Monday, July 25, 2005

The Wilson-Plame-Novak-Rove Blame Game

The Wilson-Plame-Novak-Rove Blame Game

Both sides twist and hype the case of a CIA agent’s leaked identity. We document what’s known so far.


The disclosure of CIA agent Valerie Wilson’s identity has triggered a partisan blame game complete with distortions and misstatements by both sides. Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman said the agent’s husband Joe Wilson falsely claimed Vice President Cheney authorized his trip to Africa – a claim Wilson never actually made. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said on the floor of the Senate that the leak “put this agent’s life in jeopardy,” a claim for which no evidence has surfaced.

Here we won’t attempt to debunk every false or misleading claim. We thought our readers would be better served by a timeline documenting what is publicly known so far. Complete citations for each fact and links to original sources are available in the full article (see link at the end of this article).

We have no idea whether Karl Rove or anybody else has broken the law, something that can only be decided by a judge and jury should any charges ever be brought. Some information remains classified, and we can't know what facts the special prosecutor may have turned up, as they are protected by grand-jury secrecy. New bits and pieces seem to surface almost daily. Here is what we know so far:


The Timeline

1988-1991 – Joseph Wilson serves as Deputy Chief of Mission in Baghdad, Iraq. In July 1990, he takes over as acting ambassador to Iraq. (Joseph Wilson, The Politics of Truth 451, 2004).

1992-1995 – Nominated by President George H.W. Bush, Wilson serves as Ambassador to the African nations of Gabon, as well as the smaller island country of the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe. (Wilson, Politics 451).

1995-1997 – Joseph Wilson serves as political adviser to the Commander in Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces in Europe, stationed in Germany. On a trip to Washington DC, Wilson meets Valerie Plame who at the time says she is an “energy executive living in Brussels.” (Wilson, Politics 239-242).

June 1997 – Joseph Wilson returns to Washington DC as Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council. At about the same time, Plame also moves back to the United States (Wilson, Politics 240), in part because the CIA suspects her name was leaked to the Russians in 1994. (Vanity Fair, Jan. ‘04).

April 3, 1998 – Wilson and Plame marry. (Wilson, Politics 276).

July 1998 – Joseph Wilson leaves government service to open a consulting firm specializing in assisting international investment in Africa. (Wilson, Politics 275).

1999 – Joseph Wilson takes a trip to Niger at the behest of the CIA to investigate “uranium-related matters” separate from Iraq (Wilson, Politics lv-lvi). According to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on pre-war intelligence, Wilson “was selected for the 1999 trip after his wife mentioned to her supervisors that her husband was planning a business trip to Niger in the near future and might be willing to use his contacts in the region.” (Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Report on Prewar Assessment of Iraq Intelligence, 39, July 2004).

April 22, 1999 – Valerie Wilson lists “Brewster-Jennings & Assoc." - later revealed to be a CIA front company—as her employer when making a donation to the Gore campaign. (Gore FEC filing).

June 1999 – Niger’s former prime minister Ibrahim Mayaki meets with an Iraqi delegation wanting to discuss “expanding commercial relations.” Mayaki interprets this as an interest in uranium, Niger’s main export, and later tells Wilson that he did not discuss it because Iraq remained under UN trade sanctions. (Senate Intelligence Cmte., Iraq 43-44, July 2004).

October 15, 2001 – US intelligence agencies become aware of reports from the Italian intelligence service of a supposed agreement between Iraq and Niger for the sale of uranium yellowcake. The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research considers the report “highly suspect” because the French control Niger’s uranium industry. The CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the Department of Energy consider a uranium deal “possible.” (Senate Intelligence Cmte., Iraq 36, July 2004).

October 18, 2001 – The CIA writes a report titled, Iraq: Nuclear-Related Procurement Efforts. It quotes many of the Italian report’s claims, but adds that the report of a completed deal is not corroborated by any other sources. (Senate Intelligence Cmte., Iraq 36- 37, July 2004).

February 5, 2002 – The CIA’s Directorate of Operations – the clandestine branch that employed Valerie Wilson – issues a second report including “verbatim text” of an agreement, supposedly signed July 5-6, 2000 for the sale of 500 tons of uranium yellowcake per year. (Senate Intelligence Cmte., Iraq 37, July ‘04).

February 12, 2002 – The Defense Intelligence Agency writes a report concluding “Iraq is probably searching abroad for natural uranium to assist in its nuclear weapons program.” Vice President Cheney reads this report and asks for the CIA’s analysis. (Senate Intelligence Cmte., Iraq 38-39, July ‘04).

Responding to inquiries from Cheney’s office, the State Department, and the Defense Department, the CIA’s Directorate of Operations’ Counterproliferation Division (CPD) look for more information. They consider having Wilson return to Niger to investigate. In the process, Valerie Wilson writes a memo to a superior saying, “My husband has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity.” One of Valerie Wilson’s colleagues later tells Senate investigators she “offered up his name” for the trip. Wilson says that her agency made the decision and she only later approached her husband on the CIA’s behalf. (Senate Intelligence Cmte., Iraq 39, July 2004).

February 19, 2002 – Joseph Wilson meets with officials from CIA and the State Department. According to a State Department intelligence analyst’s notes, the meeting was convened by Valerie Wilson. She later testifies that she left the meeting after introducing her husband. (Senate Intelligence Cmte., Iraq 40, July ‘04).

February 26, 2002 – Wilson arrives in Niger. He concludes, after a few days of interviews, that “it was highly unlikely that anything was going on.” (Senate Intelligence Cmte., Iraq 42, July 2004).

March 5, 2002 – Wilson reports back to two CIA officers at his home. Valerie Wilson is present but does not participate. (Senate Intelligence Cmte., Iraq 43, July 2004).

March 8-9, 2002 – An intelligence report of Wilson’s trip is sent through routine channels, identifying Wilson only as “a contact with excellent access who does not have an established reporting record.” (Senate Intelligence Cmte., Iraq 43-44, July ‘04). The CIA grades Wilson’s information as “good,” the middle of five possible grades. Cheney is not directly briefed about the report. (Senate Intelligence Cmte., Iraq 46).

September 24, 2002 – The British government issues a public dossier saying, “[T]here is intelligence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” (British Govt. Report 25, Sept. ‘02). The Washington Post reports later that the CIA tried unsuccessfully to get the British to omit these claims. (“Bush, Rice blame CIA,” July 2003).

October 1, 2002 – The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) – a summary of intelligence assessments for policymakers – says “a foreign government service” reported that Niger planned to send several tons of "pure uranium" to Iraq, possibly up to 500 tons a year. “We do not know the status of this arrangement,” the NIE says, according to a later declassified version released by the White House. In the NIE, State Department intelligence officials caution that African uranium claims are “highly dubious.” (Background WMD Briefing by Senior Administration Official).

January 28, 2003 – Bush’s State of the Union Address includes this 16-word sentence: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” (Transcript of “State of the Union”).

March 7, 2003 – The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – the international body that monitors nuclear proliferation – tells the UN Security Council that, after a “thorough analysis” with “concurrence of outside experts,” that the Italian documents— “which formed the basis for the reports of recent uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger—are in fact not authentic.” (Status of Nuclear Inspections in Iraq, March 2003).

March 19, 2003 – President Bush announces the start of the Iraq war in a televised address, saying it is “to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.” (Bush, “Addresses the Nation”).

Spring 2003 –Valerie Wilson is in the process of moving from non-official to official, State Department cover, according to a later Vanity Fair article based on interviews with the Wilsons. (Vanity Fair, Jan. 2004).

May 2003 – Joseph Wilson begins advising the Kerry campaign on foreign policy issues. (“White House expects calls,” USA Today, Oct. 2003).

May 6, 2003 – A New York Times columnist writes the first account of Wilson’s trip, but not naming him: “I'm told by a person involved in the Niger caper that more than a year ago the vice president's office asked for an investigation of the uranium deal, so a former U.S. ambassador to Africa was dispatched to Niger. In February 2002, according to someone present at the meetings, that envoy reported to the C.I.A. and State Department that the information was unequivocally wrong.” (“Missing In Action: Truth,” New York Times, Op-ed, May 2003).

June 2003 – State Department intelligence officials reportedly prepare a memo on the Niger affair mentioning Wilson’s trip to Niger and Valerie Wilson’s role in selecting her husband for the mission. The exact date is uncertain. The memo doesn’t identify Valerie Wilson or her status as a covert agent. According to one account, the memo was classified and the paragraph containing information about Valerie Wilson was marked with “(S)” to indicate that the information was classified at the “secret” level. The CIA applies this level of classification to the identities of covert officers, according to the Washington Post. (“State Dept. memo gets scrutiny,” New York Times, July 16, 2005; “Probe Centers on Rove, Memo, Phone Calls,”, July 18, 2005; “Plame’s Identity Marked as Secret,” Washington Post, July 21, 2005).

June 12, 2003 – A Washington Post article quotes an “envoy” (Wilson) as saying that the “dates were wrong and the names were wrong” on the Italian document determined to be forged by the IAEA. (“CIA Did Not Share Doubt,” Washington Post, June 2003). Wilson later tells the Senate Intelligence Committee that he may have “misspoken” to reporters, thinking he had seen the documents himself, rather than reading about them secondhand. (Senate Intelligence Cmte., Iraq 44).

July 6, 2003 – Wilson publishes “What I didn’t find in Africa” in The New York Times, identifying himself for the first time as the unnamed “envoy.” He writes, “I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.” Wilson does not mention that he learned there was a possibility Iraq had sought uranium during a 1999 trade meeting with Niger’s former Prime Minister.

Contrary to later statements by White House officials, Wilson does not claim that Cheney sent him on the Niger trip, only that he was sent to answer questions from Cheney’s “office.” He also doesn’t claim that Cheney was told of his findings, only that it would be “standard operating procedure” for the CIA to brief Cheney’s office on the results of his mission (Wilson, “What I didn’t find," New York Times July 6, 2003).

July 7, 2003 –Secretary of State Colin Powell, aboard Air Force One, reportedly receives a copy of the State Department memo prepared in June about the purported Niger-Iraq uranium deal, which mentions Valerie Wilson’s role in her husband’s trip, according to later media reports. (“State Dept. memo gets scrutiny" New York Times, July 2005; “Shielding Plame’s Identity,” Wall Street Journal, July 2005; “Memo Eyed in CIA Leak Probe,” AP, July 2005).

July 7, 2003 – White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer retracts the 16-word yellowcake claim from the State of the Union address, calling the President's statement “incorrect.” (White House Press Gaggle, July 7 2003).

July 8, 2003 – Columnist Robert Novak calls senior White House adviser Karl Rove, according to subsequent media accounts. Novak tells Rove he had heard that Joseph Wilson’s wife, who worked for the CIA, played a role in Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger. Rove confirms the story to Novak without mentioning Valerie Wilson’s name or covert status, saying “I heard that, too.” ("Rove Talk on C.I.A. Officer," NY Times, July 2003). Novak will later write that he originally acquired the information from an official who is “no partisan gunslinger.” Novak says, “When I called another official for confirmation, he said: ‘Oh, you know about it.’” (Novak, “CIA Leak” Chicago Sun- Times, Oct 2003).

July 11, 2003 –Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper calls Rove, who cautions him to be careful of Wilson’s story, “‘Don't get too far out on Wilson,’ he told me,” Cooper later writes. Rove tells Cooper that Wilson’s wife works for the CIA on “WMD” (Weapons of Mass Destruction) and that it was she, not Cheney or the CIA’s director, who was “responsible” for sending Wilson to Africa. “Rove never used her name and...indeed, I did not learn her name until the following week,” Cooper later recalls adding, “Rove never once indicated to me that she had any kind of covert status." Cooper says Rove ends the call saying “I've already said too much.”

Cooper also says he talked to Cheney’s Chief of Staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, about the story. “I asked Libby if he had heard anything about Wilson's wife sending her husband to Niger. Libby replied, ‘Yeah, I've heard that too,’ or words to that effect. Like Rove, Libby never used Valerie Plame's name or indicated that her status was covert.” (Matthew Cooper, “What I told the Grand Jury,” Time, July 2005).

July 11, 2003 – Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet concedes in a statement that the State of the Union claims about Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa were a mistake and that the “16 words should never have been included in the text written for the President.” (Tenet Statement, July 2003).

July 12, 2003 – Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus is told by an administration official that that White House had ignored Joseph Wilson’s 2002 trip to Niger because it was a “boondoggle” set up by his wife. (“Anonymous Sources,” Nieman Reports 27, Summer 2004). Pincus did not report his conversation because, as he would later describe, “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.” (“Probe Focuses on Month Before Leak,” Washington Post, October 2003).

July 14, 2003 – Robert Novak’s “Mission to Niger” column is published. This is the first published mention of Joseph Wilson’s wife’s name, her employment at the CIA, and her role in his trip to Niger. In the sixth of ten paragraphs, Novak writes, “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. The CIA says its counter-proliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him.” The column does not describe her as a covert agent, then, but it does name her as “Valerie Plame” - her maiden and cover name. Novak gives conflicting accounts of whether Mrs. Wilson instigated her husband’s trip or was asked by others to do so. (Novak, “The Mission to Niger,” Chicago Sun-Times, July 2003).

July 14-17, 2003 – Newsday’s Washington bureau chief, Timothy Phelps, tells Joseph Wilson “that he had heard from the CIA that what Novak reported vis- à-vis Valerie’s employment was not incorrect,” according to Wilson’s memoir. “I declined to be drawn into a confirmation even then,” Wilson would later recall. (Wilson, Politics 348).

July 16, 2003 – Wilson speaks about Novak's column with David Corn, Washington bureau chief for the liberal magazine The Nation. According to what Corn writes on his blog at, Wilson says, “Naming her this way would have compromised every operation, every relationship, every network with which she had been associated in her entire career.” Corn says Wilson is still “known to friends as an energy analyst for a private firm.” (“A White House Smear,” The Nation, July 2003; Wilson, Politics 349). Corn's entry is the first instance where someone alleges publicly that the release of Valerie Plame’s name disclosed the identity of a covert agent.

July 17, 2003 – Time publishes online “A War on Wilson?” by Cooper and others, the first time Time names Mrs. Wilson. Cooper quotes, “government officials” as saying “that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. These officials have suggested that she was involved in her husband's being dispatched Niger [sic] to investigate reports that Saddam Hussein's government had sought to purchase large quantities of uranium ore.” (Matt Cooper, “A War on Wilson?,” Time, July 2003).

July 22, 2003 – In an article headlined “Columnist Blows CIA Agent's Cover,” Newsday publishes a story as saying, based in part on Wilson’s assertions, that senior administration officials “violated the law and may have endangered her (Mrs. Wilson’s) career and possibly the lives of her contacts in foreign countries.” The newspaper says Wilson wouldn’t confirm that his wife was a covert agent. (“Columnist Blows CIA Agent's Cover,” Newsday, July 2003).

July 30, 2003 – The CIA sends a letter to the Criminal Division of the Justice Department noting “a possible violation of criminal law concerning the unauthorized disclosure of classified information,” according to a letter from the CIA’s Director of Congressional Affairs. (CIA, Letter to Rep. John Conyers).

August 21, 2003 – Wilson, speaking at a public panel discussion, said he was interested in seeing Karl Rove “frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs” after hearing from reporters that Rove had called his wife “fair game.” (Wilson, Politics 372- 4; 351).

September 16, 2003 – The CIA sends another letter to Justice requesting that the FBI undertake a criminal investigation. (Wilson, Politics 359).

September 16, 2003 – White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan dismisses the idea that Karl Rove was Novak’s anonymous source as “totally ridiculous.” (White House Press Briefing, Sept. 16, 2003).

September 29, 2003 – McClellan says he has spoken to Rove, denies that Rove was involved in the leak, and says, “If anyone in this administration was involved in it [the leak], they would no longer be in this administration.” (White House Press Briefing, Sept. 29, 2003). In a letter sent to Representative John Conyers on January 30, 2004, the CIA will confirm that its Counterespionage Section has asked the FBI to initiate an investigation. (Letter to Rep. John Conyers from the CIA).

September 30, 2003 – The Justice department publicly announces an official criminal investigation. Commenting, Bush says, “And if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of” (“President discusses job creation,” U. of Chicago, Sept. 30, 2003).

September 30, 2003 – Wilson endorses Senator John Kerry for president. (“Man With an Independent Streak,” Washington Post, October 1, 2003).

December 30, 2003 – Facing allegations of bias, Attorney General Ashcroft recuses himself from the investigation and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald takes over the investigation as a special prosecutor. (“Ashcroft Recuses Self" Washington Post, 31 December 2003).

May 21, 2004 – Time's Cooper is subpoenaed for the grand jury investigation. Time says it will fight the subpoenas. (“Reporters Subpoenaed" Wash. Post, May 2004).

June 10, 2004 – Bush is asked by a reporter, “[D] o you stand by your pledge to fire anyone found to have [who leaked the agent's name]?” Bush replies, “Yes. And that's up to the U.S. Attorney to find the facts.” (President Bush Press Conference Following G-8 Summit, Savannah, GA, June 10, 2004).

June 24, 2004 – Prosecutors question President Bush, who is not under oath, in the Oval Office for over an hour. (“Bush Interviewed" Washington Post, June 25, 2004).

August 12, 2004 – New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who did not write a story identifying Valerie Wilson, is subpoenaed by the grand jury. (“NY Times reporter subpoenaed” AP, Aug. 2004).

October 15, 2004 – Rove testifies before a federal grand jury for two hours. Fitzgerald assures Rove that he is not a target of the probe. (“Rove Testifies” Washington Post, Oct. 2004).

November 2, 2004 - Bush wins re-election.

June 27, 2005 – The Supreme Court declines to hear the appeal of Judith Miller of The New York Times and Cooper of Time, leaving standing a lower court’s ruling that they must testify to a federal grand jury. (“Reporters Lose” Washington Post, June 28, 2005).

July 1, 2005 – Over Cooper’s objections, Time Inc. turns over subpoenaed material. Time managing editor Norm Pearlstine tells CNN that journalists “regularly point a finger at people who think they're above the law,” and “I'm not comfortable being one of them myself.” (“Time Magazine”, June 30, 2005).

July 6, 2005 – Miller, still refusing to testify before the grand jury, is jailed for contempt of court. (“’Time’ Reporter to Testify", July 6, 2005). Cooper says he receives last-minute permission from his confidential source, Karl Rove, to testify. (Matthew Cooper, “What I told the Grand Jury,” Time, July 2005).

July 18, 2005 – Bush – easing off his earlier promise to fire anyone who leaked – says “if someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration.” (Bush Press Conference with Prime Minister of India, July 18, 2005). His press secretary Scott McClellan declines to say whether a firing would be triggered by an indictment or would require a conviction. (White House Press Briefing, July 18, 2005).

--by Kevin Collins with Jordan Grossman, Jennifer L. Ernst, Matthew Barge, Brooks Jackson

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