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March 14, 2006
Armitage The Plame Leaker? Maybe ...

Matt Drudge leaked a portion of an article appearing in the new Vanity Fair which quotes Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee as confirming that Richard Armitage, the right-hand man to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, was the first government official to leak Valerie Plame's status to the press. Armitage has been one of the prime suspects for those who, like Tom Maguire, have followed the case closely. However, Bradlee's own paper delivers quite a walkback in today's report from Jim VandeHei:

In an article to be published in the magazine today, Bradlee is quoted as saying: "That Armitage is the likely source is a fair assumption." Armitage was deputy secretary of state in President Bush's first term.

In an interview yesterday, Bradlee said he does know the identity of Woodward's source and does not recall making that precise statement to a Vanity Fair reporter. He said he has no interest in unmasking the official who first told Woodward about Plame in June 2003.

"I don't think I said it," Bradlee said. "I know who his source is, and I don't want to get into it. . . . I have not told a soul who it is."

This calls the entire Vanity Fair article into serious question. Under normal circumstances, a person quoted in a news report would not have much credibility when claiming to be misquoted. However, when the person in question has the experience in news reporting that Bradlee has, one has to think that he would have been very careful in response to questions about sources. He confirms that he does know the source (although Bob Woodward, curiously, insists that he never told Bradlee the name of the leaker). Why, then, would he have gone through the elaborate rhetorical device of saying that Armitage was "a fair assumption"?

Vanity Fair says that the article's author, Marie Brenner, was not available for comment. If VF wants to retain its credibility, then Brenner better have that quote on tape and in the context of a revelation, and not just some spitballing about various theories on the leak's identity. If it comes down to a he said/she said routine, Bradlee will win that tussle. He kept Mark Felt's identity as Deep Throat a secret for over 30 years, and it's doubtful that a VF reporter would have bested him in this instance.

That said, Armitage is a fair assumption, for all the reasons that Tom Maguire has posted at Just One Minute. If that assumption proves correct -- and Bradlee didn't deny it -- then it turns the episode on its head. The assumption from the Left has been that the government leaked it to attack Joe Wilson for opposing the Bush foreign policy agenda, especially on Iraq. Armitage, however, is not known for his slavish devotion to the Bush White House. In fact, he has been rather bitter and open about his dislike for the administration, and certainly wasn't Joe Company in 2003 when this occurred. Given that the Left has demanded prosecution and long jail times for Scooter Libby and his boss, Dick Cheney, for their alleged roles in this leak, will that demand continue for Armitage and St. Colin of Powell, the darling of the Left during the first Bush term?

If Armitage is truly the leaker, don't expect this case to go much further. It would kill any attempt to cast the leak as a political attack in defense of George Bush, frankly because Armitage would be more likely to have been on the side of Joe Wilson and the Iraq War's critics than manning the political front lines for Bush. This will fade into obscurity as yet another hysterical attempt by the Left to attack a president they could not defeat at the polls.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 14, 2006 6:18 AM

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