Why Woodward's Source Came Clean

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BRAD BARKET / GETTY

Journalist Bob Woodward in July

As reporters keep scrambling to find out who told Bob Woodward about Joe Wilson’s wife, Woodward himself has told TIME about a related mystery: what made the source finally come forward. When the Washington Post reporter went public with his involvement in the CIA leak case earlier this week, he failed to explain why his source waited silently for two years before coming clean to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. In an interview today, Woodward described the sequence of conversations with his source and Post executive editor Leonard Downie, Jr., that led to the latest twist in Fitzgerald’s investigation into the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, the wife of administration critic Wilson.

In the final weeks before the grand jury indicted vice presidential aide I. Lewis ("Scooter") Libby on Oct. 28 for perjury and obstruction of justice, Woodward says he was asked by Downie to help report on the status of the probe. In the course of his reporting, Woodward says, "I learned something more" about the disclosure of Plame's identity, which prompted him to admit to Downie for the first time that he had been told of Plame’s CIA job by a senior administration official in mid June 2003.

In his press conference announcing Libby’s indictment, Fitzgerald noted that, "Mr. Libby was the first official known to have told a reporter when he talked to Judith Miller in June of 2003 about Valerie Wilson." Woodward realized, given that the indictment stated that Libby disclosed the information to New York Times reporter Miller on June 23, that Libby was not the first official to talk about Wilson's wife to a reporter. Woodward himself had received the information earlier.

According to Woodward, that triggered a call to his source. "I said it was clear to me that the source had told me [about Wilson's wife] in mid-June," says Woodward, "and this person could check his or her records and see that it was mid-June. My source said he or she had no alternative but to go to the prosecutor. I said, 'If you do, am I released?'", referring to the confidentiality agreement between the two. The source said yes, but only for purposes of discussing it with Fitzgerald, not for publication.

Woodward said he had tried twice before, once in 2004 and once earlier this year, to persuade the source to remove the confidentiality restriction, but with no success.

Asked if this was the first time his source had spoken with Fitzgerald in the investigation, Woodward said "I'm not sure. It's quite possibly not the first time." But it is the first time Woodward had contact with Fitzgerald, even though Woodward's name shows up on various White House officials' calendars, phone logs and other records during June and July, 2003, the time frame that is critical to determining whether a crime was committed when information about Plame's employment was shared with reporters. Those White House records were turned over to Fitzgerald long ago.

Woodward expressed some surprise that Fitzgerald hadn't contacted him earlier in the probe, but had high praise for the prosecutor whose investigation he has openly criticized on television. During his time with the prosecutor, Woodward said, he found Fitzgerald "incredibly sensitive to what we do. He didn't infringe on my other reporting, which frankly surprised me. He said 'This is what I need, I don't need any more.'"