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Former ambassador blames White House for leak

Former Ambassador Joe Wilson
Former Ambassador Joe Wilson

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former Ambassador Joe Wilson, an outspoken critic of the Bush administration's Iraq policy, blames the White House for telling a newspaper columnist that his wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA operative. The Justice Department is investigating the claim at the request of the CIA.

Wilson spoke to CNN anchor Paula Zahn Monday.

ZAHN: Are you still saying this goes all the way to the top levels of the White House?

WILSON: No, on the contrary, I don't have any specific information. I would hope that an investigation would yield the information as to who was responsible for the precise leak.

What I do have are any number of journalist sources, none of whom I have any reason not to believe, who have said that the White House was pushing this story after the leak, after the Novak article, and including [Bush political strategist] Karl Rove.

ZAHN: The Washington Post reported over the weekend that at least six Washington correspondents were fed this same information. Why?

WILSON: Well, I think, if The Washington Post article is correct, I think there were probably two waves.

The one wave was being this -- of the phone calls to the six journalists. The only person who published an article was Mr. Novak. He's now claiming that he wasn't called. But it was in that timeframe, apparently. Then, I believe there was a second wave that occurred later on in the week, when I started getting phone calls from different journalistic outlets, saying things like, the White House is telling us that the real story here is not the 16 words. The real story is Wilson and his wife, culminating in the day that I actually did an interview on another network, saying that my understanding was that this might be against the law, after which those calls stopped.

ZAHN: And why do you think you're at the receiving end of all this?

WILSON: Well, I had assumed early on that it was probably because the White House wanted to discourage others from coming forward. And I have said that repeatedly, that there was nothing they could do to me. I had already told my story.

The accuracy or the validity, the veracity, of my story had been sort of agreed to by the White House 36 hours or 30 hours after my article appeared in The New York Times. There was nothing particularly to be gained by going after me. But you might want to discourage other people from stepping forward. There were a number of people at the time who were speaking off the record to journalists about pressures that they felt out at the CIA.

Whether those were accurate or not, those were the stories that were going around. So I thought that it might be directed at them.

ZAHN: Do you believe your wife's life is in any increased danger as a result of this?

WILSON: Well, I don't know.

We've always thought about this in the context of what is compromised in terms of national security, what operations, what agents, what networks that have been put in place during her career. That was the focus of our thinking. I will tell you that, increasingly, people are asking that question. And I'm going to have to think about it. But I'm not -- we have not been the recipients of any general threats or even -- or specific threats.

ZAHN: So you're not sure whether you fear for her safety, when you say it's something you have to think through?

WILSON: Well, I'm certainly concerned about her safety, but it's -- we had not thought about it in those terms at this point. We had thought about it more in terms of the violation to our own national security.

ZAHN: And, finally, I wanted to share with you something that Robert Novak [the columnist who wrote the initial report] had to say a little bit earlier today about this controversy. Let's listen to what he had to say.


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: 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?


ZAHN: You want to answer that question? Is this Bush-bashing on your part?

WILSON: Let me make a couple of points about that.

First of all, Novak also said that I was a Clinton appointee. In actual fact, my first political appointee was as ambassador. And I was appointed by George H.W. Bush, the first President Bush. So I really am apolitical in all of this.

Secondly, somebody with Novak's self-described 46 years experience will know the difference between operative and analyst. And his report clearly says -- his article says operative.

ZAHN: So what does that mean?

WILSON: That means that I think that he knew and he was told that she was a CIA operative, which means that they come under the branch of the CIA that deals with clandestine operations.

ZAHN: So you're basically saying there's no doubt in your mind that this was a leak, when in fact he said, in the course of interviewing a senior White House official, that is what he was told, and your wife's -- not her name at that point, but at least her official capacity was shared with him?

WILSON: Bob Novak called me before he went to print with the report. And he said, a CIA source had told him that my wife was an operative. He was trying to get a second source. He couldn't get a second source. Could I confirm that? I said no.

After the article appeared, I called him and I said: "You told me it was a CIA source. You wrote senior administration officials. What was it, CIA or senior administration?" He said to me, "I misspoke the first time I spoke to you." That makes it senior administration sources.

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