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The Novak Leak And The Bush Duty

Patrick J Buchanan

October  6  2003

With the daily casualty reports coming in from Iraq, the White House has a new problem it did not need: a scandal that could force the firing of several White House aides.

Here is a chronology of how it came about.

Last July, former U.S. Ambassador Joe Wilson wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times undercutting a claim in the president's case for war, made in his State of the Union address. The claim was that Iraq had been seeking to buy uranium from an African country.

Wilson revealed he had been commissioned by the CIA, before Bush spoke, to travel to Niger to investigate reports that Iraq had been seeking to buy "yellowcake." From talks with diplomats and government officials there, Wilson concluded the reports were probably bogus, that Iraq was not in the market for this ingredient of atom bombs. He filed a report with the CIA saying exactly that.

Wilson's op-ed had the effect of undercutting the president's case for war, and apparently enraged the White House.

When Robert Novak, the respected veteran journalist, asked a "senior administration official" how the critical Niger assignment could have been given to Wilson, who had served on Clinton's National Security Council and was a donor to Democrats, his source fingered the CIA as responsible for the blunder. The source then added that Wilson's wife, who worked at the CIA, had promoted Wilson to her superiors as just the man to undertake the Niger assignment.

Novak reported this and identified Wilson's wife by name as a "CIA operative." The CIA has now asked the Justice Department to open an investigation into who outed Wilson's wife, and why. For someone to deliberately break the cover of a clandestine CIA operative is a federal offense punishable by 10 years in a prison.

As Novak retells the story in his Oct. 1 column, however, there does not appear the stuff of a provable crime. Novak says his source was "no partisan gunslinger" out to settle scores. Second, he was told Wilson's wife was a "CIA employee" and regrets having used the term "operative."

Third, the identify of Wilson's wife was not pressed upon him, but came up in answer to his question as to how Wilson got the assignment. Thus, there was no malice, no deliberate intent to out the woman i.e., it was a blurted blunder by an unthinking source, not a crime.

Novak also called the CIA, where a source confirmed that Wilson's wife worked at the agency. Novak was asked not to name Wilson's wife, but the CIA source never suggested that she would be in peril if he did. Thinking the fact important to the story of how Joe Wilson was put in a position where he could undercut the president of the United States' case for war, Novak included it.

Again, as there appears no deliberate intent to out Wilson's wife as a CIA agent, and the CIA confirmed her identity, and Novak will not testify against his source in any event, there appears insufficient grounds to prosecute.

Where the White House has a far more serious problem, however, is from a Washington Post report a week ago, which quoted another "senior administration official" as saying "two White House aides" actively pushed on six different journalists the fact that Ambassador Joe Wilson's wife was a CIA operative.

If this is true, it amounts to a vendetta of retribution against Joe Wilson for having written something offensive to the White House, and might indeed constitute a federal crime.

If this Washington Post report is true, the two White House aides ought to be ferreted out and fired by the president himself. And as these names are floating about town, it would take George W. Bush less than an hour to call the suspects into his office and confront each, and if they did not deny that they pushed this story, tell them they are no longer welcome on the White House staff. And to get themselves a good lawyer.

The president's father, director of the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1970s, has himself denounced the outrageous practice of outing CIA agents. A few years back, a wholesale outing, done by one poltroon, resulted in the assassination of a CIA patriot serving at his overseas post.

As America's victory in Iraq has gone sour, and Americans have begun to question why we had to go to war, the game in this town has gone hardball. Many believe the Bush presidency itself may be at risk. The stakes are thus enormous, and the Bush-haters and baiters are out in force.

But while hardball is justified, dirtball is not. And that is what was apparently done to Joe Wilson's wife.

2003 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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