Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Third Person

If Karl Rove and Scooter Libby leaked Valerie Plame Wilson’s name to Robert Novak and Matt Cooper, who leaked the same story to Walter Pincus of The Washington Post? The New York Times wants to know.

In the same week in July 2003 in which Bush administration officials told a syndicated columnist and a Time magazine reporter that a C.I.A. officer had initiated her husband’s mission to Niger, an administration official provided a Washington Post reporter with a similar account.

The first two episodes, involving the columnist Robert D. Novak and the reporter Matthew Cooper, have become the subjects of intense scrutiny in recent weeks. But little attention has been paid to what The Post reporter, Walter Pincus, has recently described as a separate exchange on July 12, 2003.

In that exchange, Mr. Pincus says, “an administration official, who was talking to me confidentially about a matter involving alleged Iraqi nuclear activities, veered off the precise matter we were discussing and told me that the White House had not paid attention” to the trip to Niger by Joseph C. Wilson IV “because it was a boondoggle arranged by his wife, an analyst with the agency who was working on weapons of mass destruction.”


Mr. Pincus did not write about the exchange with the administration official until October 2003, and The Washington Post itself has since reported little about it. The newspaper’s most recent story was a 737-word account last Sept. 16, in which the newspaper reported that Mr. Pincus had testified the previous day about the matter, but only after his confidential source had first “revealed his or her identity” to Mr. Fitzgerald, the special counsel conducting the C.I.A. leak inquiry.

Mr. Pincus has not identified his source to the public. But a review of Mr. Pincus’s own accounts and those of other people with detailed knowledge of the case strongly suggest that his source was neither Karl Rove, Mr. Bush’s top political adviser, nor I. Lewis Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, and was in fact a third administration official whose identity has not yet been publicly disclosed.

So we already know that Karl Rove leaked the story to Cooper. His lawyer said so; it’s part of his defense strategy. Scooter’s pretty much owned up to the same thing. But if there was someone else leaking to Mr. Pincus, then more than those two were in on the assault on Mr. Wilson and his wife. We already have the makings of a conspiracy; now it sounds like it was a coordinated plan.

The easiest way to find out who the third leaker was is to check the White House pay records and see who got the biggest promotion.

Update: Arianna Huffington is floating the trial balloon that the original leaker is Judith Miller of the New York Times. Her premise is that Ms. Miller was pissed off that Joe Wilson was scuttling her breathless reporting of the Bush administration’s storyline on the reasons we went to war in Iraq and that he was doing it in an op-ed in her paper. So Ms. Miller is in the joint to protect her source — herself. Hey, that’s as plausible a scenario as any I’ve heard out there. I blog, you decide.