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Novak: Real story behind Armitage's role

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://suntimes.com/output/news/cst-edt-novak14.html Novak: Real story behind Armitage s role September 13, 2006 BY ROBERT NOVAK SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST When
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 13, 2006
      http://suntimes.com/output/news/cst-edt-novak14.html

      Novak: Real story behind Armitage's role

      September 13, 2006

      BY ROBERT NOVAK SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST

      When Richard Armitage finally acknowledged last week
      he was my source three years ago in revealing Valerie
      Plame Wilson as a CIA employee, the former deputy
      secretary of state’s interviews obscured what he
      really did. I want to set the record straight based on
      firsthand knowledge.

      First, Armitage did not, as he now indicates, merely
      pass on something he had heard and that he ‘‘thought’’
      might be so. Rather, he identified to me the CIA
      division where Mrs. Wilson worked, and said flatly
      that she recommended the mission to Niger by her
      husband, former Amb. Joseph Wilson.

      Second, Armitage did not slip me this information as
      idle chitchat, as he now suggests. He made clear he
      considered it especially suited for my column.

      An accurate depiction of what Armitage actually said
      deepens the irony of him being my source. He was a
      foremost internal skeptic of the administration’s war
      policy, and I long had opposed military intervention
      in Iraq. Zealous foes of George W. Bush transformed me
      improbably into the president’s lapdog. But they
      cannot fit Armitage into the left-wing fantasy of a
      well-crafted White House conspiracy to destroy Joe and
      Valerie Wilson. The news that he and not Karl Rove was
      the leaker was devastating news for the left.

      A peculiar convergence had joined Armitage and me on
      the same historical path. During his quarter of a
      century in Washington, I had no contact with Armitage
      before our fateful interview. I tried to see him in
      the first 2 years of the Bush administration, but he
      rebuffed me — summarily and with disdain, I thought.

      Then, without explanation, in June 2003, Armitage’s
      office said the deputy secretary would see me. This
      was two weeks before Joe Wilson surfaced himself as
      author of a 2002 report for the CIA debunking Iraqi
      interest in buying uranium in Africa.

      I sat down with Armitage in his State Department
      office the afternoon of July 8 with tacit rather than
      explicit ground rules: deep background with nothing
      said attributed to Armitage or even an anonymous State
      Department official. Consequently, I refused to
      identify Armitage as my leaker until his admission was
      forced by Hubris, a new book by reporters Michael
      Isikoff and David Corn that absolutely identified him.

      Late in my hourlong interview with Armitage. I asked
      why the CIA had sent Wilson — lacking intelligence
      experience, nuclear policy or recent contact with
      Niger — on the African mission. He told the Washington
      Post last week that his answer was: ‘‘I don’t know,
      but I think his wife worked out there.’’

      Neither of us took notes, and nobody else was present.
      But I recalled our conversation that week in writing a
      column, while Armitage reconstructed it months later
      for federal prosecutors. He had told me unequivocally
      that Mrs. Wilson worked in the CIA’s
      Counter-Proliferation Division and that she had
      suggested her husband’s mission.

      As for his current implications that he never expected
      this to be published, he noted that the story of Mrs.
      Wilson’s role fit the style of the old Evans-Novak
      column — implying to me it continued reporting
      Washington inside information.

      Mrs. Wilson’s name appeared in my column July 14,
      2003, but it was not until Oct. 1 that I heard about
      it from Armitage. Washington lobbyist Kenneth
      Duberstein, Armitage’s close friend and political
      adviser, called me to say the deputy secretary feared
      he had ‘‘inadvertently’’ (the word Armitage used in
      last week’s interviews) disclosed Mrs. Wilson’s
      identity to me in July and was considering
      resignation. (Duberstein’s phone call was disclosed in
      the Isikoff-Corn book, which used Duberstein as a
      source. They reported Duberstein was responsible for
      arranging my unexpected interview with Armitage.)

      Duberstein told me Armitage wanted to know whether he
      was my source. I did not reply because I was sure that
      Armitage knew he was the source. I believed he
      contacted me Oct. 1 because of news the weekend of
      Sept. 27-28 that the Justice Department was
      investigating the leak. I cannot credit Armitage’s
      current claim that he realized he was the source only
      when my Oct. 1 column revealed that the official who
      gave me the information was ‘‘no partisan
      gunslinger.’’

      Armitage’s silence the next 2œ years caused intense
      pain for his colleagues in government and enabled
      partisan Democrats in Congress to falsely accuse Rove
      of being my primary source. When Armitage now says he
      was mute because of special prosecutor Patrick
      Fitzgerald’s request, that does not explain his
      silence three months between his claimed first
      realization that he was the source and Fitzgerald’s
      appointment on Dec. 30. Armitage’s tardy
      self-disclosure is tainted because it is deceptive.
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