That’s not to say Waas wasn’t trying to get his finances in order. Part of that job consisted of collecting money from old writing gigs. While living in his Georgetown abode, Waas sued Salon, the Washington Post, and a storage facility for various sums. (The facility countersued.) On the other side of the civil ledger, Waas is listed as the defendant in two 2003 cases—one from David M. Goldstein, M.D., who was seeking $1,400 for services rendered; and another from his former assistant Keefer, who was looking for $3,612 in back pay.
Waas evidently had high hopes for his book projects. In a June 2005 blog entry, he wrote, “First, apologies to my many readers. I have not been blogging lately because I have a major investigative story coming out next week, and am about to become a twice published author very soon. (When I say that I am about to become a twice published author, I do not mean that I have a book that is going to sell two copies, but rather thatI am going to be an author of two books.)”
About a month later, a court ordered Waas’ eviction from his Georgetown home. Wassmer says he never recovered more than $20,000 in unpaid rent and shelled out $14,000 in repairs to make the apartment rentable again.
“He was supposed to leave the keys,” Wassmer says of Waas’ departure. “But he didn’t. He just left. He never cleaned anything. He left a lot of trash. Afterwards, he was making calls—he wanted his trash back. But he never went to pick it up.”
In April 2005, Waas wrote on his blog, “I will have the story for you, my six readers, sometime soon…but make no promises yet exactly when, because, unlike most bloggers, I actually have phone calls to make, sources to double check with, and people to call for comment…That last part is going to be pleasant. Calling Novak for comment, that is.”
The part about Novak, of course, refers to Waas’ work on the Valerie Plame story. The American Prospect, a Washington-based policy journal, had good results channeling Waas’ Plame obsession. An August 2005 story titled “The Meeting” revealed that I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff at the time, met with then New York Times reporter Judith Miller and discussed Plame just days before syndicated columnist Robert Novak famously unmasked her. With this story Waas planted his flag firmly in Plamegate, and according to some he has owned the territory ever since.
“The Meeting” rounded out the picture of an administration in damage-control mode. It faced a big PR problem by the name of Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador who took a 2002 trip to Niger to investigate whether Iraq had attempted to buy uranium yellowcake from that country, presumably for use in its nuclear program. He returned from the trip convinced that Iraq had done no such thing.
The administration invoked the Iraq-Niger uranium story in justifying its March 2003 invasion of Iraq. Like other key war premises, this one fell apart quickly, and Wilson started making noises about his Niger findings. In a July 6 op-ed in the New York Times, Wilson complains of intelligence-twisting regarding Iraq’s nuclear program. Bush officials set out to discredit Wilson, in part by telling the media that this wife, Plame, had played some role in setting up his junket.
The various threads and tentacles of the Plame controversy were almost too much for the national press corps, so Waas had something to trade on. By fall 2005, he began contributing his scandal fare to National Journal, and he was apparently quite happy with the budding partnership.
Before his National Journal stories hit the Web, Waas was known to call a competitor or two. “He says, ‘I’ve got this huge, I think I’ve got a really big story,’” says a competing reporter who has received such calls. “It’s a funny tone he adopts. It’s kind of like, he’s kind of halting, and kind of sorry for intruding on you, but I just have this giant thing.”
But a close look at Waas’ reporting yields few giant things. In fact, his stories often feature lame “revelations” surrounded by a great deal of rehashed reporting:
• In March 2006, Waas wrote a piece about prewar Iraqi intelligence titled “What Bush Was Told About Iraq.” The story starts out saying that in October 2002, President Bush was notified of serious disagreements among U.S. agencies regarding a critical piece of evidence that Saddam Hussein was amassing nuclear weapons. At issue was Iraqi procurement of the now-famous “aluminum tubes,” which Bush claimed were suitable for the country’s nuclear weapons program.
In his story, however, Waas states that Bush had received a one-page “President’s Summary,” which encapsulated findings in a recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the subject. The summary stated that the departments of State and Energy had concluded that the tubes were destined for less lethal purposes. “The disclosure that Bush was informed of the DOE and State dissents is the first evidence that the president himself knew of the sharp debate within the government over the aluminum tubes,” reads the story. The piece says that the summary was handed to Bush by Tenet.
Another summary highlighted in the story dealt with intelligence on the likelihood that Iraq would attack the United States.
Where’s the news here? Is it that there was a debate over the use of the tubes? No: That much had been a matter of public knowledge for at least two years.
Is it that the president was told of the debate? No: In March 2005, the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (aka the Robb-Silberman report) divulged the existence of this summary. If Waas is showing that the president actually received the “President’s Summary,” then perhaps it does count as news.
Was the National Journal shedding new light on the summaries? That’s the position of National Journal Editor Charles Green, who argues that Waas “significantly advanced the story” by “describing information in the summaries.” However, Waas’ quotes from the summaries match those of the long-since-released commission report.
Was it news that Tenet handed Bush the memo? Perhaps, but if so, that’s not big news. Considering that the President’s Summary is a streamlined presentation of information from the NIE the intelligence community wants to “communicate to the commander-in-chief” (Waas’ words), it’s not surprising that the intelligence chief and commander-in-chief would handle the document.
Editor’s Note: Months ago, when this article was still a draft, it got Washington City Paper and its staff nominated as finalists for “Worst People of 2006” by Daily Kos. Our subject, Murray Waas, has complained publicly and privately that the authors are prejudiced against him, are incapable of writing fairly and accurately about him, and have acted unprofessionally and unethically in gathering their material. He has also disputed many of the facts presented in the article.