The operative in question? Muthanna al-Hanooti, a.k.a. Baghdad Jim McDermott’s travel agent for that Saddam-comped junket to Iraq in 2002. The Sun’s pushing this story hard and it does indeed look bad bad bad … until you read down into the article and discover he didn’t start working for Iraqi intelligence until 1999. The meeting with Hillary happened in 1996.

A Michigan man facing federal criminal charges of illegally working for Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Intelligence Service says he met with Hillary Clinton at the White House in May 1996.

In a 1997 interview with this reporter, Muthanna Hanooti said that at the meeting, Mrs. Clinton was “very receptive” to his request for an easing of the American sanctions on Iraq that were in place at the time. He said Mrs. Clinton “passed a message to the State Department” about the need to implement the oil-for-food deal, which was intended to allow Saddam to sell billions of dollars’ worth of oil to pay for food for Iraqi citizens…

[T]o reporters on the foreign policy beat in Washington at the time and to those active in the Iraqi opposition to Saddam, it was clear whose agenda was being advanced. The news article in 1997, published in the Forward, that described Mrs. Clinton’s involvement with Mr. Hanooti began: “The American-led blockade of Iraq is crumbling, following an intensive, domestic lobbying effort that has involved Rep. David Bonior and Senator Abraham — and, according to some sources, Hillary Rodham Clinton.”

In other words, he was there on behalf of Saddam even if he wasn’t technically there on behalf of Saddam. I’m underwhelmed, but only because my expectations of who the Democrats generally and the Clintons in particular are willing to entertain at the White House are so low that they’re almost impossible to disappoint. Of course she met with Hanooti; if memory serves, the foreign leader who visited the White House most frequently during the Clinton years was Yasser Arafat. Obama, meanwhile, is promising to give Ahmadinejad, Chavez, and anyone else — save Osama — some presidential face time in the interests of “dialogue.” The only thing that makes this a little different was that Saddam was under UN sanctions at the time, but since Hanooti wasn’t officially working for him, she probably figured she had all the plausible deniability she needed. Where’s the story here, unless it’s “Never underestimate Hillary Clinton”?

Update: Steve Emerson has a keepsake from the meeting. Scroll down.