Novak Reveals Details of CIA Identity Leak

Robert Novak, the newspaper columnist who first revealed the identity of covert CIA analyst Valerie Plame, disclosed details of the leak and his sources Wednesday in his syndicated column. Critics charge Plame, who worked to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation, was "outed" to punish husband Joe Wilson, who countered a key justification for going to war in Iraq.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

The newspaper columnist who broke the identity of a CIA agent, has now broken his own silence on the matter, after almost three years. Robert Novak writes today, that he cooperated with a federal investigation into whether a crime was committed when government officials leaked the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame. This story began with President Bush's allegations that Saddam Hussein was trying to buy materials for nuclear weapons in Nigeria, years ago. And then it transformed into a political revenge story, after the husband of Valerie Plame, diplomat Joe Wilson, debunked the weapons claim. A federal grand jury, investigating the leaks, indicted Vice President Cheney's former Chief of Staff Scooter Libby.

It was confusing, it remains so despite Robert Novak's column today. We're joined by David Folkenflik, he's NPR Media Correspondent. David welcome back and I read Bob Novak's column, I'm still not quite sure what happened.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK reporting:

Here's what we now know a little bit more about. Novak talked about the circumstances surrounding his column, almost three years ago to the day, in which he first disclosed the identity of Joe Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame -Valerie Plame Wilson. Novak now says, hey, here are my sources on this - two out of the three. I'll cough up Carl Rove. Who we now know has been a source for many journalists on this story. He further acknowledges that CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, had confirmed Plame-Wilson's identity but he doesn't disclose his original primary source, as he puts it. He says that that person has not given him permission to do so publicly.

CHADWICK: So the CIA spokesperson and Carl Rove, the president's chief political strategist - Robert Novak went to them and said, is this stuff about Valerie Plame, true? And they both said, yes it is. But the original person who told Bob Novak about this, we still don't know who that is? Why don't we?

FOLKENFLIK: He won't say. He has described that original source as somebody who's not a political mudslinger. Which seemingly was, I think, his way of signaling that that primary source wasn't somebody like Rove all along? Carl Rove the political mastermind behind President Bush's rise to the White House.

CHADWICK: Yeah but in this kind of mysterious theater that does go on, Robert Novak, in this column today, says I have a note from this person, my source, releasing me from my pledge of secrecy, but I'm still not going to reveal this name. Can you explain that?

FOLKENFLIK: He said that the Special Prosecutor already knew - Patrick Fitzgerald, who was the U.S. Attorney in Chicago, who was appointed to look into all this. Novak said the special prosecutor already had waivers from all three of his sources - that is Mr. Rove, Mr. Harlow, and this third primary and unidentified source - to testify before the grand jury that was trying to figure out whether to indict people on this stuff. That's a little different from Novak saying he has the right to release that identity, publicly, from his source. It appears that he's saying that, that he doesn't have permission to do that, and that he wants to protect his source. Which, traditionally, is the stance of most journalists.

CHADWICK: All right David, you've been covering this story for three years now…

FOLKENFLIK: About three thousand, I think.

CHADWICK: Names float back and forth. David Folkenflik, name that source.

FOLKENFLIK: Oh, you know, it, it's very hard to know it could, Robert Novak's been covering politics since I believe the late 50s. He has incredible sources, particularly on the Republican inside, and in conservative camps, but not exclusively. There are questions about who it might be. We now know, that at the very highest levels of government, pretty much on the morning that former Ambassador Wilson wrote his op-ed, that the Vice President, Mr. Cheney, took a direct interest in this. His former Chief of Staff, Louis Libby, is under indictment for misleading prosecutors, according to them. It could be Mr. Libby, I cannot recall an instance in which Novak denied that that was the case. But he did say in this column, that it was somebody who has not yet been identified. It could be a major player, it could be a minor one. I really don't know who it is.

CHADWICK: David Folkenflik, NPR Media Correspondent. David thank you.

FOLKENFLIK: Always good to talk.

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