If the special prosecutor's probe into the identity of Bush administration officials who leaked the name of a CIA agent isn't a witch hunt, it certainly qualifies as a colossal waste of money. And it's likely to erode the ability of journalists to report information gleaned from whistle-blowers.
This saga began on July 6, 2003, when former U.S. diplomat Joseph C. Wilson wrote a piece for The New York Times in which he revealed he was the former envoy who had gone to Niger for the CIA to investigate a report that Iraq had purchased uranium from that African nation. Wilson wrote that he had concluded the exchange was "highly doubtful" -- thus discrediting 16 words in President Bush's State of the Union address. Columnist Robert D. Novak then wrote a column that revealed Wilson had gone to Niger on the advice of Wilson's CIA-operative wife, Valerie Plame.
Howls of outrage from the left echoed. It was a felony to leak Plame's name, Bush haters panted. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called on the FBI to probe the matter, as the Nation's Washington editor David Corn asked, "So where is the investigation?"
Wilson wrote this year that his wife "had nothing to do" with the Niger assignment. But a July Senate Intelligence Committee report later found that she "offered up" Wilson for the Niger trip. More important, the Senate panel found that Wilson did not debunk the Iraq-Niger uranium connection in debriefing on his return from Niger. The panel called into question Wilson's claim that he had noticed that certain documents were forged -- when he had not seen them -- and noted that his debriefing supported suspicions about an Iraq-Niger deal.
Thus, after Wilson and his wife posed for photos in Vanity Fair (odd behavior for a couple outraged that Plame's cover had been blown), and after Wilson wrote a book on the subject, "The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies That Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity," the diplomat looked as discredited as he tried to make Bush look. (He also reinforced my personal rule to not trust any person or organization that claims possession of "truth.")
The calls for an investigation led to one. First, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself. Then, he assigned Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, as a special prosecutor.