Third Party & Independents Archives

Novak: Leak Not From White House

In the latest twist of the CIA outing probe, Robert Novak appears to have had a change of heart on his allegation that the source of the information came from the White House. Monday at noon, in seeming anticipation of the Novak statement later in the day, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan was quick to say that the had not come from the White House and practically dared reporters to name names and come forward to the Department of Justice. Aside from Novak, it is believed that six other reporters were contacted with the information (including the Washington Post, who has been leading the story), but chose not to divulge their sources. So what’s to be made of this odd tangle of denials, leaks and rebukes?

From White House Press Secretary McClellan's September 29th press briefing:

"There's been nothing, absolutely nothing, brought to our attention to suggest any White House involvement, and that includes the vice president's office, as well,"
From Novak's article in a July 14th article Mission to Niger:
Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counter-proliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him. "I will not answer any question about my wife," Wilson told me.
Claiming his sources are "senior administration officials" seems unambiguous in it's finger-pointing at the White House, however this coy game may rest with Novak's definition of administration. His recant of White House involvement was published later on Monday, effectively creating a new question of where the information came from (September 29th, after the White House press briefing):
"Nobody in the Bush administration called me to leak this. In July I was interviewing a senior administration official on Ambassador Wilson's report when he told me the trip was inspired by his wife, a CIA employee working on weapons of mass destruction.

"Another senior official told me the same thing. As a professional journalist with 46 years experience in Washington I do not reveal confidential sources. When I called the CIA in July to confirm Mrs. Wilson's involvement in the mission for her husband -- he is a former Clinton administration official -- they asked me not to use her name, but never indicated it would endanger her or anybody else.

"According to a confidential source at the CIA, Mrs. Wilson was an analyst, not a spy, not a covert operator, and not in charge of undercover operatives."

The shift to the previous Clinton administration is interesting because it would remove the White House retaliation angle that has been trumpeted among the media. However, it does little to explain the evasiveness on the part of the White House and it's eagerness to have the investigation handled by the politically appointed Ashcroft Department of Justice rather than form an independent investigation. It would seem obvious that the White House would want to quickly remove doubt from itself in this case.

That's where the other six or so reporters with the same poison information come in, and are placed in a difficult situation. Novak's claim of White House innocence creates a difficult atmosphere for the other reporters to hold out on their leads. On one hand, it is journalist taboo to reveal one's sources, especially sources that have highly valuable information, as doing so would obviously jeopardize future information. A journalist could also step forward to confirm that they also received the same information and can corroborate that the lead did not come from the White House will help clear the air of suspicion.

However, if the other reporters can contradict Novak, and re-indict the White House without revealing names, they may feel obligated to step forward. A third scenario is that a trojan reporter who has no bearing in the case steps forward to validate or rebuke Novak's claim, which would not be immediately verifiable. In any case, the true nature of the sources will remain a mystery until the two sources themselves are named, since only the sources themselves would know who the information was actually leaked to (highly unlikely considering the nature of the information and the immediate threat of proscecution).

However this inquiry turns out, it seems very suspect that Scott McClellan has no knowledge of the allegations other than what he heard through the news media, but is able to state adamantly that the information did not come from the White House. Add to this the odd coincidence, when hours later, Novak releases a statement with the same theme and absolving the current White House administration. The timing and corroboration is very informative, but still does not answer the question of who leaked the information. Whoever the culprit is, either a former Clinton administration official or Bush administration official, or someone posing as them (who also has access to highly classified CIA information), I certainly hope they are caught and brought to justice.

Posted by Stephen VanDyke at September 30, 2003 2:27 AM