Wilson lied, but his wife won’t die

Ambassador Joe Wilson is the only person in the Valerie Plame kerfuffle who has definitively lied. His wife is the only person guilty of professional misconduct. So why are there calls for Karl Rove to resign?

Dateline 29 July 2005

There are people calling for Karl Rove to resign as White House Counsel over the most astonishingly mundane row in politics – the Valerie Plame kerfuffle.

It began when former Ambassador Joe Wilson began proclaiming to anyone who would listen – and the media and the Kerry campaign were keen to listen – that someone in the White House had illegally “outed” his wife as a spy. He did so in numerous articles, and in the book he was promoting at the time, and became an advisor to the Kerry campaign.

He claimed that the outing was “revenge” on him for writing an article attacking the liberation of Iraq, and claiming he had debunked a White House claim that Saddam tried to buy nuclear materials in Niger. He also frequently, and almost hysterically, denied claims that his wife had engineered his appointment to investigate the Niger claim.

It turns out he was lying on the last point, and possibly on a great deal more. When e-mails from Valerie Plame (Wilson’s wife) were produced for a Senate enquiry which showed that she did get him the job, Kerry distanced himself from Wilson.

Why does this matter? Because there is a law which, under restrictive circumstances, makes it a criminal offence to blow the cover of a CIA operative. During the cold war left wing journalists used to name spies working abroad, and this exposed them to the risk of torture and death. Valerie Plame does not work abroad. She works at Langley, where they tend not to arrest, torture or kill CIA employees. If Wilson really believed that his wife was in danger from her status being known, he wouldn’t talk about her status on CNN.

According to Time, Plame has an ultra-top secret status called non-official cover (noc). It is not clear where they learned this. Not from Rove, who almost certainly did not know it. Indeed, when Time first spoke to Rove on the matter they told him that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA. He said “Yeah, I heard that too”. It doesn’t sound like he was releasing top secret information.

He later told another Time journalist that Plame had arranged Wilson’s appointment to the Niger enquiry, but as we know, that was true. And the law which would have prevented Rove from naming Plame’s status – if he had known it and if she had been based abroad – was designed to save lives, not to cover up nepotism.

So there is actually no way that Rove broke the law. Nor was it done for “revenge”. Neither Plame nor Wilson has suffered any disadvantage or been exposed to any danger. Wilson has sold a great many copies of his book and made a lot of money. It was done to explain why the administration had appointed a partisan Democrat to conduct a politically sensitive enquiry in an election year.

So, while no-one has broken the law, one person has abused her position to get a high profile assignment for her husband. In doing so, she must have known she was breaching the trust of her superiors. She benefited her husband’s finances to a very significant degree. Someone needs to be accountable for this, but those calling for Rove to resign or be dismissed have misdirected their fire.

Copyright © Quentin Langley 29 July 2005

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