Robert Novak finally speaks–in a way.
In a column published in newspapers today, the conservative columnist finally discloses that he cooperated with the investigation of the CIA leak. Novak, of course, outed Valerie Wilson (aka Valerie Plame) as a CIA officer in a July 14, 2003 column on her husband’s now-infamous CIA-assigned trip to Niger. In disclosing Valerie Wilson’s employment status at the CIA–which was classified information–Novak cited two senior administration sources. After I read the original Novak column, I wondered if these leaks meant that Bush administration officials had violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act and wrote the first article that suggested the leaks might be evidence of a White House crime. (That article was posted on The Nation‘s website two days after the Novak column appeared.)
Novak’s latest column answers only a few of the lingering questions. It has long been obvious that he cooperated with special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald–otherwise, he would have been subpoenaed by Fitzgerald, as had Judy Miller, Matt Cooper, Tim Russert and Washington Post reporters. The only question was the manner of Novak’s cooperation. In public, he had proclaimed he would not give up his source. So what did he disclose to the investigators?
It turns out that when FBI agents on October 7, 2003, first called on Novak, they already knew who his sources were. They did not need Novak to ID the senior administration officials. And Novak cooperated to an extent. As he writes, “I did disclose how Valerie Wilson’s role was reported to me, but the FBI did not press me to disclose my sources.”
Three months later, he was questioned by Fitzgerald at his lawyer’s office. Fitzgerald arrived wielding waivers signed by Novak’s two sources. Most journalists did not accept such waivers–which were blanket statements signed by Bush administration officials under the threat of dismissal. Novak, too, did not believe these waivers, as he writes, relieved him of his “journalistic responsibility to protect a source.” But since Fitzgerald already knew the identity of his sources (how Fitzgerald knew this Novak does not say), Novak discussed them by name–and avoided being subpoenaed and threatened with jail. He later testified about his sources before the grand jury.