Woodward sorry for part in Plame case

Post reporter apologizes for not telling editor a White House source revealed CIA agent's name to him


Bob Woodward, one of the country's most celebrated reporters and an assistant managing editor at The Washington Post, apologized yesterday to his editor for having waited more than two years before revealing that a White House official disclosed to him in 2003 the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Woodward, who with Carl Bernstein helped to unearth the Watergate scandal that brought down the presidency of Richard M. Nixon, testified Monday under oath about his role in the Plame case. He described that role to Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. last month.

"I apologized because I should have told him about this much sooner," Woodward said in an article posted yesterday on The Post's Web site. "I explained in detail that I was trying to protect my sources. That's job No. 1 in a case like this."

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, whose investigation might take a new turn as a result of Woodward's disclosure, is seeking culprits in the outing of Plame, an apparent act of retribution against her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, who had publicly challenged President Bush's assertion that Saddam Hussein had sought uranium for a nuclear weapons program.

Woodward's revelation that he had discussed Plame with a White House official - about a month before her name was published by syndicated columnist Robert Novak - throws into disarray Fitzgerald's chronology of the case.

He previously had thought that the first such conversation took place later, between I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Jr., then chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, and then New York Times reporter Judith Miller.

The news places Woodward, long a legendary figure in journalism student circles, in the middle of a case that earlier this year compelled Miller to spend 85 days in jail. Woodward was a voluble commentator on the case in public without, it now emerges, revealing his own involvement. He also tended to minimize the importance of the Plame case, calling it "almost gossip."

Woodward's disclosure is likely to focus even greater public scrutiny on journalists' dealings with government officials, as well as on the workings of newsrooms.

"You have journalists such as Woodward and others who have always been these icons, and now he's revealing that he kept this stuff from his bosses," said J. Gregory Payne, who teaches a course on media, politics and advocacy at Emerson College in Boston.

"I liked the old Bob Woodward better, someone who truly was a journalist who epitomized what would be good ethics for other journalists," Payne said.

"That certainly was the case with Watergate. Now, he's become a celebrity, someone who has the ear of President Bush, who tells him what he needs for his books. But is he a journalist or a novelist? He's got his author's hat and his journalistic hats mixed up."

Woodward, who has a string of book titles to his credit, justified his silence by saying he was "in the habit of keeping secrets" - a possible allusion to the fact that for 33 years he kept under wraps the identity of his main Watergate source, known as Deep Throat.

In the current case, he said, "I didn't want anything out there that was going to get me subpoenaed." As a result of that reticence, Woodward was not called to testify in the case until Monday.

The notion that Woodward appeared to be operating under his own rules echoes complaints about him in the past from fellow Post staff members, some of whom resented the fact that he sometimes withheld exclusive stories for books such as Bush at War and Plan of Attack rather than submit the information for publication in the paper.

It also brought to mind a common view of Miller, who apparently failed to reveal to her editors the extent of her involvement in the Plame case and who unnerved many of her colleagues at The Times because, by her own admission, she did whatever she wanted for much of her career. Miller was forced to resign from The Times last week.

In a statement posted yesterday on The Post's Web site, Woodward said his source had not given him permission to reveal his identity publicly, but he clarified that it was not Libby, who was chief of staff to Cheney until he was indicted last month for obstructing justice and giving false statements in the case.

Woodward said that after his 2003 conversation with the White House official, he told a colleague at The Post, Walter Pincus, that he had heard that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. Pincus said yesterday in a Post article that he does not recall Woodward giving him such information.

(In an unrelated case, a federal judge found Pincus in contempt of court yesterday for refusing to identify his government sources in connection with nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee, who in 1999 was suspected of spying while he worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Lee is seeking the identity of the reporters' sources for a lawsuit against the departments of Energy and Justice.)

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