Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- When Richard Armitage finally acknowledged last week he was my source three years ago in revealing Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA employee, the former deputy secretary of state's interviews obscured what he really did. I want to set the record straight based on firsthand knowledge.

First, Armitage did not, as he now indicates, merely pass on something he had heard and that he "thought" might be so. Rather, he identified to me the CIA division where Mrs. Wilson worked, and said flatly that she recommended the mission to Niger by her husband, former Amb. Joseph Wilson. Second, Armitage did not slip me this information as idle chitchat, as he now suggests. He made clear he considered it especially suited for my column.

An accurate depiction of what Armitage actually said deepens the irony of him being my source. He was a foremost internal skeptic of the administration's war policy, and I long had opposed military intervention in Iraq. Zealous foes of George W. Bush transformed me improbably into the president's lapdog. But they cannot fit Armitage into the left-wing fantasy of a well-crafted White House conspiracy to destroy Joe and Valerie Wilson. The news that he and not Karl Rove was the leaker was devastating news for the Left.

A peculiar convergence had joined Armitage and me on the same historical path. During his quarter of a century in Washington, I had no contact with Armitage before our fateful interview. I tried to see him in the first two and one-half years of the Bush administration, but he rebuffed me -- summarily and with disdain, I thought.

Then, without explanation, in June 2003, Armitage's office said the deputy secretary would see me. This was two weeks before Joe Wilson surfaced himself as author of a 2002 report for the CIA debunking Iraqi interest in buying uranium in Africa.

I sat down with Armitage in his State Department office the afternoon of July 8 with tacit rather than explicit ground rules: deep background with nothing said attributed to Armitage or even an anonymous State Department official. Consequently, I refused to identify Armitage as my leaker until his admission was forced by "Hubris," a new book by reporters Michael Isikoff and David Corn that absolutely identified him.

Late in my hour-long interview with Armitage. I asked why the CIA had sent Wilson -- lacking intelligence experience, nuclear policy or recent contact with Niger -- on the African mission. He told the Washington Post last week that his answer was: "I don't know, but I think his wife worked out there."


Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.
 

 
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