WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In Scott McClellan's purported tell-all memoir of his trials as President George W. Bush's press secretary, he virtually ignores Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage's role leaking to me Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA employee. That fits the partisan Democratic version of the Plame affair, in keeping with the overall tenor of "What Happened."
Although the media response dwelled on McClellan's criticism of Bush's road to war, the CIA leak case is the heart of this book. On July 14, 2003, one day before McClellan took the press secretary's job for which many colleagues felt he was unqualified, my column was published asserting that Plame at the CIA suggested her Democratic partisan husband, retired diplomat Joseph Wilson, for a sensitive intelligence mission. That story made McClellan's three years at the briefing room podium a misery, leading to his dismissal and now his bitter retort.
In claiming he was misled about the Plame affair, McClellan mentions Armitage only twice. Armitage being the leaker undermines the Democratic theory, now accepted by McClellan, that Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and political adviser Karl Rove aimed to delegitimize Wilson as a war critic. McClellan's handling of the leak by itself leads former colleagues to suggest he could not have written this book by himself.
On page 173, McClellan first mentions my Plame leak, but he does not identify Armitage as the leaker until page 306 of the 323-page book -- then only in passing. Armitage, anti-war and anti-Cheney, cannot fit the conspiracy theory that McClellan now buys into. When Armitage after two years publicly admitted he was my source, the life went out of Wilson's campaign. In "What Happened," McClellan dwells on Rove's alleged deceptions as if the real leaker were still unknown.
McClellan at the White House podium never knew the facts about the CIA leak, and his memoir reads as though he has tried to maintain his ignorance. He omits Armitage's slipping Mrs. Wilson's identity to The Washington Post's Bob Woodward weeks before he talked to me. He does not mention that Armitage turned himself in to the Justice Department even before Patrick Fitzgerald was named as special prosecutor.
McClellan writes that Rove told him this about his conversation with me after I called him to check Armitage's leak: "He (Novak) said he'd heard that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. I told him I couldn't confirm it because I didn't know." Rove told me last week he never said that to McClellan. Under oath, Rove had testified he told me, "I heard that, too." Under oath, I testified that Rove said, "Oh, you know that, too."