Bob Woodward, half of the iconic journalistic Watergate team, seems to be in deep ethical doo-doo, having just apologized to his executive editor at the Washington Post for not fessing up until now to a conversation he had two years ago with an unnamed top Bush administration official who identified CIA covert agent, Valerie Plame. This despite the explosive scandal ending up before a grand jury and costing Vice President Dick Cheney's top aide, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, his job -- and perhaps, one day, his personal liberty.
Woodward, an assistant managing editor and best-selling author, said he told Leonard Downie Jr. that he held back the information because he was worried about being subpoenaed by Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special counsel in the case.
Downie, who was informed by Woodward late last month, said in a separate interview that his most famous employee had "made a mistake." Despite Woodward's concerns about his confidential sources, Downie said, "he still should have come forward, which he now admits. We should have had that conversation . . . I'm concerned that people will get a misimpression about Bob's value to the newspaper and our readers because of this one instance in which he should have told us sooner."
Understand that this makes Woodward, the ultimate insider reporter in Washington, Mr. White House Red Carpet himself, the first known journalist to learn Plame's identity, and that she was married to Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who was trying to discredit the administration's WMD case for war.
This is significant because, at his Oct. 28 news conference following Libby's indictment, Fitzgerald said that "Mr. Libby was the first official known to have told a reporter when he talked to Judith Miller in June of 2003 about Valerie Wilson."
Wrong. And Woodward seem to have been prepared to leave it like that.
Says the Post:
Woodward's testimony appears to change key elements in the chronology Fitzgerald laid out in his investigation and announced when indicting Libby three weeks ago. It would make (Woodward's) unnamed official -- not Libby -- the first government employee to disclose Plame's CIA employment to a reporter. It would also make Woodward, who has been publicly critical of the investigation, the first reporter known to have learned about Plame from a government source.
The Woodward revelation came out very late last night, and has been all over the U.S. newsnets and the blogosphere today. But, unlike the New York Times did with Judith Miller, the Post has not tried to wriggle out of this.
In a more than two-hour deposition, Woodward told Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald that the official casually told him in mid-June 2003 that Plame worked as a CIA analyst on weapons of mass destruction, and that he did not believe the information to be classified or sensitive, according to a statement Woodward released yesterday.
Fitzgerald interviewed Woodward about the previously undisclosed conversation after the official alerted the prosecutor to it on Nov. 3 -- one week after Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was indicted in the investigation.
Citing a confidentiality agreement in which the source freed Woodward to testify but would not allow him to discuss their conversations publicly, Woodward and Post editors refused to disclose the official's name or provide crucial details about the testimony. 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.
Walter Pincus, the longtime Washington Post reporter and one of several journalists who testified in the Valerie Plame case, said he believed as far back as 2003 that Bob Woodward had some involvement in the case but he did not pursue the information because Woodward asked him not to.
"He asked me to keep him out of the reporting and I agreed to do that," Pincus said today.
"In October, I think he did come by after I had written about being called and said I wasn't the only one who would be called," Pincus said, adding that he believed Woodward was talking about himself, but did not press him on it. "Bob and I have an odd relationship because he is doing books and I am writing about the same subject."
Poor, poor Woodward said he just is so used to being Mr. Deep Down and Dark, he just didn't want to get involved.
"I apologized because I should have told him about this much sooner," Mr. Woodward said in an interview with Howard Kurtz, a Post media writer. "I explained in detail that I was trying to protect my sources. That's Job No. 1 in a case like this. . . .
"I hunkered down. I'm in the habit of keeping secrets. I didn't want anything out there that was going to get me subpoenaed."
Here's the extra special sleazy part: Woodward admits that none of this would have come out had his mysterious source not spilled the beans to the Special Counsel.
I was first contacted by Fitzgerald's office on Nov. 3 after one of these officials went to Fitzgerald to discuss an interview with me in mid-June 2003 during which the person told me Wilson's wife worked for the CIA on weapons of mass destruction as a WMD analyst.
Needless to say, media observers are steamed. Here's the American Journalism Review:
Bob Woodward, Mr. Anonymous Sources himself, has become embroiled in a saga that's all about anonymous sources.
Sadly, he's become involved in a shocking way that raises huge questions about his role at the Washington Post.
Even more troubling is how people are now looking back to how Woodward dismissed the whole Plame investigation in TV interviews, without ever admitting that he had a conflict of interest, saying things like
Now, there are a couple of things that I think are true. First of all, this began not as somebody launching a smear campaign that it actually -- when the story comes out, I'm quite confident we're going to find out that it started kind of as gossip, as chatter, and that somebody learned that Joe Wilson's wife had worked at the CIA and helped him get this job going to Niger to see if there was an Iraq/Niger uranium deal...
Well, this is a junkyard-dog prosecutor, and he goes everywhere and asks every question and turns over rocks and rocks under rocks and so forth.
Of course, Woodward, now working on yet another close-to-the-Dubya bestseller, would not want to get in bad with his White House pals. Hence his attempts to brush off Plamegate. Meanwhile, the lefty-libby blogs like this and this pounced on his TV comments but the story did not gain any traction ... until now.
Interestingly, on Sunday, Nov. 6, Woodward was in Toronto, giving a speech to major donors to the UJA. Before the gala dinner at the Royal York Hotel, he spoke to half a dozen reporters, including myself. Here's my treeware column about it.
But I left stuff out.
You see, I had come loaded for bear, wondering why Woodward had been minimizing the Plame investigation in the previous week. So, while we were waiting for Woodward, who was more than half an hour late, I asked the other reporters if they had prepared ''a line of attack." None of them had. It was a Sunday, a slow news day, there was no real news hook, and these were fairly young general assignment journos not particularly immersed in these matters. None of them protested against my wanting to dominate the non-news news conference.
So I pounced, firing off three questions at the top, asking about Libby and Plame and the scandal. Among the questions was, knowing what he knows now, would anything have changed in his book about the run-up to the Iraq invasion, Plan of Attack? He replied:
None of the facts that I know of I would change.
The indictment against Scooter Libby has to do with things he told the Grand Jury and the FBI in an investigation that took place really after all of the decision to go to war had been finalized, and I think after I had finished my book.
Not quite, since the book wasn't published until 2004, some ten months after Woodward and his unnamed administration offical had that conversation about Plame, and nine months before the scandal broke.
Still Woodward continued:
How would I have known that Scooter Libby allegedly lied to the FBI?
There’s nothing in that if it was possible to know, you know, it doesn’t change anything.
I guess that, strictly speaking, that's accurate -- but there's no doubt that Woodward knew that the White House was spinning like mad about members of the Bush administration not being ''knowingly'' involved.
Anyway, Woodward bristled at my questions, and actually accused me of ''conducting an interrogation." He pointedly asked the others if they had any questions. I politely backed off, only to return later to ask about how he felt about the recent blog attack regarding his brushing aside of the Plame case. He said he paid no attention to blogs. He cut off the Q&A and made a super-patronizing comment about us being happy little reporters. (No, I did not like him.)
I should have made him sweat. I bet there are plenty of people who would love to see him sweat. But, like everybody else, I was clueless as to his apparent involvement.
So now the really big questions now are, just how many White House officials talked to how many reporters? (Kevin Drum is trying to keep a scorecard.) How many reporters are still protecting sources that should be hauled before Fitzgerald? And, as Digby asks
We know Libby leaked about Plame to reporters. We know Rove leaked about Plame to reporters. We now know that some other administration figure leaked to Woodward and another one (perhaps the same one) leaked to Novak. What is it going to take for the media to start calling this what it was --- a conspiracy?
I don't know if Fitz can prove such a thing. But common sense says that if a bunch of different White House sources are talking to the most powerful journalists in Washington about the same subject, it isn't just idle gossip. Woodward knew that. So did every other top reporter in town. They just preferred to pretend otherwise.
Yeah, I know this post is too long already, but I had to leave you with this gem from Wonkette:
Bloggers are beside themselves over Bob Woodward's revelation that he was told by a “senior administration official” who Valerie Plame was nearly a month before Bob Novak first identified her in his column. There are many theories as to why Woodward would come forth with this information at this time. Kevin Drum theorizes that the blockbuster article comes only because the SAO tipped his hand to Patrick Fitzgerald: “Perhaps Mr. X is a cooperating witness, or perhaps he's someone who started to feel some heat and decided to come forward because he got scared.” We have another theory: Bob Woodward had not been on television in the last week or so.