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2005-11-18

Woodward Downplayed CIA Leak Case Despite Involvement

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Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward was told of Valerie Plame’s identity in June of 2003–before Judith Miller or any other reporter. Woodward never reported this in the pages of the Washington Post and only mentioned it to his editors last month. We speak with Steve Clemons, editor of the popular news blog, The Washington Note. [includes rush transcript]

The White House is bracing for a possible expansion of the CIA leak investigation that took down Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Libby was indicted three weeks ago on five counts of perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements.

The indictment came down after Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald accused Libby of telling New York Times reporter Judy Miller about the identity of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame and then lying to investigators about what happened. Plame is the wife of former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

The investigation had appeared to be slowing down until this week. But the investigation has taken a surprise turn.

On Monday–Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald questioned Washington Post editor and best selling author Bob Woodward for two hours. Until now Woodward–who is best known for breaking the Watergate story–had no known role in the CIA leak case. He actually appeared frequently as a TV commentator downplaying the severity of the leak. At one point he called Fitzgerald a "junkyard dog prosecutor" and also claimed there was no criminal White House effort to "out" the CIA agent.

But it turns out that Woodward was a central figure in the story. He was told of Plame’s identity 29 months ago in June of 2003 before Miller or any other reporter. Woodward never reported this in the pages of the Washington Post and only mentioned it to his editors last month.

The revelation raises new questions about the status of the investigation and whether Fitzgerald will seek any other indictments. Questions are also being raised about Woodward and his style of reporting.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Woodward has been given unusual autonomy in the Washington Post newsroom as he writes a trilogy of books about the Bush administration. He is free to report for his numerous books but he isn’t obligated to share his scoops before the books are published. This has allowed him to sit on stories of national significance for months–and even years.

In this case because Woodward concealed his own involvement, it hindered his paper’s ability to report fully on the leak investigation.

Woodward’s own editor Leonard Downie has admitted Woodward is in a special situation. Downie said, "It does require managing because a lot of his reporting is done under confidential agreements like this particular one, in which the interviews are for the publication of a book, rather than for the newspaper in a short time frame."

But criticism of Woodward is escalating even from his own colleagues.

Veteran staff writer Jonathan Yardley posted a message about Woodward on the Washington Post’s confidential internal memo.

He said "This is the logical and perhaps inevitable outcome when an institution permits an individual to become larger than the institution itself."

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk about this we’re joined by Steve Clemons, Editor of the popular news blog, TheWashingtonNote.com and a Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation. Welcome to Democracy Now!

STEVEN CLEMONS: Great to be with you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, why don’t you lay out for us this latest development with Patrick Fitzgerald now questioning Bob Woodward for two hours on Monday?

STEVEN CLEMONS: Well, Bob Woodward really, you know, rolled a very big bowling ball into the Fitzgerald investigation on the Valerie Plame leak. We know Woodward is, in part, telling the truth because it was not Woodward who created this theater. There was a U.S. official who triggered this to Fitzgerald, and I’m sure he’s going to have a lot of questions. What really ought to anger the American public and which makes me very, very frustrated with Bob Woodward is not just that he is — that he knew all along that he was a material witness in this case, but was his outrageous commentary about the case earlier and his defense of the source. You have to understand Bob Woodward said on Larry King that he thought that this was a small-time deal, that, as you said, he called Patrick Fitzgerald a "junkyard investigator" and that this will disappear over time.

And if this was casual conversation that he was having with someone offline in some minor casual way, why in the world would he be defending, in a very serious way, that source? If he looked at it as a casual issue, it makes no sense at all, unless Bob Woodward is trying to play a sort of Judy Miller type of role of building up his own importance in something. So his own confession about this doesn’t make sense. And secondly, for anyone to have gone on to Larry King and made the comments that Bob Woodward did, while privately knowing that he was a very key material witness to what was going on, then he should have recused himself from any commentary. It’s an outrageous thing for a journalist. I think he’s become a, you know, very self-intoxicated, self-deluded commentator on these things, who’s taken with his own importance, and he’s forgotten his journalistic responsibility to the American public.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, explain the timeline of June. What now is the new picture that is beginning to unfold here?

STEVEN CLEMONS: Well, the important thing is that in the third week of June — I don’t have the dates in front of me, but the third week of June — when Patrick Fitzgerald laid out a story that Scooter Libby, Lewis Libby, Vice President Cheney’s Chief of Staff, sewed together a story in which he tried to obfuscate the fact that he was the original source of information to any news media, and in his interactions with Matt Cooper, with Judy Miller and with others, he attempted to create a circle where it made it look like the material that he had received from other media was what he was reporting to others, and he was just a middle man in the process. Patrick Fitzgerald very compellingly made the case, I thought, the day that he spoke, that when you look at the line of information, it showed that Scooter Libby was the original source of information.

What Bob Woodward has just come out with is that story can no longer be true. If Woodward was notified about Valerie Plame’s C.I.A. covert status by another senior administration official before Libby had those conversations with Matt Cooper and Judy Miller, then there’s a third official out there, other than Karl Rove and other than Scooter Libby, who made — if Bob Woodward wasn’t the first person to know, but at least it preceded the history that Fitzgerald shared with us when he issued his indictments a few weeks ago.

So what we’re working with is we now have an interaction between the administration and another very important journalist that we know nothing about. So it’s completely shrouded until either Len Downie compels Bob Woodward to be more forthcoming with the public. And, you know, you have to understand, what I found interesting is Matt Cooper of Time magazine, when they lost the legal battle over keeping Matt Cooper’s notes and knowledge quiet, they came forward. He told his whole story. And I think Woodward needs to do the same or suffer some consequences from The Washington Post.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about Bob Woodward’s source, apparently didn’t reveal it to Patrick Fitzgerald, and that was the agreement under which he would testify.

STEVEN CLEMONS: Well, I don’t know who his source is. A lot of people are speculating it was Stephen Hadley. I’m in Dubuque, Iowa today, speaking out here on foreign policy issues and did a scan of media, as I’m sure many of your listeners and you have. And it seems that Hadley, while he —

AMY GOODMAN: Stephen Hadley, the National Security Adviser.

STEVEN CLEMONS: Yes. He has not denied being the source, but he is hinting that he is not the source. You know, you go back to that time and you realize that one of the really interesting things about Bob Woodward — do you know Bob? Amy, do you know Bob Woodward?

AMY GOODMAN: No, I don’t. Not personally.

STEVEN CLEMONS: Bob Woodward is an interesting kind of journalist and reporter. You know, another key reporter in this is Bob Novak. And when I tell people, and I’ve met both of them, I know Novak slightly better, Novak will talk to anyone. He’ll talk to the janitor, he’ll talk to the chef in the kitchen. He is a real hard-working journalist. You might not like what he writes, but he is not a snob when it comes to who he’ll gather information and material from. Bob Woodward is a classic celebrity journalist snob, who will only talk to the crème de la crème players, and his books are indicative of that. He’s not someone — you know, Seymour Hersh works contacts very well, works at all levels. So we know that Woodward’s source is a very, very high administration official just by the normal footprint of his investigative work for other books and articles. So — I’m sorry?

AMY GOODMAN: I didn’t say anything.

STEVEN CLEMONS: Okay. What we probably know at that time is that, you know, Condi Rice was National Security Adviser, Steve Hadley was deputy at the time. So you had Condi over there, that’s a potential option. Her name has never been mentioned in this, and I wouldn’t mention it either. Vice President Cheney is someone who spoke to Bob Woodward quite a bit. And so there are, you know, questions. We don’t know who it is, but we know that it’s probably someone very, very high up in the White House. And while speculation is that it’s Hadley thus far, he has not confessed, he has not come forward, which, if it turns out to be Hadley, is quite cowardly.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Steven Clemons, publisher of TheWashingtonNote.com, Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation, co-directs the American Strategy Program, and is also Director of the Japan-America Society of Southern California, co-founded the Japan Policy Research Institute with Chalmers Johnson. After the break, I want to quickly ask you about the significance of President Bush’s Asia visit.

STEVEN CLEMONS: Sure.

AMY GOODMAN: But still on Bob Woodward and where this takes this investigation, what does this mean for Scooter Libby?

STEVEN CLEMONS: Well, what it means for Scooter Libby is that while it doesn’t materially change the charges of false statements and perjury, those still stand just based on the evidence that Patrick Fitzgerald brought forward. What does change quite a bit is the political significance of Libby’s, you know, comments that despite not being charged with the higher charges of actively, you know, violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which was the most serious crime which Fitzgerald is investigating, it changes the dynamics quite a bit, because it takes a lot of pressure off Libby and it makes him look like his biggest crime was that he lied a couple of times, and that, in fact, he was not the one who spun this entire story.

It could go another way. Another way it might go is depending on who this other official was, if there was any coordination between Libby and this other individual — of course, we don’t know that to be the case — then there’s the possibility of conspiracy-type charges coming forward. But I think Fitzgerald was really caught out of left field and didn’t see this coming, and because the rest of this story was not part of Fitzgerald’s narrative, I think we just all have to wait and see what Fitzgerald now learns.

AMY GOODMAN: And, finally, President Bush’s Asia trip.

STEVEN CLEMONS: Well, President Bush is trying to do a lot of things right now to distract the American public from questions about Iraq, the W.M.D. intelligence abuse questions, the detainee abuse issues, the questions about Vice President Cheney’s attempts to get the C.I.A. exempted from torture, and the failure on the Harriet Miers thing. He had been trying to do a lot of things that are distractions, and this Asia trip, while part of the APEC Leaders Summit, and this year hosted in Korea, he’s been using to chastise China on various fronts and make some news by basically talking about democracy in China, which is not entirely a bad thing, but he’s off trying to show himself as a world leader doing what world leaders do, which is talking about big problems in other places and hoping that America gives him some credit for that, because his popularity and his approval ratings are plummeting right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Steve Clemons, I want to thank you very much for being with us, publisher of the blog TheWashingtonNote.com, Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation.

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