WASHINGTON -- Seated at the Washington Gridiron dinner March 31, I was interrupted by a man crouching at my feet who was dressed Air Force formal with the four stars of a full general. It was CIA Director Michael Hayden, who complained to me profanely that my column had misrepresented him in the Valerie Plame Wilson case. Denying he favors Democrats, Gen. Hayden indicated to me he had not authorized Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman to say Mrs. Wilson had been a "covert" CIA employee, as he claimed Hayden did, but only that she was "undercover."
Keeping busy at a Gridiron evening supposedly devoted to frivolity, Hayden made similar points with Rep. Peter Hoekstra, the House Intelligence Committee's ranking Republican; Republican lawyer Victoria Toensing, expert in national security law; and White House Counsel Fred Fielding. Yet, 10 days later, the CIA and its director asserted to me that the wife of Bush critic Joseph Wilson indeed had been "covert." The designation could strengthen erroneous claims that she came under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.
Nobody ever will be prosecuted under the act for revealing Mrs. Wilson worked for the CIA. But Hayden has raised Republican suspicions that he is angling to become intelligence czar -- director of national intelligence -- under a Democratic president. While Hayden proclaims himself free of politics, his handling of the Valerie Plame case is puzzling.
Waxman, as House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman, sought to breathe political life into the affair with a March 16 hearing featuring Mrs. Wilson. Waxman made news by declaring Hayden "told me personally . . . that if I said, she was a covert agent, it wouldn't be an incorrect statement." I reported that this revelation stunned Hoekstra, who as Intelligence Committee chairman spent years unsuccessfully seeking Mrs. Wilson's status from the CIA.
At the Gridiron, I heard Hayden tell me he actually referred to Mrs. Wilson only as "undercover." He apparently said the same thing to Toensing, who testified as a Republican-requested witness at the March 16 hearing. On April 4, she wrote Hayden that in three Gridiron conversations "in front of different witnesses you denied most emphatically, that you had ever told" Waxman "that Valerie Plame was 'covert.' You stated you had told Waxman he could use the term 'undercover' but 'never' the term 'covert.'"