“At the end of the two conversations I wrote down in my notebook: ‘look who sent.’” Dickerson wrote. “What struck me was how hard both officials were working to knock down Wilson.” [John Dickerson, “Where’s My Subpoena?,” Slate, Feb. 7, 2006]
Back in Washington on July 11, Dickerson’s Time colleague, Matthew Cooper, was getting a similar earful from Rove, who tried to steer Cooper away from Wilson’s information on the Niger deception and toward the notion that the Niger trip was authorized by “Wilson’s wife, who apparently works at the agency [CIA] on WMD issues,” according to Cooper’s interview notes. [Newsweek, July 18, 2005, issue]
Cooper later got the information about Wilson’s wife confirmed by Cheney’s chief of staff Libby, who was peddling the same information to Judith Miller. On July 12, in a telephone conversation, Libby and Miller returned to the Wilson topic.
Miller’s notes contain a reference to a “Victoria Wilson,” apparently another misspelled reference to Wilson’s wife, Valerie. [NYT, Oct. 16, 2005]
But Miller, who was on the defensive inside The New York Times for her credulous reporting on the administration’s WMD claims, lacked the clout to push through the story about Wilson’s wife.
Two days later, on July 14, 2003, Novak published a column, citing two unnamed administration sources (Armitage and his ally Rove) outing Plame as a CIA officer and portraying Wilson’s Niger trip as a case of nepotism.
The disclosure of Plame’s identity effectively meant the end of her CIA career, exposure of her CIA front company Brewster Jennings, and put the lives of her overseas contacts in jeopardy. But the White House counterattack against Wilson had only just begun.
On July 20, 2003, NBC’s correspondent Andrea Mitchell told Wilson that “senior White House sources” had called her to stress “the real story here is not ‘the sixteen words’ but Wilson and his wife.”
The next day, Wilson said he was told by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews that “I just got off the phone with Karl Rove. He says and I quote, ‘Wilson’s wife is fair game.’”
However, by September, CIA officials, angered by the damage done to Plame’s spy network, struck back. They lodged a complaint with the Justice Department that the leaks may have amounted to an illegal exposure of a CIA officer.
A White House official told The Washington Post that the administration had informed at least six reporters about Plame. The official said the disclosure was “purely and simply out of revenge.” [Washington Post, Sept. 28, 2003]
But the initial investigation was under the control of Attorney General John Ashcroft, considered a right-wing Bush loyalist. So, the President and other White House officials confidently denied any knowledge of the leak. Bush even vowed to fire anyone who leaked classified material.
“The President has set high standards, the highest of standards, for people in his administration,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said on Sept. 29, 2003. “If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration.”
Bush personally announced he wanted to get to the bottom of the matter.
“If there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is,” Bush said on Sept. 30. “I want to know the truth. If anybody has got any information inside our administration or outside our administration, it would be helpful if they came forward with the information so we can find out whether or not these allegations are true.”
Yet, even as Bush was professing his curiosity and calling for anyone with information to step forward, he was withholding the fact that he had authorized the declassification of some secrets about the Niger uranium issue and had ordered Cheney to arrange for those secrets to be given to reporters.