I see that Joseph Wilson is going to be interviewed on NBC’s TODAY show on Thursday morning. Given our adversarial press, this should be a wonderful opportunity for NBC reporters to get to the bottom of things. I would hope that they would ask Wilson questions about his complicity in his wife’s outing. If Wilson hadn’t lied to the press or the public about what he found in Niger, about how he was hired to go to Niger, and about the Italian forged document, then there would have been no reason for people to try to correct the misimpressions he created and the lies he told.
As the Washington Post reported:
[Wilson's reports to the CIA added to the evidence that Iraq may have tried to buy uranium in Niger, although officials at the State Department remained highly skeptical, the report said.
Wilson said that a former prime minister of Niger, Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, was unaware of any sales contract with Iraq, but said that in June 1999 a businessman approached him, insisting that he meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss "expanding commercial relations" between Niger and Iraq — which Mayaki interpreted to mean they wanted to discuss yellowcake sales. A report CIA officials drafted after debriefing Wilson said that "although the meeting took place, Mayaki let the matter drop due to UN sanctions on Iraq.]
[[See 3D Update below for a sentence from the Washington Post that I deleted here because the Washington Post corrected it.]]
So[, although both Wilson and the CIA doubted it at the time,] Wilson had found [some] evidence that tended to confirm the substance of the sentence in Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”
The bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee 2004 report exposed Wilson’s lies on what he found and told the CIA, as well as the one about how Wilson was hired.
Wilson said that his wife Valerie Plame had nothing to do with his being hired: “Valerie had nothing to do with the matter." "She definitely had not proposed that I make the trip." But the 2004 Senate Intelligence report said that she first suggested him for the trip and then followed up with a memo touting his suitability for the mission.
It would be great if NBC TODAY would probe Wilson on these matters. The Wall Street Journal says that Wilson had started lying to the press and public about how he was hired before his wife was outed, in part by Rove. Correcting this lie (were Plame not a covert agent) not only would be a smart partisan thing to do, but it would be the right thing to do. Wilson was publicly lying about what he found in Niger, publicly lying about what he reported to the CIA, and (according to the WSJ) publicly lying about how he was hired. Except for the “covert agent” issue, it would be right to correct all these lies. Indeed, reporter Cooper’s email reveals that Rove was offering a “big warning” “not to get too far out on Wilson,” a warning that the press should have heeded but didn’t. They believed Wilson, only to find out that his account was untrue.
But it appears probable, though not certain, that Plame was a covert agent (the statutory definition turns on whether she was on undercover missions outside the US in the 5 years before the disclosure of her identity, a factual issue that for some reason few outside of Powerline have focused on). The other reason that Plame may not have been a covert agent is that, according to bloggers quoting Andrea Mitchell, who was involved in NBC’s early stories on Wilson, it was widely known that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA. Yet if Plame was a “covert agent,” it would not be right or justified for Rove to expose Plame’s identity.
Here it would be good to ask Wilson whether he thought that by lying about what he found in Niger and what he told the CIA and how he was selected, he was gambling with his wife’s safety. How could he be sure that people would know that Plame was a covert agent, or that there was a law against revealing her identity? Perhaps someone might have reasonably believed that they were correcting misimpressions that Wilson himself had created. Did Wilson realize that he had put the Administration in something analogous to a Catch-22?: Wilson can lie about how he was hired but the Administration can’t correct his lie without outing his wife. Did Wilson consciously decide to gamble with his wife’s safety by lying in a way that would be hard for the Administration to correct? This is the line of questioning that I would most like NBC TODAY to explore (in a more respectful tone, of course).
One of the revelations of the Time Magazine Cooper email is that it gives the context of Rove’s disclosure that Wilson was suggested by his wife. The context strongly suggests that it wasn’t retaliation, but rather it was part of a discussion trying to correct any misimpressions of how Wilson was hired to do the mission. According to the Cooper email, Rove discussed whether the Director of the CIA or Vice President Cheney had authorized the trip.
So on the legal charge of intentional disclosure of Plame’s undercover identity, there is nothing in the Cooper email to suggest the sort of knowledge by Rove necessary to convict under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 (50 U.S.C. 421 et seq.). It punishes one who “intentionally discloses any information identifying such covert agent to any individual not authorized to receive classified information, knowing that the information disclosed so identifies such covert agent and that the United States is taking affirmative measures to conceal such covert agent's intelligence relationship to the United States . . .” It's not even clear (beyond a reasonable doubt, no less) that Rove knew Plame's name, knew that the information that he disclosed identified her, or knew that the US was taking affirmative steps to conceal her relationship to the intelligence community (if it was indeed doing so).
Of course, other evidence might be offered to show that Rove knew that he was contributing to the outing of an undercover CIA agent, rather than just explaining the context of the hiring of Wilson; but the Cooper email certainly doesn’t help the prosecutors in proving intent. The intent standard on this charge is particularly high, and will be hard for prosecutors to meet. For this reason, the country’s three leading newspapers—the Wall Street Journal, the NY Times, and the Washington Post—have concluded that, by leaking, no crime was committed or they seriously doubt that any crime was committed.
But that doesn’t let either Rove or Bush off the hook entirely. I won’t go into the other evidence in part because I don’t know much about it, but the question whether Rove lied to Bush or the White House press office is still an open question (Rove was quoted as having said that he wasn’t involved, which if he really said this, appears to be a lie). If Rove lied to investigators, then he might be prosecuted for obstruction of justice or related claims.
And President Bush promised to fire the leaker. Although Bush could argue that, at the time he promised this, he assumed that the leaker had committed a crime by leaking (and now it appears that the leaker did not), this is a very hard case to make to the public and the press. It would seem that Bush must either fire Rove or break his promise (even though Bush may have a plausible argument that his promise was based on a false premise—that the leaker committed a crime by leaking).
Powerline has been particularly good on the Wilson-Plame story and the press’s failure to deal with the fact that Wilson’s account of his Niger investigation was false. The WSJ has a strong editorial as well. Yet we must not lose sight that there may be other lies that Rove told about non-involvement in outing Plame, and that Bush must deal with his promise to fire the leaker.
UPDATE: Justin Levine at Calblog catches Howard Kurtz trying to pretend that Wilson was telling the truth, and someone at the Post editing out some of the evidence against Wilson in one version of Kurtz's story.
2D UPDATE: Well, something that looks like a Today Show transcript is up on MSNBC's website, and its dateline is "Today show[,] Updated: 8:24 a.m. ET July 14, 2005."
The interview, conducted by Jamie Gangel, is an embarrassment. The hardest question asked is: "Your critics have said that this is partisan on your part, that you are part of a Democratic attempt to discredit Iraq policy." Frankly, the question of bias is relevant only AFTER one determines if someone is telling the truth. If what Joe Wilson said were true, it wouldn't matter that he was a Kerry supporter. The question of bias is meaningful only in trying to figure out WHY Wilson was wrong, not WHETHER Wilson was wrong. People often have partisan motives for doing the right thing or exposing lies--among other motives, such as the desire to be decent and honest.
3D UPDATE: NOTE: Obsidianwings points out that the Washington Post story that I quoted from had been corrected to change "Iraq" to "Iran" in the following sentence: “According to the former Niger mining minister, Wilson told his CIA contacts, Iraq tried to buy 400 tons of uranium in 1998.” I have accordingly updated, replacing this sentence with the first bracketed material above. Any necessary additions are shown in brackets.