Thursday, August 25, 2005

A Primer on The Plame Case

Tom Hamburger and Sonni Efron of the Los Angeles Times have put together a well-sourced and researched background story on the entire Valerie Plame Wilson leak story.

Toward the end of a steamy summer week in 2003, reporters were peppering the White House with phone calls and e-mails, looking for someone to defend the administration’s claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

About to emerge as a key critic was Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former diplomat who asserted that the administration had manipulated intelligence to justify the Iraq invasion.

At the White House, there wasn’t much interest in responding to critics like Wilson that Fourth of July weekend. The communications staff faced more pressing concerns — the president’s imminent trip to Africa, growing questions about the war and declining ratings in public opinion polls.

Wilson’s accusations were based on an investigation he undertook for the CIA. But he was seen inside the White House as a “showboater” whose stature didn’t warrant a high-level administration response. “Let him spout off solo on a holiday weekend,” one White House official recalled saying. “Few will listen.”

In fact, millions were riveted that Sunday as Wilson — on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and in the pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post — accused the administration of ignoring intelligence that didn’t support its rationale for war.

Underestimating the impact of Wilson’s allegations was one in a series of misjudgments by White House officials.

In the days that followed, they would cast doubt on Wilson’s CIA mission to Africa by suggesting to reporters that his wife was responsible for his trip. In the process, her identity as a covert CIA agent was divulged — possibly illegally.

For the last 20 months, a tough-minded special prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, has been looking into how the media learned that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA operative.

Top administration officials, along with several influential journalists, have been questioned by prosecutors.

Beyond the whodunit, the affair raises questions about the credibility of the Bush White House, the tactics it employs against political opponents and the justification it used for going to war.

What motivated President Bush’s political strategist, Karl Rove; Vice President Cheney’s top aide, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby; and others to counter Wilson so aggressively? How did their roles remain secret until after the president was reelected? Have they fully cooperated with the investigation?

The answers remain elusive. As Fitzgerald’s team has moved ahead, few witnesses have been willing to speak publicly. White House officials declined to comment for this article, citing the ongoing inquiry.

But a close examination of events inside the White House two summers ago, and interviews with administration officials, offer new insights into the White House response, the people who shaped it, the deep disdain Cheney and other administration officials felt for the CIA, and the far-reaching consequences of the effort to manage the crisis.

Read the entire article. The Times requires registration, but it’s free and it’s worth it. It’s factual, dispassionate, sourced to a fault, and includes a detailed chronology beginning in February 2002. It’s also some of the best shoe-leather reporting I’ve read since 1974.