I'd like to follow-up on my posts from yesterday to lay out the status of Bob Novak's story. As he alluded in his column yesterday, Novak's testimony differs from Rove's and Harlow's testimony. Novak doesn't say if his testimony matched (presumably) Armitage's, perhaps because he doesn't know the substance of Armitage's.
I have revealed Rove's name because his attorney has divulged the substance of our conversation, though in a form different from my recollection. I have revealed Harlow's name because he has publicly disclosed his version of our conversation, which also differs from my recollection. My primary source has not come forward to identify himself.
In addition to these admitted differences, Novak's story differs from the story he was peddling in October 2003, during the prime cover-up period. By looking at these differences, I hope to understand more about how Rove and Novak got away with with the story they told Fitzgerald.
Rove Said, Novak Said
In yesterday's column, Novak doesn't provide many details about how he testified regarding his conversation with Karl.
Following my interview with the primary source, I sought out the second administration official and the CIA spokesman for confirmation.
Conveniently, Rove spokesman Corallo (hey! What is he doing sticking around? I thought "it was over" six weeks ago?) seems to be addressing the discrepancies in testimony in these comments (and I should reiterate, this Yost AP story is far and away the best coverage I've seen of Novak's brain dump yesterday).
"I have revealed Rove's name because his attorney has divulged the substance of our conversation, though in a form different from my recollection," Novak wrote. Novak did not elaborate.
A spokesman for Rove's legal team, Mark Corallo, said that Rove did not even know Plame's name at the time he spoke with Novak, that the columnist called Rove, not the other way around, and that Rove simply said he had heard the same information that Novak passed along to him regarding Plame.
"There was not much of a difference" between the recollections of Rove and Novak, said Corallo.
If this Corallo quote was really an attempt to explain the discrepancy, there were presumably three differences:
- Novak says Rove knew Plame's name, whereas Rove says he didn't even know the name, much less share it
- Novak says Rove called him, whereas Rove says Novak made the call
- Rove remembers saying, "oh, you've heard that too," whereas Novak suggests Rove said something more
Not much of a difference, says Corallo. Though if we had a press corps, we might press the significance of these issues. Did Novak say Rove used Plame's name, for example? Not according to yesterday's Novak column. Novak reverts to--and strengthens--a claim he made during the cover-up period.
I learned Valerie Plame's name from Joe Wilson's entry in "Who's Who in America."
Compare that to Novak's claim from October 1, 2003.
Her name, Valerie Plame, was no secret either, appearing in Wilson's "Who's Who in America" entry.
Or even Novak's use of the hypothetical in August 2005.
Once it was determined that Wilson's wife suggested the mission, she could be identified as "Valerie Plame" by reading her husband's entry in "Who's Who in America."
Whereas yesterday, Novak clearly claims he learned of Plame's name from Who's Who, in October 2003 and August 2005, he only said the name could be found via Who's Who, not that he had learned of it that way.
One aside about the name. I've pointed out that one version of Novak's October 2003 column used the name Valerie Flame. That was, of course, long before we knew Valerie Flame appeared in Judy Miller's notebooks, apparently coming from one of her sources on Plame. So Novak may have strengthened his Who's Who claim to downplay any chance that "Flame" reference came from the same source Judy got it from.
And here's a curious detail. We know that in his July 2003 interview with Phelps and Royce, Novak clearly said the SAOs called him.
Novak, in an interview, said his sources had come to him with the information. "I didn't dig it out, it was given to me," he said. "They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it."
Here's how Novak described his Rove conversation in his October 1 column:
When I called another official for confirmation, he said: "Oh, you know about it."
In October, at least, Novak admitted to having called Rove. In yesterday's column, Novak says he sought out Rove (though this leaves open the possibility that Rove returned Novak's phone call, as Waas has alleged).
I sought out the second administration official and the CIA spokesman for confirmation.
Yet Corallo seems to suggest Novak testified differently (indeed, it is the strongest claim for a difference in testimony in Corallo's response), that Novak said Rove called him, not vice versa.
Then there's the question of what Rove said. Mostly, this dispute has been described as the difference between saying, "You heard that too?" and "Oh, you know about it." But there's one more discrepancy. In yesterday's column, Novak claims to have had three sources for his column: Armitage (presumably), Rove, and Harlow (plus Wilson, from whom he has two quotes). If had only three sources for the anonymous comments in his column, then, who told him the following:
The story, actually, is whether the administration deliberately ignored Wilson's advice, and that requires scrutinizing the CIA summary of what their envoy reported. Wilson's report ... was regarded by the CIA as less than definitive, and it is doubtful Tenet ever saw it. After eight days in the Niger capital of Niamey (where he once served), Wilson made an oral report in Langley that an Iraqi uranium purchase was "highly unlikely," though he also mentioned in passing that a 1988 Iraqi delegation tried to establish commercial contacts. The CIA report of Wilson's briefing remains classified. The Agency never before has declassified that kind of information, but the White House would like to do just that now -- in its and in the public's interest.[my emphasis]
Perhaps I'm crazy in thinking that Armitage was not part of the CIA report declassification process, led (as we know) covertly by Libby and Dick and overtly by Tenet and Hadley and Bartlett. Perhaps I'm crazy in wondering who in the White House would have told Armitage that they were trying to declassify the report. The last sentence, though, is definitely attributed to the White House. Armitage is not in the White House. So unless he's passing on information from the White House, then Novak either has more sources, or Rove said more than he's letting on.
So to summarize: assuming Corallo was indeed describing the differences between the testimony, then here is what has happened with Novak's and Rove's testimony.
Plame's Name: In October 2003 and August 2005, Novak hedged about the source for the name. In his column yesterday, he says he relied on Who's Who. But Corallo suggests Novak said Rove knew Plame's name, though Rove claims he didn't.
Who Called Whom: On July, 2003, Novak says "they" called him. In October 2003, he says he called Rove. Yesterday, he says he "sought out" Rove. Though Corallo seems to suggest Rove and Novak dispute who called whom.
What Rove Said: Small discrepancy in Rove's confirming statement, possible discrepancy on the level of detail passed on.
Harlow Said, Novak Said
The Harlow discrepancy is much more clear, because (contrary to what the press corps seems to understand) it was all exposed last summer. First though, let me point out how Novak's grammar has resulted in a huge misunderstanding on the part of the press. Novak describes learning that Fitzgerald knew he had spoken to Harlow when Fitzgerald showed up to Fitzgerald's first interview with Novak with a waiver from Harlow.
When Fitzgerald arrived, he had a third waiver in hand -- from Bill Harlow, the CIA public information officer who was my CIA source for the column confirming Mrs. Wilson's identity.
Now I think this sentence means, "Fitzgerald had a third waiver, from Bill Harlow, the CIA source I cited in the column in which I confirmed Mrs. Wilson's identity." That is, the phrase, "confirming Mrs. Wilson's identity" modifies "column," not "CIA source." Nevertheless, many in the press are reading the sentence as, "Bill Harlow, the CIA source who confirmed Mrs. Wilson's identity." I'm sure Novak doesn't mind being misunderstood the way he is being misunderstood, since it makes it seem like he has confirmed a new source, as Drudge promised he would do. Who cares about clarity if it allows you to dominate the media and smear the CIA?
The actual discrepancy between Novak's and Harlow's testimony, as I said, is clearer than Novak's grammar. A WaPo article last July explained what Harlow apparently testified to.
Harlow, the former CIA spokesman, said in an interview yesterday that he testified last year before a grand jury about conversations he had with Novak at least three days before the column was published. He said he warned Novak, in the strongest terms he was permitted to use without revealing classified information, that Wilson's wife had not authorized the mission and that if he did write about it, her name should not be revealed.
Harlow said that after Novak's call, he checked Plame's status and confirmed that she was an undercover operative. He said he called Novak back to repeat that the story Novak had related to him was wrong and that Plame's name should not be used. But he did not tell Novak directly that she was undercover because that was classified.
A few days after the WaPo article, Novak responded with a rebuttal. First, he denies using the phrase "authorized" when he spoke to Harlow.
There never was any question of me talking about Mrs. Wilson "authorizing." I was told she "suggested" the mission, and that is what I asked Harlow.
He also goes onto to dispute the veracity of Harlow's characterization in the WaPo, using the politicized SSCI.
His denial was contradicted in July 2004 by a unanimous Senate Intelligence Committee report. The report said Wilson's wife "suggested his name for the trip." It cited an internal CIA memo from her saying "my husband has good relations" with officials in Niger and "lots of French contacts," adding they "could possibly shed light on this sort of activity." A State Department analyst told the committee that Mrs. Wilson "had the idea" of sending Wilson to Africa.
The claim that Plame "suggested" Wilson came from the additional views from Roberts, Hatch, and Bond, not the unanimous conclusions. Plame did write a memo describing Wilson's qualifications. But the SSCI misrepresents what the analyst notes say.
So Novak uses spin to make his point, but it shouldn't matter. Even if Harlow lied to Novak about Plame's role in the Niger trip as a way to shut him up, if Harlow said it, then there shouldn't be a dispute. So for the purposes of testimony (as opposed to spin) the discrepancy is between "authorized" and "suggested."
Novak reacts even more strongly against Harlow's description of the warning he gave Novak.
Harlow said to the Post that he did not tell me Mrs. Wilson "was undercover because that was classified." What he did say was, as I reported in a previous column, "she probably never again would be given a foreign assignment but that exposure of her name might cause 'difficulties.'" According to CIA sources, she was brought home from foreign assignments in 1997, when Agency officials feared she had been "outed" by the traitor Aldrich Ames.
I have previously said that I never would have written those sentences if Bill Harlow, then CIA Director George Tenet or anybody else from the Agency had told me that Valerie Plame Wilson's disclosure would endanger herself or anybody.
Again, a lot of this is irrelevant to the testimony they each gave. Harlow admits he didn't say Plame was undercover, because that was classified. They agree, apparently, that Harlow said exposing her name would "cause difficulties." The biggest discrepancy in their testimony--and the most important discrepancy--has to do with whether Harlow told Novak not to use Plame's name. Harlow says he told Novak twice not to use Plame's name. Novak makes some lameass excuses, but never actually denies that he received a warning or two not to use her name.
So to summarize, here are the similarities and differences between Harlow's and Novak's testimony:
Plame's Role in the Trip: Harlow claims Novak said Plame "authorized the mission." Novak says he said Plame "suggested" the mission. Novak doesn't apparently dispute that Harlow told him Novak's assertion was wrong.
Plame's Status: Both agree that Harlow didn't tell Novak Plame was covert.
Use of Plame's Name: Harlow says he told Novak, twice, that he shouldn't use Plame's name. Novak says Harlow said, "exposure of her name might cause 'difficulties.'" Novak says Harlow didn't tell him using Plame's name "would endanger herself or anybody."
Novak on (Presumably) Armitage Then, and Novak on (Presumably) Armitage Now
There are even some discrepancies between what Novak has previously said about (presumably) Armitage and what he said yesterday. In October 2003, he said the following.
During a long conversation with a senior administration official, I asked why Wilson was assigned the mission to Niger. He said Wilson had been sent by the CIA's counterproliferation section at the suggestion of one of its employees, his wife. It was an offhand revelation from this official, who is no partisan gunslinger.
Yesterday, he said the following.
Joe Wilson's wife's role in instituting her husband's mission was revealed to me in the middle of a long interview with an official who I have previously said was not a political gunslinger. After the federal investigation was announced, he told me through a third party that the disclosure was inadvertent on his part.
In 2003, he described this source as "no partisan gunslinger;" yesterday, he only said he had previously said the source was "not a political gunslinger," which may suggest he's backing off his prior claim. I have no idea whether Novak considers a "partisan" gunslinger to be different from a "political" gunslinger. [Hat tip to Elwood Dowd for noticing this detail.]
Also note that yesterday Novak didn't admit to asking (presumably) Armitage about Wilson's trip, instead leaving the impression that (presumably) Armitage brought it up of his own accord.
Most importantly, though, Novak changes his description of what (presumably) Armitage told him. In 2003, he said, "Wilson had been sent by the CIA's counterproliferation section at the suggestion of one of its employees, his wife." Novak, like Libby, knows enough about the CIA to know that a counterproliferation employee would be in the DO side of the house, and almost certainly covert. But yesterday, he was much more vague about what (presumably) Armitage said. "Joe Wilson's wife's role in instituting her husband's mission," carries none of the same connotation of covert status that his earlier version did. Is Novak changing his story about what he learned?
Novak Said Then, Novak Said Now
I think I'm most fascinated by the other key difference in Novak's October 2003 story and yesterday's story. (I mentioned this yesterday and Swopa's done more on it today.) In 2003, Novak went to great lengths to invent some BS about Plame's employ at the CIA being common knowledge and why he used the word "operative."
How big a secret was it? It was well known around Washington that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. Republican activist Clifford May wrote Monday, in National Review Online, that he had been told of her identity by a non-government source before my column appeared and that it was common knowledge. Her name, Valerie Plame, was no secret either, appearing in Wilson's "Who's Who in America" entry.
A big question is her duties at Langley. I regret that I referred to her in my column as an "operative," a word I have lavished on hack politicians for more than 40 years. While the CIA refuses to publicly define her status, the official contact says she is "covered" -- working under the guise of another agency. However, an unofficial source at the Agency says she has been an analyst, not in covert operations.
Never mind that both of those have been discredited. Apparently, Fitzgerald has reason to believe that May did not know Plame's identity. Of course, Novak didn't say he, Novak, knew of Plame's employ, only that May had claimed to. And Josh Marshall has shown that Novak uses "operative" to refer to people working in clandestine capacity. Of course, Novak didn't claim he was using the word "operative" with Plame to smear her as a partisan hack, only that he had in the past. (And he further evades the issue by talking about her function, rather than her classified status; and yesterday's article suggests his "unofficial" source naming Plame as an analyst was a later source, not one he used for his original column.)
So both these claims are bullshit. But Novak thought them sufficiently important bullshit to dedicate two paragraphs to, in 2003. He went to great lengths to invent excuses for revealing that Plame was covert.
But there was none of that yesterday. He simply ignores his qualification of Plame, in the original column, as an operative.
I reported that former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was employed by the CIA and helped initiate his 2002 mission to Niger.
He backs off describing Plame as working in counterproliferation again when he describes his conversation with (presumably) Armitage. His only mention of anything to do with Plame's covert status comes in his parsed statement that suggests (presumably) Armitage and Rove will not be prosecuted for the IIPA violation.
That Fitzgerald did not indict any of these sources may indicate his conclusion that none of them violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.
Yet even there, he backs off claiming that no one will be charged for the violation, or even knowing that Fitzgerald won't indict his sources for an IIPA violation.
In other words, Novak changes the story completely, turning a case about the outing of a covert operative into a story about Plame intervening to suggest her husband for the Niger trip.
Would it be too much to hope that journalists might notice the difference and ask Novak about the discrepancy as he plays media whore today?
Never mind. Don't answer that.
Bonus New Robert Novak Links
To piss us liberals off just as we're linking to Town Hall for the first time in months, they've redone their archive. As a special service, here are the new Townhall URLs for all the Novak stories relating to Plame: