On Hardball, The Hill's Stoddard accepted Novak's claim that CIA leak was "inadvertent"
The Hill associate editor A.B. Stoddard claimed that "we learned" from Robert Novak's syndicated column that the leak of then-CIA employee Valerie Plame's identity "was inadvertent." But Novak's assertion that the leak was "inadvertent" appears to conflict with an earlier assertion he made, that his sources thought Plame's identity "was significant" and that "they gave me the name and I used it."
On the July 12 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, claimed that "we learned" from Robert Novak's syndicated column that day that the leak of then-CIA employee Valerie Plame's identity "was inadvertent," based on Novak's statement in the column that his still-unnamed primary source for Plame's identity "told me ... that the disclosure was inadvertent on his part." But as Media Matters for America noted when host Chris Matthews advanced a similar claim on the previous edition of Hardball, Novak's assertion -- in his new column -- that the leak was "inadvertent" appears to conflict with an earlier assertion he made: a July 22, 2003, Newsday article quoted Novak saying that his sources thought Plame's identity "was significant" and that "they gave me the name and I used it." Moreover, even before Novak received the information from his primary source, administration officials had reportedly disclosed Plame's CIA employment to other reporters -- casting doubt on Stoddard's assertion that, based on Novak's new description of the leak by his primary source, "the Valerie Plame revelation was inadvertent."
Additionally, Stoddard stated that "you could make [the] argument" that -- in Matthews's words -- special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald "should have folded" his investigation as soon as he learned of the purportedly "inadvertent" nature of the leak, an event Stoddard placed "just one month later or less" after Fitzgerald's December 30, 2003, appointment to head the leak investigation.
In a column that appeared on the website Human Events Online on July 11 and syndicated on July 12, Novak wrote that "[a]fter the federal investigation [into the Plame leak] was announced," his primary source -- whom he still has not named -- "told me through a third party that the disclosure was inadvertent on his part." But as Media Matters noted, in a July 22, 2003, Newsday article by reporters Timothy M. Phelps and Knut Royce, Novak was quoted saying that his sources leaked Plame's CIA employment because "[t]hey thought it was significant":
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."
Novak apparently backtracked on this assertion later, describing the leak by his primary source as "offhand" in an October 1, 2003, column, and telling host Tim Russert on the October 5, 2003, broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press that his original source had mentioned Plame's role at the CIA "offhandedly." When asked by host Tim Russert to "explain" the discrepancy between this characterization of the leak and his earlier statement that his sources felt that Plame's identity was "significant," Novak said his earlier characterization was not "very artfully put" and insisted that there existed "no inconsistency between those two." As Media Matters noted, after this episode of Hardball featuring Stoddard aired, Novak advanced a second explanation for the discrepancy in his statements about whether the leak was purposeful, claiming on the July 12 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes that Newsday mischaracterized his comments.
Additionally, as Media Matters noted, there is ample evidence that multiple administration officials disclosed Plame's CIA employment to reporters multiple times -- a pattern, among other things, that led Fitzgerald to assert the existence of a "concerted action" by "multiple people in the White House" to "discredit, punish or seek revenge against" Wilson -- casting doubt on Stoddard's assertion that Novak's new description of the leak by his primary source shows "the Valerie Plame revelation was inadvertent."
From the July 12 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
MATTHEWS: Well, let me go back to the one I started with. Let's go to [Washingtonpost.com political columnist and blogger] Chris Cillizza. Chris, if we had known, say, October 2004 that despite what the president said, despite what his spokesman said, that there was a massive leak from the White House, it was people like Scooter Libby, of course, Karl Rove, all involved in it -- I've been counting, there's six leaks coming out of there -- in fact five there, one in the CIA -- actually four out of the White House, one out of the CIA, and one of the big mystery man out there so far. Would that have hurt the president's re-election if he was he caught not telling the truth?
CILLIZZA: Would it have hurt it? Yes, I think it would have. Would it have meant --
MATTHEWS: You only have to hurt him one percent, everything changes.
CILLIZZA: Good point. I think it's hard for us here in D.C. to measure how much people are really paying attention to this, but yeah, of course, it hurts it. When it looks as though were -- the administration is submarining someone, solely because of their political partisan ties, there is an element of people who don't like that. And again, you know, 100,000 votes, like you said, in Ohio, go a different way, and it's President John Kerry, so --
LYNN SWEET (Chicago Sun-Times Washington bureau chief): But there are a lot of ways this could have come out, Chris. You know, Bob was one of many players that could have brought in Karl Rove's name. So he wasn't a central -- he was not central to just being the person -- he was one of many people that --
MATTHEWS: Right, well -- well, a lot of people knew about his attitude, of course, but the ones who knew about his leaking were the ones he leaked to, Matt Cooper of Time and in a kind of a supporting way, or affirming way, Bob Novak. A.B.?
SWEET: And Bob Woodward and Judy Miller.
STODDARD: I think that what we learned from Bob Novak's column today is that Karl Rove is a confirming source. The mystery man is the primary source. And what we learned is that Patrick Fitzgerald got this job in December of '03 and just one month later or less, mystery man No. 1, the source No. 1, reveals that, actually, the Valerie Plame revelation was inadvertent.
MATTHEWS: So he should have -- you think he should have folded his tent right then?
STODDARD: He -- you could make that argument.