- The Washington Times - Friday, November 4, 2005

Q: How did “Leakgate” start?

A: In his January 2003 State of the Union speech, President Bush said: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Former Ambassador Joe Wilson, who worked in the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations, claimed that — in those 16 words — the president deliberately misled the nation with what he called a false accusation. Mr. Wilson began telling the press that the Bush administration intentionally deceived the nation by falsely asserting Saddam tried to acquire processed uranium from Africa.

Q: Why does Mr. Wilson claim the president lied?

A: Mr. Wilson went to Niger in February 2002 to investigate the alleged connection between Niger, uranium and Saddam.

Q: What did Mr. Wilson find?

A: Here’s where things get interesting. Several months after the president’s speech, Mr. Wilson wrote in a New York Times column called “What I didn’t find in Africa” that he returned from his trip “highly doubtful” that any such connection existed between Saddam, Africa and uranium and that intelligence had been “twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.”

Q: If Mr. Wilson could find no such a connection, why did the president include those words in his speech?

A: Mr. Wilson now claims no such connection existed. But Robin Butler, head of the British investigation of prewar intelligence, concludes, “It is accepted by all parties that Iraqi officials visited Niger in 1999. The British government had intelligence from several different sources indicating that this visit was for the purpose of acquiring uranium. … We conclude also that the statement in President Bush’s State of the Union Address … was well-founded.” And the bipartisan U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, before which Mr. Wilson testified, concluded that when Mr. Bush spoke those 16 words in his State of the Union speech, his statement was based on credible intelligence — both then and now. The Senate panel found Mr. Wilson, on his return from Niger, orally reported to the CIA “some confirmation” Iraq had sought uranium in Niger.

Q: So Mr. Wilson lies when he now claims he found no such connection?

A: It appears Mr. Wilson changed his story. He also says, regarding his wife and his Africa trip, “Valerie had had nothing to do with the matter.” Turns out, according to the Senate committee, Mr. Wilson’s wife — a CIA agent known as Valerie Plame or Valerie Wilson — “suggested his name for the trip.”

Q: Why is this relevant?

A: Mr. Wilson told the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof that the vice president sent him on the trip. If so, this suggests Vice President Dick Cheney knew of Mr. Wilson’s skepticism. But the Senate panel determined the CIA sent him, after his wife recommended him for the trip.

Q: Doesn’t all this make Mr. Wilson a liar, someone not to be believed?

A: Yes, but many in the media still believe Mr. Bush indeed lied to the nation and consider Mr. Wilson a noble “whistle-blower.” For example, The Washington Post recently wrote, “Wilson’s central assertion — disputing President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union claim that Iraq was seeking nuclear material in Niger — has been validated by postwar inspections.” [Emphasis added.] No it hasn’t. Again, both the Senate panel and the Butler report considered credible the intelligence on which the president based that part of the speech.

Q: So how did this end up in the hands of special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald?

A: Mr. Wilson claims that, after he began talking to the press and wrote his op-ed article, the White House retaliated by “outing” his wife to reporters. The Bush administration assigned Mr. Fitzgerald to determine if someone in the administration violated the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act, designed to protect the identities of “covert” agents.

Q: How did the vice president’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, get involved?

A: According to the special counsel, Mr. Libby found out about Mr. Wilson’s wife from various sources in the administration. He disclosed her CIA identity to reporters. But the indictment says Mr. Libby lied to federal investigators and to the grand jury by claiming the information about Mr. Wilson’s wife came from reporters, rather than from government sources. Mr. Fitzgerald charged Mr. Libby with obstruction of justice, two counts of false statements and two of perjury. Note, however, Mr. Fitzgerald, at least so far, filed no charges under the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act.

Q: Why?

A: The statute requires that the “outed” agent must be “covert.” The law defines “covert” as an agent operating outside the United States in the last five years. Mr. Wilson’s wife does not meet the requirement, having worked stateside at CIA headquarters in Langley for well over five years.

Q: How serious is lying to a federal investigator?

A: Ask Martha Stewart.

Q: How serious is perjury?

A: Ask former President Bill Clinton.

Q: Why don’t some in the mainstream news media raise stronger questions about Mr. Wilson’s credibility?

A: Ask someone else.

Larry Elder is a nationally syndicated columnist and a radio talk-show host and host of his own televised program.

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