LAT Reports (Now Corrected) That Plame Was Exposed by Libby, But Still Falsely Claims That It Was to 'Discredit' Her Husband

Monday afternoon, in an error which made it into the paper's Tuesday print edition, reporter Paul Richter at the Los Angeles Times, in a story on the Obama administration's inadvertent leak of a CIA director's name in Afghanistan, was apparently so bound and determined to include a "Bush did it too" comparison that he went with leftist folklore instead of actual history.

Specifically, Richter wrote that "In 2003, another CIA operative, Valerie Plame, was publicly identified by I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, a top aide to Vice President Cheney, in an apparent attempt to discredit her husband, who had publicly raised questions about the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq" (HTs to Patterico and longtime NB commenter Gary Hall). Apparently no one else in the layers of editors and fact-checkers at the Times was aware that this entire claim has been known to be false since 2006.


Here is the text of the correction:

FOR THE RECORD

CIA name disclosure: An article in the May 27 Section A stated that former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby disclosed that former intelligence official Valerie Plame worked for the CIA. Former State Department official Richard Armitage said he was the first to disclose that Plame worked for the agency.

PlameAndWilsonWide

Sorry, LAT. It isn't just that Dick Armitage "said he was the first." He was "the one" (much better phrasing, given that who was "second" or "third" is obviously irrelevant). Armitage told the late Robert Novak.

The posted correction is still wholly unsatisfactory for three reasons: the correction itself is in my view deliberately squishy (as just noted), the original erroneous verbiage is still present, and the portion of the text which has not been corrected is still historically inaccurate.

All of Richter's erroneous original text remains in the posted report. While the Times correction fingers Armitage, it doesn't address the still-present contention that the exposure of Plame's name was "an apparent attempt to discredit her husband, who had publicly raised questions about the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq." Readers unfamiliar with the full history will have no reason to believe that this uncorrected contention is false. But it is.

Two contemporaneous items writte in 2006 demonstrate the the Times's "apparent attempt to discredit" contention is untrue. First, there's the column Novak wrote in the wake of Armitage's admission. Second, a separate 2006 item at the Washington Post indicates that the leaker "had no ax to grind." If he were alive, it is overwhelmingly likely that Bob Novak would demand that the "apparent attempt to discredit" language be removed — and it should be.

Novak's September 14, 2006 syndicated column filled in the details (bolds are mine):

Armitage's Leak

When Richard Armitage finally acknowledged last week that he was my source three years ago in revealing Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA employee, the former deputy secretary of state's interviews obscured what he really did. I want to set the record straight based on firsthand knowledge.

First, Armitage did not, as he now indicates, merely pass on something he had heard and that he "thought" might be so. Rather, he identified to me the CIA division where Mrs. Wilson worked and said flatly that she recommended the mission to Niger by her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson. Second, Armitage did not slip me this information as idle chitchat, as he now suggests. He made clear that he considered it especially suited for my column.

An accurate depiction of what Armitage actually said deepens the irony of his being my source. He was a foremost internal skeptic of the administration's war policy, and I had long opposed military intervention in Iraq. Zealous foes of George W. Bush transformed me, improbably, into the president's lapdog. But they cannot fit Armitage into the left-wing fantasy of a well-crafted White House conspiracy to destroy Joe and Valerie Wilson. The news that he, and not Karl Rove, was the leaker was devastating for the left.

... without explanation, in June 2003, Armitage's office said the deputy secretary would see me. This was two weeks before Joe Wilson outed himself as author of a 2002 report for the CIA debunking Iraqi interest in buying uranium in Africa.

I sat down with Armitage in his State Department office the afternoon of July 8 with tacit rather than explicit ground rules: deep background with nothing said attributed to Armitage or even to an anonymous State Department official. Consequently, I refused to identify Armitage as my leaker until his admission was forced by "Hubris," a new book by reporters Michael Isikoff and David Corn that absolutely identified him (i.e., making it far more than "what Armitage said"; that's two separate sources [Novak and Isikoff-Corn] who knew it as a fact — Ed.).

Late in my hour-long interview with Armitage, I asked why the CIA had sent Wilson -- who lacked intelligence experience, nuclear policy expertise or recent contact with Niger -- on the African mission. He told The Post last week that his answer was: "I don't know, but I think his wife worked out there."

Neither of us took notes, and nobody else was present. But I recalled our conversation that week in writing a column, while Armitage reconstructed it months later for federal prosecutors. He had told me unequivocally that Mrs. Wilson worked in the CIA's Counterproliferation Division and that she had suggested her husband's mission.

... Valerie Plame Wilson's name appeared in my column July 14, 2003, but it was not until Oct. 1 that I was contacted about it by Armitage, indirectly. Washington lobbyist Kenneth Duberstein, Armitage's close friend and political adviser, called me to say that the deputy secretary feared he had "inadvertently" (the word Armitage used in last week's interviews) disclosed Mrs. Wilson's identity to me in July and was considering resignation.

... Duberstein told me Armitage wanted to know whether he was my source. I did not reply because I was sure that Armitage knew he was the source. I believed he contacted me Oct. 1 because of news the weekend of Sept. 27-28 that the Justice Department was investigating the leak. I cannot credit Armitage's current claim that he realized he was the source only when my Oct. 1 column revealed that the official who gave me the information was "no partisan gunslinger."

Armitage's silence for the next 2 1/2 years caused intense pain for his colleagues in government and enabled partisan Democrats in Congress to falsely accuse Rove of being my primary source. ... Armitage's tardy self-disclosure is tainted because it is deceptive.

Dick Armitage acted on his own. There was no sinister Rovian plot to "discredit" Joe Wilson in Armitage's disclosure to Novak.

By early 2006, the Washington press corps had basically figured out that Armitage was the leaker, and was having a hard time keeping its collective mouth shut. In March 2006, when Armitage's identity as the Plame leader was still not officially known, the Washington Post's Jim VandeHei noted the following:

Magazine: Bradlee Knows Woodward's Source on Plame

Vanity Fair is reporting that former Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee says it is reasonable to assume former State Department official Richard L. Armitage is likely the source who revealed CIA operative Valerie Plame's name to Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward.

In an article to be published in the magazine today, Bradlee is quoted as saying: "That Armitage is the likely source is a fair assumption." Armitage was deputy secretary of state in President Bush's first term.

In an interview yesterday, Bradlee said he does know the identity of Woodward's source and does not recall making that precise statement to a Vanity Fair reporter. He said he has no interest in unmasking the official who first told Woodward about Plame in June 2003.

"I don't think I said it," Bradlee said. "I know who his source is, and I don't want to get into it. ... I have not told a soul who it is."

The identity of Woodward's source emerged as one of the big mysteries of the CIA case after he disclosed last year that a government official with no ax to grind had told him about Plame, an undercover operative, a month before her name was revealed by columnist Robert D. Novak.

Scooter Libby was interrogated several times by the FBI and didn't say exactly the same thing each and every time. These days, that's how law enforcement gets people they can't tag with specific criminal actions. Scooter Libby was arrested and convicted primarily because Dick Armitage wouldn't own up to what he told Bob Novak, who as a journalist had to keep silent to protect his weaselly confidential source.

Back on point: What about "no ax to grind" do Richter and his layers of fact-checkers and editors at the Los Angeles Times not understand?

At a minimum, "in an apparent attempt to discredit her husband, who had publicly raised questions about the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq" needs to be completely excised from Richter's report. Additionally, an accurate revised correction needs to be posted at his online dispatch and noted in the Corretions section in the Times's next print edition.

No one should put money down betting that the Times will have the integrity to do any of this.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.