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The Incredibles

The only debate about Joseph Wilson's credibility is the one taking place at the Washington Post and the New York Times.

2:30 PM, Oct 25, 2005 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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And why has Wilson's credibility become an issue? A reasonable outside observer might think that Wilson's credibility is an issue because, well, he lied about his findings. That doesn't work for the Post reporters. Wilson's claims are once again at issue because "Republicans [are] preparing a defense of the administration."

The Post report continues: "Wilson's central assertion--disputing President Bush's 2003 State of the Union claim that Iraq was seeking nuclear material in Niger--has been validated by postwar weapons inspections. And his charge that the administration exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq has proved potent."

It is the 60 Minutes defense all over again: Fake, but accurate. Yet there are two problems with these claims.

First, it is far from clear that Bush's claim has been invalidated by postwar inspections. Weapons inspections in 2003 and 2004 have little bearing on whether Iraq sought uranium in 1999. And the British review of prewar intelligence (known as the Butler report) concluded that the claim was--and remains--solid. Even Wilson's own reporting about a 1999 meeting between Nigerien government officials and an Iraqi delegation seemed to corroborate earlier reports, dating back to October 2001, that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger.

More problematic: Wilson's "central assertion" was not a soft, subjective claim that Bush's statement was incorrect. His central assertion was that he had seen the documents that proved the Bush administration had lied. Wilson's story was compelling not because he had simply come to a different conclusion than the Bush administration, but because he alone could demonstrate that the administration's claim was built on a lie.

So how does the Post deal with Wilson's fabrications? Very politely. Wilson "armed his critics by misstating some aspects of the Niger affair" and when later confronted with his misrepresentations "had to admit he had misspoken." But none of this was important, according to the Post. "That inaccuracy wasnot central to Wilson's claims about Niger, but his critics have used it to cast doubt on his veracity about more important questions, such as whether his wife recommended him for the 2002 trip . . . "

Come again? The fact that he misrepresented his findings and invented a story about evidence he had never seen is "not central to his claims about Niger?"

IN ANY CASE, Pincus hasn't always believed that the involvement of Wilson's wife was a "more important question." On August 8, 2005, he wrote an article with this headline: "Side Issue in the Plame Case: Who Sent Her Spouse to Africa?"

And what about Wilson's claims that his wife had nothing to do with sending him? When Time magazine interviewed Wilson for an article published July 17, 2003, the Time reporters confronted him with those allegations. Wilson, according to Time, "angrily said that his wife had nothing to do with his trip to Africa." Said Wilson: "That is bull----. That is absolutely not the case."

Today's Post article once again plays this as an ambiguity: The reporters note a Senate report that suggests she was involved, but also cite anonymous CIA officials who "have always said" that "Plame's superiors chose Wilson for the Niger trip and she only relayed their decision."

Two points: By the CIA's own account, Mrs. Wilson was "involved" in sending her husband to Niger. So his denial is, again, false. Furthermore, the Senate Intelligence Committee report makes clear that Mrs. Wilson was instrumental in facilitating her husband's trip to Niger. She suggested him for the job, even writing a memo to her superiors detailing his qualifications for the mission. She introduced him at the subsequent meeting about the trip. And, upon his return, she was present for his debriefing, which was conducted by two CIA officials in their home.

The Post piece closes by citing "another item of dispute": The claim that Wilson was dispatched to Niger by Vice President Dick Cheney. In a recent interview with the Post, Wilson claims: "I never said the vice president sent me or ordered me sent."

But in his May 6, 2003, column in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof wrote: "I'm told by a person involved in the Niger caper that more than a year ago the vice president's office asked for an investigation of the uranium deal, so a former U.S. ambassador to Africa was dispatched to Niger. In February 2002, according to someone present at the meetings, that envoy reported to the C.I.A. and State Department that the information was unequivocally wrong and that the documents had been forged." Was that Wilson? We cannot be certain. But both Kristof and Wilson have acknowledged that he was a primary source for the piece.