enigma4ever asks, over at Jane's, a question I've been thinking about. Did Woodward and Pincus have any conversations about Wilson (not Plame) before Pincus' June 12, 2003 article? The answer might say a lot about the ultimate source for Woodward's knowledge of Plame.
Obviously, Woodward and Pincus have had a number of discussions or non-discussions about Niger, Wilson, and Plame. Pincus attests to an October conversation between them. And he also says that--sometime in 2003--Woodward asked Pincus to keep him out of reporting on Plame (although that could be the same October 2003 conversation). And then there's Woodward's claim (disputed by Pincus) that he told Pincus about Plame's identity after he learned of it:
I testified that after the mid-June 2003 interview, I told Walter Pincus, a reporter at The Post, without naming my source, that I understood Wilson's wife worked at the CIA as a WMD analyst. Pincus does not recall that I passed this information on.
I'm with the rest of the blogosphere that trusts Pincus more than I trust Woodward on this one.
But let's say they were having more general conversations about Wilson and Niger. Perfectly plausible, given that they had at least on other conversation about it, they work for the same paper, Woodward was camped out at the White House when Pincus first started reporting on this story. What kind of conversations did they have?
You see, the thing that most infuriates me about Woodward's statement is not that he obscures Mr. X's identity (mostly because I'm comfortable treating this as a conspiracy, so I figure one leak is as good as another, until we get that leak coming out of Dick Cheney's mouth). It's that he obscures the date when Mr. X leaks. Woodward says:
I was first contacted by Fitzgerald's office on Nov. 3 after one of these officials went to Fitzgerald to discuss an interview with me in mid-June 2003 during which the person told me Wilson's wife worked for the CIA on weapons of mass destruction as a WMD analyst.
Mid-June. Is mid-June June 15th? Or could Woodward have been rounding up from a date before Pincus' article, say June 11?
As a reminder of why it matters, here's the chronology:
Late May and early June: Marc Grossman told Libby Wilson was the guy who went to Niger.
June 9: Libby and "another person" in the OVP receive documents from the CIA, probably including the CIA report on Wilson's trip.
June 11: A "senior officer of the CIA" tells Libby that "Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and was believed to be responsible for sending Wilson on the trip."
June 11 or 12: Marc Grossman gives an oral brief at a White House meeting. This is probably the:
meeting at the White House, where the discussion was focused on then growing criticism of Bush's inclusion in his January State of the Union speech of the allegation that Hussein had been seeking uranium from Niger.
Grossman basically briefed on the contents of the Wilson paragraph of the famous INR memo, stating that "Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and that State Department personnel were saying that Wilson's wife was involved in the planning of the trip."
Before June 12: Pincus contacts OVP for his June 12 story on the Niger intelligence and the OVP has discussions about how to respond.
June 12: Dick tells Libby that Plame worked in CPD, which is tantamount to telling him she was covert.
Now, there are two groups of people we know were privy to information on Wilson here (there may be more). The first is a group at OVP--the people who discussed how to respond to Pincus' inquiry about Wilson's trip and those who knew enough to write "Wilson" on their CIA dossier; for them, this information is almost certainly tied to the context of a malicious Get Wilson campaign. Then, there's the group that attended the White House meeting; for these people, information on Wilson might be less malicious, tied to the larger question of the problem with the Niger claim. Both groups include Libby, but the latter group would almost certainly include Hadley, who is reported to be Woodward's source, as well as people like Rove and Condi.
Now the content of the leak to Woodward basically includes the information found in the INR memo and (presumably) Grossman's briefing. Plame worked in WMD for CIA and had a role in the trip.
I had assumed that Woodward's source got his information from the Grossman briefing, particularly since repeating the content of a oral briefing might more likely be the subject of gossip than the contents of a classified CIA dossier. And that certainly makes sense with the timing: Grossman briefs on June 11 or 12, Woodward receives the leak in the next few days, and voila! you're at mid-June. But if Woodward received his leak post-Grossman briefing, it is unlikely (indeed, impossible, if the briefing were on June 12) that he chatted up Pincus about Wilson (not Plame) as a result ... at least not before Pincus' June 12 article. But if Woodward chatted with Pincus about Wilson in time for Pincus' June 12 article, it would mean his source is either a member of that smaller OVP group, there were more groups privy this information than we know, or someone (Libby?) from the OVP group leaked to the person who leaked to Woodward.
Of course, this is all speculation that Woodward would have shared some details from this leaking, mistakenly believing it included details on Plame, but at least including some information on what got reported back to OVP. We don't know any such conversations occurred. But we know Woodward has testified that those four conversations (one with Mr. X, one with Card, and two with Libby) are the only times Plame might have come up with an administration official. My point is just that it'd be a worthwhile question for Pincus. If Woodward had a substantive conversation about Wilson with Pincus on, say, June 9 (whether or not he mentioned Plame), it would seem that that Plame information would have come through the OVP channel.
And there's one more juicy possibility. It's highly doubtful (well, damn near impossible) that anyone from OVP's Get Wilson squad would have talked to Wilson to find out about his trip. They were working on leaks from friendly insiders, they were interested in discrediting Wilson, not clarifying the results of his trip. But we know that, just after the Plame leak, Woodward was talking about an underground railroad of information back and forth between administration officials and journalists.
MR. WOODWARD: And you know what? The special prosecutor, Fitzgerald, in a way, has discovered that there is an underground railroad of information in Washington. You're smiling because no one knows more about it than you.
MR. BERNSTEIN: Well, you were down there.
MR. WOODWARD: Well, you talk to people, you talk to somebody in the White House or the CIA or the Democratic Party, and you say, "I've heard or I understand; what are you hearing?" And one of the discoveries in all of this is that reporters, in asking questions, convey information to even somebody like Karl Rove.
Say Pincus and Woodward had a discussion about Wilson in the week before the Pincus article, just when OVP was getting dossiers from all over creation on Wilson. Would Pincus have shared information with Woodward about precisely what Wilson was saying? And would Woodward have, in turn, shared that information with Mr. X, his source? In other words, did Bob Woodward, journalist extraordinaire, provide information that helped the White House in their campaign against Wilson? That certainly would explain why he might call their conversation "gossip."
By obscuring the date of his conversation with Mr. X, Woodward not only shields Mr. X's identity, but also the detail of whether this information was leaked before or after Dick Cheney was told about Plame's covert status. That detail is pretty relevant to charges of IIPA or Espionage, regardless of who would be charged. But we might be able to determine whether Woodward had any substantive discussions about Wilson before the Grossman briefing simply by asking the WaPo's resident Wilson expert whether he had any conversations with Woodward about Wilson.