In a Washington Post 'news' story on the Scooter Libby trial, writers Amy Goldstein (no relation to Jeff, obviously) and Carol D. Leonnig demonstrate how deeply they misunderstand the story they are reporting by bungling one of the central facts of the case.
Though a series of government officials have told the jury that Libby eagerly sought information about a prominent critic of the Iraq war, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, Fleischer was the first witness to say Libby then passed on what he learned: that Wilson's wife was a CIA officer who had sent him on a trip to Africa. Wilson's mission there was to explore reports, ultimately proved false, that Iraq had tried to buy nuclear material in Niger.
Ultimately proved false by whom? Not by the CIA and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, both of whom found that Wilson confirmed a mission by Iraq to Niger in 1999 - that's seven years after the sanctions were in place, but one year after inspectors were kicked out of Iraq - seeking "commercial relations," felt to be yellowcake uranium, Niger's only significant export. That confirmation was verified by an interview of former Niger Prime Minister Ibrahim Mayaki.
( ) The intelligence report indicated that former Nigerien Prime Minister Ibrahim Mayaki was unaware of any contracts that had been signed between Niger and any rogue states for the sale of yellowcake while he was Prime Minister (1997-1999) or Foreign Minister (1996-1997). Mayaki said that if there had been any such contract during his tenure, he would have been aware of it. Mayaki said, however, that in June 1999,( ) businessman, approached him and insisted that Mayaki meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss "expanding commercial relations" between Niger and Iraq. The intelligence report said that Mayaki interpreted "expanding commercial relations" to mean that the delegation wanted to discuss uranium yellowcake sales. The intelligence report also said that "although the meeting took place, Mayaki let the matter drop due to the UN sanctions on Iraq."
So there was no purchase confirmed, and no interest in selling to Iraq on Niger's part, but there was a mission seeking a purchase, hence the word "sought." The reporters need not have dug that deep, however, to get that fact. They need only have read an editorial from their own paper last September.
Nevertheless, it now appears that the person most responsible for the end of Ms. Plame's CIA career is Mr. Wilson. Mr. Wilson chose to go public with an explosive charge, claiming -- falsely, as it turned out -- that he had debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger and that his report had circulated to senior administration officials. He ought to have expected that both those officials and journalists such as Mr. Novak would ask why a retired ambassador would have been sent on such a mission and that the answer would point to his wife. He diverted responsibility from himself and his false charges by claiming that President Bush's closest aides had engaged in an illegal conspiracy. It's unfortunate that so many people took him seriously.
Including some Washington Post reporters, apparently. I sense a correction coming, though not today.