The Magazine

Joe Wilson, Treasury news, and more.

Jul 25, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 42 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

The Nine Lives of Joe Wilson's Reputation

That sound you hear is The Scrapbook gagging at the images we saw on television last week. We're speaking, of course, about the spectacle of leading Democrats and sympathetic media types performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV's moribund reputation.

Sad but true, Wilson has seen yet another spike in what he once dubbed his "Notoriety Quotient." This, thanks to new developments in the ongoing investigation into who in the Bush administration, in the aftermath of an op-ed by Wilson attacking the honesty of the White House, told reporters in July 2003 that Mrs. Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, one Valerie Plame, was a CIA agent.

When Newsweek discovered emails suggesting senior Bush adviser Karl Rove had discussed Plame with Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper, for example, Wilson hustled to the nearest available television camera--in this case one from NBC News--to say that, while he'd "never spoken to Karl Rove," the man was nonetheless guilty of a flagrant "abuse of power." What the "abuse of power" may be, Wilson didn't say, perhaps overwhelmed with emotion: "I'm really very saddened by all this."

So are we. We're saddened--though not really surprised--by the amazing ability of Democrats to forget that last summer the bipartisan Senate Select Committee on Intelligence thoroughly shredded Wilson's credibility.

Take New York senator Charles Schumer, for instance, who held a joint press conference with Wilson in the Capitol last Thursday. "This man has served his country," Schumer said. What's happened to him since, said Schumer, groping for a novel literary allusion, is downright "Kafkaesque." Whereupon a reporter pointed out that Wilson's credibility is seriously in doubt.

"I would urge you to go back and read the record," Wilson said.

A capital idea! What the record shows is that almost every public pronouncement of Joe Wilson's from the spring of 2003 forward is either an exaggeration or a falsehood or both. The essence of his tale was that he had selflessly gone to Niger and personally debunked reports that Iraq was trying to acquire uranium there to reconstitute its nuclear program. But his account didn't bear up under close scrutiny.

I. Wilson denied that his Feb. 2002 mission to Niger to investigate reports of an Iraqi uranium deal was suggested by his wife, who worked in the CIA's counterproliferation division. In fact, according to the bipartisan findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Wilson's wife "offered up his name" at a staff meeting, then wrote a memo to her division's deputy chief saying her husband was the best man for the job.

II. Wilson insisted both that he had debunked reports of Iraqi interest in Niger's uranium and that Vice President Cheney, whose interest in the subject reputedly prompted Wilson's trip, had to have been informed of this. The Intelligence Committee found otherwise when it questioned Wilson under oath:

On at least two occasions [Wilson] admitted that he had no direct knowledge to support some of his claims. . . . For example, when asked how he "knew" that the Intelligence Community had rejected the possibility of a Niger-Iraq uranium deal, as he wrote in his book, [Wilson] told Committee staff that his assertion may have involved "a little literary flair."

III. In the spring of 2003, after a purported "memorandum of agreement" between Iraq and Niger was shown to be a forgery, Wilson began to tell reporters, on background, that he'd known the documents were forgeries all along. But the Senate Intelligence Committee found that the CIA (and Wilson) had been unaware of the documents until eight months after his trip. Moreover, it found that "no one believed" Wilson's trip "added a great deal of new information to the Iraq-Niger uranium story." It found that "for most analysts, the former ambassador's report lent more credibility, not less, to the reported Niger-Iraq uranium deal."

IV. Wilson's confidence that Cheney knew about his trip served as the basis for his accusation, passed along uncritically by the New Republic, that it "was a flat-out lie" for President Bush to have accused Saddam Hussein of trying to obtain uranium in Niger. He told Meet the Press interviewer Andrea Mitchell, "The office of the vice president, I am absolutely convinced, received a very specific response to the question it asked and that response was based upon my trip out there."

The Intel Committee's findings: "Because CIA analysts did not believe that [Wilson's] report added any new information to clarify the issue . . . CIA's briefer did not brief the Vice President on the report, despite the Vice President's previous questions about the issue."