Friday, March 16, 2007

Valerie Plame Is Hot, But Victoria Toensing Way Cooler

My two most vivid memories of the Watergate hearings 30-some years ago are Senator Sam Ervin's colorful good-ol'-boy bullshit, and staring at John Dean's wife, Maureen (Mo), (described as his "brittlely attractive wife" by Time), sitting frozen just behind him through all his endless days of testimony against his boss.

The utilitarian C-SPAN cameras fell in love with Valerie Plame Wilson yesterday morning, in all her blonde, haughty, alpha-female victimhood. Rep. Henry Waxman's kangaroo hearing was focused on repeating endlessly how she had "risked her life" and otherwise thrown herself for years between America and America's enemies until that bad old man Dick Cheney (or was it Karl Rove?) wrecked her career by "outing" her as a secret agent out of revenge for her husband's brave anti-war article in the New York Times.

Professional habit keeps me from seeing Ms. Plame, (or "Ms. Plane," as Rep. Diane Watson kept calling her), as anything other than a carefully prepared plaintiff, as she and her husband are jointly suing the Bush administration for ruining her career; absolutely every thing she says on the record will be focused on supporting that lawsuit.

Moreover, the hearing's purpose had nothing to do with discovering violations of law, because, in spite of how the matter has been reported, there were none. Rather, the point was to provide Ms. Plame an early, taxpayer-funded opportunity to get her version of things on the record in support of her upcoming civil trial.

To this end, Waxman was careful to limit Ms. Plame's actual appearance to guard her against saying too much or making any damaging admissions under careful questioning from skeptics, such as Republican committee members Tom Davis and Lynn Westmoreland.

Ms. Plame and her lawyers know that any baseless accusations she makes on the record can come back to bite her under cross-examination during her civil lawsuit. So the Democratic Congressmen helpfully did all accusing for her, suggesting in their faux questions to the witness all kinds of nefarious misdeeds at the White House, to which Ms. Plame had only to bat her big wide eyes in response and smile: "well, I can't say for certain, but it certainly seems that it may have happened that way!" Or not, as the lack of credible evidence more persuasively suggests.

Consider this exchange with Rep. Kucinich:

REP. KUCINICH: And you have never, in your experience as an agent, seen this kind of a coordinated effort by one's own government, in this case our government, to disclose the identity of an agent.

MS. PLAME WILSON: No, Congressman, I'm not aware of any.

REP. KUCINICH: What -- to what extent does the agency go to, to protect the identities of its agents?

MS. PLAME WILSON: It's significant effort. And again, taxpayers' money, particularly in this day and age of Google and Internet, the efforts have to be even more vigilant and evermore creative, because it is extremely easy to find out a lot of information about someone if you really want to.

So, we are -- the CIA constantly needs to be one step ahead to protect their operations officers.

REP. KUCINICH: So, when there's an extraordinary effort made to disclose the identity of an agent, it is a -- it's destructive of the agency and it's destructive of the taxpayers' investment in the Central Intelligence Agency, is that not correct?

MS. PLAME WILSON: Absolutely.

REP. KUCINICH: And, one of the things that keeps running through my mind is why. Why did this happen to you? Was it an unintentional mistake? Or is it part of a larger pattern? In recent weeks, we've learned that U.S. attorneys in all parts of the country were fired, despite exemplary service. And several of these attorneys testified to Congress that they were being pressured to pursue cases against Democratic officials. Others believe that they were fired because they were pursuing cases against Republican officials.

Have you followed this issue?

MS. PLAME WILSON: Yes I have, Congressman.

REP. KUCINICH: And when I think about what happened to these attorneys, I can't help but think of your case, because these could be isolated instances, but they seem to be part of a larger pattern. Do you know what happened, for example, to the former Treasury Secretary, Mr. O'Neill, when he wrote his book, "The Price of Loyalty?"

MS. PLAME WILSON: Yes, I'm aware of that.

REP. KUCINICH: And after Secretary O'Neill that the Bush administration was planning to overthrow Saddam Hussein in a much earlier timeframe than anyone knew, Secretary O'Neill was falsely accused of leaking classified information. Did you know that Secretary O'Neill was investigated by the Treasury Department for a groundless accusation?

MS. PLAME WILSON: I believe I've read that, yes, sir.

REP. KUCINICH: Now, in another instance, General Shinseki warned that the United States would need several hundred thousand troops in Iraq. Ms. Wilson, do you remember what happened to General Shinseki?

MS. PLAME WILSON: Yes, I do, Congressman.

REP. KUCINICH: Well, he was dismissed.

MS. PLAME WILSON: He was asked --

REP. KUCINICH: I'm also reminded of the case of Richard Foster, the government's chief Medicare actuary. He was actually told he'd be fired if he told Congress the truth about how much the administration's proposed drug benefit would cost. Were you aware of that, Ms. Wilson?


Kucinich knows exactly what he's doing here. He has it well in mind that in today's debased intellectual milieu, which relies on psychological associations rather than causal linkages, a leftist debater gets to shout out "Q.E.D.!" at a much earlier stage of proof than his logic-bound opponents.

Ms. Plame and her Democratic supporters mainly took turns restating their subjective convictions that she was a covert agent after all, that she did not recommend her husband to be sent to Niger, and that practically nobody in D.C. knew she was a spy until Robert Novak mentioned it in the newspaper. Rep. Diane Watson, California Democrat, (who also provided a rambling account of her own training in covert operations), indignantly accused "Robert Novak, of all people!," of leaking the classified name of Ms. Plame, apparently confused that Novak is not the designated Public Enemy Number 1, but Karl Rove. The scolding was good enough for the peanut gallery, who muttered approvingly, since Novak is close enough in their minds to supporting the administration to deserve hanging as well.

And yet somehow the name of Richard Armitage was never once breathed throughout Ms. Plame's entire appearance.

Two Republican members, Tom Davis and Lynn Westmoreland, showed up who were not there to measure Ms. Plame's graceful neck for the Medal of Honor. For the likes of these, though Ms. Plame left her cloak behind at the CIA, she let loose plenty of eye daggers at Davis and Westmoreland when they presumed to cross-examine her on her facts as if this were a real hearing. Westmoreland, for example, handily got Ms. Plame to admit that no CIA superior ever told her she was covert, either before or after the Novak column, and, just as important, got her to admit, reluctantly, that she was a Democrat. In 1999 Ms. Plame had used her own CIA cover employer, Brewster-Jennings & Associates, to contribute $1,000 to the Gore campaign--not exactly chump change even for an upper-middle class civil servant styling herself as an apolitical heroine on the frontlines of national security. And the crescendo of Ms. Plame's written statement before the committee included this:

"Politics and ideology must be stripped completely from our intelligence services or the consequences will be even more severe than they have been, and our country placed in even greater danger."

The point being, not that Ms. Plame's private political activism is unethical, but that there is a strong whiff of hypocrisy in her expectation that her husband can use his CIA connections--i.e., his wife--to enhance his grandstanding, partisan opposition to the Iraq war, and then retreat behind his wife's classified skirts where the White House dare not rebut him at the risk of national security.

The real heroine for me was Victoria Toensing, who was chief counsel of the Senate Intelligence Committee under Barry Goldwater, and drafted the Intelligence Identity Protection Act, the law that no one ever has, or ever will be charged with breaking in regard to Valerie Plame--sort of the 800-pound gorilla who's not in the room and whose whereabouts are still unknown. Ms. Toensing is the first person I've seen since Election Day actually talking back at the nonstop Democratic scolding.

Though Ms. Toensing is not the beauty that Ms. Plame is, she was every bit as sure of herself, and completely unintimidated by the committee. Ms. Toensing was quite clear that Ms. Plame was not a covert agent under the IIPA, seriously calling into question why everyone's time was being wasted this way. Both Reps Waxman and Watson decided it best to handle her by asking her questions, and then refusing to yield their time to let her answer them. They were mainly concerned with getting her to stop saying that Ms. Plame's covert status has nowhere been established on competent evidence--that is, except on hearsay, unsworn comments, and subjective opinions:

WAXMAN: I am stunned, Ms. Toensing, that you would come here with absolute conclusions that she was not a covert agent; the White House did not leak it; no one seemed to know in advance that she was a CIA agent. Do you know those facts for your own firsthand knowledge?

TOENSING: Well, let's just take those one by one. As I said, I was there. I was the chief drafter for chairman --

WAXMAN: I'm not asking for your credentials. I'm asking how you reached those conclusions. Do you --

TOENSING: That's part of my credentials is because I know what the intent of the act was.

WAXMAN: I'm not asking what the intent of the act was.

TOENSING: Well that’s the question.

WAXMAN: Do you know that she was not a covert agent?

TOENSING: She is not a covert agent under the act.

WAXMAN: Okay, so --

TOENSING: You can call anybody anything you want to in the halls of the CIA.

WAXMAN: General Hayden! General Hayden, head of the CIA, told me personally that she was. If I said that she was a covert agent, it wouldn't be an incorrect statement?

TOENSING: Does he want to swear that she was a covert agent under the act?

WAXMAN: I'm trying to say as carefully as I can. He reviewed my statement, and my statement was that she was a covert agent.

TOENSING: Well, he didn't say it was under the act.

WAXMAN: Okay, so you're trying to define it exactly under the act.

TOENSING: That's important.

WAXMAN: No, no, no, no, no, no. I'm not giving you -- I'm not yielding my time to you.

In other words, Waxman meant to say we're not here to define what the law says, just trying to find out if the law has been broken! By way of a last word, he told Ms. Toensing he would keep the record open so he could later correct her assertions with unknown evidence he pretended to have.

As for Waxman's charge that Ms. Toensing showed up with absolute conclusions, the Democratic side of the entire kangaroo hearing was based on the utterly false pretense that the Scooter Libby trial had concluded absolutely that Ms. Plame was covert and that the White House had blown her cover: two things that were not establsihed in that trial at all. In fact, they absolutely were not established. Even Patrick Fitzgerald decided to call it quits and go home.

Ms. Plame had to admit under questioning by Tom Davis that the Novak article did not result in her suffering any demotion nor other adverse employment action, and that her upward career path was not impaired by what happened, except that she could no longer consider herself covert. She left the CIA voluntarily. Her claims for damages are vastly exaggerated, if not outright false, and her current book deal with Simon & Schuster for $2.5 million has already mitigated any conceivable claims for lost earnings as a CIA agent. That she harbored a wish to go back overseas to do more spying when her kids got a little older, and is now foreclosed from doing so, may be a personal disappointment for her, but it is not a crime warranting the overthrow of the executive branch, nor is it a crime at all.

Ms. Plame testified that when her husband, Joe Wilson, threw the newspaper on the bed with Novak's article in it, she felt "like I had been hit in the gut. I -- it was over in an instant, and I immediately thought of my family's safety, the agents, the networks that I had worked with -- and everything goes through your mind in an instant."

I wonder if when she stopped cursing Karl Rove or Dick Cheney or whomever else she hoped to blame for her troubles, she turned on her husband and said, "Joe, why did you have to write that article for the Times, you blowhard? Don't you know I believe in keeping politics stripped from intelligence activities? And you know what, dear--this article stinks of politics!"

For all I can ever know about it, Ms. Plame may have performed genuinely heroic work as a CIA officer in her time, though because she and her supporters keep using the word "classified," I don't feel obliged to assume as much. Regardless, if she, and the CIA, were as jealous of her covert status as she claims White House personnel should have been, she should have refused to allow her husband to get anywhere near the intelligence work she was involved in, knowing, as she must have known, that he was vain, partisan, and looking for attention.

This isn't blaming the victim. She isn't a victim. She saw an opportunity to use her position with the CIA to boost her husband's publicity profile and maybe help him take a swipe at the hated Bush administration. She could have said no to Joe Wilson, no to her managers who wanted to send him, no to Vanity Fair. Classified status isn't a gift handed out to deserving citizens to use as they wish, such as, in this case, to protect a gadfly husband from swift rebuttal after he tweaks the VP's nose.

1 comment:

The Multitaskenator said...

Valerie Plame said decisively under oath she was a covert agent. The head of the CIA, General Hayden, said Plame was a covert agent. The only definition of 'covert' that matters is the one that General Hayden, the head of the CIA, says it is - and he says Plame falls into that category.

See Toensing's tone under oath was completely different than her appearances on Fox News; scatterbrained and couldn't commit an answer without attempting to redefine 'covert' into her own narrow definition. Guilty couldn't have been more obvious had it been painted on her face.

In any case, Toensing came pretty close to making some definite statements that could land her in jail for perjury. Couldn't happen to a better person.