I'm not surprised by several things in the WaPo's disingenuous editorial on the Plame Affair today. For example, I'm not surprised it relies on the word, "primary."
But all those who have opined on this affair ought to take note of the not-so-surprising disclosure that the primary source of the newspaper column in which Ms. Plame's cover as an agent was purportedly blown in 2003 was former deputy secretary of state Richard L. Armitage. [my emphasis]
It's a word Novak conjured up when he went clean last month, and it seems designed to cast the majority of the blame on Armitage and away from Rove. Yet it relates solely to Plame's purported role in Wilson's trip to Niger; Novak never says that Armitage was his source for Plame's classified identity or name (he reverts to much less convincing stories to explain away his use of the word "operative," "Plame," none of which come from Armitage but which are more important to the story than Plame's general role). And the word "primary" might be taken to mean "first," particularly if you're the NYT, even though English speakers and smart doggies know there's a difference.
I suspect if I rifled through Fred Hiatt's, Chris Hitchens', and Byron York's trash, I'd find a little talking points document stressing the importance of this word "primary," which seems to suggest so much, but more likely obscures the entire story.
Runaway Special Prosecutor
I'm also not surprised that Fred raises the specter of a runaway special prosecutor.
The partisan clamor that followed the raising of that allegation by Mr. Wilson in the summer of 2003 led to the appointment of a special prosecutor, a costly and prolonged investigation, and the indictment of Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, on charges of perjury. All of that might have been avoided had Mr. Armitage's identity been known three years ago.
After the example of Ken Starr, a runaway special prosecutor is something to be feared. But look what Fred has to ignore to be able to make this claim. First, Fitzgerald's investigation has been anything but costly (Christy, you think you could smack down Fred on this issue? because since you beat Byron silly on it, he has not made such a baseless suggestion).
And I'm even more amused by the other two claims. First, Fred is worried about how prolonged this investigation has been. But as I pointed last month, the White House took two and a half years to comply with the initial subpoenas for entire chunks of emails, 250 pages worth. Two and a half years!! So if the right wants to complain about prolonged events, they might start with how long it takes the White House to respond to subpoenas.
And check out this claim:
All of that might have been avoided had Mr. Armitage's identity been known three years ago.
Armitage reported his role in this case on October 1, 2003. He was interviewed by the FBI on October 2, 2003. Armitage's identity has been known for three years, but still the DOJ continued the investigation (even when Ashcroft and Bush Skull and Bones buddy Robert McCallum were still leading it). John Ashcroft asked James Comey to appoint a special prosecutor almost three months after Armitage's identity was revealed. So, Fred, I suspect there are entirely unrelated reasons why the investigation continued and why Libby saw fit to lie about his involvement, reasons that have nothing to do with Richard Armitage.
Obscuring Wilson's Accusation
Nor am I surprised at the gymnastics Fred uses to try to turn this onto Wilson. Watch closely. Fred doesn't claim that Wilson was wrong when he asserted BushCo "some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat."
Nevertheless, it now appears that the person most responsible for the end of Ms. Plame's CIA career is Mr. Wilson. Mr. Wilson chose to go public with an explosive charge, claiming -- falsely, as it turned out -- that he had debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger and that his report had circulated to senior administration officials. He ought to have expected that both those officials and journalists such as Mr. Novak would ask why a retired ambassador would have been sent on such a mission and that the answer would point to his wife. He diverted responsibility from himself and his false charges by claiming that President Bush's closest aides had engaged in an illegal conspiracy.
Perhaps Fred knows better than to do so since his own newspaper reported that Bush had been warned, prior to the SOTU, that the Niger claims (and therefore the uranium claims) were baseless. Perhaps Fred knows better than to do so because Condi admitted the SOTU included claims about Niger. Or perhaps Fred knows better than to do so because the CIA gave up on the claim on June 17, 2003, before Wilson first came forward with his op-ed.
Or perhaps more provocatively, Fred knows better than to do so because Richard Armitage, Novak's "primary" source, almost certainly told Novak that,
Wilson's mission was created after an early 2002 report by the Italian intelligence service about attempted uranium purchases from Niger, derived from forged documents prepared by what the CIA calls a "con man." This misinformation, peddled by Italian journalists, spread through the U.S. government.
That is, at the same time Armitage was purportedly the "primary" leaker to Novak, he was also admitting to Novak that the entire uranium claim had been based on the forged documents--and that the US government knew (at least by July 2003) that the forgeries were prepared by Rocco Martino.
Whatever the reason that Fred decides not to deny the really explosive part of Wilson's claim, he instead chooses to distort Wilson's words to turn this on Wilson. Wilson says:
Though I did not file a written report, there should be at least four documents in United States government archives confirming my mission. The documents should include the ambassador's report of my debriefing in Niamey, a separate report written by the embassy staff, a C.I.A. report summing up my trip, and a specific answer from the agency to the office of the vice president (this may have been delivered orally). While I have not seen any of these reports, I have spent enough time in government to know that this is standard operating procedure.
Those are the facts surrounding my efforts. The vice president's office asked a serious question. I was asked to help formulate the answer. I did so, and I have every confidence that the answer I provided was circulated to the appropriate officials within our government.
The question now is how that answer was or was not used by our political leadership. If my information was deemed inaccurate, I understand (though I would be very interested to know why). If, however, the information was ignored because it did not fit certain preconceptions about Iraq, then a legitimate argument can be made that we went to war under false pretenses.
Wilson discusses what should have happened. He allows for the possibility that his report was deemed inaccurate. And he doesn't "charge" that his report "was" circulated to SAOs, only that it should have been. And for that--to which the correct response should have been, "no, it wasn't circulated to the SAOs"--Fred deems it Wilson's fault that Libby started digging up dirt on Joe Wilson starting two months earlier, in May 2003.
Repeating Cheney's Talking Points
Finally, I am not surprised that Fred Hiatt is--even today--repeating one of the talking points Dick Cheney developed when he read Joe Wilson's op-ed all those years ago. Cheney wrote:
Have they done this sort of thing?
Send an Amb to answer a question?
Do we ordinarily send people out pro bono to work for us?
Or did his wife send him on a junket?
And Fred, faithful to his talking points, again raises Dick's absurd point, to question why a guy with experience working with the former Nigerien leaders named in the uranium allegations, knowledge of the uranium trade, and experience with Saddam Hussein, would be sent to answer a question about those former Nigerien leaders selling uranium to Saddam Hussein.
He ought to have expected that both those officials and journalists such as Mr. Novak would ask why a retired ambassador would have been sent on such a mission and that the answer would point to his wife.
Pretty remarkable. It's been three years. And the wingnuts are still working off the talking points Dick wrote when he first read Wilson's op-ed.
Why Not Editorialize on Iran?
But here's what I am surprised by. Fred Hiatt wrote this editorial today instead of editorializing on Iran's refusal to deal with the UN yesterday. Hiatt has been warmongering on Iran for quite some time now, in inflammatory language. And the Iran announcement today is news, if predictable news.
But instead of choosing to incite more fear and loathing of all things diplomatic, Hiatt instead chose to recycle discredited attacks on the Wilsons, supplemented by new nonsense.
That surprises me. Why is Hiatt still harping on the Wilsons, when he claims to be concerned about Iran's imminent weaponization of a nuclear bomb? Why are the Wilsons a bigger threat to Fred Hiatt than Iran's purported nuclear weapons program?