Media figures repeat false claim that Armitage role in Plame leak exonerates Libby and Rove

››› ››› ROB MORLINO

Numerous media figures have asserted that a recent report purportedly identifying former deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage as Robert Novak's original source for Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA operative prove that Karl Rove and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby were not involved in the leak of her identity. However, Armitage's role as Novak's first source is not inconsistent with Rove's and Libby's involvements in the leak -- both were original sources of the information for two other reporters.

Following a report that a forthcoming book purportedly identifies former deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage as columnist Robert D. Novak's original source for the identity of former CIA operative Valerie Plame, several media figures have asserted that this report proves that White House senior adviser Karl Rove and former vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby were not involved in the leak. However, as Media Matters for America has noted, the revelation that Armitage was Novak's original source is not inconsistent with Rove's and Libby's involvements in the leak, as both were reportedly the original sources of the information for at least two reporters during the summer of 2003.

The book, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War (Crown), by Newsweek investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff and The Nation Washington editor David Corn, is due out in September. A Newsweek article by Isikoff, posted on the magazine's website on August 27, reveals the authors' contention that Armitage was Novak's primary source for his July 14, 2003, column, which first publicly identified Plame as a CIA operative.

However, as Media Matters noted, then-Time magazine White House correspondent Matthew Cooper, in his first-person account (subscription required) of his testimony before the grand jury in the CIA leak investigation, identified Rove as his original source for Plame's identity and Libby as his confirming source. Former New York Times reporter Judith Miller identified Libby as her primary source for Plame's identity. Corn noted in an August 27 entry on his Capital Games weblog for The Nation that Armitage's role in the Plame leak -- whatever it may have been -- does not undermine the allegation that there was a "concerted action" by "multiple people in the White House" to "discredit, punish, or seek revenge against" Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV. Wilson had accused the Bush administration of manipulating intelligence about Iraq's purported weapons of mass destruction. Corn wrote:

The Armitage leak was not directly a part of the White House's fierce anti-Wilson crusade. But as Hubris notes, it was, in a way, linked to the White House effort, for Amitage [sic] had been sent a key memo about Wilson's trip that referred to his wife and her CIA connection, and this memo had been written, according to special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald [who was appointed to investigate the Plame leak], at the request of I. Lewis Scooter Libby, the vice president's chief of staff. Libby had asked for the memo because he was looking to protect his boss from the mounting criticism that Bush and Cheney had misrepresented the WMD intelligence to garner public support for the invasion of Iraq.

The memo included information on Valerie Wilson's role in a meeting at the CIA that led to her husband's trip. This critical memo was -- as Hubris discloses -- based on notes that were not accurate. (You're going to have to read the book for more on this.) But because of Libby's request, a memo did circulate among State Department officials, including Armitage, that briefly mentioned Wilson's wife.

In addition, as Media Matters has also noted, according to a July 12 column by Novak, Fitzgerald knew who Novak's primary source was as early as January 12, 2004. Nevertheless, Fitzgerald wrote in court filings released on April 6 that "it is hard to conceive of what evidence there could be that would disprove the existence of White House efforts to 'punish' Wilson." Fitzgerald has also alleged that Cheney and Libby were "acutely focused" on the Wilson column and on rebutting his criticisms of the White House's handling of pre-Iraq war intelligence.

Further, the Associated Press reported in an August 22 article that Armitage met with Libby a week prior to his meeting with Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, during which he reportedly disclosed Plame's identity. The meeting between Armitage and Libby also occurred prior to Armitage's conversation with Novak during which he disclosed Plame's identity:

That meeting occurred as State officials were about to prepare a report outlining how Plame's husband was sent to Niger before the Iraq war to check unverified intelligence that Iraq was seeking nuclear materials from Africa.

As Corn wrote in the August 27 entry of his Capital Games weblog:

Armitage's role aside, the public record is without question: senior White House aides wanted to use Valerie Wilson's CIA employment against her husband. Rove leaked the information to Cooper, and Libby confirmed Rove's leak to Cooper. Libby also disclosed information on Wilson's wife to New York Times reporter Judith Miller.*

In reporting on the book's impending release, numerous media figures ignored the reports that Rove and Libby were original sources for other reporters besides Novak in the leaking of Plame's identity:

  • In an August 30 editorial, the Wall Street Journal argued that, given the identification of Armitage as Novak's original source in Hubris, "the leaker wasn't Karl Rove or Scooter Libby or anyone else in the White House who has been accused of running a conspiracy against Ms. Plame as revenge for her husband Joe Wilson's false accusations against the White House's case for war with Iraq," and that the White House "in short, was not engaged in any campaign to 'out' Ms. Plame."
  • On the August 28 edition of MSNBC's Tucker, host Tucker Carlson noted Isikoff and Corn's revelation and asked, "Why have we made such a big deal out of such a minor story from day one?" He then concluded that "the lunatic, paranoid, conspiracy-theory-ridden left has made [the leak] into example A of the Bush administration's evil deeds. This story, they say, is a metaphor, this is an example of the Bush administration crushing someone."
  • In his August 31 New York Times column, David Brooks wrote: "Perhaps you remember the left-wing bloggers foaming so uncontrollably at the thought of Rove's coming imprisonment that they looked like little Chia Pets of glee. ... And yet now it has been revealed that the primary leaker was not Rove at all, but Richard Armitage, a former deputy secretary of state."
  • Los Angeles Times columnist Jonah Goldberg similarly concluded in his August 31 column: "[T]he Bush-bashers have lost credibility. The most delicious example came this week when it was finally revealed that Colin Powell's oak-necked major-domo Richard Armitage -- and not some star chamber neocon -- "outed" Valerie Plame, the spousal prop of Washington's biggest ham, Joe Wilson. Now it turns out that instead of "Bush blows CIA agent's cover to silence a brave dissenter" -- as Wilson practices saying into the mirror every morning -- the story is, "One Bush enemy inadvertently taken out by another's friendly fire."
  • Vanity Fair columnist Christopher Hitchens wrote in an August 29 column appearing on Slate.com that "now we have the final word on who did disclose the name and occupation of Valerie Plame, and it turns out to be someone whose opposition to the Bush policy in Iraq has -- like Robert Novak's -- long been a byword in Washington. It is particularly satisfying that this admission comes from two of the journalists -- Michael Isikoff and David Corn -- who did the most to get the story wrong in the first place and the most to keep it going long beyond the span of its natural life."
  • In an August 30 editorial, the editors of the National Review Online concluded, "This revelation lays waste to the notion that Vice President Dick Cheney, former Cheney chief of staff Lewis Libby, and top White House aide Karl Rove conspired to "out" Plame as a way of smearing her husband, the anti-Bush gadfly Joseph Wilson. But it does more than just debunk left-wing conspiracy theories. It also raises a vitally serious question about the CIA leak investigation itself: Why did it happen?" The editorial criticized Fitzgerald's investigation for focusing on Libby and Rove, but never mentioned Miller or Cooper.
  • New York Post columnist John Podhoretz wrote in an August 29 column: "Corn has put a stake in the heart of one of the foundational theories behind the 'Bush Lied' lie -- after having spent several years promoting that very theory."
  • On the August 30 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, guest host Kitty Pilgrim discussed Armitage with New York Daily News columnist Errol Louis, Washington Times columnist Diana West and syndicated columnist Miguel Perez. Louis asserted that the revelation "sort of weakens the case against the White House, I think. Now people can argue, look, the White House really wasn't after Valerie Plame and her husband because this came -- the original source wasn't Karl Rove after all." Louis added, "[T]he big loser in this is Armitage himself because ... people on both sides of the aisle are going to say, how could you have known that you were the source of this ... and you didn't take a bullet for the team and you didn't clear this up and let the public business move on to something else?" West then added, "[T]he media has a lot of eating crow to do because we've seen three long years of conspiracy theories being spun out about a Bush, Rove, Cheney, Scooter Libby conspiracy to blacken the name of an anti-war critic." Pilgrim concluded the discussion by asserting that there is, "Plenty of blame to go around."
  • During the "All-Star Panel" segment on the August 28 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, which featured Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes, Roll Call executive editor Morton M. Kondracke, and Fortune magazine Washington correspondent Nina Easton, host Brit Hume asked: Host Brit Hume asked: "Well, what to make of this new revelation?" Kondracke responded, "[T]his whole conspiracy theory of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney masterminding this entire plot to out Valerie Plame and reveal -- and violate the Intelligence Agents' Identities Act [sic: Intelligence Identities Protection Act] and all this stuff ... it's empty. There is a hole here, there's nothing there, but countless people have been put through hell over this -- as a result of this." Easton agreed: "[T]his was not a Rove-directed, Libby-directed conspiracy." Barnes concluded: "[T]he only explanation for what Fitzgerald was doing is that somehow he bought the left-wing conspiracy theory, that there was this coordinated effort in the Bush administration to smear Joe Wilson, because he'd written that Bush had said something untrue in his State of the Union Address."

From the August 30 edition of The Wall Street Journal:

From its very start, the ballyhooed case of who leaked the name of CIA analyst Valerie Plame to columnist Robert Novak has been drenched in partisan politics and media hypocrisy. The more we learn, however, the more it also reveals about the internal dysfunction of the Bush Administration and the lack of loyalty among some of its most senior officials.

The latest news is that the Bush official who first disclosed Ms. Plame's identity was none other than former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. According to a new book by liberal journalists David Corn and Michael Isikoff, Mr. Armitage was Mr. Novak's primary source for his now famous column of July 14, 2003, that first publicly revealed Ms. Plame's CIA pedigree.

In other words, the leaker wasn't Karl Rove or Scooter Libby or anyone else in the White House who has been accused of running a conspiracy against Ms. Plame as revenge for her husband Joe Wilson's false accusations against the White House's case for war with Iraq. So what have the last three years been all about anyway? Political opportunism and internal score-settling, among other things.

Mr. Armitage, recall, was part of Colin Powell's team at State and well known as an internal Administration opponent of the "neo-cons" who supported the ouster of Saddam Hussein. The book alleges that Mr. Armitage knew as early as October 2003 that he was Mr. Novak's prime source, yet he kept quiet about it even as his colleagues in the Administration were dragged through years of criminal investigation and media accusations as the possible leaker. Even now Mr. Armitage hasn't admitted to being the leaker, though doing so would help to clarify several things about the case.

For starters, fessing up would put to rest the conspiracy theories once and for all. Bush opponents have continued to promote this myth, with Mr. Wilson writing in June 2004 that "the conspiracy to destroy us was most likely conceived -- and carried out -- within the office of the vice president of the United States." Not a word of that was true.

Mr. Novak hasn't himself confirmed that Mr. Armitage was his primary source, since Mr. Armitage hasn't yet given him leave to do so. But Mr. Novak has written that his source was not a "partisan gunslinger," and the columnist has also said that he himself put in the call to Mr. Rove to confirm what he'd first heard from his main source (presumably Mr. Armitage). The White House, in short, was not engaged in any campaign to "out" Ms. Plame.

All of this matters because it also casts doubt on the thoroughness and fairness of special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's probe that began in December 2003. The prosecutor never did indict anyone for leaking Ms. Plame's name, though this was supposedly the act of "treason" that triggered the political clamor for a probe. Instead, he has indicted Mr. Libby for perjury and obstruction of justice.

From the August 28 edition of MSNBC's Tucker:

CARLSON: Now to something I really don't get. There's new insight surrounding outed CIA operative Valerie Plame and her husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson.

ISIKOFF [video clip]: White House officials were deliberately targeting Joe Wilson and did indeed -- tipping off reporters to Valerie Plame.

CARLSON: That was Newsweek correspondent Mike Isikoff. He and writer David Corn have a new tell-all book about who blew Plame's cover and why. They point the finger at this guy, Richard Armitage. The former deputy secretary of state, and Colin Powell's best friend reportedly admits he spilled the beans to newspaper columnist Bob Novak three years ago. But colleagues claim Armitage was not out to get Wilson for his ardent criticism of the Iraq war. They say it was merely a slip of the tongue. Here's what I don't get: Why have we made such a big deal out of such a minor story from day one? I'll tell you why. Because the lunatic, paranoid, conspiracy-theory-ridden left has made it into example A of the Bush administration's evil deeds. This story, they say, is a metaphor, this is an example of the Bush administration crushing someone. The neocons in the administration crushing someone to get their war in Iraq. Oh, wait a second, though, Richard Armitage is not a neocon. He's close friends with Colin Powell, that liberal icon. He was not out there pushing the war like Richard Perle and all the evil neocons. Wait a second, the story doesn't make sense, does it? Will the liberals admit this? I hope they will. If you dislike the Bush administration, dislike the Bush administration for honest reasons -- Iraq, immigration, Social Security -- but not for some stupid, made-up story about Valerie Plame. Please. What an insult.

From David Brooks's August 31 New York Times column:

Perhaps, dear reader, you are perplexed. Perhaps you remember the scandal surrounding the outing of the C.I.A. agent Valerie Plame, a crime so heinous that her husband was forced to endure repeated magazine photo-shoots. Perhaps you remember Karl Rove's face on the covers of magazines and newspapers, along with hundreds of stories and driveway stakeouts.

Perhaps you remember the left-wing bloggers foaming so uncontrollably at the thought of Rove's coming imprisonment that they looked like little Chia Pets of glee. Perhaps you remember a city of TV bookers periodically canceling their lunch plans because of rumors that the Rove indictment was imminent, thus leaving behind a dangerous oversupply of salad entrees.

Perhaps you remember how much this all mattered.

And yet now it has been revealed that the primary leaker was not Rove at all, but Richard Armitage, a former deputy secretary of state. And this news produces no outrage at all. Nothing. A piffle. Perhaps you are wondering how this could happen.

Well, dear reader, there are four things you must remember about your political class. First, there is a big difference between politically useful wrongdoing and politically useless wrongdoing, the core of which is that politically useless wrongdoing is not really wrongdoing at all.

Back in its glory days, the Plame affair was a way to expose the black heart of the Bush administration. It was used to support accusations by [Sens.] John Kerry [D-MA], Barbara Boxer [D-CA] and other truth-seekers that the Bushies were so vicious they would use classified information to discredit anyone who dared to criticize them.

Senator Frank Lautenberg [D-NJ] accused Rove of treason. [Democratic National Committee chairman] Howard Dean and a cast of thousands called for his firing. But now it turns out that the leaker cannot be used to discredit the president, that he was a critic of the Iraq war. And with the political usefulness of the scandal dissolving, a sweet cloud of indifference has settled upon the metropolis.

From Jonah Goldberg's August 31 Los Angeles Times column:

But you know what? It's time to cut the guy some slack.

Of course, I will get hippo-choking amounts of e-mail from Bush-haters telling me that all I ever do is cut Bush slack. But these folks grade on the curve. By their standards, anything short of demanding that a live, half-starved badger be sewn into his belly flunks.

Besides, the Bush-bashers have lost credibility. The most delicious example came this week when it was finally revealed that Colin Powell's oak-necked major-domo Richard Armitage -- and not some star chamber neocon -- "outed" Valerie Plame, the spousal prop of Washington's biggest ham, Joe Wilson. Now it turns out that instead of "Bush blows CIA agent's cover to silence a brave dissenter" -- as Wilson practices saying into the mirror every morning -- the story is, "One Bush enemy inadvertently taken out by another's friendly fire."

From Christopher Hitchens' August 29 Slate.com column:

In his July 12 column in the Washington Post, Robert Novak had already partly exposed this paranoid myth by stating plainly that nobody had leaked anything, or outed anyone, to him. On the contrary, it was he who approached sources within the administration and the CIA and not the other way around. But now we have the final word on who did disclose the name and occupation of Valerie Plame, and it turns out to be someone whose opposition to the Bush policy in Iraq has -- like Robert Novak's -- long been a byword in Washington. It is particularly satisfying that this admission comes from two of the journalists -- Michael Isikoff and David Corn -- who did the most to get the story wrong in the first place and the most to keep it going long beyond the span of its natural life.

As most of us have long suspected, the man who told Novak about Valerie Plame was Richard Armitage, Colin Powell's deputy at the State Department and, with his boss, an assiduous underminer of the president's war policy. (His and Powell's -- and George Tenet's -- fingerprints are all over Bob Woodward's "insider" accounts of post-9/11 policy planning, which helps clear up another nonmystery: Woodward's revelation several months ago that he had known all along about the Wilson-Plame connection and considered it to be no big deal.) The Isikoff-Corn book, which is amusingly titled Hubris, solves this impossible problem of its authors' original "theory" by restating it in a passive voice:

The disclosures about Armitage, gleaned from interviews with colleagues, friends and lawyers directly involved in the case, underscore one of the ironies of the Plame investigation: that the initial leak, seized on by administration critics as evidence of how far the White House was willing to go to smear an opponent, came from a man who had no apparent intention of harming anyone.

In the stylistic world where disclosures are gleaned and ironies underscored, the nullity of the prose obscures the fact that any irony here is only at the authors' expense. It was Corn in particular who asserted -- in a July 16, 2003, blog post credited with starting the entire distraction -- that:

The Wilson smear was a thuggish act. Bush and his crew abused and misused intelligence to make their case for war. Now there is evidence Bushies used classified information and put the nation's counter-proliferation efforts at risk merely to settle a score. It is a sign that with this gang politics trumps national security.

After you have noted that the Niger uranium connection was in fact based on intelligence that has turned out to be sound, you may also note that this heated moral tone ("thuggish," "gang") is now quite absent from the story. It turns out that the person who put Valerie Plame's identity into circulation was a staunch foe of regime change in Iraq. Oh, that's all right, then. But you have to laugh at the way Corn now so neutrally describes his own initial delusion as one that was "seized on by administration critics."

From John Podhoretz's August 29 New York Post column:

The get-Wilson cabal of leftist fantasy was made up primarily of political honcho Karl Rove, deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley and vice-presidential aide Scooter Libby -- all of whom had spent years at daggers drawn with the State Department and, therefore, with Armitage. As one White House official told me, "Rich wouldn't have given Scooter a glass of water on the road to Hell."

For those of us obsessed with the case, it isn't exactly news. Indeed, I thought back in October 2003 that Novak's source was probably Armitage because a) Novak said his source was "not a partisan gunslinger" -- Armitage to a T -- and b) everybody in Washington knows that the only thing Richard Armitage loves more than Colin Powell is a reporter's off-the-record phone call.

Still, the revelation is a blockbuster for one reason: It comes in a book co-authored by David Corn, whose column in The Nation and blog have been central clearinghouses for the notion that everybody and his mother in the Bush administration should be tried and convicted, then drawn and quartered for the monstrous evil of deliberately exposing the uniquely delicate secret-agent woman Valerie Plame to all but certain murder.

Corn has put a stake in the heart of one of the foundational theories behind the "Bush Lied" lie -- after having spent several years promoting that very theory.

From the August 30 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:

PILGRIM: We have one other topic I'd like to get to, and that's former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, actually the source of the leak in the Valerie Plame case. What do you make of this? This is yet another episode in that epic.

PEREZ: Well, it sort of weakens the case against the White House, I think. I -- you know -- now they -- people can argue, look, you know, the White House really wasn't after Valerie Plame and her husband because this came -- the original source wasn't Karl Rove after all.

PILGRIM: Right.

PEREZ: So --

LOUIS: The big -- I mean, the big loser in this is Armitage himself because I think people on both sides of the aisle are going to say, "How could you have known that you were the source of this and just sat month after month while your colleagues were being investigated and dragged in front of grand juries and indicted and all of this kind of bad stuff coming down and you didn't take a bullet for the team and you didn't clear this up and let the public business move on to something else?"

WEST: I completely --

PILGRIM: Yeah, the Sunday talk shows alone -- go ahead, Diana.

WEST: Well, I completely agree with that. This was a situation also -- I mean, come on, guys, the media has a lot of eating crow to do because we've seen three long years of conspiracy theories being spun out about a Bush, Rove, Cheney, Scooter Libby conspiracy to blacken the name of an anti-war critic. When it turns out that Armitage himself, who is anti-war and coming out of the State Department who had no intention of blackening any anti-war critic, is the source of the leak. And I'm waiting for the media to acknowledge this and come around and do the honorable thing. And I would agree that Armitage does not come out well. And I would also say by extension, Colin Powell also was another one of the people who sat quietly through several years, according to the stories, not fessing up, not helping out his former colleagues in the White House and allowing the presidency to be seriously distracted if not damaged.

PILGRIM: Plenty of blame to go around. Thank you very much for being with us, Errol Louis, Miguel Perez and Diana West. Thank you.

From the August 28 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

HUME: Well what to make of this new revelation? A lot of people suspected Armitage. This appears, with enough detail, that it's credible to name him.

KONDRACKE: I mean, if this is all right, then the whole -- this whole conspiracy theory of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney masterminding this entire plot to out Valerie Plame and reveal -- and violate the Intelligence Agents Identities Act [sic] and all this stuff, which, by the way, David Corn, who helped write this book -- David Corn of The Nation magazine is one of the co-authors of this, he's the one who started this whole thing. When that -- when this column came out, he's the one who said, "Ah-ha, the Bush administration is violating this law that was designed to protect agents overseas who were being outed and then killed during the 1970s and 80s." Anyway, so it's empty. There's a hole here, there's nothing there, but, countless people have been put through hell over this -- as a result of this. They've been -- Scooter Libby is under indictment. He lost his job, Cheney's chief of staff. I don't know, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars of legal expenses people have had to shell out for lawyers and the government's wasted a lot of money with the special prosecutor.

HUME: Well, what to make, though, Nina, of the special prosecutor who came to this job with the fact of Armitage having been the leaker of the Novak column already known to the Justice Department, the FBI, and therefore to him? What was he investigating?

EASTON: Right. It does raise some serious questions because this was clearly a case of -- it wasn't -- it was not a conspiracy if we were to believe the facts, it was a case of bureaucratically defending yourself. Let's step back a second. Armitage was very involved in that U.N. speech that Colin Powell gave, a few months prior, in which he staked his reputation on the fact that Iraq had chemical weapons stockpiles, biological weapons and was looking for nuclear weapons. This was a searing moment in Colin Powell's political career and suddenly, Armitage is forced to defend that, and I think he -- and this was not -- again, as Mort points out, this was not a Rove-directed, Libby-directed conspiracy, which comes out also when you -- from what we've heard from them, it sounds like it was almost a beside the point, it wasn't a directed matter, even from them.

HUME: Which is what the journalists have been kind of saying all along that it was mentioned to them or they brought it up and asked about it, but nobody made a big point of calling them up and giving them the information, not even Armitage, it came up in passing which is what's been said all along. So --

BARNES: So, the Bush White House, Karl Rove, Scooter Libby and others were hung out to dry and the charge grew and was widely proclaimed in the press and among Democrats and among critics of the White House, that the White House had smeared an innocent man, Joe Wilson, who merely told the truth. And it turns out that was wrong from the beginning. Obviously, there was no coordination between Richard Armitage and Karl Rove at the White House. And all Rove did was when asked about -- when told by Robert Novak that --

HUME: He'd heard this, yeah.

BARNES: That Novak had heard this, he said, well, he'd heard it, too. Mort's right, I mean this conspiracy theory dies entirely.

HUME: So what are we --

BARNES: But , you know, the only explanation for what Fitzgerald was doing is that somehow he bought the left-wing conspiracy theory, that there was this coordinated effort in the Bush administration to smear Joe Wilson, you know, because he'd written that Bush had said something that was untrue in his State of the Union Address.

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