Exclusive: New Information May Reveal Key Details on Judith Miller's Role in the Rove/CIA Scandal
By Democracy Now
In a rare interview, veteran investigative journalist Murray Waas reveals new information on the federal investigation into the leaking of the identity of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame and the role of jailed New York Times reporter Judith Miller. We also speak with Plame's husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson about the latest developments in the case. [includes rush transcript - partial]
Today, we are going to take a comprehensive look at what has become one of the most important political controversies in recent times. That is the outing of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame and the investigation into how high up the chain of power in Washington a potentially serious crime stretches. This story has many dimensions – a lot of them, we have covered extensively on this program. One dimension of the story—some would say the central part of the story--involves Valerie Plame’s husband: veteran diplomat Joe Wilson. He served under both Republican and Democratic administrations, winning high praises from the likes of President George H. W. Bush for his work as the top US diplomat in Iraq when the Gulf War broke out.
Wilson was widely credited with saving hundreds of lives during the hostage crisis that ensued when Saddam invaded and occupied Kuwait. He served under President Clinton and has always been a well-respected career diplomat. But in July 2003, Wilson published an op-Ed in The New York Times that forced the current Bush administration to admit that a key justification for its invasion of Iraq was false--namely the allegation that Iraq was attempting to import uranium from the African nation of Niger; an allegation Bush made in his January 2003 State of the union address.
President George W. Bush, speaking during his 2003 State of the Union address:
The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
Those 16 words provided one of the lynchpins of the administration case. But Wilson knew it was a lie. He knew because he had been sent by the CIA to Niger to investigate those claims before the invasion began and he had found them to be baseless. In July, Wilson decided to out the Bush administration by publishing the op-Ed entitled "What I Didn’t Find in Africa." Within days of that article’s publication, the so-called Plame scandal, which some call the Rove scandal, was in full motion. By July 13, Valerie Plame was outed in a column by rightwing columnist Bob Novak.
Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, describing the Novak article on Democracy Now!, May 14, 2004.
Well, two years have gone by since Plame’s outing and there have been serious developments--the Grand Jury is still sitting, the Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald continues his investigation, the White House has backtracked on its early denials and is left to refusal after refusal to discuss the case. New York Times reporter Judy Miller is in jail. To go through the latest developments, we are joined now by Ambassador Joe Wilson. The Republican party has distributed so-called talking points to try and discredit him and Bob Novak this week attacked him in his column as well. President Bush’s senior advisor has now been forced to admit that at a minimum he discussed Valerie Plame with journalists, but that admission came under fire and after years of denial.
Karl Rove, speaking on CNN on August 31, 2004.
Ambassador Joe Wilson, was the acting US ambassador to Iraq before the 1991 Gulf War. He was the last US official to meet with Saddam Hussein before the war began. His book is called "The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity."
Murray Waas, veteran investigative journalist who writes for American Prospect magazine, Salon.com and other publications. He has broken a number of stories on the saga of the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. He maintains a blog at WhateverAlready.blogspot.com.
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AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are investigative reporter, Murray Waas, and Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Joe Wilson, you talked about the irony before.
JOSEPH WILSON: Well, I was just going to say one of the ironies of all this is that the administration now clearly was, as now we have evidence that they were looking into the allegation that later came out in my -- in my opinion piece in July, they were looking into what I was asserting as early as June and perhaps earlier. That gave them lots of time to think about perhaps just correcting the record, which, of course, was all I was asking to be done. I was holding my government to account for what it had said and done in the name of the American people.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you two quick questions -- one about well -- the day that I think everyone really learned about who you were, though you certainly were a figure in both Republican and Democratic administrations with George H.W. Bush hailing you as a hero, the acting ambassador in Iraq during the Persian Gulf War. He called you his person -- his eyes and ears on the ground. The time even after you your op-ed piece came out in the New York Times was that last day of Ari Fleischer's reign as White House Press Secretary, the whole questioning of the 16 words in President Bush's State of the Union address, your piece had come out, though they weren't specifically talking about Robert Novak's piece that had just come out that outed your wife as a C.I.A. operative. Ari Fleischer's role in all of this?
JOSEPH WILSON: Well, I have no idea. I mean, I – again, I haven't seen the special prosecutor for almost a year-and-a-half. And I have followed this along with everybody else. It's pretty clear to me that the White House, in the week after my article appeared, the White House political office and communications office were busy trying to peddle the story that it wasn't the 16 words, it was Wilson and his wife. This, after they had acknowledged the 16 words should never have been in the State of the Union address. And all of this was to change the subject and to slime and defend and to get us focused on Valerie and myself, rather than on the cover-up of the web of lies that led to war in the first place. I have now -- my article basically pulled back the screen on that a little bit, and they were absolutely determined that they were going to continue to cover up and continue to lie to the American people. That's what they have been doing ever since. The big victims, if you see it in the broader political sense, Judy Miller, Matt Cooper, Valerie and her 20-year career are really just collateral damage. The real victims, of course, are American citizens and, most poignantly, our service men and women who have died in battle or been wounded, and the Iraqis, who have been killed by the thousands, killed, wounded and displaced by the thousands. That's what this is all about. This is all about the war.
JUAN GONZALEZ: What about this other irony that Judy Miller, as a reporter, in her reporting did probably more than any other single reporter in continuing the administration's viewpoint that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and now she herself has become a victim, so to say, of the Bush administration. Your sense of that irony and her relationship to what you brought forth?
JOSEPH WILSON: Well, I try and keep her reporting and her role in this Plamegate case, this Rovegate case separate in my own mind. One doesn't send a reporter to jail for bad reporting. One fires a reporter. So, I try and keep them distinctly separate. But my view on the Judy Miller case, this has been litigated up to the Supreme Court and back down. The Supreme Court and Appellate Court determined that the importance of the case overrode her right to protection of sources. She has taken a different view, and she's exercising her right to go to jail as a consequence. But what ought to be --
AMY GOODMAN: In fact, just to say in the next sentence after those 16 words of President Bush in the State of the Union address, he talks about aluminum tubes. And that was the so-called expose of Judith Miller in September of 2002, when they were basically saying that that was the -- that this was the smoking gun, this was the plume, the threat that would be over everyone, and that was the possibility of Saddam Hussein having nuclear weapons.
JOSEPH WILSON: Well, that's right. That's right. But most importantly, Judy Miller is in jail for civil contempt of court. And for me, what that means is that somebody sitting very close to the President of the United States, who despite the President's very direct order that he or she cooperate fully with the Justice Department, has decided not to step forward, but to be a coward and hide behind Judy Miller's willingness to protect the confidentiality of the sources rather than step forward and accept responsibility for what he or she said to her, said to Judy. That's why she is in jail, because somebody in the White House is disobeying the President of the United States and is too much a coward to step forward and accept responsibility for what he or she said.
AMY GOODMAN: The conversation that Robert Novak had with a friend of yours, it has been talked about before, but I think it's important to bring out again. You had also raised it on our show, as well as others, Joe Wilson. Can you talk about that meeting on the street?
JOSEPH WILSON: Sure. Well, several days before he wrote his article, Novak was walking down the streets of Washington, D.C., and somebody came up and said hello to him and engaged him in a conversation. Now, that happens to people who are sort of familiar figures who you see on television a lot. I'm sure, Amy, it happens to you. People come up and say, ‘Hey, you're Bob Novak. Can we have’ -- I suppose people don't call you Bob Novak, but people come up and say, hi, you're so and so, and let's – and strike up a conversation. That's what happened. And during the course of the conversation, this stranger raised, or the subject of Niger and the op-ed came up, and Novak said bluntly to him, ‘Wilson is an asshole,’ although I had never met Novak before, ‘and his wife works for the C.I.A.’ Well, it turns out the stranger to Novak was somebody that I knew. And he walked right over to my office. He said, I don't know what you wife does, I have never met your wife, but here is what Novak is saying on the streets. This was several days before his article appeared.
Now, needless to say, I was pretty unhappy that somebody would be walking around the streets blurting this stuff out about my wife to absolute strangers. The security implications are enormous. And I called Novak's nominal boss at CNN, Eason Jordan, and then subsequently called Novak himself, and he did apologize, but, of course, the damage by that time had already been done, and he went ahead and wrote the article anyway, despite the fact that the C.I.A. spokesman told him there was no truth to the article and not to use Valerie's name. Told him twice, in fact.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, I'd like to ask Murray Waas, the -- where does the case go from here in terms of your sense of the sources that you have of where Fitzgerald is going?
MURRAY WAAS: Fitzgerald keeps his cards close to his vest. There was some interesting action in the last couple days before the Grand Jury. Two of Karl Rove's aides came before the Grand Jury, an assistant and another top aide. We're not sure what they said. We're not sure why they were called. But that would indicate some intensification or moving toward some kind of closure, which way is a little bit difficult to tell, but Fitzgerald does seem stymied still by the lack of testimony by Judith Miller. There was this very, very key meeting between Judith Miller and a senior official in the Bush administration on July 8. I have been able to determine from my reporting that Scooter Libby, the Chief of Staff to the Vice President, Vice President Cheney, was a source for, on at least four occasions, for Miller regarding stories about weapons of mass destruction, or recommended or put her in touch with others in the administration. There was something -- Ambassador Wilson would know the name of the group. I don't have it in front of me, but there was kind of a working group to sell the war to Congress, the media, the American people. I think it was the Iraq Working Group or something like that --
JOSEPH WILSON: Yeah, it was the White House Iraq Group. It was known by its acronym, WHIG, the WHIG Group.
MURRAY WAAS: And Libby played a key role in that, and interestingly, the same people who were selling the war to the American people, who were part of that group, were the same people who then were central to trying to discredit Ambassador Wilson and his wife. And because the two were interrelated or interconnected, they mudded information out, which we have now learned so much of it was false and just not true, telling the American people there were chemical, biological and nuclear weapons capabilities or huge efforts taking place by Saddam to develop those capacities. Those were not true.
So Ambassador Wilson comes forward in The New York Times and on "Meet the Press" and elsewhere and gives his personal knowledge about why some of those things are not true, so that same core group in the White House then begins a very direct and concerted campaign to discredit and retaliate against Joe and Valerie. And I reported, I guess, almost a year ago or -- I'm sorry, more recently, a few months ago, that the Grand Jury, the evidence before the Grand Jury was that there was a very concerted campaign. It wasn't just casual conversations, or officials like Rove were talking to reporters about other things, and this issue just came up, that they actually had meetings and strategies and so forth about it.
So I wrote that story in the Prospect, but not sure when, maybe a few months ago. The Los Angeles Times just had a front page story by a friend of mine, Tom Hamburger, which was a little bit -- which was even more precise and named Lewis Libby, Scooter Libby, the Chief of Staff to Vice President Cheney, and Karl Rove, as the two key players in that.
So, we're not sure exactly where things are going. One other interesting possibility, if there isn't -- if there aren’t indictments brought, there is the option for special prosecutors to issue a public report. So, Fitzgerald can potentially put out everything that he knows in the public record. But he is kind of a man who is impervious to public opinion, who doesn't see his role necessarily as one of informing public opinion, but simply prosecuting crimes. So, he has had discussions with people in the Department of Justice, and some people have urged him to take that course, but we hope we can find out what actually happened here. If there are indictments, there would be trials, and if there were no indictments, because the evidence doesn't reach a level beyond a reasonable doubt to bring people to trial, that maybe there would be a public report. And lastly, interestingly, there's a movement by Nancy Pelosi, the majority leader -- Democratic leader in the House now, to get behind a Democratic resolution of inquiry by Congress to get to the bottom of this, when Fitzgerald is all done. So hopefully someday we'll learn the truth, we’ll learn all of the facts.
AMY GOODMAN: Joe Wilson, your response to this, and also I wanted to ask, yes, John Bolton has been named in a recess appointment by President Bush to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, but the last controversy to break as he was being named was he had not revealed to Congress when they had asked -- you could say he misled them, he lied -- when they had asked if he had been questioned in any investigation. It turns out he had. In the State Department, Condoleezza Rice had now admitted this. He had been questioned by the State Department Inspector General in the whole case that you're certainly a critical part of, and that's the issue of Niger and whether Saddam Hussein was trying to buy yellow cake uranium. Your response?
JOSEPH WILSON: Well, yeah, I saw that. I think it was unfortunate that Mr. Bolton was appointed in a recess appointment. I don't think that gives him a lot of credibility either at the United Nations or within U.S. government circles. Dick Holbrook was offered a recess appointment in the Clinton administration and refused it, saying that he needed to have the support of the Congress in order to be able to do his job up there. I think, more fundamentally, it's pretty clear to me that the ethical standards demanded of senior public servants by this administration are very low indeed. The fact that Mr. Rove, who is now documented to have been a liar and to have been the source of a treasonous leak is still on the payroll and Mr. Libby is still on the payroll and Mr. Bolton is up at the United Nations really, I think, is a breach of the President's bond to the American people that his -- he was good for his word and that he was honest and he was a straight shooter.
Now, so I guess, really, with respect to Bolton, I'm sorry that he's up there and that this has gone on. Now with respect to Fitzgerald, I have, as I said earlier, all the confidence in the world that he is doing everything he can to bring this to a successful conclusion. And I think that he is going to succeed. I do believe that the fact that it's gone on for almost two years now is not a reflection on his efforts, but much more a reflection on the dedication of the White House to stonewall him, despite the President's direct order that everybody cooperate fully with the Justice Department. I think, but again this would be speculation, that he is close to wrapping this thing up, and I think Americans may well be surprised by the outcome.
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