What to think of the quite astonishing revelation that Bob Woodward was told by administration sourcesnot Scooter Libby or Karl Rove, it seems clearthat Joseph Wilson's wife worked at the CIA, and told a month before what Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said was the first revelation by an administration source, Libby, to a member of the press? Here's the story from yesterday's Post on Woodward's testimony, and here's Woodward's statement, printed next to the story on the jump page. Here's the story by the Post's excellent media reporter Howard Kurtz on Woodward's apology to Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie for not telling him about this some time ago. Here's the transcript of Fitzgerald's press conference.
Woodward, according to Kurtz, notified Downie of the June 2003 interviews "late last month," i.e., October 2005. Kurtz quotes Woodward's reason for not notifying him earlier: "I hunkered down. I'm in the habit of keeping secrets. I didn't want anything out there that was going to get me subpoenaed." It appears that Woodward's source outed Woodward to Fitzgerald, and Woodward gave sworn testimony to Fitzgerald this past Monday. The Post story appeared on Woodward's testimony, and Woodward's statement appeared in yesterday's issue. Kurtz's interview appeared on www.washingtonpost.com later in the day. This morning's Post ran a story saying that Woodward's disclosure tends to undermine the case against Libby.
In yesterday's story, Woodward is quoted as saying that he told Post reporter Walter Pincus that he had heard that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. Pincus is quoted as saying that he does not recall Woodward's telling him this and that he is sure he would have remembered if Woodward had. I have known Woodward for 32 years and Pincus for about 20 years, and I find it impossible to believe that either would consciously lie about such matters. Therefore, I am forced to believe that memory is playing tricks on one of them. Since memory plays tricks on me from time to time, I don't find that implausible.
But you could see this as a sort of partisan dispute. Woodward's reporting on George W. Bush, as is evident in his books, is seen by many critics as pro-Bush. In my view, he has taken Bush at face value, describing how the president makes decisions and taking Bush's own words seriously. Which is, in my view, the way it should be. Pincus's reporting, on the other hand, has relied heavily on critics of the Bush policies, including, it appears, sources in the CIA. It is obvious that cadres in the CIAthe folks around Valerie Plame who sent Joseph Wilson on his mission to Niger, the folks who authorized the publication of Michael Scheuer's "anonymous" bookhave been trying to discredit and undermine support for Bush's policy of liberating Iraq. I suspect that Pincus takes the same view, though he could argue that his reporting was justified regardless of his own views: He was just reporting what others, with some knowledge of what they were talking about, were saying. I don't want to say that Woodward is pro-Bush and Pincus anti-Bush. But I can see how readers who don't know these men as well as I do would so conclude.
One sees something here that resembles the intra-newsroom internecine warfare at the New York Times between Judith Miller and thosethe great majority in that newsroom, it seemswho believe that her stories on reports that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction were illegitimate journalism. That seems to me quite wrong: She was reporting on what sources she had reason to believe were legitimate said, and she was not obliged before she wrote those stories to seek information to discredit what in fact the intelligence agencies of the United States and all serious countries believed. Miller's reporting was trashed in a huge mea culpa story in the Times last year, and she has now been forced to leave the paper. I am inclined to believe that she has been found guilty of writing stories that furthered the goals of the Bush administration, which of course is something the Times cannot allow.
The Post's position is different. Downie did not order Woodward to write about his interviews with administration officials immediately after Woodward informed him about them. But after Woodward provided sworn testimony to Fitzgerald, the paper promptly wrote up the story, together with Woodward's statement, and then allowed Kurtz to pursue the story further. It put the contradiction between Woodward's and Pincus's recollections out there for all to see and interpret as they wish. Downie, who presumably made the decisions about what the Post would print, has let the facts and the reporting speak for themselves and not imposed a politically correct frame of reference. This is in line with what I expect from Downie, whom I have known for at least 20 years, and who I believe seeks fairness and accuracy above all else. Mickey Kaus speculates that the official from whom Woodward heard that Wilson's wife worked in the CIA was Secretary of State Colin Powell. It's obvious from more than one of Woodward's books that Powell is one of his best sources.
Patrick Fitzgerald has to be embarrassed. His statement at his press conference that Libby was the first administration official who identified Plame has been effectively refuted by Woodward's (reluctant) testimony. On Fox News Channel last night, Brit Hume interviewed former U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Joseph diGenova, who said that under Justice Department guidelines Fitzgerald must consider dropping the indictment of Libby.
It is now clear that Mr. Libby's allegation by his lawyers that his memory was simply faulty makes a lot more sense now that we know that Bob Woodward was in fact the first person to receive that information not from Mr. Libby but from another, apparently former, government official," diGenova said. Former Justice Department official Victoria Toensing, diGenova's wife and law partner, said, "He has been investigating a very simple factual scenario, and he has missed this crucial fact. It makes you cry out for asking, 'Well, what else did he not know; what else did he not do?'"
Defenders of Fitzgerald's indictment can argue that its charges that Libby lied still stand. But the differing recollections of Woodward and Pincus could strengthen a defense based on faulty memory, and Woodward's disclosure refutes the timeline that Fitzgerald presented at his press conference.
Beyond the confines of this criminal case are the perspectives of the Bush administration that will be taken by history. The view from Woodward's books is of a president and his advisers trying to find policies that will protect this country and advance the causes of freedom and democracy in a difficult world. The view from the reportage of Pincus and of the "Bush lied" crowd of Democrats is of a "cabal" (Colin Powell's chief of staff's word) bent on distorting intelligence and willing to risk the country's security by outing a secret CIA agent in retaliation for her husband's critical op-ed piece in the New York Times. I think the outlook from Woodward's book is more accurate. And I think his bombshell revelation weakens the already weak case for the alternative point of view. At a dinner at the Australian Embassy, I asked the by then former CIA Director George Tenet whether people in the agency had been engaging in covert attacks on administration policy. He said that absolutely no such thing had taken place. I doubted that then and doubt it very much more now. Bob Woodward first won his fame by exposing the lies of a White House that had attempted, unsuccessfully, to use the CIA to refute charges that its campaign committee had engaged in criminal activities. Now he comes forward, reluctantly it seems, to provide evidence that advances the case that the CIA tried to derail and delegitimize the policies that a White House was pursuing.
I recall that some years ago Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan argued that the CIA should be abolished, and I argued that that was a ridiculous and irresponsible position. As usual when Pat and I disagreed, Pat turned out to be right.