Fox News' Hill: Plame "skirt[ed] the issue" of whether she was covert in House testimony

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

On Fox News Live, E.D. Hill asserted that "it sounded like" former CIA operative Valerie Plame's testimony to a House committee was "completely skirting the issue of whether she still fell under those rules of being considered covert" when her identity was leaked. In fact, Plame specifically testified that she was "covert" until Robert Novak publicly revealed her identity in a 2003 column.

On the March 16 edition of Fox News Live, host E.D. Hill asserted that "it sounded like" former CIA operative Valerie Plame's testimony to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform was "completely skirting the issue of whether she still fell under those rules of being considered covert" when her identity was leaked. In fact, Plame specifically testified that she was "covert" until syndicated columnist and Fox News contributor Robert D. Novak publicly revealed her identity in a July 14, 2003, column.

In particular, Hill cited Plame's testimony under questioning by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) that "[j]ust like a general is a general whether he is in the field [or] when he comes back to the Pentagon, he is still a general ... covert operations officers who are serving in the field, when they rotate back to a temporary assignment in Washington, they, too, are still covert." However, as the weblog Think Progress noted, Plame also agreed with Cummings that she had "covert status at the time of the leak" and that she had "conduct[ed] secret missions overseas" "[d]uring the past five years," which, as Media Matters for America documented, is one of the requirements for "covert" status under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA).

Fox News correspondent Julie Kirtz responded to Hill's assertion by pointing out that "earlier in her opening statement, [Plame] clearly stated that she did have that undercover status." Indeed, Plame did testify in her opening statement that she had been "covert," and made clear that she was still covert at the time Novak's column was published in response to questions by Cummings and Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY). In response to Yarmuth's questions, which Fox News aired live less than a half-hour prior to Hill's assertion, Plame agreed that she had been "covert ... [o]n July 13," 2003, and that "the July 14 column destroyed [her] covert position and [her] classified status." After airing a different clip of Plame's testimony, Hill added: "[A]s I listen to the words again, she continues to talk about her work overseas and the covert work in the past tense, never directly answering the question of whether or not at that point she was."

Additionally, after Fox News' America's Newsroom aired Yarmuth's questioning of Plame, Novak appeared and asserted that "the idea that [Plame] was a covert operator working on covert operations when she was going to the CIA building every day is absurd." However, on the October 26, 2005, edition of CNN's The Situation Room, former CIA agent Larry Johnson addressed such claims: "People saying that just demonstrate their further ignorance of the CIA. At least 40 percent of the people driving through those gates every day are undercover."

Novak also suggested that Plame was not covert because "in 1999, she gave a $1,000 contribution to [then-Vice President] Al Gore's presidential campaign and listed the fictitious -- supposedly -- cover organization that she was using for the CIA as her place of employment." As Media Matters has noted, Plame reportedly used the name of Brewster-Jennings & Associates, a CIA front company, to conceal her place of employment. On the October 2005 Situation Room, Johnson also noted that "when Valerie wrote that check to Al Gore's campaign as a member of [CIA cover organization] Brewster-Jennings, she was living her cover."

Despite Novak's history of misinformation regarding Plame and the investigation into the leaking of her identity, America's Newsroom co-host Megyn Kelly referred to Novak as "the man with all the answers -- at least the responses to" Plame.

On the March 16 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:

YARMUTH: I'd like to start by asking you about July 14, 2003, the day that Robert Novak wrote the column in the Chicago Sun-Times identifying you as "an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction," quote. But before I get to that, I wanted to ask you about the day before, July 13. My understanding is that on that date, you were covert. Is that correct? On July 13?

PLAME: I was a covert officer. Correct.

YARMUTH: Without destroying or -- disclosing classified information, what does "covert" mean?

PLAME: I'm not a lawyer, but my understanding is that the CIA is taking affirmative steps to ensure that there is no links between the operations officer and the Central Intelligence Agency. I mean, that's simple.

YARMUTH: As you said -- and my understanding is that your work was classified for purposes of many of the regulations and laws we're talking about. Your work was classified on that day, July 13.

PLAME: That's correct.

YARMUTH: Did the July 14 column destroyed your covert position and your classified status?

PLAME: Yes, it did. I could no longer perform the work for which I had been highly trained.

[...]

NOVAK: Well, it's very interesting, I thought, that Mrs. Wilson has said that she was a covert operations officer and that the identity in the column -- in my column ended that. It is beyond comprehension that a covert officer was going to work at the CIA every day. If her identity in connection with the CIA was going to be kept secret from our enemies, the idea that she was going to work in the building every day is just absurd.

KELLY: Bob.

NOVAK: In addition when I talked --

KELLY: Let -- let me ask you --

NOVAK: When I talked to --

KELLY: First of all, let me ask you. We teed up some of the sound -- some of the testimony she just gave -- about you specifically. We've got that ready now. Let me play it, and then let me get you to react to it.

NOVAK: Surely.

PLAME [video clip]: Yes, it did.

KELLY: Sorry, Bob.

PLAME [video clip]: I could no longer perform the work for which I had been highly trained. I could no longer travel overseas or do the work for which my career -- which I loved. It was done.

KELLY: That's her saying what the consequences, in her view, of what happened after your column came out. And then she talked about how when she read it, she felt like she had been punched in the gut. First, let me ask you, have you ever spoken to her since the time you wrote your article?

NOVAK: I've never spoken to her in my life.

KELLY: So, what is it like for you to listen to her talking about your column for the first time, saying her reaction to reading it?

NOVAK: Well, let me -- what I'm more interested in is, is I don't have any particular reaction to what she said, but the idea that she was a covert operator working on covert operations when she was going to the CIA building every day is absurd.

Also, in 1999, she gave a $1,000 contribution to Al Gore's presidential campaign and listed the fictitious -- supposedly -- cover organization that she was using for the CIA as her place of employment as an analyst.

KELLY: Bob, we've got a hard break coming up, but we're going to continue with you in just a few. Stay with us if you would. We're going to pick up with him after the break. That's the man with all the answers -- at least the responses to that woman you see testifying there. Stay with us.

From the 11 a.m. hour of the March 16 edition of Fox News Live:

HILL: Julie, Valerie Plame Wilson was making a significant point there. She -- the greatest question in this entire case is whether or not she, at the time her name was leaked, was a covert agent. And what she just started saying was, "Well, it's kind of like a general. You know, when you're a general, you're basically a general for life." But it sounded like completely skirting the issue of whether she still fell under those rules of being considered covert. Is --

KIRTZ: Well, earlier -- that was what she just stated under questioning. Earlier, in her opening statement, she clearly stated that she did have that undercover status. She said that she had traveled overseas using that cover, that she had been researching the development of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as part of her covert work. But she also said that she supervised some CIA agents as well.

[...]

HILL: Although as I listen to the words again, she continues to talk about her work overseas and the covert work in the past tense, never directly answering the question of whether or not at that point she was.

And we had Robert Novak on -- of course, the person who released her name, in the press, that is -- and he said that it was just not comprehendible to him that a secret agent -- that's really what we're talking about -- a covert agent -- would go in and out of the CIA headquarters every day for work. If you're trying to stay secret and not let people know you're a CIA, you know, operative -- a covert agent -- you wouldn't be going to work over at the building.

KIRTZ: Well, that's true. I do know people that knew her socially in Washington, D.C. I mean, her kids went to the same preschool that my kids went to, E.D. And, of course, all the parents never knew she worked for the CIA. But that doesn't really say much. They didn't know where she drove after she dropped off her kids -- that she actually went out to the CIA headquarters.

So when she says it wasn't common knowledge around Washington -- perhaps. But among government officials -- I don't know. And I think it's difficult in this hearing, because it's public and because so much information is classified, for her to really get into those details.

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