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Playing the Plame Blame Game

To no one's surprise, the ConWeb regurgitates Republican talking points in defense of Karl Rove.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 7/19/2005
Updated 7/20/2005

The ConWeb has done a yeoman's job of rushing to the defense of White House senior adviser Karl Rove and echoing distorted Republican talking points in the outing of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame.

Let's take a quick look at some of the lies and distortions being told and how the ConWeb has used them:

1. Wilson said that Cheney (or the CIA) sent him to Niger when it was his wife who sent him

  • Ann Coulter, July 13 column: "Republicans were not allowed to respond by pointing out was sent to Niger by his wife, not by the CIA and certainly not by Dick Cheney. ... His government bureaucrat wife wanted to get him out of the house, so she sent him on a taxpayer-funded government boondoggle. ... Far from a serious fact-finding mission, it was a 'Take Your Daughters to Work Day' gone bad."
  • David Limbaugh, in his July 15 column (WorldNetDaily and NewsMax) claimed that Wilson was making "fraudulent implications" in "alleging that Vice President Cheney, who didn't know him from Adam, sent him." Limbaugh also conflates Plame "recommending" Wilson for the trip with Plame actually sending him.

The facts: The CIA did send Wilson to Niger. As a Senate Intelligence Committee report details, ultimate approval for Wilson to go to Niger came from the CIA's Counterproliferation Division directorate office.

And Wilson never claimed that Dick Cheney sent him. The evidence the GOP talking points provide for this is Wilson's July 2003 New York Times op-ed and a August 2003 CNN appearance. But the CNN quote offered (and slavishly regurgitated by Coulter in her column) is taken out of context; elsewhere in the interview, Wilson says that the vice president had no knowledge of his visit. In the op-ed, Wilson wrote that the vice president's office contacted the CIA with questions about a particular intelligence report, which set in motion Wilson's trip; this has not been specifically denied anywhere that we've seen. Coulter softens this claim elsewhere in her column by writing that Wilson "implied" that Cheney sent him.

Nor is it true that Plame was "sent" by his wife. The most that can be said with some factual basis is that Plame suggested to CIA officials that Wilson could take the trip, but there is doubt about that she did even that; some reports state that CIA officials asked Plame if Wilson was available. And even if Plame did "suggest" Wilson for the trip, she was in no position to authorize the trip.

2. Rove didn't know Plame's name when he talked to Time's Matt Cooper

  • Limbaugh: "It is uncontroverted that Rove didn't know Plame's name, much less that she was a covert operative."
  • article by Susan Jones, July 12: "This week, Rove's lawyer told the Washington Post that Rove did not know the name of Wilson's wife when he spoke with Cooper, and he did not mention Wilson's wife to make her identity public."
  • Cliff Kincaid, Accuracy in Media commentary, July 12: "Rove told Cooper that Plame 'authorized' Wilson's trip to Africa to probe the Iraq-uranium link. In this case, Rove was telling the truth."

As Media Matters notes, The New York Times reported that three days before his conversation with Cooper, Rove learned Plame's name from columnist Robert Novak, who outed Plame.

3. Victoria Toensing used as proof Rove didn't violate the law

Both WND and NewsMax ran articles featuring claims by Republican operative Victoria Toensing that Rove likely didn't violate a law forbidding the outing of covert agents, but failed to tell readers of Toensing's conflict of interest as a Republican partisan and a close friend of Robert Novak, the columnist who revealed Plame's identity.

4. Plame's career wasn't damaged by her outing

  • NewsMax article, July 12: "A report that White House adviser Karl Rove told Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper that the wife of showboating Iraq war critic Joseph Wilson worked for the CIA - a revelation, by the way, that did nothing to damage her career as a desk-bound analyst, let alone endanger her life."
  • Frank Salvato, commentary, July 15: "To say that Ms. Plame's occupation was well known in Washington -- her name having appeared in Wilson's 'Who's Who in America' -- would be an understatement. And since Ms. Plame had been stationed at Langley as an analyst for a period of time prior to Mr. Cooper's, Mr. Novak's or Mr. (Cliff) May's columns, one has to question whether or not the classification of covert operative accurately depicts Ms. Plame's employment."

While it's still unclear just how covert an operative Plame was, the fact that no one has killed her is not an accurate barometer of the damage her outing caused. It also outed a front company used by CIA operatives, Brewster Jennings & Associates, meaning that other agents and investigations may have been outed as a result of Plame's outing.

Distractions: Stuff thrown out to focus attention elsewhere

A July 16 WND article detailing an obscure liberal blog's suggestion that people leave "the gift of excrement" on the lawn of Rove's house neglects to point out the likely inspiration behind such a suggestion: President Bush's own nickname for Rove is "Turd Blossom."

A July 17 NewsMax article claimed that "Saddam Hussein had stockpiled 500 tons of yellowcake uranium at his al Tuwaitha nuclear weapons development plant south of Baghdad" but failed to note that virtually nothing had been done with the nuclear program since the 1991 Iraq war, and the program had decayed to a point where a U.S. official stated that Iraq was -- if it even could restart the program -- "many years from a bomb."

In a demonstration of NewsMax's knack of injecting a Clinton into everything (usually to try and prove that anything a Clinton purportedly did is much worse than anything any Republican did) a July 12 NewsMax article insisted that unlike the Plame case, Juanita Broaddrick's dubious rape allegation against Bill Clinton represented "truly serious allegations of genuine criminality."

Update: NewsMax is also trying a corollary to its policy of injecting a Clinton into everything -- dragging John Kerry into it. A July 14 article claimed that Kerry "outed a genuine undercover CIA agent ... even after the agency asked that his identity be kept secret," despite the fact that the agent's name had appeared in public and on the Internet as early as 2001.

A July 19 Media Research Center "Media Reality Check" compared Rove-Plame coverage to the relatively paltry coverage of the leaking of items in Linda Tripp's personnel file to a reporter, failing to note one obvious difference: Tripp wasn't a covert CIA operative.

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