Today is one of those overflowing with so much news and commentary that it’s hard to know where to begin.
First of all, Bob Woodward has revealed new information in the Valerie Plame case that could be staggering in its importance. But the only problem is it’s difficult to validate what Woodward is saying — and some of the best reporters in the Washington Post that Woodward has spun into his tale say he’s got the story wrong.
Woodward said that he heard that Valerie Plame Wilson was a CIA covert operative a month before Scooter Libby divulged that information to New York Times reporter Judith Miller.
In part, Woodward’s story must be, at least in part, true because a source reporting to Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald brought it to the investigator’s attention. This new theatre in the Plame case was seemingly not promulgated by Woodward.
But here is some of the more disturbing context for Woodward’s revelations. The Post reports that Woodward never mentioned this high level contact of his and involvement in the Plame outing to Washington Post Managing Editor Leonard Downie until a month ago:
Woodward never mentioned this contact — which was at the center of a criminal investigation and a high-stakes First Amendment legal battle between the prosecutor and two news organizations — to his supervisors until last month. Downie said in an interview yesterday that Woodward told him about the contact to alert him to a possible story. He declined to say whether he was upset that Woodward withheld the information from him.
Woodward has apparently testified that he passed on what he knew to Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus, who denies this. I happen to know Pincus — and this veteran reporter is meticulous with detail. From the report today:
Woodward’s statement said he testified: “I told Walter Pincus, a reporter at The Post, without naming my source, that I understood Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA as a WMD analyst.”
Pincus said he does not recall Woodward telling him that. In an interview, Pincus said he cannot imagine he would have forgotten such a conversation around the same time he was writing about Wilson.
“Are you kidding?” Pincus said. “I certainly would have remembered that.”
Pincus said Woodward may be confused about the timing and the exact nature of the conversation. He said he remembers Woodward making a vague mention to him in October 2003. That month, Pincus had written a story explaining how an administration source had contacted him about Wilson. He recalled Woodward telling him that Pincus was not the only person who had been contacted.
But the MOST OUTRAGEOUS statement by Bob Woodward follows, and I credit the Washington Post for exposing this man’s vanity and idiocy. The Post reports that Woodward pooh-poohed the Fitzgerald investigation into the Valerie Plame/CIA case — even though he had vital information that was relevant to the investigation all along — and knew it.
The President put his credibility on the line regarding this CIA case. The first White House official in 130 years was indicted because of this case — and Bob Woodward is saying that it is an insignificant matter. And now he has a “smoking gun”?
From the Post:
Woodward, who is preparing a third book on the Bush administration, has called Fitzgerald “a junkyard-dog prosecutor” who turns over every rock looking for evidence. The night before Fitzgerald announced Libby’s indictment, Woodward said he did not see evidence of criminal intent or of a major crime behind the leak.
“When the story comes out, I’m quite confident we’re going to find out that it started kind of as gossip, as chatter,” he told CNN’s Larry King.
Woodward also said in interviews this summer and fall that the damage done by Plame’s name being revealed in the media was “quite minimal.”
“When I think all of the facts come out in this case, it’s going to be laughable because the consequences are not that great,” he told National Public Radio this summer.
Woodward’s celebrity-status has seriously blinded him and affected his judgment about quality journalism and his responsibilities to the public. He should never have been making such comments on television about the Plame case if he was, in fact, involved. He should have RECUSED himself in such discussion.
Now, his revelations must become central to the Plame story — and they threaten significantly the direction that Fitzgerald takes in the investigation.
Woodward should tell what he knows — and he should be responsible to what really occurred — but he must be held ACCOUNTABLE for his irresponsibility in the Plame case.
Tomorrow, the Post — in an editorial penned by Leonard Downie — better make clear that Bob Woodward gets no “Judy Miller”-like protection or nod of support from the reporting staff of the paper. He has violated the public trust by both withholding information he had in a key investigation, while playing pundit on Larry King, and now upending things late in the process.
— Steve Clemons
UPDATE: Atrios has transcript of Woodward exchange with Larry King. Woodward crossed lots of lines.