In its editorial “Karl Rove, whistle-blower,” the Wall Street Journal reiterates in milder tones the points we’ve made here repeatedly over the past year regarding Joseph Wilson and his bald-faced politics of fraud:
Democrats and most of the Beltway press corps are baying for Karl Rove’s head over his role in exposing a case of CIA nepotism involving Joe Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame. On the contrary, we’d say the White House political guru deserves a prize–perhaps the next iteration of the “Truth-Telling” award that The Nation magazine bestowed upon Mr. Wilson before the Senate Intelligence Committee exposed him as a fraud.
For Mr. Rove is turning out to be the real “whistleblower” in this whole sorry pseudo-scandal. He’s the one who warned Time’s Matthew Cooper and other reporters to be wary of Mr. Wilson’s credibility. He’s the one who told the press the truth that Mr. Wilson had been recommended for the CIA consulting gig by his wife, not by Vice President Dick Cheney as Mr. Wilson was asserting on the airwaves. In short, Mr. Rove provided important background so Americans could understand that Mr. Wilson wasn’t a whistleblower but was a partisan trying to discredit the Iraq War in an election campaign. Thank you, Mr. Rove.
Media chants aside, there’s no evidence that Mr. Rove broke any laws in telling reporters that Ms. Plame may have played a role in her husband’s selection for a 2002 mission to investigate reports that Iraq was seeking uranium ore in Niger. To be prosecuted under the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act, Mr. Rove would had to have deliberately and maliciously exposed Ms. Plame knowing that she was an undercover agent and using information he’d obtained in an official capacity. But it appears Mr. Rove didn’t even know Ms. Plame’s name and had only heard about her work at Langley from other journalists.
On the “no underlying crime” point, moreover, no less than the New York Times and Washington Post now agree. So do the 36 major news organizations that filed a legal brief in March aimed at keeping Mr. Cooper and the New York Times’s Judith Miller out of jail.
“While an investigation of the leak was justified, it is far from clear–at least on the public record–that a crime took place,” the Post noted the other day. Granted the media have come a bit late to this understanding, and then only to protect their own, but the logic of their argument is that Mr. Rove did nothing wrong either.
The same can’t be said for Mr. Wilson, who first “outed” himself as a CIA consultant in a melodramatic New York Times op-ed in July 2003. At the time he claimed to have thoroughly debunked the Iraq-Niger yellowcake uranium connection that President Bush had mentioned in his now famous “16 words” on the subject in that year’s State of the Union address.
Mr. Wilson also vehemently denied it when columnist Robert Novak first reported that his wife had played a role in selecting him for the Niger mission. He promptly signed up as adviser to the Kerry campaign and was feted almost everywhere in the media, including repeat appearances on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and a photo spread (with Valerie) in Vanity Fair.
But his day in the political sun was short-lived. The bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report last July cited the note that Ms. Plame had sent recommending her husband for the Niger mission. “Interviews and documents provided to the Committee indicate that his wife, a CPD [Counterproliferation Division] employee, suggested his name for the trip,” said the report.
The same bipartisan report also pointed out that the forged documents Mr. Wilson claimed to have discredited hadn’t even entered intelligence channels until eight months after his trip. And it said the CIA interpreted the information he provided in his debrief as mildly supportive of the suspicion that Iraq had been seeking uranium in Niger.
About the same time, another inquiry headed by Britain’s Lord Butler delivered its own verdict on the 16 words: “We conclude also that the statement in President Bush’s State of the Union Address of 28 January 2003 that ‘The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa’ was well-founded.”
In short, Joe Wilson hadn’t told the truth about what he’d discovered in Africa, how he’d discovered it, what he’d told the CIA about it, or even why he was sent on the mission. The media and the Kerry campaign promptly abandoned him, though the former never did give as much prominence to his debunking as they did to his original accusations. But if anyone can remember another public figure so entirely and thoroughly discredited, let us know.
If there’s any scandal at all here, it is that this entire episode has been allowed to waste so much government time and media attention, not to mention inspire a “special counsel” probe. The Bush Administration is also guilty on this count, since it went along with the appointment of prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in an election year in order to punt the issue down the road. But now Mr. Fitzgerald has become an unguided missile, holding reporters in contempt for not disclosing their sources even as it becomes clearer all the time that no underlying crime was at issue.
As for the press corps, rather than calling for Mr. Rove to be fired, they ought to be grateful to him for telling the truth.
Last July John first declared: “Joseph Wilson, liar.” A follow-up was required shortly thereafter: “Joseph Wilson, liar: Part II.” Earlier this month John reviewed the case for the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s “reader’s representative”: “Down memory lane.” John reviewed the case again for the benefit of Pete Yost and Robert Kuttner last week: “Somebody feed ’em some cat food.”