Woodward Apologizes for Role in CIA Leak Case

The Washington Post's Bob Woodward apologizes for not disclosing that he learned the identity of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame in June 2003. Woodward testified in the CIA leak case that someone other than Karl Rove or I. Lewis Libby told him about Joseph Wilson's wife before the other known leaks.

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For three decades, Bob Woodward was lionized for keeping the identity of Deep Throat, his Watergate source, a secret. Today, The Washington Post editor and author apologized for keeping quiet about his source in a current scandal, the CIA leak investigation. NPR's David Folkenflik has that story.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK reporting:

Bob Woodward was first told about CIA agent Valerie Plame back in the middle of June 2003. He was interviewing senior Bush administration officials extensively about the invasion of Iraq for a book that was published the next year.

Mr. LEONARD DOWNIE (Executive Editor, The Washington Post): He had thought that it was a minor thing; it wasn't anything he was interested in for his book.

FOLKENFLIK: That's Post executive editor Leonard Downie. Woodward's June 2003 interview is the first time any reporter is known to have learned about Plame, the wife of a former diplomat who was becoming a major critic of the White House. But readers didn't find out about it until today. That's when The Post published an account of Woodward's testimony before a federal grand jury looking into whether government officials broke the law by disclosing Plame's identity to reporters. Until late October, Downie didn't know about Woodward's knowledge of Plame, either.

Mr. DOWNIE: Bob still didn't come to tell me about it because he didn't want to be caught up in the subpoena situation, he didn't want to have his reporting derailed by being subpoenaed and he wanted to protect his source.

FOLKENFLIK: That source is a Bush administration official, but its identity has not been disclosed. Woodward told The Post in a written statement that he did not have the source's permission to make it public. But his account makes clear it's not Lewis Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Libby's facing criminal charges, including perjury and obstruction of justice. A lawyer for Karl Rove, the president's top political adviser, said it's not Rove, either.

Woodward didn't respond to several requests for comment from NPR, but Downie said Woodward shouldn't have kept the paper's leadership in the dark.

Mr. DOWNIE: So Bob has acknowledged that mistake, and he's apologized for it.

FOLKENFLIK: Woodward had previously criticized the leak investigation led by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Woodward said there was no compelling need to send then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller to jail on civil contempt-of-court charges to learn who her sources were. Here was Woodward in July on WHYY's "Fresh Air."

(Soundbite of "Fresh Air," July 2005)

Mr. BOB WOODWARD (Editor, The Washington Post): The woman who was the CIA undercover operative was working in CIA headquarters. There was no national security threat, there was no jeopardy to her life, there was no nothing. When I think all of the facts come out in this case, it's going to be laughable because the consequences are not that great.

FOLKENFLIK: But there were very real repercussions for Miller, however, who served 85 days in jail and then faced the wrath of many of her peers when her professional dealings were detailed with her source, Lewis Libby, the former Cheney aide. Here's special prosecutor Fitzgerald announcing the criminal charges.

Mr. PATRICK FITZGERALD (Special Prosecutor): In fact, Mr. Libby was the first official known to have told a reporter when he talked to Judith Miller in June of 2003 about Valerie Wilson.

FOLKENFLIK: But there was another journalist who already knew about the CIA agent married to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, and that was Woodward, who had promised confidentiality to his source for the book, "Plan of Attack," which mentions Wilson in passing and Plame not at all.

Woodward's status as a Pulitzer winner and best-selling author has been important to The Post, but it's also caused internal arguments, according to several Post staffers who spoke on condition they not be named. They question whether Woodward is more interested in his newspaper work or his separate career as an author. Mark Feldstein is a former investigative reporter for several TV networks. He defended the agreements that Woodward reaches with anonymous sources for books with distant publishing dates, but he also said today's disclosure is a different matter.

Mr. MARK FELDSTEIN (Former TV Investigative Reporter): This is really quite a startling revelation, that Bob Woodward has known about this since the get-go, because that information and receiving those leaks were precisely what led Judith Miller to go to jail, that led Matt Cooper of Time magazine to be threatened with going to jail.

FOLKENFLIK: A lawyer for Lewis Libby said Woodward's testimony undermines the case against his client, who was reviewing documents at a Washington courthouse to help prepare his defense today. Special prosecutor Fitzgerald had no comment. David Folkenflik, NPR News, Washington.

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