Thursday, March 22, 2007

Was Valerie Plame Covert

If you've read much on the Valerie Plame/Joe Wilson case, you know that a central question was whether Valerie Plame was a covert operative under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act at the time of the leaking of her identity. If she was, then it was a crime to disclose her name; if not, then no crime was committed. (Check out this discussion by Tom Maguire on the point).

Anyway, today Novak touches on the question. Or more accurately, he touches on the ire of Congressional Republicans that CIA Director Hayden would tell Waxman's committee that she was, without ever having answered their frequent queries on the topic:

The former CIA employee's status is critical to the attempted political rehabilitation of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson and his wife. The Democratic target always has been Karl Rove, President Bush's principal adviser. The purpose of last week's hearing was to blame Rove for "outing" Plame, in preparation for revoking his security clearance...

Waxman and Democratic colleagues did not ask these pertinent questions: Had not Plame been outed years ago by a Soviet agent? Was she not on an administrative, not operational, track at Langley? How could she be covert if, in public view, she drove to work each day at Langley? What about comments to me by then CIA spokesman Bill Harlow that Plame never would be given another foreign assignment? What about testimony to the FBI that her CIA employment was common knowledge in Washington?

Instead of posing such questions, Waxman said flatly that Plame was covert, and cited Hayden as proof. The DCI's endorsement of Waxman's statement astounded Republicans whose queries about her had been rebuffed by the Agency. That confirmed Republican suspicions that Hayden is too close to Democrats.

Combined with the 'scandal' over US Attorneys, one can't help but wonder how the White House selects senior officials. Enough question has been raised about Plame's status that I seriously question whether Hayden is correct - at least until it is better explained. But to hand Henry Waxman such ammunition without at least telling Hoekstra and other interested Members of Congress that you have done so is unforgivable. Hayden should join the line of officials being called to the White House to have their knuckles rapped for compromising Karl Rove and the President, without having told anyone (apparently) that they were about to do so.

And as to the matter of whether it is critical to demonstrate that Plame was covert under the IIPA in order to get at Rove, I am no longer sure that it is. Like the question of WMD in Iraq and the US Attorneys, the administration has allowed this scandal to metastasize to the point where it may be incurable. Rather than learning the facts, getting them out, and responding to arguments, the White House has apparently paid little attention to the question of Plame's status. And given Hayden's statement to Waxman, it may be impossible to put the genie back in the bottle - if she was in fact, not covert.

Update: Tom Maguire provides valuable analysis, as always. He notes that Novak's column, Plame's testimony, and Waxman's rhetoric all are consistent with the CIA's not having taken a position on whether Plame was 'covert' within the meaning of the IIPA. Until we know that she was - and we've been waiting for confirmation for a suspiciously long time, now - we cannot conclude that a crime was committed when her identity was divulged.

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