No question about it

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No question about it: The Washington Post is the first, second and third paper to go to on the Wilson/Plame story. To be fair, Newsday deserves a big mention in there too. But the article in Sunday’s Post is another piece with precise and story-advancing detail almost on a par with the September 28th piece that started the whole ball running.

(The Times? What ever happened to the Times? Lord knows, I’m no Times-basher. But they’ve been totally AWOL on this story. In fact, they have the ironic and in many ways dubious distinction of having seen the story advanced far more on their OpEd page than in their news pages.)

The Post story begins with a map of the Justice Department investigation. The initial focus of the inquiry, it seems, is not so much on who leaked to Novak as just how the information — Plame’s status and her relationship to Joe Wilson — made its way to and then around the White House.

Check out the piece for the details on that point. But this brings up something about the nature of this investigation. I’m all for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate this case. It seems like a textbook example of an inquiry that calls for one.

But I haven’t made too big a point of it because I think that once a full-scale criminal probe gets underway it’s really not that easy to control. Once lawyers and FBI agents and depositions and the rest of it get involved, these things have a way of taking on a life of their own. As I’ve said before, I’m convinced that the White House will eventually rue the day the president didn’t just do the right thing on day one: find the culprits, fire them and move on.

But back to the Post article.

There’s been a lot of chatter over the last week about whether that Post piece from September 28th — in which a ‘senior administration official’ pointed the finger at two “top White House officials” — may have gotten some key points wrong. Some have speculated that perhaps the senior administration official, who was the source for that article, got confused about which calls to reporters were made before and after Novak published his first column.

This new piece seems to clear that up. This from the new article …

That same week, two top White House officials disclosed Plame’s identity to least six Washington journalists, an administration official told The Post for an article published Sept. 28. The source elaborated on the conversations last week, saying that officials brought up Plame as part of their broader case against Wilson.

“It was unsolicited,” the source said. “They were pushing back. They used everything they had.”

The point here is clear. The reporters — one would assume Mike Allen, since he has a byline on both pieces — went back to the source with all the new information we know now. And the source stuck to his story on every key point. Note too that we’re back to “top White House officials.”

Another key point to notice in this piece is the way the authors start turning some of the spotlight on the press itself. They don’t do so in an adversarial manner. But they’ve gotten at least one reporter to discuss off the record that they’d been told about Plame’s relationship with Wilson by White House officials before Novak’s column appeared.

Again, the key passage …

On July 12, two days before Novak’s column, a Post reporter was told by an administration official that the White House had not paid attention to the former ambassador’s CIA-sponsored trip to Niger because it was set up as a boondoggle by his wife, an analyst with the agency working on weapons of mass destruction. Plame’s name was never mentioned and the purpose of the disclosure did not appear to be to generate an article, but rather to undermine Wilson’s report.

This last point sums up another of the key themes of the piece. The White House was at war with Joe Wilson. And they were using everything in their arsenal to take him down. The authors of the piece seem to have spoken to “administration sources” who told them that the motive for naming Plame wasn’t retaliation but an effort to destroy Wilson’s credibility and thus get reporters to ignore him. That theory of the crime, shall we say, seems to conflict with the account of the administration official who told the Post on he September 28th that the calls were “meant purely and simply for revenge.”

For my part, I’ve always thought that this question of motivation was greatly over-determined. Revenge, a warning to other potential whistleblowers, attempts to undermine Wilson’s credibility — none of these strikes me as contradictory or necessarily exclusive of the others. I suspect they were all involved.

In fact, the “senior administration official” who was the source for the September 28th article seemed to believe both motives were involved, since he or she called the disclosure not only wrong but “a huge miscalculation, because they were irrelevant and did nothing to diminish Wilson’s credibility.”

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