One mystery solved.
It was Richard Armitage, when he was deputy secretary of state in July 2003, who first disclosed to conservative columnist Robert Novak that the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson was a CIA employee.
A Newsweek article–based on the new book I cowrote with Newsweek correspondent Michael Isikoff, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War–discloses that Armitage passed this classified information to Novak during a July 8, 2003 interview. Though Armitage’s role as Novak’s primary source has been a subject of speculation, the case is now closed. Our sources for this are three government officials who spoke to us confidentially and who had direct knowledge of Armitage’s conversation with Novak. Carl Ford Jr., who was head of the State Department’s intelligence branch at the time, told us–on the record–that after Armitage testified before the grand jury investigating the leak case, he told Ford, “I’m afraid I may be the guy that caused the whole thing.”
Ford recalls Armitage said he had “slipped up” and had told Novak more that he should have. According to Ford, Armitage was upset that “he was the guy that fucked up.”
The unnamed government sources also told us about what happened three months later when Novak wrote a column noting that his original source was “no partisan gunslinger.” After reading that October 1 column, Armitage called his boss and long-time friend, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and acknowledged he was Novak’s source. Powell, Armitage and William Taft IV, the State Department’s top lawyer, frantically conferred about what to do. As Taft told us (on the record), “We decided we were going to tell [the investigators] what we thought had happened.” Taft notified the criminal division of the Justice Department–which was then handling the investigation–and FBI agents interviewed Armitage the next day. In that interview, Armitage admitted he had told Novak about Wilson’s wife and her employment at the CIA. The Newsweek piece lays all this out.
Colleagues of Armitage told us that Armitage–who is known to be an inveterate gossip–was only conveying a hot tidbit, not aiming to do Joe Wilson harm. Ford says, “My sense from Rich is that it was just chitchat.” (When Armitage testified before the Iran-contra grand jury many years earlier, he had described himself as “a terrible gossip.” Iran-contra independent counsel Lawrence Walsh subsequently accused him of providing “false testimony” to investigators but said that he could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Armitage’s misstatements had been “deliberate.”)