August 25, 2005
Latimes.com : National News
By Tom Hamburger and Sonni Efron, Times Staff Writers
WASHINGTON — Toward the end of a steamy summer week in 2003, reporters were peppering the White House with phone calls and e-mails, looking for someone to defend the administration's claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
About to emerge as a key critic was Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former diplomat who asserted that the administration had manipulated intelligence to justify the Iraq invasion.
At the White House, there wasn't much interest in responding to critics like Wilson that Fourth of July weekend. The communications staff faced more pressing concerns — the president's imminent trip to Africa, growing questions about the war and declining ratings in public opinion polls.
Wilson's accusations were based on an investigation he undertook for the CIA. But he was seen inside the White House as a "showboater" whose stature didn't warrant a high-level administration response. "Let him spout off solo on a holiday weekend," one White House official recalled saying. "Few will listen."
Underestimating the impact of Wilson's allegations was one in a series of misjudgments by White House officials.
In the days that followed, they would cast doubt on Wilson's CIA mission to Africa by suggesting to reporters that his wife was responsible for his trip. In the process, her identity as a covert CIA agent was divulged — possibly illegally.
For the last 20 months, a tough-minded special prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, has been looking into how the media learned that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA operative.