Following Woodward statement, questions bigger than ever

In response to questions emailed to him, former ambassador Joseph Wilson has clarified that Post reporter Bob Woodward was not himself present at the June 14, 2003, DC conference where Wilson referred to his Africa trip. (Was that conference “mid-June 2003,” cf. Woodward’s published statement?)

 

Wilson also responds that Woodward was not present when the Post interviewed Wilson on July 6, 2003, when Wilson’s op-ed appeared in the New York Times.

 

Also in emails, Wilson responds in reply to questions that after being told that Mrs. Wilson was a CIA analyst, Woodward did not get in touch with either Wilson or his wife to check. Nor, if indeed Woodward passed this item along to Post reporter Walter Pincus, did Pincus. (Pincus reportedly has no recollection of Woodward’s telling him.)

 

A phone message left with Woodward and messages for his office via other offices at the Post, left the week before Thanksgiving, have not been answered. Reportedly Woodward has also not agreed to be interviewed by other Post reporters, although he and editor Len Downie have had some form of communication, and he has responded to some questions relayed by the new and very good Post ombudsman.

 

Meanwhile, big media wagons are being circled. Two Sundays ago, two different talking heads, on two different morning talk shows at ABC, both suggested that Richard Armitage might be Woodward’s unnamed source. This would have the effect of discrediting the State Department, as one of the talking heads pointed out, along with the Cheney-Rumsfeld axis in the administration. This past Sunday, the CIA leak or plant was all but ignored on the talk shows.

 

The Washingtonian magazine is about to publish a feature, complete with photo line-up, of the 50 most influential media figures in Washington. According to the Post, the feature will include Downie and also the Post’s “media critic,” Howard Kurtz, known for not holding the Post to the standards he allows for some other newspapers.

 

Many questions arise from the text of Woodward’s published statement. Some of the more detailed questions have already been printed; some will come out in days and weeks ahead. Larger and broader questions also lie ahead.

 

Several commentators, including me, have already noted questions for Woodward that are similar to questions for Judith Miller, formerly at the NYTimes. If some administration figure passed along a damaging item to Woodward and he sat on it, then he was in effect sitting on a story – not about Mrs. Wilson, but about how the administration was going after its critics. Why did he do so?

 

Both Woodward and Miller have made the argument, or had the argument made for them, that they were not even writing about the Plame leak story. So, in keeping the story (of administration tactics) quiet, were Woodward and Miller acting as journalists?

 

And how is keeping the aggressor’s name a secret the same as protecting a source? This was not protecting a whistleblower, exposing governmental wrongdoing. If anything, it was protecting a public official who indulged in behind-the-scenes retaliation against Wilson’s rather mild whistleblowing.

 

On top of Mrs. Wilson’s name, we still do not know from the Woodward statement printed in the Post whether the name of the CIA front company Brewster-Jennings came up, or with whom, or in what context. All we know about the front company as of now, aside from its role in regard to Saudi oil, is that Robert Novak outed it too, after outing Mrs. Wilson.

 

We know that Bush had big problems re Iraq “WMD” as of June 2003. His two trailers full of chemical weapons were just trailers. His weapons (Iraqi) were morphing into weapons “programs.” The PNAC neo-cons who had celebrated the end of major combat with him in March were becoming more subdued in June. Headlines everywhere but America were wondering in print what, if anything, had become of Saddam’s WMD.

 

Wilson had made his Africa trip at the beginning of 2003, had found nothing to go on, justifying concerns about an imminent and largescale Iraq threat – and the White House had rushed to war anyway. Now, on June 14, there was that Capitol Hill conference at which Wilson referred to his Niger trip and mentioned to Ray McGovern, retired (genuine) CIA analyst, that he was about to go public with the information.

 

Was that why the unnamed administration official called Woodward? – Or did Woodward call him? Was the interview itself in person or by phone? How hurried was it? How urgent was it?

 

Following that conversation, Woodward included mentions of Wilson’s wife in at least two lists of questions or notes, and then took those questions or notes to other interviews. Why?

 

Woodward says in his statement that he has no recollection of asking about Mrs. Wilson. Is it possible that indeed he did not ask about her, because he knew perfectly well that the item was a plant? – And therefore that the administration was indeed, in all probability, engaging in retaliation against Wilson and some attempt to intimidate future critics?

 

Did he ever make, or try to make, an appointment with Vice President Cheney, about this matter?

 

Woodward’s statement says that Libby brought up the Niger story, days after another official told Woodward about Wilson’s wife, but without mentioning Wilson’s wife. In response, according to the statement, Woodward either didn’t ask about Wilson or his wife or does not remember doing so. If Libby never mentioned Wilson to Woodward, isn’t it possible that’s because they both knew he didn’t need to do so, since Woodward had already been told?

 

The entire narrative about Niger gives rise to one of the biggest questions of all: What else have they been sitting on?

 

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