What did Ari Fleischer really say about Valerie Plame?

Fleischer testified that he leaked to reporters. One of the reporters says it's not so.

By Tim Grieve
Published January 30, 2007 3:41PM (EST)

Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer testified yesterday that he was "horrified" to read back in 2003 that the Justice Department had opened a criminal investigation into the outing of Valerie Plame. Never in his "wildest dreams," he said, did he think that telling reporters about the identity of Joseph Wilson's wife could be a federal crime -- and he was so frightened by the thought of prosecution once he figured it out that he insisted on getting immunity before he answered questions before Patrick Fitzgerald's grand jury.

Which is all well and good, except maybe Fleischer didn't tell reporters about Valerie Plame. On the witness stand yesterday, Fleischer recalled how he had sidled up to NBC's David Gregory and Time's John Dickerson on a trip to Uganda and told them that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA, and that the CIA -- which is to say not the Office of the Vice President -- had sent Wilson to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had been trying to purchase uranium there.

That bit of testimony came as a surprise to Dickerson, who's covering the trial for Slate. Dickerson has said before that a "senior administration official" -- we know now that it was Fleischer -- told him in Uganda that he should follow up on the identity of the CIA employee who he said had dispatched Wilson to Niger. But he says that Fleischer didn't tell him who that CIA employee was, let alone that it was Wilson's wife.

Fleischer "only gave hints," Dickerson writes in Slate today. Dickerson says he's pretty sure about his memory; if Fleischer had, in fact, told him more, he wouldn't have been surprised when his Time colleague, Matt Cooper, told him subsequently that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.

So why did Fleischer testify that he leaked? Giving some credence to the theory Libby's lawyers have been pushing, Dickerson says Fleischer may have told Fitzgerald's grand jury -- and now the jury -- more than he actually remembers in order to protect himself from any accusation that he hasn't told enough. "I've covered [Fleischer] for 12 years ... and he's never lied to me. Shaded, wiggled, and driven me around the bend with his spin, yes ... But he never outright lied, and I don't see how it would be in his interest here," Dickerson writes. "More likely, he admitted to prosecutors more than he may have actually done because better to err on the side of assuming he disclosed too much than assuming he gave over too little."

Tim Grieve

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

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