Correction to This Article
An Oct. 25 article incorrectly said President Bush asserted during his January 2003 State of the Union message that Iraq was seeking nuclear material in Niger. The president said that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had sought significant quantities of uranium in Africa.

Husband Is Conspicuous in Leak Case

Joseph Wilson, husband of outed CIA officer Valerie Plame, has not been camera-shy since Plame's identity was leaked.
Joseph Wilson, husband of outed CIA officer Valerie Plame, has not been camera-shy since Plame's identity was leaked. (By David Paul Morris -- Getty Images)

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By Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, October 25, 2005

To his backers, Joseph C. Wilson IV is a brave whistle-blower wronged by the Bush administration. To his critics, he is a partisan who spouts unreliable information.

But nobody disputes this: Possessed of a flamboyant style and a love for the camera lens, Wilson helped propel the unmasking of his wife's identity as a CIA operative into a sprawling, two-year legal probe that climaxes this week with the possible indictment of key White House officials. He also turned an arcane matter involving the Intelligence Identities Protection Act into a proxy fight over the administration's credibility and its case for war in Iraq.

Also beyond dispute is the fact that the little-known diplomat took maximum advantage of his 15 minutes of fame. Wilson has been a fixture on the network and cable news circuit for two years -- from "Meet the Press" to "Imus in the Morning" to "The Daily Show." He traveled west and lunched with the likes of Norman Lear and Warren Beatty.

He published a book, "The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity." He persuaded his wife, Valerie Plame, to appear with him in a January 2004 Vanity Fair photo spread, in which the two appeared in his Jaguar convertible.

Now, amid speculation that prosecutors could bring charges against White House officials this week, Republicans preparing a defense of the administration are reviving the debate about Wilson's credibility and integrity.

Wilson's central assertion -- disputing President Bush's 2003 State of the Union claim that Iraq was seeking nuclear material in Niger -- has been validated by postwar weapons inspections. And his charge that the administration exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq has proved potent.

At the same time, Wilson's publicity efforts -- and his work for Sen. John F. Kerry's presidential campaign -- have complicated his efforts to portray himself as a whistle-blower and a husband angry about the treatment of his wife. The Vanity Fair photos, in particular, hurt Plame's reputation inside the CIA; both Wilson and Plame have said they now regret doing the photo shoot.

Wilson's critics in the administration said his 2002 trip to Niger for the CIA to probe reports that Iraq was trying to buy uranium there was a boondoggle arranged by his wife to help his consulting business.

The Wall Street Journal's conservative editorial page, defending the administration, wrote yesterday that, "Mr. Wilson became an antiwar celebrity who joined the Kerry for president campaign." Discussing his trip to Niger, the Journal judged: "Mr. Wilson's original claims about what he found on a CIA trip to Africa, what he told the CIA about it, and even why he was sent on the mission have since been discredited."

Wilson's defenders say he is a truth-teller who has been unfairly attacked. "[T]he White House responded to Ambassador Wilson in the worst possible way," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) said at a Democratic gathering in July. "They did not present substantive evidence to justify the uranium claim. . . . Instead, it appears that the president's advisers launched a smear campaign, and Ambassador Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, became collateral damage."

Before the Niger episode, Wilson was best known as the charg d'affaires in Baghdad, a diplomat commended by George H.W. Bush for protecting and securing the release of American "human shields" at the time of the Persian Gulf War. He was not known as a partisan figure -- he donated money to both Al Gore and George W. Bush in 1999 -- and says he was neither antiwar nor anti-Bush when he went to Niger in late February 2002.

But that changed when he went public with his criticism of the Niger affair in mid-2003. In August, he said at a forum that he would like to see Karl Rove "frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs." In the fall, he endorsed Democrat Kerry. He had given money to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (D-N.Y.) political action committee in 2002 and gave to Kerry's presidential campaign in 2003.


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