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Interview with Robert Novak

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume

HUME: I'm joined now by the syndicated columnist and Fox News contributor Robert Novak whose original column three years ago sparked the whole Valerie Plame so-called leak investigation.

Bob, welcome.

NOVAK: Thank you.

HUME: Characterize, as best you can, the conversation you had with the person who told you that Valerie Plame was CIA. How did you come to be talking to this person? What were you principally talking about? What was said?

NOVAK: it was an interview with a senior administration official who wasn't an easy guy to get to see. He gave me...

HUME: In person?

NOVAK: In person. He gave me an interview, hours interview. Nobody else present. It was the kind of interview that you know is not to be attributed to him. We didn't sit down and sign a contract, but you knew what it was because he was very candid.

We talked about a lot of things, including Joe Wilson's mission to Niger, which he was paying a lot of attention to as a reason why the president misstated the need to intervene in Iraq.

In the course of that interview, he told me that it was initiated -- his mission in Niger.

I said: Why would they send Joe Wilson to Niger -- he's not CIA? Why would the CIA send him there -- he's not a CIA agent. He is not anybody who knows Niger that well. He served there a long time ago.

He said his wife worked in the Office of Nuclear Proliferation in CIA and she suggested he go.

HUME: And that was it?

NOVAK: That was it.

HUME: All right, now...

NOVAK: I wrote a column about his mission to Niger, which was not very critical of Joe Wilson. I was more of a free reporting column. And I threw that in the middle of it.

HUME: Now, when you first heard that, did you think some real nugget had just dropped in your lap?

NOVAK: Yes, it was a nice nugget. It wasn't anything that I would lead the column with, but in the middle of the column...

HUME: All right. Now, you subsequently have said that that was confirmed to you by Karl Rove.

NOVAK: That's right.

HUME: Did you call Rove or did he call you?

NOVAK: I called Rove.

HUME: Did you call him for the purpose of getting this confirmed, or did this come up in passing?

NOVAK: I called him for several reasons. I wanted to talk about the column I was writing about the mission to Niger. This is also, as almost all my conversations with Rove were, was not for attribution.

And in the course of that, I asked him about Wilson's wife at the CIA working at the CIA and initiating this visit. And, as I remember the conversation very distinctly, Karl said to me, "Yes, I know that, too." And I took that as confirmation.

HUME: "And I know that, too"?

NOVAK: Yes.

HUME: He didn't say you know that, too?

NOVAK: No, no. He said, you know that -- I'm sorry -- he says, "You know that, too?" Well, he said, "Oh, you know that, too?" That's what...

HUME: Now what did you take that to mean? Did you take that to mean he talked to other journalists who knew that? Or did you...

NOVAK: No, I took that as a confirmation that she worked at the CIA and initiated it.

He said, "Oh, you know that, too?"

Now as Karl -- the reason I'm using Karl's name is he has talked through his lawyer about the conversation.

HUME: Right.

NOVAK: As he remembered it, he said to me, "Oh, you heard that, too?" I very distinctly remember him saying, "You know that, too?" And there is a difference there.

HUME: Right. But (inaudible) now, you subsequently talked to Bill Harlow at the CIA, public information officer.

NOVAK: That's right.

HUME: A lot of us have known Bill for a long time around town. What was the nature of -- did you call him expressly to confirm this?

NOVAK: I called him. He said, "I'll get back to you." And he talked to somebody, I just guessed that he had talked to the CIA director, George Tenet. I have no idea, though, if that's true.

He came back to me and he told me yes, that she worked for the CIA in the Office of Weapons of Mass Destruction. He told me that Mrs. Wilson did not suggest the mission by her husband, but she was asked to get him to do it by other people in the CIA.

That subsequently was repudiated by a report by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which...

HUME: Which said she suggested it?

NOVAK: She suggested it, and there were no Democratic dissenters.

Bill Harlow then said to me that, although she would likely never have another assignment abroad, he said it might be embarrassing if her CIA connection was written, and he asked me not to write it.

HUME: Did he say her status was classified?

NOVAK: No, he did not.

HUME: He did not. But he encouraged you not to write it?

NOVAK: He asked me not to write it. A lot of people ask me not to write things. I thought it was a pro forma request. He says, now, that he was very strong on it. I believe he was not.

HUME: All right. Let's go back just a moment to your original source. Everybody in town wants to know who that is. I know you're not prepared to divulge that. But what can we know about this person -- I assume, from the start of the conversation, that you're talking to this official and the conversation was principally about other things.

Is that a fair statement?

NOVAK: I think the conversation started about other things. About general foreign policy and the administration policy, and this was just a few days after the Joe Wilson column had appeared. And I started to ask him about the Joe Wilson column, asked some questions about it, which he answered to me, which I assumed was a background basis, and then he volunteered this information about Mrs. Wilson.

HUME: And you have said that you don't think that there was a leak involved. Why do you say that?

NOVAK: I don't believe it was a conscious effort...

HUME: That's what I mean.

NOVAK: I don't believe it was a conscious effort to manipulate me.

As I said in the column that ran today, subsequent to the announcement of the federal investigation of this, a third party who is close to the source called me up and said that this source believes that he inadvertently gave me information that was classified about Mrs. Wilson.

Well, whether it was inadvertent or not, I don't believe that it was a conscious leak. As I have said a couple times in the column, I said, "This is not a political gunslinger." By that, I mean this official was not known as somebody who did a lot of political manipulations. He was more of a substantive person.

HUME: More of a policy person?

NOVAK: Yes.

HUME: Why is Mr. X, your source, still unwilling to become known publicly known? Known to the prosecutor, known to, obviously, other key players in the case, why not publicly now?

NOVAK: Because he's never come forward. He has never said -- he has not -- I think an important factor in this is that there was nobody indicted for the violation of the intelligence identity act -- intelligence -- U.S. Intelligence Identity Act of undercover -- uncovering a secret agent. Of course, if you want to get into that, she wasn't really a secret agent, that as the main reason. But there was no indictment made on that at all. So the -- the Mr. X, the first source, has decided, apparently in his own mind, that he doesn't want to revel himself as the source.

HUME: May we know if this is this still someone in the government?

NOVAK: I'm not going to do any further identification on that, whether he's in the government or not. At any time that -- I really do believe that he has to come forward. I feel -- you say well, how could you testify before his name to the special prosecutor and to the grand jury, because they know who he was. They knew exactly who it was.

(CROSSTALK)

HUME: So until he releases you, you're no going to say?

NOVAK: Exactly.

HUME: All right, and he has not done so?

NOVAK: No.

HUME: Have you asked him to do so recently?

NOVAK: No, I have not asked him to do so. I.

HUME: And I want to ask you about two other things in particular. One is, so now you got Bill Harlow saying please don't do this. Give me again, more clearly, your reasoning for not. Did you not think there was some possibility that some damage could result from the disclosure of the CIA person's name?

NOVAK: No. I had no idea that she was a covered person, that she was not just a -- she was working as an analyst at the CIA.

HUME: At the time.

NOVAK: At that time I had no idea that she was in any way a covered employee. He'd never said -- if he had ever said to me somebody's life was in danger if you do this, if you got George Tenet come on the phone with me, I would not have written that. But as a matter of fact, her life wasn't in danger and he said it is very -- he said it is very unlikely she will ever go to Europe. That meant to me she was not doing any kind of work as an agent in Europe. So, all he was saying, and it might be embarrassing to her if she went on a vacation trip with her husband if she was identified as a CIA person and that wasn't a good enough reason for leaving the name out.

HUME: The allegation has grown out of this whole episode with the conversations that Karl Rove had with you and with some other journalists with the Scooter Libby role in the matter, that all of this was part of a campaign by the Bush administration to discredit Joe Wilson after he wrote a column in the "New York Times" critical of the administration on Iraq and suggesting the administration had misled about evidence of the Iraq's mass weapons program. You were now -- you were the principle -- you're the person who's at the point on all of this. What is your view of whether there was a campaign underway to discredit Wilson?

NOVAK: I saw no such campaign. Nobody in the administration ever said anything critical about Wilson to me. And my column was not critical of Wilson. As I say, this -- the information came out to me in the course of an -- by -- by -- in the course of an interview by a person who was not, believe me, not in the business of playing political dirty tricks. My call -- I initiated the call to Karl Rove. We talked about Joe Wilson's wife for maybe 20 seconds in the course of the conversation, which I took as a confirmation.

HUME: So you didn't call him about that specific thing, you called him about something else?

NOVAK: I called him about the mission to Niger and, but not -- but in the course of asking him about the mission in Niger, I said I understand that his wife works at the CIA and she initiate the mission.

HUME: And he said "you know that, too?"

NOVAK: "Oh, you know that too."

HUME: And he recalls it slightly differently. Did he belittle Wilson and his allegations?

NOVAK: At no time did he belittle him. The -- we were talking about the entire -- some of the specifics. I feel constrained not to say exactly because it hasn't come out the conversation I had with both Mr. X and Karl Rove about some of the details of the mission in Niger, which I put in the column because I still consider that was given to me on a background basis.

HUME: Let me ask you a question others are sure to want to know the answer to. Why did you consider this -- and I think I know the answer to this but I'd rather hear it from you -- why did you consider this newsworthy? What was the story here that made Joe Wilson's wife's job relevant?

NOVAK: The column was about the mission, what he found. Some of the things in column indicated, where contrary to what Mr. Wilson said, for example, he never -- that this was a specifically asked for by Vice President Cheney, that there was -- I wrote that there was never a real report written about it, that it was not a conclusive report and in the course of that, I wondered and that's why when I asked my original source, I asked him, why in the world would they send Joe Wilson on this? Why would it be somebody who was not a CIA person, was not familiar with this situation, why would they send him? And I thought it was interesting that his wife suggested it. It was a throwaway line in the middle of the column.

HUME: Of course, it turned out to be, as one of the senate intelligence committee investigated, it did, I guess, turned out to be an important reason why he was sent according to the committee...

NOVAK: Absolutely they have a document that says they put in the committee report that's gotten very little attention, I wrote about it later, that the chief suggested it at the CIA that her husband was well plugged in and that she suggested that he be sent there. I still think it was an extraordinary decision to be made, but that was the decision that was made.

HUME: Bob Novak, great to have you.

NOVAK: Thank you sir.

For more visit the FOX News Special Report web page.

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