By: E&P Staff
Columnist Robert Novak, after submitting to a pair of interviews on his friendly home turf — Fox News — traveled to an away field on Sunday, appearing with Tim Russert on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” where he found himself on the hot seat at times.
There, among other things, he reversed course in his dispute with “Newsday,” now saying that the paper did not not misquote him on a key point but rather that he misspoke. He continued to claim that he did not really “out” covert CIA agent Valerie Plame. And he defended not only talking about sources with the prosecutor, but also refusing until now to confirm he had testified.
Yet, asked if he’d do it all again, he said he wasn’t sure. But he clearly did not regret outing Plame, in fact, arguing, with little evidence, “I don?t think I outed her. I think she was outed by Aldridge Aimes before. I don?t think she was a — a covert operative.”
The main part of the transcipt follows.
MR. RUSSERT: We were subpoenaed at NBC. We fought the subpoenas. Time magazine subpoenaed, fought the subpoenas. New York Times fought the subpoenas. Why didn?t you fight the subpoena?
MR. NOVAK: Because my lawyer said I did not have a clear constitutional chance of surviving. I had to make this decision myself. I was operating as an independent operator, paying the burden?the great burden of my legal fees. Chicago Sun-Times helped me, but it was, essentially, my decision. And my attorney, Jim Hamilton, a very prominent attorney, believed that there was a high probability that I would lose the case in court, and it would not be good for press freedoms. As a matter of fact, you lost the case. In fact, everybody who went to court lost the case. And the law protecting the rights of journalists, which I feel very strongly about, has suffered by people going?by fighting it, and that?s one thing I wanted to avoid.
MR. RUSSERT: How do you believe Patrick Fitzgerald knew the identity of your sources?
MR. NOVAK: I don?t know. I thought he did it?he knew the identity almost from the very beginning of the, of the case. In other words, he has known for two and a half, for three?for two and a half years who my sources were and decided that no law was broken. And he did not bring any kind of indictment against my primary source, whose identity has still not been publicly made known.
MR. RUSSERT: But he knows it?
MR. NOVAK: Of course he knows it. He gave it?he?that?s?he made it clear to me he knew it my first interview with him.
MR. RUSSERT: When I was subpoenaed, we announced it. When I testified before Patrick Fitzgerald, we announced that and what I had said. And so, too, with Time magazine and The New York Times. Why did you wait almost three years to tell the public that you had been subpoenaed and what you said?
MR. NOVAK: Mr. Fitzgerald asked my lawyer not, not to divulge our, our contacts. He advised that that was good, good advice until his investigation was completed. When he announced that Karl Rove would not be indicted, my attorney went to Mr. Fitzgerald and asked him if it was?if that request now no longer held true, and he said that his investigation had been concluded as far as I was concerned.
MR. RUSSERT: Many lawyers involved in the case have said that your primary source is the same as that for Bob Woodward of The Washington Post. Ben Bradlee, the former executive editor of The Washington Post, said this about Bob Woodward?s source: ?That [former Deputy Secretary of State Richard] Armitage is the likely source is a fair assumption.? Is it?
MR. NOVAK: I?m not going to speculate on who the source was. I would?ve said a long time ago if I was going to. I believe that, as far as making his name public on NBC, in my column, on any?for any?on any other means is a violation of the tacit arrangement in which I interviewed him when he gave me the name, when he gave me the fact of Mrs. Wilson?s involvement in this case. So, until he reveals himself?as Karl Rove, through his attorney, has revealed himself, or as Bill Harlow of the CIA has revealed himself?I?m going to be quiet. Now, I am?a lot of people feel this is going to come out sooner or later, probably sooner, but I can?t speculate on that.
MR. RUSSERT: Would it be wrong to suggest Richard Armitage?
MR. NOVAK: I don?t, I don?t make any speculation on who it is.
MR. RUSSERT: What were the ground rules of your interview?
MR. NOVAK: I, I have interviews all?I?m a?I?m a reporting columnist, as opposed to a thumbsucking columnist, and I have all kinds of interviews with people where there is a tacit agreement that, that no?that I will not reveal the name. I sat down with this source, who was not a, as I have said 10 million times, was not a political gunslinger. We had a long talk, an hour-long talk. We were the only people in the room. I didn?t have a tape recorder; I didn?t take notes. It?s the kind of tacitly not-for-attribution interview that I do constantly as part of my work for the last half-century in Washington.
MR. RUSSERT: And what did the source tell you about Valerie Plame?
MR. NOVAK: What, what the source told me, I?we had talked about several things, and I, I got to the question, what I was really interested in was that Joe Wilson had been on MEET THE PRESS the previous Sunday, and I was?I thought he was quite hostile to the?to the administration. And I was curious, why would the CIA send this person, who was hostile, and who was?that didn?t have any background with the CIA, hadn?t been in Africa for a long time, why would they send him on this mission? And he said, ?Well, you know, his wife suggested it. She works in the counterproliferation division of the, of, of, of the CIA.? And so that, that, I thought, was interesting. I put it in the middle of the column, didn?t leave the column with it, you read that paragraph?it was just about in the middle of the column. And, and then?I then called the CIA, and the spokesman told me that she didn?t initiate it, she facilitated it. That, that happened to be wrong, because the Senate Intelligence Committee has said that she did initiate the trip and they have a document to prove it.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, the Senate Intelligence Committee indicated that, but they did not conclude it.
MR. NOVAK: The?I believe that the, that the Republican majority concluded it.
MR. RUSSERT: The Republican majority did, but the Democrats did not.
MR. NOVAK: They didn?t, they didn?t take it up and they didn?t dissent from it, either.
MR. RUSSERT: It?s not an official conclusion, but it is in the report as an indication.
MR. NOVAK: And the, and, and there?s a, a document that, that confirms it.
MR. RUSSERT: Did he give you the?her name?
MR. NOVAK: No, he did not.
MR. RUSSERT: Now, Newsday interviewed you a few weeks after your column ran, back in 2003, and quotes you as saying this, ?I didn?t dig it out, it was given to me. They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it.?
MR. NOVAK: That was a misstatement on my part. I?I?m?I?ve found I?m much better?I hope I?m not screwing up on this interview because I?m much better interviewing than I am giving interviews. They didn?t give me the name. And of course it was not a ?they,? it was one person, which I later checked out with Mr. Rove. They, they?the Newsday article also paraphrased me as saying they came to me, I never said they came to me, because obviously I initiated the interview.
MR. RUSSERT: Newsday stands by that story. And you know if a politician said that, which you said, and contrasted it with what you?re saying now, people would say, ?Wait a minute. Something?s wrong here.?
MR. NOVAK: Well, I was wrong when I said they came to me.
MR. RUSSERT: You…
MR. NOVAK: I mean, when I said that they gave me the name, because I got the name from, from ?Who?s Who in America.?
MR. RUSSERT: You did say that the column?the story?the disclosure was inadvertent on the part of your primary source. A third party told you that.
MR. NOVAK: A third party close to the primary source called me after the investigation was launched and said, and said that he believed that it was?he believed he had given me inadvertent?inadvertently given me information?this information.
MR. RUSSERT: Have you spoken to your primary source?
MR. NOVAK: No.
MR. RUSSERT: Not since that interview?
MR. NOVAK: No.
MR. RUSSERT: When you were on MEET THE PRESS October of ?03, I asked you about the Newsday piece, and you did repeat, you said, quote, ?What I meant was that the senior official had given me her name.?
MR. NOVAK: Well, that, that was just?that?s just a misstatement on my part. He, he?what he said exactly was his wife, his wife had done it. I got the name?because I, I, I realized I didn?t have the name, and I figured out, how am I going to get this name to put in, in the column? So I said, ?Maybe it?s in ?Who?s Who.?? And I looked it up and there it was.
MR. RUSSERT: In fact, you wrote, ?I learned Valerie Plame?s name from Joe Wilson?s entry in ?Who?s Who? in America. And here is the ?Who?s Who? from 2003, Wilson, Joseph Charles IV, ambassador, married to Valerie Elise Plame August 3, 1998.? Was that the very first time you had seen or heard the name Valerie Plame?
MR. NOVAK: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: No one told you?
MR. NOVAK: No.
MR. RUSSERT: But they did tell you ?his wife.?
MR. NOVAK: He told me his wife worked in the counterproliferation division of the?they did not say she was a covert operative, didn?t say she was a covered operative. A lot of people say, ?Well, why?d you call her an operative in the column?? I call all kinds of politicians operatives. It?s maybe a bad habit, I?but I still do it. I see somebody?s running a congressional campaign in Wyoming, I?d call them an operative.
MR. RUSSERT: But having said twice before that you got the name of a senior official…
MR. NOVAK: Oh, a mistake.
MR. RUSSERT: …you can understand why people are…
MR. NOVAK: I understand, I understand, but it was?it?s just nota ?it?s just not factually correct and I have, I have testified under oath about this.
MR. RUSSERT: You have?
MR. NOVAK: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: That they did not give you the name?
MR. NOVAK: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: Bill Harlow, the CIA spokesman that you called when you were working on this story, this is how The Washington Post characterized his testimony about this situation. ?[Bill] Harlow, the former CIA spokesman … said he warned Novak … that Wilson?s wife had not authorized the mission and that if he did write about it, her name should not be revealed. Harlow said that after Novak?s call, he checked Plame?s status and confirmed that she was an undercover operative. He said he called Novak back to repeat that story Novak had related to him was wrong and that Plame?s name should not be used. But he did not tell Novak directly that she was undercover because that was classified.? Is that accurate?
MR. NOVAK: No. That was, that was not testimony, that was an interview with reporters from The Washington Post. What, what Mr. Harlow told me was?he asked me not to use her name, did not say she was, she was a covered employee, and I still don?t believe she was engaged in any covert activities, and I do that from talking to other people at the, at the CIA. He said that it was, it was highly unlikely…
MR. RUSSERT: But she was undercover, you, you grant her that?
MR. NOVAK: She?I don?t think she?there?s a difference between undercover and being a covert agent. She was, she was doing analytical work at the CIA. She was not involved in any covert activities.
MR. RUSSERT: But her friends and neighbors did not know that she worked for the CIA.
MR. NOVAK: Well, it was?other people contend to me that it was very widely known in circles in town that she did work for the CIA. Not that that…
MR. RUSSERT: But her official status was not to be publicly identified.
MR. NOVAK: That?s right. There?s a lot, a lot of people like that, but she was a person who went to work every day as an analyst because she?I am told, she had been outed by the traitor Aldridge Aimes many years ago. But the?but the?but as a matter of fact, I?m getting back to Harlow. What Harlow said to me was that if she were to make a trip overseas in the future, it might be embarrassing for her, but he also said before that, he said it is highly unlikely she will ever do?make a trip for the agency abroad. In other words, he was telling me that she was not going to do any covert activities. He never said she was in danger. And I have said before that if he had called me or if he had put George Tenet on the phone, who I?m sure was aware of what was going on, and said, ?Please don?t run this, this woman?s life is in danger. We have secret operations going,? I wouldn?t have used?I would?ve knocked the paragraph out of the story. He didn?t do that.
MR. RUSSERT: As you know, Carlo?Harlow works as an NBC News consultant. I talked to him on Friday. He said that he told you, ?It?d be really bad if you wrote her publicly.?
MR. NOVAK: He didn?t say that. He never said that. Now he may?he may, he may think he said it, but he, he never?he never said that to me. I don?t know if you know Mr. Harlow very well, he?s a very low-key guy. I like Mr. Harlow. He?s a novelist. He?s a very interesting man, but he?s very low key. He didn?t press me. He didn?t push it very hard and I?you probably have this, too. I have a lot of people in government say, ?Please don?t run this,? and I run it anyway. But when they really say it?s a matter of life and death, I don?t run it.
MR. RUSSERT: In hindsight, do you regret writing this column?
MR. NOVAK: I don?t know. I try?I used to try to think about whether I would have put?I would have preferred not to be the center of news. I would have preferred not to be sitting with you and being an interviewee. I like to be an analyst, rather, and a commentator. But it?s very hard to go back and say, ?What would you do if you had it to do over again?? I thought it was a valid news story of why in the world he got assigned that thing. I still believe, I don?t think there?s any question, he got assigned that because of his wife. And that was a small part of a very strange assignment. I?the answer to my?to your question, I don?t know.
MR. RUSSERT: But no regrets outing a CIA agent?
MR. NOVAK: I don?t think I outed her. I think she was outed by Aldridge Aimes before. I don?t think she was a, a covert operative.