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The other shoe has dropped in the Armitage-Plame scandal, and I don't mean Valerie Plame's addition of Richard Armitage to her lawsuit. Robert Novak, now free to discuss the sourcing for his infamous column that unmasked Plame as a CIA "operative", says that Armitage has gotten stuck in the spin cycle in his mea culpas over the past two weeks. In facr, far from the inadvertent disclosure between friends that Armitage paints it, Novak explains that the disclosure was quite deliberate:
A peculiar convergence had joined Armitage and me on the same historical path. During his quarter of a century in Washington, I had no contact with Armitage before our fateful interview. I tried to see him in the first 2 years of the Bush administration, but he rebuffed me — summarily and with disdain, I thought.
Then, without explanation, in June 2003, Armitage’s office said the deputy secretary would see me. This was two weeks before Joe Wilson surfaced himself as author of a 2002 report for the CIA debunking Iraqi interest in buying uranium in Africa.
I sat down with Armitage in his State Department office the afternoon of July 8 with tacit rather than explicit ground rules: deep background with nothing said attributed to Armitage or even an anonymous State Department official. Consequently, I refused to identify Armitage as my leaker until his admission was forced by Hubris, a new book by reporters Michael Isikoff and David Corn that absolutely identified him.
Late in my hourlong interview with Armitage. I asked why the CIA had sent Wilson — lacking intelligence experience, nuclear policy or recent contact with Niger — on the African mission. He told the Washington Post last week that his answer was: ‘‘I don’t know, but I think his wife worked out there.’’
Neither of us took notes, and nobody else was present. But I recalled our conversation that week in writing a column, while Armitage reconstructed it months later for federal prosecutors. He had told me unequivocally that Mrs. Wilson worked in the CIA’s Counter-Proliferation Division and that she had suggested her husband’s mission.
As for his current implications that he never expected this to be published, he noted that the story of Mrs. Wilson’s role fit the style of the old Evans-Novak column — implying to me it continued reporting Washington inside information.
Other bloggers have quoted the lead paragraphs of this column, but I find this the most revealing of the piece. Armitage spent decades in DC rebuffing Novak, who has a reputation for a rather passionate brand of conservatism. Armitage made it clear during his tenure at State working for Colin Powell that he disdained partisans, making that painfully and publicly clear both during and after his time in that position. He never hesitated to criticize the Bush administration's handling of the terror war, and after Powell left office made it clear that he despised people like Karl Rove, who he saw as rivals of Powell and himself.
However, all of a sudden, Novak doesn't just get a call returned, Armitage's office contacts him looking for an interview. Despite being a public official and having little reticence about publicly criticizing Bush policy, he swears Novak to anonymity, refusing to even allow the columnist to identify the source as coming from the State Department. Having arranged the interview and established complete anonymity, Armitage tells Novak all about Plame, Wilson, how he got the CIA assignment -- right down to the department in which she worked.
Three months later, only after the CIA referred the matter to the Department of Justice, Armitage suddenly recalls that he might have been Novak's source? Riiiiiiiight.
This does prompt some other questions. Novak's column explicitly shows Armitage deliberately planting the story, and given the odd circumstance of the interview, it cannot have been anything but. Why would Armitage do it? He certainly had no motivation to protect the Bush administration's Iraq policy from Wilson's fact-deficient attacks. He didn't like the Iraq war, either. Could Armitage have thought that Plame's involvement bolstered Wilson's case? Perhaps, but in the end it undermined his credibility after Wilson denied that she had any connection to his odd selection as an investigator.
Novak's column casts serious doubt on Armitage's protestations that he merely got too chatty with a professional contact. He and his staff went way out of their way to meet with Novak, and that makes the disclosure very deliberate indeed. He knew exactly what he did -- and that means he could have resolved the entire scandal at any time between July and October, before the investigation got under way. More than ever, Armitage has been revealed as a manipulator and a fundamentally dishonest person. That's not a crime, but it makes the entire Plame scandal a farce.Sphere It View blog reactions
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