News outlets and blogs were abuzz today with Valerie Plame’s appearance before a Senate hearing into the leak of her identity.
It’s hard to remember the last time a live blonde got this much attention, and even the Republicans on the House oversight committee that heard from Valerie Plame Wilson today seemed in awe of the glam spy outed by the Bush administration. “If I seem a little nervous,” drawled Georgia Republican Lynn Westmoreland, “I’ve never questioned a spy before.”
Right-wing blogs and media pundits have insisted all along that Valerie Plame was not a covert agent at the time of Novak’s article, thus arguing that no crime was committed when her name was leaked. Indeed, they became jubilant at Victoria Toensing’s testimony today on covert agents. In 1981 Toensing was chief counsel for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and her first assignment from Chairman Barry Goldwater was to obtain passage of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.
Toensing, who’s husband (Joe DiGenova), is a Bush Administration cheer leader in his own right, has publicly called for the Pardon of Libby, tried valiantly to convince the hearing that she knew more about the Plame case than Plame herself. She was adament that Plame was not undercover at the time of the Novak column, because according to her, Plame had not met the requirements to qualify for covert status. One of those qualifications includes overseas travel on official undercover business during the past 5 years. Toensing was determined to give new meaning to the term of splitting hairs by insisting that undercover may not necessarily mean undercover according to the letter of the law.
The only problem for her was that not only is she in no position to access classified material relating to the case, but that those who are, CIA director Michael Hayden and Plame herself, disagree with her.
Rep Elijah Cummings (D-MD) was determined to resolve the matter during his question time:
Cummings: Is it possible that Ms Toensing had more information than you do about your work or had access to secret documents that you don’t?
Plame: I would find that highly unlikely Congressman because much of that information about my career is still classified.
Cummings explained that General Hayden had stated clearly and directly that Wilson was covert and that the CIA had authorized the Senate hearing to say so. Henry Waxman sent his opening statement to the CIA to be cleared and approved.
That openng statemnt included the following excerpts:
“Ms Wilson was a covert employee of the CIA”
“Ms Wilson was undercover”
Cummings continued his questioning:
Cummings: Did you hold this covert status at the time of the leak?
Plame: Yes I did Congressman
Cummings: The Identities Protection Act refers to travel outside the United States within the last 5 years. Let me ask you this question…during the past five years Ms Plame, from today, did you conduct secret missions overseas?
Plame: Yes I did Congressman.
Cummings: Finally, so as to be clear for the record, you were a covert CIA employee, and within the past 5 years from today, you went on secret missions outside the United States, is that correct?
Plame: That is correct Congressman.
So there you have it. While it could be argued that it comes down to who you believe, much of the debate could be settled by producing records of Plame’s travel details during the last five years.
Nevertheless, the right are hedging their bets and still hoping to make mileage over the seemingly innocuous dispute over whether Plame sent her husband to Niger or not. Perhaps for them it’s not about winning the debate, but the taking part that counts.