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Context of 'January 20, 2006: Libby’s Lawyers Intend to Subpoena Reporters, News Organizations, and Demand Classified Documents'

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Patrick Fitzgerald.Patrick Fitzgerald. [Source: US Department of Justice]Citing potential conflicts of interest, Attorney General John Ashcroft formally recuses himself from any further involvement in the investigation of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see September 26, 2003 and September 30, 2003). The Justice Department names Patrick Fitzgerald, the US attorney for the Chicago region, to handle the investigation. In a letter to Fitzgerald authorizing the position, Deputy Attorney General James Comey writes: “I hereby delegate to you all the authority of the attorney general with respect to the department’s investigation into the alleged unauthorized disclosure of a CIA employee’s identity, and I direct you to exercise that authority as special counsel independent of the supervision or control of any officer of the department.” Many believe that Ashcroft’s continued involvement has become politically untenable, and that the investigation has reached a point where his potential conflicts of interest can no longer be ignored. The White House steadfastly denies that any of its officials leaked Plame Wilson’s name to conservative columnist Robert Novak, who first outed Plame Wilson in his column (see July 14, 2003), or any other member of the press. The FBI has already spoken to White House political adviser Karl Rove, suspected of being one of Novak’s sources; Rove has close political ties to Ashcroft. Upon Ashcroft’s recusal, the investigation was given over to Comey, who immediately named Fitzgerald to head the investigation. Fitzgerald and Comey, himself a former Manhattan prosecutor, are close friends and colleagues. [Office of the Deputy Attorney General, 12/30/2003 pdf file; Associated Press, 12/30/2003; New York Times, 12/31/2003]
Appearance of Conflict of Interest - Comey tells the press: “The attorney general, in an abundance of caution, believed that his recusal was appropriate based on the totality of the circumstances and the facts and evidence developed at this stage of the investigation. I agree with that judgment. And I also agree that he made it at the appropriate time, the appropriate point in this investigation.” Comey says that while Ashcroft denies an actual conflict of interest exists, “The issue that he was concerned about was one of appearance.” White House officials say that President Bush had no role in the decision; some White House and law enforcement officials were surprised upon learning of Comey’s decision.
Investigation Reaching into White House? - Some Democrats believe that Ashcroft’s recusal is an indication that the investigation is moving into the White House itself. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says of Comey’s decision, “This isn’t everything that I asked for, but it’s close.” In regards to Fitzgerald, Schumer says, “I would have preferred to have someone outside the government altogether, but given Fitzgerald’s reputation for integrity and ability—similar to Comey’s—the glass is three-quarters full.” Governor Howard Dean (D-VT), a leading Democratic contender for the presidency, says Ashcroft’s decision “is too little, too late.” For the last three months, the investigation has been run by John Dion, the Justice Department’s chief of counterespionage. Whether Fitzgerald will ask Dion or other Justice Department investigators to remain on the case remains to be seen. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he thought maybe he ought to keep some or all of the career folks involved,” says Comey. Fitzgerald has the authority to issue subpoenas and grant immunity on his own authority, Comey confirms. “I told him that my mandate to him was very simple. Follow the facts wherever they lead, and do the right thing at all times. And that’s something, if you know this guy, is not something I even needed to tell him.” [New York Times, 12/31/2003]
Fitzgerald's 'Impressive Reputation' - Fitzgerald has earned an “impressive reputation,” in Plame Wilson’s words, as a government prosecutor. In 1993, he won a guilty plea from Mafia capo John Gambino, and a conviction against Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see July 3, 1993). He put together the first criminal indictment against Osama bin Laden. In 2003 he indicted former Illinois Republican governor George Ryan on fraud and conspiracy charges; in 2005, he indicted several aides of Chicago Democratic mayor Richard Daley on mail fraud. He brought charges of criminal fraud against Canadian media tycoon Conrad Black. As Plame Wilson will write, “Fitzgerald was not easily intimidated by wealth, status, or threats.”
'Belated Christmas Present' - In 2007, Plame Wilson will write: “It was a belated but welcome Christmas present. Ashcroft had clearly given some thought to his extensive financial and personal ties to Karl Rove, who even then was believed to have had a significant role in the leak, and made the right decision.” She will also add that several years after the recusal, she hears secondhand from a friend of Ashcroft’s that Ashcroft was “troubled” and “lost sleep” over the administration’s action. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 174-175]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Karl C. Rove, US Department of Justice, John Dion, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, James B. Comey Jr., Bush administration (43), Charles Schumer, Howard Dean, George W. Bush, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Eve Burton, the general counsel for the Hearst Corporation, says the success of the subpoenas and compelled testimony levied against reporters in the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see August 7, 2004, August 9, 2004, August 9, 2004, August 12, 2004 and After, August 24, 2004, September 13, 2004, September 15, 2004, October 7, 2004, October 13, 2004, December 2004, February 15, 2005, June 27, 2005, July 1, 2005, July 6, 2005, July 6, 2005, July 11, 2005, July 13, 2005, September 15, 2005, September 29, 2005, September 30, 2005, October 7, 2005, October 12, 2005, November 14, 2005, November 16-17, 2005, and January 20, 2006) has been chilling for reporters. She calls recent developments “troubling,” and continues, “From July to December [2005] we had 42 subpoenas, eight times the number we got in the same six-month period last year.” The language in all the court cases and filings “either invoke[s] the Plame case or they say that now all the rules have changed.” Burton blames the Bush Justice Department in part for the trend, saying: “It is clearly a political decision coming out of the Bush Justice Department to go after the press in this country. In our 42 subpoenas, they will come after anything and everything—B roll at the TV stations, for example. Basic general assignment reporting. A call will come in from the government: ‘I understand you took footage of Joe Blow!’ And the reporter at a station, usually inexperienced, will say, ‘No, we did not take any footage.’ Then we will end up having fights in court with the prosecutor about what constitutes a waiver.” The subpoenas at Hearst, Burton says, involve broadcast stations and newspapers all over the country. “Typically, it is non-published and confidential material” being subpoenaed, she says. “This is the danger of making the press the investigative arm for the government.” Burton and Hearst are fighting every subpoena, no matter how seemingly minor. Burton does not blame special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald as much as she blames the increasing lackadaisical attitude of the press itself. “The media has taken its responsibility to fight these subpoenas too loosely,” she says. “When we were fighting every single battle, we were doing better. Then we went through a time when we started to make deals. When you start making deals, you empower people to come after you. It is as simple as that.” [Vanity Fair, 4/2006]

Entity Tags: Eve Burton, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, US Department of Justice, Hearst Corporation

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Lawyers for former vice-presidential chief of staff Lewis Libby, charged with perjury and obstruction of justice in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak case (see December 30, 2003 and January 16-23, 2007), say they will subpoena a number of journalists and news organizations. The lawyers say the journalists and news organizations’ notes and records will assist in defending their client. [Wall Street Journal, 1/21/2006; Washington Post, 7/3/2007] The defense also intends to ask for a large number of government documents, many of them classified. They do not say what they intend to ask for, or who they intend to subpoena, but they do alert Judge Reggie Walton that the trial could be significantly delayed during the subpoena and discovery processes. The prosecution is expected to resist some of Libby’s lawyers’ requests. [New York Times, 1/21/2006; Wall Street Journal, 1/21/2006] Criminal defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt, writing for the progressive blog TalkLeft, writes: “The government wants the case to be about whether Libby lied. The defense wants to complicate the case by asking for everything, from reporters’ notes to government agency records, not just about Libby but about Valerie Plame [Wilson] and especially, what others knew about her and from whom and when and where did they learn it. The defense will try to think of everything the government doesn’t want to turn over and it will ask for that. The media companies will battle Libby’s subpoenas, and Libby’s team is probably hoping that the trial court will rule in his favor, which in turn will result in an appeal by the media groups and a long delay of his trial.” [Jeralyn Merritt, 1/20/2006]

Entity Tags: Jeralyn Merritt, Reggie B. Walton, Valerie Plame Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Lewis Libby’s defense team files a motion with the US District Court to compel the discovery of documents and materials relating to a number of journalists in Libby’s upcoming trial (see January 20, 2006). The filing includes a request for the prosecution to turn over all the information it obtained from reporters about their confidential conversations with Bush administration sources in the course of its investigation. “There can be no information more material to the defense of a perjury case than information tending to show that the alleged false statements are, in fact, true or that they could be the result of mistake or confusion,” the lawyers argue. “Libby is entitled to know what the government knows.” After complaining that the prosecution has refused to provide numerous classified documents the defense has requested (see January 23, 2006), and reiterating its requests for a huge number of White House and CIA documents (see December 14, 2005), the motion asks that documents relating to NBC bureau chief Tim Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003), Time reporter Matthew Cooper (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003 and 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003), New York Times reporter Judith Miller (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), and Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward (see November 14, 2005) be released to the defense. The defense also indicates its interest in information about NBC’s Andrea Mitchell and the Post’s Walter Pincus. [Washington Post, 1/27/2006; New York Times, 1/27/2006; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 1/26/2009 pdf file] Washington lawyer Charles Tobin says that the Libby defense move was expected, and is a result of the prosecution’s aggressive insistence on deposing journalists and forcing them to reveal confidential sources. “I think we could have expected that, when the prosecutor went on a fishing expedition, that the fish he caught would want to look back in the pail,” Tobin says. “The more this case develops, the further we seem to be getting from the core issues of the indictment—and more into the business of journalism and how news gets put out in this town.” [Washington Post, 1/27/2006]

Entity Tags: Judith Miller, Andrea Mitchell, Bob Woodward, Charles Tobin, Tim Russert, Bush administration (43), Walter Pincus, Matthew Cooper, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald asks Judge Reggie Walton not to grant the request of the Lewis Libby defense team for documents pertaining to reporters’ conversations with White House officials (see January 26, 2006). Libby’s lawyers have already received over 11,000 pages in classified and unclassified documents, says Fitzgerald, including materials from the Office of the Vice President. The defense is also seeking a raft of classified information from the White House and the CIA (see December 14, 2005, January 9, 2006, January 20, 2006, January 23, 2006, January 23, 2006, January 31, 2006, and (February 16, 2006)). “The government has produced all documents and information to which defendant is entitled,” Fitzgerald writes in a court filing. “Requiring the production of the additional materials sought by defendant would unreasonably encroach on legitimate interests of national security, grand jury secrecy, and executive privilege.” [Bloomberg, 2/17/2006]

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Bush administration (43), Reggie B. Walton, Office of the Vice President, Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Judge Reggie Walton issues a court order that withholds certain “extremely sensitive” classified documents from the Lewis Libby defense team. Walton writes that he “carefully reviewed” the requests from special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald and from the CIA to withhold the documents. The documents were provided to him ex parte and in camera, and Walton determined that they were irrelevant to the Libby defense efforts. Walton writes that the documents are “extremely sensitive and their disclosure could cause serious if not grave damage to the national security of the United States.” Walton has previously allowed other classified documents to be provided to Libby, and the CIA has provided documents requested by Libby that Walton has released to the defense (see December 14, 2005, January 9, 2006, January 20, 2006, January 23, 2006, January 23, 2006, January 31, 2006, (February 16, 2006), February 21, 2006, February 24, 2006. February 27, 2006, March 1, 2006, March 2-7, 2006, March 10, 2006, March 17, 2006, April 5, 2006, May 3, 2006, May 12, 2006, May 19, 2006, and June 2, 2006). Many of the documents provided to Libby are redacted versions or summaries of the classified documents he viewed during his morning intelligence briefings. [MSNBC, 8/18/2006] Former prosecutor Christy Hardin Smith, writing for the progressive blog FireDogLake, writes of Walton’s decision: “That there is material so sensitive in this case that Libby is not entitled to it at all… speaks volumes to me in terms of what was endangered by him and Karl Rove opening their yaps in order to exact some political payback and CYA for Dick Cheney and the Bush administration. Putting personal political fortune ahead of the security of the entire United States during a time of armed conflict to cover your bosses’ *sses for lying the nation into war? Now THAT is unpatriotic.” [Christy Hardin Smith, 8/19/2006]

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Central Intelligence Agency, Christy Hardin Smith, Reggie B. Walton, Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Judge Reggie Walton rules that the substitutions and summaries of classified materials special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald has proposed to be provided to the Lewis Libby defense team are inadequate. Libby has asked for a raft of classified materials (see December 14, 2005, January 9, 2006, January 20, 2006, January 23, 2006, January 23, 2006, January 31, 2006, (February 16, 2006), February 21, 2006, February 24, 2006, February 27, 2006, March 1, 2006, March 2-7, 2006, March 10, 2006, March 17, 2006, April 5, 2006, May 3, 2006, May 12, 2006, May 19, 2006, June 2, 2006, August 18, 2006, September 21, 2006, and September 22, 2006) to support his contention that he was so overwhelmed by work at the White House that his lies about his conversations with reporters concerning CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, and July 10 or 11, 2003) were “inadvertent and not the product of willful disinformation.” Observers are terming this Libby’s “memory defense” (see January 31, 2006). However, Walton rules that Libby will not have “free reign” to use whatever classified documents he or his lawyers see fit: his ruling “does not give the defendant ‘free reign’ over his testimony.” Walton writes, “He is alleging both that the volume of his work would have impacted his memory and that some of the information presented to him as the vice president’s national security adviser was so potentially catastrophic to the well-being of the country that the focus he had to devote to this information also impacted his memory.” Many observers, including Fitzgerald, believe Libby may be attempting to derail the prosecution by threatening to reveal sensitive national security details during his trial, a practice called “graymail” (see After October 28, 2005, January 31, 2006, February 6, 2006, and (February 16, 2006)). [MSNBC, 11/13/2006]

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Reggie B. Walton, Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

An artist’s sketch of some of the proceedings in the Libby trial.An artist’s sketch of some of the proceedings in the Libby trial. [Source: Art Lien / Court Artist (.com)]A jury of nine men and three women, along with four alternates, is seated in the Lewis Libby perjury and obstruction trial, selected from an original jury pool of 60 prospects. The jury seating takes days longer than expected, in part because the Libby defense team works to block any jurors who state any disapproval of the Bush administration or its conduct of the Iraq war. Jurors are asked if they had ever applied for a job at the CIA, or know anyone who works for the agency. Some are asked if they know the meaning of the word “covert.” One prospective juror says: “A lot of what the CIA does is overtly covert.… My father was a Methodist minister. He didn’t run in those circles.” US District Judge Reggie Walton asks the potential jurors: “Mr. Libby is the former chief of staff and national security adviser of Vice President Cheney. Do any of you have feelings or opinions about the Bush administration or any of its policies or actions, whether positive or negative, that might affect your ability to give a former member of the Bush administration a fair trial?” Defense lawyer Theodore Wells tells one prospective juror, “There is a real possibility Vice President Cheney will be sitting in that chair,” indicating the witness stand. One potential juror responds, “I don’t have the highest opinion of him.” He continues that he has read a lot about the CIA leak case on Internet blogs and in the newspaper, and calls it “standard Washington politics.” After one potential juror tells the court that she voted for President Bush, Fitzgerald tells Walton that he is concerned the questions are getting too political. In the absence of the jurors, Fitzgerald says, “Now we’re finding out how people voted.” Defense lawyers say that because they intend to call Cheney to testify on Libby’s behalf (see December 19, 2006), they don’t want jurors who already dislike or distrust Cheney. [ABC News, 1/16/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] Counsel’s opening statements take place a week after the jury members begin taking their places (see January 23, 2007 and January 23, 2007).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Reggie B. Walton, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Theodore Wells, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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