With the disclosure that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was the initial source for Robert Novak's July 2003 column that outed CIA operative Valerie Wilson also known as Valerie Plame, wife of former ambassador and Iraq-war critic Joseph Wilson it is now clear that all the hype about a Bush-inspired vendetta against the Wilsons is bunk.
The outing of Wilson was not an act of treason. It was not a deliberate effort to smear an administration critic. It was not an act of revenge orchestrated by Bush political guru Karl Rove. It was not an effort to hurt anyone's CIA career. It was gossip.
As Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff, co-author of the book "Hubris" about the Wilson leak and Iraq pre-war intelligence, wrote, "Armitage, a well-known gossip who loves to dish and receive juicy tidbits about Washington characters, apparently hadn't thought through the possible implications of telling Novak about Plame's identity."
No one knows how much special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has spent in taxpayers' money investigating this leak, but figure the probe came with a hefty price tag because he has been in business since December 2003. We do know now, however, that when Fitzgerald set up shop, the secretary of State and someone at the Department of Justice knew that Armitage leaked the story. As Fitzgerald has failed to charge Armitage, it seems as though the leak was not a crime, which suggests that the investigation has been colossal waste of time and money.
What did America learn? Rove confirmed Wilson's identity. Big deal. As Mark Corallo, who served as Rove's spokesman during this controversy, noted, Rove "never made a single phone call to a single journalist on this matter. He simply answered two phone questions from two journalists." For confirming, not initiating, the Armitage leak, Rove was hauled before a grand jury five times.
Rove is not the only White House aide made to jump through hoops. Some 2,000 White House staffers also were hopping as they had to produce phone records, diaries and correspondence.
Then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller spent 85 days behind bars before disclosing who told her about Wilson even though she never wrote about the CIA operative's identity. That's another colossal waste of taxpayers' dollars, which would have been better spent jailing a real criminal.
Fitzgerald has charged Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former top aide, with perjury and obstruction of justice. But the special prosectuor's failure to charge the original leaker makes one question whether Fitzgerald was mindful of his office's mandate that a special prosecutor's probe, as Attorney General Janet Reno wrote in 1999, "be conducted ably, expeditiously and thoroughly, and that investigative and prosecutorial decisions will be supported by an informed understanding of the criminal law and Department of Justice policies." Instead, Fitzgerald's actions have been plodding and heavy-handed, landing a journalist who didn't write on the leak behind bars, while the leaker remained anonymous and free.
As for the time table, while Deputy U.S. Attorney General James B. Comey told reporters that Fitzgerald had a reputation for working quickly, Fitzgerald has spent years investigating a leak that he has failed to prosecute, although the Libby prosecution is pending.
The irony is that as Joe Wilson charged that the White House was pursuing him as an act of revenge, he emerges as a partisan bent on punishing those with whom he disagreed. Wilson, after all, once bragged that he wanted to see Rove "frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs." The Wilsons filed a silly lawsuit suit against Libby, Cheney and Rove.
Armitage was not an Iraq war hawk, so it should come as no surprise that Wilson's attorney has given Armitage a pass. "Mr. Armitage's conduct does not change the facts of what Libby, Cheney and Rove did," Melanie Sloan told CNN. "The case is about the abuse of government power."
Yes, it is about the abuse of government power. The victims are the innocent staffers and journalists who had to face the threat of jail over three years while Armitage was too ashamed to come forward and admit what he had begun.