By: E&P Staff
When Richard Armitage told columnist Robert D. Novak that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA, both men understood without saying a word that the deputy secretary of state wanted to see the information appear in the nationally syndicated column, Novak writes in his new memoir, which was excerpted Sunday in the Chicago Sun-Times.
In an excerpt from the first chapter of “The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years of Reporting In Washington,” Novak portrays the meeting as a series of nudge-nudge, wink-wink exchanges in which the rules and goals were unstated, but unmistakable.
Novak famously remained silent — and in no apparent legal trouble — while the nation speculated about the source of leak, two nationally prominent journalists were threatened with imprisonment for refusing to disclose the source of their reporting on Plame, and New York Times reporter Judith Miller eventually spent 85 days in jail.
In his memoirs, Novak repeats his explanation that he stayed silent at the request of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, and because of “the journalist’s code” to protect sources.
“After Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago named as a special prosecutor in the case, indicated to me he knew Armitage was my source, I cooperated fully with him,” Novak writes. “At the special prosecutor’s request and on my lawyers’ advice, I kept silent about this — a silence that subjected me to much abuse. I was urged by several friends, including some journalists, to give up my source’s name. But I felt bound by the journalist’s code to protect his identity.”
But Novak also says that there was no explicit agreement with Armitage when the two met July 7, 2003.
“Neither of us set ground rules for my visit,” he writes. “I assumed, however, that what Armitage said would not be attributed to him but would not be off the record. That is, I could write about information he gave me but would not identify him by name. During a long career, I had come to appreciate that sort of thing in countless interviews without putting it into so many words. I viewed what Armitage told me to be just as privileged as if he had made me swear a blood oath.”
Similarly, when Novak asked Armitage why Plame’s husband, former diplomat Joseph Wilson, was asked to investigate claims, later refuted, that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had sought to buy uranium in Africa, the signal to print the item was done in an understood Washington insider’s code, the memoir says.
“Armitage smiled and said: ‘That’s real Evans and Novak, isn’t it?'” Novak writes. “I believe he meant that was the kind of inside information that my late partner, Rowland Evans, and I had featured in our column for so long. I interpreted that as meaning Armitage expected to see the item published in my column.”
The topic of Plame’s CIA employment took “no more than 60 seconds” of the meeting, Novak adds.
“Prince of Darkness,” published by Crown Forum, a division of Random House Inc., will be released officially on Tuesday.