Greater self-love hath no man than to sacrifice a friend’s life for his own. Our grateful nation awards the Medal of Honor to those few whose valor in combat is above and beyond the call of duty. But what is the polar opposite of the Medal? It is essential we decide, because Richard Armitage — former Deputy Secretary of State — has earned it for his uncommon treachery, beneath and beyond the call of knavery.
Begin with the fact that Armitage — and his boss, Colin Powell — were always outsiders. Powell, by his own discomfort with Bush’s inner circle, was not part of it. But both were high-ranking members of the administration and owed it political loyalty.
For reasons I have theorized before, the CIA sent anti-war activist Joe Wilson to Niger to “investigate” the attempts by Saddam’s regime to buy uranium “yellowcake” there. On July 6, 2003, an op-ed by Wilson appeared in the New York Times about his Niger mission and his conclusion that Iraq hadn’t sought uranium from Niger. Robert Novak’s July 14, 2003 column disclosed that Mrs. Wilson — Valerie Plame — was a CIA employee whom Novak described imprecisely as a CIA “operative.” What followed was the most damaging contrived news story since George Bush took office.
Wilson bellowed — and the media and the Democratic leadership chimed in — demanding a criminal investigation into the leak of Plame’s name. Wilson accused Karl Rove of trying to smear him, and said Rove should be “frog-marched” out of the White House in handcuffs. The 527 Media — the New York Times, Washington Post, CBS, NBC and ABC — all covered the story not as even liberally biased publications, but as political activists making campaign commercials for the Dems.
Schumer and Co. solemnly condemned the smear campaign against Wilson, the White House’s horrific crime of leaking the name of a covert agent, and the hunt was on for the leaker. The ever-responsive George Tenet asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation and, after overcoming objections, it did. Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed to investigate the leak on December 30, 2003. I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby was indicted for perjury on October 28, 2005.
(For the record, the Libby indictment says Plame’s employment was “classified.” Not covert; classified. Between the two is the gap between a “NOC” — a “not official cover,” covert agent — and any desk jockey at Langley.)
Long before the indictment, Wilson’s story had fallen apart. His lies about the Niger “investigation” were revealed by the 9-11 Commission, British intelligence and many others who found that Saddam had pursued a uranium deal in Niger. But as more and more of Wilson’s claims were disproved, serial liar Wilson and his media pals didn’t slow down.
Now we know, as Paul Harvey might say, the rest of the story. Neither Karl Rove nor Scooter Libby was Novak’s source in July 2003. Richard Armitage was. And, at least as of October 1, 2003, Colin Powell knew that. Almost three months later, when Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed on December 30, 2003, he knew there was no crime to investigate. No covert operator’s name had been divulged. It is an entirely separate scandal — one probably including real criminal conduct — that the Fitzgerald investigation was even begun despite knowledge that no crime had been committed. Libby’s crime, if there was one, was manufactured by Fitzgerald in the grand jury room. And all the while Fitzgerald knew what neither the White House nor the public did: that Armitage was the source.
Armitage is doing an elaborate CYA dance for the 527 Media. He’s saying that he didn’t know that he was Novak’s source until the day he told Colin Powell he was. He’s also saying that he mentioned Plame casually to Novak. To his credit, Novak is making clear now what his pledge of confidentiality to Armitage made him conceal earlier. In his September 14, 2006 column, Novak wrote that Armitage specifically called him in for an interview he’d been trying to get for two and a half years. Novak wrote:
[Armitage] had told me unequivocally that Mrs. Wilson worked in the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division and that she had suggested her husband’s mission. As for his current implication that he never expected this to be published, he noted that the story of Mrs. Wilson’s role fit the style of the old Evans-Novak column — implying to me that it continued reporting Washington inside information.
It was an act of supreme disloyalty for Armitage to keep the fact that he was Novak’s source from the president — and thus the public — for three years. The same goes for Powell. There was no reason whatever — other than the desire to do political damage to the administration — for Armitage and Powell to remain silent while the 527 Media and the Dems fired a three-year long barrage of political fire at the President, the Vice President, Karl Rove and Scooter Libby. We expect the Dems and the political-activist media to do this. But we don’t expect the craven, cowardly conduct of Armitage and Powell.
What they did enabled Fitzgerald to continue his pursuit of Rove and the rest of the White House without the restraint imposed by public knowledge of the single most important fact. There was no White House conspiracy to “out” Paper Pusher Plame to punish Ol’ Joe. The non-leak came from Armitage, not the White House.
Thanks to Armitage, Scooter Libby has lost his job and is now immersed in a criminal case that must have already cost him millions in legal fees and will certainly cost him millions more. Fitzgerald is waiting until 2007 to try Libby.
Thanks to Armitage, the White House has been hobbled by this phony scandal for three years. Its credibility — in Congress and in relations with other governments — was damaged significantly by the charge of lawbreaking. The Democrats have linked the phony Plame scandal to every other allegation of abuse of intelligence they make to discredit the handling of the war. How many times have we heard Schumer, Rockefeller, Durbin and the rest say we can’t trust this administration, using Wilson-Plame as proof? The revelation of Armitage’s responsibility creates another situation like Reagan’s Labor Secretary, Ray Donovan, faced when exonerated of corruption charges. Where does the Bush administration go to get its reputation back?
Armitage’s leak was not innocent, idle chatter. And worse, much worse, was his cravenness in not telling the truth to the president he supposedly served. Armitage told Powell on October 1, 2003. If he felt his loyalty to Powell required him to call his boss on that date, he had a greater loyalty to tell the president before the sun set that day. The facts that neither he nor Powell told the president, that both allowed the Democrats and the media to damage the Bush administration for almost three years afterward and let Scooter Libby’s life to be ruined, disqualifies both Armitage and Powell from ever holding public office again. Let them retire in the ignominy they deserve.
What medal shall we give the man who leaked and remained silent? Hester Prynne wore the scarlet letter. For the leaker who hid while the political lynch mob hoisted his president and Scooter Libby, there has to be a special reward. There’s only one name for it: the Armitage Award.
TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004) and, with Edward Timperlake, Showdown: Why China Wants War With the United States (Regnery, May 2006 — click here).
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