Speculation: Armitage was the Plame ‘leaker’ and it was done so without malicious intent

Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff and The Nation’s David Corn have a new book coming out titled Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War which asserts that the State Department has known ‘for years’ that former Dep. Sec. of State Richard Armitage was the ‘leaker’ in the overdramatized, over-hyped by the far left l’affaire de Plame. Via Isikoff’s write up about it in Newsweek:

In the early morning of Oct. 1, 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell received an urgent phone call from his No. 2 at the State Department. Richard Armitage was clearly agitated. As recounted in a new book, “Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War,” Armitage had been at home reading the newspaper and had come across a column by journalist Robert Novak. Months earlier, Novak had caused a huge stir when he revealed that Valerie Plame, wife of Iraq-war critic Joseph Wilson, was a CIA officer. Ever since, Washington had been trying to find out who leaked the information to Novak. The columnist himself had kept quiet. But now, in a second column, Novak provided a tantalizing clue: his primary source, he wrote, was a “senior administration official” who was “not a partisan gunslinger.” Armitage was shaken. After reading the column, he knew immediately who the leaker was. On the phone with Powell that morning, Armitage was “in deep distress,” says a source directly familiar with the conversation who asked not to be identified because of legal sensitivities. “I’m sure he’s talking about me.”

Armitage’s admission led to a flurry of anxious phone calls and meetings that day at the State Department. (Days earlier, the Justice Department had launched a criminal investigation into the Plame leak after the CIA informed officials there that she was an undercover officer.) Within hours, William Howard Taft IV, the State Department’s legal adviser, notified a senior Justice official that Armitage had information relevant to the case. The next day, a team of FBI agents and Justice prosecutors investigating the leak questioned the deputy secretary. Armitage acknowledged that he had passed along to Novak information contained in a classified State Department memo: that Wilson’s wife worked on weapons-of-mass-destruction issues at the CIA. (The memo made no reference to her undercover status.) Armitage had met with Novak in his State Department office on July 8, 2003β€”just days before Novak published his first piece identifying Plame. Powell, Armitage and Taft, the only three officials at the State Department who knew the story, never breathed a word of it publicly and Armitage’s role remained secret.

Armitage, a well-known gossip who loves to dish and receive juicy tidbits about Washington characters, apparently hadn’t thought through the possible implications of telling Novak about Plame’s identity. “I’m afraid I may be the guy that caused this whole thing,” he later told Carl Ford Jr., State’s intelligence chief. Ford says Armitage admitted to him that he had “slipped up” and told Novak more than he should have. “He was basically beside himself that he was the guy that f—ed up. My sense from Rich is that it was just chitchat,” Ford recalls in “Hubris,” to be published next week by Crown and co-written by the author of this article and David Corn, Washington editor of The Nation magazine.


Armitage’s central role as the primary source on Plame is detailed for the first time in “Hubris,” which recounts the leak case and the inside battles at the CIA and White House in the run-up to the war. The disclosures about Armitage, gleaned from interviews with colleagues, friends and lawyers directly involved in the case, underscore one of the ironies of the Plame investigation: that the initial leak, seized on by administration critics as evidence of how far the White House was willing to go to smear an opponent, came from a man who had no apparent intention of harming anyone.

Captain Ed writes in response:

This means that the Department of Justice knew the source of the Plame leak within four months of its occurrence. It also knew that the leak had no malicious intent. Patrick Fitzgerald, who almost certainly knew of it within the first days of his investigation, never attempted to indict the man whom he knew leaked the information. Why, then, has Fitzgerald’s mandate continued after the first week of October?

Fitzgerald took the case on September 26. If this book is accurate about its dates, the DoJ and Fitzgerald would have known about Armitage’s role as the source of the leak five days later. Instead of either charging Armitage or closing down the investigation, Fitzgerald went on a witch hunt. He didn’t even talk to Scooter Libby until two weeks after Armitage’s confession. A year later, Fitzgerald had reporters Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper imprisoned for contempt of court for refusing to divulge a source about a leaker from whom Fitzgerald had already received a confession.

This shows the danger of independent investigators who answer to star chambers instead of the elected representatives that have electoral accountability. The entire Fitzgerald investigation is a massive waste of money and energy, an ego project for one man, a wild-goose chase without the goose. Up to now, we all thought that Armitage never came forward or did so much later in the process. This time line shows Fitzgerald as a dangerous Cotton Mather with a briefcase. What else should we think of a prosecutor who hauls people into court and jails them for contempt when his culprit confessed at the very beginning?

All of that assumes, of course, that Fitzgerald knew about Armitage’s role almost from the get-go as the ‘leaker’ – I’m not so sure that’s the case, but perhaps we’ll find out more in the coming weeks.

I should also point out that Isikoff, and especially Corn, are not known to be ‘admin friendly’ writers, so it should be mildly amusing to see how all the Bush-haters on the left spin this news into “it was still Rove’s fault that Plame’s cover was blown!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”, something they’ve been continuing to do even after it was reported back in mid-June that Rove was not going to be indicted in this ‘case.’

I eagerly await Tom Maguire’s comments on this.

Update I – 12:02 PM: Maguire responds to a point made by Talk Left’s Jeralyn Merritt in her post on this story:

[JM:] And Ari Fleischer is a key witness against Libby. Somehow, I suspect Ari Fleishcher has given more to Fitzgerald than we know.

[TM:] I am still betting that Ari was the source for Walter Pincus.

A point about Armitage’s October surprise that he was Novak’s source – that buttresses Rove’s claim that he did not realize he was a source for Novak as well.

I happen to think we are at only the second level of cover-up as we peel the Armitage onion – in the current version, he attributes his Plame knowledge to the famous INR memo, but (IIRC) emptywheel made the point (per some newspaper story) that the genesis of the Niger trip had been kicked around the intel community for a year or more.

Since Armitage has what looks like an intel background, he may well have kept his won CIA contacts for all sorts of back-channel news.

Update II – 3:02 PM: Maguire weighs in at his blog.

Update III – 3:11 PM: Greg Tinti has video of Novak’s reaction to the Newsweek piece. He also links up to Ann Althouse, who wonders about the reactions from liberals who pushed the “ROVE DID IT!!!!!!!!!!!” angle:

Liberal Values finds the silver lining: “Maybe this will put an end to all those conservative blogs which are spreading preposterous claims that it was Joe Wilson himself who revealed his wife’s identity.” Yeah, put an end to all those conservative blogs.

Can you never back off and say that your side overdid it? It would improve your credibility you know.

But that would involve admitting that “Bush’s Brain” did nothing wrong here, and that is something that those who salivated for so very long over the possibility of Rove doing the perp walk cannot and will not bring themselves to concede.

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