Who Said What When
The rise and fall of the Valerie Plame 'scandal.'
Oct 16, 2006, Vol. 12, No. 05 • By ROBERT D. NOVAK
The publication of Hubris is filled with irony for David Corn, Washington editor of the left-wing Nation magazine. He was present at the creation of the Valerie Plame "scandal," which the enemies of George W. Bush hoped could bring down a president. Nobody was more responsible for bloating this episode. Yet Corn is coauthor of a book that has had the effect of killing the story.
Thanks to Corn's intrepid coauthor, Newsweek investigative reporter Michael Isikoff, Hubris definitively revealed then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage as my source that Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie, worked for the CIA and suggested her husband's mission to Africa. Armitage, an internal critic of the administration's Iraq policy, did not fit the left's theory of a conspiracy led by Karl Rove and "Scooter" Libby to discredit Wilson as a war critic. Nor did it fit the overriding theme of Isikoff and Corn in depicting "spin, scandal and the selling of the Iraq war."
As a result, Corn has been frantic--in the Nation, on his blog, and all over television--to depict an alternate course in which Rove, Libby, and Vice President Cheney attempted, by design and independently, to do what Armitage purportedly accomplished accidentally. The introduction of Hubris states that Armitage's statement to me was (according to the deputy secretary's colleagues) "a slip-up by an inveterate gossip--but one that occurred alongside a concerted White House effort to undermine a critic of the war." This, the authors continue, "was a window into a much bigger scandal: the Bush administration's use of faulty intelligence and its fervent desire (after the [Iraq] invasion) to defend its prewar sales pitch."
This desperate attempt to resuscitate a dubious conspiracy theory falls flat, and undermines what seems to be the real reason for writing Hubris. While its reportorial tone gives the book a façade of objectivity, in fact it constitutes a broad assault on Bush, his administration, and his policies in the war against terrorism. That entails the retelling of manifold allegations of perfidy, so familiar that they grow tiresome. The book's only new element is what it reveals about the Plame case, and there they trumped their own ace by facilitating the source's exposure in advance of publication.
The book is also exceptional partly because its authors are so oddly matched. Isikoff, who views himself as nonideological and nonpartisan, led reporters in tracking Bill Clinton's Monica Lewinsky affair (recorded in his Uncovering Clinton). Corn is a stereotypical leftist activist without a nonideological bone in his body. His first book, Blond Ghost, was a vicious attack on the legendary CIA operative and Cold War hero Theodore Shackley, and the bias of his later work, The Lies of George W. Bush, is obvious from its title.
I can only imagine the debates that must have taken place between coauthors to determine the direction of this book. The resulting product is some of the investigator Isikoff and a lot of the ideologue Corn. Hubris is not an unmitigated apologia for the Wilsons, but it comes close.
Corn telephoned me on July 16, 2003, two days after publication of my Valerie Plame column. He was neither a dispassionate reporter seeking information nor a former colleague on CNN's Crossfire, where we maintained a relatively friendly relationship when he was a substitute liberal cohost in 1997-98. Instead, he was an impassioned, angry activist who accused me of "outing a CIA agent" and breaking the law. Since the Nation had never before been concerned with the protection of intelligence agents, I suspected political motives behind Corn's outrage. It was our final conversation. The last thing Corn wanted from me was additional information.
I did not know how closely Corn was connected to Joseph Wilson IV until Wilson's memoir, The Politics of Truth, was published in 2004. Wilson related that Corn called him July 17 "to alert me what Novak had done, or at least what the person who had leaked Valerie's name to him had done, was possibly a crime." By the Nation's August 4 issue, Corn was writing that I, as a journalist, was not subject to prosecution. But on July 17 he clearly had conveyed the opposite impression to Wilson, who was the original source of Internet blather--continuing to this day--that I am a "traitor." (Wilson will be the featured attraction for the Nation's annual cruise in December.)