Also, although Armitage may have had doubts about invading Iraq in 2003, he was no peacenik, as some Washington journalists believed.
In 1998, Armitage had been one of 18 signatories to a seminal letter from the neoconservative Project for the New American Century urging President Bill Clinton to oust Saddam Hussein by military force if necessary.
Armitage joined a host of neoconservative icons, such as Elliott Abrams, John Bolton, William Kristol, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld. Many of the signers became architects of Bush’s Iraq War policy five years later.
Picking the Press
In mid-June 2003, as the White House fretted over the potential impact from Wilson’s Niger-yellowcake criticism, Cheney and Libby began to pick out reporters who were considered friendly and likely would help in the anti-Wilson campaign.
On June 23, 2003, Libby briefed New York Times reporter Judith Miller about Wilson and may have passed on the tip about Wilson’s wife working at the CIA at that time. [NYT, Oct. 25, 2005]
Other administration officials also were reaching out to journalists. About the same time as the Libby-Miller meeting, conservative columnist Robert Novak received a surprise call from Armitage’s office offering an interview.
“During his quarter of a century in Washington, I had had no contact with Armitage before our fateful interview,” Novak wrote later. “I tried to see him in the first 2 ½ 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.”
Novak dated the call from Armitage’s office at about two weeks before Wilson went public with his article about the Niger story on July 6, 2003. In other words, Armitage’s outreach to Novak and Libby’s briefing of Miller came at virtually the same time. [Novak column, Washington Post, Sept. 14, 2006]
As the White House was pulling its wagons into a defensive circle, Wilson was deciding to attach his name directly to his charges of manipulated intelligence.
In The New York Times opinion section on July 6, 2003, Wilson published his article, entitled “What I Didn’t Find in Africa,” in which he described his Niger mission and said the White House had “twisted” intelligence to justify war. The same day he appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” to expand on his charges.
As Cheney read Wilson’s article, a perturbed Vice President scribbled in the margins the questions he wanted pursued. “Have they [CIA officials] done this sort of thing before?” Cheney wrote. “Send an Amb[assador] to answer a question? Do we ordinarily send people out pro bono to work for us? Or did his wife send him on a junket?”
Though Cheney did not write down Plame’s name, his questions indicated that he was well aware that she worked for the CIA and was in a position (dealing with WMD issues) to have a hand in her husband’s assignment to check out the Niger reports.
That same eventful day – July 6, 2003 – Armitage called Carl W. Ford Jr., the assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research, at home and asked him to send a copy of Grossman’s memo about Wilson to Secretary of State Powell. Since Powell was preparing to leave with Bush on a state visit to Africa, Ford forwarded Grossman’s memo to the White House for delivery to Powell. [NYT, July 16, 2005]
The next day, July 7, Libby took the unusual step of inviting White House press secretary Ari Fleischer out to lunch. There, Libby told Fleischer that Wilson’s wife worked in the CIA’s counter-proliferation division, where most CIA officers operate in a covert capacity. Libby “added that this was something hush-hush or on the QT, that not many people knew this information,” Fleischer later testified.
Giving this sensitive information to a press secretary suggested that Libby was looking for ways to disseminate the news to the media. Fleischer then joined the presidential party on a five-day state visit to African capitals.