Plame Wilson Testifies on Hill on Leak
Filed at 11:45 a.m. ET
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Valerie Plame, the CIA operative at the heart of a political scandal, told Congress Friday that senior officials at the White House and State Department ''carelessly and recklessly'' blew her cover to discredit her diplomat-husband.
Plame, whose 2003 outing triggered a federal investigation, said she always knew her identity could be discovered by foreign governments.
''It was a terrible irony that administration officials were the ones who destroyed my cover,'' she told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
''If our government cannot even protect my identity, future foreign agents who might consider working with the Central Intelligence Agency and providing needed intelligence would think twice,'' Plame said in response to a question.
The hearing was the first time Plame has publicly answered questions about the case, which led to the recent perjury and obstruction of justice conviction of Vice President Dick Cheney's former top aide, I. Lewis ''Scooter'' Libby.
Her appearance was a moment of gripping political theater as Democrats questioned whether the Bush administration mishandled classified information by leaking her identity to reporters. No one has been charged with leaking her identity.
''It's not our job to determine criminal culpability, but it is out job to determine what went wrong and insist on accountability,'' Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said at the outset of the hearing.
The man who led the criminal investigation, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, was not on the witness list. He told lawmakers Wednesday that federal law prohibited him from offering his thoughts on the case.
Nobody from the White House involved in the leak was scheduled to testify. Neither were officials from the State Department.
Plame sat alone at a witness table and fielded questions about her CIA career and the disclosure of her name in July 2003 in a syndicated newspaper column. She says she was outed as retaliation against her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who criticized the administration's prewar intelligence on Iraq.
''My name and identity were carelessly and recklessly abused by senior officials in the White House and State Department,'' Plame testified. ''I could no longer perform the work for which I had been highly trained.''
Plame said she had no role in sending her husband on a CIA fact-finding trip to Niger. Wilson said in a newspaper column that his trip debunked the administration's pre-war intelligence that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium from Africa.
''I did not recommend him. I did not suggest him. There was no nepotism involved. I did not have the authority,'' she said.
Wilson has written a book, and Plame is working on one, ''Fair Game,'' although it has had a troubled history. In May 2006, the Crown Publishing Group announced it would publish her book, a deal reportedly worth seven figures. But the two sides could not agree on a final contract, and two months later an agreement was announced with Simon & Schuster.
Plame's book is subject to a mandatory review by the CIA. On Thursday, Simon & Schuster spokesman Adam Rothberg would say only that the book was ''in progress,'' and that publication was expected soon.
Waxman says he wants to know whether the White House appropriately safeguarded Plame's identity. During the obstruction of justice and perjury trial of Cheney's former top aide, I. Lewis ''Scooter'' Libby, it was revealed that many in the Bush administration knew Plame worked for the CIA but not that it was classified.
Fitzgerald never charged anyone with the leak and he told Waxman he could not discuss his thoughts on the case.
Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, the ranking Republican on the committee, said that since Fitzgerald didn't charge anyone with the leak, the hearings were unlikely to add any insight.
''No process can be adopted to protect classified information that no one knows is classified,'' Davis said. ''This looks to me more like a CIA problem than a White House problem.''
Scheduled to testify Friday were attorney Mark Zaid, who has represented whistle-blowers; attorney Victoria Toensing, who said early on that no law was broken and has criticized the CIA's handling of the case, and J. William Leonard, security director of the National Archives, who was to discuss general procedures for handling sensitive information.
James Knodell, director of the White House security office, also could attend to discuss general security procedures, committee officials said.