Appearing on the July 18 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning, Newsweek managing editor Jon Meacham falsely accused former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV of suggesting in an op-ed and subsequent media appearances that Vice President Dick Cheney sent him to Niger in 2002. In fact, Wilson made it clear that the CIA, not Cheney, sent him to Niger to investigate the purported sale of yellowcake uranium to Iraq.
While others have asserted that Wilson explicitly claimed that the vice president sent him, Meacham softened the accusation by claiming on Imus that Wilson implied in his July 6, 2003, New York Times op-ed and in subsequent media appearances that Cheney and the CIA sent him to Niger in 2002. But Wilson did not even imply this. He claimed in his Times op-ed that "agency officials" sent him to Niger to answer questions from Cheney's office about a particular intelligence report. And on the August 3, 2003, edition of CNN's Late Edition, Wilson flatly stated that "it's absolutely true that neither the vice president nor Dr. [then-national security adviser Condoleezza] Rice nor even [then-Director of Central Intelligence] George Tenet knew that I was traveling to Niger."
The false claim that Wilson stated or implied that Cheney sent him to Niger is significant to the controversy surrounding White House senior adviser Karl Rove's alleged outing of Wilson's wife, former CIA operative Valerie Plame. In an attempt to justify Rove's purported leaking of Plame's identity to Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper and columnist Robert D. Novak, Rove's defenders have claimed that he had a legitimate interest in setting the record straight by disclosing that Plame, not Cheney, had actually authorized the trip.
From the July 18 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning:
MEACHAM: And then here comes Joe Wilson, who sort of wanders onto the stage. It turns out he had, as he put it, undertaken a mission at the behest of Cheney and the CIA to go to Niger and discover whether, in fact, these 16 words were true: Had Saddam attempted to get any uranium?
DON IMUS (host): OK, well, let me jump in here. So Joe Wilson says that Vice President Cheney and the CIA asked him to go to Niger and check this out?
MEACHAM: That was the implication. One of the key --
IMUS: What do you mean, the implication? What did he say?
MEACHAM: Yes. Yes. In the New York Times piece, and I think in the subsequent media things, he was saying, look, they wanted me to go see what was happening here.
IMUS: Who was "they"? Who do you mean by "they"?
MEACHAM: The Office of the Vice President. Which would be Cheney, might have been [I. Lewis] "Scooter" Libby --
IMUS: Cheney's chief of staff.
MEACHAM: Basically that pro-war group around Cheney, who were very tough and very smart and very important. And one of the things, and one of the reasons, you see in the emails that [Newsweek investigative correspondent] Mike Isikoff got a couple of weeks ago from Matt Cooper to his bureau chief, is that after his conversation -- after Cooper's conversation with Rove -- it explicitly says Rove says Wilson did not go -- Cheney had nothing to do with authorizing the mission. His wife, comma, who apparently works at the CIA on WMD issues, comma, had something to do with it --
IMUS: Authorizing the trip, right?