On Monday, Valerie Plame, a former undercover CIA operative who became famous from a CIA leak scandal in 2003, released a campaign ad accusing President Trump of pardoning the man who “took revenge against my husband and leaked my identity.” In a fact-check for The Washington Post Tuesday, Glenn Kessler, who testified at the leak trial, debunked Plame’s attempt to blame Scooter Libby for leaking her information and called her out for exaggerating her role in the CIA and trying to make Trump the bad guy.
Plame, who is running as a Democrat for New Mexico’s 3rd District, has made clear that she is not a fan of Trump. In fact, in August 2017, Plame launched a GoFundMe page to “#BuyTwitter” in order to “#BanTrump.” In her new campaign ad, Plame makes the following dramatic claims, as highlighted by Kessler:
I was an undercover CIA operative. My assignment was preventing rogue states and terrorists from getting nuclear weapons. You name a hot spot, I lived it. [images of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and North Korea] Then Dick Cheney’s chief of staff took revenge against my husband and leaked my identity. His name: Scooter Libby. Guess who pardoned him last year? [image of President Trump]
For the assertions, Kessler ultimately gives her Three Pinocchios, only sparing her the Post’s worst rating, Four Pinocchios, for allowing her a “fuzzy” potential argument.
Kessler begins by first noting that Plame’s video potentially misleads viewers about her role in the CIA. “The ad strongly suggests that Plame was an undercover operative in places such as Iran and North Korea, when that was not the case,” he writes. “She was under diplomatic cover in Greece,” he notes.
While she wasn’t undercover in Iran and North Korea, she was “operations chief at the Joint Task Force on Iraq of the Counterproliferation Division of the CIA’s clandestine operations directorate when her name was publicly disclosed in a column written by Robert Novak and published in The Washington Post on July 14, 2003,” Kessler explains.
The real question, he continues, is whether Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff Scooter Libby was actually the source of the leak, as Plame claims in the ad. The answer is no.
“Libby was convicted of perjury and lying to the FBI during its investigation, but he was not charged with leaking Plame’s name,” Kessler explains. The fact-checker goes on to give a detailed account of the famous leak case, including this key passage:
Libby was charged and convicted of misleading investigators about his conversations with reporters, in particular a claim that he received information about Plame from NBC’s Tim Russert. But the only article that directly can be traced to Libby is the item in Time magazine — in which one could argue he only tangentially confirmed information already obtained by the reporter — and the jury acquitted Libby on the charge of lying about what he told [Time’s Matthew] Cooper. No evidence emerged at trial that Libby had seen the State Department memo or that he knew Plame had a covert status.
“Plame’s name and CIA role was first disclosed in Robert Novak’s column. Novak’s original source was Armitage, and his confirming sources were Rove and a CIA spokesman. Novak’s column led to the firestorm that launched a federal investigation,” Kessler concludes. “But no evidence shows that Libby disclosed Plame’s role to Novak.”
Kessler notes that Bush administration officials were “certainly eager to try to discredit Wilson, who had emerged as a damaging critic about the failed search to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,” so one could possibly “draw a fuzzy line from Libby’s inquiries about Wilson’s role, the State Department memo and Libby’s conversations with administration officials to the eventual leak of Plame’s name.” For that reason, Kessler spares Plame the full four Pinocchios.
Kessler also suggests that trying to make Trump retroactively complicit is a stretch:
The indictment says that on June 23, Libby told New York Times reporter Judith Miller that he believed Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA. That narrative was later thrown in doubt when Miller later recanted her testimony at the trial, which was damaging to Libby’s case, as she was the only reporter who had claimed Libby volunteered information about Plame. (Miller’s retraction led to Libby getting his law license back well before he was pardoned by Trump.)
Plame’s campaign has defended its ad, a spokesman telling the Post, “From his trial, it was clear that Libby gave Valerie’s name to New York Times reporter Judith Miller. Please recall that Scooter Libby was convicted of obstruction of justice because he attempted to hide information from the prosecutors. He obstructed justice, perjured himself and was held accountable until Donald Trump pardoned him. No one suggested he leaked it.”