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Getting the Last Word

Joe Wilson Sounds Off on Libby Perjury Conviction


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Joe Wilson will never get his wish to watch President George W. Bush’s longtime political advisor Karl Rove “perp walked into jail” for telling reporters that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was an undercover CIA operative. But Wilson-a former Isla Vista party animal and UCSB graduate-expressed great satisfaction during a 3/6 telephone press conference that a federal jury convicted former White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby for lying to FBI investigators and a federal grand jury about the leak. Wilson-a former ambassador to Iraq-said he and his wife had been the target of “an unprecedented smear campaign” because he publicly challenged President Bush’s rationale for invading Iraq.

Wilson repeatedly said the verdict affirmed “that we are a nation of laws and that no one is above the law.” But he took exception to reports that President Bush expressed sorrow on behalf of Libby-for whom the jurors felt considerable personal sympathy-and his family. “I wish he would express sorrow for what happened to my wife, whose career was destroyed,” Wilson said, “and to our servicemen and women who are fighting a war that was justified with lies and disinformation.”

Wilson expressed hope Bush would make good on his pledge-issued shortly after the revelation of Plame’s identity became a hot political issue-that no leakers would continue to work in the White House. Noting that court testimony demonstrated Rove leaked Plame’s identity to reporter Matthew Cooper (then with TIME), Wilson said, “Mr. Rove is still on the presidential payroll.”

In a New York Times op-ed written in the summer of 2003, Wilson attacked Bush for the now infamous “16 words” he spoke in his 2003 State of the Union address, stating that British intelligence indicated Saddam Hussein was seeking to obtain yellow cake uranium from Niger. The prior year, Wilson wrote, he’d been assigned to investigate those very rumors and found them groundless-as did the ambassador to Niger at the time, and a four-star marine general also assigned to investigate the matter. Wilson claimed he was orally debriefed by a CIA report writer two hours after returning from Niger, and that his report should have been available to the vice president.

The Libby trial revealed the lengths to which the White House went to discredit Wilson after he released this information. White House sources claimed they believed Wilson was assigned to Niger by his wife, then a CIA analyst looking into weapons of mass destruction. They also hoped the public would be put off by the nepotistic relationship. Wilson has insisted the White House’s true aim was to intimidate other credible critics from speaking out against the war.

At Tuesday’s press conference, Wilson said testimony presented during the trial revealed that both Libby and Vice President Dick Cheney believed Wilson was competent to handle the assignment-no matter who sent him. He also charged that many other U.S. intelligence sources strongly questioned the Niger rumor well before the president publicly made the claim, and that even White House advisers had excised the claim from the president’s speeches prior to that.

Throughout the trial, many observers noted that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald never charged anyone with actually unveiling Plame’s identity as an undercover agent, a federal offense if done knowingly. One reporter noted that Libby never would have been prosecuted had he told the truth about his role in the leaks; instead, Libby insisted he heard the story from reporters first, not the other way around, and that he was too busy protecting the nation from terrorist attack to recall otherwise.

Wilson likened Libby’s prosecution on perjury charges to Al Capone’s conviction for tax evasion, saying, “It does not mean they were not guilty of other crimes.” Wilson said he hoped the lesson learned would be that officials should not violate public trust, rather than the lesson too many learned from the Watergate scandal, which was, according to Wilson, “We should have burned the tapes.” Meanwhile, Wilson and his wife are pursuing a civil action against Libby, Cheney, Rove, and former deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

The last question asked at Tuesday’s teleconference was if Wilson had given any thought to which actor he’d like to play him in a movie. He replied, “I only ask that Jack Black be cast in a role other than Joe Wilson.”

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