By James Hohmann
October 25, 2005
The Stanford Daily
The man at the center of a massive political scandal that threatens senior members of the Bush administration with criminal charges spoke to a capacity crowd at Kresge Auditorium last night. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, whose wife’s identity as a covert agent was allegedly leaked to the media by senior Bush officials, spoke to students about the potential indictments of administration members, his thoughts on America’s role in Iraq and his background in public service.
Wilson drew gasps from the crowd when he revealed that today’s New York Times will implicate Vice President Dick Cheney as a source of the smear campaign that he says ruined his wife’s career.
“Tomorrow’s New York Times will say that Dick Cheney told Scooter Libby the name of my wife,” Wilson said to raging applause from a surprised audience.
A copy of the Times article reports that “notes of the previously undisclosed conversation between [the Vice President’s Chief of Staff I. Lewis Libby Jr.] and Cheney on June 12, 2003, appear to differ from Mr. Libby’s testimony to a federal grand jury that he initially learned about the CIA officer Valerie Wilson from journalists, the lawyers said.”
The potential implication for Libby could be perjury charges as early as today from an independent counsel led by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who has conducted an extensive investigation for two years. The grand jury he paneled to make indictments for any criminal wrongdoing expires Friday, causing many analysts to anticipate charges by the end of the week.
“We had no idea how fortunate our timing would be at his arrival,” ASSU Speakers’ Bureau Director Adam Kahn, a co-terminal student in Media Studies, said of Wilson’s visit this week. Admitting that he hoped indictments would be handed down the day of the speech, Kahn said, “I was very glad we chose him as a speaker.”
The controversial figure provided a background narrative on the leak case that has been consuming the news in recent weeks. He walked the audience chronologically through his version of events beginning with his return from retirement to investigate claims of uranium in Niger to what he calls a “deliberate effort to smear” his reputation after publishing an opinion piece in July 2003 that was critical of the administration.
The former Iraqi ambassador spoke in depth about his background in the region. He highlighted his personal involvement in Iraq during the run-up to the first Gulf War and his time as a senior official in the State Department and National Security Council under President Bill Clinton.
Wilson said he was contacted by the Central Intelligence Agency to follow-up on reports claiming Nigerian and Iraqi emissaries had met to discuss the sale of yellowcake uranium because of his superior credentials and contacts in the region. He says he definitively reported back to his CIA handlers when he returned that the rumors were false.
He believes that the White House ignored his report when Bush said in his 2003 State of the Union that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger. Wilson attacked the administration for stretching and distorting this and other evidence to make the case for a war he says they wanted all along.
“This administration betrayed the vote of confidence the American people gave it after September 11,” he said of the decision to invade Iraq.
“From March to early July 2004, I did everything I could to get the government to set the record straight,” Wilson explained. “When they would not set the record straight, I did. This White House operates with a take-no-prisoners approach so they decided they would take me down. They have never ceased to impugn me and attack my wife’s credibility.”
Significant portions of the series of events as he retold them are strongly disputed by journalists and officials familiar with the situation. Senior writer for U.S. News & World Report Michael Barone calls Wilson a liar in an article published yesterday.
Wilson dismissed these criticisms as nothing more than “the last throes of a desperate administration.” Moreover, he criticized the reference to the Senate Intelligence Committee report, arguing that it was compiled by Republicans on the committee in collusion with Bush administration officials.
“What I did was not a great act of courage, but an act of civic duty. This issue is not about us, but our country,” Wilson said. “What will we tolerate from our elected officials? This case is about a citizen’s right to redress a grievance. National security issues are not Republican or Democratic issues; they are American issues. Atomic bombs in Palo Alto or Menlo Park are not only going to affect Democrats or Republicans, but Americans.”
While Wilson might not fashion himself as particularly courageous, some in the audience saw him as an iconic hero in a struggle against a government they believe has abused power.
“He is an American hero, and I support him and his struggle with this administration. It’s all about getting this administration to tell the truth,” said Peter Moskowitz, a faculty member at the School of Medicine.
In an interview with The Daily after the speech, Wilson said he had not been called before the grand jury investigating the leak but that he had spoken with the special prosecutor several times – not under oath. He refused to comment on whether or to what extent his wife had cooperated with the special counsel.
“The CIA would not have arbitrarily referred this case to the Department of Justice had there not been a belief that laws had been violated,” Wilson said.
He declined to speculate on what the special prosecutor might do. Wilson believes that Fitzgerald is fair, and he plans to defer to his findings.
“Hopefully justice will be done,” the husband said of his wife’s case. “I don’t believe there should be any place at the senior reaches of our government for people of scrupulous character.”
Wilson went on an offensive against the administration and its conservative allies throughout his nearly two-hour presentation.
“This administration is genetically incapable of handling Iraq right until you get rid of some of the people around the president,” he said, likening what has come to be known as the Plame Affair to the Iran-Contra scandal of the second Reagan administration.
Calling these “troubling times,” Wilson asserted that zealots control the Republican Party. He called I. Scooter Libby “too cowardly to step forward.” He called conservative commentator Robert Novak “a pawn in someone else’s game” and used the name of a woman’s hygiene product in reference to the 73-year-old writer. Wilson also called out House Homeland Security Committee Chair Peter King as a “prick” who was willing to “whore” himself to get key committee appointments.
Wilson spent much of his talk attacking what he sees as a radical neoconservative agenda controlling the reconstruction of Iraq. Citing a New America Century report on how the United States could become a successful empire, the man George Herbert Walker Bush once called a “true American hero” labeled the current president and much of his inner circle as “delusional utopians.”
“We are taking sides in a civil war,” the former Iraqi head of station argued while painting a bleak picture of the situation in Iraq.
“Despite the passage of the Constitution,” Wilson said, referring to last week’s successful national referendum on the Iraqi Constitution, “it is little more than a peace agreement between the Shiites and the Kurds at the expense of the Sunnis. It will institutionalize violence for the foreseeable future.”
After attacking the administration’s failure to keep the peace, he offered a three-prong prescription for success – keep Americans out of harm’s way, quit having Americans unnecessarily kill Arabs and put together a concert of nations to mediate Iraq’s problems.
Wilson also referred several times to his former bestseller, The Politics of Truth.
“It’s not a Bush bashing book. It’s a book about one man’s time in the foreign service,” he told the audience. After the speech, Wilson signed more than 60 copies and talked to well-wishers.
The crowd reacted was positively to Wilson, who received only two critical questions among the more than 15 he took. His anti-Bush rhetoric resonated with the crowd, which gave him two standing ovations.
“I think the Bush administration is trying to cover up their wrongdoings by attacking his wife,” said ASSU Speakers Bureau member Meera Venu, a sophomore, after watching the speech and having dinner with the ambassador earlier in the evening.
Some students were required to watch the speech for their communications course.
“I don’t know as much as I would like to, but I bought his book,” said senior Paxson Sterling while waiting for Wilson to sign her book. “I thought he had a really interesting perspective on everything that has happened.”
Wilson flew in from Washington earlier in the day by himself and planned to fly to Idaho for a speech at Idaho State University tomorrow night.