Bob Novak, in today's column, breaks his silence about his pivotal role in the CIA leak case.
It's a "tell-almost."
Washington has been waiting for this column from my Chicago Sun-Times colleague, known for his gumshoe reporting, for years.
Finally, crucial gaps in the timeline are filled in. Yes, Novak did testify before a grand jury. No, he did not name his primary source.
Novak answers some questions. Some remain.
The leak investigation was triggered by Novak's July 14, 2003, column. He revealed what had been classified information -- that a woman named Valerie Plame was a CIA officer. Novak's column came after Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, publicly questioned the Bush administration's decision to wage war against Iraq.
Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald -- the Chicago-based U.S. attorney picked by former Attorney General John Ashcroft to lead the leak probe -- forced journalists Matt Cooper, Tim Russert and Judy Miller to testify before a grand jury. They all publicly discussed their testimony.
Miller, the former New York Times reporter, talked to the grand jury after sitting in an Alexandria, Va., cell for 85 days. Cooper, then with Time magazine, testified, after being threatened with jail, that White House adviser Karl Rove told him about Plame working for the CIA.
The plight of Miller and Cooper ignited an ongoing national debate about press freedoms, government secrecy in this post-9/11 era and the need for a federal shield law for reporters, a matter pending in Congress.
The probe yielded the Oct. 28 indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter'' Libby, who was Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, on obstruction of justice, false statement and perjury charges. He awaits trial.
Until today's column, Novak declined to say if he appeared before a grand jury. Novak reveals he testified before a grand jury on Feb. 25, 2004. By then, Fitzgerald, without information from Novak, knew the names of his sources. Novak reveals that Fitzgerald had the names as early as Jan. 12, 2004 -- more than a year before Miller was imprisoned in July 2005.
For some time, it has been known that Rove and CIA public information officer Bill Harlow talked to Novak for his Plame column, all secondary sources.
Plame name found in 'Who's Who'
Novak does not reveal the name of his primary source. However, he volunteers that he used the name of Rove, Harlow and this key source in answering questions.
Surprisingly -- and this will be grist for commentators in the days to come -- Novak said he was not pressed to name his primary source in four encounters with federal authorities, including two face-to-face sessions with Fitzgerald in Washington.
Novak comes out with several other long-awaited details. He writes that he differed with Rove's lawyer about the "form'' of Novak's conversation with Rove -- but he does not challenge the substance. He does not elaborate.
Novak provides a basic lesson in journalism in today's column: Do the obvious. No secret source was needed to figure out the identity of Wilson's wife. He writes that he got Plame's name from Wilson's entry in "Who's Who in America."
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