Wilson Gets Ovation at Bloggers’s Conference
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
LAS VEGAS – The former ambassador at the center of the CIA leak investigation, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, got a hero’s welcome here Friday as he addressed a conference of liberal bloggers.
The crowd of nearly a thousand online activists gave Mr. Wilson a raucous standing ovation before and after his talk to a panel discussion about the fallout from the disclosure in a newspaper column of the identity of his wife, Valerie Plame, an undercover employee of the CIA. A special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, is investigating the White House’s role in the disclosure of her identity and has charged a former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, I. Lewis Libby, with perjury and seeking to obstruct the probe.
“I, for one, refuse to be intimidated,” Mr. Wilson said, vowing to resist what he said is a White House campaign to obscure lies told during the run-up to the war in Iraq.
“We must and we can stand up to the schoolyard bullies and insure that these decisions on war and peace and other major issues are undertaken with the consent of the governed,” he said.
Mr. Wilson said the indictment of Mr. Libby and the disclosures about the case that have come in recent court filings have vindicated him against critics who have claimed he misstated facts surrounding a trip he took to Africa to investigate allegations that Iraq sought uranium there.
“As facts emerge of course, the dwindling number of those who still believe the thesis of Wilson is a liar, or has been discredited, are either victims of the ongoing disinformation campaign or the willful perpetrators of it,” Mr. Wilson said.
The former ambassador may have disappointed some in the crowd when, in response to a question, he said neither he nor his wife have any plans to seek elective office. “I can assure you that neither she not I intend to do anything other than return to our private lives,” he said.
The audience member who posed the question, David Boyle, had a sign around his neck reading, “Plame Fitzgerald ’08, Protecting Us From the Bad Guys.” Mr. Boyle, 40, of Ann Arbor, Mich, told The New York Sun later that his suggestion that Ms. Plame and Mr. Fitzgerald run for the White House was in jest.
“It’s facetious,” Mr. Boyle said, quickly adding, “They would certainly be more honest and accountable than the people we have in office right now.”
A former State Department official who was a member of Ms. Plame’s training class at the CIA, Larry Johnson, said partisan Republicans have lost sight of the gravity of what he implied was a deliberate campaign to expose Ms. Plame’s status for political reasons. “How it is that conservative Republicans can excuse what is nothing short of treason is beyond me,” said Mr. Johnson, who described himself as “a lifelong conservative.”
Mr. Johnson rejected claims that Ms. Plame’s employment at the CIA was public before her name appeared in a column that attributed the information to administration officials.
“Valerie Plame, Valerie Wilson was an undercover CIA officer until the day her name appeared in Robert Novak’s column,” Mr. Johnson said. In court filings, Mr. Libby’s attorneys have said they have witnesses who will testify that Ms. Plame’s affiliation with the CIA was known outside of government. However, the defense team has not publicly identified those individuals.
Mr. Johnson acknowledged problems with the cover Ms. Plame used, namely that she was an energy analyst with a private firm, Brewster Jennings.
“Was the cover a great cover? No, but that’s not her fault. She didn’t design that,” he said.
Mr. Johnson said the public identification of Brewster Jennings as a CIA front had put at risk other CIA agents, as well as sources and informants.
“There was damage done to the intelligence operations of the Central Intelligence Agency and ultimately to the security of this nation,” Mr. Johnson asserted.
Nearly all members of the panel railed against press coverage of the CIA leak affair. A blogger for the Washington Post, Daniel Froomkin, said journalists became so preoccupied with the jailing of one of their own, Judith Miller of the New York Times, on a contempt citation stemming from the probe, that they lost sight of the broader story.
“The really sad moment for journalism here is, faced with this incredibly important story, reporters didn’t go out and develop sources for this story,” Mr. Froomkin said. “This is a hell of a story.”
Members of the panel also disparaged specific journalists, including Ms. Miller, Susan Schmidt of the Washington Post, the authors of a daily political newsletter published by ABC News, the Note, and Byron York of the National Review, who was sitting a few tables away from the stage.
Mr. Froomkin called Ms. Miller “a humiliated and discredited shill.”
Efforts to reach Ms. Miller for comment were not successful.
One journalist who has broken a number of stories relating to the leak probe, Murray Waas of the National Journal, sat on the panel and received a warm reception from the crowd. He accused major news outlets of overlooking the significance of the story.
“There’s no reporter for any major news organization covering it even one or two days a week,” Mr. Waas said. “I don’t know why.” He speculated that some editors may have turned away from the story because it involves leaks to reporters at those same news outlets.
“Their own role is so comprised that they hope it just goes away,” he said.
Mr. Waas warned darkly about the possibility Mr. Bush may issue pardons to Mr. Libby or other officials who are under investigation and may still be charged, such as the president’s top political adviser, Karl Rove.
Many in the crowd were clearly giddy at the prospect of seeing Mr. Rove “frog marched” out of the White House, as Mr. Wilson once famously suggested. Mr. Johnson also said Mr. Rove should be stripped of his clearance and fired regardless of whether criminal charges are brought.
Through his attorney, Mr. Rove has denied wrongdoing. Mr. Libby has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go on trial in January.
One audience member asked about an erroneous Web report several weeks ago that Mr. Rove had been indicted and rumblings that the sources for the report, which appeared on Truthout.org, would be exposed. Neither Mr. Wilson nor Mr. Johnson responded to the question, although they were identified on Internet sites as having been sources for the false report or having heard independently of the same developments.
One so-called Plameologist on the panel, admitted to something of an obsession with the case. “I have done more reading on Judy Miller than any human being really ought to,” the blogger, Marcy Wheeler, said.
Mr. Waas struck one of the rare notes of caution during the discussion when he said any officials indicted in the probe are entitled to the presumption of innocence. The journalist also told the audience to brace for the possibility the inquiry could peter out. “It could fizzle out. It could go nowhere,” he said.