First Source of C.I.A. Leak Admits Role, Lawyer Says
WASHINGTON, Aug. 29 — Richard L. Armitage, a former deputy secretary of state, has acknowledged that he was the person whose conversation with a columnist in 2003 prompted a long, politically laden criminal investigation in what became known as the C.I.A. leak case, a lawyer involved in the case said on Tuesday.
Mr. Armitage did not return calls for comment. But the lawyer and other associates of Mr. Armitage have said he has confirmed that he was the initial and primary source for the columnist, Robert D. Novak, whose column of July 14, 2003, identified Valerie Wilson as a Central Intelligence Agency officer.
The identification of Mr. Armitage as the original leaker to Mr. Novak ends what has been a tantalizing mystery. In recent months, however, Mr. Armitage’s role had become clear to many, and it was recently reported by Newsweek magazine and The Washington Post.
In the accounts by the lawyer and associates, Mr. Armitage disclosed casually to Mr. Novak that Ms. Wilson worked for the C.I.A. at the end of an interview in his State Department office. Mr. Armitage knew that, the accounts continue, because he had seen a written memorandum by Under Secretary of State Marc Grossman.
Mr. Grossman had taken up the task of finding out about Ms. Wilson after an inquiry from I. Lewis Libby Jr., chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Mr. Libby’s inquiry was prompted by an Op-Ed article on May 6, 2003, in The New York Times by Nicholas D. Kristof and an article on June 12, 2003, in The Washington Post by Walter Pincus.
The two articles reported on a trip by a former ambassador to Africa sponsored by the C.I.A. to check reports that Iraq was seeking enriched uranium to help with its nuclear arms program.
Neither article identified the ambassador, but it was known inside the government that he was Joseph C. Wilson IV, Ms. Wilson’s husband. White House officials wanted to know how much of a role she had in selecting him for the assignment.
Ms. Wilson was a covert employee, and after Mr. Novak printed her identity, the agency requested an investigation to see whether her name had been leaked illegally.
Some administration critics said her name had been made public in a campaign to punish Mr. Wilson, who had written in a commentary in The Times that his investigation in Africa led him to believe that the Bush administration had twisted intelligence to justify an attack on Iraq.
The complaints after Mr. Novak’s column led to the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the disclosure of Ms. Wilson’s identity.
The special prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, did not bring charges in connection with laws that prohibit the willful disclosure of the identity of an C.I.A. officer. But Mr. Fitzgerald did indict Mr. Libby on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, saying Mr. Libby had testified untruthfully to a grand jury and federal agents when he said he learned about Ms. Wilson’s role at the agency from reporters rather than from several officials, including Mr. Cheney.
According to an account in a coming book, “Hubris, the Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War’’ by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, excerpts of which appeared in Newsweek this week, Mr. Armitage told a few State Department colleagues that he might have been the leaker whose identity was being sought.
The book says Mr. Armitage realized that when Mr. Novak published a second column in October 2003 that said his source had been an official who was “not a political gunslinger.’’
The Justice Department was quickly informed, and Mr. Armitage disclosed his talks with Mr. Novak in subsequent interviews with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, even before Mr. Fitzgerald’s appointment.
The book quotes Carl W. Ford Jr., then head of the intelligence and research bureau at the State Department, as saying that Mr. Armitage had told him, “I may be the guy who caused this whole thing,’’ and that he regretted having told the columnist more than he should have.
Mr. Grossman’s memorandum did not mention that Ms. Wilson had undercover status.
Apart from Mr. Ford, as quoted in the book, the lawyer and colleagues of Mr. Armitage who discussed the case have spoken insisting on anonymity, apparently because Mr. Armitage was still not comfortable with the public acknowledgment of his role.
He was also the source for another journalist about Ms. Wilson, a reporter who did not write about her. The lawyers and associates said Mr. Armitage also told Bob Woodward, assistant managing editor of The Washington Post and a well-known author, of her identity in June 2003.
Mr. Woodward was a late player in the legal drama when he disclosed last November that he had the received the information and testified to a grand jury about it after learning that his source had disclosed the conversation to prosecutors.