So this is what the campaign against former ambassador Joseph Wilson is about? In a long editorial yesterday, the hawks of The Wall Street Journal called for Patrick Fitzgerald, the US attorney investigating the Bush administration leak that identified Wilson’s wife as a CIA officer, to “fold up his tent.” The goal of the WSJ conservatives–and perhaps that of the other GOPers who have been bashing Wilson–is to get the Bush White House off the hook for the leak that outed Valerie Wilson (nee Plame). This leak, which appeared in a Robert Novak column a year ago, ruined the career of a government employee who worked to prevent the spread of unconventional weapons. It may have undermined national security by impairing her operations and threatening her contacts. And it was a possible violation of the federal law that prohibits government officials from disclosing the identities of covert government officers.
“Mr. Wilson had been denying any involvement at all on Ms. Plame’s part, in order to suggest that her identity was disclosed by a still-unknown Administration official out of pure malice. If instead an Administration official cited nepotism truthfully in order to explain the oddity of Mr. Wilson’s selection for the Niger mission, then there was no underlying crime. Motive is crucial under the controlling statute.”
Much is wrong in this short paragraph. First, Wilson did not deny “any involvement at all on Plame’s part.” He denied that she had specifically recommended him to be an envoy for the CIA. He has said she was involved in bringing him to a meeting at the CIA that led to his assignment. But Wilson and his detractors are now arguing over the details of this minor matter. But if there is going to be a nitpickfest, the Journal should be careful to get its facts straight.
Second, did Wilson deny his wife’s involvement so he could suggest the leak was done out of pure malice? I doubt it. His family was hit hard by the leak. He didn’t need to downplay–if that is what he did–his wife’s participation to accuse the leakers of thuggish behavior. He would have had a strong argument even if she had signed his travel orders. His trip was no junket. He was not paid for it. Her involvement–in any capacity–did not justify the leak.
Third, there was nothing odd about the CIA dispatching Wilson on an informal mission to Niger to check out the allegation that Saddam Hussein had been shopping for uranium there. Wilson, an old African hand who had worked for both Democratic and Republican administrations, had the experience and the contacts in Niger to do what he was asked. (By the way, at the time of the trip, he was no Democratic or anti-Bush partisan. He had even made a political contribution to George W. Bush during the 2000 primaries.)