Friday, March 16, 2007

Plame testifies before Congress


As I mentioned a few days ago, Valerie Plame is testifying before Congress today, as Democrats try to keep the Plame scandal going as long as possible now that the Lewis Libby trial is over. It's a transparent political move, but at the same time it's the first time we've got Plame under oath, so we may get some good questions and answers that we should have gotten long ago.

For now, two links: the AP story on the hearing and a transcript of the opening remarks.

The most notable statements so far:

1. Plame categorically denied having anything to do with sending her husband to Niger, saying "I did not recommend him. I did not suggest him. There was no nepotism involved. I did not have the authority."

2. She repeatedly described herself as a "covert operative," saying she worked undercover and traveled abroad on secret CIA missions. But she says she doesn't know if she was covert in a legal sense. She also says that shouldn't have mattered -- that White House officials, realizing she worked for the CIA, should have checked before discussing her with the press.

More assertive is the statement Rep. Henry Waxman made in opening the session. The relevant quote from the transcript:

But General Hayden and the CIA have cleared these following comments for today's hearing.

During her employment at the CIA, Ms. Wilson was undercover. Her employment status with the CIA was classified information, prohibited from disclosure under Executive Order 12958.

At the time of the publication of Robert Novak's column on July 14, 2003, Ms. Wilson's CIA employment status was covert. This was classified information.

Got that? The CIA is saying (by clearing the comment with Waxman) that the fact Plame worked for the CIA was a secret, and thus White House officials revealed classified information.

Republican Tom Davis admits as much in his remarks:

Let me state at the outset that the outing of Mrs. Wilson's identity was wrong. And we have every right to look at this and investigate it.

His argument, though, is that nobody at the White House knew Plame's identity was classified because the CIA didn't make it clear that it was.

No process can be adopted to protect classified information that no one knows is classified, just as no one can be prosecuted for unauthorized disclosure of information that no one ever said was protected. So this looks to me more like a CIA problem than a White House problem. If the agency doesn't take sufficient precautions to protect the identity of those who engage in covert work, no one else can do it for them.

True enough. But that doesn't address Plame's argument: That the simple fact she worked at the CIA should have served as a red flag. A prudent administration would have checked with the agency before discussing any CIA employee with the press.

Davis is arguing what the White House knew; Plame is arguing what the White House should have known.

It's hard to disagree with either of them, given the facts we know at the moment. That's why it's highly probable no crime was committed, even while the administration is properly flagellated for being careless with Plame's identity.

More updates as events warrant.

Update: Another witness testified about the Bush administration's lac, of curiosity about the leak, despite promises to the contrary:

Dr. James Knodell, director of the Office of Security at the White House, told a congressional committee today that he was aware of no internal investigation or report into the leak of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame....

Knodell said that he had started at the White House in August 2004, a year after the leak, but his records show no evidence of a probe or report there: "I have no knowledge of any investigation in my office," he said.

Rep. Waxman recalled that President Bush had promised a full internal probe. Knodell repeated that no probe took place, as far as he knew, and was not happening today.

Knodell said he had "no" conversations whatsoever with the president, vice president, Karl Rove or anyone about the leak.

Hmm. The administration promised to investigate itself and then didn't. I'm shocked, I tell you; shocked.

Update II: The video of Plame's testimony.

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5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interestingly enough, she disputed the widely believed notion that she was instrumental in Joe Wilson getting a chance to see Niger.
She did this under oath, I wonder how this flies in the face of the VP and all crying about a junket.
should this not bolster the case for the civil suit and damages ?
GK

3/16/2007 1:18 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

GK: It certainly does. I was expecting her to downplay her role, not outright deny it. That will get some people's attention.

3/16/2007 1:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an exerpt from the Senate Intelligence Committee Report from 2004:

"([Letter or number blacked out]) 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 [Valerie Plame] 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 both 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." This was just one day before CPD sent a cable [a few words censored here] requesting concurrence with CPD’s idea to send the former ambassador to Niger and requesting any additional information from the foreign government service on their uranium reports. The former ambassador’s wife told Committee staff that when CPD decided it would like to send the former ambassador to Niger, she approached her husband on behalf of the CIA and told him "there’s this crazy report" on a purported deal for Niger to sell uranium to Iraq.

[Word blacked out] The former ambassador [Wilson] had traveled previously to Niger on the CIA’s behalf [sentenced blacked out]. The former ambassador was selected for the 1999 trip after his wife [Plame] mentioned to her supervisors that her husband was planning a business trip to Niger in the near future and might be willing to use his contacts in the region [a few words blacked out]. Because the former ambassador did not uncover any information about [word blacked out] during this visit to Niger, CPD did not distribute an intelligence report on the visit."
http://www.nytimes.com/packages/html/politics/20040709iraqreport2.pdf

JP5

3/18/2007 4:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BTW......

Members Of The Senate Select Committee On Intelligence That Wrote The Unanimous “Report On The U.S. Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments On Iraq:

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)

Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL)

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN)

Sen. John Edwards (D-NC)

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS)

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)

Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH)

Sen. Christopher Bond (R-MO)

Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS)

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME)

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE)

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)

Sen. John Warner (R-VA)

3/18/2007 6:15 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

Yep, that seeming contradiction is what makes the testimony interesting. I'll note two things: the Senate report evidence was not obtained under oath, unlike Plame's assertions, and Plame explained in her testimony that she was asked to write a memo outlining Wilson's qualifications -- which would be the memo the Senate report refers to.

3/19/2007 7:58 AM  

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