Bob Woodward tells newspaper he's sorry
Bob Woodward apologized Wednesday to The Washington Post for failing to reveal for more than two years that a Bush administration official...
WASHINGTON — Bob Woodward apologized Wednesday to The Washington Post for failing to reveal for more than two years that a Bush administration official had told him about covert CIA agent Valerie Plame, even as an investigation of who disclosed her identity mushroomed into a national scandal.
Woodward, an assistant managing editor with the newspaper and best-selling author, said he told Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. that he held back the information because he was worried about being subpoenaed by Patrick Fitzgerald, the special counsel leading the investigation.
"I apologized because I should have told him about this much sooner," Woodward, who testified in the CIA leak investigation Monday, said in an interview. "I explained in detail that I was trying to protect my sources. That's job number one in a case like this. ... "
"I hunkered down. I'm in the habit of keeping secrets. I didn't want anything out there that was going to get me subpoenaed."
The revelation that Woodward may have been the first reporter to learn about Plame, the wife of Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson, could provide a boost to the only person indicted in the leak case: I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
Fitzgerald has spent nearly two years investigating whether senior Bush administration officials illegally leaked classified information — Plame's identity as a CIA agent — to reporters to retaliate against Wilson. Plame's name was revealed in a July 14, 2003, column by Robert Novak, eight days after Wilson publicly accused the administration of twisting intelligence to justify the Iraq war.
Libby, who was Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, was indicted last month on charges that he lied to FBI agents and a grand jury about when he learned Plame's identity and how he subsequently disclosed it to reporters. In announcing the charges, Fitzgerald portrayed Libby as the first high-level government official to reveal Plame's identity to reporters in summer 2003.
But The Washington Post said Woodward's source told Fitzgerald after Libby's indictment that the source had talked to Woodward in mid-June 2003. That would make the unnamed official — not Libby — the first government employee to disclose Plame's CIA employment to a reporter.
Legal experts said Wednesday that Libby's lawyers could use Woodward's disclosure to bolster their claim that Plame's identity was common knowledge among government officials and reporters.
"Much was made of the fact that Libby set all of this in motion, that he was the first government official to reveal this," said former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder, now a defense attorney in Washington.
However, Libby is charged with lying to a grand jury and the FBI, not with disclosing the CIA official's name.
Downie, who was informed by Woodward about the source late last month, said his most famous employee had "made a mistake." Despite Woodward's concerns about his confidential sources, Downie said, "he still should have come forward, which he now admits. We should have had that conversation. ... I'm concerned that people will get a misimpression about Bob's value to the newspaper and our readers because of this one instance in which he should have told us sooner."
The belated revelation that Woodward has been sitting on information about the Plame controversy reignited questions about his unique relationship with The Post while he writes books with unparalleled access to high-level officials, and about why Woodward denigrated the Fitzgerald probe in television and radio interviews while not divulging his own involvement in the matter.
"It just looks really bad," said Eric Boehlert, a Rolling Stone contributing editor and author of a forthcoming book on the administration and the press. "It looks like what people have been saying about Bob Woodward for the past five years, that he's become a stenographer for the Bush White House."
The disclosure has prompted critics to compare Woodward to Judith Miller, a New York Times reporter who left the newspaper last week amid questions about her lone-ranger style and why she had not told her editors sooner about her involvement in the Plame matter.
Woodward has criticized the Fitzgerald probe in media appearances. He told MSNBC's "Hardball" in June that in the end "there is going to be nothing to it. And it is a shame. And the special prosecutor in that case, his behavior, in my view, has been disgraceful." In a National Public Radio interview in July, Woodward said that Fitzgerald made "a big mistake" in going after Miller and that "there is not the kind of compelling evidence that there was some crime involved here."