The confidence-man: His masquerade

On Friday, Joseph Wilson will be the featured attraction at Democratic fundraisers in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The Star Tribune previewed Wilson’s appearances in a highly misleading article by reporter Conrad Defiebre last week: “Lightning rod on Iraq to headline to DFL fundraisers.” Here is Defiebre’s article in full:

Joseph Wilson, a former U.S. ambassador at the center of a political maelstrom over the war in Iraq, will headline two DFL Party fundraisers in the Twin Cities next week.

“He is a very topical character,” state DFL Chair Brian Melendez said Tuesday. “He was one of the first senior diplomats to speak out against the intelligence the Bush administration manipulated to draw the country into war.”

Wilson’s Dec. 16 visit, for an invitation-only dinner in Minneapolis and a speech that will be open to the public in St. Paul, will come one week after President Bush’s scheduled Friday visit to Minneapolis for a private fundraiser for Republican Rep. Mark Kennedy’s 2006 campaign for the U.S. Senate.

In a telephone interview Tuesday, Wilson said he accepts speaking invitations from many groups, although “Republicans don’t often invite me.” He was a volunteer foreign-policy adviser to John Kerry’s 2004 Democratic presidential campaign and has made numerous appearances in recent years on behalf of Democratic candidates and causes, he said.

DFL officials said Wilson will receive no fee beyond expenses. No ticket price has been set for the dinner with Wilson at the home of DFL activist Ruth Usem; tickets are $50 ($25 for senior citizens and college students) for his 7:30 p.m. speech at the Regional Council of Carpenters and Joiners hall, 700 Olive St., St. Paul.

Tickets are available by calling the DFL at 651-251-6300.

“Joe Wilson is a shameless self-promoter whose credibility is suspect at best,” state Republican Party spokesman Mark Drake said Tuesday. “He has a partisan ax to grind, and he has no credibility on Iraq.”

Wilson, however, said he is not a partisan. He said that he voted in the past for Republican President George H.W. Bush, but that he has backed Democrats lately because “Congress as it is currently constituted is not providing good oversight for the administration,” he said.

“I speak out on national security issues that affect all Americans, Republicans and Democrats,” he added. “Vigilant holding of government to account is what makes for a healthy democracy.”

Yellowcake episode

Wilson, 56, a career foreign service office who was acting ambassador to Iraq in the George H.W. Bush administration in 1990, sparked a series of embarrassing developments for the current administration when he publicly criticized statements made by President Bush in 2003 to build support for the war.

The reaction to that criticism eventually led to the indictment of a top White House aide on felony charges, which Wilson said boosted sales of his book, “The Politics of Truth.”

In 2002, Wilson had traveled to Africa for the CIA to investigate whether Iraq had sought to buy “yellowcake” uranium, a key ingredient of nuclear weapons, from the nation of Niger. He reported back that it was “highly unlikely,” according to the Senate Intelligence Committee. Despite that, as well as other official doubts, Bush mentioned British reports about Iraq’s alleged uranium dealings in his State of the Union address 50 days before the war began.

In July 2003, Wilson’s opinion piece attacking Bush’s Niger statement appeared in the New York Times. Days later, his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was named by political columnist Robert Novak as the CIA employee who had recommended her husband for the Niger mission. Because identifying a covert CIA agent is a federal crime, a grand jury investigation was launched, and it soon focused on the White House as the suspected source of the leak to Novak.

Lewis Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was indicted Oct. 28 on federal charges of perjury, lying to the FBI and obstruction of justice. He has resigned his job and pleaded not guilty.

Republicans say Wilson is a partisan; Wilson says that he is nonpartisan and that he voted for President Bush (41). That, for Defiebre, is that. Ever since Wilson retired from the foreign service and became free to speak publicly as a partisan, however, virtually every one of his affiliations and utterances has established him as a partisan hack and liar.

Yesterday I spoke at length with Star Tribune reporter Dan Browning about Wilson. Browning is working on an article for Friday’s paper. As far as I could tell from our conversation, everything Browning “knew” about Wilson had been derived from Defiebre’s misleading article. In advance of our conversation, I emailed Browning my take on Wilson:

Joe Wilson runs neck and neck with Michael Moore as the most vile person in Anerican public life. His 15 minutes of fame are based entirely on a series of lies that he has retailed for reasons of profit, politics and opportunism — lies that were definitively revealed as such in last year’s bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee Report on prewar intelligence. Fortunately for Wilson, the mainstream media have treated the Report as a top secret document whose secrecy it respects out of political sympathy rather than national security.

Joe Wilson has earned the rare privilege of exposure as a liar by a Senate committee report. It is journalistic incompetence of the first degree for Defiebre to have omitted any hint of this little fact and to have suggested the report is consistent with the many whoppers on which Wilson has based his current career as a controversialist. It is also incompetent at best for Defiebre to suggest that Bush’s “sixteen words” in the January 2003 State of the Union Address (“…the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa”) were inconsistent with Wilson’s report, with American intelligence, or with the British intelligence on which they were based; they were scrupulously accurate. At the time the speech was given, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee Report, CIA Iraq nuclear analysts and the director of the CIA Center for Weapons Intelligence “both still believed that Iraq was probably seeking uranium from Africa…”

According to Defiebre’s account of the Senate Intelligence Committee Report, Wilson asserted that it was “highly unlikely” that Iraq had sought to purchase yellowcake from Niger in 2002. The Senate Intelligence Committee report, however, tells a more complicated story.

Wilson’s famous mission to Niger was limited in scope. Upon his arrival, he was requested by Ambassador Barbro Owens-Kirpatrick not to meet with current Nigerien officials. To the extent that he did anything during his eight day visit other than sip tea poolside at the hotel, he met with two former Nigerien officials “and other business contacts” regarding the possible Iraqi purchase of uranium from Niger.

Among those whom Wilson met with was the former Nigerien Prime Minister Ibrahim Mayaki. The former prime minister described a 1999 meeting with an Iraqi business delegation at which the delegation described its interest in “expanding commercial relations.” According to Wilson, Mayaki had earlier been approached by an Iraqi businesssman asking that he meet with such a delegation.

When Wilson concluded his mission, according to his testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, he told Ambassador Owens-Kirpatrick that he thought there was “nothing to the story” of Iraq’s efforts to purchase yellowcake. When Wilson returned to Washington, however, he orally presented his findings regarding Mayki’s 1999 meeting with the Iraqi delegation to the CIA (Wilson never prepared any written report of his mission for the CIA).

The CIA prepared a written March 2002 intelligence report based on Wilson’s findings. The intelligence report based on Wilson’s findings said that an Iraqi businessman had “insisted” that Mayaki meet with an Iraqi delegation, that he did so, and that he interpreted the delegation’s interest in “expanding commercial relations” to mean that Iraq wanted to discuss uranium yellowcake sales. (The Senate report is partially redacted here and I am attempting to summarize what one can piece together from it.) Mayaki let the matter drop due to the UN sanctions on Iraq.

The CIA interpreted Wilson’s report as tending to confirm the foreign government service reporting of a possible uranium yellowcake sales agreement between Niger and Iraq. The CIA reports officer told the Senate Intelligence Committee that “the most important fact in [Wilson’s] report was that the Nigerien officials believed the Iraqis were interested in purchasing uranium, because this provided some confirmation of foreign government service reporting.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee report documents Wilson’s numerous lies about his mission from the moment he began talking with reporters about it in 2003. The best newspaper account of the significance of the report is Susan Schmidt’s Washington Post article “Plame’s input is cited on Niger mission.” Schmidt correctly conveyed the manifold ways in which the report exposed Wilson’s masquerade; she actually read the report. On the day after the release of the report last year, Schmidt wrote:

The report turns a harsh spotlight on what Wilson has said about his role in gathering prewar intelligence, most pointedly by asserting that his wife, CIA employee Valerie Plame, recommended him…

The report also said Wilson provided misleading information to The Washington Post last June. He said then that he concluded the Niger intelligence was based on documents that had clearly been forged because “the dates were wrong and the names were wrong.”

“Committee staff asked how the former ambassador could have come to the conclusion that the ‘dates were wrong and the names were wrong’ when he had never seen the CIA reports and had no knowledge of what names and dates were in the reports,” the Senate panel said. Wilson told the panel he may have been confused and may have “misspoken” to reporters. The documents — purported sales agreements between Niger and Iraq — were not in U.S. hands until eight months after Wilson made his trip to Niger…

Wilson’s reports to the CIA added to the evidence that Iraq may have tried to buy uranium in Niger, although officials at the State Department remained highly skeptical, the report said.

Wilson said that a former prime minister of Niger, Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, was unaware of any sales contract with Iraq, but said that in June 1999 a businessman approached him, insisting that he meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss “expanding commercial relations” between Niger and Iraq — which Mayaki interpreted to mean they wanted to discuss yellowcake sales. A report CIA officials drafted after debriefing Wilson said that “although the meeting took place, Mayaki let the matter drop due to UN sanctions on Iraq.”

Joe Wilson is a perfect representative of the Democratic Party and a pluperfect speaker for a Democratic fundraiser. He is a rabid partisan for whom “truth” is a marketing device in the service of lies, as in his book The Politics of Truth. With Wilson it is, so to speak, all politics and no truth.

I am curious to see whether Browning’s Star Tribune story will let any sunshine penetrate the media fog with which the Star Tribune and its betters in the mainsteam media continue to obscure Wilson’s malicious fraud. Based on my conversation with Browning yesterday, I’m not holding my breath.

UPDATE: Richard Palmer writes to remind readers of a key fact, the knowledge of which is assumed in my post: “I think every discussion of Wilson/Niger should include the fact that yellowcake uranium is Niger’s chief export. The next largest exports are goats and peas.”

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