Saturday, February 14, 2004

Joseph C. Wilson, a former Clinton appointee whose unsubstantiated charge that senior White House officials leaked the identity of his CIA officer wife and prompted a grand jury probe, has taken a prominent role in the presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry.

The career diplomat and senior director for Africa policy for the National Security Council during the Clinton administration has campaigned for the Democratic presidential front-runner in at least six states. Mr. Wilson has also been offering the Massachusetts candidate speechwriting tips.

A two-day visit to Seattle last week, just a day before the state’s Democratic caucuses, illustrates the role Mr. Wilson will play as the Kerry campaign ramps up.

“We went to war under false pretenses and that is becoming abundantly clear to the American people,” he told hundreds of students during a foreign policy forum at the University of Washington. “I don’t care who you vote for, but get out there and caucus. Don’t leave it to the neoconservatives and evangelical Christians,” Mr. Wilson said.

Mr. Kerry’s press secretary defended the inclusion of Mr. Wilson in the campaign.

“I think his support speaks volumes about this administration’s blustering foreign policy as well as about the breach of trust they’ve had with the American people,” David Wade said.

Mr. Wilson did not return phone calls, but an agent for him said he is not talking to the press because he has a new book coming out in May titled “The Politics of Truth.”

Most Republicans would not comment for attribution. But one said the use of Mr. Wilson — especially with an ongoing federal investigation over the leak of his wife’s name — shows the kind of politics the Kerry camp will employ during the presidential campaign.

“With his political agenda so obvious, it calls into question his motives for the leak story last summer,” said a top Republican. “He’s a political animal and he’s using all of the tools at his disposal to reach his political objective.”

Said Charlie Black, a former Reagan adviser and a Republican strategist, “Wilson became a celebrity because of all this and probably has political value to the Kerry people in terms of helping them attract Democratic votes and fire up the base.”

Mr. Wilson endorsed Mr. Kerry last fall, when the senator’s campaign was flagging, but has recently made campaign appearances for him in Iowa, New Hampshire, Maine, New York, Massachusetts and Washington state. Mr. Kerry has won four of those states and is expected to win the other two when primaries are held there later this year.

Since signing onto the Kerry campaign, Mr. Wilson has joined forces with Win Without War, an antiwar group that charges President Bush misled Americans about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities. The group has collaborated with, a liberal group that took out a full-page ad in the New York Times that ended with the words: “It would be a tragedy if young men and women were sent to die for a lie.”

Addressing Kerry supporters in an Iowa rally in December, Mr. Wilson called Vice President Dick Cheney a “lying son of a bitch” for what he said was indifference to his report that intelligence on a Niger-Iraq uranium connection referenced by Mr. Bush in his 2003 State of the Union address was erroneous.

Mr. Wilson said he can label the incumbent president a “liar.”

“I think I can call these guys in the White House liars a little more easily than John can, and talk about the people around the president much more directly — name names and say they ought to be fired,” he said in November.

Mr. Wilson, who also served as acting ambassador in Baghdad under the administration of Mr. Bush’s father, has donated $2,000 to the Kerry campaign, and in 2000, supported former Vice President Al Gore, whom he also gave $2,000. He has also contributed $2,000 to Democrats Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

Mr. Wilson ignited a firestorm last year when he accused Mr. Bush of manipulating intelligence to win support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Mr. Wilson had been dispatched to Niger by Mr. Cheney in February 2002 to check out intelligence reports that the African nation sold uranium to Iraq, but said he found it “highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place.”

More than nine months after Mr. Bush said in his State of the Union address that British intelligence had uncovered that Iraq “recently sought significant amounts of uranium from Africa” — the infamous “16 words” — Mr. Wilson wrote an article published in the New York Times in which he said “some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.”

In May 2003, after his mission to Niger but before his July 6, 2003, Times op-ed piece, Mr. Wilson began working for Mr. Kerry as an unpaid adviser, offering foreign policy advice and speechwriting tips.

A week after the Times piece ran, a conservative columnist wrote on July 14 that White House officials had leaked the name of Mr. Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, as retribution. Rumors swirled that the administration was striking out at Mr. Wilson through his wife, who originally proposed him for the Niger mission.

Mr. Wilson originally said reporters told him that White House political adviser Karl Rove told them his wife was “fair game,” a statement he later retracted.

In September, Mr. Kerry — who is making prewar intelligence a prime campaign issue — said the disclosure of Mrs. Plame’s name “is more than another example of politics driving the Bush administration. … A special counsel should be appointed immediately so that we can find out how George Bush let this happen and hold those responsible accountable.”

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