The Magazine

Who Said What When

The rise and fall of the Valerie Plame 'scandal.'

Oct 16, 2006, Vol. 12, No. 05 • By ROBERT D. NOVAK
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I am most aggrieved that the book not only fails to use what I have written in my columns as my account of the case, but also distorts my position. I wrote that I had faced "a dilemma" on December 30, 2003, because Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald was going to confront me with waivers from every official who conceivably could have told me about Valerie Plame Wilson.

"I did not believe blanket waivers in any way relieved me of my journalistic responsibility to protect," I wrote last July 12. Since I could not reveal their names, I feared facing the same legal juggernaut that sent Judith Miller of the New York Times to jail.

The dilemma was resolved when Fitzgerald showed up to interview me with waivers only from my three sources. The prosecutor had learned their names on his own, so there was no use in not testifying about them. Hubris misrepresents me by saying my dilemma came after Fitzgerald appeared with the three waivers ("crunch time for Novak") and that I gave up their names under pressure from the special prosecutor. This is such a misreading of my clear account that it must have been derived from either sloppiness or malice.

In Hubris, Corn never comes to grips with the fact that Armitage could not be prosecuted under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act because Valerie Wilson was not a covert operative under the terms of the law. A 463-page book that is endlessly discursive does not seriously consider that she was no longer assigned to foreign missions because her cover already had been broken. It never even mentions the report that Mrs. Wilson had been outed long ago by the traitor Aldrich Ames.

Unlike Corn, Isikoff did seek information from me. My neighbor in a Washington office building a block from the White House, Isikoff for the past year pestered me with two queries. First, had I cooperated with Special Counsel Fitzgerald? I could say nothing, I told him, until I received permission from Fitzgerald. Second, Isikoff wanted me to confirm that Armitage was my principal source. I could say nothing one way or another about my source, I told him, until that source released me.

I don't know precisely how Isikoff flushed out Armitage, but Hubris clearly points to two sources: Washington lobbyist Kenneth Duberstein, Armitage's political adviser, and William Taft IV, who was the State Department legal adviser when Armitage was deputy secretary. This book's publication date was early September, but the Associated Press was getting close to identifying Armitage. I received a heads-up telephone call from Isikoff, vacationing in Europe, that his Newsweek editors had to rush publication of his Armitage disclosure. That finally forced Armitage's belated admission, freeing me to relate details.

Herein lie the disadvantages of writing a book about a moving story. This is not daily or weekly journalism, subject to addition, subtraction, and amendment. Hubris misses Armitage's assertion that he "thought" Mrs. Wilson worked at the CIA, information that he indicated was mere chitchat. I responded in a column that Armitage clearly identified her division at the agency and unmistakably signaled his expectation that I would write about her in my column. I set down my version of what Armitage said shortly after our meeting, while his reconstruction of words (that he first said he did not remember) was made two-and-a-half months later.

Nevertheless, there is little doubt in my mind that this book would have accepted Armitage's version instead of mine. That is because the conspiracy theorists have a vested interest. Although Hubris was written before Armitage admitted his role, explanations the authors got from his friends echo what he later said himself. The book concludes that "Armitage had seemingly mentioned [Mrs. Wilson] either to distance his department from the Wilson mission, or simply, to share a piece of hot gossip."

Just to make sure readers get the idea, 83 pages later, Corn and Isikoff declare: "Armitage feared that the White House would leak that Armitage had been Novak's source to deflect attention itself and to embarrass State Department leaders who had never been enthusiastic about the President's Iraq policy."