Another part of the save-Rove cover story is not holding.
Once the Plame/CIA leak became big (mainstream-media) news in September 2003–when word hit that the CIA had asked the Justice Department to investigate the leak, which had appeared in a Bob Novak column two months earlier–friends of the White House, including Novak, started saying that Valerie Wilson wasn’t really under cover at the CIA and, thus, the disclosure of her employment at the CIA wasn’t worth a federal case (or investigation). They claimed that no big wrong had occurred, and this argument also conveniently offered any leaker a legal defense. Under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, a government official can only be prosecuted for disclosing information identifying a “covert agent” whose cover the United States government was taking steps to protect. White House allies asserted that while Valerie Wilson may have technically been a clandestine CIA official, in practice she wasn’t. So all this bother over the leak was much ado about nothing.
Novak, for example, downplayed Valerie Wilson’s covert status in an October 1, 2003 column, in which he vaguely described how he had originally learned of her connection to the CIA. He noted that after a senior administration official told him that Joseph Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA, he called the CIA:
At the CIA, the official designated to talk to me denied that Wilson’s wife had inspired his selection but said she was delegated to request his help. He asked me not to use her name, saying she probably never again will be given a foreign assignment but that exposure of her name might cause “difficulties” if she travels abroad. He never suggested to me that Wilson’s wife or anybody else would be endangered. If he had, I would not have used her name. I used it in the sixth paragraph of my column because it looked like the missing explanation of an otherwise incredible choice by the CIA for its mission.
Bush-backers have cited this paragraph to argue that the CIA didn’t do much to protect Valerie Wilson’s cover. I’ve heard GOP lawyer Victoria Toensing, who helped draft the Intelligence Identities Act, claim that Novak’s exchange with the CIA is proof that the CIA was not taking serious measures to preserve Wilson’s cover–which means the law she helped concoct does not apply in the case of this leak.
Should Novak be taken at his word on this point? Until now, the public only knew of his side of his conversation with the CIA. But The Washington Post published a piece on Wednesday that provides the CIA’s version of this exchange. And it is significantly different from Novak’s account. The paper reports,