Video: Woodward scoops again

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updated 11/17/2005 1:42:57 PM ET 2005-11-17T18:42:57

The Washington Post confessed that its own assistant managing editor and Watergate hero, Bob Woodward, testified under oath Monday that a senior administration official told him about CIA operative Valerie Wilson and her position at the agency almost a month before her name was revealed in a Robert Novak column. 

Why did Woodward, the star investigative of the 20th century, not go to press with this story?  ?  Is it Dick Cheney, that great inside source for Woodward's Iraq war books? 

Woodward's testimony would make the unnamed official, not Scooter Libby, the first government employee to disclose Wilson's employment at the CIA to a reporter, and Woodward the first reporter known to have learned about Wilson from a Bush administration official. 

Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald interviewed Woodward for more than two hours Monday about the previously undisclosed conversation after the official alerted the prosecutor to it on November 3, one week after Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff was indicated.

Big questions remain.

On Wednesday, Woodward apologized to his bosses at The Washington Post for not sharing the information. 

Woodward's boss, Executive Editor of The Post Len Downie, joined MSNBC's Chris Matthews on Wednesday evening to discuss the conversation with Woodward and the paper's perspective.

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HARDBALL HOST: It's a tricky time for a lot of people in journalism now.  I want to ask you, why do we now know that Bob Woodward got a leak from a senior administration official about the identity of Joe Wilson's wife?  Why do we know that he ever got that information right now? 

LEONARD DOWNIE, JR., EXEC. EDITOR, WASHINGTON POST: Chris, at the time that this conversation took place back in June of 2003, Bob was conducting a series of interviews with
this and other sources for his book, Plan of Attack.  He had, had many conversations with this source.  And this came up as a small business of banter within a much longer interview about other things. 

And Bob at the time — this is before Novak's column — didn't think much of it.  It wasn't what he was after for his book.  It didn't seem very significant to him.  Only after the — and that's why he didn't tell me about it at that time. 

Later on, when the leaks investigation began, because this is a confidential relationship with this source, he became concerned about protecting that source and also concerned about whether or not he, himself, might be subpoenaed in that investigation.  That's why he didn't tell me at that time. 

I've told him, however, that those were not sufficient reasons to not bring me into his confidence.  I don't know if we could have made any use of this information at the time if he had told me, because it is a confidential source relationship.  Couldn't name the source.  Couldn't use the information at that time. 

But he should have told me about it and that's why he has apologized today. 

MATTHEWS: Well, that's what I don't get.

What has changed between then and June of 2003 and now? 

We now know that the message was, from that source, that high administration official, that Valerie Wilson worked for the CIA, Joe Wilson's wife, and may have played a role in his going to Niger. 

But why do we know that now?  What freed him up to tell us that, the information itself? 

DOWNIE: What's happened since Bob first told me about this toward the end of October, shortly before the indictments came down, and what happened after that, as Mr. Shuster's report said, is that he was contacted by the special counsel, asked to give this deposition and then sought waivers from the three sources the special counsel wanted to ask questions about, because Bob couldn't give testimony unless these waivers were given for the purpose of testimony. 

All three gave him waivers for that.  He also asked for waivers to be able to write about it.  And, one, Mr. Libby gave him a waiver to be able to write about it in today's paper. 

It took a while to reach Andrew Card, who is traveling with the president, the president's chief of staff.  We now have his waiver to be able to write about.  We can write about that in tomorrow's paper.  We've already done so on the Web site today. 

But the other source has not given us a waiver, so we still can't name him or report on the substance of the conversation. 

MATTHEWS: But haven't you, by saying that someone, a high administration official told Bob that Valerie Wilson works for the CIA — isn't that the information?  And we have it now, we have it because Bob gave it, put it out in a statement. 

Why did he put it out now and not put it out two years ago? 

DOWNIE: We have only been able to report it to the extent that I just said, consistent with our agreement with his source. 

MATTHEWS: Well, the source, in other words — I'm afraid — well, let me ask you about being used here by his source. 

The source says you can testify about it, says to Bob you can testify under oath, of course, because you're free to do that.  I waive that.  You can testify as to the message.  You can say somebody leaked this back in  mid June of 2003 before it was leaked by Scooter Libby, according to the indictment language. 

In other words, that's all useful to somebody if they want to help Scooter get off.  But It's not telling the whole story, It's just telling the useful part of this story.  I mean, the people over at Libby's legal operation are ecstatic now. 

DOWNIE: I'm not drawing any conclusions about that.  that's their business. 

What we are doing is maintaining our relationships with the confidential source, as we do with many other confidential sources.  that's very important to us. 

MATTHEWS: Does it bother you that the confidential source could be using rolling disclosure here for a political purpose; in other words, peeling off the confidentiality just enough to achieve a political goal, which is to take perhaps some of the political — or the legal heat off of Scooter Libby? 

The reason I ask that is because — and you know this — the logic of this, it comes out just a week after Scooter Libby's indicted.  If someone who was friendly to him, the vice president perhaps, who wanted to help him, or someone else like Colin Powell who wanted to help him, would say, 'Well, get this information out to the press that he wasn't the first one
to talk to the press about this; I was.'

DOWNIE: Chris, I can engage in that kind of speculation, you know that.  We have a confidential-source relationship to protect here.  Woodward protected the name of Deep Throat for 30 years.  That is why he was seeking to protect this confidential-source relationship.  But he should have told me about it.

MATTHEWS: OK, let's talk about the role of an editor in a case of like this.  Let's talk about the period between what Bob refers to as mid June of 2003 and the time that you ran — well, you don't make these decisions, I guess their publishers do.  I don't even know who makes the decision to run the Bob Novak column. 

But around on the 14th in your paper, a syndicated column by Bob Novak.  Of course, the Post doesn't edit Bob Novak, he's syndicated.  But would you have liked to have had that story sometime before he did it and would you have ran it, if Bob had given it to you. 

The story that a CIA agent was the wife of the guy that went to Niger, that may have played a role in the fact that he went on the trip.  It may have been politically significant that the vice president — although he may have triggered this trip, in his question to the CIA briefer, the trip was in fact undertaken perhaps with some role by Joe Wilson's wife? 

DOWNIE: We always want to publish information as soon as we receive it, Chris.  In this case, the information did come from a confidential source and had to be kept confidential. 

It was a reporting for a book, whose publication was way off into the future.  I would have liked to have known this from Bob at the time, so we could consider exactly the kind of considerations that you're raising now.  We were unable to do that at the time.  But, I don't know if our decision would have been we be able to publish the story, because of the
confidential nature of the interview. 

MATTHEWS: The source was confidential, but you believe that the background agreement between Bob and his source, the high administration official, was also the information was off the record.  Is that right? 

DOWNIE: At that time, it was for the purpose of publication of a book in the future, and therefore was confidential.  And the source has told us it remains confidential. 

MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you.  Andy Card was mentioned on-line today from The Washington Post as one of the other sources.  Scooter Libby is the — who is the third?  Are we going to know that at any time soon?

DOWNIE: I don't know.  Obviously, we're interested in having the source free us from our obligations.  We have to wait and see if that happens.

MATTHEWS: Is it important to your readers, if you can get that waiver to be complete, not just to be limited to publish that information?  What would it tell the reader?

DOWNIE: Of course it is, along with all the other reporting that we are continuing to do on this story. 

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the significance of this whole thing.  As a journalist, as an editor of one of the great papers in the country and the world. 

Is it important — is there a conflict here between Bob's writing books — and they're hell of books, everybody reads them, they're bestsellers — and his role as a daily newspaper editor?

DOWNIE: Scores of members on our staff, including myself on occasion, have written books.  And we think that's an important thing for our professionals to be able to do.

Oftentimes, they do reporting that does produce stories for the newspaper, along with their books.  And in all of Bob's books, he has produced stories for the newspaper out of his reporting.

Sometimes stories long before the book is published, or sometimes in other cases, we publish excerpts from the books, long series of articles, giving our readers the first shot at all of his important information.

It has worked throughout.  And he has always kept me informed about the important things that he has discovered in his reporting.  This is the first time that I can recall in the 30 years of this relationship, that he has failed to tell us something that he should have told us at the time.  And he has now apologized for that. 

MATTHEWS: Bob's been very tough on Fitzgerald.  He has called him a junk-yard dog.  He dumped on this whole investigation.  I think I understand why.  I'd like you to tell me why.  Because he does rely on leaks, that's how he broke the Watergate story. 

Is that what this is about?  Bob protecting the whole notion of government employees being free to be guaranteed in their confidentiality? 

DOWNIE: I would say that obviously, much of Bob's reporting relies on confidential sources, people who risk their livelihoods to tell him important things that the American people needs to know. 

And so obviously, he did care about whether or not this investigation was going to chill relationships that he and other reporters like him, including many in this news room, have with sources. 

So that worried him.  However, I have also told him that when he appears on television, he is not supposed to state his personal opinions.  That is the policy of the Post and he is going to better about that in the future as well.  Even if you ask him questions, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Well, I keep pushing for that opinion.

Watch 'Hardball' each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC. 

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