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Plame Testifies About Her Covert Status

March 16, 2007 at 6:10 PM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Photographers crowded around a congressional hearing witness table this morning, anticipating the arrival of Washington’s most talked-about spy in decades.

Valerie Plame was called by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to describe, for the first time publicly, the impact of having her status as a covert CIA operative revealed in the press.

VALERIE PLAME WILSON, Former Covert CIA Officer: I felt like I had been hit in the gut. It was over in an instant, and I immediately thought of my family’s safety, the agents, the networks that I had worked with.

And everything goes through your mind in an instant: I could no longer do the work which I had been trained to do. After that, there is no way that you can serve overseas in a covert capacity, and so that career path was terminated.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It was conservative columnist Robert Novak who, on July 14, 2003, intimated in his column that Plame sent her husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, to Africa to investigate a claim that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy uranium from Niger.

Novak wrote, “Valerie Plame is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me she suggested sending Wilson to Niger to investigate.”

Novak’s revelation led to an independent investigation by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, but no one was charged with leaking. Last week, however, a jury convicted Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, of perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with the investigation.

Joe Wilson's trip to Niger

JUDY WOODRUFF: This morning, Plame finally gave her side of the story.

VALERIE PLAME WILSON: In February of 2002, a young junior officer who worked for me came to me very concerned, very upset. She had just received a telephone call on her desk from someone -- I don't know who -- in the office of the vice president asking about this report of this alleged sale of yellowcake uranium from Niger to Iraq.

She came to me, and as she was telling me what had just happened, someone passed by. Another officer heard this. He knew that Joe had already -- my husband -- had already gone on some CIA missions previously to deal with other nuclear matters. And he suggested, "Well, why don't we send Joe?"

And I will be honest, I was somewhat ambivalent. At the time, we had 2-year-old twins at home, and all I could envision was me by myself at bedtime with a couple 2-year-olds. So I wasn't overjoyed with this idea.

Nevertheless, we went to my branch chief, our supervisor. My colleague suggested this idea. And my supervisor turned to me and said, "Well, when you go home this evening, would you be willing to speak to your husband, ask him to come into headquarters next week, and we'll discuss the options, see what we could do?" "Of course."

JUDY WOODRUFF: Plame said she agreed to draft a memo about the plan, which is how she became associated with her husband's mission.

Plame testifies she was covert

JUDY WOODRUFF: And Plame tried to put to rest claims that she had not been a covert operative.

VALERIE PLAME WILSON: Just like a general is a general whether he is in the field in Iraq or Afghanistan, when he comes back to the Pentagon, he's still a general.

In the same way, covert operations officers who are serving in the field, when they rotate back for temporary assignment in Washington, they, too, are still covert.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But Virginia Republican Tom Davis asked Plame whether members of the Bush administration knew she was a covert operative.

REP. TOM DAVIS (R), Virginia: I think what's missing -- and I think at least from a criminal perspective, not from a policy, but from a criminal perspective -- that the special prosecutor in this case looked at that and found that the people who may have been saying this didn't know that you were covert, and you don't have any evidence to the contrary.

VALERIE PLAME WILSON: That, I think, is a question better put to the special prosecutor, congressman.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Plame no longer works at the CIA. She and her husband are moving out of Washington. Meanwhile, Committee Chairman Henry Waxman has promised further hearings into the White House's use of classified information.