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Sunday | October 12, 2003

Valerie Plame Affair Not Forgotten

By Meteor Blades

Josh Marshall over at Talking Points Memo gets it right when he says the Washington Post has been the "first, second and third paper to go to" in the coverage of the Valerie Plame Affair. They’ve been doing excellent work ever since they published their initial story on September 28. However, credit where credit is due: the Post's lightning bolt appeared 36 hours after this one appeared on MSNBC and NBC News.

Whoever gets dibs on scoop rights, the Post certainly deserves kudos for not letting the story die. Today’s piece by Walter Pincus and Mike Allen helps bring into focus what happened during the month before the now-notorious Robert Novak column outing Plame. Fascinating stuff that in some scandals only becomes known years later when historians pry once-reluctant sources out of the woodwork.

Once again, it’s clear that the overriding issue of this whole affair is not the outing of one secret agent, but the Administration’s pattern of activities against anyone who challenged its public assessment of - and rationale for going to war with - Iraq. The target this time was Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson. Others filled that role previously.

There’s good blogging and reader commentary on the subject over at Billmon and Calpundit .

The machinations of the White House spin brigade are noted high up in the Post’s Sunday article:

Administration sources said they believe that the officials who discussed Plame were not trying to expose her, but were using the information as a tool to try to persuade reporters to ignore Wilson. The officials wanted to convince the reporters that he had benefited from nepotism in being chosen for the mission.

The Post presents new information on an aspect about which there has been much speculation - the timing of alleged revelations to six journalists other than Novak.

On July 7, the White House admitted it had been a mistake to include the 16 words about uranium in Bush's State of the Union speech. Four days later, with the controversy dominating the airwaves and drowning out the messages Bush intended to send during his trip in Africa, CIA Director George J. Tenet took public blame for failing to have the sentence removed.

That same week, two top White House officials disclosed Plame's identity to least six Washington journalists, an administration official told The Post for an article published Sept. 28. The source elaborated on the conversations last week, saying that officials brought up Plame as part of their broader case against Wilson.

"It was unsolicited," the source said. "They were pushing back. They used everything they had."

This would indicate that at least some of the other journalists were told about Plame BEFORE Novak’s column was published, not afterward, as some earlier reports have stated.

As each puny posturing of Sean Hannity, National Review Online, the Wall Street Journal and lesser rightwing lights has fallen prey to new disclosures, new posturing has arisen. After previously claiming that Plame might not be an agent, then shifting to claims she was never undercover, then shifting to claims she’s isn’t undercover now, then shifting to claims her exposure didn’t endanger her or any other agents, the shifters' latest effort goes along these lines: We can’t really know what damage might have been caused by her exposure, and neither could whichever high-level Administration official blew her cover; therefore, it was not the big deal partisans are making of it.

Although it contains nothing new, Knight Ridder has a good wrap-up of the potentially widespread damage the Plame revelations may have caused.

As for risks to Plame herself:

In an interview with NBC's Meet the Press this weekend, Wilson said he was increasingly concerned about his wife's security posture.

The U.S. government had not offered any security measures, said Wilson, adding that a leading former CIA official had said his wife "was probably the single highest target of any possible terrorist organization or hostile intelligence service that might want to do damage."

Another theory floating about - that White House officials may be exculpated in this matter because they were allegedly not the original leakers - doesn’t find a believer in former Nixon counsel John Dean :

But even if the White House was not initially involved with the leak, it has exploited it. As a result, it may have opened itself to additional criminal charges under the federal conspiracy statute.

This elegantly simple law has snared countless people working for, or with, the federal government. Suppose a conspiracy is in progress. Even those who come in later, and who share in the purpose of the conspiracy, can become responsible for all that has gone on before they joined. They need not realize they are breaking the law; they need only have joined the conspiracy.

Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist who first brought Wilson’s 2002 trip to Niger into the public arena argues against appointment of a special prosecutor. Too distracting to good governance, he says, concluding that "This scandal leaves everybody stinking" - journalists for not excoriating Novak, Democrats for exaggerating the potential damage and calling for a special prosecutor, the Administration for trying to whitewash a serious breach of security.

Sorry, that dog won’t pant, much less hunt. True, there’s bad odor galore in this affair, but there simply is no aromatic equivalency between what the leakers did and the desire of others to find out who they were and punish them for it.

We would all be deaf by now if this outing had happened when Bill Clinton or any Democrat were in the White House. The rightwing pundits wouldn’t be calling for a special prosecutor, they’d be inciting a lynch mob to swing the "insidious traitors" who compromised America’s security from the sturdiest tree on the lawn at 1600 Pennsylvania.

Posted October 12, 2003 02:51 PM | Comments (78)


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