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Woodward-gate?

What did Bob Woodward know about the outing of Valerie Plame and when did he know it?
 
 
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Has Bob Woodward just become the Washington Post's Judy Miller?

It was bad enough when Woodward shifted in recent years from the tough, no-holds-barred investigative reporter of the Watergate era to his current incarnation as a best-selling author and soft courtier to the powerful.

Things got worse when he consistently withheld stories from the Post (where he is assistant managing editor) and information from his superiors that resulted in the newspaper being scooped -- most notably about the identity of Deep Throat.

Woodward's metamorphosis appeared to have reached its nadir last month when he appeared on the Larry King show to claim that the Plamegate scandal that has rocked the White House started "kind of as gossip, as chatter," and "there's a lot of innocent actions in all this." Woodward then went on to denounce special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald as a "junkyard dog" who "turns over rocks, and rocks under rocks."

Excuse me -- but isn't that precisely the job Fitzgerald was hired to do? Not according to Woodward, who believes "a really thoughtful prosecutor" would instead say, "maybe this is not one to go to the court with." Nevertheless, the day after Woodward's remarks, Fitzgerald announced the indictment of I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, for perjury, false statements, and obstruction.

Now comes the startling news that a senior Bush administration official told Woodward that Valerie Plame was a CIA operative about a month before her identity was made public. Other than to say it was not Libby, Woodward and other editors at the Post refuse to identify the official.

The revelation that a still-unnamed top White House official (not Karl Rove, according to Rove's spokesman) told Woodward about Plame well before Libby revealed her identity to Judy Miller came in the course of a two-hour deposition Woodward gave on Monday. Fitzgerald interviewed Woodward about the previously undisclosed conversation after the anonymous official contacted the special counsel a week after Libby was indicted.

Woodward's testimony obviously raises questions about Libby's indictment. "Will Mr. Fitzgerald now say he was wrong to say on TV that Scooter Libby was the first official to give this information to a reporter?" one of Libby's lawyers, William Jeffress Jr., asked the Post. "Why did Mr. Fitzgerald indict Mr. Libby before fully investigating what other reporters knew about Wilson's wife?"

As the Post's own article states, "Woodward and Post editors refused to disclose the official's name or provide crucial details about the testimony." Moreover, "Woodward did not share the information with Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. until last month, and the only Post reporter whom Woodward said he remembers telling in the summer of 2003 does not recall the conversation taking place."

As Post reporters Jim VandeHei and Carol D. Leonnig delicately reported, Executive Editor Downie "declined to say whether he was upset that Woodward withheld the information from him." Downie also told them "he could not explain why Woodward said he provided a tip about Wilson's wife to Walter Pincus, a Post reporter writing about the subject, but did not pursue the matter when the CIA leak investigation began." Downie added "Woodward has often worked under ground rules while doing research for his books that prevent him from naming sources or even using the information they provide until much later."

Further, although Woodward says "I told Walter Pincus, a reporter at The Post, without naming my source, that I understood Wilson's wife worked at the CIA as a WMD analyst," Pincus says he does not recall Woodward telling him that. In fact, Pincus "cannot imagine he would have forgotten such a conversation" around the same time he was writing about Wilson.

"Are you kidding?" Pincus told his own newspaper. "I certainly would have remembered that."

Shades of Little Miss Run Amok! Information too sensitive to share with editors ... co-workers who don't recall conversations you claim to have had with them ... Say it ain't so, Bob! Unfortunately it is so, and Woodward has apparently once again put his newspaper at risk for his own personal profit and aggrandizement. It's been evident for some time that his book-writing career conflicts with his reporting at the Washington Post, and it is well past time for Woodward to choose one or the other, instead of trying to have his cake and eat it too.

As Sydney Schanberg wrote recently in the Village Voice, "Critics in the press have suggested that Woodward is too close to some of his sources to provide readers with an undiluted picture of their activities.

"His remarks about the Fitzgerald investigation convey the attitude of a sometime insider reluctant to offend -- and that is hardly a definition of what a serious, independent reporter is supposed to be. It's a far piece from Watergate."

For example, as Woodward testified in his deposition, he discussed Iraq policy with Libby on June 27, 2003 as part of his research for yet another "insider's" book about the Bush administration. According to the Post, "He said he does not believe Libby said anything about Plame."

But Woodward also told Fitzgerald, based on an 18-page list of questions he planned to ask Libby, (which included the phrases "yellowcake" and "Joe Wilson's wife") that it "is possible he asked Libby about Plame or her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson." Woodward also said, however, that he "had no recollection" of mentioning the pair to Libby.

Let's recap, shall we? Woodward says he "does not believe" Libby said anything about Plame; he has "no recollection" of mentioning Plame or her husband to Libby; but it "is possible" that he asked Libby about both. And although he told Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie nothing, he says he did tell Post reporter Walter Pincus that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA as a WMD analyst. But Pincus says he recalls nothing of the sort.

Got that? Clear as mud, right?

This much at least is clear: Woodward's testimony changes key elements in the chronology Fitzgerald announced when indicting Libby; Woodward's unnamed official is now revealed to be the first government employee to disclose Plame's CIA employment to a reporter; and Woodward is that reporter ...

Woodward's previously undisclosed involvement in the Plamegate affair must also be viewed in light of his repeated public dismissals of its importance. The Larry King show was but the latest -- as Woodward told National Public Radio this summer, "When I think all of the facts come out in this case, it's going to be laughable because the consequences are not that great."

Woodward declined to elaborate on the statement he released to The Post late yesterday afternoon and publicly last night, and would not answer any questions. That's too bad, because I have at least two: What did Bob Woodward know about the leak of Valerie Plame's secret identity?

And when did he know it?

This and other articles by Rory O'Connor are available on his blog.