“He was not terribly exercised about it,” Novak said.
Instead, Wilson focused on not being portrayed as simply an opponent of the Iraq war. Wilson also stressed that his wife went by his last name, Wilson, rather than Plame, Novak said.
Novak forcefully defended his handling of the column and the legal wrangling that surrounded the special counsel investigation in a seminar on the CIA leak case at the 2007 Society of Professional Journalists Convention.
“It was an off-hand remark to a question I asked in an interview I requested,” Novak said. “This was not a conspiracy in the federal government to go after Valerie Plame Wilson.”
Novak said he complied with prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s subpoena to testify because his lawyer told him he had no legal grounds to resist, and losing a court fight could erode the legal protections of the press. He noted that, as a syndicated columnist, he had to pay the legal fees himself, to the tune of $160,000. His home newspaper, the Chicago Sun-Times, contributed $30,000, he said.
He was surprised when the questioning began, that he was not pressed on his source. The reason, he said, was that Fitzgerald already knew that it was then Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.
At one point, he recalled, former White House aide Kenneth Duberstein called Novak on Armitage’s behalf, asking if Armitage was the source.
“I said, ‘I can’t give you that information,’” Novak said with a grin.
Novak said his critics, including those in the press, have attacks his ethics, when in fact their quarrel was with his ideology.
“I was stunned by how little editorial support I received. I was under assault from editorial writers from across the country,” Novak said. “It is startling how little is known about this case by the people who are commenting on it.”
He said his case shows the need for a shield law like the one approved last week by a Senate committee. But he added, “Is it not hypocritical for my critics to support a law that would have saved me from three years of confrontation?”