He didn‘t plan it this way. But certainly, without him, Scooter Libby would not have been in court today, Democrats probably would not have thrown the Senate into secret session over prewar intelligence, and it could even be argued that the media attention to what this government told us before the war would never have grown. This all comes because of an op-ed piece he wrote for The New York Times on July 6, 2003, “What I Didn‘t Find in Africa,” and, of course, the administration‘s response to that piece.
He has since written The Politics of Truth. The former acting ambassador to Iraq under the first President Bush, Joseph Wilson, joins Countdown to talk about new developments in the CIA leak investigation and how it has impacted his family.
KEITH OLBERMANN, COUNTDOWN HOST: Ambassador, thanks again for your time.
JOSEPH WILSON, FORMER AMBASSADOR: Well, thank you, Keith. And thanks for following the story as assiduously as you have been.
OLBERMANN: That‘s, I believe, my job.
Worlds turn on seemingly small things, sir. The Senate went into lockdown, essentially, last night. Mr. Libby pleads tomorrow morning. Do you see yourself as the root of all of these things, or one of the dominoes, or how?
WILSON: Well, I think it‘s sort of an accident of history. I wrote this piece because I believed it was my civic duty to hold my government to account for what it had said and done in the name of the American people. This government, this administration, even before I wrote my piece, it‘s very clear from the indictment, embarked on a campaign to discredit, defame, and otherwise abuse my civil rights and my right to petition my government for a grievance.
Everything that‘s come about as a consequence of that really is more the responsibility of the government than the responsibility of me. I would have been happy, the day after my article appeared, when the White House told The Washington Post that the 16 words did not rise to the level of inclusion in the State of the Union address, I would have been happy to disappear and allow others to take on that particular battle.
OLBERMANN: Of course, that did not happen that way, and we had, as a result, much further down the line, the Fitzgerald investigation, which has resulted in Mr. Libby‘s indictment, but so far, nothing else. That would seem to have elements of both vindication for you and perhaps disappointment. Is it both? Is it one and not the other?
WILSON: Well, I certainly don‘t think of this in terms of vindication, because, after all, the crime that was committed was a crime against the country. So the extent to which indictments have been brought, all Americans should feel somewhat vindicated.
And as far as disappointment goes, it‘s very clear from the indictment that one of the reason why Mr. Fitzgerald has not been able to get to the bottom of this is because he believes that Mr. Libby has obstructed justice.
I find it a sad day for American democracy when indictments are handed up to the offices of senior officials in the White House. At the same time, it‘s also a day when we can reaffirm, I believe, our belief that in a nation that‘s based upon the rule of law, no man is above the law.
OLBERMANN: Are you disappointed that Mr. Fitzgerald did not go, or a least has not yet gone, deeper into this, into the entire sales campaign, if you will, for the Iraq war, particularly into the origins of the so-called Italian report that triggered that whole idea that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger?
WILSON: Well, I‘m very comfortable with what Mr. Fitzgerald and the team of Justice lawyers and the FBI have done. And I particularly applaud my fellow citizens who sat on the grand jury for two years, who were taking the time out of their lives to review all the evidence.
The investigation is still open. If Mr. Libby has in fact obstructed justice, that is one of the reason why Mr. Fitzgerald has not been able to get to the bottom of this.
With respect to the debate on whether or not the intelligence was twisted, or whether there are ties to the Italian — or the documents that are — that the Italian newspaper is talking about, I think that‘s probably best left to the Congress. And I would hope that the Congress would look at this.
I must say, it struck me, it has struck me over the past couple years the extent to which Republicans, the Republican majority, has put its loyalty, or their loyalty to the party above their oversight responsibilities.
OLBERMANN: The Italian newspaper, and the Italian report, somebody analogized this, poetically, I thought, to the idea of the bloody glove planted in the O.J. Simpson case. Do you know, from even dating back to your trip to Niger, where those documents came from? Could that have been a forgery by somebody in this country, in this government? Was it necessarily international? Do you have any conclusions or theories?
WILSON: At the time that I was briefed, before I was asked to take this trip, the documents were not in the hands of the U.S. government, to the best of my knowledge. I was briefed that an officer, a U.S. officer, had either seen the documents or had been briefed on their existence. And my briefing was based upon the transcript or his report about the existence of those documents.
And that‘s what precipitated the vice president‘s query that the CIA follow up on this that led to my trip, but also led to two other reports being done at roughly the same time, one by a four-star Marine Corps general for the Defense Department, and a third report being done by our ambassador on the ground in Niger.
All three of us concluded that there was nothing to that particular allegation.
But as to the provenance of those documents, where they came from, I didn‘t know until I read about it in various articles by Mr. Hersh and Dana Priest of “The Washington Post.”
OLBERMANN: Returning to the subject one last time, I guess, about the Fitzgerald investigation, did Mr. Fitzgerald ever contact you about this investigation?
WILSON: I spoke with Mr. Fitzgerald early on in his tenure. I went to meet with him at his request, I just laid out the details of my trip and how it had come about. I spoke to him one other time, coincidentally on the day that Judy Miller was released from jail, though our conversation had nothing to do with her or her release. And those are the only two times that we have spoken.
OLBERMANN: Turning to the campaign against you and your wife that certainly began in 2003, there seems to be, I guess, a broad sense that that campaign ended at some point. And yet you can turn on Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity or any other reactionary parrot, and you hear these same talking points about you.
Would you just briefly address these? They say your wife was not a covert officer because she posed in “Vanity Fair” magazine. They say that your report on Niger was debunked at some point. And they say that you claimed that the vice president had sent you on the Niger trip, and when you said that, you were lying when you said that. Would you just address those three points?
WILSON: Sure. Well, first of all, my wife was determined by the Fitzgerald investigation to have been covered by American law covering the protection of classified officers. So I don‘t believe that there‘s any other—anything more to say on that. Mr. Fitzgerald looked into it. He‘s indicted people. He‘s said that she was a classified officer.
With respect to the second question, which was...
OLBERMANN: The debunking of your report from Niger.
WILSON: Oh, again, my report was one of three reports that were done at roughly the same time. They all said that there was nothing to this story. In fact, four months before the State of the Union address, the deputy director of Central Intelligence testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and told in response to a question from Senator Kyl of Arizona, said that one area where we believe the British have stretched the case beyond where we would stretch it is on this case of uranium sales from Africa to Iraq.
Within four days, Mr. Tenet, the director of Central Intelligence, reflecting the views of the intelligence community, communicated three times with the White House, saying, in effect, We do not want the president to be a witness of fact in this matter, because the evidence is weak, and because we believe that the British have exaggerated the case.
Now, there is a report in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report that one analyst thought that it added nothing or detracted nothing. It certainly did not make the case. When I briefed the ambassador on my way out of Niger, I told her, in really no uncertain terms, that there was nothing to this report. She agreed that was essentially the conclusion she had reached as well.
Again, there were three reports.
Now, with respect to my having said that the vice president had sent me, in Mr. Kristoff‘s original article, which apparently is what provoked the interest of the vice president‘s office, and in my own article in July, I made it very clear, and so did Mr. Kristoff in his article, that it was the office of the vice president that had asked the CIA to look into this matter. And that was what led to my trip, the office of the vice president.
Now, subsequently, in a “Meet The Press” interview, the vice president acknowledged that he was the one who asked the question of the CIA that they look into this matter. The CIA took it upon itself to answer the question to the best of their ability by sending somebody who actually knew a lot about Niger, had worked very closely with the Nigerians for over a decade, had served in Niger, and had served as ambassador to another country in Africa, French-speaking country, that produced uranium.
And by the way, there are those who ask, why did they send somebody who wasn‘t a WMD specialist? The issue on the table was not weapons of mass destruction. Uranium yellowcake is just the ore that comes from crushing the rock. This was a mining question, and it was a question of how the ore gets transported and sold, and how a government that‘s participating in the mining operation, in this case, the Niger government, might make a decision as to whether or not to sell that ore to a foreign government.
OLBERMANN: I see you have heard these talking points previously.
Apart from the commentators and the sort of continuing drumbeat about and you about your wife, there have also been reports of threats against both of you. What can you tell us about threats?
WILSON: Well, I was asked about that the other night, because somebody had said that he had heard that there were al Qaeda death threats against us, made against us. And what I can say about that is, indeed there have been some threats against us, and we‘ve been working very closely with the appropriate law enforcement agencies here in Washington, and beyond that, I‘m really reluctant to go.
OLBERMANN: I understand.
The damage that has occurred to you and to your wife, one question that keeps being asked of me in this, and obviously you would be the source on this, why have you not sued? Obviously, it‘s probable that you couldn‘t sue the president directly. He‘d be immune in most areas of court. The vice president may be the same.
But could you not sue almost anybody else in the administration for essentially interfering with your wife‘s contract with the CIA? Or in one of these so-called Bevins actions, because her Fourth Amendment rights have been violated? And is there a statute of limitation ticking of those options for you?
WILSON: Well, we‘re looking at all the options right now. We‘re working with my attorney, Christopher Wolfe. And we‘re waiting, basically they‘re waiting for the outcome of the investigation. We did not want to do anything that might impede the investigation. We have time, we have looked at the statue of limitations, and we‘re taking a look, as I say, at all options.
It‘s a fairly easy case in the sense that it‘s now clear that Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby were giving classified information related to my wife and her employment status at the CIA to members of the press who had no right to have that information. At a minimum, it‘s a violation of national security. They should lose their security clearances. Mr. Libby has already been indicted. I don‘t know what will happen to Mr. Rove.
But we‘re waiting, really, until the investigation‘s over until we decide what we‘re going to do on that.
OLBERMANN: Lastly, and it‘s more along the lines of curious twist, almost comic relief, is this true, you and Karl Rove have attended the same church?
WILSON: Yes, we‘re members of the same congregation. We go to different services. I think Karl was in Aspen, Colorado, not too long ago, and he said that I attend the wacky service. I actually attend the service that is a family service for people with kids. We have 5-year-old twins, and so we go to an earlier service than he does. I‘ve only seen him in church once, probably because I don‘t go as often as my wife does. But we do normally attend different services.
OLBERMANN: It is a small town, Washington. But you‘d never think it would be that small.