Robert Novak discusses his discussions with Richard Armitage in today’s Evans-Novak Political Report. I suspect we won’t get the full story until all the litigation (both legal and civil) is completed, but as Novak was directly involved his version of events is worth reading:
Now that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has finally acknowledged he was my source three years ago in revealing Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA employee, his interviews have obscured what he really did and said. I want to set the record straight based on firsthand knowledge of what transpired.
- Armitage did not, as he now indicates, merely pass on something he had heard and that he “thinks” might be so. Rather, he identified to me the CIA division where Mrs. Wilson worked and said flatly that she recommended the mission to Niger by her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. He told the Washington Post last week that his answer was: “I don’t know, but I think his wife worked out there.” Neither of us took notes, and nobody else was present, but I recalled our conversation that week in writing a column, while Armitage reconstructed the conversation months later for federal prosecutors. In fact, he had told me unequivocally that Mrs. Wilson worked in the CIA’s Counter-Proliferation Division and had suggested her husband’s mission.
- Armitage did not slip me this information as idle chitchat. He made clear he considered it especially suited for my column. It is highly doubtful that he never expected this to be published, as he specifically noted to me that Mrs. Wilson’s role was the sort of news item very much in the tradition of the old Evans & Novak column.
- An accurate depiction of what Armitage actually said deepens the irony of his being my source. He was a foremost internal skeptic of the administration’s war policy, and I, likewise, had long opposed military intervention in Iraq. Zealous foes of George W. Bush have depicted me, implausibly, as the President’s lapdog. But even they cannot fit Armitage into the left-wing fantasy of a well-crafted White House conspiracy to destroy Joe and Valerie Wilson. The news that Armitage, and not Karl Rove, was the leaker was devastating for the left.
- During his quarter of a century in Washington, Armiage and I had no contact before our fateful interview. I tried to see him in the first two and a half years of the Bush Administration, but he rebuffed me — summarily and with disdain, I thought. Then, without explanation, in June 2003, Armitage’s office said the deputy secretary would see me. This was two weeks before Joe Wilson outed himself as author of a 2002 report for the CIA debunking Iraq’s interest in buying uranium in Africa.
- I sat down with Armitage in his State Department office the afternoon of July 8 with tacit rather than explicit ground rules: deep background with nothing said attributed to Armitage or even an anonymous State Department official. Late in the hour-long interview, I asked why the CIA had sent Wilson, who lacked intelligence and nuclear policy experience as well as recent contact with Niger. This began the three-year saga during which Armitage’s silence caused intense pain for his colleagues in government and enabled partisan Democrats in Congress to falsely accuse Rove of being my primary source.
I can’t comment on the validity of Novak’s recollections, but must note he goes overboard with his comments on this “was devastating for the left.” It may be embarassing for certain segments (which I am often as critical of as I am of the right), but for most this changes little. The arguments that the Bush Administration misled the country stand up regardless of whether the Plame leak was used intentionally or accidentally. The stories about Rove’s impending indictment were always in doubt, as I noted at the time.
Update: This is also covered in Novak’s column today. The Next Hurrah figures this is the fourth time Novak has changed his story. Firedoglake also argues that Novak has flipped again. Armitage has beened added to Valerie Plame’s civil suit.