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July 15, 2004

ROBERT NOVAK BREAKS HIS SILENCE on Plame/Wilson:

For a year, Democrats have been belaboring President Bush about 16 words in his 2003 State of the Union address in which he reported Saddam Hussein's attempt to buy uranium from Africa, based on official British information. Wilson has been lionized in liberal circles for allegedly contradicting this information on a CIA mission and then being punished as a truth-teller. Now, for Intelligence Committee Democrats, it is as though the Niger question and Joe Wilson have vanished from the earth.

Because a U.S. Justice Department special prosecutor is investigating whether any crime was committed when my column first identified Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA employee, on advice of counsel I have not written on the subject since last October. However, I feel constrained to describe how the Intelligence Committee report treats the Niger-Wilson affair because it has received scant coverage except in The Washington Post, Knight-Ridder newspapers, briefly and belatedly in The New York Times and few other media outlets.

The unanimously approved report said, "interviews and documents provided to the Committee indicate that his wife, a CPD (CIA counterproliferation division) employee, suggested his name for the trip." That's what I reported, and what Wilson flatly denied and still does.

Plame sent out an internal CIA memo saying that "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." A State Department analyst told the committee about an inter-agency meeting in 2002 that was "apparently convened by [Wilson's] wife who had the idea to dispatch [him] to use his contacts to sort out the Iraq-Niger uranium issue."

The unanimous Intelligence Committee found that the CIA report, based on Wilson's mission, differed considerably from the former ambassador's description to the committee of his findings. That report "did not refute the possibility that Iraq had approached Niger to purchase uranium." As far as his statement to The Washington Post about "forged documents" involved in the alleged Iraqi attempt to buy uranium, Wilson told the committee he may have "misspoken." In fact, the intelligence community agreed that "Iraq was attempting to procure uranium from Africa."

Why isn't this getting more attention? Wait, let me guess. . .

UPDATE: I should note that Ed Cone called me out rather rudely during a panel discussion at BloggerCon last year on the Plame story. It seemed obvious to him that the story was a clearcut tale of a noble and truthful civil servant being silenced by the Evil Bush Conspiracy, and that I was an idiot or a shill for suggesting otherwise. Ed, your apology will be cheerfully accepted.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Ed emails that he doesn't remember it that way. My recollection seems quite clear to me, but it is nearly a year old. Anyway, he did apologize and I did cheerfully accept it. Quite a few people beat up on me for suggesting that the Plame story was a bit more complicated than the simplistic narrative being peddled at the time, but I don't really expect apologies from them all. I do, however, plan to rub it in a bit more.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Ed emails back that he thinks it was Josh Marshall who guffawed at me, not him. He adds, very manfully:

My apology for being a clumsy moderator is sincere. I let that thread get away from me and saw it become a pissing match -- and not even on the subject I was interested in. Your ability to remain civilized under battle conditions is something I respect and aspire to myself.

Well, sometimes I manage. He's posted more here. If you'd like to see my earlier posts on the Plame matter, just enter "Plame" in the search window, or click here. This post is the one that seemed to get people upset, and that led to charges that I was ignoring the subject, strangely enough.

MORE: Reader Madhu Dahiya emails:

I was at the BloggerCon I session that you mention. I don't remember what Ed Cone said to you but I do remember there was considerable scepticism on the panel towards your "let's wait and see what pans out" attitude regarding the Wilson/Plame affair. And when you suggested that Novak be subpoened, the room practically erupted (it was not a popular suggestion). I think the majority of the criticism aimed at you was of the "why are you ignoring something that makes your guy look bad?" variety. Time and time again, the first version of a story is presented on blogs with righteous indignation by one side and a spirited defense on the other. And time after time, as the story develops, the original accusations and defenses look foolish. Just because blogs are a medium of extreme, uh, immediacy doesn't mean that you have to run with every story. Take your time and keep your own counsel seems to be good advice when the blog world bubbles over. You were right to proceed with caution.

Well, I get fooled sometimes, too. But as The Daily Howler (no Bush shill, he) noted, the master narrative people were peddling on Wilson/Plame never made sense.