CommunityFDL Main Blog

Something’s Missing…


Michael Isikoff has an intriguing glimpse into a book that he and David Corn have written (due out shortly) about the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s name to Bob Novak (and Bob Woodward…what is it about Bobs?).  From Newsweek this morning:

…Armitage’s central role as the primary source on Plame is detailed for the first time in "Hubris," which recounts the leak case and the inside battles at the CIA and White House in the run-up to the war. The disclosures about Armitage, gleaned from interviews with colleagues, friends and lawyers directly involved in the case, underscore one of the ironies of the Plame investigation: that the initial leak, seized on by administration critics as evidence of how far the White House was willing to go to smear an opponent, came from a man who had no apparent intention of harming anyone.

Indeed, Armitage was a member of the administration’s small moderate wing. Along with his boss and good friend, Powell, he had deep misgivings about President George W. Bush’s march to war. A barrel-chested Vietnam vet who had volunteered for combat, Armitage at times expressed disdain for Dick Cheney and other administration war hawks who had never served in the military. Armitage routinely returned from White House meetings shaking his head at the armchair warriors. "One day," says Powell’s former chief of staff Larry Wilkerson, "we were walking into his office and Rich turned to me and said, ‘Larry, these guys never heard a bullet go by their ears in anger … None of them ever served. They’re a bunch of jerks’."

But officials at the White House also told reporters about Wilson’s wife in an effort to discredit Wilson for his public attacks on Bush’s handling of Iraq intelligence. Karl Rove confirmed to Novak that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA, and days later offered the same information to Time reporter Matt Cooper. The inquiry into the case led to the indictment of Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Armitage himself was aggressively investigated by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, but was never charged. Fitzgerald found no evidence that Armitage knew of Plame’s covert CIA status when he talked to Novak and Woodward. The decision to go to the FBI that panicky October afternoon also may have helped Armitage. Powell, Armitage and Taft were aware of the perils of a cover-up—all three had lived through the Iran-contra scandal at the Defense Department in the late 1980s….

Interesting stuff. Armitage may have told Novak and Woodward that Valerie was involved in some way in her husband’s selection as the CIA’s man-on-the-ground in Niger, but it appears, according to Isikoff at least, that he did not have knowledge at that point that she was a covert operative, which is an essential piece of the charging puzzle for Patrick Fitzgerald’s prosecution.

Recall Fitz at the presser on October 28, 2005:

…That’s the way this investigation was conducted. It was known that a CIA officer’s identity was blown, it was known that there was a leak. We needed to figure out how that happened, who did it, why, whether a crime was committed, whether we could prove it, whether we should prove it.

And given that national security was at stake, it was especially important that we find out accurate facts….

But as important as it is for the grand jury to follow the rules and follow the safeguards to make sure information doesn’t get out, it’s equally important that the witnesses who come before a grand jury, especially the witnesses who come before a grand jury who may be under investigation, tell the complete truth.

It’s especially important in the national security area. The laws involving disclosure of classified information in some places are very clear, in some places they’re not so clear.

And grand jurors and prosecutors making decisions about who should be charged, whether anyone should be charged, what should be charged, need to make fine distinctions about what people knew, why they knew it, what they exactly said, why they said it, what they were trying to do, what appreciation they had for the information and whether it was classified at the time.

FITZGERALD: Those fine distinctions are important in determining what to do. That’s why it’s essential when a witness comes forward and gives their account of how they came across classified information and what they did with it that it be accurate….

In this case, it’s a lot more serious than baseball. And the damage wasn’t to one person. It wasn’t just Valerie Wilson. It was done to all of us.

And as you sit back, you want to learn: Why was this information going out? Why were people taking this information about Valerie Wilson and giving it to reporters? Why did Mr. Libby say what he did? Why did he tell Judith Miller three times? Why did he tell the press secretary on Monday? Why did he tell Mr. Cooper? And was this something where he intended to cause whatever damage was caused?

FITZGERALD: Or did they intend to do something else and where are the shades of gray?

And what we have when someone charges obstruction of justice, the umpire gets sand thrown in his eyes. He’s trying to figure what happened and somebody blocked their view.

As you sit here now, if you’re asking me what his motives were, I can’t tell you; we haven’t charged it.

So what you were saying is the harm in an obstruction investigation is it prevents us from making the fine judgments we want to make.

I also want to take away from the notion that somehow we should take an obstruction charge less seriously than a leak charge.

This is a very serious matter and compromising national security information is a very serious matter. But the need to get to the bottom of what happened and whether national security was compromised by inadvertence, by recklessness, by maliciousness is extremely important. We need to know the truth. And anyone who would go into a grand jury and lie, obstruct and impede the investigation has committed a serious crime.

That is a whole lot of gray, isn’t it? But it does not explain the central question that we’ve all been trying to answer from day one on this: how did Bob Novak learn that Valerie Plame Wilson was a covert operative?  Swopa has been all over this question, and looks at the following:

Even so, and despite the damning quotes from Armitage’s co-workers at the State Dept., I still sense some nagging loose ends. Here’s how I put it three months ago:

. . . if the real story of the Plame outing was as simple as Armitage telling Novak everything, and Novakula then getting a terse confirmation from Rove and going to press, it makes very little sense for Fitzgerald’s investigation to unfold as it has. So it’s probably safe to assume that things didn’t happen that way.

So what possible wrinkles are there? I’d start with the odd claim that Armitage didn’t realize his apparently crucial role until reading Novak’s October 1, 2003 column.

I’ve harped repeatedly on the fact that Novak has avoided saying clearly whether his conversation with his so-called primary source was actually the first time he’d learned about Joe Wilson’s wife working for the CIA. Why did the now-indicted Lewis "Scooter" Libby tell so many lies to the FBI and the grand jury about what he knew regarding Plame’s identity if he played no role in that information being passed along to Bob Novak? And why did Libby tell Ari Fleischer the exact information that Novak would attribute to his primary source just one day before Novakula met with Armitage? It seems to me that this mystery hasn’t been fully resolved yet.  (emphasis mine)

I’m with Swopa on this one. What possible motivation could Scooter Libby have had to lie unless he was (a) having an attack of personal guilty conscience and trying to save his own ass or (b) more likely, trying to save someone else’s ass, namely Dick Cheney’s.

And I think Jeralyn hits the nail on the head with this observation:

Fitzgerald has long thought Armitage did nothing criminal. Yet, he indicted Libby anyway and almost indicted Rove. Novak’s original column wasn’t just gossip about Joe Wilson. It outed Valerie Plame as a CIA operative. But Newsweek reports Armitage didn’t know Plame’s employment was classified.

It’s curious to me that Fitz is giving Armitage and Rove a pass, but not Libby. Why? I think it has to do with the July 12 flight to Norfolk. Fitz has not yet closed his investigation. I suspect Cheney is still in his cross-hairs. And Ari Fleischer is a key witness against Libby. Somehow, I suspect Ari Fleishcher has given more to Fitzgerald than we know. (emphasis mine)

Now, isn’t that an intriguing thought?  We’ve known for quite some time that Patrick Fitzgerald subpoenaed the phone records from both AFI and AFII, as well as other phone records — and that Ari Fleischer has testified and/or debriefed to some extent.  But that leaves a big question mark…still…as to who was the source for Novak of the information that Valerie Plame Wilson was covert.  And why Stephen Hadley thought he was going to be indicted last fall.

Strange that Dick Cheney knew that information about Valerie Plame Wilson’s status back in June of 2005, isn’t it?  I mean, it’s not like he had any motive to protect his own ass or anything…oh, wait… 

Emptywheel has much more on this.  And I’m going to do a bit of thinking and re-reading today, and see what other bits and pieces I can dig out.  Something’s missing…and I have to wonder if those "found" e-mails from Dick Cheney’s office have shed any light in a murky corner or two. 

One wonders if Dr. Yes has some awfully good answers for those annotated marching orders on the Wilson op-ed.  And whether the WHIG has the ability to stick together as the Bush Administration power numbers unravel heading toward the November elections. 

And whether all those rumors about Armitage cooperation from back in May were true after all…and wouldn’t that make for an interesting Fall.

Previous post

The Armitage Bombshell that Isikoff Didn't Mention

Next post

Face the Snark

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com