The Novak Leak And The Bush Duty
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.© 2003 Creators
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
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
But while hardball is justified, dirtball is not. And that is what was
apparently done to Joe Wilson's wife.
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