Sunday, April 24, 2005

Reading for Monday morning: New Plame disclosures

On TAP Online, I have a story with new disclosures regarding the federal grand jury investigation of the Valerie Plame affair. The lede to my story:

"Two days before columnist Robert Novak named Valerie Plame as a covert CIA operative, a Bush administration official told a reporter for the Washington Post that Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV, had been sent to Niger on a sensitive diplomatic mission only because his wife recommended him for the job. The administration official admitted his role to federal prosecutors during their investigation into the leak of Plame's identity.

"The Bush administration official, according to attorneys familiar with his testimony, told a federal grand jury that he made the claim to the Post reporter and others in an effort to undermine Wilson's credibility, who was alleging at the time that the Bush administration was relying on faulty intelligence to bolster its case to go to war with Iraq. But the official just as adamantly denied to federal investigators... that he ever told the Post reporter, Novak, or anyone else that Plame was a clandestine CIA operative."

"The Post reporter, Walter Pincus, confirmed in an interview that the administration official attempted to discredit Wilson by claiming that Wilson had been sent on a boondoggle arranged by Wilson's wife. But Pincus says that the official did not tell him that Plame was anything other than an analyst."

More than one of my readers-- and bloggers-- have already made the observation that I appear to have buried the lede in my story. They are absolutely correct! Down lower in my story, I write: "The grand jury uncovered evidence that several administration officials engaged in an aggressive and organized effort to discredit Wilson." And even lower, I write that federal investigators have for some time believed that columnist Novak has very likely lied to shield his sources from potential criminal culpability.

This is a story of an increasing importance, despite the judgment of editors at some leading news organizations that there might not be much more to the story, as leaks regarding the grand jury have been scarce, and the special counsel investigating the matter, Patrick Fitzgerald, has said he completed virtually all aspects of his investigation months ago.

As I see it, I can underplay what I have for now as I gain a competitive edge in reporting this story. I don't want to wake any sleeping giants-- say Tim Russert or Jill Abramson-- with such vastly greater (and corporate) resources than my 'lil blog, until I own this story. That there might be a story here of a far greater magnitude than currently meets the eye is a piece of information that I would ask my loyal readers keep as our secret for a while.

As for the still unnamed Bush administration official in the lede to my story, there apparently were no grounds for criminal charges to be brought against him by the grand jury because the evidence did not demonstrate that he acted with the intent to reveal the status of a covert CIA operative.

But the grand jury clearly did uncover evidence that the official was part of a concerted campaign to silence and discredit Wilson and others critics of the Bush administration's Iraq policy. And whatever the official's intentions, his reckless actions may have played some role in the disclosure that Plame was a clandestine CIA officer; impaired then ongoing U.S. intelligence operations; endangered sensitive intelligence sources; and undermined the war on terrorism. Most of the rest of us would be in a little trouble at our work if we got caught doing something like that!

It would nice to see a reporter for some major news organization ask during tomorrow's White House press briefing, what, if any, disciplinary action, President Bush might take against this official, and why none has been taken already. (Word of warning: If nobody asks this question, I am going to get White House press credentials of my own, so that I can ask the question. If James Gluckert/James Gannon can obtain a White House press pass, I assume that I can as well.)

Meanwhile, Josh Marshall has been too kind to me, writing on "Just a note for those of you looking for the latest news on the Valerie Plame story. Murray Waas's new blog `Whatever Already' has been the source for the latest updates, all based on his extensive and continued original reporting on the subject." Josh has more faith in me than I do, or more faith that I deserve. But now the pressure is on!

Random notes: For those of you who have wanted me to write, report, or blog about the Bolton nomination, you would be much better served to read Laura Rozen's indispensable blog, Steve C. Clemons' "Washington Note", as well as Josh. I will have a post with some original reporting on Bolton by the middle of the week. For those not following the story as closely, the entire saga can perhaps be summed up in a single sentence in this lengthy Time magazine article out on newsstands tomorrow morning: "There is a saying in Washington that you meet on the way down all the people you stepped on the way up."

For those wondering about the deconstruction and analysis of my own story, it begs the question-- once again-- as to whether this is a blog or a parody of a blog.

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