Stonewalling on Wilson

Article excerpt

The publication of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's book, The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies That Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity, affords a fresh opportunity to consider how George W. Bush has dodged accountability for a White House scandal.

It was back in July that conservative columnist Robert Novak identified Wilson's wife, Valerie, as a CIA operative specializing in weapons counterproliferation. Novak attributed this information to "two senior administration officials." At the time, Wilson, a prominent critic of the war, was causing trouble for the White House, having revealed that in February 2002 he traveled to Niger for the CIA and essentially debunked the allegation that Iraq had been shopping for uranium there. However, in his 2003 State of the Union address, Bush had relied on this charge to suggest that Iraq was close to developing nuclear weapons. Wilson's disclosure blew a hole in the Bush case for war and forced the White House to acknowledge that the President had used a spurious allegation, easy to disprove, based on forged documents.

The Novak column-which ruined Valerie Wilson's undercover career and perhaps endangered her and her contacts-seemed like thuggish payback. Or an attempt to discredit Wilson's trip to Niger as a junket arranged by his wife. (It wasn't.) Or a message to others: Don't cross this Administration. Or all of the above. But in blowing her cover, the Bush henchmen may also have violated a federal law making it a felony for a government official to reveal the identity of a covert officer. Two days after the Novak piece appeared, I was the first reporter to note that the Wilson leak was evidence of a possible White House crime; but it was not until September, when the news broke that the CIA had asked the Justice Department to investigate the White House, that the leak story went big-time.

Since then, the Administration has hidden behind the ongoing criminal investigation, which, after the recusal of Attorney General John Ashcroft, is now in the hands of Patrick Fitzgerald, the US Attorney in Chicago. But the question remains: Why has Bush taken a lackadaisical attitude toward a leak that compromised national security and possibly violated the law? …