My Monday post on former secretary of state Colin Powell’s comments on the Valerie Plame matter and the account set forth in former vice president Dick Cheney’s memoir generated a fair amount of discussion. Some of what has been written about Powell’s comments I found compelling; other writings (either about my own post or the underlying facts) were incomplete or downright false. Without addressing every stray argument I did want to come back to a few key points and correct some misrepresentations or misunderstandings.
An update to an earlier post on the same subject by The Post’s Fact Checker, Glenn Kessler, raises, I think, the critical issue that tends to get lost in the dueling narratives. Kessler writes in his update:
The bulk of the column dealt with Powell’s comments about Cheney. In retrospect, Powell’s comments probably merited two Pinocchios as well, since there are “significant omissions” in his statements, especially regarding the circumstances of his resignation and the Plame affair. Incidentally, we should have noted that Armitage failed to tell anyone that he had also leaked Plame’s name to reporter Bob Woodward until after Libby was indicted.
Well that’s the nub of the entire matter, isn’t it? The spat between two former senior officials is trivial if not for the fact that one of them, Powell, left out — tried to conceal, I would suggest — his own role and that of his deputy in a historically important matter. In failing to do the honorable thing, namely step forward to identify Richard Armitage as the leaker and thereby short-circuit a needless “scandal” and much personal anguish for many individuals (Scooter Libby, in particular), Powell and Armitage acted shamefully. They failed to serve the interests of their president and they subjected many White House officials to unnecessary financial cost and legal peril. Powell’s statements on “Face the Nation” are therefore not minor; they are part and parcel of a indefensible course of conduct.
Kessler also reminded us that he testified at the Libby trial about whether Libby ever discussed Plame or “Joe Wilson’s wife,” as Armitage repeatedly referred to her in an interview with Bob Woodward. The trial in fact offered one of the strongest points in Libby’s defense: Libby discussed Joe Wilson with numerous reporters during that period — Kessler, Bob Woodward, Walter Pincus, David Sanger and Robert Novak — who testified under oath that he never mentioned anything about the Plame. If Cheney’s office and Libby in particular were on a mission to retaliate against Wilson by outing Plame, then they were doing an awfully poor job of it. In fact, the only person pushing the Plame angle, or “Joe Wilson’s wife,” was Armitage. In sum, the notion that the ”outing Plame” tactic was a White House plot suffers from a dearth of evidence.
Now in making the episode all about “the White House tried to out Plame” (rather than the accurate story, “Armitage desperately tried to get Plame’s name out there”), many accounts and some Right Turn readers refer to White House senior adviser Karl Rove as a “source” for Novak. This suggests to the average reader that Rove was pushing Plame’s name out there. In fact, Rove’s sole role in this was to respond to Novak’s reference to Plame with “I heard the same thing.” This is certainly not an instance in which Rove was floating a name; it was, rather, Novak trying to poke around. Again, “the Bush White House outed Plame” does not bear up under scrutiny, no matter how the Bush-Cheney critics phrase things.
It is important to get the facts right, not because it is tempting to tally up the Cheney-Powell scorecards. It is important because Libby needlessly was convicted, a special prosecutor engaged in a joy ride long after he knew there was no crime committed, and Powell and Armitage have largely escaped any consequences for their actions. For those two, as for most public servants, what matters in the long run is how history portrays them. It is for that reason that Powell, to this day, strains to obscure the facts that cast him and his deputy in a very unseemly light.