End of the Wilson-Plame Scandal?

After initial outrage when the story broke,

If, indeed, any Administration official leaked the name of an undercover CIA agent, risking not only her life but that of her sources, they should be imprisoned. If it can be demonstrated that President Bush knew of this, it would of course be an impeachable offense for which he should be removed from office. But let’s wait and see.

I quit writing about the Novak-Wilson-Plame matter once it became clear–months ago–that there was much less to it than first met the eye. The recent report from the Senate Intelligence Committee, hyped as demonstrating that the CIA got much wrong in the lead-up to Iraq, seems to have taken the rest of the air out of the balloon. Several bloggers did a good job on this story over the weekend and yesterday.

explains why Wilson is a liar.

One of the most stunning revelations contained in the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA is that virtually everything Joseph Wilson has said about his trip to Niger, and the report that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger, is a lie.

First, contrary to what Wilson has said publicly, his wife, CIA employee Valerie Plame, did recommend him for the Niger investigation: [WaPo excerpt]. Further, the Senate report indicates that Plame and Wilson, from the beginning, had an absurdly biased view of the subject Wilson was supposed to be investigating: “The report said Plame told committee staffers that she relayed the CIA’s request to her husband, saying, ‘there’s this crazy report’ about a purported deal for Niger to sell uranium to Iraq.”

As has been widely reported, Wilson conducted a half-baked investigation into the uanium report. But here is the most astonishing fact uncovered by the Senate Intelligence Committee: in his book and in countless interviews and op-ed pieces over the past year, Wilson has been lying about the contents of his own report to the CIA!: [WaPo excerpt].

Jonah Goldberg, citing Josh Marshall, makes a pretty compelling case that the motivation for bringing Wilson’s wife in it was far from sinister:

The essence of the entire scandal has been the contention that the White House deliberately endangered a CIA agent’s life in order to punish Wilson. Must we recount all of the paranoid pieties about how “this White House will stop at nothing to silence its enemies”? Now Marshall’s new talking point is a legalism. Well, excuse me: If in fact the White House inadvertantly revealed Plame’s identity in order to explain why a dishonest hack like Wilson was being sent to Africa (i.e. “His wife pulled some strings”) and not so as to endanger a whistle-blower’s life that sounds like more than a matter of “some political traction.” That sounds like the whole enchilada, scandal-wise.

Pejman Yousefzadeh notes that this doesn’t necessarily end the legal debate:

My reading of 50 U.S.C. sec. 421 suggests that even if Administration officials identified and leaked Plame’s name as a way of responding to queries about how Wilson–who admits that he did little in Niger except “drinking sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens of people”–a crime may still have been committed (but see this [Juan Non-Volokh] post, suggesting an alternative possibility).

Ogged has some mixed views about the legal issues as well. Both seem to agree, though, that the nature of the scandal is decidedly less, well, scandalous, given the new revelations.

Dan Drezner explains why:

The apparent disconnect between what Wilson said in his report versus what he said in June 2003 — combined with Plame’s role in hiring Wilson in the first place, contrary to previous reports — make it appear that both of them were lying in order to try to embarrass the administration. This does not excuse whoever leaked Plame’s identity to Novak. It does, however, provide an more understandable motivation than simple intimidation.

Indeed. It seems perfectly reasonable that one would want to undermine Wilson’s credibility when Wilson is on the attack against one’s own integrity. The intial buzz was that someone–someone yet to be identified, all these months later, incidentally–outted his undercover agent wife in order to get back at him for exposing their lies. As it turns out, the wife wasn’t really undercover, Wilson lied about the nature of his appointment, and the thing he supposedly revealed turns out to be a lie as well.

FILED UNDER: Africa, Intelligence, Iraq War, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Joseph Marshall says:

    Isn’t it amazing how the politics of lawbreakers (yes, revealing a CIA agent’s name still breaks the law, as far as I have heard) influences how much pursuing such law breakers becomes a “matter of principle” in the minds of so-called “conservatives” firmly committed to “principles and values”?

    When the last President was in office, a comprehensive and public search for everything down to unpaid jaywalking tickets was institued by these same canting hypocrites in order to find something to impeach him with.

    Yes, finally, they found something. Hooray!

    The law was broken. Let the grand jury proceed and the chips fall where they may.

    Probably sooner or later, some vital piece of evidence will disappear, just like President Bush’s National Guard service records have been so fortuitously “destroyed” some time in the oh-so-distant past and nothing, of course, can be done about that.

    And also, as far as I am concerned, the fatuous twerp–who had the option of not destroying an individual’s private career merely to act as the agent of political vengence for his morally corrupt “confidential” sources–can keep his inanely stuffed shirt behind the kevlar vest of “freedom of the press”, if he so chooses.

    Such freedom is a far more important principle (a real principle for once, and not just a piece of grandstanding fustian) than the contemptability and culpability of those who choose to invoke it.

    After all, isn’t preserving the opportunity of ambushing your enemies and shooting them in the back what freedom is really for?

  2. newcal says:

    James, I don’t get you. Outting Plame is/was a significant threat to national security. You know Rove called Matthews and offered the story. You know the leak came from the VP’s office. How can you call yourself a journalist and downplay this? Right, left or center, Republican or Democrat, if we don’t agree that this type of behavior by the Bush Administration is reprehensible, by God, what have we become?!? The people in Cheney’s office committed an act of treason. Please, do your job!

  3. adaplant says:


    “Additional Views of Chairman Pat Roberts”

    “Despite our hard and successful work to deliver a unanimous report, however, there were two issues on which the Republicans and Democrats could not agree:

    o – 1) whether the Committee should conclude that former Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s public statements were based on knowledge he actually possessed, and

    o – 2) whether the Committee should conclude that it was the former ambassador’s wife that recommended him for his trip to Niger.”

    And about Saddam seeking to purchase uranium from Africa:

    “(U) Conclusion 26 To date, the Intelligence Community has not published an assessment to clarify or correct its position on whether or not Iraq was trying to purchase uranium from Africa as stated in the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). Likewise, neither the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which published assessments on possible Iraqi efforts to purchase uranium, have ever published assessments outside their agency to correct their previous positions.”

    None of this is settled by the report, one way or another.

  4. ritabob says:


    Thanks. I take those excerpts to mean the CIA isn’t ready to correct its earlier report while Bush is still in office, and that we can believe Wilson until someone reputable can prove otherwise. The Wilson-Plame excerpts are classic non-denial denials.

  5. carpeicthus says:

    Awesome, story over, no legal problem here. I can’t seem to find the link where whomever leaked her name has come clean. Weird.

  6. L-Shuffle says:


    You don’t really think these guys have the kind of integrity it would take to come clean, do you? Another reason to vote Kerry – to find out who these treasonous cowards are who outed Plame.

    Unless you were kidding. Were you kidding?

  7. McGehee says:

    <surveying the moon(bat)scape>

    Yet another victory for McGehee’s Law. The news is bad for the Bush-bashers, and so they swarm out through the blogosphere hurling accusations of coverup.


  8. Atm says:

    Given the political games that Wilson and his wife were playing, she should have been fired. We can’t have CIA agents pursuing their own agendas in gathering (or not gathering) intelligence.

  9. L-Shuffle says:

    McGehee’s self-inflating, non-denial denial would make more sense if you replace the words “Bush-bashing” with “pro-American ethics.” But, as usual, he’s not talking about what’s good for America. Like many proponents of the Washington/ Kennebunkport Elite, McGehee offers no substance, just hot air in the guise of a defense. You won’t win hearts and minds with that weak parry.

    No surprise to learn this morning that Bush’s attorney in the Plame-Wilson scandal is the same guy who is representing Ken Lay. These Elites know no shame, so outing a CIA operative certainly isn’t beyond them. They’ll do anything to stay in power and make more money on the backs of the middle class.