Thoughts about the Film “Fair Game” — And a Review on the Washington Post Editorial Pages

WONK ROOM BLOG ITEM: Eight Years Later, Washington Post Still Defending The Saddam-Niger-Yellowcake Story

The Washington Post Editorial Board has decided to publish a “movie review” about the film, Fair Game, and ends up rehashing continuing misapprehensions about the build-up to the Iraq War. The Post editorial department–which of course operates separately and independently from the news pages– backtracks, among other things, on the Post’s reporting, including a story I wrote in 2007. The Post editorial calls for historical accuracy, but falls short itself. Fair Game, other than Hollywood embellishments, tells the essential political tale.

Knut Royce and I wrote a book, The Italian Letter, that tracks close to the story of Valerie Plame Wilson and her husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson.

Key points:

• I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby was convicted on March 6, 2007 of lying to F.B.I. agents and grand jurors investigating the unmasking of Valerie Plame Wilson as a clandestine CIA operative.

• In a 2003 New York Times Op-Ed piece “What I didn’t find in Africa,” Wilson publicized what was already known (more than a year after his trip to Niger at the behest of the CIA). Few people in the Intelligence Community believed that Iraq had been trying to rebuild its nuclear weapons program. When Wilson challenged one of the key pieces of evidence used by the Bush Administration to make the case for war, Vice President Cheney and others in the administration decided that Wilson’s credibility had to be attacked. The concerted effort to rebut Wilson supports the argument floated by Scooter Libby’s defense that he was the administration’s fall guy and that President George W. Bush’s eminence grise — Karl Rove (who had also leaked Plame’s identity to journalists) — was being protected.

• A secretive White House Iraq Group, which included top officials, delivered manufactured information about Weapons of Mass Destruction was established in 2002, almost a year before the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

• President George W. Bush uttered the so-called “16 words” in his January 28, 2003 State of the Union address: “The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Few if any members of the Intelligence Community subscribed to that statement.

• The British government, cited as the source for the 16 words, never had credible intelligence to support the claim, and the CIA had warned them to not include the claim in a public dossier.

• Vice President Cheney kept insisting on the existence of an Iraqi nuclear program and operational ties between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, years after intelligence operatives told him neither was true.

There’s an interesting sidelight to the story. As a result of Cheney’s role in the war, Knut and I reported that Rove had considered dropping Cheney from the ticket in the 2004 elections, and that Cheney was deeply miffed. I mentioned this in an interview on CNN on April 2, 2007, and was met with a mighty denial from the Bush White House.

Comes now Bush’s memoir –and he acknowledges the same thing that the White House had denied at the time. We had that right — and the Bush White House denial was a lie, was it not? Perhaps Rove wasn’t around to fact-check Bush’s book for him.

1 Comment

Filed under Bush, Intelligence, Journalism, Politics, Politics

One response to “Thoughts about the Film “Fair Game” — And a Review on the Washington Post Editorial Pages

  1. petereisner

    One criticism raised in the Post editorial was the issue of “a State Department official, not a White House political operative” having leaked Plame’s identity to columnist Robert Novak. The State Department official referred to is Richard Armitage. My point is that while this is true, it is not essential to the point being made in the movie. It’s a complicated story that goes beyond dramatization in a film. The essence is the same, though foreshortened.

    After speaking to Armitage, Novak went to Karl Rove, who confirmed the story, and Novak then wrote it. In the words of Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor, the attack on Joe Wilson, quoting him in our book, page 151, “was a decision by multiple people in the White House ‘to discredit, punish, or seek revenge against Mr. Wilson.'” Our book continues…”top White House officials, including Libby and Karl Rove, Bush’s top political adviser, embarked on a leak campaign designed to savage Wilson.”

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