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The Scoop on Woodward

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, November 16, 2005; 12:57 PM

In a startling development reported in today's Washington Post, it now appears that Bob Woodward was the first reporter to whom a senior administration official leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

Woodward is an assistant managing editor at The Post and the best-selling author of insider accounts of the Bush White House. He is best known as part of the team of journalists that broke the Watergate story that ended Richard Nixon's presidency three decades ago.

More recently Woodward -- who is working on his third book about the Bush administration -- had been publicly scornful of special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald's investigation.

Today's shocker adds a whole new prologue to the story as we knew it and once again thrusts the issue of journalistic conduct into a debate that many journalists would prefer was solely about White House conduct. It also calls new attention to Woodward's unique relationship with the Bush White House.

Jim VandeHei and Carol D. Leonnig write in The Washington Post: "Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward testified under oath Monday in the CIA leak case that a senior administration official told him about CIA operative Valerie Plame and her position at the agency nearly a month before her identity was disclosed.

"In a more than two-hour deposition, Woodward told Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald that the official casually told him in mid-June 2003 that Plame worked as a CIA analyst on weapons of mass destruction, and that he did not believe the information to be classified or sensitive, according to a statement Woodward released yesterday.

"Fitzgerald interviewed Woodward about the previously undisclosed conversation after the official alerted the prosecutor to it on Nov. 3 -- one week after Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was indicted in the investigation. . . .

"Woodward said he also testified that he met with Libby on June 27, 2003, and discussed Iraq policy as part of his research for a book on President Bush's march to war. He said he does not believe Libby said anything about Plame."

Here is the text of Woodward's public statement about his testimony.

Woodward's source was apparently neither Libby nor presidential adviser Karl Rove, widely seen as Fitzgerald's most likely next target. And Woodward wouldn't specify the date of the disclosure any further than to say it was in "mid-June." Nevertheless, that definitely pre-dates Libby's first mention of Plame's identity during his meeting with New York Times reporter Judith Miller on June 23.

Fitzgerald's indictment says Libby found out about Plame's identity on June 11 from a CIA official, and then again on June 12 from Vice President Cheney. It doesn't say how Cheney knew, how long he knew, or who else he might have told.

ABC News's The Note reports that "a senior Administration official, speaking to ABC News' Jessica Yellin, 'laughed' at the suggestion that Cheney was Woodward's source."

VandeHei and Leonnig write that Woodward did not share the information with Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. until sometime last month.

Fitzgerald obviously didn't know about it at his October 28 press conference , where he asserted that "Mr. Libby was the first official known to have told a reporter when he talked to Judith Miller in June of 2003 about Valerie Wilson."

Woodward on the Record

Woodward spoke about the Plame investigation at some length with Larry King on CNN on October 27, the day before Fitzgerald indicted Libby. One of Woodward's fellow panelists was Newsweek investigative reporter Michael Isikoff, who asked whether Woodward knew the identity of "Mr. X," the still-unidentified senior administration official who was columnist Robert Novak's first source for Plame's identity. Rove was Novak's second source.

"KING: Michael Isikoff whispered to me during the break that he has a key question he'd like to ask Mr. Woodward, so I don't know what this is about.

"ISIKOFF: No, look, this is the biggest mystery in Washington, has been really for two years and now as we come down to the deadline of tomorrow the city is awash with rumors. There's a new one every 15 minutes and nobody really knows what's going to happen tomorrow. Nobody knows what Fitzgerald's got.

"I talked to a source at the White House late this afternoon who told me that Bob is going to have a bombshell in tomorrow's paper identifying the Mr. X source who is behind the whole thing. So, I don't know, maybe this is Bob's opportunity.

"KING: Come clean.

"WOODWARD: I wish I did have a bombshell. I don't even have a firecracker. I'm sorry. In fact, I mean this tells you something about the atmosphere here. I got a call from somebody in the CIA saying he got a call from the best 'New York Times' reporter on this saying exactly that I supposedly had a bombshell. . . .

"Finally, this went around that I was going to do it tonight or in the paper. Finally, Len Downie, who is the editor of the 'Washington Post' called me and said, 'I hear you have a bombshell. Would you let me in on it.'

"KING: So now the rumors are about you.

"WOODWARD: And I said I'm sorry to disappoint you but I don't.

"KING: What do you think will happen?

"WOODWARD: But Michael's point is exactly right. There is deep mystery here. It only grows with time and people are speculating and there are -- there is so little that people really know.

"Now there are a couple of things that I think are true. First of all this began not as somebody launching a smear campaign that it actually -- when the story comes out I'm quite confident we're going to find out that it started kind of as gossip, as chatter and that somebody learned that Joe Wilson's wife had worked at the CIA and helped him get this job going to Niger to see if there was an Iraq/Niger uranium deal.

"And, there's a lot of innocent actions in all of this but what has happened this prosecutor, I mean I used to call Mike Isikoff when he worked at the 'Washington Post' the junkyard dog. Well this is a junkyard dog prosecutor and he goes everywhere and asks every question and turns over rocks and rocks under rocks and so forth."


Kevin Drum writes in his Washington Monthly blog: "I can't begin to make sense of this. The only thing that's clear is that Mr. X [Woodward's source] must have had some reason to suddenly come clean, and that reason must have had something to do with Fitzgerald's ongoing investigation. Perhaps Mr. X is a cooperating witness, or perhaps he's someone who started to feel some heat and decided to come forward because he got scared. Who knows?

"But what this does tell us is that the Plame investigation is alive and well and continuing to make progress. Fasten your seatbelts."

Howard Kurtz writes in his washingtonpost.com blog: "Hmmm . . . Who was this Shallow Throat, and why is this the first we're hearing about it?"

Blogger Josh Marshall writes: "[I]t now seems that Woodward -- who has long been publicly critical of the Fitzgerald investigation -- has been part of it from the beginning. Literally, the beginning. . . .

"Woodward seems to have some explaining to do, at least for the fact that he became an aggressive commentator on the leak story without ever disclosing his own role in it, not even to his editors."

Firedoglake blogger Jane Hamsher , who may have been the first to dub Woodward "Mr. Run Amok," writes: "Woodward isn't just reluctant to criticize the Administration -- he's become the water carrier of choice. . . .

"Woodward stopped being a 'journalist' in the true sense of the word long ago -- when he decided celebrity status and book sales meant more than the truth. He has gone from being -- well, whatever he was, to something much worse: an official peddler of lies told by powerful people to whitewash their criminal activities."

John Aravosis of Americablog writes: "It's also beginning to sound a lot like Bob Woodward is becoming our next Judith Miller. His repeated rants in defense of this administration, and against the special prosecutor, certainly take on a very interesting edge considering Mr. Woodward didn't bother disclosing that he was quite involved in this story, and was hardly the impartial observer his silence suggested he was. Not to mention, he knew all along that HE TOO had received the leak, suggesting that a clear pattern of multiple leaks was developing, yet he still went on TV and said that all of these repeated leaks were just a slip of the tongue?"

You can find the growing blog chorus here.

Woodward and the White House

For years, Woodward has literally been the only reporter top White House officials feel comfortable opening up to. His books have been generally favorable to the administration. He promises to keep his sources' secrets until he's ready to publish, rather than report them in the newspaper.

Not surprisingly, that's been known to create some resentment among other reporters, particularly those in the White House press corps who spend their days scratching away for crumbs and generally getting nothing but spin.

Village Voice press critic Sydney H. Schanberg , somewhat presciently, wrote about Woodward yesterday.

"Bob Woodward rightly became a beacon in the journalism world for the groundbreaking shoe-leather reporting he and Carl Bernstein did on the Watergate scandal in 1972 for The Washington Post. Since then he has become known for his books gleaned from rarely given interviews with presidents and other powerful people in Washington's high places. He appears often on television talk shows, giving inside looks at major stories as well as orotund comments on the practice of good journalism. . . .

"I wish I were wrong, but to me Woodward sounds as if he has come a long way from those shoe-leather days -- and maybe on a path that does not become him. He sounds, I think, like those detractors in 1972, as they pooh-poohed the scandal that unraveled the Nixon presidency -- the scandal that Woodward and Bernstein doggedly uncovered. . . .

"His remarks about the Fitzgerald investigation convey the attitude of a sometime insider reluctant to offend -- and that is hardly a definition of what a serious, independent reporter is supposed to be. It's a far piece from Watergate."

Libby Watch

Eric Lichtblau writes in the New York Times: "Lawyers for I. Lewis Libby Jr., the former White House official indicted on perjury charges, plan to seek testimony from journalists beyond those cited in the indictment and will probably challenge government agreements limiting their grand jury testimony, people involved in the case said Tuesday.

" 'That's clearly going to be part of the strategy - to get access to all the relevant records and determine what did the media really know,' said a lawyer close to the defense who spoke on condition of anonymity. . . .

"In interviews, lawyers close to the case made clear that the defense team plans to pursue aggressively access to reporters' notes beyond the material cited in the indictment and plans to go to the trial judge, Reggie B. Walton of United States District Court, to compel disclosure as one of their first steps.

"Defense lawyers plan to seek notes not only from the three reporters cited in the indictment - Tim Russert of NBC News, Matt Cooper of Time Magazine and Judith Miller, formerly of The New York Times - but also from other journalists who have been tied to the case."

Cheney and Big Oil

Dana Milbank and Justin Blum write in The Washington Post: "A White House document shows that executives from big oil companies met with Vice President Cheney's energy task force in 2001 -- something long suspected by environmentalists but denied as recently as last week by industry officials testifying before Congress.

"The document, obtained this week by The Washington Post, shows that officials from Exxon Mobil Corp., Conoco (before its merger with Phillips), Shell Oil Co. and BP America Inc. met in the White House complex with the Cheney aides who were developing a national energy policy, parts of which became law and parts of which are still being debated. . . .

"The task force's activities attracted complaints from environmentalists, who said they were shut out of the task force discussions while corporate interests were present. The meetings were held in secret and the White House refused to release a list of participants. . . .

"Lea Anne McBride, a spokeswoman for Cheney, declined to comment on the document. She said that the courts have upheld 'the constitutional right of the president and vice president to obtain information in confidentiality.' "

Jolt to the White House

Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post: "For the past three years, President Bush has set the course on U.S. policy in Iraq, and Republicans in Congress -- and many Democrats, too -- have dutifully followed his lead. Yesterday the Senate, responding to growing public frustration with the administration's war policy, signaled that those days are coming to an end.

"The rebuff to the White House was muffled in the modulated language of a bipartisan amendment, but the message could not have been more clear. With their constituents increasingly unhappy with the U.S. mission in Iraq, Democrats and now Republicans are demanding that the administration show that it has a strategy to turn the conflict over to the Iraqis and eventually bring U.S. troops home. . . .

"The jolt to the White House came just as the administration was attempting to beat back perceptions that the president misled the country before the war by overstating the strength of the intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. That fight pits Democrats against Republicans."

Carl Hulse writes in the New York Times: "While the practical consequences of the bipartisan vote on the Republican proposal may be limited and largely symbolic, the willingness of most Senate Republicans to join with most Democrats to prod the Bush administration on the war represented new determination to distance themselves from the White House in the face of dwindling public support for operations in Iraq."

Maura Reynolds and Mark Mazzetti , in the Los Angeles Times, call it the Senate's "first direct challenge to President Bush on the war in Iraq."

Bryan Bender , in the Boston Globe, calls it a "stinging rebuke to President Bush's war strategy."

Spin Watch

But what does the White House think? Or rather, what does it say it thinks?

Pool reporter Ken Herman of Cox Newspapers related this response from presidential counselor Dan Bartlett: " 'This was a strong repudiation of Democratic efforts to pass legislation calling for immediate, premature withdrawal from Iraq before the mission was complete. It was defeated with bipartisan support. We were pleased to see the principled, articulate stand presented by Sen. Joe Lieberman. They then passed a resolution that reaffirms what the administration is putting forward as a strategy, which is to train Iraqi security forces as quickly as possible to continue down the road to transition based on a conditions-based strategy of more responsibility for the Iraqi people. It requires us, as we have already been doing, to provide consultation and reports to be provided to the congress on a regular basis, which is an affirmation of what we were doing as well. We were very pleased to see the repudiation of what Sen. Frist called a cut and run strategy provided by the Democrats.' "

And here's what Bush, who gets a lot of his news directly from Bartlett, had to say in his press availability at mid-day Wednesday, Kyoto time:

" Q Thank you, sir. Sir, as you probably know, the Senate rejected earlier today measures that would have required a timetable for withdrawal in Iraq, but a Republican resolution was overwhelmingly passed that called for more information from your information to clarify and recommend changes to U.S. policy in Iraq. So is that evidence that your party is increasingly splitting with you, sir, on Iraq? And is it an open challenge to you -- is that open challenge to you embarrassing while you're traveling abroad?

"PRESIDENT BUSH: I, first of all, appreciated the fact that the Senate, in a bipartisan fashion, rejected an amendment that would have taken our troops out of Iraq before the mission was complete. To me that was a positive step by the United States Senate.

"Secondly, the Senate did ask that we report on progress being made in Iraq, which we're more than willing to do. That's to be expected. That's what the Congress expects. They expect us to keep them abreast of a plan that is going to work. It's a plan that we have made very clear to the Senate and the House, and that is the plan that we will train Iraqis, Iraqi troops to be able to take the fight to the enemy. And as I have consistently said, as the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.

"I view this as a -- as an amendment consistent with our strategy, and look forward to continue to work with the Congress. It is important that we succeed in Iraq. A democracy in Iraq will bring peace for generations to come. And we're going to. The Iraqi people want us to succeed. The only reason we won't succeed is if we lose our nerve, and the terrorists are able to drive us out of Iraq by killing innocent lives. But I view this as positive developments on the Hill."

Spin This

Glenn Kessler writes in The Washington Post: "Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) strongly criticized yesterday the White House's new line of attack against critics of its Iraq policy, saying that 'the Bush administration must understand that each American has a right to question our policies in Iraq and should not be demonized for disagreeing with them.'

"With President Bush leading the charge, administration officials have lashed out at Democrats who have accused the administration of manipulating intelligence to justify the war in Iraq. Bush has suggested that critics are hurting the war effort, telling U.S. troops in Alaska on Monday that critics 'are sending mixed signals to our troops and the enemy. And that's irresponsible.'

"Hagel, a Vietnam War veteran and a potential presidential candidate in 2008, countered in a speech to the Council of Foreign Relations that the Vietnam War 'was a national tragedy partly because members of Congress failed their country, remained silent and lacked the courage to challenge the administrations in power until it was too late.'"

Here is the text of Hagel's speech.

Backfire Potential

Tom Raum writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush's efforts to paint Democrats as hypocrites for criticizing the Iraq war after they once warned that Saddam Hussein was a grave threat could backfire on Republicans.

"Polls show marked declines in support for the war, notably among moderate Republicans, especially Republican women, and independents -- voting blocs that the GOP needs to woo or keep in their camp.

"If Bush castigates Democrats for changing their minds on the war, he might wind up alienating Republicans who have done so, too."

Why Did We Go to War Again?

J.D. Crouch , the deputy national security adviser, writes in a USA Today op-ed: "Some administration critics believe Operation Iraqi Freedom was strictly about weapons of mass destruction. The reality is that Saddam Hussein's WMD programs were only one reason for the liberation of Iraq. We went to war for several reasons." He lists several.

But right next door, the USA Today editorial board isn't having any of it: "If any success is to come from Iraq now -- and that remains a possibility -- it depends on staying until a stable government is elected and Iraqi forces can manage for themselves. This is what Bush wants, but that commitment will require time and lives, which demands public support. Bush's only chance of gaining that support is to admit what's obvious beyond the White House walls: That the war was a mistake. Only then can he credibly redefine the mission and earn broad support."

The CPB and the EOP

Matea Gold writes in the Los Angeles Times: "The former chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting broke federal law and repeatedly violated the organization's rules and code of ethics in his efforts to promote conservatives in the system, an endeavor that included consultation with White House officials, according to the findings of an internal investigation made public Tuesday. . . .

"According to the report, [Kenneth Y.] Tomlinson consulted with Bush administration officials -- including Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove -- about his efforts, even though the former chairman told The Times in May that he had had 'absolutely no contact from anyone at the White House saying we need to do this or that with public broadcasting.'

"However, Konz discovered that in late 2003 and again this year, Tomlinson exchanged e-mails with White House officials about possible candidates to serve as the corporation's president. Some of the notes discussed Tomlinson's desire to hire Patricia Harrison, a former Republican Party co-chairwoman, whom the board appointed to the post in June.

" 'While cryptic in nature, their timing and subject matter give the appearance that the former chairman was strongly motivated by political considerations in filling the president/CEO position,' Konz wrote."

Here is the text of the inspector general's report.

The actual White House e-mails are not included, although they were given to the full board in a separate report.

Record Setting

The White House yesterday released its third straight memo "Setting the Record Straight." The target this time: Yesterday's New York Times editorial : "Decoding Mr. Bush's Denials."

This one, like the first one , disputes the charge that Congress had nothing close to the president's access to intelligence. The White House argues at length that the Presidential Daily Briefs didn't contain any more intelligence than the National Intelligence Estimate that Congress received.

But it's not just the PDBs that Congress didn't get to see; it's countless other memos and a whole stream of data and conversations and information requests between the White House and the intelligence agencies -- much of it emanating from the vice president's office.

Asia Trip

Peter Baker and Anthony Faiola write in The Washington Post: "President Bush issued a carefully calibrated call for greater liberty throughout Asia on Wednesday, implicitly comparing the 'free and democratic Chinese society' in Taiwan with repression in mainland China. . . .

"The president's address was designed to strike a delicate balance between honoring his second-term inaugural vow to promote freedom around the world and maintaining harmonious relations with one of the United States' most important trading partners. Delivering the speech in Japan rather than in China, and gently pushing the one-party government in China to open up its autocratic society, Bush couched his words in the tone of friendly advice."

Here's the text of Bush's speech.

Safavian Watch

We haven't heard much about David H. Safavian since he hurriedly quit his White House job just in time to get indicted on five felony counts of lying to investigators.

But Thomas B. Edsall profiles Safavian in The Washington Post today: "Just 38, he was administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy at the president's Office of Management and Budget, with the authority to make the rules governing $300 billion in annual expenditures, including those in response to Hurricane Katrina.

"But that was before federal agents appeared at his home on Sept. 19 and arrested Safavian in connection with the investigation of Jack Abramoff, charging that Safavian lied about his dealings with the onetime powerhouse lobbyist and misled investigators from the General Services Administration and the Senate."

Check out the accompanying photo of Safavian by Melina Mara of The Post.

Bush Gets Back on the Segway

Pool reporter George Condon of Copley News Service reported today: "Yes, the Leader of the Free World did, indeed, hop onto a Segway scooter and cruised for an undetermined distance at the Guest House under the no-doubt admiring gaze of his Japanese host. . . . [T]he new Segway was a gift from the president to the prime minister. One has to use one's imagination as to how fast the President guided the Segway or whether he managed a more graceful dismount than the last time he was seen on one of these scooters."

Condon dubbed the Segway "Scooter One." Reuters photographer James Bourg dramatically captured Bush's last Segway dismount in 2003 at Kennebunkport. Segways use gyroscopes and sophisticated computer technology to stay balanced at all times. But Bush hadn't turned his on first.

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