Joe Wilson on Leakers: Elliot Abrams, Libby & Rove

In May, 2004, Salon published an excerpt from Joe Wilson's book, in which he presents his thoughts about who leaked his wife's name.

In recent months I have tried to piece together the truth about the attacks on myself and the disclosure of Valerie's employment by carefully studying all the coverage and by speaking confidentially with members of the press who have been following the story.

....From everything I have heard, the truth may be found at the nexus between policy and politics in the White House. Whoever made the decision to disclose Valerie's undercover status occupies a position where he -- and I believe it is a "he" because Robert Novak's own statements employ the male pronoun exclusively -- has access to the most sensitive secrets in our government, and a political agenda to advance or defend. In gumshoe parlance, he's got the means and he's got the motive. Only a few administration officials meet both of these criteria, and they are clustered in the upper reaches of the National Security Council, the Office of the Vice President, and the Office of the President.

After my appearance on CNN in early March 2003, when I first asserted that the U.S. government knew more about the Niger uranium matter than it was letting on, I am told by a source close to the House Judiciary Committee that the Office of the Vice President -- either the vice president himself or, more likely, his chief of staff, Lewis ("Scooter") Libby -- chaired a meeting at which a decision was made to do a "workup" on me. As I understand it, this meant they were going to take a close look at who I was and what my agenda might be.

.... That time frame, from my CNN appearance in early March, after the administration claimed they "fell for" the forged documents, to the first week in July, makes sense, as it allows time for all the necessary sleuthing to have been done on us, including the discovery of Valerie's name and employment.

The immediate effect of the workup, I am told by a member of the press, citing White House sources, was a long harangue against the two of us within the White House walls. Over a period of several months, Libby evidently seized opportunities to rail openly against me as an "assh*le playboy" who went on a boondoggle "arranged by his CIA wife" -- and was a Democratic Gore supporter to boot.

....I am not prepared to argue that Republicans per se endorse the practice of government officials lying and distorting the facts, but it may be that Vice President Cheney and his chief of staff do. The man attacking my integrity and reputation -- and, I believe, quite possibly the person who exposed my wife's identity -- was the same Scooter Libby .... He is one of a handful of senior officials in the administration with both the means and the motive to conduct the covert inquiry that allowed some in the White House to learn my wife's name and status, and then disclose that information to the press.

The other name that has most often been repeated to me in connection with the inquiry and disclosure into my background and Valerie's is that of Elliott Abrams, who gained infamy in the Iran'Contra scandal during the first Bush administration.

According to my sources, between March 2003 and the appearance of my article in July, the workup on me that turned up the information on Valerie was shared with Karl Rove, who then circulated it in administration and neoconservative circles. That would explain the assertion later advanced by Clifford May, the neocon fellow traveler, who wrote that Valerie's employment was supposedly widely known. Oh, really? I am not reassured by his statement. Indeed, if what May wrote was accurate, it is a damning admission, because it could have been widely known only by virtue of leaks among his own crowd.

After the appearance of Novak's article, the subsequent "pushing" of the story by the White House communications office -- and by Karl Rove -- guaranteed that the allegation would at some point take center stage in the press and would sweep the story behind the sixteen words into the wings. Rove's strategy appears to have been simple -- change the subject and focus attention on Valerie and me instead of the White House -- but it proved to be seriously flawed. A week after Novak reported the story that the administration pushed to him, David Corn reported that a federal crime might have been committed, and I conveyed that opinion on the Today show. I am absolutely certain that Rove and company would have continued trying to convince the public that Valerie and I were motivated by partisanship and somehow responsible for the president's error -- ridiculous as that seems -- had it not been for the fact that they discovered the outing was quite possibly illegal.

Apparently, according to two journalist sources of mine, when Rove learned that he might have violated the law, he turned on Cheney and Libby and made it clear that he held them responsible for the problem they had created for the administration. The protracted silence on this topic from the White House masks considerable tension between the Office of the President and the Office of the Vice President.

The rumors swirling around Rove, Libby, and Abrams were so pervasive in Washington that the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, was obliged to address them in an October 2003 briefing, saying of Rove: "The president knows he wasn't involved. . . . It's simply not true." McClellan refused to be drawn into a similar direct denial of Libby's or Abrams's possible involvement, however. Later interpretations of the line being taken by the White House spokesman, according to members of the press who have spoken with me, indicate that the administration's defense is extremely narrow: the leakers and pushers of the story did not know the undercover status of Valerie Plame, and therefore, though they may have disclosed her name, they did not commit a crime.

Time will tell if that defense -- which strikes me as sophistry and a legal refuge for scoundrels -- holds up. Indeed, if the administration has no firm knowledge as to who might have leaked Valerie's name, why would McClellan, and whoever drafted his talking points, address the matter so precisely and try to stay so strictly within the letter of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act? Ignorance of my wife's undercover status may exculpate the leakers and pushers from violations under that act, but as a congressional letter of January 26 to the General Accounting Office makes clear, other laws may have been broken, including statutes relating to the handling of classified material. Even the Patriot Act may have been violated, if Sam Dash's interpretation of that law is correct.

In fact, senior advisers close to the president may well have been clever enough to have used others to do the actual leaking, in order to keep their fingerprints off the crime. John Hannah and David Wurmser, mid-level political appointees in the vice president's office, have both been suggested as sources of the leaks. I don't know either, though at the time of the leak, Wurmser, a prominent neoconservative, was working as a special assistant to John Bolton at the State Department. Mid-level officials, however, do not leak information without authority from a higher level. They would have been instruments, not the makers, of decisions.

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