Joe Wilson is on the phone with some serious allegations about the people who work for the president.
Joseph Wilson IV, the former ambassador to Gabon and the man who told the world the Bush administration certainly should have known better about Saddam Hussein’s efforts to purchase uranium in Niger, wants to talk about how denizens of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. revealed his wife’s secret life as a CIA operative.
“If what Novak said is accurate, it is a breach of U.S. national security and a violation of American law,” says Wilson, referring to Robert Novak and his July 14 Chicago Sun-Times column headlined “The Mission to Niger.” Novak wrote that Wilson’s “wife, Valerie Plame, is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me his wife suggested sending Wilson to Niger …”
Novak’s column, in essence, says that Wilson’s trip to Niger was set up without CIA director George Tenet’s knowledge. And, that Wilson’s findings—that the British claim about Hussein purchasing uranium yellowcake was based on a forged document—were inconclusive. But, in Novak’s attempt to spin this story on behalf of the White House, all of Plame’s contacts and missions were compromised. Not surprisingly, Wilson is irate.
He’s already contacted the FBI and CIA and asked for investigations. Wilson tells me he will let the investigators figure out who outed his wife. But, while he doesn’t know for sure who leaked to Novak, Wilson’s pretty sure he knows where they work.
“I have every reason to believe, from what people have told me, that it was people at the White House.”
Wilson, by the way, does not hold Bush accountable for the leak. “I don’t think the president—I can’t imagine the president would have anything to do with this,” Wilson says when I ask him if Bush should be impeached if he is linked to the leak. “This is not the sort of thing he or his family—I knew his family since [the time I was] his father’s ambassador to Gabon—would do.”
Wilson tells me he blames “political operators operating below [the president’s] particular screen” for blowing his wife’s cover. And, though on July 6 he wrote in a New York Times editorial that “… I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat,” Wilson doesn’t blame the president for the infamous 16 words in his January State of the Union speech. (That passage—”The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa”—helped Bush justify war in Iraq.)
Though two administration officials have now apologized for ignoring CIA warnings that the Niger uranium tale was bunk, Wilson apparently doesn’t believe the president’s actions are on par with staining a blue dress.
“I don’t see how [Bush’s words are] impeachable. The president acted on good faith. The president is badly serviced by senior people around him,” says Wilson, who’s unwilling to name names. Well, was Bush truthful to the nation?
“I don’t believe the administration adequately explained how much [the occupation of Iraq] will cost or how long it will take,” he says, adding that this nation should think about being over there for “five, 10, 15, maybe 20 years.”
“Yes,” I nudge, “but was the administration truthful?”
“I think the administration had its ideas on what it wanted to accomplish,” he answers.
I push once more about Bush’s veracity.
“Put it this way,” he says, relenting. “It is not really something I can answer. It will be determined through the process of an ongoing debate and, ultimately, at the ballot box.”
Wilson, who has repeatedly stated that the outing of his wife was a “shot across the bow” at anyone else considering coming forward with damning information, tells me that potential fellow whistleblowers are already starting to reach out “indirectly” to express concerns about the consequences of releasing information they might have. With the president due in town today, I ask Wilson if he has any message for him.
“No,” he says. “I have no message for him.”
Who knew what?
The questions we were asking the Nixon administration, we are asking again, 30 years later.
Now, it’s who knew that Niger was a lie? When did they find out? Who knew about the leak? When did they find out?
Wilson, I think, is being a little too kind to Bush.
These are very serious questions.
Especially now that we are looking at a decade of paying with blood and money to do in Iraq what we could be doing here. Rebuilding cities. Establishing democracy.
Especially when the administration, exposed for lying to the public, compromises national security just to get back at the whistleblower who called the White House on its lie.
With so many lives on the line and so much money at stake, these questions make Watergate seem almost trivial. And Monicagate? Feh. Yet Nixon resigned and Clinton was impeached.
It is time, President Bush, to answer these questions.
And, if you knew about the leak and knew about the lie, it is time for you to go.
Howard Altman is editor of The Philadelphia City Paper.