The complainant speaks: Monday night, former UN Ambassador Joe Wilson appeared on MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann (Video via MSNBC.com) to tell his side of the story after filing last week's lawsuit against Vice President Dick Cheney, his former chief of staff Scooter Libby and presidential "Turd Blossom" Karl Rove for blowing his wife Valerie Plame's covert status by leaking her identity to the press. This interview came directly on the heels (though it was promised last week upon the announcement of the suit) of conservative columnist and victim of verbal diarrhea Robert Novak , who was the only person to print Plame's name (Time Magazine's Matthew Cooper published it online), and kept mum for the past three years over whether he'd come under the scrutiny of Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's ceiling lamp in the proverbial hot seat. Novak often said during the investigation that if he was ever going to discuss who his sources were, he would write all about in a very special after-school column. Well, it finally happened on July 12, and not a minute too soon. One day before the Wilsons filed their suit, Novak published his "tell-some" column online (put in perspective by MediaMatters.org here), then appeared on this week's edition of "Meet the Press." What did he have to offer? The usual: a bit from column A - "She wasn't covert" - a bit from column B - "The media (in this case, New York's Newsday) misquoted me."
The interview with Wilson was actually promised by Olbermann on the edition of his show the day the suit was filed, and he had the Wilsons' lawyer Edwin Cherminsky on his show the following day (Video via MSNBC.com). Olbermann set it up by reminding us all that even Robert Novak doesn't seem to know what he's talking about. In 2003, Novak told Newsday (in which I, full disclosure, have been published several times) that he did not "dig out" Plame's name, but that it was given to him and he used it. Later on, he said that a senior official had given him Plame's name. Then he said Newsday misquoted him. Now he says "They didn't give me the name." Well. That clears up everything. On to the interview with Joe Wilson.
Keith asks for Wilson's reaction to Novak's MTP appearance. Apparently, Wilson spoke with Novak right after the leak, and this is what Novak said: He claimed to have a CIA source, then quoted two administration sources, but then said he misspoke when he mentioned the CIA source. In his column last week, Novak named Bill Harlow as his confirming source. That's Bill Harlow, former spokesperson for the CIA. I'd put that in capital letters for emphasis, but it already is. Harlow told Novak not to use Plame's name, which is CIA-speak for, "Um, I really shouldn't have told you that. Oops. Um...So, oh my god! Bush said 'Shit' on the TV! And by the way, don't print that thing about the covert operative. It's a threat to national security."
Then Keith brings up the elephant in the room (GOP mascot pun intended): that Novak's statements are "unclear" and "self-contradictory." Are they suing to seek clarity in the case? Wilson says that's certainly one objective, but they are more concerned with "why they did this":
"The broader issue...is whether or not individuals who have enormous power in our democracy should be entitled to use that power to exact personal revenge, which is what this administration did, from Mr. Cheney on down."
Then there's that somewhat awkward element of why, if the Wilsons were so concerned about being exposed in the public to threats, the couple agreed to pose for Vanity Fair and make appearances at the White House Correspondents Dinner. This made Wilson laugh a little bit, as if to say, "Well what was the point in hiding after being exposed by your own federal government? Oh, and did you think we would just let them get away with it?" He conceded that Plame worked in a "highly sensitive position in intelligence services" that did, indeed, expose them to a great deal of threats that have been dealt with by law enforcement.
When asked if he was absolutely positive that the exposure of Plame was deliberate rather than, in Keith's words, "the inadvertent result of incompetent people playing with fire," Wilson pointed to the marked up copy of Wilson's original Op-Ed that belonged to the Vice President, saying, "The compromise of her identity was clearly deliberate." Going on with a big "Oh, no you didn't," Wilson says that in addition to the notes, the filings for the Libby trial (set for January 2007) show that the VP seems to have felt that he "had his manhood threatened." And that can lead me to do only one thing - post a link to the picture of Cheney's, er, manhood. (Hi, I'm 12.) Wilson added that having read three articles - his own, one by The New York Times' Nick Kristof and another by The New Republic's Spencer Ackerman and John Judis convinced the VP that it was being implied that he, himself, had sent Wilson on the trip to Niger. All three articles, Wilson says, maintain that the VP office rightly asked the question of the CIA about Saddam Hussein making attempts to acquire materials for nuclear weapons. According to Wilson, "I wrote my article, he [Cheney] just didn't read it very well." Rather than clear up the misstatements that made it into the 2003 State of the Union address, the administration instead tried to "justify a character assassination" and "smear campaign" by attacking Wilson and his wife.
Wilson explains that the White House claims to just want to get the facts out there, but what they didn't want to get out there was the fact that White House officials did not want the President to be a witness of fact to the leak. (Of course, if you've been following the case, Newsweek had a story in their April 17, 2006 issue entitled, subtly, "The Leaker in Chief?") They also didn't want the letter from the National Intelligence Council getting out that described the consensus of the American Intelligence Community that the claims about Niger was "baseless" (Wilson's word). Wilson said that they facts they did release were "crap."
By the way, did you all know that Bush said "shit"? I barely noticed, what with the huge conflict in the Middle East.