Two presiding deities -- and lively ghosts they are -- continue to hover over the present administration: Vietnam and Watergate. Though the competition between them is fierce, this week Watergate suddenly surged to the fore as the Washington Post's Bob Woodward, famed investigative reporter turned imperial "stenographer" for the Bush administration, crashed and burst into distinctly Judy-Miller-esque flames. Even Woodward's blurry account of his testimony for Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald had a taste of Millerdom to it. It's interesting, by the way, that he thought to offer an "apology" to his Washington Post colleagues and boss, but not to the Post's readers who might wonder why the supposed greatest reporter of our times swallowed the first Plame leak the way a cat might a canary and later went out on the hustings claiming there was little significance to the case. On Larry King Live ("When the story comes out, I'm quite confident we're going to find out that it started kind of as gossip, as chatter...") and National Public Radio ("When I think all of the facts come out in this case, it's going to be laughable because the consequences are not that great?"), he dissed the case, while referring to Fitzgerald as "a junkyard-dog prosecutor." It's quite a sordid little tale. So prepare yourself for another perfect storm of newspaper and blogging criticism over the sad fate of the mainstream media and our -- until recently -- less than investigative press.
But I suspect the real story is elsewhere. The great lesson of the Watergate era was: However bad you think things are, however nefarious you believe the administration's plans and actions might be, however deep you believe their roots might reach, it's only going to prove worse as the facts emerge -- and it looks like one small, new fact has indeed emerged from what Rory O'Connor at the Alternet website is already calling Woodward-gate. The source who informed Woodward of CIA agent Valerie Plame's name and occupation weeks before it was (as far as we know) slipped to any other reporter was not indicted former Vice Presidential Chief of Staff I. Lewis Libby or, according to the New York Times (which gave the Woodward story the sort of instant front-page attention it so long denied the actions of its own "embedded" reporter Judy Miller), President Bush, or White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, or Card's counselor Dan Bartlett, or former Secretary of State Colin Powell, or the former director of the CIA George Tenet, or his deputy John E. McLaughlin, or, for that matter, Karl Rove. It's someone other.
That someone other -- according to Jason Leopold (one of the rare on-line reporters to do regular investigative work) and Larisa Alexandrovna at the Raw Story website -- may be former Deputy National Security Adviser, now National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, a hardliner and part of "a loosely constituted group of foreign policy advisers known as the Vulcans who advised candidate Bush in 2000 and were at the core of the presidential transition team following Bush's election." He is well known for his closeness to Vice President Cheney from whose office so much of the Plame affair seems to have been planned. Though not the only suspect, that he might be Woodward's leaker would hardly be surprising. He was deeply enmeshed in the planning for the Iraqi invasion, seems to have been involved in the touting of the forged Niger "yellowcake" documents, and was even the official "fall-guy" (along with CIA Director Tenet) for those infamous sixteen words on Niger uranium that made it into the President's 2003 State of the Union Address. As he put it then, "I should have recalled... that there was controversy associated with the uranium issue" (only to repeat in a subsequent Chicago Tribune op-ed the claim that Saddam's "regime has tried to acquire natural uranium from abroad"). If Hadley is indeed the ur-Plame-leaker, it merely indicates what everyone should by now have suspected -- that the discussion of how to discredit ex-ambassador Joseph Wilson's trip to Niger went wider and deeper than previously known; that, to use a word Patrick Fitzgerald has yet to mention, the "conspiracy" had deep roots indeed.
Looking back on Fitzgerald's October 28th press conference, two things stand out for me: First, he capitalized brilliantly on an administration mistake. Days before his appearance, the Republicans started leaking "talking points" dismissive of the significance of a Libby indictment. The Special Counsel clearly took the opportunity to study them and much of his press conference was implicitly devoted to dismantling them, something he did so effectively that they have hardly surfaced since. Second, Fitzgerald's message seemed essentially to be this: He had been pursuing the Plame investigation when one or more people got in his way, obstructing his view; he was now indicting one person (and leaving open the possibility of indicting another on the similar grounds). He was, that is, simply and quite logically clearing his sightlines, leaving the case itself still to be dealt with. In due course, we should expect more of it to come into view.
Tom Engelhardt is the writer and editor of Tomdispatch.com, where this piece first appeared.