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Woodward’s Plame-Leak Deep Throat

He is referred to as “official one” and he is the mysterious senior Bush administration official who unmasked the identity of an undercover CIA operative to Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Bob Woodward in mid-June 2003 and conservative columnist Robert Novak a month later.

The identity of this official is shrouded in secrecy. In fact, his name, government status, and the substance of his conversation with Woodward about the undercover officer are under a protective seal in US District Court for the District of Columbia.

But Woodward tape-recorded the interview he had with “official one.” Woodward gave a copy of the tape to Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, according to a Feb. 24 federal court hearing, a transcript of which was obtained by this reporter.

Woodward emerged as central figure in the leak of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson in November. For the better part of two years, Woodward had publicly discounted the importance of the Plame Wilson leak and had referred to Fitzgerald as a “junkyard dog” prosecutor in interviews during the course of the investigation. He then revealed in November that he had been told about Plame Wilson’s CIA employment in June 2003–before any other journalist.

Woodward wrote a first-person account in the Washington Post in November about the individual who told him that Plame Wilson worked for the CIA. He identified his source as a “senior administration official.” He also said that the interview with the official who told him about Plame Wilson had been set up simply as “confidential background interviews for my 2004 book ‘Plan of Attack’ about the lead-up to the Iraq war, ongoing reporting for the Washington Post and research for a book on Bush’s second term to be published in 2006.”

White House officials who are sympathetic to I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff who is charged with perjury and obstruction of justice for allegedly lying to a grand jury and FBI investigators about his role in the Plame Wilson leak, say “official one” is former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

But numerous senior officials at the State Department, the CIA, and the National Security Council have said that “official one” is National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. Hadley had been a source of information for Woodward when he wrote Plan of Attack, according to the book’s footnotes.

Hadley was also a member of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG), which was formed in August 2002 by Andrew Card, President Bush’s chief of staff, to publicize the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. WHIG operated out of Cheney’s office. The group has become wrapped up in Fitzgerald’s investigation. The special prosecutor last year subpoenaed the WHIG’s emails and other documents.

But news reports over the past week have given more weight to Armitage as Woodward’s source, based solely on the fact that former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee gave an interview to Vanity Fair suggesting that it’s fair to assume Armitage was Woodward’s source. Bradlee issued a statement a day after the article was published saying he was misquoted and never mentioned Armitage.

One thing is for sure, neither Hadley nor Armitage are commenting, not even to issue a denial. Last week, Armitage’s assistant at his lobbying firm, Armitage International, said last week that Armitage would comment on the “rumors” once Fitzgerald completed his investigation. Hadley’s spokesman would not confirm or deny anything related to the National Security Adviser’s involvement in the leak.

It does appear, however, that Libby’s defense team is actively trying to shift the blame for the leak onto other parts of the government, including the State Department, the CIA and the National Security Council. They have engaged in a game of semantics, saying that when Libby testified that he heard about Plame Wilson from reporters his testimony wasn’t limited to a specific reporter.

With Woodward’s tape-recorded interview now in the hands of the special counsel, the attorneys representing Libby have zeroed in on three words “official one” apparently uttered during his conversation with Woodward: “Everyone knows it.”

But one of the attorneys on Libby’s defense team wasn’t supposed to mention the existence of the tape-recorded interview in open court because it may cause the unknown government official to come under intense media scrutiny.

“Your Honor, there is one thing that I neglected to mention and again this is subject to filings that have been made under seal but there is, in fact, a transcript of a tape recording that involves official one,” Libby’s attorney William Jeffress said during the two and a half hour hearing.

“In the particular transcript there is, and the government filed something else yesterday, there is a factual dispute as to what is said or what is meant by a portion of the transcript wherein it appears the official saying, “everyone knows it,” referring to the wife’s employment at the CIA,” Jeffress added. “We have not heard that tape. If, in fact, as the transcript suggests that one official said, ‘Everyone knows it,’ who did he mean by ‘Everyone knows it?'”

Libby’s attorneys argued that those three words refer to reporters, meaning that it was common knowledge among journalists that Plame Wilson was employed by the CIA, even though her status was classified.

Fitzgerald disagreed with the interpretation.

“Your Honor, now that we have sort of burned what was sealed, my understanding of that conversation, there are people talking over each other, my understanding is that was a reference that everyone knows it, that Mr. Wilson is the unnamed ambassador,” Fitzgerald said. “Mr. Wilson didn’t reveal himself as the unnamed ambassador until July 6. This was prior to that time. We turned it over in an abundance of caution but I don’t believe that says it, and frankly there is a very limited number of reporters that we found out who had known it. I can’t represent we know every reporter because we took seriously the attorney general guidelines.”

“Official one” faces no criminal charges in the ongoing investigation into the leak of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson and is said to be cooperating with the special counsel’s two year-old probe.

But Libby’s defense attorneys suggested during the February 24 court hearing that “official one” is responsible for the leak.

Jeffress and Theodore Wells, another attorney on Libby’s defense team, have argued that Fitzgerald should provide the defense with all of the evidence his investigation has obtained regarding “official one” because it’s crucial in proving that Libby wasn’t lying when he testified that he heard about Plame Wilson’s CIA work from reporters.

“Your Honor, simply it is a fact that is key to this case to know what reporters out there knew or had heard about Wilson’s wife, what they were saying to each other, what they were saying to government officials,” Jeffress said. “And here is a key person, the first person that we know of, according to the evidence, actually discussed Mr. Wilson’s wife’s employment with a reporter and not only did it then but did it again with a separate reporter later. This is some person not in the White House.”

At the February 24 court hearing, Jeffress, Libby’s attorney, in arguing that the defense should be provided with additional evidence such as handwritten notes, transcripts, letters, emails and phone logs Fitzgerald collected during the investigation, said “official one” discussed Plame Wilson’s CIA status with at least two reporters, one of whom told Libby that “official one” told him that Plame Wilson was a CIA officer.

Sources close to the case have identified Woodward and Novak as the reporters “official one” spoke to about Plame Wilson.

Fitzgerald argued that Libby’s attorneys are routinely circumventing the facts surrounding the case against Libby, which is about perjury not who first unmasked Plame Wilson’s identity.

“Your Honor, the one thing that is clear is we should focus on what the allegations are,” Fitzgerald said. “The indictment alleges that on Monday Mr. Libby told [former White House press secretary Ari] Fleischer this information about Mr. Wilson’s wife and indicated that it wasn’t widely known, on a Monday.”

“On Wednesday he claims to have learned it as if it were new for the first time from [“Meet the Press’s” Tim] Russert in his conversation even though we’ve alleged six different conversations, more than six conversations in the month before he discussed it with everyone from the vice president to people at the CIA, to ranking officials at the State Department,” Fitzgerald added.

JASON LEOPOLD is the author of the explosive NEWS JUNKIE, to be published in April on Process/Feral House books.

 

 

 

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JASON LEOPOLD is the former Los Angeles bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires where he spent two years covering the energy crisis and the Enron bankruptcy. He just finished writing a book about the crisis, due out in December through Rowman & Littlefield. He can be reached at: jasonleopold@hotmail.com

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