So Now We Know

Aug. 30, 2006 — -- It was the worst-kept secret in Washington. It was the best-kept secret in Washington.

For the last several months, most close observers of Plame-gate, the investigation into who leaked the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame to columnist Robert Novak and other reporters, were pretty certain that Novak's original source ("no partisan gunslinger") was Colin Powell's deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage.

Now, lawyers close to the case have confirmed to The New York Times that the hunch was correct.

That helps bolster the Bush administration's case that the leaking of Plame's identity was not part of a partisan conspiracy to discredit Plame and her husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, in retaliation for his efforts to debunk the administration's claim that Iraq under Saddam Hussein was obtaining raw uranium from Niger.

Armitage is career foreign service, not a partisan gunslinger, and a close friend of Colin Powell, who was often fighting the White House from inside the administration.

Of course, the fact that Armitage was more sloppy than vindictive doesn't prove that others weren't motivated by partisanship; but it does suggest that the original Novak column was not concocted as part of a mean-spirited master plan.

It also proves the truth of a Washington truism: The cover-up is worse than the crime.

When Armitage first realized that he might be Novak's original source, he went straight to the FBI and told them the straight story. They kept the secret for dozens of months and Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald decided that Armitage shouldn't be prosecuted for outing Plame as he completed his investigation.

Armitage may be a bit embarrassed over his initial mistake, but he isn't facing trial and he probably saved himself a small fortune in legal fees.

Contrast that with Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff has been indicted, of course, not for revealing the identity of Valerie Plame but for telling the grand jury and investigators that he didn't.