This diary condenses the huge and detailed timeline laid out in the previous diary "Plame leak timeline II".
It lays the case for the leak of the classified 2002 CIA memo to Gannon.
For all interested, please read the original diary as it contains facts, sources, etc.
Thanks to all for your help compiling this, thanks to Ambassador Wilson for filling in some holes and special thanks to Kiw for all her help tracking down leads.
And of course, SusanG, who started the ball rolling and continues to dig for the larger story.
As the hunt for the supposed WMDs kept going to no avail, Ambassador Joseph Wilson wrote a NYTimes Op-Ed entitled "What I didn't find in Africa" (July 6, 2003). On July 7, 2003 the White House retracted their Niger claim, which was their sole admission to date that the justification for war was not accurate.
Within a week Robert Novak (July 14, 2003) wrote a column and `outed' Joe Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame as a CIA operative and claimed she was responsible for the decision to send Mr. Wilson to Niger. It was quite clear that Novak was trying to discredit the CIA at the behest of "two senior administration officials" by silencing any critics and making the claim that the CIA sent a diplomat vs. an intelligence operative to verify the yellowcake documents for patronage reasons. Novak's CIA source however would not confirm that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA.
Two Newsday reporters, with CIA contacts, attempt to verify that Ms. Plame was an undercover operative, and they do so. They also interview Mr. Novak and he claims that "I didn't dig it out, it was given to me," he said. "They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it."
Two days later, JeffGannon.com debuts online (July 24, 2003).
Mr. Wilson was interviewed on a few shows and mentioned that if what Novak alleged was true, then as David Corn in the Nation wrote, a crime might have been committed. For months the news is filled with angry ex-CIA officials and journalists covering the outing of an undercover operative for political reasons by the administration. The CIA files a `crime report' with the Department of Justice and finally calls for an investigation.
The Department of Justice decides an investigation is warranted on September 26, 2003. After that point Mr. Wilson begins to appear in the news regularly and to openly denounce the administration for using his wife and potentially endangering other operatives for political purposes.
On September 28, 2003 a source inside the administration tells the Washington Post that at least 6 other journalists were contacted with the leak and claims: "Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge." He stated that he was sharing the information because the disclosure was "wrong and a huge miscalculation, because they were irrelevant and did nothing to diminish Wilson's credibility."
Things are heating up for Novak and the Bush administration. The meme is not spreading according to plan and there is a criminal investigation beginning. Time to provide cover and quick.
On September 29, 2003 Clifford May in NRO tries to insert the claim that Valerie Plame's name "was common knowledge" and that he did not include it in his article on July 11th because he didn't see how it added value to the story. This is obviously a false claim since it definitely would have made a difference in helping to discredit the CIA and push the partisan and patronage claims. No other reporters step forward to verify they knew Valerie Plame worked for the CIA or had anything to do with sending Mr. Wilson to Niger.
Karl Rove's potential involvement is raised by numerous news sources and Novak on CNN continues to push the partisan politics of Wilson, claiming he was a supporter of Clintons.
The White House press briefing is quite contentious on September 30, 2003 with reporter after reporter hammering away at Scott McClellan about who knew what when and what was being done about the leak. And then Jeff Gannon asks his question:
MR. McCLELLAN: Not that I'm aware of. We made it clear that we weren't aware of his trip before we saw it in the media reports, and that still stands. (bold emphasis in WH press release)
Perfect timing on Jeff's part... push the `real story' of why Wilson was chosen. However, it also shows that Gannon has no inside knowledge of the memo purporting to `prove' why Wilson was chosen.
Joe Wilson on Nightline reveals that a journalist (confirmed later as Chris Matthews) called him and said: `I just got off the phone with Karl Rove. He tells me your wife is fair game.'
On October 1st Novak writes a column and contradicts his earlier statements surrounding Wilson and how he came to leak Plame's name. He continues to push that Wilson was a partisan by tying him to the Clinton administration, while neglecting to re-iterate that he himself wrote Wilson was a hero in the H.W. Bush administration in his July 14th column. He also admits that the CIA official he spoke with asked him not to use Plame's name as it "might cause difficulties".
The pressure continues to mount and more people begin to question Rove's role in the leak, including two of his biographers.
On October 2nd, the White House begins to change its tone and push the idea that nothing illegal occurred because Plame's name was `common knowledge'. And this is where Gannon becomes extremely useful. Novak and NRO are well known "conservative" mouthpieces and therefore their claims to have known all about Plame can be questioned. But if a new, fresh off the boat journalist at an unknown news organization knew about her too... well, then it was common knowledge and therefore no crime was committed by leaking her identity. But it takes a bit of time to get him up to speed on the plan... and boy do they need to do damage control, and soon, because journalists are all over the issue and the public believes a crime has been committed.
As well, on October 2nd, the investigation is extended to the Departments of Defense and State and it is revealed that Rove worked on three of Ashcroft's campaigns in the 1980's and 1990's. Further, Jack Oliver, Ashcroft's former chief of staff is now the deputy finance chairman of President Bush's 2004 reelection campaign.
Other operatives may have been put in harms way with the exposure of Plame's name and the front company she used as cover, as reported on October 4th... and of course Novak's column of October 4th reveals the front companies name to the world, as well as confirms that he knew Plame was working under official cover... he also continues to push the partisan politics aspect of Wilson's appointment by revealing that both Plame & Wilson gave $1000 to Gore's election campaign.
On October 6th, Gannon weighs in again and confirms by his tone that he still doesn't know more than what has been in the press reports, but, he knows enough to push the partisan politics meme with this statement:
It is still unknown as to the reason Wilson was sent on the February 2002 mission to Niger, but allowed that it could have been at his wife's suggestion. Some have suggested that his clear partisanship cast doubt on the findings in his report.
Yet, between 15 and 21 days later when Gannon conducts a phone interview with Wilson, Gannon references the 2002 CIA memo definitively.
October 7th is an interesting day for the story when it is revealed that before the internal investigation has even begun the White House has ruled out Karl Rove, vice presidential chief of staff Lewis Libby, and National Security Council senior director Elliott Abrams as possible sources for the news leak. It is also revealed that in December 1975, Novak got a classified leak, that President Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger were ready to make concessions to the Soviet Union to save the SALT II treaty. Donald Rumsfeld, then, as now, the secretary of defense, intervened to block Kissinger. The main leak suspect then was Richard Perle, then an influential aid to Senator Henry Jackson (D-Wash.) and at that time a member of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board and a confidant of neoconservatives in the Bush Administration.
The news continues with the information in circulation until October 17th when David S. Cloud from the WSJ mentions the 2002 CIA memo. The first mention other than Novak. Cloud writes:
The memo, prepared by U.S. intelligence personnel, details a meeting in early 2002 where CIA officer Valerie Plame and other intelligence officials gathered to brainstorm about how to verify reports that Iraq had sought uranium yellowcake from Niger.
Ms. Plame, a member of the agency's clandestine service working on Iraqi weapons issues, suggested at the meeting that her husband, Africa expert and former U.S. diplomat Joseph Wilson, could be sent to Niger to investigate the reports, according to current and former government officials familiar with the meeting at the CIA's Virginia headquarters. Soon after, midlevel CIA officials decided to send him, say intelligence officials.
Classified memos, like the one describing Ms. Plame's role, have limited circulation and investigators are likely to question all those known to have received it. Intelligence officials haven't denied Ms. Plame was involved in the decision to send Mr. Wilson, but they have said she was not "responsible" for the decision.
Cloud is relying on "two people" who had seen the memo, but presumably not himself. And the intelligence officials he spoke with subsequently did not deny (which also means would not go on the record to confirm) she was involved, but would go on the record to say she was not responsible for the decision.
He then goes on...
I interpret this is as: Cloud was told of the memo by "two people" who had seen it and then tried to get confirmation from sources at the CIA who would not confirm that Plame was even mentioned by name in said memo. This means, the only person to have potentially seen the memo was Novak, and even he doesn't claim he actually saw it, only that "two senior administration officials" told him of its contents.
At some point during the week leading up to October 28th, Gannon interviews Wilson by phone. The contents of that interview are astonishing.
Gannon also continues to push the partisan politics meme.
Wilson: Including Bush. When Ed Gillespie was running around doing his little schpiel, he knew that I contributed to the Bush campaign but decided he would selectively use information on candidates I have supported to bolster a case that simply cannot be made. I contributed to the Bush campaign, the Gore campaign, and I contributed to the campaign of Ed Royce on several occasions. He is a conservative Republican from Orange County, California, and I have contributed to a number of other candidates. I contributed to the Kerry campaign after I made my trip out to Niger -- well after that. Almost a year and a half after that. But I will tell you this: I reserve the right to participate in the political process of my country just like any other citizen.
I was named ambassador to Gabon by George Herbert Walker Bush. One of the highlights of my professional career was serving a charges d'affair in Baghdad in the run up to the gulf war. When I came back to Washington and was introduced to the war cabinet, President Bush introduced me as a true American hero, and I take great pride in that.
TN: Your activities of late have some suggesting that there's certainly a partisan motivation.
TN: The so-called neo-cons, who do you think that they are?
As detailed by Cloud above, the CIA (presumably, because he just says "intelligence" officials) would not confirm that Plame suggested this or even that she was identified by name. Neither would Novak's CIA source. So how is Gannon able to make this claim definitively... he may not have seen the memo, but someone definitely told him about it. It is possible that he just decided to use the info from Novak and Cloud to paint Wilson into a corner, but there is no way he would have known that this was indeed accurate and then his "gotcha" moment (i.e. Wilson lied to me) would have been for naught since no one went on the record (other than Novak's "two senior administration officials") to verify the claim. This is also the first time Gannon drops all qualifiers - i.e according to reports, some say, etc.
Except, once Gannon thought the storm had passed, he reveals that he was leaked the memo, or at least told of its contents... (sometime last year in an article on his website "Joe Wilson Lied and Owes George W. Bush and America (and Me) an Apology". There is no date stamp on the article)
The classified document that slipped out sometime after the meeting put her name before the public, albeit a small group of inside-the-beltway types, but effectively ended the notion that she was still covert.
I raised all of these questions with Wilson in October 2003 in an interview for Talon News. Since I was aware of the INR report, I confronted him about it.
What is difficult to understand is the reason that the CIA would want to discredit this report. The first clue came when the agents from the FBI came to my home in March 2003 to question me in connection to the leak probe. I was flattered to think that I was important enough to be included among the luminaries like Andrea Mitchell, Tim Russert and Chris Matthews who were also named in a Justice Department subpoena of records from the White House. But most of the questions were about the INR report. They wanted to know where I got it and what I knew about it. Of course, as a journalist there wasn't much I could say without revealing my sources. I'm sure they were not satisfied, but it made me wonder why they were so interested in a document the CIA said was false.
So how is it that a journalist who only set up shop in March 2003 and received WH press credentials on April 3, 2003 and posts regularly on the FreeRepublic.com bulletin boards, was "in the loop" enough to have knowledge of a classified CIA memo by October 2003, that supposedly only "inside-the-beltway types" knew about and no one at the CIA would confirm? There is only one conclusion. He was planted by, and used to help, the administration.
On November 3rd, Part III of the Wilson/ Gannon interview is posted. And now the agenda is to discredit the CIA and push the story that Plame's name was already known so there was no crime in disclosing it.
Wilson: I don't know where Kristoff got that. I think that there is a fair amount of material in the public record to suggest that there is a lot of concern that Mr. Ames betrayed a number of American operatives during his spying.
TN: Including your wife?
Wilson: I don't know about that. I can't tell you anything about that.
TN: But if that is in fact true, then the leak is not necessarily a leak.
Wilson: Let me put it to you this way, I don't believe that the CIA would refer this to the Justice Department frivolously, if they thought it was a frivolous matter or if it was not a leak that might be a violation of the Intelligence Agents Identification Act.
TN: There are some who are skeptical that the CIA is fully on board with our actions in Iraq.
Wilson: Well, the CIA is not a policy organization, the CIA is paid to provide the best intelligence information it can.
TN: So you don't believe the CIA has an agenda that's different from that of the White House?
Wilson: Well in the particular piece of this that I own, the trip to Niger, the CIA produced my report, but there were two other reports produced that said that "Gee this story of uranium going to Iraq is just bogus." Subsequent to that we now know this particular "16 words" were the subject of a number of telephone conversations and a couple of memoranda that somehow were lost in the system or forgotten about. But the two uncontested facts in this matter are the following: The 16 words in the State of the Union did not rise to inclusion in the State of the Union, that's the White House's statement. Had my report or the other two reports been accepted instead of this information that was based as we know on forgeries and even at the time didn't pass the smell test for an Italian weekly tabloid, then the President would not have found himself in this predicament. That is not a CIA betrayal of the political system, that is if anything a political betrayal of the intelligence assessment process.
And the second uncontested fact is that a national security asset's name was leaked to the American public in what may have been a crime but certainly is considered to be of sufficient concern to the CIA that they referred the matter to the Justice Department. Now in neither of those it seems to me do you have nefarious CIA involvement unless you are prepared to make the argument that the CIA would have "outed" one of its own, which seems to me to be highly, highly unlikely.
Gannon is definitely being the good soldier here. Call into question the patriotism and partisan politics of the CIA and help to build the case that Rummy needs a new spy agency (which he formed at some point in 2003) and keep pushing the case that there was no crime in the leak because Plame's name was common knowledge.
Finally, on December 26th, the leak to Gannon is mentioned in the Washington Post.
CIA officials have challenged the accuracy of the INR document, the official said, because the agency officer identified as talking about Plame's alleged role in arranging Wilson's trip could not have attended the meeting.
"It has been circulated around," one official said. CIA and State Department officials have refused to discuss the document.
On Oct. 28, Talon News, a news company tied to a group called GOP USA, posted on the Internet an interview with Wilson in which the Talon News questioner asks: "An internal government memo prepared by U.S. intelligence personnel details a meeting in early 2002 where your wife, a member of the agency for clandestine service working on Iraqi weapons issues, suggested that you could be sent to investigate the reports. Do you dispute that?"
Interestingly, these reporters weren't leaked the memo either... they just relied on a "senior administration official" who had seen it to provide all the background. And once again, the CIA would not discuss the document.
On December 30th two bombshells are dropped. The first is that AG Ashcroft has recused himself from the investigation and the second is that at some point in 2003 Rove (who historically did not agree to interviews with anyone) sat down for a chat with Bobby Eberle of GOPUSA.com.
Early 2004 the investigations continue and grand jury subpoenas are issued (included to Gannon).
On March 9, 2004 Gannon gets into a heated exchange with another poster on FreeRepublic.com regarding the Grand Jury subpoena... and Gannon sticks to his talking points - Plame wasn't covert.
You are kind. What is interesting about this is that I have become ensnared in this matter because I asked questions of my government.
This may a chilling effect on freedom of the press.
All this commotion, but the central question has yet to be answered: At the time that Robert Novak's column was published, was Valerie Plame a "covert operative"?
The CIA has refused to comment on this very important point.
If she was not, then no crime has been committed and all communications between the administration and reporters is just gossip. ---Jeff Gannon
To: Jeff Gannon
That is simply not true, Jeff.
You are ensnared because you made reference to a government document, which appears to have been a forgery. You need to tell the Grand Jury who made you privy to that document. ---JohnGalt
To: Jeff Gannon
What was the document you referred to in the interview with Wilson? ---JohnGalt
I disagree with your characterization of the document itself, but that aside, I maintain that I am under no obligation whatsoever to reveal my sources. That is a fundamental element of maintaining a free press. ---Jeff Gannon
In that exchange Gannon makes a sloppy mistake. How can you disagree with the characterization of a classified document that you hadn't seen? Looks like he was leaked it after all... or he must really trust his source.
Jeff Gannon was planted by the administration to disseminate their talking points unfettered by any journalism ethics or investigation shortly after the Iraq war, when the failure to find WMDs was becoming apparent. He became incredibly useful in L'Affaire Plame to continue to push the dual stories that a) Plame's name was already common knowledge and therefore `outing' her was not a crime and b) to continue to help discredit the CIA and Wilson.
Based on the evidence, I believe the 2002 CIA memo was leaked to Gannon when Novak became unusable and when the `mainstream' reporters with CIA contacts were not pushing the WH's preferred story line. They needed cover, and they got it.
And as is evidenced by his remarkable access to Scott McClellan and President Bush in the White House press room, to this day, he was rewarded handsomely...
And it continues as business as usual... until today when he became expendable and `resigned' from Talon News.
Comprehensive timeline: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/2/5/212837/3714