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Monday, July 25, 2005

Is the plot thickening?

Remember that secret memo I discussed last week? It was written by the State Department's INR (Intelligence and Research bureau), identified Joseph Wilson's spouse as an undercover agent -- and ended up on an Air Force One flight to Africa the week before Robert Novak revealed Valerie Plame's name on July 14. The memo's subject was the alleged transfer of uranium to Iraq. A retired INR official told the AP:
"It wasn't a Wilson-Wilson wife memo," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation remains underway. "It was a memo on uranium in Niger and focused principally on our disagreement" with the White House.
Regular readers may recall that INR was skeptical about the Iraq WMD evidence throughout the buildup to war.

There are a lot of partisan rumors flying around on the web -- and in other media. On July 22, The New York Times reported an attempt to link the White House's nominee for UN ambassador to the story:
Democrats who have been eager to focus attention on the case have urged reporters to look into the role of several other administration officials, including John R. Bolton, who was then under secretary of state for arms control and international security
Do these Democrats know anything? Is this a snipe hunt? A fishing expedition?

MSNBC's David Shuster reported last week that Bolton did testify about that memo. This revelation has created a stir in the blog world because the Times says that, unlike Public Diplomacy nominee Karen Hughes, Bolton did not disclose any contacts with the ongoing legal case in the forms he filed for his Senate confirmation hearing.

It really isn't a surprise to think that Bolton talked to Fitzgerald's grand jury. After all, he was Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. As Condi Rice said when announcing the nomination on March 7, his primary responsibility has been nonproliferation of WMD:
In that position, John has held primary responsibility for the issue that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has identified as one of our most crucial challenges to international peace and security: stemming the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
At Bolton's confirmation hearings, it was made clear that the nominee often fought with people from INR about what the agency had to say about WMD.

The speculation is that Bolton may have seen the original June 10 memo and attempted to shoot down its contents sometime before Colin Powell got it on July 7. Representative Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) has previously revealed that Bolton played a critical role in the creation of a December 19, 2002, Fact Sheet entitled "Illustrative Examples of Omissions from the Iraqi Declaration to the United Nations Security Council." This was created as part of the US response to Iraq's required report about its WMD activities, turned over to the UN in December 2002, as required by Security Council Resolution 1441. One item specifically mentioned in State's summary: Iraq had failed to disclose its "efforts to procure uranium from Niger." On July 14, 2003, of course, INR publicly revealed it had long questioned that claim. Yet, perhaps thanks to Bolton, it was part of the US case for war.

Of course, Bolton was in Australia at a conference the week after Wilson's op-ed appeared, but that doesn't mean he didn't talk to someone between June 10 and July 5 (when he was still in Washington). Indeed, Wilson heard rumors that he was going to be named publicly as the source of skeptical reports about the Niger uranium story "in late June," which is one reason he decided to write his July 6 op-ed.

If Bolton was fighting the PR battle, as well as the internal bureaucratic war with INR, who would have had the story?

Steve Clemons of the excellent blog, The Washington Note, has provided extensive coverage of Bolton's stalled nomination. Friday, Clemons reported a blog scoop. Bolton was frequently a source on WMD for Judith Miller (jailed reporter in the Plame case):
TWN has just learned from a highly placed source -- and in the right place to know -- that John Bolton was a regular source for Judith Miller's New York Times WMD and national security reports.

The source did not have any knowledge on whether Bolton was one of Miller's sources on the Valerie Plame story she was preparing, but argues that he was a regular source otherwise.
Then again, maybe Bolton just worked with his pals at the White House, Veep's office, and Pentagon. In April, USA Today quoted Karl Rove as saying that he's known Bolton for 30 years.

Presumably, they are friendly.

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