Suggested questions for the media to ask Novak regarding the Plame affair


Media Matters for America suggests questions to ask Bob Novak regarding his role in the Valerie Plame affair -- questions that were left unanswered by Novak's "tell all" column.

Now that nationally syndicated columnist and Fox News political analyst Robert D. Novak has signalled his willingness to discuss the Valerie Plame affair, Media Matters for America suggests asking him the following questions regarding his role in the controversy -- questions that were left unanswered by his July 12 "tell all" column.

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 purported attempts on the part of Iraq to purchase yellowcake uranium from Niger. 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.

Why, as you claim, did Fitzgerald ask to keep your role in the controversy a secret, while others in the media were seemingly free to discuss their roles?

Novak wrote in his July 12 column that special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald requested that Novak keep secret his role in the Plame affair until Fitzgerald's "investigation of the CIA leak case concerning matters directly relating" to Novak was concluded. Why, though, would Fitzgerald ask Novak to keep secret while other media figures involved in the case long ago told their side of the story?

Former New York Times reporter Judith Miller spent 85 days in jail for refusing to name her sources, and eventually testified on September 30, 2005, and October 12, 2005. Miller recounted her testimony in an October 14, 2005, Times article -- two days after her last round of testimony. Matthew Cooper of Time faced imprisonment before announcing that he was confident that the waiver of confidentiality he received from White House senior adviser Karl Rove, one of his sources, was real; Cooper testified to the grand jury on July 13, 2005. Time published Cooper's account of his testimony in its July 25, 2005, edition, which was released on July 18, 2005 -- five days after he testified. The Washington Post reported on November 16, 2005, that Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward had testified two days earlier "that a senior administration official told him about CIA operative Valerie Plame and her position at the agency nearly a month before her identity was disclosed." Woodward's account of his testimony appeared in the November 16, 2005, edition of the Post as well.

In his July 12 column, Novak acknowledged that he testified before the grand jury on February 25, 2004, and is only now -- nearly two and a half years later -- recounting his version of events.

Can you explain how there exists "no inconsistency" between your seemingly contradictory accounts of how you came to know Valerie Plame's identity? What about your comment that your initial statement was not "very artfully put"? Did your sources not think the information was "significant"?

As Media Matters noted, shortly after Novak outed Plame as a CIA operative in his July 14, 2003, column, he told Newsday that his sources came to him with Plame's identity and "thought it was significant." Novak was quoted in a July 22, 2003, Newsday article saying: "I didn't dig it out, it was given to me. ... They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it." But in his October 1, 2003, column, Novak wrote that he learned Plame's identity through "an offhand revelation" from his primary source within the White House, suggesting that he came by the information almost by accident -- a far cry from his previous claim that the source "thought it was significant." Days later, on the October 5 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press, Novak again claimed that Plame's identity "was given to me as an offhand manner" and that the information "came up almost offhandedly in the course of a very long conversation with a senior official about many things." Host Tim Russert asked Novak to "explain" the discrepancy between the two quotes, but Novak simply said his earlier statement was not "very artfully put" and insisted that there existed "no inconsistency between those two."

In his July 12 column, Novak claimed that his source told him "the disclosure was inadvertent":

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.

Can you explain the inconsistency in your reporting of the Senate Intelligence Committee's findings on, as you put it, Plame's "role in initiating Wilson's mission"?

In his July 15, 2004, column, Novak accurately noted that the Senate Intelligence Committee's 2004 report in prewar Iraq intelligence did not come to any conclusions regarding Plame's alleged role in Wilson's trip to Niger, 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. In his August 1, 2005, column Novak wrote that Wilson's "denial" that Plame suggested him for the mission "was contradicted in July 2004 by a unanimous Senate Intelligence Committee report." In his July 12 column, Novak twice claimed that Plame "helped initiate" Wilson's trip to Niger and that the Senate Intelligence Committee's report "confirmed" that assertion.

From Novak's July 12 column:

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.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy
Robert Novak
CIA Leak Investigation
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