by ANDREW SEIFTER
July 15, 2005
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In a July 15 article reporting new details in the ongoing criminal investigation into the leak of CIA officer Valerie Plame's identity, the Associated Press distorted a remark by former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV to falsely report that Wilson "acknowledged his wife [Plame] was no longer in an undercover job at the time Novak's column first identified her." In fact, Wilson merely emphasized that his wife's cover was blown at the moment when columnist Robert D. Novak revealed her identity in a July 2003 column.
From the AP report:
In an interview on CNN Thursday before the latest revelation, Wilson kept up his criticism of the White House, saying [White House senior adviser Karl] Rove's conduct was an "outrageous abuse of power ... certainly worthy of frog-marching out of the White House."
But at the same time, Wilson acknowledged his wife was no longer in an undercover job at the time Novak's column first identified her. "My wife was not a clandestine officer the day that Bob Novak blew her identity," he said.
Federal law prohobits goverment [sic] officials from divulging the identity of an undercover intelligence officer. But in order to bring charges, prosecutors must prove the official knew the officer was covert and nonetheless outed his or her identity.
But the context of the interview on the July 14 edition of CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports demonstrates that the AP misconstrued and falsely reported Wilson's remarks. In stating that "My wife was not a clandestine officer the day that Bob Novak blew her identity," Wilson was simply noting that Plame's identity was no longer secret after Novak publicly revealed it. In fact, when host Wolf Blitzer specifically asked Wilson if his wife "hadn't been a clandestine officer for some time before" Novak's column was published, Wilson responded that he could not comment on her past status as an undercover officer, but noted that "the CIA believed that a possible crime had been committed." The implication of Wilson's statement is clear. Had Plame not been a clandestine officer at the time Novak published her identity, the CIA would not have believed a possible crime had been committed.
From the July 14 edition of CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports:
BLITZER: But the other argument that's been made against you is that you've sought to capitalize on this extravaganza, having that photo shoot with your wife [in the January 2004 Vanity Fair magazine], who was a clandestine officer of the CIA, and that you've tried to enrich yourself writing this book and all of that.
What do you make of those accusations, which are serious accusations, as you know, that have been leveled against you?
WILSON: My wife was not a clandestine officer the day that Bob Novak blew her identity.
BLITZER: But she hadn't been a clandestine officer for some time before that?
WILSON: That's not anything that I can talk about. And, indeed, I'll go back to what I said earlier, the CIA believed that a possible crime had been committed, and that's why they referred it to the Justice Department.
She was not a clandestine officer at the time that that article in Vanity Fair appeared.
And as Media Matters for America has documented, multiple press outlets reported that Plame was an undercover CIA operative at the time Novak wrote his column.
Note: After this item was written, but before it was posted, the AP corrected its error. New versions of the article read:
In an interview on CNN earlier Thursday before the latest revelation, Wilson kept up his criticism of the White House, saying Rove's conduct was an "outrageous abuse of power ... certainly worthy of frog-marching out of the White House."
Wilson also said "my wife was not a clandestine officer the day that Bob Novak blew her identity."
In an interview Friday, Wilson said his comment was meant to reflect that his wife lost her ability to be a covert agent because of the leak, not that she had stopped working for the CIA beforehand.
Though the AP ran a correction, other news outlets had already repeated its mistake. CNN's Ed Henry told viewers that "Wilson himself suggested that she was not undercover." The Drudge Report link to the AP story suggested the same thing, and numerous other news outlets picked up the AP article.