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
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

While Hubris was willing to forgive Armitage for leaking, I was given no such forbearance. I expected that treatment several weeks ago when I was shocked to learn from Isikoff that Corn was his collaborator. I suppose that it would have been much worse had Corn written the book by himself, but it was bad enough. I do credit Isikoff for at least one reference to my being an opponent of U.S. intervention in Iraq, and much more publicly than Armitage. Nevertheless, Corn cannot give up the idea that I was part of a White House conspiracy to discredit Wilson, even though nobody from the Bush White House ever contacted me about Valerie Plame. While others quoted in the book merely "said something," I am represented as having "claimed" or "insisted."

Irrelevant issues are dredged up to allege a conspiratorial relationship with Karl Rove. For example, Hubris goes far afield to imply that Rove was responsible for my column this year noting antiwar congressman John Murtha's connection with the Abscam scandal 26 years ago. In truth, at that point Rove (on the advice of his lawyers), had not spoken to me for over two years. (In fact, I was reminded of Murtha's past by two prominent Democrats, a former congressman and a former California party leader.) Corn wrote that "Murtha had been investigated by the FBI," not that he was an unindicted co-conspirator, which was the centerpiece of my column.

Such inconvenient facts, even entire subject areas, are frequently omitted. This is commonplace for a polemicist like Corn but not a careful investigative reporter like Isikoff. The book's effort to cleanse Wilson stoops to deception: It accepts at face value Wilson's self-described political nonpartisanship, asserting that he "was not considered a fierce Democrat or a Bush Administration foe" when he embarked on his mission to Niger, citing his 1999 contribution to George W. Bush. In that same year, Joseph and Valerie Wilson not only contributed $1,000 each to Al Gore's presidential campaign, but the former ambassador also served on the Democratic nominee's policy staff. This, surely, was known to the authors, who chose to ignore it.

They ignored a lot more, such as what the July 2004 report by the Senate Intelligence Committee's Republicans, unchallenged by the Democratic minority, did to Wilson. It undermined his conclusions (based on his African mission) that Iraq did not seek yellowcake uranium, and undercut his insistence that his wife did not suggest him to the CIA for that mission. After the Senate report, Wilson disappeared from the Kerry for President campaign, something that also goes unmentioned in this book.

A major factor in Isikoff's decision to collaborate with Corn presumably was the leftist journalist's close relationship with the Wilsons, which provided supposedly exclusive information on Valerie's CIA duties. But the information is mainly Wilson boilerplate. I am disappointed that so accomplished a reporter as Isikoff did not probe more deeply into exactly what Mrs. Wilson did at the Agency. He must have questioned the story that "Brewster-Jennings & Associates," a nonexistent, totally fictitious company publicly listed by Valerie as her employer, was a cover for many CIA operatives. He must have known that former New York Times reporter Clifford May had also learned that Mrs. Wilson worked for the CIA before my column appeared. None of this was explored by the authors.

I do credit Isikoff for rejecting the canard that the White House had been peddling the Valerie Plame story all over town (to at least six journalists) before it got to me. The book also identifies the "senior administration official" quoted in a Washington Post story as the source of the six-journalists story, and as saying that the White House was out for "purely and simply revenge" against Wilson. He turns out to be Adam Levine, an obscure, middle-level communications aide who soon left the White House.

In their tirade against the Bush White House, Isikoff and Corn found a hero: Paul Pillar, then the CIA officer in charge of the Middle East. During the 2004 election campaign, I wrote in a column that Pillar was delivering off-the-record briefings to citizens groups around the country, and was highly critical of the president seeking a second term. Probing such subversion at the CIA might have been an interesting exercise for an investigative reporter, but that is not what this book is about.

Robert D. Novak is a syndicated columnist.