Novak’s rebuttal (of himself)

Novak’s rebuttal (of himself) September 29, 2003

The transcript is finally up from today's Crossfire on CNN. Here is what Bob Novak had to say about Wilsongate:

Nobody in the Bush administration called me to leak this. In July, I was interviewing a senior administration official on Ambassador Wilson's report when he told me the trip was inspired by his wife, a CIA employee working on weapons of mass destruction. Another senior official told me the same thing.

As a professional journalist with 46 years experience in Washington, I do not reveal confidential sources. When I called the CIA in July, they confirmed Mrs. Wilson's involvement in a mission for her husband on a secondary basis, who is — he is a former Clinton administration official. They asked me not to use her name, but never indicated it would endanger her or anybody else.

According to a confidential source at the CIA, Mrs. Wilson was an analyst, not a spy, not a covert operative, and not in charge of undercover operatives.

That first part is irrelevant — the issue is what was said, not who called who. Novak's appeal to the principle of not revealing confidential sources is stronger ground, and Crossfire made sure to underscore this point with an audience poll question skewed to emphasize the sacredness of protecting a journalist's sources.

The third paragraph is a blatant lie. Here, again, is what Novak had to say in his original column containing the leak:

Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative …

"Operative," not analyst.

I'm not sure what Novak hopes to accomplish by fudging on this now. It does seem to be the GOP talking point for the day — as Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) demonstrated by loyally staying "on message" with it throughout a Crossfire discussion:

REP. JACK KINGSTON (R), GEORGIA: … But at this point that we're at right now, we don't know exactly what her role is. … what did the woman do? Was she really a covert spy? Do we know exactly what her role is?

NOVAK: No, we really don't know. And they never said — some people told me she was an analyst.

But, Mr. Ford…


KINGSTON: But I think that's relevant. We need to know if she was a spy or if she was a glorified secretary.

REP. HAROLD FORD JR. (D), TENNESSEE: But in Mr. Novak's original column, you said she was an operative looking into weapons of mass destruction.


NOVAK: But I keep reporting, Harold, that a lot of people say she's an analyst now. …

"A lot of people" being Kingston and Novak, apparently. (And you have to love the flagrant sexism of Kingston's "glorified secretary" comment. Obviously a woman couldn't have been doing anything important at the CIA.)

What Novak is arguing is that at the time he wrote his column, he thought he was revealing the name of a covert operative and putting her life and national security in jeopardy. But that he later learned that this wasn't the case, that she was "only" an analyst. This is a rather odd way of defending yourself — the old "incrimination" defense.

Unfortunately for Novak and Kingston, this isn't a dispute over a matter of opinion, but over a matter of fact. A point raised by "Jack, from Alexandria" in a question from the Crossfire audience:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. My name is Jack from Alexandria, Virginia. And if Mrs. Wilson is merely a CIA analyst, then I agree with Mr. Novak that there is no scandal here. But if she is in fact a CIA covert operative, her exposure is unconscionable and the source of the leak should be fired and prosecuted.

NOVAK: Well, the question is — the people I have been talking to in the CIA — not the official spokesmen — but the people say that there is no — there was no danger to her or any of her people. Maybe we will have to have an investigation on this and we will get some CIA secrets.

Meaning: Even Novak's audience isn't buying his argument. Expect to see him test-drive another variation of his excuse tomorrow. Same batty time, same batty channel.

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  • News Abuse

    You miss an important distinction: They are claiming that she is an analyst, not that she was (“…a lot of people say she’s an analyst now. …”). Of course she would be an analyst now — her cover as an operative was blown. She’s not good for much else anymore, thanks to Babbling Bob. The question now is — Who else was blown at the same time as Valerie Plame? The first published pictures of a dead foreign operative or informant will be hard to dismiss.

  • Lisa

    Just have to comment on a small point – Novak’s refering to Wilson as a “former Clinton Administration official.” Wilson was not a Clinton Administration official, or an official of any Administration. He was a career foreign service officer. That’s the only way you get to be U.S. Ambassador in a hardship post like Gabon (they don’t send the big political donors there). As a foreign service officer, Wilson would have served the Secretary of State of whichever party was in power. Blaming Clinton for his existence is quite lame.

  • Felix Deutsch

    The fun thing is that Novak somehow thinks that his defense “the CIA source I called didn’t say she was an operative under nonofficial cover, they just asked not to use her name” will somehow convince anyone.
    Is he trying to say “if she had been covert, they would have told me so”? What a joke.
    He could have been fishing for information.
    Therefore the CIA will never confirm or deny the status of any person whose name is put to them.

  • Dave L

    Bottom line: the CIA itself asked Justice to pursue this. Who cares what Novak or his pals have to say about it at this point.
    One more point – Josh Marshall observes that the letter from White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales to White House staffers begins: “We were informed last evening by the Department of Justice that it has opened an investigation into possible unauthorized disclosures concerning the identity of an undercover CIA employee.”

  • Dan

    The guy should be strung up. See here