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Tuesday, July 22, 2003

The Valerie Plame Wilson Affair - A Timeline

The allegation, from Howard Dean's "16 Questions": "...senior officials in [the Bush] Administration may have retaliated against Ambassador Joseph Wilson by illegally disclosing that his wife is an undercover CIA officer. "

I intend to put the key elements of the story in one place, and update as necessary, with brief commentary.

[July 29 Late addition: Insta Readers in a hurry can skip the agonizing path that brought us to our current point, and get the highlights here, leaving out the exciting details. And I bet you watch Sportscenter, too! I know I do.]

July 6, 2003: The article that started it all: Ambassador Wilson, "What I Didn't Find in Africa".

July 11: George Tenet, Director of the CIA, comments on "The Wilson Report", among other things. Key points - Tenet describes the content of the Wilson report differently from Wilson's July 6 account; and Tenet describes the selection of Wilson as having been a CIA idea. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw describes the Wilson report here.

July 14: Robert Novak "outs" Ms. Wilson, aka Valerie Plame, in "Mission to Niger". The fateful sentences, with emphasis added for sources. Note the absence of a specific source in the first sentence:

Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counter-proliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him.

July 16: David Corn writes about the Novak column in "The Nation".

His question:

Did senior Bush officials blow the cover of a US intelligence officer working covertly in a field of vital importance to national security--and break the law--in order to strike at a Bush administration critic and intimidate others?

It sure looks that way, if conservative journalist Bob Novak can be trusted.

His key excerpt from Novak, which drops the third sentence beginning "The CIA says...":

Novak's July 14, 2003 column presented the back-story on Wilson's mission and contained the following sentences: "Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate" the allegation.

Wilson caused problems for the White House, and his wife was outed as an undercover CIA officer.

And this:

Novak tells me that he was indeed tipped off by government officials about Wilson's wife and had no reluctance about naming her. "I figured if they gave it to me," he says. "They'd give it to others....I'm a reporter. Somebody gives me information and it's accurate. I generally use it." And Wilson says Novak told him that his sources were administration officials.

The distinction between "administration" and "government" officials haunts this story. TIME clearly makes a distinction, and so does Mr. Corn here. My impression is that "Administration" means what it says; "government" is non-White House executive branch. In this story, the CIA would be "government", and White House officials would be "Administration".

So, when asked directly by Mr. Corn, Mr. Novak says his sources for the key personal information are "government". This agrees with the TIME formulation. The phrase "and its accurate" may suggest, to deep de-constructionists, that Novak got independent verification from a second source.

And Mr. Wilson's description of Mr. Novak's discussions with him? We know that Mr. Novak claimed some "senior administration" sources in his own column, so the fact that he also claims that with Ambassador Wilson is not news. Since the specifics of his conversation with Ambassador Wilson are not available, I deem this to be inconclusive.

However, Mr. Corn was surely eager to get Mr. Novak to admit to "administration" sources, and could not, although Mr. Novak does not describe his sources as shy. "I figured if they gave it to me," he says. "They'd give it to others...., such as TIME, perhaps.

July 17: I provide extended commentary on Novak and Corn in a piece merrily titled "Let's Enjoy Some Popcorn". Nice to know I was still smiling then.

July 17/22: TIME magazine had a story, "The War On Wilson", since revised, dated July 17, 2003. I noticed the revision on July 22.

...some government officials have noted to TIME in interviews, (as well as to syndicated columnist Robert Novak) that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. These officials have suggested that she was involved in her husband's being dispatched Niger to investigate...

Notes: First, the parenthetical information that TIME's sources also talked to Novak was added in a revision. Secondly, TIME carefully distinguishes, in the rest of the story, between "Administration officials", and "government officials". I mention this, because Professor Krugman will, eventually, misrepresent the TIME reporting in his own column. And, David Corn will (July 23) write a follow-up arguing (pretending?) that TIME's "government" equals Novak's "senior administration". TIME may tell. TIME may be on my side!

July 17: Mark Kleiman summarizes the story up to this point, subject to the caveat that the TIME revison was not yet available.

July 18: Howard Dean puts this question at number four of "16 Questions".

In a bit of a diversion, we also note the Dean poster -"We Can Handle The Truth". It seems, in a peculiar bit of bipartisanship, to be coordinated with the new White House media strategy.

July 22: Prof. Krugman calls attention to the charges and mis-states the TIME reporting in "Who's Unpatriotic Now?".

July 22: Newsday provides "Intelligence officials" who confirm that Ms. Wilson had a clandestine role at the CIA. This increases the stakes, since identifying a covert agent can be a felony, as noted by Mr. Corn.

July 22: A non-responsive Scott McClellan provides a White House press non-briefing. Word search down for "Novak". Good bloggerage by Lis Riba, and my own, lame by comparison, introductory excerpt:

Q The Robert Novak column last week identified the wife of Ambassador Joseph Wilson as a CIA operative who was working on WMD issues. Novak said that identification is based on information given to him by two administration sources. That column has now given rise to accusations that the administration deliberatively blew the cover of an undercover CIA operative, and in so doing, violated a federal law that prohibits revealing the identity of undercover CIA operatives. Can you respond to that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you for bringing that up. That is not the way this President or this White House operates. And there is absolutely no information that has come to my attention or that I have seen that suggests that there is any truth to that suggestion. And, certainly, no one in this White House would have given authority to take such a step.

Surprisingly, that did not end the discussion. And we note, approvingly, that the original questioner was open on the possibility that Novak had non-administration sources.

July 22: Wilson hits the talk show circuit. We are looking for transcripts here, since we understand from much-appreciated reader feedback that he appeared on Hardball on July 22. Correction, it was the "Today Show", with excerpts on Hardball, tip our hat to Barry. The Ambassador will be caught with dangerously over-inflated hypotheticals, as noted here.

July 22: My Current Guess - At this point, we have spies, scandal, and cover-up - a perfect media mix. [Hey, and sex, too, if we ignore this!] The press is paying attention, Ambassador Wilson has appeared on a number of news shows, and the scandal is nearing lift-off.

My current evaluation - Novak was coy in his original column as to sources, but there is a lot to suggest he got a lot of his details from the CIA. TIME pretty probably had CIA, or at least "government" sources, for info similar to Novak's. Consequently, the headline for this scandal may one day be "CIA in Disarray - Feud Outs Agent". If the fallout from the Iraqi war includes a politicized and divided CIA, that is bad for the nation.

But it may better for Bush than the alternative, which is that his own aides outed a covert agent and compromised national security in order to punish a political opponent. For Bush supporters (hey, that includes me!) the choices seem to be bad, and worse.

A Reader Reminds Me: The first commandment for Presidents ought to be, "Don't Pick a Fight With The CIA". [Daniel Schorr later agrees].

July 23: Newsday: Probes Expected in ID of CIA Officer

Durbin (D), Rockefeller (D), and Hatch (R). But Hatch is unimpressed with the allegations.

And scroll down for more commentary. He is a strong proponent of the theory that the sources came from the White House.

July 23: Dr. Manhattan gets into the mix as, pardon my simplistic labeling, a concerned righty: "I am no fan of Congressional investigations, but this situation is too important to be left to the journalists.

July 23: David Corn of "The Nation" writes again. Little new info, which suggests that people are not talking. He does conflate Novak's "senior administration officials" with TIME's "government officials", and I hope TIME is on my side here, as mentioned on July 17. We extract this:

This is as serious--if not more so--than the FBI files flap that occurred during the Clinton years... [Note to self: "as serious as, more serious than, I wonder if I have company at the bottom of the grammar-barrel]

...Representative Henry Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the [House government affairs] committee, is interested in the Wilson case. But don't bet on the Republicans in control of the committee to rush ahead. Even some Democrats are not eager to deal with an issue like this.

July 23: White House Press Briefing: Another brick in the stonewall. But Ms. Wilson was the first question! It is interesting watching the press try to ask the question in a way that does not provoke a response of "I answered that already." Without new food supplies, the pack will starve, or move on.

And the CalPundt points out that a little bit of help from the NY Times or the WaPo might advance this. This would not be overlooked if Howell Raines were in charge!

July 23: Shock and awe from Bill Hobbs, who suggests a plot twist - Novak was his own primary source! And, check his update for links to "Seamole", who has been providing background dirt on Ambassador Wilson.

Oh, and "seamole" directly refutes a claim made by Wilson that the release of his wife's maiden name compromised her. Nice catch! These evil rightys have game, too (and you know I am green with envy when I say that.)

July 23: No thunder on the right here - Don Luskin speaks to some "Washington contacts", and thinks this is big, the White House is involved, and it is not going away. And, because this is a full service psychic blog, I know what you are thinking and I have already asked. [And, I learn, I cannot help you, or myself].

July 23: Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post notes the Newsday story.

July 24: The Washington Post again, sort of. In an on-line chat, Joel Achenbach, Washington Post Staff Writer, says this in response to, basically, where is the coverage of the Novak-Plame scandal:

:Joel Achenbach: I dont think they're going to throw Novak in jail for that, no. Nor are they likely to beat the bushes at the White House to see who Novak's source was.

Ok, as we scrape the bottom of the news barrel, we note this - media types do not want to create an environment where sources feel a need to clam up. The "media" might think, better to let this slide, and let my sources be free. Why individual journalists don't go for the Pulitzer, or even the front page, I can not tell you, but there may not be a big community push to tackle this. The media is about source protection, not source prosecution.

[Mark Kleiman picks up on the Eerie Silence of the Lambs. NO, he didn't call it that!]

July 24: Sen. Charles Schumer calls for an investigation, and reminds us that we did this just one year ago. Since the shoe was on the other foot, all roles reverse.

July 25: And Schumer gets results! From Newsday:

Susan Whitson, an FBI spokeswoman, said the agency would "look at the issue and make determinations about whether there is an investigation that is warranted."

July 25: No questions at the White House press briefing. Sharon, Abbas, Liberia, Iraq, 9/11 report, Total Recall - c'mon.

July 26: The Baltimore Sun profiles the Ambassador. I know what Evil Righties will do with this:

This is not to say that Wilson, 53, a native Californian who has never shed the laid-back manner of the "hippy surfer" he says he once was, is either bitter or shaken by the episode.

Suddenly, he jokes, he is a "darling of the left." A business consultant who once operated only on the fringes of Washington policy debates, Wilson is now a sought-after media pundit.

Combined with his dangerously over-inflated "hypotheticals" on national television, this gives an odd appearance.

July 29: The Hill moves, and speaks! Good coverage, many lawmakers quoted. My excerpts here.

July 29: Mark Kleiman presents what seems to be the relevant statute. I apologize, I know I am leaving folks out, we are working on it.

July 30: Josh Marshall gets into it. My soundbite, and the director's cut.

Aug 1: Josh Marshall won't let go - he reports that the CIA appears to be investigating this incident. Which may explain the media blackout, since presumably the CIA has lowered the Cone of Silence.

Aug 4: Ambassador Wilson appears on "Late Edition" with Wolf Blitzer, and recycles old hypotheticals.

Aug 8: A NY Times story by Douglas Jehl adds nothing, but we are thrilled to know they care. And a more durable Common Dreams link.

Aug 10: Coverage in the St. Petersburg Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

From St. Petersburg:

[Ambassador Wilson] said he believes that political operatives in the White House gave his wife's name to Novak, and he thinks he knows who they are. But he's "not ready, yet" to name them. He hopes an investigation - by the FBI, Congress or both - will take care of that.

And, a bit of a chuckle from Seattle:

In carefully discussing what he called the hypothetical possibility his wife is a CIA employee, Wilson noted that the use of her maiden name would compromise work done before their marriage five years ago.

We were alerted to the fact that her maiden name is part of the Ambassador's on-line bio back on July 23. The Ambassador's credibility on this point is, hmm, limited.

Aug 15: John Dean, Nixon's former counsel, on the law; more David Corn on the process. If you read one, read Corn. Briefly, his argument: until the CIA decides there was a security compromise, no investigation occurs. Tenet will be loyal to Bush, game over.

Aug 26: A bit of a break from Mark Kleiman: Ambassador Wilson suggests that Karl Rove is the source of the leak. We comment.

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