The Plame affair (also known as the CIA leak scandal and Plamegate) was a political scandal that revolved around journalist Robert Novak's public identification of Valerie Plame as a covert Central Intelligence Agency officer in 2003.
In 2002, Plame wrote a memo to her superiors in which she expressed hesitation in recommending her husband, former diplomat Joseph C. Wilson, to the CIA for a mission to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had arranged to purchase and import uranium from the country, but stated that he "may be in a position to assist". After President George W. Bush stated that "Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa" during the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Wilson published a July 2003 op-ed in The New York Times stating his doubts during the mission that any such transaction with Iraq had taken place.
A week after Wilson's op-ed was published, Novak published a column which mentioned claims from "two senior administration officials" that Plame had been the one to suggest sending her husband.
The scandal led to a criminal investigation; no one was charged for the leak itself. Scooter Libby was convicted of lying to investigators. His prison sentence was ultimately commuted by President Bush, and he was pardoned by President Donald Trump in 2018.
In late February 2002, responding to inquiries from the Vice President's office and the Departments of State and Defense about the allegation that Iraq had a sales agreement to buy uranium in the form of yellowcake from Niger, the Central Intelligence Agency had authorized a trip by Joseph C. Wilson to Niger to investigate the possibility. The former Prime Minister of Niger, Ibrahim Hassane Mayaki, reported to Wilson that he was unaware of any contracts for uranium sales to rogue states, though he was approached by a businessman on behalf of an Iraqi delegation about "expanding commercial relations" with Iraq, which Mayaki interpreted to mean uranium sales. Wilson ultimately concluded that there "was nothing to the story", and reported his findings in March 2002.
In his January 28, 2003, State of the Union Address, US President George W. Bush said "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
After the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, Joseph C. Wilson wrote a series of op-eds questioning the war's factual basis (See "Bibliography" in The Politics of Truth). In one of these op-eds published in The New York Times on July 6, 2003, Wilson argues that, in the State of the Union Address, President George W. Bush misrepresented intelligence leading up to the invasion and thus misleadingly suggested that the Iraqi government sought uranium to manufacture nuclear weapons.
However, an article by journalist Susan Schmidt in The Washington Post on July 10, 2004, stated that the Iraq Intelligence Commission and the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence at various times concluded that Wilson's claims were incorrect. She reported that the Senate report stated that Wilson's report actually bolstered, rather than debunked, intelligence about purported uranium sales to Iraq. This conclusion has retained considerable currency despite a subsequent correction provided by the Post on the article's website: "Correction: In some editions of the Post, a July 10 story on a new Senate report on intelligence failures said that former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV told his contacts at the CIA that Iraq had tried to buy 400 tons of uranium from the African nation of Niger in 1998. In fact, it was Iran that was interested in making that purchase." Wilson took strong exception to these conclusions in his 2004 memoir The Politics of Truth. The State Department also remained highly skeptical about the Niger claim.
Former CIA Director George Tenet said "[while President Bush] had every reason to believe that the text presented to him was sound", because "[f]rom what we know now, Agency officials in the end concurred that the text in the speech was factually correct – i.e. that the British government report said that Iraq sought uranium from Africa," nevertheless "[t]hese 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the President." With regard to Wilson's findings, Tenet stated: "Because this report, in our view, did not resolve whether Iraq was or was not seeking uranium from abroad, it was given a normal and wide distribution, but we did not brief it to the President, Vice-President or other senior Administration officials."
In his column of July 14, 2003, entitled "Mission to Niger", Novak states that the choice to use Wilson "was made routinely at a low level without [CIA] Director George Tenet's knowledge." Novak goes on to identify Plame as Wilson's wife:
Novak has said repeatedly that he was not told, and that he did not know, that Plame was – or had ever been – a NOC, an agent with Non-Official Cover.
On July 16, 2003, an article published by David Corn in The Nation carried this lead: "Did Bush officials blow the cover of a U.S. intelligence officer working covertly in a field of vital importance to national security — and break the law — in order to strike at a Bush administration critic and intimidate others?"
In that article, Corn notes: "Without acknowledging whether she is a deep-cover CIA employee, Wilson says, 'Naming her this way would have compromised every operation, every relationship, every network with which she had been associated in her entire career.
In October 2007, regarding his column "A White House Smear", Corn writes:
On September 16, 2003, the CIA sent a letter to the United States Department of Justice (DoJ), requesting a criminal investigation of the matter. On September 29, 2003, the Department of Justice advised the CIA that it had requested an FBI investigation into the matter.
On September 30, 2003, President Bush said that if there had been "a leak" from his administration about Plame, "I want to know who it is... and if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of." Initially, the White House denied that Karl Rove, the White House Deputy Chief of Staff, and Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Chief of Staff of Vice President Dick Cheney, were involved in the leak.
Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself from involvement with the investigation because of his close involvement with the White House, and the responsibility for oversight fell to James B. Comey, a former prosecutor who had just been appointed deputy attorney general three weeks previously. Comey then appointed Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate the matter as Special Counsel who convened a grand jury. The CIA leak grand jury investigation did not result in the indictment or conviction of anyone for any crime in connection with the leak itself. However, Libby was indicted on one count of obstruction of justice, one count of perjury, and three counts of making false statements to the grand jury and federal investigators on October 28, 2005. Libby resigned hours after the indictment.
The federal trial United States v. Libby began on January 16, 2007. On March 6, 2007, Libby was convicted on four counts, and was acquitted of one count of making false statements. Libby was sentenced to 30 months in prison, a fine of US$250,000, and two years of supervised release after his prison term.
After the verdict, Special Counsel Fitzgerald stated that he did not expect anyone else to be charged in the case: "We're all going back to our day jobs." On July 2, 2007, President Bush commuted Libby's jail sentence, effectively erasing the 30 months he was supposed to spend in jail.
In March 2008, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealed that the investigation had cost $2.58 million. The GAO also reported that "this matter is now concluded for all practical purposes."
According to testimony given in the CIA leak grand jury investigation and United States v. Libby, Bush administration officials Richard Armitage, Karl Rove, and Lewis Libby discussed the employment of a then-classified, covert CIA officer, Valerie E. Wilson (also known as Valerie Plame), with members of the press.
The Wilsons also brought a civil lawsuit against Libby, Dick Cheney, Rove, and Armitage, in Wilson v. Cheney. On July 19, 2007, Wilson v. Cheney was dismissed in United States District Court for the District of Columbia. On behalf of the Wilsons, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed an appeal of the U.S. District Court's decision the following day.
In dismissing the civil suit, United States District Judge John D. Bates stated:
Judge Bates ruled that the "plaintiffs have not exhausted their administrative remedies under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which is the proper, and exclusive, avenue for relief on such a claim." Bates ruled that the FTCA outlines the appropriate remedy since the FTCA "accords federal employees absolute immunity from common-law tort claims arising out of acts they undertake in the course of their official duties," and the "plaintiffs have not pled sufficient facts that would rebut the [FTCA] certification filed in this action."
The Wilsons appealed that decision the next day.
The Wilsons asked the U.S.
According to the brief filed by the Justice Department:
On June 22, 2009, the U.S.
Valerie Wilson's role in Joe Wilson's selection
The Wilsons, and CIA memoranda presented in the report by the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, indicate that Ambassador Wilson's diplomatic experience in Africa, and particularly in Niger, led to his selection for the mission to Niger. He is fluent in French, and, during his diplomatic career prior to the trip, he had served as a U.S. State Department general services officer in Niger, as an ambassador to Gabon and São Tomé and Príncipe, as Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) in both Brazzaville and Iraq (taking over as Chief of Mission during the 1990–91 Gulf War), in other diplomatic postings, and in subsequent national security and military advisory roles concerning U.S.-African affairs under Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
After being consulted by her superiors at the CIA about whom to send on the mission, Valerie Plame, according to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, suggested that they ask Ambassador Wilson, her husband, whom she had married in 1998, whether or not he might be interested in making such a trip.
In the book Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, as Corn observes (before its release on September 8, 2006), they consider the issue of "whether Valerie Wilson had sent her husband to Niger to check out an intelligence report that Iraq had sought uranium there", presenting "new information undermining the charge that she arranged this trip. In an interview with the authors, Douglas Rohn, a State Department officer who wrote a crucial memo related to the trip, acknowledges he may have inadvertently created a misimpression that her involvement was more significant than it had been."
In his testimony to the grand jury, Libby testified that both he and Vice President Cheney believed that Joseph Wilson was qualified for the mission, though they wondered if he would have been selected had his wife not worked at the CIA.
Subsequent press accounts reported that "White House officials wanted to know how much of a role she had in selecting him for the assignment."
In his book, Tenet writes "Mid-level officials in [the CIA's Counterproliferation Division (CPD)] decided on their own initiative to [ask Joe Wilson to look into the Niger issue because] he'd helped them on a project once before, and he'd be easy to contact because his wife worked in CPD."
In March 2007, Plame addressed the question while testifying before the United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform: "I did not recommend him. I did not suggest him. There was no nepotism involved. I did not have the authority.... It's been borne out in the testimony during the Libby trial, and I can tell you that it just doesn't square with the facts." She described that in February 2002, while discussing an inquiry from the office of Vice President Cheney about the alleged Iraqi uranium purchases, a colleague who knew of her husband's diplomatic background and previous work with the CIA suggested sending him, and that she agreed to facilitate the discussion between her husband and her superiors despite her own ambivalence about the idea.
In response to Plame's testimony, Republican Senators Kit Bond, Orrin Hatch, Richard Burr submitted additional views to the Senate report that stated "Mrs. Wilson told the CIA Inspector General that she suggested her husband for the trip, she told our committee staff that she could not remember whether she did or her boss did, and told the House Committee, emphatically, that she did not suggest him." Also in the additional views is the full text of an e-mail message sent by Plame on February 12, 2002, to the Directorate of Operations at CPD, in which she writes that Joe Wilson "may be in a position to assist" the CIA's inquiries into the Niger reports.
In a review of Plame's memoir, Fair Game, Alan Cooperman wrote for The Washington Post that "by her own account, Valerie Wilson neither came up with the idea [of sending Joe Wilson to Niger] nor approved it. But she did participate in the process and flogged her husband's credentials." Plame writes in her book that Joe Wilson was "too upset to listen" to her explanations after learning years later about the February 12, 2002 email she had sent up the chain of command outlining his credentials.
In September 2003, on CNN's Crossfire, Novak asserted: "Nobody in the Bush administration called me to leak this. There is no great crime here," adding that while he learned from two administration officials that Plame was a CIA employee, "[The CIA] asked me not to use her name, but never indicated it would endanger her or anybody else. According to a confidential source at the CIA, Mrs. Wilson was an analyst, not a spy, not a covert operative and not in charge of undercover operators."
In "The CIA Leak", published on October 1, 2003, Novak describes how he had obtained the information for his July 14, 2003, column "Mission to Niger":
In that column, Novak also claims to have learned Mrs. Wilson's maiden name "Valerie Plame" from Joe Wilson's entry in Who's Who In America, though it was her CIA status rather than her maiden name which was a secret. Novak wrote in his column "It was well known around Washington that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA," though that assertion is contradicted by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, Valerie Wilson, and the CIA.
According to Murray S. Waas in The American Prospect of February 12, 2004, the CIA source warned Novak several times against the publication: two "administration officials" spoke to the FBI and challenged Novak's account about not receiving warnings not to publish Plame's name; according to one of the officials, "At best, he is parsing words... At worst, he is lying to his readers and the public. Journalists should not lie, I would think." 
Novak's critics argue that after decades as a Washington reporter, Novak was well aware of Plame's CIA status due to the wording he used in his column. A search of the LexisNexis database for the terms "CIA operative" and "agency operative" showed Novak had accurately used the terms to describe covert CIA employees, every time they appear in his articles.
On March 17, 2007, Plame testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Novak has written, "the CIA never warned me that the disclosure of Wilson's wife working at the agency would endanger her or anybody else."
According to The Washington Post, Harlow conveyed in an interview, "he warned Novak, in the strongest terms he was permitted to use without revealing classified information, that Wilson's wife had not authorized the mission and that if he did write about it, her name should not be revealed." Novak published a column refuting Harlow's claim. In his book, George Tenet wrote
In a December 2008 interview with the National Ledger, Novak was asked about his role in the Plame affair. Novak replied:
On July 11, 2006, Robert Novak posted a column titled "My Role in the Valerie Plame Leak Story": "Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has informed my attorneys that, after two and one-half years, his investigation of the CIA leak case concerning matters directly relating to me has been concluded.
Harlow is the person whom Novak refers to as his "CIA source" for his column "Mission to Niger".
Michael Isikoff revealed portions of his new book titled Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, co-authored with David Corn, in the August 28, 2006, issue of Newsweek. Isikoff reports that then Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage had a central role in the Plame affair.
In their book Hubris, Isikoff and Corn reveal – as both Armitage and syndicated columnist Robert Novak acknowledged publicly later – that Armitage was Novak's "initial" and "primary source" for Novak's July 2003 column that revealed Plame's identity as a CIA operative and that after Novak revealed his "primary source" (Novak's phrase) was a "senior administration official" who was "not a partisan gunslinger", Armitage phoned Colin Powell that morning and was "in deep distress". Reportedly, Armitage told Powell: "I'm sure [Novak is] talking about me." In his Newsweek
According to Isikoff, as based on his sources, Armitage told Bob Woodward Plame's identity three weeks before talking to Novak, and Armitage himself was aggressively investigated by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, but was never charged because Fitzgerald found no evidence that Armitage knew of Plame's covert CIA status when he talked to Novak and Woodward.
In an August 27, 2006, appearance on Meet the Press, Novak was asked if indeed Armitage was his source of Mrs. Wilson's identity as a CIA operative. Novak responded: "I told Mr. Isikoff... that I do not identify my sources on any subject if they're on a confidential basis until they identify themselves... I'm going to say one thing, though, I haven't said before. And that is that I believe that the time has way passed for my source to identify himself."
In an interview with CBS News first broadcast on September 7, 2006, Armitage admitted that he was Novak's "initial" and "primary source" (Novak's words). In the interview, he described his conversation with Novak: "At the end of a wide-ranging interview he asked me, "Why did the CIA send Ambassador (Wilson) to Africa?" I said I didn't know, but that she worked out at the agency, adding it was "just an offhand question.... I didn't put any big import on it and I just answered and it was the last question we had." After acknowledging that he was indeed Robert Novak's initial and primary source for the column outing Plame, Richard Armitage referred to what has been termed "a classified State Department memorandum" which purportedly refers to Valerie Wilson.
While the document is "classified", Armitage stated, "it doesn't mean that every sentence in the document is classified.... I had never seen a covered agent's name in any memo in, I think, 28 years of government.... I didn't know the woman's name was Plame.
According to The Washington Post, Armitage attributed his not being charged in the investigation to his candor in speaking with investigators about his action; he says that he turned over his computers and never hired an attorney: "'I did not need an attorney to tell me to tell the truth.'"
Novak disputed Armitage's claim that the disclosure was "inadvertent".
Novak also disputes Armitage's claim that he learned he was Novak's "primary source" (Novak's phrase) only after reading Novak's October 1 column: "I believed [Washington lobbyist Kenneth Duberstein, Armitage's close friend and political adviser] contacted me October 1 because of news the weekend of September 27–28 that the Justice Department was investigating the leak."
Armitage also acknowledged that he was Woodward's source.
In his memoir, titled The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years of Reporting In Washington, Novak wrote that after Armitage revealed to him that Joe Wilson's wife worked at the CIA, "Armitage smiled and said: 'That's real Evans and Novak, isn't it?' I believe he meant that was the kind of inside information that my late partner, Rowland Evans, and I had featured in our column for so long. I interpreted that as meaning Armitage expected to see the item published in my column."
On November 11, 2007, Armitage appeared on Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer
In his grand jury testimony, Rove testified he learned of Plame's CIA affiliation from journalists and not from government officials.
The indictment of Libby states: "On or about July 10 or July 11, 2003, LIBBY spoke to a senior official in the White House ("Official A") who advised LIBBY of a conversation Official A had earlier that week with columnist Robert Novak in which Wilson's wife was discussed as a CIA employee involved in Wilson's trip.
On July 2, 2005, Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, confirmed that Rove spoke to Time reporter Matt Cooper "three or four days" before Plame's identity was first revealed in print by commentator Robert Novak. Cooper's article in Time, citing unnamed and anonymous "government officials", confirmed Plame to be a "CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction." Cooper's article appeared three days after Novak's column was published. Rove's lawyer asserted that Rove "never knowingly disclosed classified information" and that "he did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA." Luskin also has said that his client did not initiate conversations with reporters about Plame and did not encourage reporters to write about her.
Initially, Rove failed to tell the grand jury about his conversations with Cooper.
On July 11, 2006, Novak confirmed that Rove was his second source for his article that revealed the identity of Plame as a CIA agent, the source who confirmed what Armitage had told him.
On February 12, 2007, Novak testified in Libby's trial.
On July 8, 2007, Rove spoke publicly about the investigation at the Aspen Ideas Festival question-and-answer session. Rove told the audience "My contribution to this was to say to a reporter, which is a lesson about talking to reporters, the words 'I heard that too,'... Remember, the underlying offense of Armitage talking to Novak was no violation. There was no indictment."
On August 19, 2007, Rove was asked by David Gregory on Meet the Press about whether Rove considered Plame to be "fair game". Rove replied "No. And you know what? Fair game, that wasn't my phrase. That's a phrase of a journalist. In fact, a colleague of yours." Rove has not denied he had a conversation with Matthews. Newsweek reported in October 2003 that a source familiar with Rove's side of the conversation told Newsweek that Rove told Matthews it was "reasonable to discuss who sent [Joe] Wilson to Niger."
After announcing his resignation from the Bush Administration, Rove appeared on Fox News Sunday and Meet the Press, and discussed his role in the Plame affair. According to Rove, he didn't believe he was a confirming source for Robert Novak and Matt Cooper with regard to Plame. Rove also reiterated that he first learned of Plame from another reporter, though would not disclose which reporter. Rove told Gregory "I acted in an appropriate manner, made all the appropriate individuals aware of my contact. I met with the FBI right at the beginning of this, told them everything. You're right, the special prosecutor declined to take any action at all. I was never a target." Rove told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday "I didn't know her name, didn't know her status at the CIA."
In his memoir, Courage and Consequence, Rove devotes three chapters to Wilson's New York Times op-ed and subsequent grand jury investigation. Rove writes that before his third appearance before the grand jury, Robert Luskin went back and looked through all of Rove's saved emails from April through September 2003. Luskin, according to Rove, uncovered an email Rove had written to Steve Hadley in which Rove discussed a conversation he had had with Matt Cooper concerning Wilson's op-ed. Rove writes that while the "email didn't jog any better recollection of the call", he immediately told Fitzgerald, after being sworn in, that he wanted to "set the record straight." After presenting the email to Fitzgerald, Rove writes that "it was as if I'd detonated a bomb in the shabby little room." Rove writes that before his fourth appearance before the grand jury he received a "target warning" by Fitzgerald. Rove describes his fourth appearance as "brutal from the first moment", and that the grand jury "hung on Fitzgerald's every word." After Rove's testimony, Fitzgerald told Luskin "All things being equal, we are inclined to indict your client." According to Rove, Luskin and Fitzgerald meet for hours in Chicago on October 20 to discuss the matter. At some point during the meeting, "Fitzgerald turned to what was really bothering him: my conversation with Matt Cooper. Was I lying about not being able to recall my phone conversation with him the morning of July 11, 2003?" Specifically, Rove writes, Fitzgerald wanted to know why "in December 2003 or January 2004 did I ask my aides... to find any evidence of contact with Matt Cooper." It was at this moment, according to Rove, that Luskin revealed his conversation with Viveca Novak in which Luskin learned that Cooper "had insisted around Time's Washington bureau that he had talked to [Rove about Plame]." Luskin then revealed to Fitzgerald that it was he who instructed Rove to have his aides find any records of that contact. According to Rove, Fitzgerald was "stunned", and stated to Luskin, "You rocked my world." Rove writes that it "was clear Fitzgerald had originally intended to indict Libby and me on the same day." Rove also writes that in the end, Luskin had a "charitable view of Fitzgerald... the prosecutor never leaked, and he treated Luskin with respect and was forthcoming about his evidence and concerns."
I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby
The grand jury Investigation indictment of Libby states:
According to Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, Libby first learned of Valerie Wilson's employment at the CIA in early June 2003 from Vice President Dick Cheney and proceeded to discuss her with six other government officials in the following days and months before disclosing her name to reporters Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper in early July 2003. Fitzgerald asserts that Vice President Cheney told Libby about Mrs. Wilson's CIA employment as the two crafted a response to an inquiry about Wilson's trip from reporter Walter Pincus. While her name was not disclosed to Pincus, Fitzgerald asserts that Pincus's inquiry "further motivated [Libby] to counter Mr. Wilson's assertions, making it more likely that [Libby's] disclosures to the press concerning Mr. Wilson's wife were not casual disclosures that he had forgotten by the time he was asked about them by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and before the grand jury."
Libby does not dispute that he initially heard about Mrs. Wilson from Cheney, but he claims that he had no recollection of that fact when he told the FBI in October 2003 and the grand jury in March 2004 that he remembered first learning about Mrs. Wilson in a conversation with NBC's Tim Russert on July 10, 2003.
Libby told the grand jury "it seemed to me as if I was learning it for the first time" when, according to his account, Russert told him about Plame on July 10 or 11, 2003.
Testifying as a prosecution witness, Russert said that although he and Libby did indeed speak on July 10, 2003, they never discussed Plame during their conversation.
During Libby's trial, Libby's lawyers argued that Libby's testimony to the grand jury and his interviews with the Federal Bureau of Investigation may have contained inaccuracies but that they were the result of innocent memory lapses explained by his pressing schedule of national security issues.
According to press accounts, Cheney told investigators that he had learned of Mrs. Wilson's employment by the CIA and her potential role in her husband being sent to Niger from then-CIA director George Tenet, though it's unclear whether Cheney was made aware of her classified status.
According to court documents, by December 2004 Fitzgerald lacked evidence to prove Libby had violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act and was pursuing charges related to "perjury, false statements and the improper disclosure of national defense information."
During Libby's trial, the prosecution focused the jury on a sequence of events occurring between May and July 2003.
On March 6, 2007, Libby was found guilty on four of the five counts against him.
According to Collins,
Collins described how after 10 days of deliberations,
Collins told the press "Well, as I said before, I felt like it was a long, you know, haul to get this jury done.
Another member of the jury, Ann Redington, who broke down and cried as the verdict was being read, also told Chris Matthews, in a March 7, 2007, appearance on Hardball, that she hoped Libby would eventually be pardoned by President Bush; she told Matthews that she believed Libby "got caught in a difficult situation where he got caught in the initial lie, and it just snowballed" and added: "It kind of bothers me that there was this whole big crime being investigated and he got caught up in the investigation as opposed to in the actual crime that was supposedly committed."
On May 25, 2007, in a court filing, Fitzgerald asked Judge Reggie B. Walton to sentence Libby to 30 to 37 months in jail, because Libby had "expressed no remorse, no acceptance of responsibility and no recognition that there is anything he should have done differently." Fitzgerald stated "Mr. Libby was a high-ranking government official whose falsehoods were central to issues in a significant criminal investigation, it is important that this court impose a sentence that accurately reflects the value the judicial system places on truth-telling in criminal investigations." The defense sought leniency based on Libby's record of public service.
The Probation Office's recommended sentence to Judge Walton was cited in court documents to be no more than 15 to 21 months of incarceration.
On June 5, 2007, Libby was sentenced to 30 months in prison, a fine of US$250,000, and two years of probation (supervised release) after the expiration of his prison term. According to The Washington Post, Judge Walton expressed his belief that the trial did not prove Libby knew that Plame worked in an undercover capacity when he disclosed her identity to several reporters. He added, however, that "anybody at that high-level position had a unique and special obligation before they said anything about anything associated with a national security agency [to]... make every conceivable effort" to verify their status before releasing information about them. Walton stated "While there is no evidence that Mr. Libby knew what the situation was, he surely did not take any efforts to find out,... I think public officials need to know if they are going to step over the line, there are going to be consequences.... [What Libby did] causes people to think our government does not work for them."
On July 2, 2007, President Bush commuted the sentence. No pardon was given, and the fine and probation, as well as the felony conviction remain. The statement said:
On July 5, 2007, it was reported that Libby had sent a cashier's check dated July 2 in the amount of $250,400 to the court clerk of the District of Columbia. NBC News reported that Libby paid the fine through his personal funds and not through a defense fund set up in his name.
On July 12, 2007, President Bush held a press conference and was asked about his commutation of Libby's prison sentence.
In December 2007, Libby, through his attorney Theodore Wells, announced he had dropped his appeal of his conviction.
Press reports indicated that Vice President Cheney "repeatedly pressed Bush to pardon Libby" to no avail in the final days of the Bush administration.
On April 13, 2018, President Donald Trump pardoned Scooter Libby, saying, "I don't know Mr. Libby, but for years, I have heard that he has been treated unfairly...
In January 2007, during the first week of Scooter Libby's trial, it was revealed in court proceedings that former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer was granted immunity from prosecution by Patrick Fitzgerald in February 2004. Fleischer reportedly acknowledged discussing Valerie Plame with reporters, but promised to cooperate with Fitzgerald's investigation only if granted immunity. When the deal was struck, Fleischer told Fitzgerald that he had discussed Plame with David Gregory of NBC News and John Dickerson of Time in July 2003, days before leaving his job at the White House. Fleischer testified that he first learned about Plame and her CIA affiliation during a July 7, 2003, lunch with Libby. Fleischer also testified that four days later, while aboard Air Force One and during a five-day trip to several African nations, he overheard Dan Bartlett reference Plame. According to Fleischer, Bartlett stated to no one in particular "His wife sent him... She works at the CIA." Shortly after overhearing Bartlett, Fleischer proceeded to discuss Plame with Gregory and Dickerson. According to Fleischer, neither Gregory nor Dickerson showed much interest in the information. Dickerson has denied Fleischer's account. Gregory has declined to comment on the matter. With regard to the immunity deal, Fitzgerald told the court "I didn't want to give [Fleischer] immunity. I did so reluctantly." Libby's attorney, William Jeffress, sought to learn more about the deal, telling the court "I'm not sure we're getting the full story here." According to Matt Apuzzo of the Associated Press, "Prosecutors normally insist on an informal account of what a witness will say before agreeing to such a deal. It's known in legal circles as a proffer, and Fitzgerald said [in court] he never got one from Fleischer."
In the closing arguments of Libby's trial, defense lawyer Ted Wells told the jury "The government in its questioning really tried to put a cloud over Vice President Cheney...
At a press conference after the verdict was read, Fitzgerald was asked about his statement to the jury that there is a "cloud" over the vice president.
After the trial ended, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) attempted to have the transcript of Cheney's interview with the special prosecutor released. The release was opposed by the Bush administration. In July 2009, the Department of Justice filed a motion with United States District Court for the District of Columbia stating that the position of the Obama administration was that the transcript should not be released. In the motion, the DOJ states:
In October 2009, the courts ruled in CREW's favor and the US Justice Department was required to release a transcript of Cheney's testimony to the FBI regarding the Plame affair. According to Cheney's testimony, Cheney could not recall information 72 times. This included that Cheney could not remember discussing Valerie Plame with Scooter Libby, although Mr. Libby testified that he remembered discussing Valerie Plame with Cheney on two occasions. Cheney had considerable disdain for the CIA, as he spoke of the incompetence of the organization, and three times said "amateur hour" in reference to CIA actions. Some observers say that Cheney's faulty memory was his method to avoid telling the truth, and to avoid potential prosecution. In closing arguments at Libby's trial, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said "a cloud over the vice president, persisted."
According to the court released transcript:
Journalists subpoenaed to testify in Fitzgerald's grand jury investigation
In a January 23, 2006, letter to Scooter Libby's defense team, Patrick Fitzgerald states: "... [W]e advised you during the January 18 conference call that we were not aware of any reporters who knew prior to July 14, 2003, that Valerie Plame, Ambassador Wilson's wife, worked at the CIA, other than: Bob Woodward, Judith Miller, Bob Novak, Walter Pincus and Matthew Cooper."
On November 16, 2005, in an article titled "Woodward Was Told of Plame More Than Two Years Ago", published in The Washington Post, Jim VandeHei and Carol D. Leonnig revealed that Bob Woodward was told of Valerie Wilson's CIA affiliation a month before it was reported in Robert Novak's column and before Wilson's July 6, 2003 editorial in The New York Times. At an on-the-record dinner at a Harvard University Institute of Politics forum in December 2005, according to the Harvard Crimson, Woodward discussed the matter with fellow Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein, responding to Bernstein's claim that the release of Plame's identity was a "calculated leak" by the Bush administration with "I know a lot about this, and you're wrong." The Crimson also states that "when asked at the dinner whether his readers should worry that he has been 'manipulated' by the Bush administration, Woodward replied, 'I think you should worry. I mean, I worry.'"
Although it had been reported in mid-November 2005 that Novak's source was National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, almost a year later media reports revealed that the source of this information was Richard Armitage, which Armitage himself also confirmed.
On February 12, 2007, Woodward testified in "Scooter" Libby's trial as a defense witness.
The New York Times reporter Judith Miller also claims to have learned Plame's CIA affiliation from Scooter Libby. Though she never published an article on the topic, Miller spent twelve weeks in jail when she was found in contempt of court for refusing to divulge the identity of her source to Fitzgerald's grand jury after he subpoenaed her testimony. Miller told the court, before being ordered to jail, "If journalists cannot be trusted to keep confidences, then journalists cannot function and there cannot be a free press." Miller was released from jail on September 29, 2005, after Libby assured her in a telephone call that a waiver he gave prosecutors authorizing them to question reporters about their conversations with him was not coerced. Libby also wrote Miller a letter while she was in jail urging her to cooperate with the special prosecutor. The letter has come under scrutiny, and Fitzgerald asked Miller about it during her grand jury testimony. Fitzgerald attempted to enter the letter into evidence at Libby's trial, arguing it showed Libby tried to influence her prospective testimony to the grand jury. Judge Walton ruled it inadmissible.
In her testimony at Libby's trial, Miller reiterated that she learned of Plame from Libby on June 23, 2003, during an interview at the Old Executive Office Building, and on July 8, 2003, during a breakfast meeting at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington D.C. At the July 8 meeting, which occurred two days after Joe Wilson's op-ed in The New York Times, Libby told the grand jury "that he was specifically authorized in advance... to disclose the key judgments of the classified [October 2002] NIE to Miller" to rebut Wilson's charges. Libby "further testified that he at first advised the Vice President that he could not have this conversation with reporter Miller because of the classified nature of the NIE", but testified "that the Vice President had advised [Libby] that the President had authorized [Libby] to disclose relevant portions of the NIE."
Miller was pressed by the defense at Libby's trial about conversations she may have had with other officials regarding the Wilsons.
According to Denver criminal defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt, a press-accredited blogger who attended the trial, "After Judith Miller's testimony, Libby lawyer Ted Wells told the judge he would be moving for a judgment of acquittal on a count pertaining to her." Neil A. Lewis reported in The New York Times on February 9, 2007, that "The Libby defense won a victory of sorts when Judge Reggie B. Walton agreed to exclude part of one of the five felony counts against Mr. Libby. But it remained unclear whether the change, which was not contested by the prosecutors, would matter in jury deliberations," and some speculated that Libby's conversation with Miller would be dropped from count 1 of the indictment. At Libby's sentencing hearing, Libby's lawyers filed a response to the Government's sentencing request. Libby's filing read, in part, "At the close of the government's case, the defense moved to dismiss from the indictment the allegation that Mr. Libby had lied about his July 12 conversation with Ms. Miller, because the evidence did not support this allegation. The government did not oppose this motion, and the Court granted it."
After the verdict was read, a juror told the press that while Miller's memory may have been bad, many on the jury felt sympathy for her due to the nature of her cross-examination.
In April 2015, Judith Miller published an autobiography in which she wondered if her memories had been wrong, if her testimony had been false and asked, "Had I misconstrued my notes? Had Fitzgerald's questions about whether my use of the word Bureau meant the FBI steered me in the wrong direction?" Commenting on Miller's book, former Vice President Dick Cheney said, "I always believed Scooter was innocent. What Judith Miller basically provides is confirmation of the fact that he was innocent."
Miller also writes that Joe Tate, Libby's lawyer until the criminal trial, revealed to her in a 2014 interview that Fitzgerald had "twice offered to drop all charges against Libby if his client would 'deliver' Cheney to him."
Walter Pincus, a Washington Post columnist, has reported that he was told in confidence by an unnamed Bush administration official on July 12, 2003, two days before Novak's column appeared, that "the White House had not paid attention to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's CIA-sponsored February 2002 trip to Niger because it was set up as a boondoggle by his wife, an analyst with the agency working on weapons of mass destruction." Because he did not believe it to be true, Pincus claims, he did not report the story in The Washington Post until October 12, 2003: "I wrote my October story because I did not think the person who spoke to me was committing a criminal act, but only practicing damage control by trying to get me to stop writing about Wilson. Because of that article, The Washington Post and I received subpoenas last summer from Patrick J. Fitzgerald."
On February 12, 2007, Pincus testified during Libby's trial that he learned Wilson's wife worked at the CIA from Ari Fleischer. According to Pincus, Fleischer "suddenly swerved off" topic during an interview to tell him of her employment. Fleischer, who was called to testify by the prosecution, had earlier testified he told two reporters about Valerie Plame, but on cross-examination testified that he did not recall telling Pincus about Plame.
Days after Novak's initial column appeared, Matthew Cooper of Time magazine published Plame's name, citing unnamed government officials as sources. In his article, titled "A War on Wilson?", Cooper raises the possibility that the White House has "declared war" on Wilson for speaking out against the Bush Administration. Cooper initially refused to testify before the grand jury, and was prepared to defy a court order and spend time in jail to protect his sources. At a court hearing, where Cooper was expected to be ordered to jail, Cooper told U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan: "I am prepared to testify. I will comply. Last night I hugged my son good-bye and told him it might be a long time before I see him again. I went to bed ready to accept the sanctions." Cooper explained that before his court appearance, he had received "in somewhat dramatic fashion" a direct personal communication from his source freeing him from his commitment to keep the source's identity secret. In an interview with National Review, Robert Luskin, Rove's attorney, stated: "Cooper's lawyer called us and said, 'Can you confirm that the waiver [Rove originally signed in December 2003 or in January 2004] encompasses Cooper?' I was amazed... So I said, 'Look, I understand that you want reassurances. If Fitzgerald would like Karl to provide you with some other assurances, we will.'" Cooper testified before the grand jury and wrote an account of his testimony for Time. Cooper told the grand jury his sources for his article, "A War on Wilson?", were Karl Rove and Scooter Libby.
During his appearance at Libby's trial, Cooper recounted how he first learned about Valerie Wilson on July 11, 2003, from Rove.
Libby was acquitted on one count involving Cooper.
According to Patrick Fitzgerald and the grand jury Investigation indictment, in his sworn testimony, Libby claimed to have heard of Plame's CIA status from Tim Russert.
Both Russert and Libby testified that Libby called Russert on July 10, 2003, to complain about the MSNBC program Hardball and comments that were made on that show about Libby and Cheney with regard to Wilson's Niger trip and subsequent op-ed. Libby contends, however, that at the end of that conversation, Russert asked him: "Did you know that Ambassador Wilson's wife works at the CIA? All the reporters know it."
At Libby's trial, Russert was questioned by prosecutors for only 12 minutes, but underwent more than five hours of pointed cross-examination over two days from defense attorney Theodore Wells Jr. Russert told prosecutors that he could not have told Libby about Plame because he had not heard of her until she was publicly revealed by Novak on July 14, 2003, four days after Russert spoke with Libby by phone.
Wells also focused on a November 24, 2003, report by John C. Eckenrode, the FBI Special Agent who interviewed Russert as part of the DOJ investigation. In that report, Eckenrode writes:
Russert testified, however, that he does not believe that he said what Eckenrode reports; while he acknowledged on cross examination that he was not asked about any conversations he may have had with David Gregory or Andrea Mitchell regarding Plame during his deposition with Fitzgerald, he also told the jury that "they never came forward" to share with him anything they were learning about Joe Wilson or Valerie Plame from administration officials, and he testified that after Novak's column was published, the NBC Washington bureau (which he heads) debated whether pursuing Plame's role in the story would compromise her job at the CIA and ultimately decided to pursue the story.
According to multiple news accounts of the trial, Russert's testimony was key to Libby's conviction or acquittal, and on the day that the defense rested, February 14, 2007, the judge refused to allow the defense to call Russert back to the stand. A juror told the press that the members of the jury found Russert to be very credible in his testimony.
Legal issues relating to the CIA leak scandal
There are some major legal issues surrounding the allegations of illegality by administration officials in the CIA leak scandal, including Executive Order 12958, the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, the Espionage Act, Title 18 Section 641, conspiracy to impede or injure officers, the Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement, other laws and precedents, perjury, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and compelling the media to testify.
A topic of much public debate centered on whether Plame's CIA status fit the definition of "covert" outlined under Intelligence Identities Protection Act.
The government and Libby's defense filed sentencing memoranda after Libby's conviction.
Libby's defense team countered:
On March 8, 2007, two days after the verdict in the Libby trial, Congressman Henry Waxman, chair of the U.S. House Committee on Government Reform, announced that his committee would hold hearings and ask Plame to testify on March 16, in an effort by his committee to look into "whether White House officials followed appropriate procedures for safeguarding Plame's identity."
On March 16, 2007, Valerie E. Wilson testified before the committee.
Mrs. Wilson's opening statement summarizes her employment with the CIA:
In reply to the committee's request that she define the term "covert", she replied: "I'm not a lawyer, but my understanding is that the CIA is taking affirmative steps to ensure that there is no links between the operations officer and the Central Intelligence Agency."
When asked if she was ever told whether her status fit the definition under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, Mrs. Wilson replied: "No," adding: "I'm not a lawyer, but I was covert.
Valerie Wilson also told the committee: "For those of us that were undercover in the CIA, we tended to use 'covert' or 'undercover' interchangeably.
She told the committee that she believed that her "name and identity were carelessly and recklessly abused by senior officials in the White House and State Department."
As a result of her exposure as a CIA operative, Mrs. Wilson testified: "I could no longer perform the work for which I had been highly trained."
Dr. James Knodell, Director of the Office of Security at the White House, testified before the committee as well.
According to Waxman: "Mr. Knodell could not explain, however, why the White House did not initiate an investigation after the security breach.
Citing Executive Order 12958, Waxman observes that the "White House is required to 'take appropriate and prompt corrective action' whenever there is a release of classified information." On September 29, 2003, approximately two and a half months after the disclosure of Plame's identity and subsequent filing of a crimes report by the CIA with the Justice Department, White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters: "The president believes leaking classified information is a very serious matter and it should be pursued to the fullest extent by the appropriate agency and the appropriate agency is the Department of Justice."
Attorneys Mark Zaid and Victoria Toensing also testified before the committee. Each testified that Plame may not have been covert under the IIPA, and that the legal definition is more narrow than the general CIA designation. Zaid told the committee, "Mrs. Toensing is absolutely correct with many of her questions with respect to the Intelligence Identities Act, which has a very exacting standard. Mrs. Plame, as she indicated, was covert. That's a distinction between possibly under the Intelligence Identities Act, and that classified information was leaked. And the question then is it of a criminal magnitude versus something less than that and these could be any number of penalties."
Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald was also asked to testify. In a letter to Waxman, Fitzgerald responded to Waxman's request, in part stating:
According to Robert Novak, Rep. Peter Hoekstra and Hayden were in a conference together five days after the committee hearing. Novak reported that Hayden "did not answer whether Plame was covert under the terms of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act" when pressed by Hoekstra. Novak reported on April 12, 2007 that:
Possible consequences of the public disclosure of Wilson's CIA identity
There has been debate over what kinds of damage may have resulted from the public disclosure of Valerie Wilson's identity as a CIA operative in Novak's column and its fallout, how far and into what areas of national security and foreign intelligence that damage might extend, particularly vis-à-vis Plame's work with her cover company, Brewster Jennings & Associates. Plame has characterized the damage as "serious", noting, "I can tell you, all the intelligence services in the world that morning were running my name through their databases to see, `Did anyone by this name come in the country? When? Do we know anything about it? Where did she stay? Well, who did she see?'" In an op-ed published by the Los Angeles Times, Joe Wilson wrote "She immediately started jotting down a checklist of things she needed to do to limit the damage to people she knew and to projects she was working on."
On October 3, 2004, The Washington Post quotes a former diplomat predicting immediate damage: "[E]very foreign intelligence service would run Plame's name through its databases within hours of its publication to determine if she had visited their country and to reconstruct her activities.... That's why the agency is so sensitive about just publishing her name."
In contrast, in an October 27, 2005, appearance on Larry King Live, Bob Woodward commented: "They did a damage assessment within the CIA, looking at what this did that [former ambassador] Joe Wilson's wife [Plame] was outed. And turned out it was quite minimal damage. They did not have to pull anyone out undercover abroad. They didn't have to resettle anyone. There was no physical danger to anyone, and there was just some embarrassment."
In an appearance the next night, October 28, 2005, on Hardball, Andrea Mitchell was quoted as saying: "I happen to have been told that the actual damage assessment as to whether people were put in jeopardy on this case did not indicate that there was real damage in this specific instance."
Following Mitchell's appearance on Hardball, on October 29, 2005, The Washington Post's Dafna Linzer reported that no formal damage assessment had yet been conducted by the CIA "as is routinely done in cases of espionage and after any legal proceedings have been exhausted." Linzer writes: "There is no indication, according to current and former intelligence officials, that the most dire of consequences—the risk of anyone's life—resulted from her outing. But after Plame's name appeared in Robert D. Novak's column, the CIA informed the Justice Department in a simple questionnaire that the damage was serious enough to warrant an investigation, officials said."
Mark Lowenthal, who retired from a senior management position at the CIA in March 2005, reportedly told Linzer: "You can only speculate that if she had foreign contacts, those contacts might be nervous and their relationships with her put them at risk.
Another intelligence official who spoke anonymously to Linzer cited the CIA's interest in protecting the agency and its work: "You'll never get a straight answer [from the Agency] about how valuable she was or how valuable her sources were."
On October 28, 2005, the Office of Special Counsel issued a press release regarding Libby's indictment.
In a November 3, 2005, online live discussion, in response to a question about the Fitzgerald investigation, The Washington Post's Dana Priest, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist specializing in matters of national security, stated: "I don't actually think the Plame leak compromised national security, from what I've been able to learn about her position."
In a January 9, 2006, letter addressed to "Scooter" Libby's defense team, Patrick Fitzgerald responded to a discovery request by Libby's lawyers for both classified and unclassified documents.
On March 16, 2007, Valerie Wilson told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform: "But I do know the Agency did a damage assessment.
During Libby's trial, Judge Reggie Walton told the jury: "No evidence will be presented to you with regard to Valerie Plame Wilson's status. That is because what her actual status was, or whether any damage would result from disclosure of her status, are totally irrelevant to your decision of guilt or innocence. You must not consider these matters in your deliberations or speculate or guess about them." During court proceedings, when the jury was not present, Walton told the court: "I don't know, based on what has been presented to me in this case, what her status was.... It's totally irrelevant to this case.... I to this day don't know what her actual status was."
According to her sources, "the damage assessment... called a 'counter intelligence assessment to agency operations' was conducted on the orders of the CIA's then-Deputy Director of the Directorate of Operation James Pavitt... [and showed] 'significant damage to operational equities.'"
Alexandrovna also reports that while Plame was undercover she was involved in an operation identifying and tracking weapons of mass destruction technology to and from Iran, suggesting that her outing "significantly hampered the CIA's ability to monitor nuclear proliferation." Her sources also stated that the outing of Plame also compromised the identity of other covert operatives who had been working, like Plame, under non-official cover status. These anonymous officials said that in their judgment, the CIA's work on WMDs has been set back "ten years" as a result of the compromise.
MSNBC correspondent David Shuster reported on Hardball later, on May 1, 2006, that MSNBC had learned "new information" about the potential consequences of the leaks: "Intelligence sources say Valerie Wilson was part of an operation three years ago tracking the proliferation of nuclear weapons material into Iran. And the sources allege that when Mrs. Wilson's cover was blown, the Administration's ability to track Iran's nuclear ambitions was damaged as well. The White House considers Iran to be one of America's biggest threats."
In March 2007, Richard Leiby and Walter Pincus reported, in The Washington Post, that Plame's work "included dealing with personnel as well as issues related to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and Iran." CBS news would later confirm that Plame "was involved in operations to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons", and may have been involved in Operation Merlin.
On September 6, 2006, David Corn published an article for The Nation titled "What Valerie Plame Really Did at the CIA", reporting that Plame was placed in charge of the operations group within the Joint Task Force on Iraq in the spring of 2001 and that, "when the Novak column ran", in July 2003: "Valerie Wilson was in the process of changing her clandestine status from NOC to official cover, as she prepared for a new job in personnel management. Her aim, she told colleagues, was to put in time as an administrator – to rise up a notch or two – and then return to secret operations. But with her cover blown, she could never be undercover again.
According to Vicky Ward, in "Double Exposure", "In fact, in the spring [of 2003], Plame was in the process of moving from NOC status to State Department cover.
In testifying before Congress, Valerie Wilson described the damage done by her exposure in the following way:
In her memoir, Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House, Valerie Plame Wilson states that after her covert and then-still-classified CIA identity "Valerie Plame" appeared in Novak's column in July 2003, she feared for her children's safety but was denied protection by the Agency. On October 26, 2005, her former CIA colleague Larry Johnson told Wolf Blitzer, on the CNN program The Situation Room, that she "had received death threats overseas from Al-Qaeda"; according to Johnson, after the FBI contacted her and told her of the threat made by al-Qaeda, she called the CIA and asked for security protection but was told: "you will have to rely upon 9-1-1."
On November 12, 2010, The Washington Post published a letter to the editor written by R.E. Pound. According to the Post, Pound served in the CIA from 1976 to 2009. Pound writes, "I was at one point charged with looking into possible damage in one location caused by Valerie Plame's outing. There was none.... It was wrong to expose Plame. It was ludicrous for her to claim that the exposure forced an end to her career in intelligence."
In his memoir, Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA, John A. Rizzo, a career lawyer at the CIA, details his involvement with the Plame investigation. According to Rizzo, after the CIA assessment of Novak's column, "the Plame leak appeared to be a most unlikely candidate for a full blown Justice/FBI investigation." Rizzo writes that there was "no evidence that any CIA source or operation-or Plame herself, for that matter-was placed in jeopardy as a result of the 'outing'." Rizzo also writes that "dozens if not hundreds of people knew she was an Agency employee." While describing Plame as a "capable, dedicated officer", Rizzo lays blame on her husband for the end of her CIA career. Rizzo also writes that it was he who declined Plame's request for round-the-clock security protection. According to Rizzo, there was "no credible information" indicating she was in any danger.