Fair Game (memoir)

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Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House
Vpw fairgame.jpg
Author Valerie Plame Wilson
Country United States
Language English
Genre Memoir
Publisher Simon & Schuster
Publication date
October 22, 2007
Media type Print (hardcover), CD, e-Audio
Pages 320
ISBN 978-1-4165-3761-8
OCLC 180205046
327.12730092 B 22
LC Class JK468.I6 W465 2007

Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007) is a memoir by Valerie Plame Wilson. Mrs. Wilson is the former covert CIA officer whose then-classified non-official cover (NOC) identity as "Valerie Plame" was leaked to the press in July 2003, after her husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, IV, had criticized the George W. Bush administration's rationale for the Iraq War. The outing made her the center of the American political scandal known as the Plame affair. Her public outing led to her decision to resign from the CIA in December 2005, when she attempted to retire early at the age of 42. Being told that she could not collect her pension until the age of 56, she determined to write this book both as a means of telling her own story in her own words and as a means of earning income to replace her deferred retirement annuity. She encountered resistance from the CIA in the course of chronicling her work with the organization.[1][2][3][4]

As Janet Maslin writes in her New York Times review on the day of publication, "the story of how her career was derailed and her C.I.A. cover blown ... has its combative side. But the real proof of Ms. Wilson’s fighting spirit is the form in which her version of events has been brought into the light of day."


Contexts of allusions in title[edit]

"Wilson's wife is fair game"[edit]

The phrase "fair game" in the title of Mrs. Wilson's memoir refers to a comment that President George W. Bush's Deputy White House Chief of Staff for Strategic Planning and Senior Advisor Karl Rove reportedly told Chris Matthews, the host of MSNBC's television show Hardball with Chris Matthews: "I just got off the phone with Karl Rove. He says, and I quote, 'Wilson's wife is fair game.'"[5][6] "Fair Game" serves as a metaphor derived from more recent contexts of her life that the author relates in this book; given the nature of covert espionage, it may suggest multiple meanings.[7][8]

Karl Rove's disavowal of the phrase "fair game"[edit]

After the title of Valerie Plame Wilson's book had already been widely disseminated, on August 19, 2007, on Meet the Press with David Gregory, Gregory asked Rove, who identified himself as an "avid Republican",[9] among other statements pertaining to the CIA leak grand jury investigation attributed to him, whether he "considered her fair game in this debate" between her husband and The White House over the President's so-called "sixteen words". Rove responded that the phrase "fair game" attributed to him by Chris Matthews was Matthews' phrase not his own and that he himself did not consider Mrs. Wilson (in Gregory's phrase) "an appropropriate target in this debate."[10]

Related contexts[edit]

In October 2003 Evan Thomas and Michael Isikoff reported in Newsweek that "The White House spokesman dismissed as 'ridiculous' the charge that Rove outed Plame."[11] As Thomas and Isikoff note, "It may be significant that both Rove and Libby deny leaking classified information. They may say that in talking to reporters they used her name without knowing that she was undercover."[6]

Chris Matthews reportedly declined to discuss the telephone conversation that he had had with Rove, according to Thomas and Iskikoff in Newsweek, who quote the conversation that Wilson reported having with Matthews and then add parenthetically: "(Matthews told Newsweek: 'I’m not going to talk about off-the-record conversations.')"[6] David Corn of The Nation notes Matthews' statement to Newsweek "that he would not discuss off-the record conversations," adding, also parenthetically, that, earlier, "he [Matthews] told me the same...."[6][7][12][2][13][14]

Matthews was one of over twenty-five journalists subpoenaed by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald regarding their conversations with high-level Bush administration officials pertaining to the CIA leak grand jury investigation (2003–2005), leading to the indictment and prosecution, conviction, and sentencing of Scooter Libby in United States v. Libby (2007).

Ultimately, whereas Fitzgerald's grand jury did not indict Rove for committing any alleged crimes, and, in October 2005, it did indict Libby not for allegedly having leaked Mrs. Wilson's identity but for allegedly having lied in his sworn testimony pertaining to the leak investigation, federal felonies for which a jury convicted and a judge sentenced him, a sentence which was commuted by Presidential proclamation. On July 19, 2007, a district court judge dismissed the Wilsons' civil lawsuit (Plame v. Cheney) which charged related offenses by the various government officials. The dismissal was on jurisdictional grounds, that the case belonged in federal court.[15][16][17][18] The Wilsons appealed that decision, but on August 12, 2008, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the dismissal in a 2–1 decision.[19] On June 21, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal.[20]

On April 6, 2006, Matthews stated his own point of view on the CIA leak publicly in some detail in his conversation with Senator John Kerry on Hardball with Chris Matthews, describing as "high drama" Scooter Libby's testimony that the President of the United States via the Vice President of the United States had "ordered" Libby to leak classified information pertaining to national security in order to bolster the case for the Iraq War after it began in March 2003.[21]

On June 7, 2007, the day after Lewis Libby's sentencing, in a conversation with actor and political activist Ben Affleck about other matters, Chris Matthews used the phrase "fair game" several times, initially citing its use in a question submitted for Affleck by a viewer, whose own use of the phrase could reflect Matthews' already well-publicized reported use of it by Wilson, Newsweek, and many other media sources.[22] His later usage of the phrase "fair game" in talking with Affleck about other matters raises a possibility that the phrase "fair use" that he reportedly used in talking with Wilson about Rove's comments about "Wilson's wife" (as quoted in The Politics of Truth [2004, 2005] and as previously quoted in Newsweek [2003]) was his own phrase and not Rove's, as Rove later disavowed it.

Nevertheless, whether or not Rove originated it, the phrase still conveys metaphorically what Matthews and the Wilsons appear to think that Rove literally may have intended: to "target" (in Gregory's later terminology) Wilson and, collaterally, to leak the information about his wife's CIA identity in the process. The CIA leak grand jury investigation did not result in charging that anyone leaked her name intentionally while knowing that it was a classified covert identity, in part, Special Counsel Fitzgerald later argued in United States v. Libby, because of Libby's obstruction of justice. The jury convicted Libby on four of the five counts in the indictment: one count of obstruction of justice; two counts of perjury; and one count of making false statements to federal investigators, he was sentenced on June 5, 2007, and President Bush commuted his 30-month prison sentence on July 2, 2007.[23]

On July 3, 2007, the day after President Bush commuted Libby's sentence, Chris Matthews talked again with former Ambassador Wilson, who reiterated his belief that the Bush administration had inappropriately leaked his wife's then-classified covert CIA identity to retaliate against him politically, in effect targeting her. Matthews asked Wilson: "When did you sense that the White House was trying to destroy your reputation?" and he replied: "Well, it was pretty clear to me shortly after I wrote my article "What I Didn't Find in Africa", when Mr. Novak spoke to a friend of mine on the street and said that, Wilson's a 'blank,' and his wife works for the CIA, that the nature of the smear campaign they were going to run against me was going to include the betrayal of her identity as a covert CIA officer. And that would have been around July 8 or July 9 [2003]."[24]


The subtitle "My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House" corresponds to parts of the subtitle of the 2005 paperback edition of former Ambassador Wilson's memoir Inside the Lies that Put the White House on Trial and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity: A Diplomat's Memoir. Since her identity was leaked by Richard Armitage, then Deputy Secretary of State, the subtitles are not entirely accurate.

Review excerpts[edit]

Janet Maslin:

Alan Cooperman:

Film adaptation[edit]

In 2010, the book was adapted into a film starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts as Plame.


  1. ^ Adam Liptak, "Judge Backs C.I.A. in Suit On Memoir", The New York Times August 3, 2007, accessed March 23, 2008.
  2. ^ a b John Solomon, "Rove Learned CIA Agent's Name from Novak", USA Today, July 15, 2005, accessed July 15, 2006.
  3. ^ Joel Seidman (Producer, NBC News), "Plame Was 'covert' Agent at Time of Name Leak: Newly Released Unclassified Document Details CIA Employment", MSNBC, May 29, 2007, accessed August 10, 2007.
  4. ^ Bonnie Goldstein, "Free Valerie Plame's Memoirs!", Slate, June 15, 2007, accessed October 28, 2007.
  5. ^ Russ Hoyle, "The Niger Affair: The Investigation That Won't Go Away," "Foreword" (xiii-xlix) in Joseph C. Wilson, IV, The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Put the White House on Trial and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity: A Diplomat's Memoir, rev. ed. (2004; New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2005) xl: "Rove reportedly told MSNBC's Chris Matthews, the host of the political talk show Hardball, that the White House considered Wilson and his wife fair game for political payback." Cf. Joseph C. Wilson, "The Sixteen Words", chap. 1 in The Politics of Truth:

    "'WILSON'S WIFE IS FAIR GAME.'" Those are fighting words for any man, and I'd just had them quoted to me by MSNBC's Chris Matthews. It was July 21, 2003, barely a week since a column by Robert Novak in the Washington Post had named my wife, Valerie, as a CIA officer, and now the host of Hardball was calling to tell me that as far as the White House was concerned, they had declared open season on my family. ... In his signature staccato, Matthews was blunt: "I just got off the phone with Karl Rove. He says, and I quote, 'Wilson's wife is fair game.'" (1; cf. 4-5, 351, 373)

  6. ^ a b c d Evan Thomas and Michael Isikoff, "Secrets and Leaks: Pssst ... You Might Think This Washington Leak Investigation Will Peter Out Like Most Others, with No Culprits and No Penalties. But Here's Why This One May Be Different", Newsweek, online version, October 13, 2003 ("Updated: 1:20 p.m. ET July 12, 2005"): 3 (of 4 pages), accessed August 15, 2007.
  7. ^ a b Murray Waas, "Plugging Leaks: More Details Emerge on the Plame Investigation, As Karl Rove's Testimony Is Revealed for the First Time", The American Prospect, March 8, 2004, accessed August 23, 2007. (Web only.)
  8. ^ Harold Meyerson, "'Fair Game' Question for Bush: Has the President Asked Karl Rove, His Indispensable Aide, about His Role in the Valerie Plame Case?", Newsday, July 14, 2005, rpt. in Common Dreams, "Featured Views", accessed August 23, 2007.
  9. ^ "'Meet the Press' Transcript for Aug. 19, 2007", MSNBC.com, August 19, 2007, accessed August 21, 2007. (Page 1 of 6 pages.)
  10. ^ "'Meet the Press' Transcript for Aug. 19, 2007", MSNBC.com, August 19, 2007, accessed August 21, 2007:

    MR. GREGORY: Do you think you owe Valerie Plame an apology?
    MR. ROVE: No.
    MR. GREGORY: You do not?
    MR. ROVE: No.
    MR. GREGORY: You considered her fair game in this debate?
    MR. ROVE: No. And you know what? Fair game, that wasn’t my phrase. That’s a phrase of a journalist. In fact, a colleague of yours [Matthews].
    MR. GREGORY: Was she an appropriate target in this debate?
    MR. ROVE: No.
    MR. GREGORY: She was not.
    MR. ROVE: No. (Page 3 of 6 pages.)

  11. ^ Evan Thomas and Michael Isikoff, "Secrets and Leaks: Pssst ... You Might Think This Washington Leak Investigation Will Peter Out Like Most Others, with No Culprits and No Penalties. But Here's Why This One May Be Different", Newsweek, October 6, 2003, online version, October 13, 2003 ("Updated: 1:20 p.m. ET July 12, 2005"): 3 (of 4 pages), accessed August 22, 2007:

    A source familiar with Rove's conversation acknowledged that Rove spoke to Matthews a few days after Novak's column appeared, but said that Rove never told Matthews that Wilson’s wife was "fair game"—rather, that it "was reasonable to discuss who sent Wilson to Niger." Novak wrote last week that the leaker was "no partisan gunslinger." That suggests that the original leak came from someone in the White House national-security apparatus, which holds itself above politics. Many White House staffers are potential suspects, but various press reports have suggested that the Feds will want to interview I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, an aggressive consumer of intelligence regarded by some CIA analysts as an intimidating figure.

  12. ^ As cited in David Corn, "The Spin Is Not Holding", Capital Games (blog), The Nation, October 4, 2003, accessed August 22, 2007:

    The newsmagazine [Newsweek] also notes that, according to a source close to Wilson, shortly after the leak occurred Bush's senior aide Karl Rove told Hardball host Chris Matthews that Wilson's wife was "fair game." Matthews told Newsweek that he would not discuss off-the-record conversations. (He told me the same weeks ago when I made a similar inquiry about this chat with Rove.)

  13. ^ Cf. Michael Isikoff, "The Rove Factor: Time Magazine Talked to Bush's Guru for Plame Story" Archived 2005-07-06 at the Wayback Machine., Newsweek, July 11, 2006, accessed August 23, 2007.
  14. ^ "Legal Affairs: Reporter Says Libby, Rove Told Him of Plame's Work", All Things Considered, National Public Radio, January 31, 2007, accessed August 23, 2007; includes audio link (NPR Player).
  15. ^ "Plame's lawsuit against Cheney dismissed - USATODAY.com". usatoday30.usatoday.com. Retrieved 2016-08-05.
  16. ^ "Judge tosses out ex-spy's lawsuit against Cheney in CIA leak case - CNN.com". us.cnn.com. Retrieved 2016-08-05.
  17. ^ Leonnig, Carol D. (2007-07-20). "Plame's Suit Against Top Officials Dismissed". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2016-08-05.
  18. ^ in "Valerie Wilson, et al., Plaintiffs, v. I. Lewis Libby, Jr., et al., Defendants", "Civil Action No. 06-1258 (JDB), United States District Court for the District of Columbia (July 19, 2007). "Memorandum Opinion". Retrieved August 5, 2016.
  19. ^ DC Circuit Court Opinion (August 12, 2008). "DC Circuit Court Opinion" (PDF). Findlaw.com. Retrieved August 5, 2016.
  20. ^ "Supreme Court will not revive Plame's lawsuit". 2009-06-22. Retrieved 2016-08-05.
  21. ^ "Kerry: 'Immoral to allow our kids to be killed': Sen. John Kerry talks to Chris Matthews about Iraq, CIA leak: Following the CIA leak disclosure, Chris Matthews sat down with Senator John Kerry in his Capitol office to discuss the big developments in the CIA leak case and vision for Iraq policy", Hardball with Chris Matthews, MSNBC, April 6, 2006, accessed August 22, 2007 (Transcript):

    Let's talk about the timing of this and we all remember this. It was July 6th that Joseph Wilson, the former ambassador who had been sent down there by the CIA to the government of Niger to check out the story which appeared mysteriously in an Italian newspaper, that there had been a deal by Saddam Hussein to purchase nuclear materials, uranium yellow cake, from the government of Niger.

    Within two days, the vice president of the United States said the president of the United States wanted Scooter Libby to leak to Judy Miller, someone he had been working with on stories, had written stories that were supportive of the war, in effect, if not in intent, to tell her, this is a specific determination by the president. You tell Scooter to go tell Judy that there was a real case for these aluminum tubes being material for use in developing a nuclear weapon. You tell her this. This is the conversation we're getting recounted under oath from Scooter Libby. Pretty high drama here, isn't it? I mean, it tells you that the president himself was in charge of this operation. He wasn't some, faded backroom guy getting orders from the vice president. He was in fact, calling the shots particularly, and making the case for the war after the fact.

  22. ^ Chris Matthews, "'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for June 7", MSNBC, updated June 8, 2007, 12:09 p.m. ET, accessed August 23, 2007: "Here's a question from [...]. 'Are the personal or religious beliefs of candidates fair game for scrutiny when deciding for whom to vote?' What do you make of that, Ben? It's been happening in these debates, lots of questions about, you know, evolution, Genesis, the whole thing, creationism. Are they fair game, or is that a religious test?" (Italics added.) (Transcript; "Guests: Ben Affleck, Loretta Sanchez, Brian Bilbray, Ezra Klein, Karen Hanretty.")
  23. ^ "I. Lewis Libby Jr. (Index): The Counts", The New York Times, Times Topics, updated periodically, March 6, 2007, accessed August 23, 2007.
  24. ^ "'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for July 3, 5 p.m. ET", Hardball with Chris Matthews, MSNBC, updated: July 5, 2007, 2:54 p.m. ET, accessed August 22, 2007. (Transcript; "Guest: Joe Wilson, Bob Bennett, Kate O'Beirne, Ryan Lizza, Pat Buchanan, Norman Pearlstine, April Ryan.")


External links[edit]