Wash. Post reported new characterization by Novak of CIA leak motive, ignoring his original, conflicting account

››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

The Washington Post reported that Robert Novak has said Bush administration officials who revealed Valerie Plame's identity to him were, in the Post's words, "casually providing a tidbit of information and did not seem to be trying to generate a story to discredit" Joe Wilson, ignoring Novak's original statement that Plame's identity "was given to me" by two administration sources because "[t]hey thought it was significant."

In a December 15 article by staff writer Carol D. Leonnig, The Washington Post reported that syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak said that the senior Bush administration officials who revealed the identity of former undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame to Novak were, in Leonnig's words, "casually providing a tidbit of information and did not seem to be trying to generate a story to discredit" former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV's mission to Niger. In fact, Leonnig misrepresented Novak's account of the leak scandal by leaving out the very different story Novak initially told of his exchange with administration officials regarding Plame's identity. Novak originally said that Plame's identity "was given to me" by two unnamed administration sources because "[t]hey thought it was significant." It was only after the Justice Department began an investigation into the leak that Novak wrote that his sources conveyed the information in an "offhand" way.

Wilson, Plame's husband, returned from Niger with findings that cast doubt on White House claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities -- claims that were used to build support for the war.

In a July 22, 2003, Newsday article, Novak gave reporters Timothy M. Phelps and Knut Royce an account of how he first learned of Plame's identity from the "two senior administration officials" he had cited in the July 14, 2003, column in which he revealed that Plame was "an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction." From the Newsday article:

Novak, in an interview, said his sources had come to him with the information. "I didn't dig it out, it was given to me," he said. "They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it."

As Media Matters for America has previously noted, Novak altered his account after the Justice Department launched an official investigation into the leak case. Novak wrote in an October 1, 2003, column that the administration official who disclosed Plame's identity had not come to him with the information but, rather, had in an "offhand" way mentioned her role at the CIA in response to questions regarding Wilson's selection for the mission to Niger. Days later on NBC's Meet the Press, Novak again emphasized that the official had mentioned Plame's role at the CIA "offhandedly." In that interview, Novak alleged that his July 14 statement was not "very artfully put," but that there existed "no inconsistency between those two."

From the December 15 Washington Post article:

[Post assistant managing editor Bob] Woodward disclosed last month that he, too, learned about Plame's CIA role in a confidential conversation with a senior administration source. Many involved in the case believe that Woodward and Novak had the same source. Though neither journalist has identified the source publicly, both have said the official was casually providing a tidbit of information and did not seem to be trying to generate a story to discredit Wilson's mission.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, Intelligence, War in Iraq
Stories/Interests
CIA Leak Investigation
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