Tammy Haddad spoke with former Ambassador Joseph Wilson for the May 30 edition of "National Journal On Air." This is a transcript of their conversation.
Q: Joe, my first question is, have you read Scott McClellan’s book yet, or have you seen any of his interviews?
Wilson: Well, I haven’t read the book. I’ve seen a couple of the excerpts that have been published, and I’ve seen a couple of his interviews.
Q: And what’s your first reaction?
Wilson: Well, I think he’s handled himself very well. This is part of American history. It’s contemporary, and I think it’s an important new piece to our understanding of the Bush administration and the machinations that it put our society through.
Q: You watched him, almost every day for a couple of years, talk about your wife, about you, about this case. What did you think when you saw him for the first time giving another part of the story?
Wilson: Well, my initial reaction was the same reaction I had to [former chief of staff to the secretary of state] Larry Wilkerson, [former CIA analyst] Paul Pillar, and [Washington Post reporter] Tom Ricks and some of the others when they kind of came to their senses on this: Where were you when it counted? You should’ve been out there then, making the case that you are making now. We would’ve been better served by that. That said, I understand people work on their own timelines, and I am just glad that he’s got it out now.
I’m amused, by the way, that when he takes the press on for not having been vigorous enough, what does the press do but bring out to rebut him the old administration liars and traitors that we’ve known for many years, including Ari Fleischer and Karl Rove.
Q: Are you surprised at the vehemence and the counter-response, I should say, to his book?
Wilson: Of course not, because I witnessed this in my own case over the article I wrote in the New York Times. I think Scott is just lucky that his wife is not a covert officer in the CIA, otherwise she would’ve been compromised as well.
Q: Did Valerie see the interviews? What did she think?
Wilson: I don’t know. I haven’t talked to her about it. She’s on the other side of the country. She’s in New York and traveling back today. We’ll have a chance to chat about it over the weekend.
Q: Well, I wanted to read a couple quotes from Scott’s book, since you haven’t read it, and get your reaction. On page 228, he’s talking about the CIA leak investigation -- he calls it “The Plame Affair,” by the way. He calls her Valerie Plame. In fact, if you look at the index of the book, it’s an entire page. You’re still fighting about what her name is, right?
Wilson: Her name is Valerie Wilson. It’s been Valerie Wilson since we got married.
Q: Well, it hasn’t changed in Scott’s book, however. I’m going to quote, this is Scott talking: "I imagine some people slipped at times, and found themselves complaining about their hours before the grand jury or gossiping about whodunit. On a few occasions, even the president couldn’t help himself. I remember hearing him in the Oval or on Air Force One, grousing about having to hire an attorney, and about the atmospherics of being questioned." Can you respond to that?
Wilson: Well, I don’t know what to say about that. The president has demonstrated, through commuting [Scooter] Libby’s sentence, that he is, at a minimum, an accessory to an ongoing obstruction of justice. The only question that I would like to ask the president is, what did you know about this before it happened? Scott apparently also answers part of that by saying that the president admitted to him that he had authorized the selective leak of intelligence through Libby to [former New York Times reporter] Judy Miller, which may well have been Valerie’s name.
Q: Well, do you think that your civil case would have ended differently if this information had been out before?
Wilson: I have no idea. Our case, by the way, is in the Court of Appeals now, and we’re not letting this drop. We think that the U.S. justice system would be ill-advised to actually establish a precedent permitting public officials to engage in private political vendettas on the taxpayers' dime. That’s the principle we’re trying to establish with this, and we will carry this as far forward as we can in order to get that principle established.
Q: Let me keep reading: "From the outset of the investigation, the president had made a decision not to pursue the matter internally." He’s confirming that the president didn’t want anything looked into, and as you just mentioned, also the fact that the president in a nonchalant way revealed to Scott that he had specifically authorized the declassification of the NIE for the explicit purpose of the vice president and company to defend against your charges.
Wilson: Right, and the fact that is so shocking to me is that there was no internal investigation. As Claude Rains said in Casablanca, “I’m shocked, I’m shocked.” This is an utterly corrupt and utterly bankrupt administration, and the fact that the press still gives it any sort of credibility whatsoever -- and Scott mentions this in his book -- is surprising to me. And I think it’s a real low point -- one, in the administration of this country, and two, in the willingness of the press corps to take it on.
Q: Well, here’s my other question about that. Because he goes on on a couple pages on how my old NBC colleague, David Gregory, [ABC News reporter] Terry Moran, [CBS News reporter] Bill Plante and other White House correspondents went out and defended him, saying he’s doing the best job he can in that position. Did you think that was appropriate?
Wilson: Well, I was really struck by some of the comments I’ve heard in the last couple of days which basically say, Scottie, now you tell us. Which reaffirms to me that for many of the members of the White House press corps, simply being a stenographer and listening to what the spokesman says at the podium is sufficient for them to earn their salaries. When in fact, investigative journalism requires that you actually trust, but verify and go to other sources, and I think that’s where the press really let us down.
I said to somebody the other day, if you just do a Google search of how many times Scowcroft, Wilson, Zinni, Baker, Wes Clark, were on discussing the run-up to the war, versus Perle, Feith, Mr. Cakewalk -- whatever his name is, I can’t remember his name offhand -- but some of these other neocons, I think you would easily see that the realists in this debate were overwhelmed by the ideologues. And, indeed, I think there have been a number of press services that have acknowledged that they were caught up in the fervor of sort of being more patriotic then their competitors.
Q: Well, did you feel like that, Joe? Because I was working at MSNBC when you first came out -- after you wrote the column and came out and talked about it. And I know a lot of reporters were talking to you and were really interested in what you had to say. I mean, in many ways, had you not come forward, none of this would’ve happened. But now you’ve got a guy within the White House doing the exact same thing and getting completely killed for it by his own folks. We had Terry McAuliffe -- which the listeners will hear coming up on the show a little bit later -- and he said there is absolutely no excuse for anyone working with the president or anyone in power to come forward and tell tales out of school. Mr. McAuliffe is your friend, right?
Wilson: I know Terry. I know him quite well. I disagree with that assessment. I understand the concern and actually share it about telling tales out of school, but this administration has operated so far out of the parameters of normal American political behavior as to be, in my judgment, legitimately suspected of engaging in a criminal enterprise. And so, if you look at it in that context, then any and all information from the inside is useful to our understanding just how badly they have subverted our democracy.
Q: When you hear about this -- and I’ve already heard your comments about how you applaud Scott for coming forward -- but aren’t you a little angry that he didn’t quit? Because if he had quit, everyone would’ve looked at this so differently.
Wilson: Well, I preface my answer to that by saying my first response to him is the same response I’ve had to people like Larry Wilkerson and Paul Pillar -- the CIA and Wilkerson was [Colin] Powell’s aide -- where were you when it counted? You should’ve come forward when it counted. We might have been able to stop this crazy invasion. We might have been able to actually put some sanity back in the discussion of what our national security policy and approach should be, and they didn’t. They went along, and they quit later.
The only people who were out there prior to the war... And by the way, the debate on the war didn't split on partisan lines. It split largely along lines of the realist first Gulf War, like myself, and the ideologues -- those who had some fantasies that one, we really did have to worry about chemical and biological weapons and nuclear programs to the extent we had to invade, conquer and occupy sovereign nations, to those who actually believe in the concept that a madman and bad man is worthy of our military response.
Q: I have to turn over now to Karl Rove -- which there is so much time spent on talking about the fact that McClellan had gone out and defended Rove after he specifically asked him that the president... that Rove had told the president he wasn't involved. And I've got to lead you over to page 261, where in this one page he talks about how Karl Rove apologized to him. I'll read: "I received a phone call from Rove." This is after one of the really controversial briefings. Quote: "I just want to say I'm sorry for what you're going through." And then later that day, Rove in a meeting with the other senior staff said, "I am so sorry." And then later on, he actually wrote a note to him, leaving it on his chair at the White House, saying, "I'm so sorry for what you're going through." What's your reaction to that?
Wilson: Well, you know, Karl Rove is a liar. Karl Rove is a traitor. Karl Rove is actively subverting the republic of the United States of America, and yet Karl Rove is still welcome on TV programs. He has not been driven out of town. He is still given space on newspapers, and until such time as Karl Rove is recognized for what he is and shunned, he should actually be put in stocks in the public square so that people can walk by and throw tomatoes at him for the damage that he has done to this country and the way we govern ourselves and, frankly, for the damage he has done to the Republican brand.
Q: Well, he's still out there, though. What do you do, Joe, when you see -- I hear what you're saying -- but there he is on FOX, he's working for Newsweek. He's out there. He's Mr. Pundit. He's everywhere you could ever want to be -- Wall Street Journal. What do you think of the fact that he has made a tradition like none before him? And I'm sure he's making big bucks, too.
Wilson: Well, I'm sure he is. I'm sure he's cashing in. I don't watch him. There is nothing that he has to say that is of any interest to me. In fact, I read about 12 news sources every day, and 10 of them are non-American, and the only two American news sources I read are the International Herald Tribune and then I glance at the Washington Post to see what sort of idiocies they're up to.
Q: Doesn't it bother you, though, that he is out there, that he was embraced so quickly -- and such a strong, firm embrace?
Wilson: I think it says a lot for the state of American journalism. I really do. I honestly believe that they have sold out, and the idea that somebody who is an admitted liar, and somebody who is quite literally responsible for compromising the national security of my country -- it just tells you where the right wing is.
Q: Are you going to call for the reopening of the leak investigation?
Wilson: Well, I heard Scott say last night that everything that is in his book he shared with a special prosecutor. So I suspect that this in and of itself will not cause the reopening of the case. What would've caused the case to go forward would've been had Libby been obliged to actually do hard time in taking the fall for [Dick] Cheney. That might have encouraged him to be more truthful.
Q: One more item... There is an anecdote in the book -- which I believe he's talked about on television, so maybe you've seen it -- about how he saw Karl Rove and Scooter Libby go off in a room together and have a private conversation. And he is straight up about the fact that he's not sure what they talked about. Do you have any evidence, have you ever heard anything, that confirms that they worked together -- this is, once the investigators started -- to get their stories straight or together, or to talk about the case in any inappropriate way which is a violation of law?
Wilson: I don't, other than what Scott has just mentioned. And, of course, one of the things we hoped to do with our civil suit is be able to put these guys under oath -- that, of course, if we were to get them under oath, we'd be able to compare their answers to our depositions to their grand jury testimony -- the special prosecutor would do that. That might bring them under another sort of criminal vulnerability.
Q: Thank you, Joe Wilson, for being with us on "National Journal On Air."