- The Washington Times - Monday, July 18, 2005

Titus Oates was once a name every schoolboy knew. Oates was the disgraced Church of England clergyman who, in 1678 and 1679, accused various English Catholics of a “popish plot” to assassinate King Charles II and take control of the government of England.

On the basis of Oates’ testimony and that of a few other similar characters, more than a dozen Catholics were found guilty and executed. Priests were arrested and held indefinitely and Catholics were excluded from Parliament.

Then, as the trials went on, it became clear Oates’ detailed charges were all lies. His name became a synonym for liar.

Joseph Wilson is our latest Titus Oates. Mr. Wilson is the former diplomat who traveled to Niger to see if Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was trying to buy nuclear materials there and who wrote an article for the New York Times in July 2003 asserting he found no grounds for believing that.

A few days later, columnist Robert Novak reported Mr. Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA official who helped send him on this mission. That sparked an outcry that someone in the government had blown Mrs. Plame’s cover as a covert agent, in violation of a 1982 law.

A special prosecutor was appointed to investigate. In September 2003, Mr. Wilson said, “It’s of keen interest to me to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs.”

He wrote a book, “The Politics of Truth,” to rave reviews from the mainstream press, and he became a foreign policy adviser to John Kerry’s campaign. But Mr. Wilson, like Oates, lied.

Mr. Wilson’s Times article said he was sent by the CIA at the request of Vice President Dick Cheney. But Mr. Cheney denies making any such request, and former CIA Director George Tenet said the trip was initiated inside the agency.

Mr. Wilson’s article said George Bush lied in his 2003 State of the Union Address when he said British intelligence reported Iraq had tried to buy uranium in Africa. But Mr. Wilson’s mission covered only one country, and the British government has stood by its report. Moreover, the report Mr. Wilson sent the CIA said Iraq unsuccessfully sought to buy uranium in Niger in 1998; agency analysts concluded, not unreasonably, that this strengthened rather than weakened the case against Saddam.

Mr. Wilson denied repeatedly his wife played any part in his Niger assignment. But the Senate Intelligence Committee, in a report subscribed to by members of both parties, said she had suggested his name.

Titus Oates’ charges were embraced by some of the leading politicians of his time. The Earl of Shaftesbury, a former minister of the king and proprietor of the Carolina colony, endorsed his charges and encouraged demonstrations in London on his behalf. Shaftesbury, an advocate of (by our standards, limited) religious tolerance, is a sympathetic figure to many, but he was also by his embrace of Oates an accomplice in judicial murder.

Since 2003, many Democrats have embraced Joseph Wilson. Just last week, New York Sen. Charles Schumer stood up with him at a press conference and demanded Karl Rove’s security clearance be suspended.

The Democrats who were so outraged by Mrs. Plame’s outing have not, to my knowledge, expressed outrage over the New York Times’ May 31 story outing a CIA-run airline, a story that may have put agents in more danger than Mrs. Plame faced as a result of hers. Many Democrats have uncritically assumed whoever leaked Mrs. Plame’s name violated the 1982 statute, though it requires the person doing so must have known about the agent’s covert status and have named the agent deliberately to endanger her, and that the person named must have served abroad in the previous five years.

Mrs. Plame, according to Mr. Wilson’s book, returned from serving abroad in 1997 and, since then, has been a desk officer in CIA headquarters in Langley, entering and leaving the building every day in public view.

Shaftesbury’s championing of Titus Oates had grave consequences: He was confined for a time in the Tower of London and later fled to Amsterdam, where he died in exile. Mr. Schumer’s and other Democrats’ championing of Mr. Wilson will not have such dire consequences. But voters may hold them accountable for allying themselves with today’s Titus Oates.

Michael Barone is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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