Plame Kerfuffle Ending with a Thud

August 28th, 2006 9:16 PM

With the recent disclosure that Richard Armitage, an anti-Iraq war deputy of former secretary of state Colin Powell, was Bob Novak's source for the Valerie Plame leak, the political scandal that never should have been may finally be wrapping up. All that seems to remain is a three-and-out trial of departed White House aid Scooter Libby.

Byron York has a long piece summarizing the recent developments and putting them in the proper context:

No one in the press corps knew it at the time, but if a newly published account of the CIA-leak case is accurate, Powell knew much, much more than he let on during that session with the press. Two days earlier, according to Hubris, the new book by the Nation's David Corn and Newsweek's Michael Isikoff, Powell had been told by his top deputy and close friend Richard Armitage that he, Armitage, leaked the identity of CIA employee Valerie Plame to columnist Robert Novak. Armitage had, in other words, set off the CIA-leak affair.

At the time, top administration officials, including President Bush, were vowing to "get to the bottom" of the matter. But Armitage was already there, and he told Powell, who told top State Department officials, who told the Justice Department. From the first week of October 2003, then, investigators knew who leaked Valerie Plame's identity — the ostensible purpose of an investigation that still continues, a few months shy of three years after it began. [...]

After the Tenet leak, Democrats in Congress, led by New York Sen. Charles Schumer, demanded an investigation. On September 30, 2003, the Post published a front-page story, "Bush Vows Action if Aides Had Role in Leak," which reported that, "President Bush's chief spokesman said yesterday that the allegation that administration officials leaked the name of a CIA operative is "a very serious matter" and vowed that Bush would fire anybody responsible for such actions."The furor prompted Novak to write another column on the Plame matter. "During a long conversation with a senior administration official, I asked why [Joseph] Wilson was assigned the mission to Niger," Novak wrote. "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."

According to Hubris, Armitage had gone through the weekend of September 27-28, and then the continued furor on Monday and Tuesday — not to mention the previous three months — without realizing he was Novak's source. It was only upon reading Novak's "no partisan gunslinger" column, allegedly, that Armitage knew he was the source and got in touch with Powell.

In any event, the Justice Department moved quickly. In the next two weeks, DOJ investigators interviewed Armitage, Powell, Rove, Lewis Libby, and others. According to Hubris, Armitage told investigators about his talk with Novak, but did not tell them that he had also told the Washington Post's Bob Woodward about Plame. It appears that Armitage did not tell Fitzgerald about his Woodward conversation until November 2005, and then only after Woodward initiated the process.
Why did Armitage keep the information from Fitzgerald? In Hubris, Armitage's allies hint at the same defense that Lewis Libby's lawyers use to explain why he didn't tell investigators everything: that Plame was a relatively inconsequential part of a big story and was not, as administration critics say, the focus of a White House conspiracy. "My sense from Rich is that it was just chitchat," State Department intelligence head told Corn and Isikoff, saying that Armitage had simply "f—-ked up."

Whatever Armitage's motives, the fact that he was the Novak leaker undermines — destroys, actually — the conspiracy theory of the CIA-leak case. According to Isikoff, in an excerpt of Hubris published in Newsweek: "The disclosures about Armitage, gleaned from interviews with colleagues, friends and lawyers directly involved in the case, underscore one of the ironies of the Plame investigation: that the initial leak, seized on by administration critics as evidence of how far the White House was willing to go to smear an opponent, came from a man who had no apparent intention of harming anyone…"

It's an extraordinary admission coming from Isikoff's co-author Corn, one of the leading conspiracy theorists of the CIA-leak case. "The Plame leak in Novak's column has long been cited by Bush administration critics as a deliberate act of payback, orchestrated to punish and/or discredit Joe Wilson after he charged that the Bush administration had misled the American public about the prewar intelligence," Corn and Isikoff write. "The Armitage news does not fit neatly into that framework."

No, it doesn't. Instead, Corn and Isikoff argue that after Armitage "got the ball rolling," his actions "abetted" a White House that was already attempting to "undermining" Joseph Wilson. That's a long way from the cries of "Traitor!" that came from the administration's critics during the CIA-leak investigation.

Don't hold your breath waiting for apologies from the Joe Wilson cheerleaders (the New York Times, Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann and their leftist blogger pals come to mind) who were denouncing the vile traitors in the Bush White House.

Hat tip: Rightwingsparkle.