May 2, 2004 | Broadcast

Meet the Press

Ambassador Wilson, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

AMB. WILSON: Thanks, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: I want to bring our viewers back to some recent history here and put this all in context. This is what started this whole discussion with you, the president’s State of the Union message January 28, 2003.

(Videotape, State of the Union Address, January 28, 2003):

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: You saw the president say that and thought what?

AMB. WILSON: I thought, well, he must not have been talking about Niger because he would know better if he was. I then called the Department of State and talked to the Bureau of African Affairs, who had not seen the State of the Union address, but their interpretation was that he was probably speaking about another African country, which was fine for me, so long as he wasn’t talking about Niger.

MR. RUSSERT: Then on June 8, Dr. Rice, the national security adviser, appeared on MEET THE PRESS, and I asked her about how those words wound up in the president’s State of the Union address, and she said this:

(Videotape, MEET THE PRESS, June 8, 2003):

DR. CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Maybe someone knew down in the bowels of the agency, but no one in our circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions that this might be a forgery.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: When you saw that?

AMB. WILSON: Well, I knew that she had fundamentally misstated the facts. In fact, she had lied about it. I had gone out and I had undertaken this study. I had come back and said that this was not feasible. There was already lots of suspicion about the documentation, and in fact, as it’s been borne out, when the vice president was on this show and you had asked him if he had asked the question about going to Niger, he had said, “Well, I asked the CIA briefer about these reports, and he had come back and told me within a couple of days that there was nothing to them.” That was a year before the State of the Union address. This government knew that there was nothing to these allegations.

MR. RUSSERT: George Tenet in a statement said that a Niger official did say to you there may have been discussions about a potential business dealings and maybe that could have been a suggestion of uranium.

AMB. WILSON: That’s right. And, of course, as I put in the book, there was a meeting on the margins of an OAU summit between a senior Niger official and an Iraqi official who turns out to be the former minister of information, Baghdad Bob. At that meeting, uranium was not discussed. It would be a tragedy to think that we went to war over a conversation in which uranium was not discussed because the Niger official was sufficiently sophisticated to think that perhaps he might have wanted to discuss uranium at some later date.

MR. RUSSERT: The president spoke to the nation in January, Dr. Rice was on this program June 8. On July 6, you appeared on MEET THE PRESS. You wrote an op-ed piece in The New York Times and said this: “I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.”

And then eight days after your appearance on MEET THE PRESS and that New York Times piece, Robert Novak wrote a syndicated column and this is what it said: “Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie, is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me his wife suggested sending Wilson to Niger.”

When you saw that, your reaction?

AMB. WILSON: Well, I was furious. He had contacted–actually, he had spoken to a stranger who happened to know me on July 8, and I outline that conversation in the book.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me do that, because this is important. This is just two days after your appearance on MEET THE PRESS. Two days, this is “Tuesday afternoon, July 8, six days before Novak’s article about Valerie and me, a friend showed up at my office with a strange and disturbing tale. He had been walking down Pennsylvania Avenue towards my office, near the White House, when he came upon Novak. He asked Novak if he could walk a block or two with him as they were headed in the same direction. Novak acquiesced. Striking up a conversation, my friend, without revealing that he knew me, asked Novak about the uranium controversy. ‘It was a minor problem,’ Novak replied, and opined that the administration should have dealt with it weeks before. My friend then asked Novak what he thought about me. Novak answered, ‘Wilson’s an (expletive).’ The CIA sent him. His wife, Valerie, works for the CIA. She’s a weapons of mass destruction specialist. She sent him.’ At that point, my friend and Novak went their separate ways. My friend headed straight for my office a couple of blocks away. Once he related this unsettling story to me, I asked him to immediately write down the details of the conversation and afterwards ushered him out of my office.”

AMB. WILSON: This was before Novak had any confirmation because he talked to me a couple of days later seeking a confirmation of my wife’s employment. The odds of his running into somebody on Pennsylvania Avenue who knew he, since I don’t know a lot of people in Washington, are remote. The question I have in all of this is how many other people was Novak–how many other strangers on the streets of Washington, D.C., was Novak sharing this information with before he even had enough to permit him to go to print?

MR. RUSSERT: Why does your friend accost Mr. Novak? Do you know?

AMB. WILSON: Well, I think anybody who is a familiar face on television is frequently spoken to on the sidewalks. It happens even to me, and I’m not nearly as familiar as Mr. Novak.

MR. RUSSERT: Again, this was only two days after July 6 MEET THE PRESS and New York Times, but now you say something else in your book and this is it: “After my appearance on CNN in early March 2003, when I first asserted that the U.S. government knew more about the Niger uranium matter than it was letting on, I am told by a source close to the House Judiciary Committee that the Office of the Vice President–either the vice president himself or, more likely, his chief of staff, Lewis (‘Scooter’) Libby, chaired a meeting at which a decision was made to a ‘workup’ on me. As I understand it, this meant they were going to take a closer look at who I was and what my agenda might be. The immediate effect of the workup, I am told by a member of the press, citing White House sources, was a long harangue against the two of us within the White House walls. Over a period of several months, Libby evidently seized opportunities to rail openly against me as an ‘ [expletive] playboy’ who went on a boondoggle ‘arranged by his CIA wife’–and was a Democratic Gore supporter to boot.” You’re saying that in March the White House started talking about you and your “CIA wife”?

AMB. WILSON: That’s my understanding from not just that one particular source but corroborated by other sources and offered actually by other sources from different walks of life, that after I appeared on CNN and said I thought the government knew more about this Niger business than was letting on, there was this meeting at which it was decided to run an intelligence collection operation against me, which led to the learning of my wife’s identity and her employment.

MR. RUSSERT: Now, you’ve asked Bob Novak to reveal his sources. Would you reveal your sources?

AMB. WILSON: Actually, I haven’t asked Bob Novak to reveal his sources. And I think you can understand after you interviewed Mr. Woodward last week that when 75 people speak to Mr. Woodward with the authorization of the president and only two of them want to be identified, you can imagine that those who have other information but are fearful of what the White House might do, they also do not want to be identified. And I say that because, of course, I mention in the book that there are also reports from journalists back to me that they’re fearful of writing these stories. One journalist said because he was afraid he would end up in Guantanamo, which is basically I think a metaphor for their being cut off. Another one said that, of course, they had two children in private schools and a mortgage. Now, I’ve since heard from other journalists that even the most mildly critical articles about this administration yield top-level phone calls back to their editors including phone calls from Mr. Libby himself to their editors.

MR. RUSSERT: Now, you also said that Newt Gingrich, the former speaker, was at one of these meetings on the workup. He said that is absolutely, totally false.

AMB. WILSON: Yeah, and it may be false. I was just reporting what I’d heard from a number of different sources. The fact to the matter is this could all be cleared up rather quickly if somebody were to step forward and say, “This is how it happened.” The fact that they’re not suggests that they’re stonewalling. The president of the United States has said, “I want to get to the bottom of this.” There are only, as I put out in my book, a few people who live at that nexus between national security policy and politics. The president said he wants to get to the bottom of it. Either he’s not in control of his staff or he’s not serious or his senior staff is simply insubordinate and is stonewalling and covering up.

MR. RUSSERT: We’re going to take a quick break and come back and talk about some of the people that you suspect right after this. More of Ambassador Joe Wilson.


MR. RUSSERT: And we are back talking to Ambassador Joe Wilson. His book, “Politics of Truth.” Here’s the book. “According to my sources, between March 2003 and the appearance of my article in July”–in The Times–“the workup on me that turned up the information on Valerie was shared with Karl Rove, who then circulated it in administration and neoconservative circles.”

So you’re saying as early as March the information about your wife being a CIA operative was being distributed by the White House?

AMB. JOSEPH WILSON: That’s the information I have. That also would explain how Mr. Novak got information so quickly, how to–a decision was made for two people to call six journalists and leak the information within a couple of days. And it also explains how Cliff May, who wrote for the National Review online, suggested in a matter of days after my article appeared and a leak appeared, that it was widely known in Washington that my wife worked for the CIA. It was not widely known. None of my friends, for example, knew it. So it’s hard to believe that it was widely known unless somebody else put that story out.

MR. RUSSERT: You mentioned Mr. Rove’s name. You also say this on page 442, “The man attacking my integrity and reputation – and, I believe, quite possibly the person who exposed my wife’s identity – was the same Scooter Libby”–in Vice President Cheney’s office. Then you go on to say, “The other name that has most often been repeated to me in connection with the inquiry and disclosure into my background and Valerie’s is that of Elliott Abrams, who gained infamy in the Iran-Contra scandal during the first Bush administration.”

But then you say this: “In fact, seniors advisers close to the president may well have been clever enough to have used others to do the actual leading, in order to keep their fingerprints off the crime.”

So you don’t know who did it, even though you’re naming names.

AMB. WILSON: Well, I have–I’m naming names. What I’m doing is I’m sharing with the people outside the Beltway what is broadly spoken about here within Washington. I sat at the intersection of this information for several months, where people were getting information and passing it to me. I sifted through all of that. I attempted to ensure that it was not circular reporting, that I had sourcing from this that was two different sources from different walks of life indeed. The names of Abrams and Libby and Rove have all appeared in public. However, this ties it all together. Again, I go back to what I said earlier, there are only a few people who sit at the nexus. If the president really wanted to get to the bottom of this, he could simply call them in and ask them, and he should, because what they did is what his father called the most insidious of treachery. He called them insidious traitors.

MR. RUSSERT: The White House has denied that Karl Rove, Elliott Abrams, Scooter Libby, had anything to do with this, and they say you have a political agenda. This was on reference, August 21, 2003, a speech you gave in Washington state. Let’s play it and come back and talk about it:

(Videotape, August 21, 2003):

AMB. WILSON: I don’t think we’re going to let this drop. At the end of the day, it’s of keen interest to me to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs.

And trust me, when I use that name, I measure my words.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: “Frog-marched out in handcuffs”; “Trust me, when I use that name, I measure my words.”

AMB. WILSON: As I say in the literally first paragraph of the book, Karl Rove, a week after the Novak article appeared, called Chris Matthews of NBC and said, “Wilson’s wife is fair game,” that it was OK to go after somebody’s spouse because you disagreed with what her husband said. And now remember, when you talk about partisan, what I did was my civic duty to hold my government to account for what it had said, a pattern of deception to the Congress of the United States and the American people, including these 16 words in the State of the Union address. I did not put those 16 words in the State of the Union address. Indeed, had the president heeded the report that I and others had submitted, had the vice president heeded what the CIA briefer had told him, had the national security adviser and her deputy remembered the two memoranda and the telephone call relating to this particular subject, that line might not have been in the president’s State of the Union address. Either they were derelict or they were deceptive.

But the partisanship that goes into this was the attack on myself and on my family. This country is created with checks and balances guaranteed to, one, hold the government accountable for its actions and for its words, and two, to give citizens and the press certain privileges and rights to take on the government and challenge the government on what it says and does. For this government to have attacked me personally and then to have done what they did to my wife is, frankly, un-American.

MR. RUSSERT: When Rove made the alleged phone call, it was after your wife’s identity as a CIA agent had been made. Is there any crime in saying that your wife was fair game?

AMB. WILSON: I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t know whether there was a crime. I’ve seen what Sam Dash has written and I’ve seen what others have written with respect to the Patriot Act, not just the Intelligence Identities Act. What I have said–that I thought that this was a good place to start the investigation, irrespective of whether or not Mr. Rove or, indeed, anybody else can be convicted of a crime. The fact that they had to open an investigation is an indication that the national security of this country was betrayed by some people who the former George Bush, former President George Bush, called the most insidious of traitors.

Now, with respect to Rove, let me just also say the idea that you take it upon yourself to drag an innocent family member into the public square to administer a beating is just simply unacceptable. And this sort of political shenanigans has no place when we are discussing serious issues of national security, in which now we have over 700 American soldiers dead and $150 billion spent in a war that is–as one Republican told me the other night, “We are on the verge of a strategic catastrophe.”

MR. RUSSERT: A supporter of the president will point out that in The Daily Iowan in December of ’03 you called Dick Cheney “a lying SOB” to an audience, and that you are an active participant in the campaign of John Kerry, and that that’s your political agenda: Attack the vice president by calling him those names, talk about Karl Rove in handcuffs; that you’re a partisan Democrat supporting Kerry.

AMB. WILSON: Well, with respect to the vice president, that may be the gentlest and kindest thing I’ve had to say to him, about him, in recent months. And I think the record is clear, and you can go back to his speech in August. You can go back to his many statements about the reconstruction of nuclear weapons, again, well after he was told by his own CIA that there was nothing to this. There was a pattern of deception and lying to the Congress of the United States that got us into this terrible war. Again, with respect to my partisan activities or the fact that I support John Kerry, I am an American. This is a democracy. I am perfectly entitled to hold my political opinions and I’m perfectly entitled to share them. This president said on this show that he wanted this election to be a referendum on his first term. And well it should be. And I intend to enrich that political debate with what I know to the fullest extent possible.

MR. RUSSERT: To be continued. Joe Wilson. The book is “Politics of Truth.” We thank you for sharing your views.

AMB. WILSON: Thank you, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: And we’ll be right back, right after this.