The savage left-wing attack on Judith Miller from inside and outside of the New York Times completely misses the point. She is under attack for being a lackey of the Bush Administration when she failed to do the administration and the public a big favor. She could have done a potential Pulitzer Prize-winning story that could have broken the Joseph Wilson case wide open. It is a story exposing the Wilson mission to Africa as a CIA operation designed to undermine President Bush.
For 85 days in jail, Miller protected her source, Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, but the fact remains that she never used the explosive information Libby gave her. Now we know, according to Miller’s account, that Libby told her about a CIA war with the Bush Administration over Iraq intelligence and that he vociferously complained to her about CIA leaks to the press. But Miller decided that what Libby told her was not newsworthy. Why?
We were critical of Miller from the start because she went to jail rather than testify under oath and tell the truth before a grand jury. Eventually, she did testify, under questionable and mysterious circumstances. She claims she insisted that her testimony be restricted to her conversations with Libby. Clearly, Miller had a relationship with Libby as a source. On that matter, she is “guilty” as charged. But the media attacks on Miller really show her critics do not regard Libby as a source worth protecting. Libby, according to columnist Frank Rich, is a “neocon” who misled the nation to get us into the Iraq War. On the other hand, Wilson is supposed to be a hero and whistleblower. He came back from Africa, after investigating the Iraq-uranium link, and concluded that the Bush Administration was lying. His wife, CIA employee Valerie Plame, had her identity revealed by conservative columnist Robert Novak because Bush officials were upset that her husband had told the truth. At least this is their version of the facts.
But if Miller was too cozy with the White House, why didn’t she rush into print with Libby’s version of events and use him as an anonymous source? Miller couldn’t even be counted on to do a story based on high-level information provided to her by the vice president’s top aide. It was information that was not only true but explosive. Libby was letting Miller in on the real story of the Wilson affair―that the CIA was out to get the President, and that the agency was using Wilson to get Bush.
The fact that she didn’t write a story has been cited many times, supposedly to prove that Miller should never have been called by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald before the grand jury. If she didn’t write a story, we were told, she shouldn’t have to be ordered to talk about her sources. Fitzgerald obviously believed the information she had about her sources was relevant to the case. And it was. But Miller didn’t write any of this up at the time. That’s mighty strange behavior for a pawn of the administration.
In my recent special report on this matter, former prosecutor Joseph diGenova called the Wilson mission a CIA “covert operation” against Bush. Like the Novak column, a Miller story about this matter could have raised questions about the purpose of the trip and who was behind it. But if Miller had done such a story for the Times, the impact could have been enormous. After all, the Times was the chosen vessel for Wilson to write his column claiming there was no Iraq uranium deal with Niger.
Miller could have revealed that Wilson was recommended for the mission by his own wife, a CIA employee. His wife’s role was critically important because a truly undercover CIA operative would not recommend her husband for an overseas trip and then expect to maintain her “secret” identity as he proceeded to write an article for the New York Times and become a public spectacle because of it. Her role in the trip means that she was not undercover in any real sense of the word.
As I have noted previously, Herbert Romerstein, a former professional staff member of the House Intelligence Committee, says that Plame’s involvement in sending her husband on the CIA mission to Africa meant that when Wilson went public about it, foreign intelligence services would investigate all of his family members for possible CIA connections. Those intelligence services would not simply assume that he went on the mission because he was a former diplomat. They would investigate his wife. And that would inevitably lead to unraveling the facts about Valerie Wilson, or Valerie Plame, and her involvement with the CIA. Romerstein says that Plame’s role in arranging the mission for her husband is solid proof that she was not concerned about having her “cover” blown because she was not truly under cover.
By any account, she was hardly a James Bond-type. Plame’s “cover,” a company called “Brewster-Jennings & Associates,” was so flimsy that she used it as her affiliation when she made a 1999 contribution to Al Gore for president. She identified herself as “Valerie Wilson” in this case. The same Federal Election Commission records showing her contribution to Gore also reveal a $372 contribution to America Coming Together, when the group was organizing to defeat Bush.
If Miller had done some extra digging, she would have discovered that, contrary to what Wilson said publicly in the Times, his findings were interpreted by many officials as additional evidence of an Iraqi interest in obtaining uranium. This kind of story, if it had been published in the New York Times, could have completely undermined Wilson’s credibility. It would have made it ridiculous for the Times to subsequently demand the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the Bush White House. The Times went ahead and made that editorial demand, only to have it backfire on the paper when Fitzgerald demanded Miller’s testimony.
The CIA obviously knew the facts of the case. Nevertheless, with Wilson and the media, led by the Times, generating a feeding frenzy over the publication of his wife’s name and affiliation, the agency pushed for a Justice Department investigation, on the false premise that revealing her identity was a crime. This is what started it all. It was the perfect way to divert attention from a much-needed investigation of the CIA, the ultimate source of the questionable intelligence that the administration used to make the case for the Iraq War.
Eventually, some members of the press caught up with some parts of the truth. Susan Schmidt of the Washington Post was honest enough to admit, when the evidence came out, that Wilson had misrepresented his wife’s role. Schmidt reported that the Senate Intelligence Committee report found that he was specifically recommended for the mission by his wife, “contrary to what he has said publicly.” By then, however, the media feeding frenzy was well underway and the facts of the case were being buried or shunted aside. And this takes us to where we are today―wondering whether Fitzgerald will indict Bush officials for making conflicting statements about the facts of the case. If the investigation was a real desire for truth and justice, Fitzgerald would drop the case and accuse the CIA of pursuing the matter for an illegitimate political reason. It’s the CIA―not the White House―that should be under investigation.
If Miller deserves criticism, it is for failing to write the story when Libby handed it to her on a silver platter. She had the perfect opportunity to set the record straight about some misinformation that had already appeared in her own paper. After all, it was Times columnist Nicholas Kristof who had asserted, in a May 6, 2003, column, that “I’m told by a person involved in the Niger caper that more than a year ago the vice president’s office asked for an investigation of the uranium deal, so a former U.S. ambassador to Africa was dispatched to Niger.” We now know that Wilson was the source of this information, and that it was false. He whitewashed the nature of the CIA role in the trip because he wanted to protect his wife. Wilson wanted people to think that the Vice President’s office was somehow behind his mission.
We also know, because of Miller’s account of her testimony under oath, that it was because of this misinformation that Libby talked to Miller and wanted to get out the other side of the story. The Vice President’s office, said by the liberal press to be at the center of the CIA leak “conspiracy,” was justifiably outraged over Wilson going public with misleading information about his mission and blasting the administration in the process. Miller also testified that she thought Plame’s CIA connection “potentially newsworthy.” You bet it was. But she didn’t write the story. This is where Miller failed her paper and the public.
Consider the record of the Times in this case. Editorially, the Times called for the investigation but didn’t want to cooperate with it. The paper also published the misleading Wilson and Kristof columns. And yet Miller, who didn’t write anything, is the Times journalist under fire in the press because she wrote stories about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs before the war and later talked to Libby about how the CIA had gotten the facts wrong! Miller has become a target even though it’s her colleagues who put the misleading Wilson column into the paper, published Kristof’s erroneous account, and called for the probe that resulted in Miller serving jail time.
Miller’s WMD stories are said by the hard left to be evidence of her reliance on the Bush Administration for information. In fact, it shows her dependence on the same sources that told the administration that Iraq had WMD. Those sources included CIA director George Tenet, a Clinton holdover, who told Bush that finding WMD in Iraq was a “slam dunk.”
We are still left with the mystery of why Miller didn’t write anything based on what Libby told her. She says she proposed a story. Miller and/or her editors may have been persuaded to drop it by other sources, who may have been in the CIA. It makes perfect sense. The CIA had been behind the Wilson trip from the beginning and, as Libby told Miller, had been trying to undercut the administration’s Iraq policy and divert attention from the agency’s poor performance on Iraqi WMD. The CIA did not want the full extent of its role uncovered and decided that the best way to divert attention from its own shabby performance was to accuse Bush officials of violating the law against identifying covert agents. This was one covert operation by the CIA on top of another. Miller watched the whole thing play out and refused to tell her own paper and the public what was really happening.
Miller says that she only talked to the grand jury about her conversations with Libby. She said she wanted to protect other sources she used on other stories. Miller’s 2001 book, Germs, on “Biological weapons and America’s secret war,” has several references to her other sources. Some are unnamed “analysts” at the CIA.
My own recent special report on this matter struck a chord with readers, one of whom said it is a case of “the CIA undermining and eliminating a president.” But Bush is still hanging on, dismissing the stream of stories on the case as “background noise.” Staying above the fray, when he has come under assault by America’s premier intelligence service, Bush is letting CIA director Porter Goss do the necessary job of cleaning house at this corrupt agency.
If some of Bush’s aides now go down on dubious charges of having faulty or inconsistent memories about the case, they could try to blow the whistle on the CIA in court. The CIA would most likely try to censor the proceedings on grounds of “national security” and protecting agency “operations.” For the sake of maintaining our democratic form of government and reigning in rogue elements at the CIA, the truth must come out.