Was Stephen Hadley Novak's first Plame source?

In an interview with Fox News, Novak seems to rule out -- at least implicitly -- Richard Armitage.

Published July 13, 2006 4:00PM (EDT)

We're reading tea leaves and playing 20 Questions, but maybe we're making progress: Each time Robert Novak opens his mouth -- even if it's to say he's not saying anything -- we seem to get a little closer to discovering the identity of the senior administration official who first leaked Valerie Plame's identity to him.

If we had to place a bet right now, we'd put our money on Stephen Hadley.

Novak has said previously that his first source in the Plame leak was a "senior administration official," that he's "no partisan gunslinger," that he's "not a political operative" and that he is, in fact, a he. Based on those facts and others, lots of folks have speculated that Novak's source was either former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage or Hadley, the deputy national security advisor who became the national security advisor when Condoleezza Rice became the secretary of state.

But in an interview with Fox's Brit Hume Wednesday, Novak gave up a detail that would suggest that Armitage wasn't the one: The leak, Novak said, came during an hourlong private interview with a senior administration official who "wasn't an easy guy to get to see." Say what you will about Armitage, he isn't -- and wasn't -- a media recluse. Armitage was everywhere as deputy secretary of state, handing out interviews like candy to everyone from CNN to Al-Jazeera. A State Department list shows that Armitage gave nearly three dozen broadcast interviews in 2003, the year that Novak outed Plame. It's probably safe to assume that he gave at least as many interviews to print reporters that year. So if Novak was being straight with Hume -- and we should say here that it's at least possible Novak is engaged in a game of misdirection -- then it would seem that Armitage wasn't the first one to tell him about Plame.

So why Hadley? Yes, there are other possibilities. But Hadley seems so right on so many levels: He's a Cheney guy, he was involved in the Niger question, he was part of the White House Iraq Group and he was at the receiving end of a Karl Rove e-mail about Rove's Plame-related conversation with Matthew Cooper.

And then there's the fact that Hadley has been awfully coy about his role in the case. Bob Woodward has suggested that his source and Novak's source were one and the same. Asked last fall about reports that he was Woodward's source, Hadley said: "I've also seen press reports from White House officials saying that I am not one of his sources." Asked if that was a "yes" or a "no" answer to the question, Hadley said: "It is what it is."

By Tim Grieve

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

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