COHEN (8/11/05): The same holds for the other women associated with this [New York Senate] race—even more so if Hillary Clinton eventually runs for president. In effect, she will once again invite us to dissect her marriage and why she stays in it. She is clearly up to it—but why she is up to it is something many of us will never understand. The life of a politician, ever strange, is getting stranger and stranger.Get that? If Hillary Clinton runs for the White House, she will be inviting the press to dissect her marriage and why she stays in it. Clinton is clearly up to doing this, Cohen says, wondering about her weird conduct.
Will these children ever grow up? Will they ever stop playing the peeping Tom? Will they ever abandon their juvenile ways? Will they ever stop making a joke of our lives, as they did all through the 1990s, eventually putting Bush in the White House?
NEWS FROM BIG PINC: Its a bad time for big news in DC. In August, the leakers all go on vacation; they blurt their secrets on oceanfront decks, not to insider journalists. Indeed, how slow has the flow of news become? Yesterday, the Times op-ed page put the nation to sleep with this lengthy piece on a major question: Should restaurants include the tip in the check? Meanwhile, in todays Post, George Will re-addresses a pressing concern: Who stole Carters briefing book back in 1980?
So perhaps thats why theres a bit of air in this mornings Walter Pincus report, which examines a Side Issue in the Plame Case: Who Sent Her Spouse to Africa? Most of the piece is recycled, but Pincus does revisit a new piece of information from his July 27 report. Here was the passage in question from that earlier story:
PINCUS (7/27/05): Using background conversations with at least three journalists and other means, Bush officials attacked Wilson's credibility [after his July 2003 op-ed appeared]. They said that his 2002 trip to Niger was a boondoggle arranged by his wife, but CIA officials say that is incorrect. One reason for the confusion about Plame's role is that she had arranged a trip for him to Niger three years earlier on an unrelated matter, CIA officials told The Washington Post.Say what? Plame had arranged a trip for [Wilson] to Niger in 1999? And that had led to confusion about her role in his 2002 trip? As far as we know, that was the first time anyone reported that Plame had arranged a trip in 1999. In todays report, Pincus provides a bit more information about this matter. Indeed, he reminds us that the outline of this matter was included in the Senate Intelligence report in July 2004.
Did Plame arrange a trip in 1999? Heres the way Pincus describes it in this mornings report:
PINCUS (8/11/05): After he went public in 2003 about the trip, senior Bush administration officials, trying to discredit Wilson's findings, told reporters that Wilson's wife, who worked at the CIA, was the one who suggested the Niger mission for her husband. Days later, Plame was named as an "agency operative" by syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak, who has said he did not realize he was, in effect, exposing a covert officer. A Senate committee report would later say evidence indicated Plame suggested Wilson for the trip.Since these matters take us into the weeds, lets note a small problem with Pincus logic; he suggests a contradiction between the Senate report and the CIAs recent claims, although none formally exists. (Its possible that Plame suggested Wilson for the 2002 trip, and the Directorate subsequently chose him.) It would be a better world if reporters avoided these sand traps. But at any rate, concerning the 1999 trip, Pincus scales down his earlier language, which he attributed to CIA officials. Today, he doesnt say that Plame arranged that trip; he says she suggested Wilson for the job. He attributes this claim to Wilson himself, and to the Senate Intelligence report. For the record, heres the passage in question:
Over the past months, however, the CIA has maintained that Wilson was chosen for the trip by senior officials in the Directorate of Operations counterproliferation division (CPD)—not by his wife—largely because he had handled a similar agency inquiry in Niger in 1999. On that trip, Plame, who worked in that division, had suggested him because he was planning to go there, according to Wilson and the Senate committee report.
SENATE INTELLIGENCE REPORT (page 39): The former ambassador had traveled previously to Niger on the CIAs behalf [REDACTION]. The former ambassador was selected for the 1999 trip after his wife mentioned to her supervisors that her husband was planning a business trip to Niger in the near future and might be willing to use his contacts in the region [REDACTION]. Because the former ambassador did not uncover any information about [REDACTION] during this visit to Niger, the CPD did not distribute an intelligence report on his visit.According to Pincus, Wilson seems to agree that Plame suggested him for his 1999 trip. We dont think theres anything wrong with that, but readers may remember how hotly Wilson disputed the notion that she would have suggested him for such a trip. Indeed, in his book, The Politics of Truth, Wilson said that such a claim was false on the face of it. Indeed, Plame would never do something like that. As everyone knows, public servants do everything possible to avoid the appearance of nepotism:
WILSON (page 346): Quite apart from the matter of her employment, the claim that Valerie had played any substantive role in the decision to ask me to go to Niger [in 2002] was false on the face of it. Anyone who knows anything about the government bureaucracy knows that public servants go to great lengths to avoid nepotism or any appearance of it. Family members are expressly forbidden from accepting employment that places them in any direct professional relationship, even once or twice removed. Absurd as these lengths may seem, a supervisor literally cannot even supervise the supervisor of the supervisor of another family member without high-level approval. Valerie could not have stood in the chain of command had she tried to. Dick Cheney might be able to find a way to appoint one of his daughters to a key decision-making position in the State Departments Middle East Bureau, as he did; but Valerie could notand would not if she couldhave had anything to do with the CIA decision to ask me to travel to Niamey.In this passage, Wilson was directly disputing this claim from Novaks original column: Two senior administration officials told me Wilsons wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report (see page 345). That was ridiculous, Wilson was saying. Anyone who knows anything would have known how stupid it was. But uh-oh! Now we read, in Pincus report, that Plame did suggest Wilson for a previous trip. She did suggest Wilsons name in 1999—the very thing he later insisted that no public servant would do.
For ourselves, we dont have a problem with any of Plames conduct. Did Plame suggest Wilson in 1999? If she did so, we dont care; he was plainly qualified for the 2002 trip, and we assume he was qualified for the earlier mission too. And when did she write that memo in 2002, the one which listed her husbands Nigerien contacts? We dont care about that matter either. All things being equal, it would have been better if the CPD had sent someone else on these trips to Niger; as we have seen in the past two years, the appearance of nepotism can indeed lead to endless, pointless, tangential discussions—discussions which have nothing to do with any substantive matter. But according to Pincus, Plame did suggest Wilsons name for a trip—and in his book, Wilson insisted that no public servant would ever do such a thing. Anyone who knows anything about the government bureaucracy would realize that, he said.
As we have often said (after a rude initial posting), Wilson served his country brilliantly in Iraq. We assume he did so in other postings during his diplomatic career. And no one has ever claimed there was anything wrong with his 2002 report on Niger—a report which issued from a trip he was fully qualified to undertake. But by the time he went public in July 2003, there were clear problems with his logic, and he was often less than forthcoming about some aspects of his trip. This is why we have cautioned readers about the Standard Story on Niger. This is one of the rare cases, in the past dozen years, where the mainstream press corps essentially adopted the Dem/lib version of a public dispute. Many standard frameworks about this case come to us straight from Wilson—and for whatever reason, Wilson began showing a tendency to overstatement by the spring of 2003. Next week, well take a longer look at this matter, showing you better what we mean. In the meantime, well wait for Patrick Fitzgerald to issue indictments or to present a public report. What actually happened in this case? It seems that Fitzgerald may believe that a major crime has been committed. But is that true? And what might that crime be? (It may turn out that Fitzgerald is exploring after-the-fact misconduct, like perjury or obstruction of justice.) Because we think that Wilson tended to overstate things once he got in the hunt, we plan to wait to find out. Well learn more in the near future.
HOWLING WOLFF: What do we mean when we say that the mainstream press has largely adopted Wilsons framework? In the current Vanity Fair, Michael Wolff offers this overview of the case:
WOLFF (9/05): You always want to tell the story instead of having the story told about you. Valerie Plames husband, Joseph Wilson, was trying to tell a story—that the administration was making a nonsense case about Saddam buying uranium in Africa. So Karl Rove told a get-even story about Joseph Wilson.But that, to a T, is Wilsons version of this matter. In this version, Wilson is completely sincere, and there is no sign that his claims against Bush may not make perfect sense. Therefore, the only reason for pushing back would be the desire to get even. An observer is free to adopt this story, of course—but its clearly the Wilson story. Meanwhile, in the course of telling this story, Wolff misstates what Bush said in the State of the Union—while asserting that his statement was nonsense, of course. But thats the way things tend to go when the press corps adopts a pet framework.
Yes, thats the way it typically goes when the press corps adopts a group framework. Over the course of the past dozen years, the press corps has routinely adopted the RNC framework in stories like this—frameworks which cut against Clinton/Gore/Kerry. But when Wilson went public in July 03, the slow-moving corps was beginning to notice that Bushs case regarding Iraq had largely been fixed—embellished, sexed-up. Result? They rushed to adopt Wilsons version of this colorful story—and when the press adopts favored tales, lets just say that results may vary.
Were crimes committed in this matter? Were U.S. security assets damaged? We expect to learn more from Fitzgerald. But now it turns out that Plame did suggest Wilson for a trip—the very thing Wilson said that she never would do! Are you sure that the rest of this story is accurate? We arent. Well wait for Fitzgerald.
WHEN TO BAIL: Wolff has a remarkable theory about when a scribe should abandon a pledge of confidentiality:
WOLFF: As soon as it becomes clear that an event had occurred that, if exposed, might change the course of the government, one which you, the gallant news organization, have got the skinny on (not least because your own employees have been involved in the deal), you print the story.Wed love to see a scribe offer that deal! Well protect your identity—unless the story gets hot! Meanwhile, Wolff makes clear, at several points, that he doesnt know if a crime was committed when Rove and others passed info RE Plame. But so what? Scribes should have tattled-taled on their sources anyway! The heroine here is Wolffs teen-aged daughter, who asks her father, in paragraph 2, why he didnt break this story two years back. Actually, she haughtily criticized Wolff, he relates. Our analysts cheered when she did that.