Robert Novak's latest column makes Richard Armitage look even worse than he did when he belatedly acknowledged that he was the source for the 2003 Novak column identifying Valerie Plame/Wilson as a CIA employee (and it really says something if, in a spat with Robert Novak, you end up looking like a bigger dick). Novak contradicts Armitage's claim that the identification of Plame was inadvertent:
First, he identified to me the CIA division where Mrs. Wilson worked, and said flatly that she recommended the mission to Niger by her husband, former Amb. Joseph Wilson. Second, Armitage did not slip me this information as idle chitchat, as he now suggests. He made clear he considered it especially suited for my column….[He] told me unequivocally that Mrs. Wilson worked in the CIA's Counter-Proliferation Division and that she had suggested her husband's mission.
Novak rightly faults Armitage for remaining silent about the interview for two and a half years, which he says "caused intense pain for his colleagues in government and enabled partisan Democrats in Congress to falsely accuse [Karl] Rove of being my primary source." (Novak notes that both he and Armitage were Iraq war skeptics, which hardly fits the theory that the "leak" was part of an orchestrated effort by all the president's hawks to punish and/or discredit Wilson after he dared to cast doubt on the war's justification.) Even if you accept Armitage's excuse that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald asked him to keep his mouth shut, Novak writes, how can he explain "his silent three months between his claimed first realization that he was the source and Fitzgerald's appointment"?
But if Armitage was wrong for keeping quiet, what about Novak? He says the ground rules for his interview with Armitage were never even stated explicitly, which suggests he reasonably could have considered the conversation on the record. Even if Novak treats "deep background" as the default, he could have asked Armitage to release him from any implied promise of anonymity, thereby avoiding all the "intense pain" caused by Fitzgerald's investigation.
Or maybe not. Fitzgerald knew from the beginning that Armitage was the leaker, and he decided not to charge him. In other words, he knew at the outset of his investigation that no crime had been committed. Yet he proceeded anyway with subpoenas, threats of jail for contempt, the actual jailing of one reporter, and criminal charges against a Bush administration official for obstructing his investigation into nothing. Even by the standards of special prosecutors, who don't like to close up shop without charging someone because they feel a need to justify the effort and expense of their investigations, Fitzgerald has achieved a new low, since he could have stopped before he got started, when there was little effort and expense to justify. Which makes him an even bigger dick that Richard Armitage.