In his latest column, Bob Novak purported to discuss his role in the federal investigation into the disclosure of former CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity, but instead of providing the answer to perhaps the most enduring mystery in this case -- the identity of his original source -- he repeated a number of false and contradictory statements regarding the investigation and the manner in which he learned of Plame's identity.
In his July 12 nationally syndicated column, Fox News political analyst Robert D. Novak claimed to make good on his promise to discuss his role in the federal investigation into the disclosure of former CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity. But he did not provide the answer to perhaps the most enduring mystery in this case -- the identity of his original source -- and repeated false and contradictory statements regarding the investigation and the manner in which he learned of Plame's identity. The only discernible new disclosure in Novak's column was that he in fact testified before the grand jury and revealed his sources there.
In 2002, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV was sent to Niger by the CIA to answer questions from Vice President Dick Cheney's office regarding the purported sale of Nigerien yellowcake uranium to Iraq. Wilson's investigation turned up no evidence that any sale had taken place and found that "it would be exceedingly difficult for Niger to transfer uranium to Iraq." After President Bush alluded to Iraq's purported attempt to obtain uranium from Africa in his 2003 State of the Union address as justification for invading Iraq (the now-infamous "sixteen words"), Wilson detailed the findings of his trip in a July 6, 2003, New York Times op-ed. Eight days later, in his July 14, 2003, column, Novak identified Plame as "an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction," and wrote: "Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger." In September 2003, it was reported that the Justice Department had launched an investigation into the public disclosure of Plame's identity. In December 2003, the Justice Department appointed U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald as special counsel to head the inquiry. On October 28, 2005, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's then-chief of staff, was indicted on charges of obstruction of justice, perjury, and making false statements to the FBI regarding the Plame investigation.
In his latest column, Novak has continued his pattern of making false and contradictory statements regarding the Plame case, including offering contradictory accounts of how he came to know of Plame's identity as a CIA operative. In his July 12 column, Novak wrote:
In my sworn testimony, I said what I have contended in my columns and on television: Joe Wilson's wife's role in instituting her husband's mission was revealed to me in the middle of a long interview with an official who I have previously said was not a political gunslinger. After the federal investigation was announced, he told me through a third party that the disclosure was inadvertent on his part.
Novak previously wrote, in his October 1, 2003, column, that he learned of Plame's identity through "an offhand revelation" from his primary source. On the October 5, 2003, broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press, Novak claimed Plame's identity "came up almost offhandedly in the course of a very long conversation with a senior official about many things." As Media Matters for America noted, however, these explanations, as well as Novak's most recent claim that "the disclosure was inadvertent," are contradicted by the account of how he learned of Plame's identity he gave to Newsday shortly after the publication of his July 14, 2003, column. According to Newsday, he said that his White House sources "thought it was significant." According to the July 22 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."
On the October 5, 2003, broadcast of Meet the Press, host Tim Russert asked Novak to explain the discrepancy between the two quotes; Novak responded that his earlier statement had not been "very artfully put" and insisted that there existed "no inconsistency between those two."
Novak misrepresents Senate Intel Committee findings on Plame role
In his July 12 column, Novak twice claimed that Plame "helped initiate" Wilson's 2002 trip to Niger and claimed that the Senate Intelligence Committee's 2004 report on prewar Iraq intelligence "confirmed" that assertion:
For nearly the entire time of his investigation, Fitzgerald knew -- independent of me -- the identity of the sources I used in my column of July 14, 2003. A federal investigation was triggered when I reported that former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was employed by the CIA and helped initiate his 2002 mission to Niger. That Fitzgerald did not indict any of these sources may indicate his conclusion that none of them violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.
I considered his wife's role in initiating Wilson's mission, later confirmed by the Senate Intelligence Committee, to be a previously undisclosed part of an important news story. I reported it on that basis.
Novak previously made these claims in an August 1, 2005, column. As Media Matters has noted, however, the CIA has disputed the assertion that Plame was instrumental in her husband's obtaining the assignment. Also, the Senate Intelligence Committee report offered no conclusions as to whether Plame suggested Wilson for the trip. The committee chairman, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), stated in an addendum to the report that committee Democrats had specifically opposed inclusion of an official finding on the subject.
Indeed, Novak himself accurately noted the committee's lack of a conclusion on the matter in a July 15, 2004, column, writing: "They neither agreed to a conclusion that former diplomat Joseph Wilson was suggested for a mission to Niger by his CIA employee wife nor defended his statements to the contrary." Since then, however, Novak has consistently and falsely claimed that the Senate Intelligence Committee report "confirmed" Plame's role in the controversy.
Central question remains
Novak's column also revealed little or nothing that was not previously known about his sources or role in the leaking of Plame's identity. In his July 12 column, Novak wrote:
Some journalists have badgered me to disclose my role in the case, even demanding I reveal my sources -- identified in the column as two senior Bush administration officials and an unspecified CIA source. I have promised to discuss my role in the investigation when permitted by the prosecution, and I do so now.
But Novak did not answer the central question regarding his role in the investigation: Who was his primary source for Plame's identity? Instead, he "revealed" that White House senior adviser Karl Rove and former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow were his "confirming" sources. Novak wrote:
I have revealed Rove's name because his attorney has divulged the substance of our conversation, though in a form different from my recollection. I have revealed Harlow's name because he has publicly disclosed his version of our conversation, which also differs from my recollection. My primary source has not come forward to identify himself.
It has long been known, however, that Rove and Novak spoke about Plame. As The Washington Post reported on October 20, 2005: "One of the longest-running mysteries of the case is the identity of Novak's second source. Rove has testified that he discussed Plame in passing with Novak, but it is not clear who else did." Also, Novak previously acknowledged Harlow as his source at the CIA. In his August 1, 2005, column, Novak specifically responded to Harlow's claim that Novak had ignored Harlow's warnings regarding the Plame story. Novak wrote:
In the course of a front-page story in last Wednesday's Washington Post, Walter Pincus and Jim VandeHei quoted ex-CIA spokesman Bill Harlow describing his testimony to the grand jury. In response to my question about Valerie Plame Wilson's role in former Amb. Wilson's trip to Niger, Harlow told me she "had not authorized the mission." Harlow was quoted as later saying to me "the story Novak had related to him was wrong."
Moreover, Harlow himself has reported that he discussed Plame with Novak before the July 2003 column.