Saturday, July 16, 2005

Bob Goes the Weasel

Jonathan Turley on the real culprit.

Columnist Robert Novak has made a career for himself as a human flame-thrower for conservative causes. Yet, even Novak appears surprised at the mounting cost of his disclosure in 2003 of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

It was classic Novak: a hatchet job directed not at Plame, but at her husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV. The firestorm that erupted has consumed millions of dollars in investigation and litigation costs and has wreaked havoc with the career not just of Plame (who had to leave the CIA) but of two reporters who were hauled into court; one has been sent to jail.

Novak’s original intention, it seems, was publicly to damage Wilson, who had embarrassed President Bush by showing that he relied on false information to justify the Iraq war. Although Novak admits that he was asked not to publish Plame’s name by a CIA official, he insists that he did not realize that he might be putting her in danger.


Over the course of the investigation into the matter, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has gone after journalists such as Miller with a fury — winning findings of contempt against them for refusing to give up their sources.

Yet, there has been a conspicuous absence of any similar effort against Novak. This has led to speculation that either Novak has been given special treatment by a Republican prosecutor, or he has revealed his sources, or his sources have revealed themselves to the prosecutors.

Last week, Novak appeared on CNN’s Inside Politics to deflect growing criticism of his silence. “If anyone thinks they’re going to jail because of me, it’s madness.” This, of course, is technically true. Miller is in jail for her principled refusal to sacrifice her sources.

In the interview, Novak refused to answer even the most basic question, such as whether “in general . . . you cooperated with investigators in the case.” Novak insisted his lawyer had told him not to answer “until this case is finished.” His reliance on his lawyer’s advice is a rather feeble and perplexing defense.

Yes, lawyers often prefer that their clients remain quiet under the theory that what you don’t say can’t be used against you. But Novak is not some button-man for the Gotti family. He is a self-described journalist who started a firestorm with a politically engineered attack piece on a civil servant for which another reporter has been sent to jail. Novak himself would never accept the “my lawyer did it” defense from a public figure.

Novak has been a part of the Washington scene since the McCarthy era, and he’s still there.