreet, but by no means secret." Yet, the indictment states that around
June 9, 2003, the CIA sent "classified" documents to the vice president's
office discussing "Wilson and his trip to Niger." If the trip was classified
for the vice president, why was it declassified for Mr. Wilson? Did Mr.
Wilson violate any law by revealing his trip or did Mr. Fitzgerald choose
not to know?
Did Mr. Fitzgerald subpoena Ms. Plame?
He could have asked her why, if she were truly covert, was she attending an
Eastern Shore meeting in May 2003 with Democratic senators. The first
journalist to reveal Ms. Plame was "covert" was David Corn on July 16, 2003,
two days after Mr. Novak's column. The latter never wrote, because he did
not know and it was not so, that Ms. Plame was covert. However, Mr. Corn
claimed Mr. Novak "outed" her as an "undercover CIA officer," querying
whether Bush officials blew "the cover of a U.S. intelligence officer
working covertly in . . . national security." Was Mr. Corn subpoenaed? Did
Mr. Fitzgerald subpoena Mr. Wilson to attest he had never revealed his
wife's employment to anyone? If he had done so, he might have learned Mr.
It is not just Mr. Armitage who
should apologize. So should Joe Wilson and Pat Fitzgerald.
Ms. Toensing was chief counsel
for the Senate Intelligence Committee and deputy assistant attorney general
in the Reagan administration.