Forgive me for not live-blogging today's "much-anticipated" testimony of Valerie Plame before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. "Much anticipated" is (of course) a description that applies only to Congressional Democrats and members of the MSM, anxious to sustain this kerfuffle beyond the recent conviction of Scooter Libby--on charges that had nothing to do with the Ms. Plame's supposed status as a covert CIA operative. As for your humble correspondent, there are better things to do on a blustery Friday than listen to Ms. Plame offer the same line of baloney that her husband--the sainted Joe Wilson--has been peddling for more than two years.
As the Oversight and Reform Committee's ranking member, Virginia Congressman Tom Davis had the misfortune to sit through the Plame spectacle. I thought he summarized it well, opining that Plame's "star turn" before the Congressional panel would yield little insight into the matter. And, let the record show that Mr. Davis made that prediction before the former CIA officer took the witness chair. I don't think Congressman Davis would describe himself as a prophet, but he's been around Washington long enough to recognize a made-for-the-media hearing, complete with testimony that has little basis in reality.
Consider this "early" headline from Ms. Plame's appearance. She told the committee that her name and identity "were carelessly and recklessly abused by senior officials in the White House and State Department," in retaliation for her husband's criticism of pre-war intelligence on Iraq. And, as a result of the "leak,"I could no longer perform the work for which I had been highly trained." Plame also insisted that she played no role in sending her husband on that infamous fact-finding trip to Niger, to determine if Saddam Hussein was attempting to buy yellowcake uranium from that African nation.
It's hardly a surprise, but in the matter of a few minutes before the committee, Ms. Plame proved herself to be as practiced and proficient a liar as her husband--no mean feat. Let's begin with the charge that her name and identity were "abused" by administration officials. You'll note that she added the State Department to the list of conspirators, an apparent nod to former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who recently revealed as the first administration official to discuss Ms. Plame's employment status with members of the press. Of course, Mr. Armitage was never charged with any crime in connection with her alleged outing, and Mr. Libby's conviction stemmed from charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, largely because his changing recollection of events failed to jibe with the changing recollections of media members who testified against him.
But let's return to Ms. Plame's central charge, that she was somehow "outed" by the Bush Administration, and that somehow prevented her from performing clandestine work for her employer. Unfortunately, the facts don't support her assertion. Bill Gertz of the Washington Times reported almost three years ago that Ms. Plame's "cover" had apparently been blown not once, but twice, and long before Bob Novak printed his column in 2003. Intelligence officials told Mr. Gertz that Plame's status with the agency had been disclosed to Russia by a spy in Moscow in the mid-1990s, and was revealed a second time in classified documents obtained by the Cuban government.
In other words, the CIA was responsible for outing its own agent, long before Scooter Libby talked with reporters. Obviously, such bungling by the agency would have destroyed Plame's potential effectiveness as an operative with non-official cover (NOC). With her CIA affiliation known to both Russian and Cuban intelligence--and likely shared with other hostile intelligence agencies--the odds that Ms. Plame would return to covert work were approximately zero. I'm guessing that those inconvenient facts never surfaced in today's hearing on Capitol Hill.
Not that it really mattered. By all accounts, years elapsed between Ms. Plame's last clandestine assignment, and the time her name became fodder for the Washington rumor mill. That meant that she was no longer covered by the federal statute that makes it a crime to reveal the identity of classified operatives. Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald knew that before he launched his investigation, and it was no surprise that his probe quickly shifted its focused from a criminal "outing" of an undercover operative, to charges of lying to investigators and obstruction of justice.
Readers will also note that the questioning of Ms. Plame failed to cover other, salient points, namely that Bob Novak wasn't the first journalist to describe her as a CIA employee with NOC. That honor belongs to liberal columnist David Corn of the Nation, who used those terms in a piece that ran only days after Novak's. In fact, Corn's article contains far more information on Ms. Plame's activities than the Novak column. And the likely source for that information? Cliff May, a former reporter for The New York Times (who now writes for National Review), believes it was none other than Joe Wilson. If May's thesis is correct--and Corn has never offered a firm denial--then the former Ambassador-turned-Bush-critic was partly responsible for "outing" his wife.
In her testimony today, Ms. Plame also denied that she played an instrumental role in sending her husband on that trip to Niger.
"I did not recommend him. I did not suggest him. There was no nepotism involved. I did not have the authority," she said.
Poor Val. Apparently, she's unfamiliar with the final report of the Senate Intelligence Committee on pre-war intelligence in Iraq. On page 50 of that document, the committee concludes that Ms. Plame led the efforts to dispatch Joe Wilson to Niger, based on the notes and memoranda of a State Department intelligence analyst who attended the meeting. For the record, Wilson and Plame dispute that version of events, but the committee supports the State Department's account.
In another time, the obvious contradictions between the Wilsons' story and official government investigations would bring them public scorn, perhaps even charges of perjury and lying to investigators. But alas, we live in a new age, when inconsistencies between their assertions and other records mean nothing. Having attained the status of "unimpeachable sources," Mr. Wilson and Ms. Plame are apparently free to perpetuate their falsehoods for anyone willing to listen. After her close-up in Washington today, Ms. Plame will return to her new home in New Mexico, and put the finishing touches on her book (for which she received a hefty advance). After that, Warner Brothers is planning a movie about her life, which should add a few more zeroes to their joint bank account. Factor in future fees for lectures and TV commentary, and the Wilsons should profit handsomely from their new careers as celebrity liars.
Only in America.