In an October 20 article on the investigation into whether senior White House officials outed CIA operative Valerie Plame after her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, criticized the Bush administration's representations of intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war, Washington Post staff writers Jim VandeHei and Carol D. Leonnig reported a statement by former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell without noting its ambiguity or outlining its potential implications on the investigation. VandeHei and Leonnig reported that while "some administration officials" have claimed that a classified 2003 State Department memo "mentioned" Plame, Powell "said on CNN this week" that the memo "did not mention Plame."
If in fact Powell was contradicting what was reported in a July 21 Post article VandeHei co-authored with Walter Pincus -- that the memo identified Wilson's wife as a CIA employee -- his contradiction would presumably be of considerable interest to VandeHei. That July 21 article described the 2003 memo as "central" to the investigation because it might provide evidence that the implicated officials learned that Plame's identity was classified before revealing it to reporters. Pincus and VandeHei's July 21 report indicated that "current and former government officials" said that the memo "contained information" about Plame, and that Plame "is referred to by her married name, Valerie Wilson" in the "second paragraph" of the memo, "according to a source who described the memo to The Washington Post." And yet, in the October 20 article, VandeHei and Leonnig made no mention of the potential significance of Powell's statement.
To be sure, Powell's actual statement -- on the October 17 edition of CNN's Larry King Live -- reads less broadly than the categorical denial that VandeHei and Leonnig suggested. Specifically, Powell said on that program that the memo "never had the name Plame anywhere in [it]." He did not say, as VandeHei and Leonnig wrote, that the memo "did not mention Plame." Perhaps Powell was merely saying that the memo did not use the name "Plame" but, rather, used her married name. Or perhaps Powell was saying that the memo merely referred to her as Wilson's wife. In either case, whether the memo specifically mentioned Plame by name is without legal or practical significance, as Media Matters for America has noted. But if, as VandeHei and Leonnig seem to be suggesting, Powell is indeed denying that the memo mentioned Plame at all, that is an omission that VandeHei would, again, presumably consider significant.
VandeHei and Leonnig raised none of these questions. Moreover, if they tried to contact Powell to find out what he meant by the statement, the article gave no indication of such an effort.
From the October 20 Washington Post article:
One reason [special prosecutor Patrick] Fitzgerald expressed interest in [former White House spokesman Ari] Fleischer, administration officials said, is his presence on a July 2003 presidential trip to Africa. On that flight aboard Air Force One, then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell had a memo that mentioned Wilson's wife, in a section marked "S" for secret, according to some administration officials. But Powell said on CNN this week the memo he saw did not mention Plame.
From the October 17 edition of CNN's Larry King Live:
KING: What do you make of all of this Karl Rove leak story?
POWELL: I only know right now what I read in the paper. I appeared before the grand jury, the State Department. And some of us in the State Department had some knowledge of this matter. And we all immediately made ourselves available to the Justice Department and the FBI even before the prosecutor was --
KING: Was it an involved, interested grand jury?
KING: I mean, were they on top of things?
POWELL: They were following what was going on. And I think we have been forthcoming in what was known within the department about it, the famous State Department memo that I was given by one of my staffers, which, by the way, never had the name Plame anywhere in the memo.
POWELL: No. A lot of press reports suggest the name was in the memo. It was not.