In response to Washington Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward's recent disclosure that he testified under oath on November 14 that he had learned from a senior administration official in mid-June 2003 about CIA operative Valerie Plame, lawyers for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby claimed that this revelation undermined one of special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's key allegations against Libby. Attorney Ted Wells stated that, in his announcemenvt of Libby's indictment for perjury, obstruction of justice, and false statements, Fitzgerald asserted that Libby "was the first government official to tell a reporter" about Plame -- a statement now proven to be "totally inaccurate," according to Wells. But Wells has misrepresented what Fitzgerald actually said: that Libby "was the first official known to have told a reporter" this information [emphasis added].
Later in the press conference, Fitzgerald repeated that Libby was the first official to disclose Plame's identity to a reporter -- this time without the qualifier. But by making it clear at the outset that Libby was only the first official known to have disclosed the information, as MSNBC host Keith Olbermann noted in a weblog post, "Fitzgerald was clearly and meticulously leaving his case open in case an earlier leaker later turned up -- as evidently he just did."
Despite Fitzgerald's use of this crucial qualifier, numerous news outlets and media figures have repeated Wells's claim -- that Woodward's disclosure contradicted what Fitzgerald said -- as fact. They include the Associated Press, The Washington Post, NBC News correspondent David Shuster, Fox News chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle, ABC News correspondent Elizabeth Vargas, and others.
On November 16, Wells declared in a written statement that Fitzgerald's assertion was "totally inaccurate":
First, the disclosure [by Woodward] shows that Mr. Fitzgerald's statement at his press conference of Oct. 28, 2005, that Mr. Libby was the first government official to tell a reporter about Mr. Wilson's wife was totally inaccurate.
Here is what Fitzgerald actually said in the opening statement of his October 28 press conference:
FITZGERALD: Valerie Wilson's cover was blown in July 2003. The first sign of that cover being blown was when [syndicated columnist] Mr. [Robert] Novak published a column on July 14th, 2003.
But Mr. Novak was not the first reporter to be told that Wilson's wife, Valerie [Plame] Wilson, Ambassador Wilson's wife Valerie, worked at the CIA. Several other reporters were told.
In fact, Mr. Libby was the first official known to have told a reporter when he talked to Judith Miller in June of 2003 about Valerie Wilson.
In putting forth the claim that Woodward's revelation "contradicted" Fitzgerald's stated version of events, several media figures highlighted Fitzgerald's subsequent statement, made during the question-and-answer portion of the press conference:
FITZGERALD: At the end of the day what appears is that Mr. Libby's story that he was at the tail end of a chain of phone calls, passing on from one reporter what he heard from another, was not true.
It was false. He was at the beginning of the chain of phone calls, the first official to disclose this information outside the government to a reporter. And then he lied about it afterwards, under oath and repeatedly.
But in citing or referring only to this later statement, numerous news outlets and media figures have presented a distorted and incomplete version of what Fitzgerald said.
From the November 16 Associated Press article headlined "Woodward Claim on CIA Leak Disputes Charge":
Bob Woodward's version of when and where he learned the identity of a CIA operative contradicts a special prosecutor's contention that Vice President Dick Cheney's top aide was the first to make the disclosure to reporters.
From the November 17 Washington Post article headlined "Woodward Could Be A Boon To Libby":
Legal experts said Woodward provided two pieces of new information that cast at least a shadow of doubt on the public case against Libby, Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, who has been indicted on perjury and obstruction of justice charges.
Woodward testified Monday that contrary to Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's public statements, a senior government official -- not Libby -- was the first Bush administration official to tell a reporter about Plame and her role at the CIA. Woodward also said that Libby never mentioned Plame in conversations they had on June 23 and June 27, 2003, about the Iraq war, a time when the indictment alleges Libby was eagerly passing information about Plame to reporters and colleagues.
From the November 16 edition of CNN's Live From ...:
KELLI ARENA (CNN correspondent): There are some lawyers who say that this at least raises reasonable doubt, and that's because Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor, came out and said that Lewis Libby was the first person who had spoken to reporters about Valerie Plame. And if Woodward's timetable is correct, then he was not the first official to speak to the press about Valerie Plame.
From the November 16 broadcast of ABC's World News Tonight:
VARGAS: Here in Washington, a lot of people are talking about a surprising new development in the CIA leak investigation. Renowned Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward says he found out about the CIA agent's identity a month before it was revealed in a newspaper column. This is significant because the special prosecutor in the case has accused the vice president's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, of being the first person to leak the name. Now, that claim is very much in question because The Washington Post said Mr. Woodward learned about the name from someone else.
From the November 16 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
ANGLE: A surprising development in the CIA leak case today as Bob Woodward said he told prosecutors he'd been told that Joe Wilson's wife worked at the CIA a month before Scooter Libby is accused of telling reporters, undercutting one of the key assertions of the prosecutor, that Libby was the original source.
ANGLE: When special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald announced the indictment of Libby, one of the key assertions in the charges was that no one really knew Wilson's wife worked at the CIA until Libby disclosed it, that in effect, he started the whole thing.
FITZGERALD [video clip]: He was at the beginning of the chain of the phone calls, the first official to disclose this information outside the government to a reporter, and that he lied about it afterwards, under oath, and repeatedly.
ANGLE: One of Libby's lawyers, Ted Wells, told Fox "Woodward's disclosures are a bombshell to Mr. Fitzgerald's case," that the assertion Libby was the original source "was totally inaccurate."
From the November 16 edition of MSNBC's Hardball:
SHUSTER: Woodward's conversation with the unnamed senior official came before Libby spoke about the Wilsons to reporters, and therefore Woodward's conversation could help Libby's defense team show that at least one claim about Libby was wrong.
FITZGERALD [video clip]: He was at the beginning of the chain of the phone calls, the first official to disclose this information outside the government to a reporter.
SHUSTER: Libby, though, who was at the courthouse today examining pretrial documents, is charged with obstructing the investigation, and legal experts say a change in the prosecution leak chronology may not matter very much in the Libby case.
Several other media figures attributed to Wells the claim that Fitzgerald's statement had been proven "totally inaccurate," but failed to correct it.
From the November 16 edition of Fox News' DaySide:
JULIET HUDDY (co-host): There was a Washington Post story this morning that says Bob Woodward, the famous journalist, learned about Valerie Plame, you remember her -- she is the former CIA worker. He learned about her the month before Bob Novak's column was published. So this obviously takes a little bit of oomph out of Patrick Fitzgerald's case -- the special prosecutor's case.
MIKE JERRICK (co-host): And Woodward says he knew who she was. So let's talk a little more about that. Mr. Libby was the first government -- I mean, statements that Mr. Libby was the first government official to tell about a reporter about Mr. Wilson's wife's employment at the CIA was totally inaccurate then, according to Ted Wells, Libby's attorney.
From the November 17 edition of NBC's Today:
RUSSERT: Well, the Libby lawyers have called it a bombshell, because they're saying that Mr. Fitzgerald, the special counsel, said that the first public official to talk to a reporter about Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was Scooter Libby and now Mr. Woodward seems to contradict that. The Libby lawyers will then suggest, well, you see that shows the investigation was not as comprehensive as it should have been.
From the November 17 edition of MSNBC's Connected Coast to Coast:
O'DONNELL: Scooter Libby's attorney, Ted Wells, says it is a bombshell. He says that it tears apart special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's case that Libby was the first person to reveal this to a reporter and that Libby was involved in some kind of scheme. Wells says that the revelation by Bob Woodward that he, in fact, was the first reporter to learn this information shows that the special prosecutor's case is baseless. The Washington Times today, in an editorial, is calling on special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to drop the charges against Scooter Libby. Still, Scooter Libby was charged on five counts, an indictment accusing him of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements.