As Iâve noted in earlier posts, many people think that where weâre heading on Wilson/Plame is that the White House will eventually say that whoever did the leaking didnât know Valerie Plame was undercover. By some readings, that would get the culprits out of legal jeopardy since the relevant law requires intent. If they didnât know she was undercover, then it wouldnât be a crime. Outside the legal context it would move the whole incident out of the realm of execrable bad-act and into that of sloppy mistake.
Novak has anticipated this line, saying that he didnât know Plame was undercover. And heâs implied that his sources didnât know either.
But I think there are at least a few clues pointing to the conclusion that Novak and his sources knew precisely what her status was. Again, not proof, but clues.
Let me walk you through them.
First, in his original column Novak referred to Plame as an âoperative.â In recent interviews Novak has tried to pass this off as an oversight, explaining that he meant it in the colloquial sense in which one might refer to a political hack, an operative, etc.
Last week he told Tim Russert â¦
The one thing I regret I wrote, I used the word "operative," and I think Mr. Broder will agree that I use the word too much. I use it about hat politicians. I use it about people on the Hill. And if somebody did a Nexus search of my columns, they'd find an overuse of "operative." I did not mean it. I don't know what she did. But the indication given to me by this senior official and another senior official I checked with was not that she was deep undercover.
Frankly, no one buys this. As weâve seen in the last couple weeks there are various phrasings which get used to describe CIA employees whom we would, in colloquial language, call âundercover agents.â But âoperativeâ is pretty much always used to distinguish people from âanalysts.â Itâs hard to believe that someone like Novak, whoâs been doing this for almost half a century, would make such a silly mistake. Really hard to believe.
Then thereâs something Joe Wilson mentioned when I interviewed him in mid-September. âIf I recall the article correctly,â he said, â[Novak] flatly asserts my wife is a CIA operative. And then he quotes senior administration officials as saying that she was somehow responsible for sending me out there.â Iâd noticed that too. Novak wrote:
Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report.
Itâs been treated as a given that the two âsenior administration officialsâ were Novakâs source both for Plameâs being at the Agency and for her alleged role in choosing Wilson for the Niger mission. In fact, Novak has basically said so in repeated interviews.
If thatâs true, why is her status as an Agency operative stated as an un-sourced assertion? Why is the sourcing noted only for the claim that she suggested sending her husband to Niger? Iâd want to source both points. Agreed: Iâm reading tealeaves here. But one pretty plausible explanation for this circuitous sourcing is that Novak realized that he didnât want the line to read: âTwo senior administration officials told me Valerie Plame is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction.â
Then thereâs one more thing.
A week after Novak wrote his column, Newsday reporters Timothy M. Phelps and Knut Royce wrote the first newspaper article about Novakâs disclosure. The whole point of the Phelps/Royce piece was that the article had disclosed the identity of a clandestine employee of the CIA. The authors interviewed Novak for the article. Yet the article gives not a clue that Novak ever disputed this point or mentioned that there was any confusion about Plameâs status. His response, according to the article, was: âI didn't dig it out, it was given to me. They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it.â
Novak only started telling people there was any confusion about Plame's status after the Justice Department got involved and things began to heat up dramatically.
Taken together, I think these clues point pretty directly to the conclusion --- which frankly is pretty obvious on the face of it --- that Novak knew Plameâs status, and thus that his sources knew Plameâs status. If thatâs true, then the âhonest mistakeâ excuse goes right down the drain.