Woodward part of leak

Toni Locy and Toni Locy

WASHINGTON – Bob Woodward’s version of when and where he learned the identity of a CIA operative contradicts a special prosecutor’s contention that Vice President Dick Cheney’s top aide was the first to make the disclosure to reporters.

Attorneys for the aide, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, described yesterday’s statement by the Washington Post’s assistant managing editor as helpful for their defense, although Libby is charged with lying to a grand jury and the FBI, not with disclosing the CIA official’s name.

“Hopefully, as information is obtained from reporters like Bob Woodward, the real facts will come out,” lawyer Ted Wells said yesterday.

Woodward, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, said he had not told his bosses until last month that he had learned about Valerie Plame’s identity and her work at the CIA more than two years ago from a high-level Bush administration official.

When Woodward learned Plame’s name, he told The Associated Press yesterday, he was in the middle of finishing a book about the administration’s decision to go to war in Iraq, and didn’t want to be subpoenaed to testify.

“The grand jury was going and reporters were being jailed, and I hunkered down more than I usually do,” Woodward said, explaining why he waited so long to tell Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. what he knew about the Plame matter.

Woodward made his name with his coverage of the Watergate scandal during the Nixon administration. He kept secret for decades the identity of “Deep Throat,” a key source in that reporting.

Woodward said he had apologized for not giving Downie much earlier notice of his reporting on Plame.

To critics who are taking shots at him, Woodward said, “Journalism is a contact sport. I was 29 when people who really knew how to shoot were around,” referring to Watergate.

Because his source in the leak case has refused to be identified publicly, Woodward said his hands are tied. “We can’t tell the whole story. I would like to. It’s one that will be told some day,” he said.

Columnist Robert Novak disclosed Plame’s identity and her work at the CIA on July 14, 2003, eight days after her husband, Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador, had accused the White House of misrepresenting intelligence to justify the Iraq war.

Libby, Cheney’s former chief of staff, was indicted last month on charges that he lied to FBI agents and a grand jury about when he learned Plame’s identity and how he subsequently disclosed it to reporters.

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, in announcing the charges, portrayed Libby as the first high-level government official to reveal Plame’s identity to reporters in summer 2003.

Legal experts said yesterday the disclosure that Woodward had a source – who was not Libby – could be used by Libby’s lawyers to bolster their claim that Plame’s identity was common knowledge among government officials and reporters.

“Much was made of the fact that Libby set all of this in motion, that he was the first government official to reveal this,” said former Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., now works in Washington.