PLAME vs. WILSON….Anne Kornblut has a short piece in the New York Times today that’s devoted to a small but crucial topic in the Valerie Plame affair: why did Robert Novak initially refer to her by her maiden name, “Valerie Plame,” instead of her married name, “Valerie Wilson”? After all, as Mike Allen of the Washington Post pointed out two years ago, Plame is a name “which she had used overseas and has not been using publicly.” Socially she used the name Valerie Wilson.

Novak has suggested, although he’s rather artfully not actually said, that her maiden name was available in public records and that’s where he could have gotten it. And that’s true. It was listed in Joe Wilson’s Who’s Who entry, for one, and probably in other public documents as well. Marriage records are public documents in most states, for example.

But that’s not the point. The question is not whether Plame’s maiden name was available with a bit of digging, the question is why Novak used it. Kornblut tiptoes around the question a bit, so let’s lay it out. Ask yourself if this scenario makes sense:

  1. Novak talks to his source. “Joe Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA,” says the source. “She recommended him for the Niger mission.”

  2. Novak asks for her full name. Oddly, the source doesn’t know it.

  3. Hmmm, thinks Novak. So he checks around and finds out that her name is Valerie.

  4. But Novak doesn’t stop there. For some reason, “Valerie Wilson” doesn’t satisfy him, even though that’s plainly the most convenient way to refer to “Joe Wilson’s wife” in a newspaper column. So he noses around in Who’s Who, discovers her maiden name is Plame, and decides to refer to her as Valerie Plame.

This makes no sense. If a married woman uses her married name, no reporter would even think of wasting time tracking down her maiden name and using it.

And thus the mystery: since it’s obvious that Novak had no reason to chase down her maiden name himself, someone gave it to him. One of his sources deliberately referred to her as “Valerie Plame,” a name she used only on Agency business, and suggested that Novak refer to her the same way. Novak himself tacitly admitted this a week after his original column, telling Newsday, “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.”

So who was it? And why? I suspect that a lot of pieces would fall into place if we knew the answer to those questions.