Novak: Fitzgerald knew, but I'm still not saying

The columnist describes his role in the Plame case, but his story has changed and the key detail is still missing.

Published July 12, 2006 1:20PM (EDT)

Within two weeks of beginning his investigation into the CIA leak case, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald apparently knew the identity of the Bush administration official who outed Valerie Plame.

The rest of us? We're still waiting.

In a long-promised "tell all" column that tells substantially less than all, Robert Novak says that Fitzgerald knew the names of the sources for his Plame column before Novak confirmed them for him on Jan. 14, 2004. Two days before their meeting -- and just two weeks after he was named special prosecutor -- Fitzgerald told Novak's lawyer that he'd be bringing two waivers with him. "One was by my principal source in the Valerie Wilson column, a source whose name has not yet been revealed," Novak writes. "The other was by presidential adviser Karl Rove, whom I interpret as confirming my primary source's information. In other words, the special prosecutor knew the names of my sources."

So who was the first source? In a column in October 2003, Novak described the source as a "senior administration official" who was "no partisan gunslinger." Novak still won't say who the official was, and he hasn't added much to his previous description. The source is clearly a male -- Novak refers to him in his new column as a "he" -- and Novak tells the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz that he's "not a political operative."

Is the source still in legal jeopardy, if he ever was? From Novak's perspective, the answer to that question seems to be no. Novak says that his source has "not come forward to identify himself." We'll take that to mean that the source hasn't come forward in public, not necessarily that the source hasn't testified before Fitzgerald's grand jury. But either way, Novak says he feels free to discuss his role in the case publicly because Fitzgerald has told his lawyers that the investigation "concerning matters directly relating to me has been concluded." If Fitzgerald were still thinking about the possibility of charges against Novak's original source, it's probably safe to assume that he wouldn't have delivered such a message to Novak now.

There's at least one more question to answer here: Why has Novak's account of the administration's motivations shifted over the past three years? In July 2003, Novak told Newsday that his sources came to him with Plame's identity. "I didn't dig it out, it was given to me," he said. "They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it."

Now Novak tells Kurtz that he doesn't think leaking Plame's identity was "part of a plan to discredit anybody," and he writes in his column that his still-secret source told him after the fact, through an intermediary, that his disclosure of Plame's identity had been "inadvertent." As for the "they gave me the name" part? Novak has changed his story on that, too. Now he says that the administration officials who told him who Plame was didn't use her name; he got that, he says, from Joseph Wilson's "Who's Who" entry.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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