Richard Armitage.

Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was the source who revealed the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame to syndicated columnist Robert Novak in 2003, touching off a federal investigation, two sources familiar with Armitage’s role tell CNN.

The sources said Armitage revealed Plame’s role at the CIA almost inadvertently in a casual conversation with Novak, and it is not clear if he knew her identity was classified at the time.

So what does this mean?

Well, it does lighten the accusations levied at the Bush administration, namely that they revealed Plame’s identity in order to discredit her husband. Armitage is an unlikely avenue for a Bush administration smear campaign, since he was a critic of the decision to invade Iraq.

But it doesn’t appear to change some fundamental facts.

Cheney did ask Libby to find out about Plame’s role in her husband’s trip. That inquiry is why Armitage knew Plame’s identity. Then, once Novak began asking questions, both Libby and Rove were only too happy to discuss the situation with reporters. And then tried to hide that fact later.

Nor does this directly change the basis for the charges against Libby: that he lied about his contacts with reporters.

Nor does it change the fact that a CIA agent’s identity was revealed, however inadvertently.

Still, the likelihood that there was a crime committed here seems remote. If Libby had nothing to cover up, the cover-up charges make little sense.

It appears that what you have here is a bunch of senior officials being surprisingly careless with what they ought to have suspected was sensitive information, then trying to hide their actions; and the irony that Cheney’s inquiry is what started the ball rolling on a scandal that roiled the White House for years. Incompetence and cowardice, yes, but not criminal intent.

Whether the Libby case should go to trial or be dropped depends on the basis for the charges. If they are independent of the Armitage revelation — in other words, if Libby really did lie on the stand — then he should be charged. But the prosecution will have to demonstrate that Libby had some sort of motive for doing so.

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  • Brian in MA

    I demand Armitage be frogmarched out of Washington for commiting TREASON by outing a CIA official.

    Oh, sorry, was just channeling Kos and DU there when they thought it was Rove.

  • wj

    OK, Armitrage was engaged in gossip, not trying to trash someone that the administration was irritated with. Let’s accept that. It still remains the case that he broke the law which makes it a crime to reveal the identity of a covert member of the CIA. The law doesn’t require that the revelation be motivated by politics, just that the action happen.

    That does explain, most likely, why Armitage did not come forward originally — he would have been confessing to a crime. But it does not explain why (always assuming that the story is true and can be proven in court, of course) charges are not being filed against him now.

  • The law only covers certain CIA personnel, not all of them. Ms. Plame is a questionable case vis-a-vis her covert status, and it is not clear that the law was technically violated. Mr. Armitage clearly did a bad thing, but it may not have been against the law.

    See also Sandy Berger leaving a secure facility with classified documents stuffed in his trousers…

  • sleipner

    Whether or not Armitage leaked this deliberately, from what I’ve read, Rove or Cheney were the ones who discussed the information with him about her CIA status when investigating her husband, and then confirmed it to Novak after he let it slip.

    Given that this administration has a LONG history of attacking anyone who disagrees with them through various and sundry underhanded means, even if this wasn’t originally a deliberate ploy to cast doubt on Mr. Plame, they certainly used it to their advantage once it occurred.

  • mdeck

    Much is being made about the contact between Rove/Libby and Armitage. Do they not all share high level clearance to discuss matters of intel? People act as though Cheney inquiring into who sent Wilson was a crime. Could it be that the real political sabotuer was wilson/plame. Were they all about disgracing the White House? Oh I forgot, we shouldnt disparage anyone who has appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair.