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'Leak indictments would be 'a sad day,' Wilson says


Thursday, October 27, 2005

'Leak indictments would be 'a sad day,' Wilson says

By SAM SKOLNIK
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER

Visiting Seattle on the eve of possible grand jury indictments against top White House advisers over the leak of his wife's identity as an undercover CIA officer, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson said it was "a sad day for our country."

Wilson said Wednesday he took little comfort that the men he believes have engaged in a campaign of character assassination against him for the past two years -- Karl Rove, President Bush's deputy chief of staff, and Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the vice president's chief of staff -- may soon be facing charges and possible jail time.

"The fact that this may become a crisis of governance should please no one," Wilson said at a private hotel reception before speaking in downtown Seattle Wednesday evening.

Wilson, 55, was here to present information from his book, "The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity: A Diplomat's Memoir." His speech was part of Foolproof's American Voices series.

Greeted by a boisterous, packed house of about 900 people at Seattle's Town Hall, Wilson said that by publicly questioning the president's reasoning for the war in Iraq, he was simply acting in the country's best traditions.

"It is called holding your government to account for what it says and does in the name of the American people. We need to put this government on notice that it truly is a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

"When a government takes the country to war on lies and misinformation," he said to rousing applause, "that government ceases to be a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

"And that government becomes a government that preys on the people."

Though Rove and Libby appear to be at the heart of the grand jury investigation, The New York Times reported this week that, according to lawyers involved in the case, Vice President Dick Cheney first disclosed the name of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, to Libby in June 2003.

But Libby testified to the grand jury, according to lawyers close to the case, that he first heard the name of Wilson's wife from journalists.

Wilson said he was withholding judgment regarding the claims about Cheney. "I don't know what to think of that, except to say it saddens me deeply. I get no satisfaction from that."

The two-year grand jury investigation is now coming to a head. Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald met for several hours Wednesday with the grand jury in Washington, D.C., and his announcement regarding possible indictments could come as soon as today.

Knowingly disclosing the identity of covert federal agents is a crime. Fitzgerald is also investigating other possible crimes, including obstruction of justice, making false statements to a grand jury and mishandling classified information.

Wilson served as a career diplomat from 1976 to 1998. In 2002, he was asked to investigate claims that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium from Niger for a nuclear weapons program.

When his inquiry turned up nothing, Wilson said he reported to officials in Washington that the claims were unfounded.

Wilson publicized his beliefs in a July 2003 Op-Ed column for The New York Times, arguing that the Bush White House had distorted intelligence about Saddam's attempts to acquire nuclear materials in order to justify the invasion of Iraq.

The article angered the administration, which denied the accusation.

Eight days later, in what Wilson and his supporters saw as raw personal payback, syndicated newspaper columnist Robert Novak published a column noting that he had been told by top administration officials that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, a CIA officer, may have played a major role in having Wilson sent to Niger.

"What I did was write 1,500 words in The New York Times," he said during the speech. "This was not an act of civil disobedience. This was an act of civil responsibility."

Wilson said he doesn't regret telling a Shoreline audience in August 2003 that Rove ought to be "frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs" -- though, he said in his interview with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "I didn't realize it would be picked up by every right-wing blog."

He said the more important thing is that Rove leave the White House, whether or not he's wearing handcuffs.

Wilson declined to say whether it's important, ultimately, that high officials serve prison time if indicted and found guilty.

What is key, he said, is that the legal system functions properly and justice is served.

"I believe in the institutions that have made our country great for 229 years," he said. "I continue to believe that the system, rooted to the rule of law, will be up to the task."

P-I reporter Paul Shukovsky contributed to this report. P-I reporter Sam Skolnik can be reached at 206-448-8334 or samskolnik@seattlepi.com.
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