The Senate intelligence committee’s report on prewar intelligence demonstrates that George W. Bush launched a war predicated on false assertions about weapons of mass destruction and misled the country when he claimed Saddam Hussein was in cahoots in al Qaeda. But what has caused outrage within conservative quarters? Passages in the report that they claim undermine the credibility of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.
Wilson, if you need to be reminded, embarrassed the Bush administration a year ago when he revealed that he had traveled to Niger in February 2002 to check out the allegation that Hussein had been shopping for uranium there. In his 2003 State of the Union address, Bush had referred to Iraq’s supposed attempt to obtain uranium in Africa to suggest Hussein was close to possessing a nuclear weapon. When Bush’s use of this allegation become a matter of controversy last summer, Wilson went public with a New York Times op-ed piece in which he noted his private mission to Niger–which he had taken on behalf of the CIA–had led him to conclude the allegation was highly unlikely. After Wilson’s article appeared, the White House conceded that Bush should not have included this charge in his speech.
A week later, Wilson received the payback. Conservative columnist Robert Novak, quoting two unnamed administration sources, reported that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Wilson (nee Plame), was a CIA operative working in the counterproliferation field. Novak revealed her identity to suggest that Wilson had been sent to Niger due to nepotism not his experience. The point of Novak’s column was to call Wilson’s trip and his findings into question.
The real story was that Novak’s sources–presumably White House officials–might have violated the law prohibiting government officials from identifying a covert officer of the United States government. Outing Valerie Wilson was a possible felony and–to boot–compromised national security. Two months later, the news broke that the CIA had asked the Justice Department to investigate the Wilson leak. And a US attorney named Patrick Fitzgerald has been on the case since the start of this year, leading an investigation that has included questioning Bush.
But now Wilson’s detractor on the right claim the critical issue is Wilson’s credibility on two points: whether his wife was involved in the decision to send him to Niger and whether he accurately portrayed his findings regarding his Niger trip. And they have made use of the Senate intelligence report–particularly additional comments filed by committee chairman Pat Roberts and two other Republican members of the committee, Kit Bond and Orrin Hatch–to pound Wilson. But not only does the get-Wilson crusade ignore the main question–did White House officials break the law and damage national security to take a swing at a critic?–it overstates and manipulates the material in the Senate report.