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Context of 'February 6, 2006: Libby Defense Team Receives White House E-Mails, According to Wall Street Journal'

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A day after former ambassador Joseph Wilson appears on CNN questioning the validity of the administration’s claims about the Iraq-Niger uranium purchase (see March 8, 2003), Vice President Dick Cheney and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley begin a campaign to discredit him. The information comes from senior sources within the State Department, the CIA, and the National Security Council (NSC), all with direct knowledge of the campaign, and from Wilson himself. The sources will say that they and other officials are directed to unearth or “invent” embarrassing information on Wilson that could be used against him in public. Aides in the Office of the Vice President and others, including the sources, prepare a “workup” on Wilson, including memos and classified material on him for Cheney and the NSC. Officials meet regularly in Cheney’s office to discuss the progress of the campaign with Cheney, Hadley, and other officials.
Visit to CIA Headquarters - According to an official in the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division (CPD), Cheney and Hadley visit the CIA the day after Wilson’s interview on CNN. Cheney’s original target for discrediting was not Wilson, but David Albright, the former UN weapons inspector who has also challenged the credibility of the Iraq-Niger claims and the rationale for invading Iraq (see March 8, 2003). Cheney asked several CIA officials to find “dirt” on Albright for use in discrediting him in the media. At the outset, the CIA official will say: “Vice President Cheney was more concerned with Mr. Albright. The international community had been saying that inspectors should have more time, that the US should not set a deadline. The vice president felt Mr. Albright’s remarks would fuel the debate.” The CIA will eventually send a “binder” to Cheney’s office containing information about Albright; it is not clear to what, if any, use that information is put.
Cheney 'Enraged' - But Wilson’s appearance on CNN and his public ridicule of the Iraq-Niger uranium claim enraged Cheney, who saw Wilson’s comments as a personal attack against him. Hadley also took an interest in Wilson’s remarks because he personally allowed the Iraq-Niger claim to remain in Bush’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) even after being informed that the documents the claim was based upon were forgeries. Both Cheney and Hadley view Wilson as a possible impediment to the public’s acceptance of the impending Iraq invasion. Cheney chairs a meeting in his office the day after Wilson’s appearance on CNN, attended by, among others, Hadley, White House political guru Karl Rove, Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s deputy national security adviser John Hannah, and several officials from the CIA and State Department, including the officials who will later discuss the matter with the press. “The way I remember it,” says the CIA official, “is that the vice president was obsessed with Wilson. He called him an ‘_sshole,’ a son-of-a-b_tch. He took his comments very personally. He wanted us to do everything in our power to destroy his reputation and he wanted to be kept up to date about the progress.” Hadley says he will write an editorial about the Iraqi threat that should offset Wilson’s remarks; the State Department will redistribute a February 16, 2003 editorial by Hadley that appeared in the Chicago Tribune to newspaper editors around the country. Cheney will appear on NBC’s Meet the Press to refute the challenges to the Iraq-Niger claims (see March 16, 2003). [Truthout (.org), 2/9/2006] In 2004, Wilson will write: “I learned that a meeting right around the time of this particular CNN appearance (see March 8, 2003) led to the decision to produce a ‘workup’ on me for the Office of the Vice President. It was not made clear to me whether Dick Cheney himself attended this meeting, although I was told that senior members of his staff and quite possibly other senior Republicans, including former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, were present and that Gingrich actively participated in a strategy session, the objective of which was to figure out how to discredit me.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 326-327]
False Allegations of 'Womanizing,' Drug Use - Within days, officials in the CIA, NSC, and State Department pass on information to Cheney and Libby that purportedly shows Wilson is a “womanizer” who had occassionally used drugs in his youth; the sources later say that the allegations are entirely false. The sources will say that they are unsure the material was ever used to discredit Wilson, since after the war began on March 19, the media lost interest in Wilson’s warnings. [Truthout (.org), 2/9/2006] Wilson later writes that the meeting about him does “not include discussion of how the president and his senior staff might address the indisputable, if inconvenient, fact that the allegation I had made was true. In other words, from the very beginning, the strategy of the White House was to confront the issue as a ‘Wilson’ problem rather than as an issue of the lie that was in the State of the Union address.… The immediate effect of the workup, I am told by a member of the press, citing White House sources, was a long harangue against the two of us within the White House walls. Over a period of several months, Libby evidently seized opportunities to rail openly against me as an ‘assh_le playboy’ who went on a boondoggle ‘arranged by his CIA wife’—and was a Democratic Gore supporter to boot.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 441-442]
New Interest in Wilson - Cheney’s interest in Wilson will be renewed in May 2003 (see May 2003), when Wilson informs New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that he was the special envoy who had gone to Niger in February 2002 to investigate the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002).

Entity Tags: Office of the Vice President, National Security Council, David Albright, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Joseph C. Wilson, John Hannah, Karl C. Rove, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, CNN, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of State, Newt Gingrich, Stephen J. Hadley, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Three days after sending e-mails to White House employees specifying how they should cooperate in the FBI’s investigation of the Plame Wilson leak (see September 29-30, 2003) and September 30, 2003), White House counsel Alberto Gonzales sets deadlines for those employees to turn over information pursuant to that investigation. Gonzales sends an e-mail saying in part: “On September 30, 2003, you received two memoranda from me directing you to preserve and maintain certain documents. In a letter received yesterday evening, the Department of Justice has requested that we provide those documents to prosecutors and FBI agents assigned to this investigation. To ensure compliance with the time deadlines imposed by the Department of Justice, you are directed to provide to the Counsel’s Office, by no later than 5 p.m. on October 7, 2003, copies of the following documents, created during the time period February 1, 2002, through September 30, 2003, inclusive:
bullet “1. All documents that relate in any way to former US Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, his trip to Niger in February 2002, or his wife’s purported relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency; and
bullet “2. All documents that relate in any way to a contact with any member or representative of the news media about Joseph C. Wilson, his trip to Niger in February 2002, or his wife’s purported relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency; and
bullet “3. All documents that relate in any way to a contact with any or all of the following: reporters Knut Royce, Timothy M. Phelps, or Robert D. Novak, or any individual(s) acting directly or indirectly on behalf of them.
“For purposes of this memorandum, the term ‘documents’ includes ‘without limitation all electronic records, telephone records of any kind (including but not limited to any documents that memorialize telephone calls having been made), correspondence, computer records, storage devices, notes, memoranda, and diary and calendar entries’ in the possession of the Executive Office of the President, its staff, or its employees, wherever located, including any documents that may have been archived in Records Management. However, at this time, you do not need to provide to Counsel’s Office copies of the following, provided that they have not been marked upon in any way and are not accompanied by any notes or other commentary: (a) press clips or articles, whether in hard copy or e-mail or electronic form, or (b) either of the two memoranda I sent on September 30, 2003, regarding document preservation.” Gonzales attaches a compliance certification that must be completed and returned by 5 p.m. October 7, 2003. The compliance certification includes the following paragraph: “I further understand that this certification is for purposes of a federal criminal investigation and that intentional false statements may result in criminal penalties or other sanctions.” [Alberto R. Gonzales, 10/3/2003] In 2006, the media will learn that Gonzales withheld e-mails from the FBI that may have proven criminal complicity on the parts of senior White House officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney (see February 15, 2006).

Entity Tags: Knut Royce, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Timothy Phelps, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Vice President Dick Cheney is interviewed in his office by federal prosecutors as part of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see December 30, 2003). Cheney is asked if he knows who, if anyone, in the White House might have leaked Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. He is asked about conversations with his senior aides, including his chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. He is also asked whether he knows of any concerted effort by White House officials to leak Plame Wilson’s identity. Cheney is not questioned under oath, and has not been asked to testify before the grand jury. He is represented by two lawyers, Terrence O’Donnell and Emmet Flood. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/8/2004 pdf file; New York Times, 6/5/2004]
Cheney Evades, Refuses to Answer Questions - In October 2009, an FBI interview summary regarding Cheney’s testimony will be released (see October 1, 2009). According to the document, Cheney equivocates or refuses to answer 72 times during his interview, either saying he cannot be certain about the information requested, or that he does not know.
Denies Informing Libby about Plame Wilson's CIA Status - One of the most fundamental questions Cheney is asked is about how Libby learned about Plame Wilson’s identity. Libby’s own notes indicate that he learned it from Cheney, and that he had shared his notes with Cheney in late 2003 (see Late September or Early October, 2003), in defiance of instructions from the FBI and the White House counsel’s office not to share information with colleagues (see September 29-30, 2003). But in his testimony, Cheney “cannot recall Scooter Libby telling him how he first heard of Valerie Wilson. It is possible Libby may have learned about Valerie Wilson’s employment from the vice president… but the vice president has no specific recollection of such a conversation.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/8/2004 pdf file; Associated Press, 11/2/2009] Cheney testifies that contrary to the evidence, he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from Libby, who informed him that a number of reporters had contacted Libby in July 2003 to say that Plame Wilson had been responsible for arranging her husband’s trip to Niger to investigate the Niger uranium claims. Cheney says that the next time he heard about Plame Wilson and her connection to her husband was when he read Robert Novak’s article outing her as a CIA officer (see July 14, 2003). Cheney is lying; he informed Libby of Plame Wilson’s identity (see (June 12, 2003)).
Denies Knowledge of Wilson Trip to Niger - He also denies knowing that Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic and former ambassador Joseph Wilson, was sent to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq was attempting to buy uranium from that country (see (February 13, 2002) and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), and says the CIA never briefed him about Wilson’s trip (see March 5, 2002). Future testimony will challenge Cheney’s claims, as witnesses will testify that Cheney, Libby, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, the Defense Department, the State Department, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Council, and President Bush were all given copies of a CIA cable sent to Cheney’s office that debunked the Niger claims (see December 2001, Shortly after February 12, 2002, March 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, March 8, 2002, October 15, 2002, Mid-October 2002, October 18, 2002, January 2003, and March 8, 2003). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/8/2004 pdf file; Truthout (.org), 2/15/2006]
Refuses to Answer about WMD NIE - Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, leading the interview, presses Cheney to discuss evidence that shows he pressured Bush to quickly declassify portions of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraqi WMD (see October 1, 2002) for the purpose of making the case for invading Iraq. Libby provided selected NIE information to New York Times reporter Judith Miller while simultaneously leaking Plame Wilson’s identity to her (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003) and other reporters. Cheney refuses to confirm that he discussed anything regarding the NIE with Bush, saying that he could not comment on any private or privileged conversations he may have had with the president. Libby has already testified to the declassification of the NIE, telling prosecutors that he talked to Miller following the “president’s approval relayed to me through the vice president.”
Insists Plame Wilson's Identity Never Used to Discredit Husband - Cheney insists that no one in the White House ever talked about leaking Plame Wilson’s CIA status to the press in an attempt to discredit her husband. There was never any discussion, Cheney says, of “pushing back” on Wilson’s credibility by raising the issue of nepotism, the fact that his wife worked for the CIA, the same agency that dispatched him to Niger to run down the report of an agreement to supply uranium to Iraq. In his own testimony, Libby was far less emphatic, saying “[i]t’s possible” he may have discussed the idea with Cheney. Both men lie in their testimony (see March 9, 2003 and After, May 2003, June 3, 2003, June 9, 2003, June 11 or 12, 2003, (June 11, 2003), 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003, (June 12, 2003), June 19 or 20, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, July 7-8, 2003, 12:00 p.m. July 7, 2003, July 8, 2003, and 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/8/2004 pdf file; Associated Press, 11/2/2009] Cheney tells prosecutors that he and his office were merely interested in rebutting Wilson’s criticisms of the war effort, and wanted to dispel the notion among some reporters that he had selected Wilson for the Niger trip. In 2006, an attorney close to the case will say: “In his testimony the vice president said that his staff referred media calls about Wilson to the White House press office. He said that was the appropriate venue for responding to statements by Mr. Wilson that he believed were wrong.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/8/2004 pdf file; Truthout (.org), 2/15/2006] In June 2009, the Department of Justice will reveal that Cheney and Bush had discussed the leak in a “confidential conversation” and “an apparent communication between the vice president and the president.” [Truthout (.org), 7/7/2009]

Entity Tags: Terrence O’Donnell, US Department of State, Valerie Plame Wilson, Stephen J. Hadley, US Department of Defense, Robert Novak, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Emmet Flood, Defense Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation, George W. Bush, Joint Chiefs of Staff, National Security Council, Judith Miller, Joseph C. Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

White House senior counsel Alberto Gonzales is questioned by the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak. [New York Times, 2006] White House press secretary Scott McClellan refuses to discuss what Gonzales may have told the grand jury, saying only, “The judge was pleased to do his part to cooperate” with the investigation. [Washington Post, 6/19/2004] A year later, Gonzales will tell Fox News interviewer Brit Hume that he “had no information regarding Ms. Plame [Wilson] and her role at the CIA.… I believe I first learned about it, Brit, at the same time that most Americans did, and that’s when the stories began running about her role.” Hume will ask, “So, basically, you read about it in the paper?” and Gonzales will reply, “That’s correct.” [Fox News, 7/24/2005] In 2006, the media will learn that Gonzales withheld crucial White House e-mails from the investigation (see February 15, 2006).

Entity Tags: Brit Hume, Valerie Plame Wilson, Alberto R. Gonzales, Fox News, Bush administration (43), Scott McClellan

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald responds again to the classified document request from the Lewis Libby defense team (see December 14, 2005, January 9, 2006, and January 23, 2006). Fitzgerald reiterates that his office cannot provide some of the classified White House documents that Libby’s lawyers are requesting, and writes that many of the requested materials have no bearing on the perjury and obstruction charges Libby is facing. He also tells the lawyers that his office may not be able to provide some of the documents requested from the Office of the Vice President because that office seems not to have kept them: “We advise you that we have learned that not all e-mail of the Office of Vice President and the Executive Office of the President for certain time periods in 2003 was preserved through the normal archiving process on the White House computer system.” [Office of Special Counsel, 1/9/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Office of the Vice President, Executive Office of the President

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The White House’s Office of Administration turns over a large number of e-mails from the Office of the President and the Office of the Vice President to the Libby defense lawyers. Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, prosecuting former White House official Lewis Libby, had asked for, but not received, the e-mails earlier, and had wondered if they had been deleted or destroyed (see February 15, 2006). According to Libby’s defense team, the e-mails had not been “archived in the normal way,” and took longer to find. Libby’s lawyers tell a Wall Street Journal reporter that there is nothing pertinent to the case in the e-mails. The Journal will report the lawyer’s assertions three weeks later. [Wall Street Journal, 2/28/2006]

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Executive Office of the President, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Office of Administration, Office of the Vice President

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The media learns that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has withheld White House e-mails from special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. If revealed, those e-mails may shed light on which White House officials were involved in leaking the identity of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson to a number of reporters. Sources close to the Fitzgerald investigation team say that the e-mails may have the potential to incriminate Vice President Dick Cheney, his aides, and/or other White House officials involved in leaking Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. The sources also say that Cheney, in his 2004 testimony before Fitzgerald’s prosecutors, may have lied when he said that neither he nor any of his aides were involved in the Plame Wilson leak, and the e-mails could prove that Cheney was dishonest in his testimony. The e-mails Gonzales is withholding contain references to Plame Wilson’s identity and CIA status, and information regarding the inability to find WMD in Iraq. They also contain suggestions as to how White House officials could respond to increasingly negative criticisms about their conduct of the war from Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson. Gonzales, who was the senior White House counsel at the time of the leak, coordinated the White House’s response to the FBI’s investigation of the leak (see May 8, 2004); he and other White House attorneys spent two weeks screening e-mails turned over to his office by some 2,000 staffers. Gonzales told Fitzgerald in 2005 that he had no intention of turning over the e-mails, because they contained classified intelligence information about Iraq in addition to minor references to Plame Wilson. The sources say Gonzales cited “executive privilege” and “national security concerns” as the reasons for not turning over some of the correspondence. Fitzgerald believes that other e-mails were intentionally “shredded” or deleted by either Gonzales or other White House officials. Fitzgerald has informed the judge presiding over the investigation that e-mails from the offices of Cheney and President Bush have not been saved. In a letter to the defense team of former Cheney chief of staff Lewis Libby, Fitzgerald has written, “In an abundance of caution, we advise you that we have learned that not all e-mail of the Office of the Vice President and the Executive Office of the President for certain time periods in 2003 was preserved through the normal archiving process on the White House computer system.” [Truthout (.org), 2/15/2006] The Wall Street Journal will write that the e-mails have been in the Libby team’s possession since February 6 (see February 6, 2006).

Entity Tags: Executive Office of the President, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Office of the Vice President, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Shortly after the press learns that White House counsel Alberto Gonzales has withheld White House e-mails from the Fitzgerald investigation (see February 15, 2006), the White House turns over some 250 pages of e-mails from Vice President Dick Cheney’s office. The e-mails were sent during the spring of 2003 by senior Cheney aides, and pertain to the leak of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert identity to the press. Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald reveals the “discovery” of the missing e-mails in court. According to reporter Jason Leopold, the contents of the e-mails are “explosive, and may prove that Cheney played an active role in the effort to discredit Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, a vocal critic of the Bush administration’s pre-war Iraq intelligence.” According to Leopold’s sources, the e-mails could also prove that Cheney lied to FBI investigators when he was interviewed about the leak in early 2004 (see May 8, 2004). Cheney told investigators that he knew nothing of any effort to discredit Wilson or to expose his wife’s undercover status to reporters. However, the e-mails indicate that Cheney led an effort to discredit Wilson that began in March 2003, and used the CIA to dig up information on Wilson that could be used to dirty his reputation in the press (see March 9, 2003 and After). Some of the e-mails refer to Plame Wilson’s identity and CIA status, and reference the US military’s inability to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The e-mails also contain suggestions from Cheney’s senior aides, and from staffers of the National Security Council, as to how the White House should respond to Wilson’s criticisms of the administration’s pre-war Iraq intelligence. Fitzgerald has been attempting to secure the “missing” e-mails since late January (see January 23, 2006). Gonzales is still refusing to turn over some of the e-mails, citing “executive privilege” and “national security” concerns. [Truthout (.org), 2/24/2006; Associated Press, 2/27/2006] On February 28, the Wall Street Journal will write that the e-mails have been in the Libby team’s possession since February 6, and that they contain nothing pertinent to the trial (see February 6, 2006).

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, Jason Leopold, Office of the Vice President, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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