Veteran Washington reporter Robert Novak doesn’t regret publishing the name of an alleged covert CIA agent that led to the imprisonment of Lewis “Scooter” Libby.
“Judging it on the merits, I would still write the story,” Novak writes matter-of-factly in his newly-released memoir, The Prince of Darkness. “There never was a question about its news value or its accuracy.”
Novak has spent his 50 year career as a hard-charging political reporter making trouble and honing a journalistic philosophy based on, as he writes, telling “the world things people do not want me to reveal.”
The first and last chapters of the book, titled after a nickname given to Novak in 1964 by the Washington Post’s John J. Lindsay, are devoted to explaining Novak’s decision to publish former CIA agent Valerie Plame’s name in a July 2003 column. The piece questioned why the CIA sent her husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson, on a fact-finding mission Niger to find information about an Iraqi uranium purchase. Novak explained the decision to send Wilson, a former Clinton White House aide with “no track record in intelligence and with no experience in Niger since being posted there as a very junior Foreign Service officer in 1976-78” to the region demonstrated “at least incompetence within the CIA and at most a poisonous hostility there to George W. Bush.”
Sandwiched between the two Valerie Plame chapters is a rollicking history of Novak’s life as a reporter in which many sources are revealed for the first time. Among them is Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove. Novak wrote Rove “was a grade A-plus source.”
In a phone interview, Novak said Rove readily gave him information. “He thought I was a conservative and I was sympathetic to many of the things, not all the things though, that the president was doing.” Novak noted his access to Rove was cut off once the administration was charged with outing a covert CIA agent.
“I was sympathetic certainly to the tax cuts and the economic policy, the administration’s policies on a lot of other issues,” Novak said. “I admired the President’s pro-life position and his position on stem cell research. Rove knew that I disapproved of a lot of other things, notably the intervention in Iraq, but he thought that I would give a fair shake to handling this.”
Novak’s long-standing stance against the war in Iraq was a cause of a bitter rift between him and the National Review that caused him to quit writing for the magazine after producing articles, book reviews and cover stories for 30 years.