Walter Pincus extends his conflict of interest in covering Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame in today’s Washington Post, continuing his role as a purveyor of misinformation. He and Jim VandeHei write that Patrick Fitzgerald has widened his investigation, but still hasn’t come up with much:
The special prosecutor in the CIA leak probe has interviewed a wider range of administration officials than was previously known, part of an effort to determine whether anyone broke laws during a White House effort two years ago to discredit allegations that President Bush used faulty intelligence to justify the Iraq war, according to several officials familiar with the case.
Prosecutors have questioned former CIA director George J. Tenet and deputy director John E. McLaughlin, former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, State Department officials, and even a stranger who approached columnist Robert D. Novak on the street.
In doing so, special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald has asked not only about how CIA operative Valerie Plame’s name was leaked but also how the administration went about shifting responsibility from the White House to the CIA for having included 16 words in the 2003 State of the Union address about Iraqi efforts to acquire uranium from Africa, an assertion that was later disputed.
Casting a wider net might sound as though the investigation has caught fire, but when it includes bracing a stranger in the street who happened to converse with Robert Novak, it sounds more like desperation than a focused probe. Pincus makes this sound as though Fitzgerald might have decided to go fishing in order to justify the length and cost of this investigation, especially when it looks more likely that no crime actually took place. After all, Pincus himself notes that Fitzgerald declared that his investigation was almost complete when he tried to get Judith Miller on the stand, and that was months ago.
Pincus tries to add more to the issue of Plame’s role in sending her husband to Niger. Now the CIA supposedly claims that Plame did that three years earlier, but that she had nothing to do with the 2002 trip:
Using background conversations with at least three journalists and other means, Bush officials attacked Wilson’s credibility. 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.
If so, why didn’t the CIA mention that to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence? They deduced — through testimony and the revelation of a memorandum Plame wrote — that Plame had indeed pushed for Wilson to get the 2002 assignment, a finding that the CIA did not dispute at the time. It’s hard to dispute when the date on the memo makes the timing clear (emphases mine):
Some CPD officials could not recall how the office decided to contact the former ambassador, however, interviews and documents provided to the Committee indicate that his wife, a CPD employee, suggested his name for the trip. The CPD reports officer told Committee staff that the former ambassador’s wife “offered up his name” and a memorandum to the Deputy Chief of the CPD on February 12, 2002, from the former ambassador’s wife says, “my husband has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity.” This was just one day before CPD sent a cable DELETED requesting concurrence with CPD’s idea to send the former ambassador to Niger and requesting any additional information from the foreign government service on their uranium reports. The former ambassador’s wife told Committee staff that when CPD decided it would like to send the former ambassador to Niger, she approached her husband on behalf of the CIA and told him “there’s this crazy report” on a purported deal for Niger to sell uranium to Iraq.
Really. How hard was it to dispute the “new” information that Pincus and VandeHei got from their unnamed CIA contacts? Memos from Plame recommending Wilson’s involvement written in 2002 cannot have any application to the 1999 trip. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out, but apparently it takes a non-journalist to understand linear time.
This isn’t the first time that Pincus has been used by the CIA to channel misinformation through the pages of the Washington Post. As the SSCI report makes clear, Wilson lied to Pincus (and Nicholas Kristof at the NY Times) when he leaked information about his trip to Niger:
The former ambassador also told Committee staff that he was the source of a Washington Post article (“CIA Did Not Share Doubt on Iraq Data; Bush Used Report of Uranium Bid,” June 12, 2003) which said, “among the Envoy’s conclusions was that the documents may have been forged because `the dates were wrong and the names were wrong.” Committee staff asked how the former ambassador could have come to the conclusion that the “dates were wrong and the names were wrong” when he had never seen the CIA reports and had no knowledge of what names and dates were in the reports. The former ambassador said that he may have “misspoken” to the reporter when he said he concluded the documents were “forged.” He also said he may have become confused about his own recollection after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported in March 2003 that the names and dates on the documents were not correct and may have thought he had seen the names himself. The former ambassador reiterated that he had been able to collect the names of the government officials which should have been on the documents.
Once again, Pincus and the Post have made themselves patsies for the CIA to spin their involvement in leaking false information to the press about a war which the rank-and-file opposed. At some point, the Post should consider giving this story to a reporter who has less of an interest in helping to spread more misinformation to cover that up.
UPDATE: Tom Maguire has even more headscratchers from Plame stories today. It appears that the media has really begun to unravel on this story.