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Did White House Leak Name of Undercover CIA Employee?

Aired September 29, 2003 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE: a leak, an investigation, and questions about the White House's role in all of the above. The man who printed the information, our own Robert Novak, responds.

As the battle continues to unfold in Iraq, critics continue to question just how accurate the administration's information about weapons of mass destruction was before the war began -- today on CROSSFIRE.




The "Question of the Day": Did someone in the Bush White House drop a dime on an undercover CIA employee, just to attack her husband? And, while we're asking questions, just where are those weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, anyway? We will debate all of that a little bit.

But first, the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

It is a felony for a government official to reveal the name of an undercover CIA operative. And yet, according to our own Bob Novak, that is precisely what the Bush administration has done.

Long before the State of the Union address, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson warned the Bush administration that its claim that Saddam Hussein tried buy uranium in Africa was false. Mr. Bush made the false claim anyway. After Ambassador Wilson blew the whistle, the Bushies allegedly told Mr. Novak that the ambassador's wife was secretly working for the CIA.

A Bush administration official tells "The Washington Post" that Mr. Bush's White House tried to peddle the story to six different reporters and that -- quote -- "It was meant purely and simply for revenge" -- unquote. The leak occurred 10 weeks ago. But "The Post" says neither President Bush, nor Attorney General John Ashcroft have even asked the first question about this alleged felony, thus prompting calls for an independent investigation into the incident. So much for restoring honor and integrity to the White House, I guess, Bob.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Paul, I have been beleaguered by television networks around the world, but I am reserving my say for CROSSFIRE.

Nobody in the Bush administration called me to leak this. In July, I was interviewing a senior administration official on Ambassador Wilson's report when he told me the trip was inspired by his wife, a CIA employee working on weapons of mass destruction. Another senior official told me the same thing.

As a professional journalist with 46 years experience in Washington, I do not reveal confidential sources. When I called the CIA in July, they confirmed Mrs. Wilson's involvement in a mission for her husband on a secondary basis, who is -- he is a former Clinton administration official. They asked me not to use her name, but never indicated it would endanger her or anybody else.

According to a confidential source at the CIA, Mrs. Wilson was an analyst, not a spy, not a covert operative, and not in charge of undercover operatives. So what is the fuss about, pure Bush-bashing?

BEGALA: I don't think so on this one, Bob.

Now, people should know, the law explicitly protects reporters, but the same law makes it a felony for a government official to reveal the name of somebody who is undercover for the CIA. Now, I'm wondering -- 10 weeks ago -- your column ran July 14. It's been 10 weeks. And "The Post" today says that the Justice Department, under John Ashcroft, hasn't done a thing and that Bush hasn't even asked people. Why?

NOVAK: Because there's no great crime involved here, it doesn't seem.

What happens is that, under the law, the CIA must ask the Justice Department routinely to check into all leaks, unauthorized leaks, of any kind. It takes the bureaucracy a long time to work. That happens about one a week. There's about 50 of these a year. The fuss is made on this because it involves Bush.

BEGALA: I think you are being too humble. This is the leak of the year. And if the reports are true, your reporting, which I always do believe -- we disagree about politics, but if those reports are true, it is a serious crime. It's a felony.

We will debate this more, but I'm just curious. You have been doing this, you said, for 46 years. What's it like now to be in the middle of a story, instead of covering a story? How does that feel?

NOVAK: Well, it's not that much fun, believe it or not.

(LAUGHTER) NOVAK: But let tell you this. It's a very odd feeling, when everybody is saying, who are these sources that told me all that, that I happen to know who they were.

BEGALA: Well, I won't insult you by asking. But I do hope that, whoever it is, that we find it out and that that person does a long stretch in a federal prison.

NOVAK: Oh, that's ridiculous.


NOVAK: Remember all the talk you heard from liberal pundits that, once the voters of California got a good look at Arnold Schwarzenegger, they surely would go elsewhere? Wrong.

After the only televised debate featuring the Terminator, he is on the rise. The CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll shows, 63 percent of Californians favor removing Democratic Governor Gray Davis. To replace him, Arnold, the Republican actor, is 15 percentage points ahead of Democratic Cruz Bustamante. Could it be that the people of California have had it with big-spending professional politicians?

That may be too much to hope for, but how about Mr. Universe in the governor's mansion, lifting weights and slashing government?


BEGALA: Not to speak ill of the hand that feeds me, but I don't believe the CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll. And here's why.

I did a little reporting of my own. I called a Republican political consultant involved in that race out there in California. And all of the polling from Republicans and Democrats, private polling, shows that the recall is at about 52. And, as you know, these things start high and go low. If it's at 52 today, I think Gray Davis survives. If our poll is right at 63, he's out. But I frankly think our poll is wrong this time.


NOVAK: And I think you better find -- maybe we can get him on this show to replace Carville. What do you think, Begala and Davis?


BEGALA: Gray Davis is not going to be looking for a new job. He's going to hang on as governor.


BEGALA: Well, after failing to make us laugh on "Saturday Night Live," Dennis Miller tried his hand at a late-night talk show and failed. Then he tried acting in movies like the classic "Bordello of Blood." Failed again. Then he made ads for those felons at WorldCom, which failed. And who could forget, of course, his stint on "Monday Night Football," which prompted one critic to write -- and I quote the critic here -- "We need a new term for lousy, piece-of-crap performance. Perhaps to 'pull a Dennis' will make its way into the lexicon" -- unquote.

After all those failures, obviously, Miller is a perfect person to run in California as a Republican against Senator Barbara Boxer. Reports are that Republicans are in fact approaching him to run. Dennis, babe, go for it. You'd make Arnold Schwarzenegger look like Ludwig Wittgenstein.

NOVAK: Well, you know, Paul, I never heard you say a critical word about Dennis Miller until you found out, to your amazement, that he was a conservative Republican. I was surprised, too.

But I will tell you, he may be Barbara Boxer's worst nightmare. Once the Californians get in the habit of electing actors and entertainers, they may never stop.

BEGALA: The difference is, Arnold is at least a successful actor and entertainer. Dennis has failed at everything he has done. He was an embarrassment on "Monday Night Football."


BEGALA: Anybody who could make football boring -- so, Barbara Boxer is going to beat him like a bad piece of meat. Get in it, babe. Let's see, Dennis. Tee it up.

NOVAK: All right.


BEGALA: OK, well, is John Ashcroft's Justice Department actually capable of conducting a thorough investigation into the alleged felony in President Bush's White House? Are Republicans capable of admitting the only honest answer is no? We will find out in a moment.

And, meanwhile people are asking, where are the WMDs? Where is Saddam Hussein? Where is bin Laden? And where is our $87 billion going? Those questions and more as we put Iraq in the CROSSFIRE.

Stay with us.




BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

This is shaping up to be a busy week for the Bush White House. First, the president's team is on Capitol Hill asking for $87 billion of your money to occupy and rebuild Iraq. Next, the report on the CIA's search for weapons of mass destruction is due. And guess what? So far, they haven't found any. And, of course, the hot story today, the alleged leak of the name of a CIA operative by the Bush White House. It's Iraq. It's the CROSSFIRE. It's today.

With us live, Congressman Jack Kingston. He is a Republican from Georgia and Representative Harold Ford, a Democrat from Tennessee.


BEGALA: Mr. Kingston I'm not in the habit of praising presidents named Bush, but our current president's father, after whom the CIA headquarters is named, had this to stay in his speech when they dedicated that building in his honor.

Here's our former president, George H.W. Bush.


GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious of traitors.


BEGALA: Now, our former president says that that is treason. You supported an independent counsel when the Democratic agriculture secretary got football tickets for free. Surely, as a man of integrity, which you are, you will support an independent investigation of this alleged treason.

REP. JACK KINGSTON (R), GEORGIA: Paul, if the case moves in that direction, then I think you will see something like that on a bipartisan basis.

But at this point that we're at right now, we don't know exactly what her role is. We know that the CIA has forwarded this to the Justice Department. The Justice Department will deal with it. If it becomes apparent that maybe the Democrat fears that Ashcroft isn't going to be thorough enough and there's evidence to say this is a big, big cover-up, this is a Bush problem, then we will take it from there. But at this point, that's where we are yet.

BEGALA: Then me hold you to consistency. I'm going to hold you consistency, since, again, you supported an investigation of an agriculture secretary who got football tickets.

Here's what "The Washington Post" says today. You said if there's evidence Mr. Ashcroft is not doing their job -- his job. Well, there is. "The Post" today reports this: "Aides to President Bush said Mr. Bush has no plans to ask his staff members whether they played a role in revealing the name of an undercover officer."

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said the Justice Department has requested no information so far. They've had 10 weeks to look into what our former president called treason, and they have done nothing. Surely, again -- I ask you again -- you will support an independent counsel, don't you?

KINGSTON: I think, if it comes to the point where it looks like they are really intentionally ignoring this, then we would probably look at it.

BEGALA: Ten weeks, sir.

KINGSTON: But you don't know how many others they are up against. And I have no idea exactly.

BEGALA: How many other acts of treason? OK.

KINGSTON: But what did the woman do? Was she really a covert spy? Do we know exactly what her role is?

NOVAK: No, we really don't know. And they never said -- some people told me she was an analyst.

But, Mr. Ford...


KINGSTON: But I think that's relevant. We need to know if she was a spy or if she was a glorified secretary.

REP. HAROLD FORD JR. (D), TENNESSEE: But in Mr. Novak's original column, you said she was an operative looking into weapons of mass destruction.


NOVAK: But I keep reporting, Harold, that a lot of people say she's an analyst now.

But I want to read you what Joseph Wilson, the former acting U.S. ambassador to Iraq, who did a fine job, said at the August 21 forum. He said that Karl Rove leaked this information. He said, "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." Pretty rough, isn't it?

Let's see what Joe Wilson said on CNN today.


JOE WILSON, FMR. DEP. U.S. AMB. TO IRAQ: I have said openly, and perhaps in an excess of exuberance in a speech in Seattle, I mentioned Karl Rove's name. It was not to suggest that I thought he was either the source or even the authorizer of the source, but really just to kind of say that I think it comes out of with the White House political office.


NOVAK: Well, it looks like the ambassador really doesn't know who leaked this to me, who gave me this information. Don't you think it's a good idea not to make accusations, if you don't know? FORD: Probably not. And I applaud him for saying that.

I got to tell you, when I get married and someone in the White House says something about my wife or reveals her identity and puts her in danger and compromises her sources, I might have a little gone further than Joe Wilson. But I appreciate him saying that. And the White House should, too.

If we want to put it behind us, whether it's an independent counsel or whether it's whatever you want to call it, someone -- and Jack has been great in the Congress to work with -- I would imagine, in the name of consistency, that someone would stand up and say, this is something we should put behind us quickly, allow a counsel to come to the table, investigate the facts, get it out on the table. If there was no wrongdoing, let's move on. Otherwise, this will bedevil us for a long time. And I can appreciate...

NOVAK: I am just amazed that you leap to these conclusions.


KINGSTON: I said investigate the facts.

NOVAK: Do you know -- do you know -- do you know for a fact whether any sources have been endangered at all? Do you know whether my source was in the White House? Do you know that at all?

FORD: No, sir, I don't know any of these things.


FORD: That's why I have asked for an investigation.

NOVAK: Then why do you make these accusations?

FORD: You wrote the original column, sir. There's no need to show any indignation towards me. The front page of "The Washington Post" has indicated there's a CIA operative who may have had her identity revealed, or did have her identity revealed, and her safety may be in danger and her sources may be compromised. If there's no truth to it...


NOVAK: ... they said that.

FORD: But, Mr. Novak, if there's not truth to it, your indignation should be directed at those who revealed to you what they knew and perhaps to those who have not investigated...

NOVAK: I don't get mad about that.

FORD: Mr. Novak, to those who have not investigated this over 10 weeks. So I am willing to put it all behind us as quickly as we can. Joe Wilson's temperament is the kind of temperament we need. He indicated and admitted that perhaps he went overboard. (CROSSTALK)

KINGSTON: ... have the guy frog-tied. I don't even know what frog-tied is. How that's temperament?


BEGALA: But, Jack, he walked it back on that piece of videotape that Bob showed.


KINGSTON: He waited, what, five weeks to go back on it. I'm like you.


KINGSTON: Somebody says something about your wife, you want to mix it up. But then, on the other hand....


FORD: If you say something about my mom or my wife, I'm going to get mad.




KINGSTON: If her life was in danger, why hasn't again occurred?


BEGALA: Wait, wait, wait. So this is the law.


BEGALA: No, sir. With all due respect, Congressman, it is a law. It is a felony. And our former president says that it's an insidious act of treason. And I think George Bush Sr. is right.


KINGSTON: I'm in agreement with you.


BEGALA: No, you are very soft on all of a sudden, Congressman. Why are you soft on crime when it's a Republican who's guilty?



NOVAK: Let him answer.

KINGSTON: Paul, here's the situation.

No. 1, Bob has said, how do they even now that it's with the White House? Well, guess what? It's a presidential election year. And anything that goes wrong -- what, I don't know what it is today, 10, 15 candidates running for president -- it's hard to keep up with. But whatever goes wrong is Bush's fault. And so, obviously, it's the White House who gave Bob this leak. And yet we don't know that. He's setting here. He says, I don't know.


BEGALA: "The Washington Post" says so. I don't either. Bob knows.

KINGSTON: Well, "The Washington Post." Well, that settles it in conservative America.

BEGALA: "The Washington Post" made -- said there are six different reporters who the White House -- White House -- didn't say administration -- the White House tried to peddle this to.

NOVAK: Wait. Wait. Wait. You've got be very accurate, Paul. I know you don't like that, but you have to be accurate. "The Washington Post" didn't say it. They quoted an unnamed source as saying there were six different reporters.

BEGALA: They quoted a Bush administration official.

NOVAK: That's right.

BEGALA: Saying that the White House peddled this to six reporters.

NOVAK: We don't know if that's true.


BEGALA: Nobody got football tickets here.

KINGSTON: We know that "The Post" bent over backwards not to say anything bad about the Bush administration.


NOVAK: Give Harold a chance.

FORD: Those are -- Jack is my friend. I was in his district not long ago for a wedding and loved it.


FORD: But those are two dangerous assertions. To say that nothing has happened to Ms. Wilson over 10 weeks, suggesting maybe her life is not in danger, that's one heck of a standard to set. (CROSSTALK)

KINGSTON: The Democrats were saying, oh, my goodness, her life is clearly in danger. And I'm saying, well, what happened to her? We don't know what she was doing.


BEGALA: No death, no foul? No death, no penalty?


FORD: I know you didn't mean that.




NOVAK: Listen, when you all talk at once, you can't hear anybody.

FORD: I know my colleague and friend didn't mean to suggest, because nothing has come her way in terms of physical harm, suggest that perhaps she is not in a position that would -- that if she was exposed, that she would be in danger. I know you didn't mean to say that, but that's how it came out.

KINGSTON: Let me repeat it, what I'm saying to you.


KINGSTON: The Democrat Party is a party of whiners. And they're all going around and saying, oh, my goodness


NOVAK: Last word, gentlemen.

Thank you very much, Congressman Kingston, Congressman Ford.

Next, we give our guests the "Rapid Fire" treatment, where the questions come fast and the answers better be on target.

But next, in Wolf Blitzer's headlines, a Pentagon report questions the value of some information that came out of Iraq before the war.

We have another segment. I forgot that.




NOVAK: Welcome back.

Time now for "Rapid Fire," the fastest question-and-answer session in politics. Our guests, Congressman Harold Ford, Democrat of Tennessee, Representative Jack Kingston, Republican of Georgia.

Mr. Ford, do you think Iraq would be better off if President Bush had not invaded and Saddam Hussein were still in Baghdad?

FORD: We are better off without him there, but we should have had a plan once we took him out. That's the problem.


BEGALA: Congressman Kingston, do you support giving polygraph tests to White House aides to find out who leaked this story and blew the cover of a CIA agent in the middle of a war on terrorism?

KINGSTON: Paul, I don't think that's necessary. I don't know what the precedent is for that. But I don't think we should be rounding up everybody in the White House, saying that they are guilty and invading their own rights.

NOVAK: Are you ready to vote, Mr. Ford, for $87 billion to try to rebuild Iraq and keep our troops going?

FORD: I'm ready to support our troops with $66 billion, but the remaining $20 billion, no. A lot more has to come from the president. I would like to see a suspension of the tax cuts for me, you, Paul, and maybe Jack, and the top 1 percent of earners in this country.


BEGALA: Congressman Kingston, your colleague Rahm Emanuel, congressman, Democrat from Chicago, will have an amendment, I am told, that will require matching dollar for dollar the $20 billion to rebuild Iraq with another $20 billion to rebuild America. Will you support that?


KINGSTON: We already have a budget of, what, $1.7 trillion that is invested in America. So I'm not sure where he's going to offset it with an extra $20 billion. That sounds like playing to the gallery.

I am surprised, coming from a former member of the Clinton administration, that he would be doing that. You know how difficult your decisions were in Bosnia and Kosovo. And we have got to complete this job and not play politics.

NOVAK: Mr. Ford, I know you're supporting Senator Kerry for president. Do you think General Clark is qualified to be president of the United States?

FORD: If Arnold Schwarzenegger is in California, General Clark certainly is to be president.




BEGALA: Congressman Kingston, one last one. Are you going to run for the Senate in Georgia? Zell Miller is retiring. Are you going to run for U.S. Senate?

KINGSTON: At this point, I am going to watch Isakson, Collins, and Cain and see what happens.

BEGALA: Well, that's probably good news for my Democrats.

Jack Kingston, Republican congressman from Georgia, Harold Ford, a Democrat from Tennessee, thank you both very much, gentlemen.


BEGALA: Today, our question grows out of the leak controversy we've been talking about today. Here's the question: Should a journalist be forced to reveal his or her source? We will have the results right after the break.

And then, in "Fireback," one of our viewers wants to know if there's a little bit of double standard at the Bush White House when it comes to leaking.

Stay with us.



NOVAK: The audience question: Should journalists be required to reveal their sources? Eighty-one percent, no; 19 percent, yes. Good for the audience.


BEGALA: I agree. I agree. Dirtbag political aides in the White House should not be leaking classified information, but journalists should be protected.

Bob McCann in Allen, Texas, writes: "Last year, I listened to Rumsfeld" -- that would Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld -- "say that government leaks could be considered treason. Does this now qualify or has the administration put themselves about the law?"

Good question.


NOVAK: You shouldn't throw the word treason around too loosely. George Principe of West Palm Beach, Florida says: "When are these 10 donkeys" -- those are the presidential candidates.


NOVAK: "Going to tell the electorate what their plans are if they get elected? All they do is knock President Bush."


NOVAK: That is the only thing they can do. They have no plans.

BEGALA: Well, actually, no, as a matter of fact, that is not true. In the last week alone, General Clark and Senator Kerry have put out jobs plans, which is more than Bush has done in three years. So I think...


NOVAK: All right, in the audience, we have a question?

BEGALA: Yes, sir.

NOVAK: Go ahead, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. My name is Jack from Alexandria, Virginia.

And if Mrs. Wilson is merely a CIA analyst, then I agree with Mr. Novak that there is no scandal here. But if she is in fact a CIA covert operative, her exposure is unconscionable and the source of the leak should be fired and prosecuted.

NOVAK: Well, the question is -- the people I have been talking to in the CIA -- not the official spokesmen -- but the people say that there is no -- there was no danger to her or any of her people. Maybe we will have to have an investigation on this and we will get some CIA secrets.

BEGALA: We should have an investigation of this, because what happened to this woman was unconscionable.

Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Chris (ph) from North Greenwich, New York.

Is it not premature that we demand that someone hang for this, when the identities and details of those involved have yet to be established?

NOVAK: That's exactly right.

What does Abercrombie stand for?

(LAUGHTER) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry. It's all I have.

NOVAK: That's good.

BEGALA: It's why we ought to have an investigation. You're right. But the investigation ought to be conducted by somebody more credible and independent than John Ashcroft.


BEGALA: From the left, I'm Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak.

Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.


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