Novak on Plame Leak
Bob Novak recounts the details of his meeting with Richard Armitage wherein he learned of Valerie Plame’s CIA identity in his new autobiography, The Prince of Darkness. His newspaper, The Chicago Sun-Times, has an excerpt:
It is important to note that Armitage reached out to me before Joe Wilson went public on the New York Times op-ed page and on “Meet the Press” with an account of his Niger report that he said contradicted 16 words in Bush’s January 2003 State of the Union address: (“The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium in Africa.”)
I then asked Armitage a question that had been puzzling me but, for the sake of my future peace of mind, would better have been left unasked. Why would the CIA send Joseph Wilson, not an expert in nuclear proliferation and with no intelligence experience, on the mission to Niger?
“Well,” Armitage replied, “you know his wife works at CIA, and she suggested that he be sent to Niger.” “His wife works at CIA?” I asked. “Yeah, in counterproliferation.”
He mentioned her first name, Valerie. Armitage smiled and said: “That’s real Evans and Novak, isn’t it?” I believe he meant that was the kind of inside information that my late partner, Rowland Evans, and I had featured in our column for so long. I interpreted that as meaning Armitage expected to see the item published in my column.
It’s noteworthy, too, that Armitage asked for the meeting after having rebuffed previous requests. Rather clearly, then, leaking Plame’s role in sending her husband to Niger was the primary purpose of the meeting rather than an off-the-cuff revelation.
UPDATE: Commenter Spencer thinks I’m reading too much into this and, upon re-reading the column, I think he’s right.
Novak’s account makes it seem that Armitage was eager to get the information out and was pleased with himself for doing so. Still, Novak writes, “the last week of June 2003, Armitage’s office called to agree unexpectedly to my request and set up the appointment for July 8.” The Wilson op-ed that triggered the controversy was published July 6. So, while Armitage may well have gone into the meeting with a plan to push the Plame-Wilson connection to Novak, it’s unlikely that that’s why he agreed to it in the first place in late June.
UPDATE: Then again, as an emailer reminds me, “the genesis of the Plame affair wasn’t Wilson’s July 6 op-ed. It was a Nick Kristof column in May and a Walter Pincus story in June, both of which relied on Wilson as an anonymous source.” Indeed, the timeline (forgive the bias of the source; it’s the most complete one I can find) makes clear that there was much scrambling within at least the Vice President’s office that started in very early June.
There’s less concrete evidence as to the timing within the State Department. Then again, Armitage was never put on trial.