If Joseph Wilson's wife hadn't worked for the CIA, he would not have been sent on the fact-finding mission to Niger that has caused so much controversy over the past few years. This fact is indisputable. Yet last week, Valerie Plame Wilson, under oath before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, did her best to dispute it, or at least to muddy the waters. The question now is whether she committed a crime in doing so.
Rep. Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts, a Democrat who is clearly sympathetic to the Wilsons' beef with the White House, teed her up to downplay the connection between her job and her husband's trip:
REP. LYNCH: Now, I want to ask you, the suggestion that you were involved in sending your husband seemed to drive the leaks in an effort to discount his credibility. I want to ask you now under oath: Did you make the decision to send Ambassador Wilson to Niger?
MS. PLAME WILSON: No. I did not recommend him, I did not suggest him, there was no nepotism involved -- I didn't have the authority.
The suggestion that Plame Wilson "didn't have the authority" to make a recommendation to her boss is laughable. Perhaps she could be read as merely saying that she didn't have the authority to, as Lynch put it, "make the decision," but no one has claimed that she did, and she plainly means to dispute the charges made by White House sources in Bob Novak's July 14, 2003 column, where the name "Valerie Plame" first appeared, that she "suggested sending [her husband] to Niger." But the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq, released in July 2004, supports that claim; it says Wilson's wife "suggested his name for the trip."
Here is what Plame Wilson said when Rep. Lynch asked her to "walk us through everything you did that may have been related around the time of the decision to send Ambassador Wilson to Niger":
In February of 2002, a young junior officer who worked for me -- came to me very upset. She had just received a telephone call on her desk from someone -- I don't know who -- in the office of the vice president asking about this report of this alleged sale of yellow cake uranium from Niger to Iraq. She came to me, and as she was telling me this -- what had just happened, someone passed by -- another officer heard this. He knew that Joe had already -- my husband -- had already gone on some CIA mission previously to deal with other nuclear matters. And he suggested, "Well why don't we send Joe?"
Here, Plame Wilson is eliding the fact that, as documented in the Senate Intelligence Committee report, Wilson had gone on a previous mission at his wife's recommendation, which would seem to be a salient fact. There is simply no way that, if not for his wife, Joe Wilson would ever have been selected for a CIA mission.
THROUGHOUT HER TESTIMONY, Plame Wilson attempted to cast doubt on the conclusions of the Senate Intelligence Committee report. At Lynch's prompting, Plame Wilson even implied that the only ones who think she had anything to do with her husband going to Niger are Republicans:
REP. LYNCH: Thank you. And I want to go back to that Senate Intelligence Committee hearing. There were three Republican senators who included a more definitive statement which -- now this is a quote. It said, "The plan to send the former ambassador to Niger was suggested by the former ambassador's wife, a CIA employee." What is your reaction to that statement in the Senate report about the genesis of your husband's trip to Niger in 2002?
MS. PLAME WILSON: Congressman, it's incorrect. It's been borne out in the testimony during the Libby trial, and I can tell you that it just doesn't square with the facts.
REP. LYNCH: Okay.
MS. PLAME WILSON: Those additional views were written exclusively by three Republican senators.
The reference here is to an addendum to the report (.pdf) titled "Additional Views," in which Senators Pat Roberts, Christopher Bond, and Orrin Hatch grumble about a number of conclusions that Senate Democrats moved to exclude from the bipartisan report. The trouble with this effort at partisan point-scoring is that Roberts, Bond, and Hatch didn't simply pull that conclusion out of the air; though the Republican senators were frustrated that this finding wasn't emphasized in the "Conclusions" section, it was certainly included in the bipartisan report. (The relevant paragraphs of the bipartisan report can be found on page 39 -- page 4 of this .pdf under "B. Former Ambassador."):
Some CPD officials could not recall how the office decided to contact the former ambassador, however, interviews and documents provided to the Committee indicate that his wife, a CPD employee, suggested his name for the trip. The CPD reports officer told Committee staff that the former ambassador's wife "offered up his name" and a memorandum to the Deputy Chief of the CPD on February 12, 2002, from the former ambassador's wife says, "my husband has good relations with the PM [prime minister] and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity."
Plame Wilson knows this; elsewhere in her testimony she disputed this part of the report. Here's more of her response to Lynch, in which she disputes the email evidence:
MS. PLAME WILSON: We went to my branch chief, or supervisor. My colleague suggested this idea, and my supervisor turned to me and said, "Well, when you go home this evening, would you be willing to speak to your husband, ask him to come into headquarters next week and we'll discuss the options? See if this -- what we could do." Of course. And as I was leaving, he asked me to draft a quick email to the chief of our Counterproliferation Division [CPD], letting him know that this was -- might happen. I said, "Of course," and it was that email, Congressman, that was taken out of context and -- a portion of which you see in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report of July 2004 that makes it seem as though I had suggested or recommended him.
And here's how Plame answered when Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen asked if she'd spoken to the reports officer:
MS. PLAME WILSON: Yes, Congressman, and I can tell you that he came to me almost with tears in his eyes. He said his words had been twisted and distorted. He wrote a memo, and he asked his supervisor to allow him to be re-interviewed by the committee. And the memo went nowhere, and his request to be re-interviewed so that the record could be set straight was denied.
Van Hollen suggested that the House Committee ought to see that memo, and Committee Chairman Henry Waxman agreed.
Sen. Bond has issued a statement standing by the parts of the report that Plame Wilson disputes:
We have checked the transcript of the comments made to the Committee by the former reports officer and I stand by the Committee's description of his comments. If the reports officer would like to clarify or change his remarks, I'm certain that the Committee would welcome his testimony.
We have also checked the memorandum written by Ms. Wilson suggesting her husband to look into the Niger reporting. I also stand by the Committee's finding that this memorandum indicates Ms. Wilson did suggest her husband for a Niger inquiry....I suggest that the House Government Reform Committee request and examine this memorandum themselves. I am confident that they will come to the same conclusion as our bipartisan membership did.
There's no question that in her testimony, Plame Wilson omitted inconvenient facts and put an inapt emphasis on others. If Bond's characterization of the evidence is correct, she may actually have lied. Lying under oath before Congress constitutes perjury and a violation of the False Statements Act -- the same crimes that accounted for three of the four charges that Scooter Libby was recently convicted of. Wouldn't it be ironic if Valerie Plame Wilson were to share Libby's fate?
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