Bob Woodward became a legend at the Washington Post writing about what happens behind closed doors in the corridors of power. But last week the news was all about what happens behind closed doors at the Post. And rather than bringing clarity to the murky case of Who Leaked What to Whom about CIA operative Valerie Plame, the revelations about Woodward's role only added more complexity to both the case and the deepening debate over the rules star journalists get to play by.
Until now, the definitive account of the leak case was the one offered by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald last month when he announced the indictment of vice-presidential chief of staff I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. New York Times reporter Judith Miller told Fitzgerald's grand jury that Libby told her about Plame, the wife of Joseph Wilson, an outspoken critic of the Administration, as early as June 23, 2003. But last week Woodward introduced another mystery leaker who had identified the CIA connection of Wilson's wife even earlier, in mid-June. Woodward testified that while he didn't believe Plame ever came up in his talks with Libby, he had already heard about her CIA role from a "casual" conversation with another government official in the course of interviews for his book Plan of Attack, about the Administration's strategy leading up to the war. His source had called Wilson's wife a WMD "analyst," a designation that would not necessarily indicate her undercover status.
Nonetheless, that made Woodward the first known journalist to be told Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. But he said nothing then or in the months that followed as Fitzgerald launched his investigation and all Washington was consumed by a debate over spies and secrets and sources. Woodward kept what he knew secret even from Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. But as the case heated up this fall and Woodward joined in the reporting, "I learned something more" about the leak, he told TIME, which prompted him to finally tell Downie of his 2003 conversation.
When Fitzgerald said Libby was the first known Administration official to reveal Plame's name to a reporter, Woodward called his source, he says, and noted the timing of their conversation. "My source then said he or she had no alternative but to go to the prosecutor," he says. "I said, 'If you do, am I released [from our confidentiality agreement]?'" According to Woodward, the source said yes, but only to talk to Fitzgerald about the conversation, not to reveal the source's name publicly. Woodward has refused to say publicly who the source is but notes that "the process of my reporting was the catalyst for the source to go to the prosecutor and for me to be called by Fitzgerald." Woodward also told TIME that he had gone to his source twice before--once in 2004 and the second time earlier this year--and asked to be released from his pledge, but that the source had declined.