Answering Josh Marshall’s Call

(Also posted in The Corner after I emailed this to Jonah Goldberg – Welcome, Corner readers!).
For all of Josh Marshall’s huffing and puffing about the effort to expose how Joe Wilson got picked for the Niger trip, it’s worth taking a little trip in the Wayback Machine to what Marshall had to say on July 8, 2003, less than a week before Bob Novak’s now-infamous column identifying Wilson’s wife, CIA officer Valerie Plame, as the person who picked Wilson:

The most interesting bit of reporting I’ve seen today on the White House’s concession about the fraudulence of the Niger-uranium documents comes at the tail end of a wire story from Reuters …

A U.S. intelligence official said [Joseph] Wilson was sent to investigate the Niger reports by mid-level CIA officers, not by top-level Bush administration officials. There is no record of his report being flagged to top level officials, the intelligence official said.
“He is placing far greater significance on his visit than anyone in the U.S. government at the time it was made,” the official said, referring to Wilson’s New York Times article.

The message here seems pretty clear: Joseph who? Wilson, this ‘intelligence official’ is saying, is some small-time operator who got sent to Niger by some mid-level functionaries at the CIA. All the people who counted had no idea he’d even gone on his trip. And they certainly didn’t know about his vaunted report.
Now, I wouldn’t be being very straight with you if I didn’t start by saying that I don’t find this claim particularly credible. But could this be true?
Let’s run through what we know.
Wilson has said repeatedly that he was sent to Niger because, as he wrote in the Times, “Vice President Dick Cheney’s office had questions about a particular intelligence report.”
Now, note the difference in what’s being said here. No one, let alone Wilson, has claimed that any “top-level Bush administration officials” sent him on his investigatory trip. What he and others have said is that CIA officials sent him out, because they were following up on a request from the Office of the Vice President (OVP) to look into the Niger-uranium allegations.
So to start with you can say that the ‘intelligence official’s’ statement amounts to a sort of non-denial denial. But what about the broader question? Was the whole effort triggered by an inquiry from the OVP or not?
Wilson says yes. And presumably he’s basing this on some knowledge of the situation. Nick Kristof said the same thing in his June 13th column in the Times, though it’s possible that Wilson was his source. But if there’s a factual dispute here, let’s find out. Is Wilson’s description of the OVP’s involvement accurate? In particular, did the OVP get Wilson’s eventual report? I think this is something a good investigative reporter with juice should be able to resolve for us pretty quickly. So, again, let’s find out.


So I don’t think dumping on Wilson, which seems to be the White House’s preferred strategy now, is going to cut it. But in each of these cases, let’s find out. If Wilson and Thielmann are fibbing let’s expose them. And if their superiors are playing fast and loose with the truth, let’s find that out too. Let the chips fall where they may.

(Emphasis added). Josh Marshall – Bob Novak’s assignment desk? Cliff May, who like Marshall is as much a part of this story as a commenter on it, responds to the questions Marshall posed at the time:

My sources have told me that (1) there was no specific inquiry from the OVP, (2) no knowledge on the part of the OVP that Wilson was being sent on a mission, and (3) Wilson�s report was never received by the OVP.
Sources can sometimes mislead you and sources can sometimes be wrong (NB: NYT editors) but that�s what I have in my notebook.