November 16, 2005

Washington Post's Woodward Apologizes for Lapse on Leak

Bob Woodward, assistant managing editor of The Washington Post, today apologized to his newspaper's executive editor for waiting two years to tell him that a senior Bush administration official had told him about the C.I.A. operative Valerie Wilson.

The Post reported in today's edition that Mr. Woodward testified under oath on Monday about his conversation in mid-June 2003 with a senior administration official about Ms. Wilson and her position at the agency, nearly a month before her identity was disclosed. The disclosure makes Mr. Woodward, who broke the news of the Watergate break-in that helped bring down President Nixon and has written several insider books about Washington, the first known reporter to learn about Ms. Wilson from a top administration official.

Today's Post article also said that Mr. Woodward waited until last month to tell his supervisors about those conversations, even though the investigation into the matter had been consuming official Washington for months.

Mr. Woodward's disclosure adds a new element to - and potentially complicates - a case whose investigative phase appeared to be winding down late last month when a special prosecutor announced the indictment of I. Lewis Libby Jr., the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Mr. Libby was indicted on charges of perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Prosecutors said he misled a grand jury and investigators about his conversations with journalists about Ms. Wilson, who is also known by her maiden name, Valerie Plame.

Mr. Woodward's testimony also adds a new source for Mr. Fitzgerald to consider, and appears to rearrange the known chronology of discussions between reporters and high-level administration officials.

The Post and Mr. Woodward did not identify the senior administration official, citing an agreement under which the official freed Mr. Woodward to testify, but not to discuss their conversations publicly.

In his apology, which appeared in an article on the Post's online edition this afternoon, Mr. Woodward said he told Leonard Downie Jr., the executive editor, that he held back the information because he was worried about being subpoenaed by the special prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald.

"I apologized because I should have told him about this much sooner," Mr. Woodward said in an interview with Howard Kurtz, a Post media writer. "I explained in detail that I was trying to protect my sources. That's Job No. 1 in a case like this. . . .

"I hunkered down. I'm in the habit of keeping secrets. I didn't want anything out there that was going to get me subpoenaed."

Mr. Downie, in an interview with Mr. Kurtz, said that Mr. Woodward had "made a mistake."

Despite his concerns about his confidential sources, Mr. Downie said, Mr. Woodward "still should have come forward, which he now admits. We should have had that conversation . . . I'm concerned that people will get a misimpression about Bob's value to the newspaper and our readers because of this one instance in which he should have told us sooner."

On Oct. 27, the night before the indictments were announced, Mr. Woodward, in an appearance on "Larry King Live," said of the leak case: "There is deep mystery here. It only grows with time and people are speculating and there are -- there is so little that people really know.

He also told Larry King that Mr. Downie had called to tell him he had heard rumors that Mr. Woodward would be reporting a big development in the investigation.

"I hear you have a bombshell; would you let me in on it," Mr. Woodward said his supervisor said.

"And I said I'm sorry to disappoint you but I don't," Mr. Woodward said he told him.

In the indictment of Mr. Libby, prosecutors cite a June 23, 2003, conversation Mr. Libby had with Judith Miller of The New York Times, in which Mr. Libby told her that the wife of Joseph Wilson might work at the C.I.A. Mr. Fitzgerald, at the Oct. 28 news conference in which he discussed the indictment, said that "Mr. Libby was the first official known to have told a reporter when he talked to Judith Miller in June of 2003 about Valerie Wilson."

But Mr. Woodward said his conversation with the senior administration official came in mid-June - the exact date was not specified - apparently before Mr. Libby's conversation with Ms. Miller.

Ms. Wilson is the wife of Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador who became an outspoken critic of the Bush administration's use of intelligence on Iraq's weapons capability after he was sent to Niger to investigate reports that Iraq had sought to buy uranium there.

In a statement in today's Post that accompanied the news article, Mr. Woodward said he testified to the special prosecutor about confidential interviews he had with three current or former administration officials "that relate to the investigation of the public disclosure of the identity of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame."

He said that the first interview was in mid-June, with an official he would not name, who "told me Wilson's wife worked for the C.I.A. on weapons of mass destruction as a WMD analyst."

In the article by Mr. Kurtz, Mr. Woodward said that one of his sources, White House chief of staff Andrew H. Card Jr., allowed him to disclose that he had testified that their June 20, 2003 conversation did not involve Ms. Wilson.

In his statement in today's Post, he said that third interview he testified about was a phone conversation with Mr. Libby, on June 23, 2003. "I testified that I have no recollection that Wilson or his wife was discussed, and I have no notes of the conversation," he said.

As for his first meeting, in mid-June, in which he was told about Ms. Wilson's C.I.A. affiliation, the source for that conversation has not agreed to be identified publicly, he said.

The Post's front page article also said Mr. Woodward spent more than two hours Monday giving a deposition in the case. The article said the prosecutor learned of Mr. Woodward's mid-June interview from the source, on Nov. 3.

In his statement, Mr. Woodward said he told the prosecutor that the administration official had casually talked about Ms. Wilson, and that Mr. Woodward did not believe that the information was sensitive or classified.

The investigation, which has created an air of political crisis at the White House, has placed a spotlight on how administration officials deal with their critics, and also on their relationships with reporters who talk with them on an ongoing basis.

The matter had its origins in a July 6, 2003, Op-Ed article in The New York Times, in which Mr. Wilson asserted that the White House "twisted" the intelligence about Iraq's pursuit of nuclear material.

Not long afterward, a column by Robert D. Novak revealed that Mr. Wilson's wife, "Valerie Plame, is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction," prompting an investigation into whether government officials disclosed her identity.

Mr. Fitzgerald's investigation into whether anyone had broken a law by disclosing her name to reporters, has drawn in several journalists, including Tim Russert of NBC News, Matt Cooper of Time Magazine and Ms. Miller, who spent 85 days in jail this summer for refusing to reveal her source to the special prosecutor. She has since left The New York Times.

Mr. Woodward's disclosure also calls new attention to his unique relationship with the Post. As an editor, he still writes the occasional news article for the newspaper, but spends much of his time researching books about Washington politics and policy, often granting sources offers of confidentiality and agreements not to use their information immediately.

In the last few months, Mr. Woodward has appeared on several television and radio shows to discuss the ongoing investigation about Ms. Wilson.

In the interview on "Larry King Live" Mr. Woodward had said, "I don't see an underlying crime here."

He said on the same show that he did not believe the conversations between administration officials and reporters about Ms. Wilson were part of "somebody launching a smear campaign."

"I'm quite confident we're going to find out that it started kind of as gossip, as chatter, and that somebody learned that Joe Wilson's wife had worked at the CIA and helped him get this job going to Niger to see if there was an Iraq/Niger uranium deal," he said. "There's a lot of innocent actions in all of this."

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