Leakgate: What About Wilson's Credibility?

Question: How did "Leakgate" start?

Answer: In President George W. Bush’s January 2003 State of the Union speech, he said: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Former ambassador Joe Wilson, who worked under the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations, claimed that — in those 16 words — the President deliberately misled the nation with what he called a false accusation. Wilson began telling the press that the Bush administration intentionally deceived the nation by falsely asserting that Saddam Hussein tried to acquire processed uranium from Africa.

Question: Why does Wilson claim the President lied?

Answer: Ambassador Wilson himself went to Niger, Africa in February 2002 to investigate the alleged connection between Niger, uranium and Saddam Hussein.

Question: What did Wilson find?

Answer: Here’s where things get interesting. Several months after the President’s speech, Wilson wrote in a New York Times column called "What I Didn’t Find in Africa" that he returned from his trip "highly doubtful" about whether any such connection between Saddam Hussein, Africa and uranium existed, and that intelligence had been "twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat."

Question: If Wilson could not find such a connection, why did the President include those words in his speech?

Answer: Wilson now claims no such connection existed. But Robin Butler, head of the British investigation of prewar intelligence, concludes, "It is accepted by all parties that Iraqi officials visited Niger in 1999. The British government had intelligence from several different sources indicating that this visit was for the purpose of acquiring uranium. … We conclude also that the statement in President Bush’s State of the Union Address … was well-founded." Furthermore, the bipartisan U.S. Senate Committee on Intelligence, before which Wilson testified, concluded that when Bush spoke those 16 words in his State of the Union speech, his statement was based on credible intelligence — both then and now. The Senate Committee found that Wilson, upon his return from his Niger trip, gave an oral report to the CIA, which provided "some confirmation" that Iraq had sought uranium in Niger.

Question: So Wilson lies when he now claims he found no such connection?

Answer: It appears Wilson changed his story. He also states, regarding his wife and his Africa trip, " … Valerie had had nothing to do with the matter." Turns out, according to the Senate Committee, Wilson’s wife — a CIA agent, known as Valerie Plame or Valerie Wilson — "suggested his name for the trip."

Question: Why is this relevant?

Answer: Wilson told the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof that the Vice President sent him on the trip. If so, this suggests that the Vice President knew about Wilson’s skepticism. But the Senate Committee determined that the CIA sent him, after his wife recommended him for the trip.

Question: Doesn’t all this make Wilson a liar, someone not to be believed?

Answer: Yes, but many in the media still believe that Bush did indeed lie to the nation, and consider Wilson a noble "whistle-blower." For example, the Washington Post recently wrote, "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 inspections." [Emphasis added.] No it hasn’t. Again, both the Senate Commission and the Butler report considered the intelligence on which the President based that part of the speech to be credible.

Question: So how did this end up in the hands of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald?

Answer: Wilson claims that after he began talking to the press and after he wrote his op/ed piece, the White House retaliated against him by "outing" his wife to reporters. The Bush administration assigned special prosecutor Fitzgerald to determine whether someone in the administration violated the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act, designed to protect the identities of "covert" agents.

Question: How did the Vice President’s chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, get involved?

Answer: According to the special prosecutor, Libby found out about Wilson’s wife from various government sources in the administration. He disclosed her CIA identity to reporters. But according to the indictment, Libby lied to federal investigators and to the grand jury by claiming that the information about Wilson’s wife came from reporters, rather than from government sources. Fitzgerald charged Libby with obstruction of justice, two counts of false statements and two of perjury, Note, however, Fitzgerald, at least so far, filed no charges under the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act.

Question: Why?

Answer: The statute requires that the "outed" agent must be "covert." The law defines "covert" as an agent operating outside the United States in the last five years. Wilson’s wife does not meet the requirement, having worked stateside at CIA headquarters in Langley for well over five years.

Question: How serious is lying to a federal investigator?

Answer: Ask Martha Stewart.

Question: How serious is perjury?

Answer: Ask former President Bill Clinton.

Question: Why don’t some in the mainstream news media raise stronger questions about Wilson’s credibility?

Answer: Ask someone else.