Media Reviews Plame’s Wardrobe — But Not White House Coverup

By: Greg Mitchell

In their rush to cover the long-awaited testimony of Valerie Plame, few reporters apparently bothered to stick around the Capitol Hill hearing room yesterday to witness the equally shocking testimony of a much less heralded (and not so attractive) insider named James Knodell. This left E&P, covering the hearing via the Web, to provide the only in-depth ?mainstream? coverage of Knodell’s testimony.

But now there?s a chance for others to join in, as Rep. Henry A. Waxman, who called the hearings, has sent a letter to the White House demanding answers for why, despite President Bush?s vows, no one there seems to have conducted any sort of in-house investigation into the outing of a valued covert CIA operative four years ago.

Knodell, director of the Office of Security at the White House — whose appearance was opposed by the Bush team until Waxman threatened a subpoena — revealed that his records showed absolutely no interest or questioning about the leak after the outing occurred in July 2003, and none since (he became chief in August 2004).

Barely a word about this appeared in the media yesterday. The Washington Post, however, found space for a full review of Plame?s fashion sense and a Dana Milbank column in the form of a movie script (tweaking the sale of her story to the movies).

We did learn from Mary Ann Akers? fashion piece, titled ?Hearing Room Chic,” that Plame wore Armani (?a fetching jacket and pants?). Also: Katie Holmes should be a frontrunner to play her in the movie because she, too, favors Armani.

Yet Amy Goldstein?s front page story on the Plame hearing today doesn?t even mention Knodell. Neither did The New York Times article, although it found space to quote Republican critics several times and declare that Plame?s appearance ?seemed less a platform for legislation than for Democrats, who now control the committee, to criticize the Bush administration.? It ended with a nice line about the former spy slipping out the door. Apparently the reporters did the same.

The Boston Globe at least gave Knodell one paragraph.
The AP did not, and headlined its story, “Plame Sheds Little Light on Leak Case.”

You would think that, on the contrary, the revelations surrounding Plame?s testimony would have promoted much more interest on the evidence of the coverup that emerged just a few minutes later in the same room. In fact, Knodell’s words should have provided a sickening feeling in the guts of most reporters ? especially when he admitted that the only way he knew anyone was concerned about the leak was not from the White House but from the press.

For years, conservatives have charged that Plame was not ?covert? and not a valuable member of the intelligence community, and therefore pooh-poohed the 2003 outing. Yesterday, not only did Plame state, under oath, that she was indeed covert — not to mention ?undercover? and ?classified? — but her boss, Gen. Hayden, confirmed this in no uncertain terms.

Then she testified about the extreme damage done to her colleagues and their missions due to her exposure. The few Republicans who bothered to show up for the hearing ? knowing they no longer had any case ? were reduced to claiming absurdly that it was all the CIA?s fault for not circulating a list of covert agents so the poor fellows in the White House would only out those with unclassified jobs.

Yet the media found of no consequence that the president and his press spokesman both lied repeatedly in claiming that an in-house probe was conducted.

One commentator on Fox News, in responding to all of this, definitively answered the long-simmering question, “Does Brit Hume have no shame?” Hume, who has frequently claimed that Plame was hardly “covert” not only refused to admit he was wrong, he (of all people) attacked her “credibility.” He suggested that Plame had lied — under oath — in denying that she had sent her husband on his Niger mission. The fact that she had undermined that stubborn rightwing charge in her testimony — under oath — did not make any impression on the slack-jawed Hume. Nor did he appear outraged about the harm inflicted on American interests that Plame had outlined.

So, as a public service, in case anyone is interested, here are excerpts from the Waxman letter last night to Josh Bolten, the president?s chief of staff.

Today, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing to examine the disclosure by senior White House officials of the identity of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson. The hearing raised many new questions about the how the White House responded to an extraordinarily serious breach of national security. It also raised new concerns about whether the security practices being followed by the White House are sufficient to protect our nation’s most sensitive secrets.

James Knodell, Director of the Office of Security at the White House, testified at the hearing about White House procedures for safeguarding classified information. During his testimony, Mr. Knodell made some remarkable statements about how his office handled the disclosure of Ms.’Wilson’s covert status. Specifically, Mr. Knodell testified:

— The Office of Security for the White House never conducted any investigation of the disclosure of Ms. Wilson’s identity;

— Under the applicable executive order and regulations, your senior political adviser, Karl Rove, and other senior White House officials were required to report what they knew about the disclosure of Ms. Wilson’s identity, but they did not make any such report to the White House Office of Security; and

— There has been no suspension of security clearances or any other administrative sanction for Mr. Rove and other White House officials involved in the disclosure?.

The testimony of Mr. Knodell appears to describe White House decisions that were inconsistent with the directives of Executive Order 12958, which you signed in March 2003.
Under this executive order, the White House is required to “take appropriate and prompt corrective action” whenever there is a release of classified information. Yet Mr. Knodell could describe no such actions after the disclosure of Ms. Wilson’s identity.

Taken as a whole, the testimony at today’s hearing described breach after breach of national security requirements at the White House. The first breach was the disclosure of Ms. ‘Wilson’s identity. Other breaches included the failure of Mr. Rove and other officials to report their disclosures as required by law, the failure of the White House to initiate the prompt investigation required by the executive order, and the failure of the White House to suspend the security clearances of the implicated officials.

To assist the Committee in its investigation into these issues, I request that you provide the Committee with a complete account of the steps that the White House took following the disclosure of Ms. Wilson’s identity (1) to investigate how the leak occurred; (2) to review the security clearances of the White House officials implicated in the leak; (3) to impose administrative or disciplinary sanctions on the officials involved in the leak; and (4) to review and revise existing White House security procedures to prevent future breaches of national security.

I look forward to your response and hope you will cooperate with the Committee’s inquiry.

Henry A. Waxman

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this column wrongly stated that the ranking Republican on the committee, Tom Davis, signed the letter with Rep. Waxman.

For E&P coverage of Knodell’s testimony

Click here.

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