Now that it has been revealed that the main source for Bob Novak’s column “outing” Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA employee was Richard Armitage, Colin Powell’s right-hand man at the State Department and (like Novak) no fan of the Iraq War, with Karl Rove and a CIA spokesman merely confirming what Novak had already been told by Armitage – and that the White House was kept in the dark for many months, at a minimum, about Armitage’s role – it is clear that there was never any validity to the notion that Novak’s column was the result of some neo-conservative cabal seeking retaliation against Wilson and his wife for Wilson’s publication of a NY Times Op-Ed detailing what should have been a classified intelligence-gathering mission to Niger. This “neocon retaliation” theory was, as you will recall, the central and original theory of why the Plame story was a scandal at all, rather than a one-day story of a run-of-the-mill imprudent leak, and not even in the top ten as far as the most damaging leaks of the past five years.
Joe Wilson himself, of course, was the original source of this theory. But I thought it would be instructive to look back at one of the main blogospheric advocates of that theory – Josh Marshall – to get a full sense of how long and hard he pushed this notion, and thus how badly he ended up leading his readers astray. (I may get to look back at some of the other top Plame-ologists of the Left, but Marshall was perhaps the most visible and this post is long enough as it is). In Marshall’s case, the conspiracy theory was particularly attractive because it fit in with his broader attack on Vice President Cheney and the “neocon” advisers in the Vice President’s office and the Defense Department – indeed, Marshall repeatedly tried to retail a particularly baroque explanation in which the “outing” of Mrs. Wilson was tied to forged documents passed through Italy relating to Niger.
I should start by noting that re-reading Marshall’s archives reminds me how slippery he is – he truly is a master of implying things without coming out and saying them. But the sheer volume of his posts on this story has, unsurprisingly, yielded up more than a few instances of Marshall actually saying what he intended his readers to believe:
First of all, the volume. Marshall has posted on this story 231 times since July 2003, as of a count I did a few weeks ago – 48 posts in 2003, 59 posts in 2004, 99 posts in 2005, and 25 posts through the end of August 2006. Let’s look at the way he pushed this story – not each and every one of these quotes is damning in and of itself, but they give you the overall picture of Marshall’s full-throated pursuit of the completely wrong direction on a story to which he devoted enormous efforts:
We know that two senior members of the Bush administration intentionally blew the cover of an undercover CIA officer whose job is combating weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferation. And their motivation was pure politics.
To get back at Wilson, they blew the cover of his wife, Valerie Plame, a covert CIA operative specializing in tracking other countries’ efforts to acquire WMD.
Whammo! NBC has a late report that the CIA has asked the Justice Department to investigate whether the White House broke federal law by exposing the identity of one of its undercover employees, Valerie Plame, to retaliate against her husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson.
The Post got one “senior administration official” to concede that “two top White House officials” disclosed Plame’s identity to at least six journalists.
[Quoting the Post story]: “Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge,” the senior official said of the alleged leak.
[E]veryone’s saying: that the problem centers on the vice president’s office. And people are adding a name: Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff and close advisor.
A mountain of rumor doesn’t amount to a single fact. But two respected ex-CIA officers have now publicly pointed to the vice president’s office — a good sign, I think, that that’s what they’re hearing from ex-colleagues at CIA. An increasing range of circumstantial evidence points in that direction
[T]he war between the White House and the CIA is the big story. It’s the feud from which this law-breaking springs.
I’ve avoided the rush of Novak-bashing that’s swirled around this story. But his stance as a journalist simply trying to report out a story is being rapidly and severely diminished by his desperate effort to advance the agenda of those who leaked to him in the first place, i.e., to smear and discredit the Wilsons.
For the last ten days we’ve known that two senior administration officials blew the cover of an undercover CIA employee for some mix of retribution and political gamesmanship.
Meanwhile, back in wingerville, the search for the Holy Grail, or rather an innocent explanation of the Plame mess, continues.
Those two “senior administration officials” just finished the job that [Aldrich] Ames — one of the arch-traitors of American history — started.
This is the point at which even Marshall must have started to realize that the “revenge” theory was problematic, although as we shall see that didn’t make him stop implying it:
The White House was at war with Joe Wilson. And they were using everything in their arsenal to take him down. The authors of [a Washington Post] piece seem to have spoken to “administration sources” who told them that the motive for naming Plame wasn’t retaliation but an effort to destroy Wilson’s credibility and thus get reporters to ignore him. That theory of the crime, shall we say, seems to conflict with the account of the administration official who told the Post on he September 28th that the calls were “meant purely and simply for revenge.”
For my part, I’ve always thought that this question of motivation was greatly over-determined. Revenge, a warning to other potential whistleblowers, attempts to undermine Wilson’s credibility — none of these strikes me as contradictory or necessarily exclusive of the others. I suspect they were all involved.
In fact, the “senior administration official” who was the source for the September 28th article seemed to believe both motives were involved, since he or she called the disclosure not only wrong but “a huge miscalculation,” because they were irrelevant and did nothing to diminish Wilson’s credibility.
All the available evidence points to the conclusion that Novak and his sources knew full well that Plame was a clandestine agent.
[L]ook at these various controversies: possible subpoenas over White House stonewalling of the 9/11 investigation, the multiple investigations of the pre-war intel on Iraq, the criminal investigation into the Plame disclosure.
There are differences in each, of course. But in each case, fundamentally, we’re talking about the same players: the White House and Intelligence Community.
It’s always been more or less an open secret who the perps are in this case. And they’re very high-level folks — people with deep influence of the formulation and implementation of policy. And the wrong-doing here is directly related to the execution of policy. So if a crime was committed, and if an indictment is forthcoming, it will bring under scrutiny a whole complex range of wrong-doing (though not necessarily criminal wrongdoing) relating to administration war policy and intelligence manipulation and other stuff we can go into at a later date.
If the real perps are indicted, the political implications will be obvious and undeniable. And the fall-out will be rapid.
On whether it’s possible that the leaker didn’t know Plame’s status was classified:
[L]et’s stop the charade. They’re guilty as sin. It’s now crystal clear that from the very beginning the folks at the White House have known who did it.
At the moment the discussion is about whether the doers can beat the rap. (Did the person at the White House know she was covert, etc.?)
[T]he basic facts of the matter have been in plain sight from the beginning. And whether an aide to the president is indicted or goes to prison is largely an issue for that particular person.
The issue here — from the beginning, and now to the end — is whether the president accepts such behavior and what the standard operating procedure in the Bush White House is: Do you punish a political opponent by attacking his family if it means exposing one of the country’s covert intelligence operatives and breaking the law?
Democrats at least have the consolation of the Plame investigation, which continues to validate their least generous suspicions about how the Bush White House operates and underscore the president’s seeming indifference to recklessness and law-breaking among high-level members of his own staff.
[For defenders of the White House t]heir tactic lately is no longer to deny that some key White House officials tipped columnist Robert Novak off to the fact that Joe Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was a covert employee of the CIA. These days, they just say that it wasn’t a crime.
No matter how you slice it, top White House officials acted in a way that should disqualify them from future service on the president’s staff.
That burn campaign against Joe Wilson got off the ground pretty quickly, didn’t it? And the Plame hit came out of the Vice President’s office.
On a controversy surrounding Richard Clarke:
This is Plame all over again, just with the lights on — a kind of behavior — a mix of pervasive secrecy and the use of state power to punish political enemies — that is literally a danger to the republic.
Who is Dick Cheney? . . . When challenged, violence seems always to be his preferred method of response, that of first resort — often a literal sort on the world stage, but with bureaucratic (viz. Plame) and what we might call verbal violence at home.
We don’t know that the president knew about the decision to use Plame’s work at CIA against Wilson in advance, though given the high-level working group assembled at the White House to go to war with Wilson, it’s reasonable to suspect that he did.
Approvingly quoting a reader:
[T]he reason the Republicans were angry with Wilson is that he told the truth. And their preferred method of retaliation was to attack his wife.
Nope, wrong. You could look it up.