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Russert to Novak: Everyone fought subpoenas, why didn't you?

Ron Brynaert
Published: Sunday July 16, 2006

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When asked on NBC's Meet the Press by host Tim Russert why he didn't fight the subpoenas like other news organizations in the CIA Plame leak investigation, conservative columnist Robert D. Novak argued that he hadn't "given up" his sources because the prosecutor already knew who they were and that legal and financial considerations also played a role, RAW STORY has found.

After "outing" CIA agent in his July of 2003 column, Novak has remained mostly silent for close to three years. Beginning last week, Novak has finally started talking about his role in the affair, explaining in various media appearances that he was informed that he's no longer a subject of interest in regards to the investigation.

"Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has informed my attorneys that, after two and one-half years, his investigation of the CIA leak case concerning matters directly relating to me has been concluded," wrote Novak a few days ago. "That frees me to reveal my role in the federal inquiry that, at the request of Fitzgerald, I have kept secret."

Novak doesn't believe he even technically "gave up" his sources because "they already knew" when he finally told Fitzgerald in February of 2004.

"On my first interview with the FBI, I had refused to give up the names of my sources," said Novak. "The second interview with Mr. Fitzgerald, I was in a dilemma, because he had, as you know, waivers that I could give up the identity from just about everybody in the government. That didn't cut any ice with me."

"I didn't think I could give it up, and then I was told that he had only the waivers from the sources that I had talked to -- only two waivers," said Novak. "When he actually arrived, he had the third waiver from the CIA spokesman."

"In other words, Tim, he knew who my sources were, and so it wasn't a matter of me giving them up," Novak added.

Russert asked Novak why he seemingly gave up so quickly without a fight.

"We were subpoenaed at NBC," Russert said. "We fought the subpoenas. Time Magazine subpoenaed, fought the subpoenas. The New York Times was subpoenaed, fought the subpoena. Why didn't you fight the subpoena?"

According to Novak, his attorney told him that the 1st Amendment wouldn't protect him.

"Because my lawyer said I did not have a clear constitutional chance of surviving," Novak said. "I had to make this decision myself."

Financial considerations also played a part in Novak's decision.

"I was operating as an independent operator paying the burden, the great burden, of my legal fees," said Novak. "The Chicago Sun-Times helped me, but it was essentially my decision, and my attorney, Jim Hamilton, a very prominent attorney, believed that there was a high probability that I would lose the case in court, and it would not be good for press freedoms."

Novak pointed out to Russert that his network "lost the case," and suggested that the court battles by The New York Times, Time Magazine, and other media organizations had done more harm to journalists than good.

"As a matter of fact, you lost the case -- in fact, everybody who went to court lost the case, and the law protecting the rights of journalists, which I feel very strongly about, has suffered by people going -- by fighting it, and that's one thing I wanted to avoid."

Russert asked why it took so long for him to say anything about his testimony.

"When I was subpoenaed, we announced it," said Russert. "When I testified before Patrick Fitzgerald, we announced that in what I had said and so, too, with Time Magazine and The New York Times.

"Why did you wait almost three years to tell the public that you had been subpoenaed and what you said?" Russert asked.

Novak claimed that the prosecutor asked him to remain quiet.

"Mr. Fitzgerald asked my lawyer not to divulge our contacts," said Novak. "He advised that that was good advice until his investigation was completed."

The columnist mistakenly told Russert that Fitzgerald had formally announced that President Bush's Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove wouldn't be indicted, when it was Rove's attorneys who informed the press about it.

"When he announced that Karl Rove would not be indicted, my attorney went to Mr. Fitzgerald and asked him if that request now no longer held true, and he said that his investigation had been concluded as far as I was concerned," Novak added.

Crooks and Liars has a video clip of the Russert-Novak interview at this link, and emptywheel at The Next Hurrah and Christy Hardin Smith at Firedoglake both weigh in on the proceedings.

Full transcript of Novak's appearance on NBC's Meet the Press:

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MR. RUSSERT: And we're back. Bob Novak, welcome to "Meet the Press."

MR. NOVAK: Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT: Here is your column, July 14, 2003, "Joe Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me that Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger." That identity of Valerie Plame as a CIA agency operative triggered an investigation. Until this week we did not know whether you had testified before the special counsel, Patrick Fitzgerald. You now say that in October of '03, you talked to the FBI; January of '04 to Patrick Fitzgerald; February of '04, Patrick Fitzgerald; and February of '04, the grand jury. Did you tell those law enforcement officials who your sources were?

MR. NOVAK: Yes, because they already knew. On my first interview with the FBI, I had refused to give up the names of my sources. The second interview with Mr. Fitzgerald, I was in a dilemma, because he had, as you know, waivers that I could give up the identity from just about everybody in the government. That didn't cut any ice with me. I didn't think I could give it up, and then I was told that he had only the waivers from the sources that I had talked to -- only two waivers. When he actually arrived, he had the third waiver from the CIA spokesman. In other words, Tim, he knew who my sources were, and so it wasn't a matter of me giving them up.

MR. RUSSERT: We were subpoenaed at NBC. We fought the subpoenas. "Time" magazine subpoenaed, fought the subpoenas. The New York Times was subpoenaed, fought the subpoena. Why didn't you fight the subpoena?

MR. NOVAK: Because my lawyer said I did not have a clear constitutional chance of surviving. I had to make this decision myself. I was operating as an independent operator paying the burden, the great burden, of my legal fees. The Chicago Sun-Times helped me, but it was essentially my decision, and my attorney, Jim Hamilton, a very prominent attorney, believed that there was a high probability that I would lose the case in court, and it would not be good for press freedoms. As a matter of fact, you lost the case -- in fact, everybody who went to court lost the case, and the law protecting the rights of journalists, which I feel very strongly about, has suffered by people going -- by fighting it, and that's one thing I wanted to avoid.

MR. RUSSERT: How do you believe Patrick Fitzgerald knew the identity of your sources?

MR. NOVAK: I don't know. I thought he didn't. He knew the identity almost from the very beginning of the case. In other words, he has known for two and a half -- for thr-- for two and a half years who my sources were and decided that no law was broken, and he did not bring any kind of indictment against my primary source, whose identity has still not been publicly made known.

MR. RUSSERT: But he knows it?

MR. NOVAK: Of course, he knows it. He gave it -- he made clear to me he knew it in my first interview with him.

MR. RUSSERT: When I was subpoenaed, we announced it. When I testified before Patrick Fitzgerald, we announced that in what I had said and so, too, with "Time" magazine and The New York Times. Why did you wait almost three years to tell the public that you had been subpoenaed and what you said?

MR. NOVAK: Mr. Fitzgerald asked my lawyer not to divulge our contacts. He advised that that was good advice until his investigation was completed. When he announced that Karl Rove would not be indicted, my attorney went to Mr. Fitzgerald and asked him if that request now no longer held true, and he said that his investigation had been concluded as far as I was concerned.

MR. RUSSERT: Many lawyers involved in the case have said that your primary source is the same as that for Bob Woodward of The Washington Post. Ben Bradlee, the former executive editor of The Washington Post said this about Bob Woodward's source, "That former deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, is the likely source is a fair assumption." Is it?

MR. NOVAK: I'm not going to speculate on who the source was. I would have said a long time ago if I was going to. I believe that as far as making his name public on NBC, in my column, for any other means, is a violation of the tacit arrangement in which I interviewed him when he gave me the name -- when he gave me the fact of Mrs. Wilson's involvement in this case. So until he reveals himself as Karl Rove through his attorney has revealed himself or as Bill Harlow of the CIA has revealed himself, I'm going to be quiet. Now, I am -- a lot of people feel that this is going to come out sooner or later, probably sooner, but I can't speculate on that.

MR. RUSSERT: Would it be wrong to suggest Richard Armitage?

MR. NOVAK: I don't make any speculation on who it is.

MR. RUSSERT: What were the ground rules of your interview?

MR. NOVAK: I have interviews all -- I'm a reporting columnist as opposed to a thumb-sucking columnist, and I have all kinds of interviews with people where there is a tacit agreement that now -- that I will not reveal the name. I sat down with this source who was not a -- as I have said many times -- was not a political gunslinger. We had a long talk, an hour-long talk, we're the only people in the room. I didn't have a tape recorder, I didn't take notes. It's the kind of tacitly, not-for-attribution interview that I do constantly as part of my work for the last half-century in Washington.

MR. RUSSERT: And what did the source tell you about Valerie Plame?

MR. NOVAK: What the source to me -- we had talked about several things, and I got to the question -- what I was really interested in was that Joe Wilson had been on "Meet the Press" the previous Sunday, and I thought he was quite hostile to the administration, and I was curious why would the CIA send this person who was hostile and who didn't have any background with the CIA, hadn't been in Africa for a long time -- why would they send him on this mission? And he said, "Well, you know, his wife suggested it. She works in the counter- proliferation division of the CIA." And so that, I thought, was interesting. I put it in the middle of the column, didn't read the column -- you read that paragraph, it was just about in the middle of the column, and then I did call the CIA, and the spokesman told me that she didn't initiate it, she facilitated it. That happened to be wrong, because the Senate Intelligence Committee had said that she did initiate the trip, and they have a document to prove it.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, the Senate Intelligence Committee indicated that, but they did not conclude it.

MR. NOVAK: I believe that the Republican majority concluded it.

MR. RUSSERT: The Republican majority did, but the Democrats did not.

MR. NOVAK: And yet they didn't take -- and they didn't dissent from it, either.

MR. RUSSERT: It's not an official conclusion, but it is reported as an indication.

MR. NOVAK: And there's a document that confirms it.

MR. RUSSERT: Did he give you her name?

MR. NOVAK: No, he did not.

MR. RUSSERT: Now, "Newsday" interviewed you a few weeks after your column ran back in 2003 and quotes you as saying this, "I didn't dig it out. It was given to me. They thought it was significant, they gave me the name, and I used it."

MR. NOVAK: That was a misstatement on my part. I have found I am much better -- I hope I'm not screwing up on this interview, because I'm much better interviewing than I am giving interviews. They didn't give me the name and, of course, it was not a "they," it was one person, which I later checked out with Mr. Rove. The "Newsday" article also paraphrased me as saying they came to me. I never said they came to me because obviously I initiated the interview.

MR. RUSSERT: "Newsday" stands by that story, and you know if a politician said that which you said, and contrasted it with what you're saying now, people would say, "Wait a minute, something is wrong here."

MR. NOVAK: Well, I was wrong when I said they came to me. I mean, when I said that they gave me the name, because I got the name from "Who's Who in America."

MR. RUSSERT: You did say that the story, the disclosure, was inadvertent on the part of your primary source, a third party told you that.

MR. NOVAK: A third party close to the primary source called me after the investigation was launched and said that he believed he had given me -- inadvertently given me information --

MR. RUSSERT: Have you spoken to your primary source?

MR. NOVAK: No.

MR. RUSSERT: Not since that interview?

MR. NOVAK: No.

MR. RUSSERT: When you were on "Meet the Press" October of '03, I asked you about the "Newsday" piece, and you did repeat -- you said, "What I meant was that the senior official had given me her name."

MR. NOVAK: Well, that was a mistake on my part. What he said, exactly, was his wife. His wife had done it, I got the name, because I realized I didn't have the name, and I figured out how am I going to get this name to put in the column, so I said, "Maybe it's in 'Who's Who,'" and I looked it up and there it was.

MR. RUSSERT: In fact, you wrote, "I learned Valerie Plame's name from Joe Wilson's entry in "Who's Who in America," and here is the "Who's Who" from 2003 -- "Wilson, Joseph Charles IV, ambassador, married to Valerie Elise Plame, August 3, 1998." Was that the very first time you had seen or heard the name "Valerie Plame?"

MR. NOVAK: Yes.

MR. RUSSERT: No one told you?

MR. NOVAK: No.

MR. RUSSERT: But they did tell you "his wife?"

MR. NOVAK: He told me his wife worked in the counter- proliferation division of the -- they did not say she was a covert operative, didn't say she was a covered operative.

A lot of people say, "Well, why did you call it an operative in the column?" I call all kinds of politicians "operatives." It's maybe a bad habit, but I still do it. If somebody is running a congressional campaign in Wyoming, I call him an "operative."

MR. RUSSERT: But having said twice before that you got the name from a senior official, you can understand why people --

MR. NOVAK: I understand. I understand, but it's just not factually correct, and I have testified under oath about this.

MR. RUSSERT: You have?

MR. NOVAK: Yes.

MR. RUSSERT: That they did not give you the name? Bill Harlow, the CIA spokesman that you called when you were working on this story -- this is how The Washington Post characterized his testimony about this situation, "Bill Harlow, the former CIA spokesman, said he warned Novak that Wilson's wife had not authorized the mission and that if he did not write about it, her name should not be revealed. Harlow said that after Novak's call he checked Plame's status and confirmed that she was undercover operative. He said he called Novak back to repeat that story Novak had related to him was wrong and that Plame's name should not be used. But he did not tell Novak directly that she was undercover because that was classified." Is that accurate?

MR. NOVAK: No. That was not testimony, that was an interview with reporters from The Washington Post. What Mr. Harlow told me was he asked me not to use her name, did not say she was a covert employee, and I still don't believe she was engaged in any covert activities, and I do that from talking to other people at the CIA. He said that it was highly unlikely --

MR. RUSSERT: But she was undercover, you grant her that?

MR. NOVAK: I don't think she -- there's a difference between being undercover and being a covert agent. She was doing analytical work at the CIA. She was not involved in any covert activities.

MR. RUSSERT: Her friends and neighbors did not know that she worked for the CIA.

MR. NOVAK: Well, other people contend to me that it was very widely known in circles in town that she did work for the CIA.

MR. RUSSERT: Her official status was not to be public --

MR. NOVAK: There's a lot of people like that. But she was a person who went to work every day as an analyst because I am told she'd been outed by the traitor, Aldrich Ames, many years ago. But as a matter of fact, getting back to Harlow, what Harlow said to me was that if she were to make a trip overseas in the future it might be embarrassing for her, but he also said before that, he said it is highly unlikely she will ever do -- make a trip for the agency abroad. In other words, he was telling me that she was not going to do any covert activity. He never said she was in danger. And I have said before that if he had called me or if he had put George Tenet on the phone, who I'm sure was aware of what was going on and said, "Please don't run this. This woman's life is in danger. We have secret operations going," I wouldn't have used -- I would have knocked the paragraph out of the story. He didn't do that.

MR. RUSSERT: As you know, Harlow works as an NBC News consultant. I talked to him on Friday. He said that he told you, "It would be really bad if you wrote her publicly."

MR. NOVAK: He didn't say that. He never said that. Now, he may think he said it, but he never said that to me. I don't know if you know Mr. Harlow very well. He's a very low-key guy. I like Mr. Harlow, he's a novelist, he's a very interesting man, but he's very low-key. He didn't press me. He didn't push it very hard, and I -- you probably have this, too. I have a lot of people in government say "Please don't run this," and I run it, anyway. But when they really say it's a matter of life and death, I don't run it.

MR. RUSSERT: In hindsight, do you regret writing this column?

MR. NOVAK: I don't know -- I try -- I used to try to think about whether I would have -- I would prefer not to be the center of news. I would prefer not to be sitting with you and being an interviewee. I like to be an analyst and a commentator, but it's very hard to go back and say what would you do if you had it to do over again? I thought it was a valid news story of why in the world he got assigned that thing. I still believe, I don't think there's any question that he got assigned that because of his wife, and that was a small part of a very strange assignment. The answer to your question -- I don't know.

MR. RUSSERT: But no regrets outing a CIA agent?

MR. NOVAK: I don't think I outed her. I think she was outed by Aldrich Ames before. I don't think she was a covert operative.

MR. RUSSERT: Robert Novak, we thank you for joining us and sharing your views.

MR. NOVAK: Thank you very much.