Expressing regret for his actions and offering apologies to his administration colleagues, Richard Armitage, the former US deputy secretary of state, confirmed on Thursday that he was the primary source who first told a columnist about the intelligence officer at the center of the CIA leak case.
Armitage confirmed that he was the anonymous government official who talked to Bob Woodward, the Washington Post editor and reporter, about the CIA officer, Valerie Wilson, in June 2003. It is the first known conversation between an administration official and a journalist about Wilson.
"It was a terrible error on my part," Armitage said in an interview, discussing his conversations with reporters.
"There wasn't a day when I didn't feel like I had let down the president, the secretary of state, my colleagues, my family and the Wilsons. I value my ability to keep state secrets," he said.
The confirmation of Armitage's role, long the subject of news media speculation, showed that the initial leak of Wilson's identity did not originate from the White House as part of a concerted political attack against her husband, Joseph Wilson, who had criticized the administration over the Iraq war.
It was instead divulged by a senior State Department official who was not regarded as a close political ally of Cheney or other presidential aides involved in the underlying issues in the case.
Armitage, who has been criticized for keeping his silence for nearly three years, said he had wanted to disclose his role as soon as he realized that he had been the main source for Robert Novak's column on July 14, 2003, which identified Wilson.
But he held back at the request of Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor.
"He requested that I remain silent," Armitage said.
He expressed irritation over assertions in some editorials and blogs that, by his silence, he had been disloyal to the Bush administration, saying he had followed President Bush's repeated instruction that administration officials should cooperate with the Fitzgerald inquiry.
"I felt like I was doing exactly what he wanted," he said.
Armitage testified three times before the grand jury, the last time in December last year.
"I was never subpoenaed," he said. "I was a cooperating witness from the beginning."
He never hired a lawyer and did not believe he needed one.
"I had made an inadvertent mistake, but a mistake in any event," he said. "I deserved what was coming to me. And I didn't need an attorney to tell the truth."
Earlier this week, after news reports clearly identified him as the source, Armitage said Fitzgerald had consented to his public disclosure of his role. Fitzgerald sent Armitage a letter in February, notifying him that the inquiry into his activities had been closed.
Novak's column led to a request for an inquiry by the CIA, resulting in the appointment of Fitzgerald. After two years, the investigation led to an indictment of Lewis Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.
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