Russert ignored White House pledge to fire anyone involved in leaking Plame's identity


Discussing the CIA leak investigation on the July 15 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press, host Tim Russert ignored the White House's original pledge to fire anyone involved in the leak of then-CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity to the press. According to Russert, President Bush "said early on in this [investigation] that if anyone broke the law, that he would deal with it." But as Media Matters for America has repeatedly noted, White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters on September 29, 2003, that the president would fire anyone who leaked Plame's identity, not just those who were found to have "broke[n] the law": "The President has set high standards, the highest of standards for people in his administration. He's made it very clear to people in his administration that he expects them to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. If anyone in this administration was involved in it [the leaking of Plame's identity], they would no longer be in this administration."

On September 30, 2003, responding to reporters' questions, Bush similarly stated that his administration would "take the appropriate action" against "anybody in my administration who leaked classified information," although he also stated that anyone who had "violated law" would be "taken care of":

Q Do you think that the Justice Department can conduct an impartial investigation, considering the political ramifications of the CIA leak, and why wouldn't a special counsel be better?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Let me just say something about leaks in Washington. There are too many leaks of classified information in Washington. There's leaks at the executive branch; there's leaks in the legislative branch. There's just too many leaks. And if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of.

And so I welcome the investigation. I -- I'm absolutely confident that the Justice Department will do a very good job. There's a special division of career Justice Department officials who are tasked with doing this kind of work; they have done this kind of work before in Washington this year. I have told our administration, people in my administration to be fully cooperative.

I want to know the truth. If anybody has got any information inside our administration or outside our administration, it would be helpful if they came forward with the information so we can find out whether or not these allegations are true and get on about the business.

Yes, let's see, Kemper -- he's from Chicago. Where are you? Are you a Cubs or White Sox fan? (Laughter.) Wait a minute. That doesn't seem fair, does it? (Laughter.)

Q Yesterday we were told that Karl Rove had no role in it --


Q -- have you talked to Karl and do you have confidence in him --

THE PRESIDENT: Listen, I know of nobody -- I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it, and we'll take the appropriate action. And this investigation is a good thing.

And again I repeat, you know, Washington is a town where there's all kinds of allegations. You've heard much of the allegations. And if people have got solid information, please come forward with it. And that would be people inside the information who are the so-called anonymous sources, or people outside the information -- outside the administration. And we can clarify this thing very quickly if people who have got solid evidence would come forward and speak out. And I would hope they would.

And then we'll get to the bottom of this and move on. But I want to tell you something -- leaks of classified information are a bad thing. And we've had them -- there's too much leaking in Washington. That's just the way it is. And we've had leaks out of the administrative branch, had leaks out of the legislative branch, and out of the executive branch and the legislative branch, and I've spoken out consistently against them and I want to know who the leakers are.

Further, on June 10, 2004, Bush agreed with a reporter's formulation that he had pledged to "fire anyone found to have" leaked Plame's identity. However, Bush also stated that it was up to special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's investigation "to find the facts":

Q Given -- given recent developments in the CIA leak case, particularly Vice President [Dick] Cheney's discussions with the investigators, do you still stand by what you said several months ago, a suggestion that it might be difficult to identify anybody who leaked the agent's name?

THE PRESIDENT: That's up to --

Q And, and, do you stand by your pledge to fire anyone found to have done so?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. And that's up to the U.S. Attorney to find the facts.

As Media Matters has noted, at a July 18, 2005, press conference, Bush pledged to fire administration officials who "committed a crime." The New York Times noted that Bush's statement constituted a departure from prior White House promises to fire anyone involved in the leak:

President Bush changed his stance today on his close adviser Karl Rove, stopping well short of promising that anyone in his administration who helped to unmask a C.I.A. officer would be fired.

"If someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration," Mr. Bush said in response to a question, after declaring, "I don't know all the facts; I want to know all the facts."

For months, Mr. Bush and his spokesmen have said that anyone involved in the disclosure of the C.I.A. officer's identity would be dismissed. The president's apparent raising of the bar for dismissal today, to specific criminal conduct, comes amid mounting evidence that, at the very least, Mr. Rove provided backhanded confirmation of the C.I.A. officer's identity.

Russert, however, provided only the White House's later pledge -- confined to those who had "broke[n] the law" -- without noting the White House's original pledge to fire "anyone ... involved in" the leaking of Plame's identity.

In addition, Novak responded to Russert by claiming that Fitzgerald's "long investigation" came "after he knew" that then-deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was "the leaker" of Plame's identity and after Fitzgerald "had made a decision, obviously, that no law had been broken, because nobody was ever pro-- Mr. Armitage was not prosecuted, nobody else was prosecuted." But as Media Matters has pointed out, during the October 2005 press conference announcing former vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's indictment on charges of obstruction of justice, perjury, and making false statements, Fitzgerald said that Libby's obstruction -- which he was later convicted of committing -- prevented the special counsel's office from determining whether an underlying crime had been committed. Moreover, in a May 25 sentencing memorandum, Fitzgerald stated that the investigation turned up "substantial evidence" indicating that the leak itself may have constituted a crime:

During its investigation, the grand jury obtained substantial evidence indicating that one or both of the foregoing statutes [the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA) or the Espionage Act] may have been violated. The evidence obtained by the grand jury, and later presented at trial, established that information concerning Ms. [Plame] Wilson's CIA-employment was disclosed to multiple members of the news media, including Robert Novak, [then-New York Times reporter] Judith Miller, [then-Time magazine reporter] Matt Cooper, [Washington Post reporter] Walter Pincus and [Washington Post assistant managing editor] Bob Woodward, none of whom were authorized to receive that information. The disclosures were made by multiple high-level government officials, including defendant. The evidence demonstrated that defendant, in particular, made the disclosures deliberately and for the purpose of influencing media coverage of the public debate concerning intelligence leading to the war in Iraq.

Regarding Novak's claim that Armitage was "the leaker," Armitage was indeed one of Novak's two sources for Plame's identity, which Novak revealed in his July 14, 2003, column. However, as Media Matters has documented, according to evidence and testimony at Libby's trial, Libby told at least two other journalists about Plame's CIA employment -- Miller and Cooper. As journalist Murray Waas noted in his book The United States v. I. Lewis Libby (Union Square, June 2007), Miller testified that Libby disclosed Plame's CIA employment to her at a July 8, 2003, meeting, well before Novak publicly revealed it in his July 14, 2003, column. In a first-person account of his testimony before the grand jury in the leak investigation, Cooper identified White House senior adviser Karl Rove as his original source for Plame's identity and Libby as his corroborating source. As Media Matters has noted, there is no requirement that the identity of a covert agent be published for there to have been an illegal leak under the IIPA.

On Meet the Press, Novak stated, as he has before, that Rove was his confirming source for Plame's CIA employment.

From the July 15 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press:

RUSSERT: In hindsight, should you have identified Valerie Plame as a CIA agent?

NOVAK: There was no indication by the official spokesman for the CIA or anybody else that anybody was put in danger. That -- I certainly didn't get a direct call from George Tenet, the CIA director, who I knew. And if he wanted to stop me from doing it, he could have. So I saw there was no pressure for me. They asked me not to use the name but didn't say there was anybody in danger or there was any security violation as a result.

RUSSERT: The president said early on in this that if anyone broke the law, that he would deal with it. And now he's saying, "Well, I wish that someone had come forward and raised their hand and said this had happened, but let's move on."

NOVAK: Well, Mr. Armitage did come forward. Before a special prosecutor was even named, he had -- after a story appeared in which I said there was not a partisan gunslinger who gave me the information -- he identified himself to the Justice Department, so that did come forward. And, of course, the long investigation by Mr. Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor, came after he knew that -- who had been the leaker and had made a decision, obviously, that no law had been broken, because nobody was ever pro-- Mr. Armitage was not prosecuted, nobody else was prosecuted.

RUSSERT: Al Hunt [Bloomberg News Washington managing editor], what do we learn from all this?

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, Intelligence, War in Iraq
Tim Russert
Meet the Press
CIA Leak Investigation
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