PLAME AND ARMITAGE….Catching up with the weekend news, I see that David Corn and Michael Isikoff have definitively named former State Department #2 Richard Armitage as the guy who leaked Valerie Plame’s name to columnist Robert Novak three years ago. Apparently it happened on July 8, 2003, two days after Joe Wilson published an op-ed in the New York Times about his prewar trip to Niger to investigate the “uranium from Africa” story.

This opens up a can of worms, no? In one sense, it’s no surprise, since Armitage has been on the short list of suspected leakers for quite a long time (see this from November 2005, for example, though suspicions about Armitage go back well before that). And it certainly doesn’t bolster the argument that the leak was part of a White House conspiracy to punish Joe Wilson, since Armitage was relatively dovish on the war and has never been considered a hardnosed, Rovian political player. As Isikoff and Corn put it, he was just a “terrible gossip.”

And yet, there are still some pretty crucial questions remaining:

  • Who gave Novak the name “Valerie Plame”? This has always been at the heart of the mystery, and it still is. You see, Armitage apparently learned about Joe Wilson’s trip to Niger on July 7 from a State Department memo that (incorrectly) suggested he had gotten the assignment because his wife, a CIA analyst, had recommended him. But that memo referred to Wilson’s wife as “Valerie Wilson,” not Valerie Plame.

    So why did Novak call her by her maiden name, despite the fact that she used her married name routinely? Did Armitage give it to him? That seems unlikely if he had only learned of her existence from a memo the day before. Was it Karl Rove, Novak’s second source? The evidence suggests not.

    So it’s somebody else. But who? Judith Miller wrote Plame’s name in her notebook weeks before Novak’s column appeared, but says she can’t remember who gave it to her. Novak isn’t talking either. But it’s a key part of the mystery. Whoever gave up Plame’s name not only knew about the Niger trip, but also knew that she used her maiden name when she was engaged on CIA business and deliberately leaked that name. There was malice of some kind involved in that.

  • When did Armitage realize he had screwed up? Isikoff reports that Armitage realized he was Novak’s source after Novak wrote a second column on October 1 claiming that his original source was “not a partisan gunslinger.” Isikoff says that after Armitage read this second column, “he knew immediately who the leaker was…..’I’m sure he’s talking about me.’”

    Give me a break. Armitage talked to Novak on July 8 about Plame, a week later Novak’s original column hit the street, and Armitage didn’t realize then that he was probably Novak’s source? That hardly seems likely.

  • Why didn’t Armitage fess up earlier? Even taking Armitage’s claim at face value, why didn’t he go public in October about his role in the Plame case? The Justice Department had only barely started its investigation and a special prosecutor was still months in the future. Armitage could easily have spun his role as innocent, and it might have spared the White House its past few years of turmoil. Why the silence?

    The obvious answer is that Armitage is hardly the end of the story. Whether his gossiping was innocent or not ? about which I remain agnostic ? the fact remains that several other people were also aggressively talking to multiple reporters about Plame’s role at the same time. If Armitage really didn’t have any malicious intent, it’s a helluva coincidence that he happened to be gossiping about the exact same thing as a bunch of other people who did have malicious intent.

  • When did Corn and Isikoff learn all this? Hey, we all have to make a living, but Armitage’s name was swirling around the rumor circuits just a couple of months ago. Being magazine reporters and all, shouldn’t they have written about this at the time instead of saving it up to help promote their book? Just asking.

That’s it for now. I’ll probably think of more questions later. But the bottom line is that this case is far from closed.