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Toensing’s Little Inaccuracies


At the very end of the Plame hearing last Friday, Henry Waxman suggested to Victoria Toensing that she had not been entirely accurate in her testimony.

Waxman: Ms. Toensing, I just only can say that we are pleased to accommodate the request of the Minority to have you as a witness and some of the statements you’ve made without any doubt and with great authority I understand may not be accurate so we’re going to check the information and we’re going to hold the record open to put in other things that might contradict some of what you had to say. (At 4:02:13 on CSPAN)

All of a sudden Toensing's face collapsed with the realization that her blatherings might have overstepped a line.

Inaccuracy #1: Corn identified Plame as covert 

David Corn has already done a bit of fact-checking Toensing. In addition to catching her conflating "stationed" "resided," and "served" overseas, Corn notes that Toensing has recycled an old yarn about his role in the story–claiming that he, not Novak, was the first to out Valerie.

Bottom line: I did not identify her as a "covert" officer or any other kind of CIA official. I merely speculated she was a NOC. That speculation was based on Novak's column. And given that Novak had already IDed her as a CIA "operative on weapons of mass destruction" (which happened to be a "covert" position within the agency), her cover–whether nonofficial or official–was blown to smithereens by the time I posted my article.

Toensing is engaged in a desperation-driven and misleading act of hairsplitting when she contends that Novak merely called her an "operative" and that I was the first to "print that she was covert." I never said Valerie Wilson was anything.

Inaccuracy #2: Wilson said "he was sent … by the Vice President's Office" 

But there are a couple more items where "the facts" Toensing "knows" are none such thing. For example, here is Toensing explaining why the White House was justified in outing Plame.

Toensing: I have no idea why they gave out that information. I do know that there was this allusion by Joe Wilson that he was sent on the trip by the Vice President’s Office so it made sense to me that if you’re sitting in the Vice President’s Office to say, we didn’t send him. We don’t know what’s this all about and in the inquiry as I understand it and you may have different facts the response was, his wife sent him, and guess who did that? The INR statement at the State Department. (3:53:50)

I guess, if Joe Wilson said he was sent by the Vice President's Office, that makes it okay. Only this statement is based on two falsehoods. First, Wilson didn't say "he was sent by the Vice President's Office" (though notice Toensing's creative use of "allusion," her). Rather, here's what Wilson said:

In February 2002, I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions about a particular intelligence report. While I never saw the report, I was told that it referred to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake – a form of lightly processed ore – by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990's. The agency officials asked if I would travel to Niger to check out the story so they could provide a response to the vice president's office.

At least when he gets to formulate the description himself, Wilson doesn't say, "he was sent on the trip by the Vice President's Office" (as if that would justify outing his wife). Rather, he said just what the CIA said–that he was sent by the CIA in hopes of answering questions the Vice President asked. 

Inaccuracy #3: The INR memo said "his wife sent him" 

But that's not all, from this passage. Toensing claims that the response to the Vice President's inquiries about who sent Wilson–the response of the INR memo–was that "his wife sent him." Toensing is arguing here that the INR memo said that Valerie sent Joe. 

Probably, Toensing is thinking not of the INR memo, but of the erroneous mis-citation of Douglas Rohn's notes from the SSCI report, which says,

[the February 19 meeting was] apparently convened by [the former ambassador's; SSCI brackets] wife who had the idea to dispatch [him] to use his contacts to sort out the Iraq-Niger uranium issue

But as we know, Rohn's notes–which the SSCI purports to be "quoting" here actually say,

apparently convened by Valerie Wilson, a CIA WMD managerial type and the wife of Amb. Joe Wilson, with the idea that the Agency and the larger USG could dispatch Joe to Niger to use his contacts there to sort out the Iraq-Niger uranium sale question.

The difference is fairly significant. The SSCI attributes the decision ("who had the idea") to Valerie, whereas the actual notes don't name who had the idea to send Joe. And while the memo itself introduces further error (removing the "apparently" and alleging that Valerie convened the meeting), that still doesn't prove Valerie sent (or suggested) Joe. And of course, the INR memo itself–what Toensing cites as the source of her "knowledge"–is less definitive still. It describes the meeting this way:

In a February 19, 2002, meeting [note they remove the word "apparently"] convened by Valerie Wilson, a CIA WMD manager and the wife of Joe Wilson, he previewed his plans and rationale for going to Niger but said he would only go if the Department thought his trip made sense. 

Sure sounds like a boondoggle to me, huh? Only, the actual INR memo says nothing about Valerie sending Joe–and it shows that Joe was not overwhelmingly enthusiastic about going.

Surprise, Toensing was right, we do have different facts. You know, the facts based on the actual document, rather than based on a misquotation of something that isn't actually the document Toensing cites it as. I don't know about you–but I'll take the facts that accord with the documents Toensing herself cites.

Inaccuracy #4: Robert Grenier, CIA briefer, told Libby about Valerie Plame

Toensing gets even sloppier when she tries to explain how negligent the CIA was in leaking Plame's name (apparently) to Scooter Libby. She claims that "CIA briefer" Robert Grenier told Libby about "Valerie Plame."

Toensing: I would agree with you that it was a bad situation that happened. But I say shame on the CIA. The briefer did not tell anybody at the White House that she was…

Waxman: How do you know that? 

[Waxman and Toensing are talking over each other here]

Toensing: [raises finger to lips] shhhh.

Waxman: How do you know that?

Toensing: He testified to that at the Scooter Libby trial.

Waxman: The briefer? Which briefer?

Toensing: Uh, Grenier. Robert Grenier.

Let me interrupt for a moment. You see, if a briefer had shared this with Libby, it might imply that said briefer had gone, done formal research, and still told Libby about Plame with no warning. 

Only, Robert Grenier was not a briefer. Craig Schmall was Libby's briefer, not Robert Grenier. Robert Grenier was the Iraq Mission Manager. He had called CPD for information, gotten it–though not from the Deputy Chief of the Joint Task Force on Iraq whom he called about it–and passed it on as quickly as possible. And not in a formal briefing situation, but in a response to Libby after having been pulled out of a meeting with DCI Tenet. So to begin with, Toensing, who "knows" so many things, isn't even clear who the players are.

Toensing goes on from here, stating clearly that Grenier had "talked about Valerie Plame."

Waxman: And he was the briefer from the CIA?

Toensing: …from the CIA. Yes, he was the one.

Waxman: Go ahead

Toensing: He said, “I talked about Valerie Plame. I talked about the wife with Scooter Libby and the Vice President but I didn’t tell him” … and this was on cross-examination. He admitted that he had not said that her status was either classified or covert. (3:58:14 on CSPAN)

Huh. CIA briefer Robert Grenier talked about Valerie Plame, huh? That's funny, because Grenier made it pretty clear in his testimony that he didn't know the name, Valerie Plame. He says it once

Did the Ambassador's wife's name come up [with the person who told him about her purported role]?

No, I'm certain that person did not tell.

 And a second time:

I didn't tell him Valerie Wilson's name, because I didn't know that.

And a third time:

J You didn't mention the name of Mr. Wilson's wife.  You didn't mention anything to Mr. Libby whether Mr. Wilson's wife was covert.

G No

Now, about one thing, Toensing is correct. Grenier did not pass on the information that Plame was covert. If it's the fault of the CIA, though, it's not because Grenier withheld information he knew. You see, the person who told Grenier about the origin of the trip didn't tell him that Plame was covert. 

J THe person you talked to gave no indication that Wilson's wife was covert. Correct?

G Yes.

To a point, Toensing is correct. Shame on Grenier for not ascertaining Valerie's exact role before he passed it on. But to suggest that Libby's briefer, knowing details about Plame, including her name, was so sloppy about informing Libby is simply not accurate. It may fit Toensing's story line, but that's a story line she invents solely by inventing the facts "she knows."

Lucky for her Waxman has left the record open so she can replace "her" facts with the ones backed up by the evidence.  

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