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Context of 'February 12, 2007: Defense in Libby Trial Opens with Post Reporter’s Testimony; Reporter Says He Learned of Plame Wilson’s Identity from White House Press Secretary'

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Vice President Dick Cheney’s interest in former ambassador and current Iraq whistleblower Joseph Wilson is renewed when Wilson informs New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that he was the special envoy who went to Niger in February 2002 to investigate the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). When Kristof publishes the information (see May 6, 2003), according to a CIA official, “a request came in from Cheney that was passed to me that said ‘the vice president wants to know whether Joe Wilson went to Niger.’ I’m paraphrasing. But that’s more or less what I was asked to find out.” Cheney, of course, knew Wilson had gone to Niger (see (February 13, 2002)). The campaign to discredit and besmirch Wilson begins again (see March 9, 2003 and After), this time in a much more intensified manner. “Cheney and Libby made it clear that Wilson had to be shut down,” the CIA official will later say. “This wasn’t just about protecting the credibility of the White House. For the vice president, going after Wilson was purely personal, in my opinion.” Cheney is heavily involved in this second phase of the anti-Wilson campaign as well, pushing CIA officials to find out everything they can about Wilson. Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley also pressures State Department officials to send information they have on Wilson to his attention at the NSC. It is also at this time that Cheney and at least some members of his staff learn that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a covert CIA officer. At least one meeting is held in the Office of the Vice President to discuss possible strategies to use against Wilson. According to a State Department official, Cheney is not at this particular meeting: “Libby [Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby] led the meeting. But he was just as upset about Wilson as Cheney was.” [USA Today, 4/29/2004; Truthout (.org), 2/9/2006] In a 2005 interview, Wilson will tell a reporter that he believes others in the White House’s communications and public relation staffs, including Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, and James Wilkinson, all become aware of Plame Wilson’s secret CIA status, as does Hadley, his boss, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and White House chief of staff Andrew Card. “That would be the natural group because they were constituted to spin the war, so they would be naturally the ones to try to deflect criticism,” Wilson will say. [Raw Story, 7/13/2005] In 2008, current White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will acknowledge that “Cheney and his staff were leading a White House effort to discredit Joe Wilson himself.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 171]

Entity Tags: Office of the Vice President, Karen Hughes, Joseph C. Wilson, James R. Wilkinson, Condoleezza Rice, Central Intelligence Agency, Andrew Card, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Nicholas Kristof, US Department of State, Valerie Plame Wilson, Scott McClellan, Mary Matalin, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Stephen J. Hadley

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer has a telephone conversation with conservative syndicated columnist Robert Novak. Neither Fleischer nor Novak will reveal the contents of that conversation, though the conversation takes place shortly after the publication of Joseph Wilson’s op-ed debunking the administration’s attempts to claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003) and a week before Novak, using White House sources, will reveal that Wilson’s wife is a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003). [New York Times, 7/19/2005] Fleischer will later testify (see January 29, 2007) that he learned that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was a CIA agent from White House official Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see 12:00 p.m. July 7, 2003). Libby told Fleischer that the knowledge of Plame Wilson’s CIA status is not widely known. [MSNBC, 2/21/2007]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Ari Fleischer, Bush administration (43), Robert Novak

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Hours after White House press secretary Ari Fleischer reiterates talking points from Vice President Dick Cheney emphasizing the lack of knowledge that Cheney and his office had of the trip taken to Niger by former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see July 7-8, 2003 and 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003), Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby has lunch with Fleischer. Fleischer will later testify during Libby’s perjury trial (see January 16-23, 2007) that Libby speaks extensively of the role of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, in sending her husband to Niger. According to Fleischer’s later testimony (see January 29, 2007), Libby tells him: “Ambassador Wilson was sent by his wife. His wife works for the CIA.” Fleischer will testify that Libby calls her by her maiden name, Valerie Plame. “He added it was ‘hush-hush,’ and ‘on the QT,’ and that most people didn’t know it,” Fleischer will add. [White House, 7/7/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 11/15/2005; Murray Waas, 12/23/2008; Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2009; Marcy Wheeler, 10/30/2009] Fleischer will later testify that the conversation is “kind of weird” and note that Libby typically “operated in a very closed-lip fashion.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 9/27/2004 pdf file; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 12/8/2004 pdf file] Libby will remember the lunch meeting, and testify that he thanked Fleischer for making a statement about the Niger issue, but will deny discussing Plame Wilson. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 9/27/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Ari Fleischer, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus testifies before the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003 and August 9, 2004). Pincus refuses to divulge confidential sources, and refuses to divulge the name of the White House official who told him of Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA agent. He does, however, recount the substance of that conversation. [Associated Press, 9/17/2004; New York Times, 2006] In his deposition, Pincus says he agreed to be questioned by prosecutors only with his source’s approval. “I understand that my source has already spoken to the special prosecutor about our conversation on July 12, and that the special prosecutor has dropped his demand that I reveal my source,” Pincus says. “Even so, I will not testify about his or her identity.” [Washington Post, 9/16/2004; Associated Press, 9/17/2004] “The source has not discharged us from the confidentiality pledge,” says the Post’s executive editor, Leonard Downie Jr. [Washington Post, 9/16/2004] Pincus will later describe why he agreed to testify instead of go to jail to protect his sources. “I believed firmly that the sources controlled the privilege,” he will say. One of his sources had told Pincus, through lawyers, that since he had revealed his own identity, Pincus could testify but not name him publicly. Pincus will later say, “If their identity was known to [special prosecutor] Patrick Fitzgerald, what confidence was I breaking?” He agreed to testify if he could name his source in court, but protect the source’s identity publicly. Fellow reporter Lowell Bergman will later call it “a cute deal.” When Newsweek senior editor Jonathan Alter asks Bergman, “Can’t you make an argument that this was the pragmatic tactic to take?” Bergman will respond, “It is until you are the next reporter subpoenaed and you have no protection.” [Vanity Fair, 4/2006] Pincus’s source will later be revealed as former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003).

Entity Tags: Leonard Downie, Jr., Bush administration (43), Lowell Bergman, Ari Fleischer, Washington Post, Jonathan Alter, Walter Pincus

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Ari Fleischer, outside the courthouse where the Libby trial is underway.Ari Fleischer, outside the courthouse where the Libby trial is underway. [Source: Life]Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer testifies in the trial of Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see January 16-23, 2007), and tells the court that he learned of Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status from Libby three days before Libby has said he first learned of it. If Fleischer is telling the truth, then Libby cannot have been truthful in his claims. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has told the court that in 2004 he offered Fleischer blanket immunity in return for his testimony (see February 13, 2004), without being sure what Fleischer would say in court. The defense team calls the arrangement highly unusual, and days before attempted to bar Fleischer’s testimony (see January 25-27, 2007). [MSNBC, 2/21/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2009] The prosecution quickly elicits Fleischer’s admission that if he lies under oath, his immunity agreement becomes void and he, too, can be prosecuted. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2009]
Libby Told Fleischer of Plame Wilson's Identity - Testifying under oath, Fleischer tells prosecuting attorney Peter Zeidenberg (handling the examination for Fitzgerald) that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from Libby during a lunch with him on July 7, the day after Plame Wilson’s husband’s controversial op-ed appeared in the New York Times (see July 6, 2003). Libby has told reporters he first learned about Plame Wilson’s identity on either July 10 or July 11 from NBC reporter Tim Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003, March 5, 2004, and March 24, 2004). According to Fleischer, Libby told him: “Ambassador [Joseph] Wilson was sent by his wife. His wife works for the CIA.” Fleischer testifies that Libby referred to Wilson’s wife by her maiden name, Valerie Plame. Fleischer says, “He added it was hush-hush, on the Q.T., and that most people didn’t know it.” Fleischer also notes that Libby told him Plame Wilson worked in the Counterproliferation Division, where almost everyone is covert, though he testifies that he knows little about the CIA’s internal structure. Four days later, Fleischer heard of Plame Wilson’s CIA status again, that time from White House communications director Dan Bartlett (see July 6-10, 2003). Fleischer informed conservative columnist Robert Novak of Plame Wilson’s CIA status the same day he learned of it from Libby (see July 7, 2003), and told reporters David Gregory and John Dickerson the same information a week later in what he calls a casual conversation (see 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Fleischer insists he believed the information about Plame Wilson was not classified, saying, “[N]ever in my wildest dreams [did I think] this information would be classified.” [CBS News, 1/25/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2007; Washington Post, 1/30/2007; National Journal, 2/19/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2009]
Defense Cross - The defense notes that Fleischer originally mispronounced Plame Wilson’s maiden name as “plah-MAY,” indicating that he may have read about her instead of being told of her identity. Fleischer says under cross-examination that he did not reveal Plame Wilson’s identity to reporters until he heard about the CIA official from a second White House aide, Bartlett (see July 7, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, and July 15, 2005). It was after Bartlett’s “vent” about Wilson that Fleischer says he decided to inform two reporters, NBC’s David Gregory and Time’s John Dickerson, of Plame Wilson’s CIA status. (Dickerson has said Fleischer did not tell him Plame Wilson was a CIA official—see February 7, 2006.) Fleischer testifies that neither Libby nor Bartlett invoked a White House protocol under which colleagues warned him when they were providing classified information that could not be discussed with reporters. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2007; Washington Post, 1/30/2007; New York Times, 2/4/2007]
Post: Fleischer Impugns Libby 'Memory Defense' - The Washington Post calls Fleischer “the most important prosecution witness to date,” and continues: “Though a series of government officials have told the jury that Libby eagerly sought information about [Wilson], Fleischer was the first witness to say Libby then passed on what he learned: that Wilson’s wife was a CIA officer who had sent him on a trip to Africa.… Fleischer also reinforced the prosecution’s central argument: that Libby had been so determined to learn and spread information about Wilson and Plame that he could not have forgotten his efforts” (see January 31, 2006). [Washington Post, 1/30/2007] In 2004, Libby testified that he could not remember if he discussed Plame Wilson with Fleischer, though he admitted that he may have. [US Department of Justice, 3/5/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, John Dickerson, David Gregory, Joseph C. Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Dan Bartlett, Peter Zeidenberg, Bush administration (43), Counterproliferation Division, Valerie Plame Wilson, Ari Fleischer, Robert Novak, Tim Russert

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Walter Pincus, at his desk at the Washington Post.Walter Pincus, at his desk at the Washington Post. [Source: PBS]The defense in the Lewis Libby perjury and obstruction trial opens its case by presenting a string of reporters who all deny learning of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity from Libby. The defense begins with the testimony of Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus, who has reported on national security and intelligence issues for decades. Pincus testifies that he learned about Plame Wilson’s identity from White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, a claim Fleischer has denied (see July 7, 2003 and January 29, 2007); Libby claims he never discussed Plame Wilson with Fleischer (see 12:00 p.m. July 7, 2003). Pincus is questioned by defense lawyer William Jeffress. Pincus says he testified to the FBI in September 2004 (see September 15, 2004), not merely because Libby granted him a waiver releasing him from their confidentiality agreement, but because he understood that Libby wanted him to testify. In cross-examination, Fitzgerald confirms that Libby lied to Pincus. Libby, whom Pincus confirms was a source for a May 2003 article, told Pincus for that article that “an aide to Vice President Cheney” asked the CIA for more information about Iraqi WMDs, which led to the CIA’s dispatching former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger (see May 2003). In fact, Cheney himself asked the CIA for that information. Author Marcy Wheeler, writing for the progressive blog FireDogLake, writes, “So Libby lied to Pincus to distance Cheney from Wilson’s trip.” Pincus testifies that he did not write about Plame Wilson for the Post. [Associated Press, 2/12/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Ari Fleischer, Marcy Wheeler, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, William Jeffress, Walter Pincus

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Based on Monday’s parade of reporters testifying that they were not told of Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity by former White House official Lewis Libby (see February 12, 2007, February 12, 2007, February 12, 2007, February 12, 2007, and February 12, 2007), National Review columnist Byron York asks the same question Libby’s lawyers are asking during the trial: if Libby leaked Plame Wilson’s identity to reporters Judith Miller and Matt Cooper (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), why didn’t he leak it to the other reporters who testified? York writes: “Each was covering events in Washington during that intense period in mid-2003 when the Bush administration came under attack from former ambassador Joseph Wilson over its case for war in Iraq. Each interviewed Libby, then Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff. And each heard nothing from Libby about Valerie Plame Wilson.… Did Cheney, who is portrayed in some scenarios as the mastermind of the leak, tell Libby to disclose Mrs. Wilson’s identity to Matt Cooper and not to Bob Woodward? To Judith Miller and not to Robert Novak?” These are the questions York says the defense hopes the jury will ask. York notes that Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus directly contradicted former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer’s claim that he did not tell Pincus of Plame Wilson’s identity, an exchange York says heavily damages Fleischer’s credibility. The defense contends that Libby may have learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity from other, unnamed reporters; Libby, the defense says, later “misremembered” his source as being NBC’s Tim Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003 and February 7-8, 2007), who has contradicted Libby’s claim that he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity from him. York says that the most telling moments came during the testimony of Post reporter Bob Woodward, who played an audiotape of his conversation with then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who told him of Plame Wilson’s identity well before Libby exposed the CIA official to the press (see June 13, 2003). Armitage’s statement that “everyone knows it” refers, York writes, to Joseph Wilson being the anonymous former ambassador criticizing the Bush administration in the press, but York notes that some in the jury might take the reference to mean that “everyone knows” of Plame Wilson’s CIA status. “In any event, none of it had anything to do with Libby, except that Libby was not the one leaking,” York concludes. [National Review, 2/13/2007]

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Bush administration (43), Bob Woodward, Ari Fleischer, Byron York, Judith Miller, Matthew Cooper, Richard Armitage, Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Novak, Tim Russert, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Victoria Toensing, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Reagan administration, writes an op-ed for the Washington Post structured to imitate a legal indictment. Toensing asks if anyone can explain “why Scooter Libby is the only person on trial in the Valerie Plame [Wilson] leak investigation?” (The Washington Post, which publishes the op-ed, does not disclose Toensing’s own ties to Libby’s defense—see March 23, 2005. [Washington Post, 2/18/2007] Neither does it disclose the longtime personal relationship between Toensing, her husband Joseph DiGenova, and columnist Robert Novak, who outed Plame Wilson—see July 14, 2003. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 292] Neither does it disclose Toensing’s frequent criticisms of the investigation, including her position that the CIA and/or Joseph Wilson is responsible for outing Plame Wilson, and her belief that the entire trial is invalid (see November 2-9, 2005, November 3, 2005, November 7, 2005, and September 15, 2006).) Toensing dismisses the arguments laid out by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, lied to grand jurors (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004) in order to keep secret a White House conspiracy to besmirch the reputation of White House critic Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003). Toensing calls the Libby indictment a “he said, she said” case based on conflicting testimony from other people. She proceeds to lay out her own “indictments”:
Patrick Fitzgerald - for “ignoring the fact that there was no basis for a criminal investigation from the day he was appointed,” for “handling some witnesses with kid gloves and banging on others with a mallet,” for “engaging in past contretemps with certain individuals that might have influenced his pursuit of their liberty, and with misleading the public in a news conference because… well, just because.” Toensing argues that Fitzgerald should have known from the outset that Plame Wilson was never a covert agent, and if he didn’t, he could have merely asked the CIA. Toensing writes, “The law prohibiting disclosure of a covert agent’s identity requires that the person have a foreign assignment at the time or have had one within five years of the disclosure, that the government be taking affirmative steps to conceal the government relationship, and for the discloser to have actual knowledge of the covert status.” Toensing is grossly in error about Plame Wilson’s covert status (see Fall 1992 - 1996, Late 1990s-2001 and Possibly After, April 22, 1999, (July 11, 2003), Before July 14, 2003, July 22, 2003, July 30, 2003, September 30, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, January 9, 2006, February 13, 2006, and September 6, 2006). She also insinuates that Fitzgerald has two conflicts of interest: one in prosecuting Libby, as Fitzgerald investigated the Clinton-era pardon of financier Marc Rich, who was represented by Libby, and another in moving to jail reporter Judith Miller for refusing to provide evidence (see July 6, 2005) because Fitzgerald had subpoenaed Miller’s phone records for another, unrelated prosecution. Toensing questions Fitzgerald’s grant of immunity to former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see January 29, 2007), and complains that Fitzgerald allowed NBC News bureau chief Tim Russert to be interviewed with his lawyer present (see August 7, 2004), while columnist Robert Novak “was forced to testify before the grand jury without counsel present.” She concludes by accusing Fitzgerald of “violating prosecutorial ethics by discussing facts outside the indictment during his Oct. 28, 2005, news conference” (see October 28, 2005).
The CIA - “for making a boilerplate criminal referral to cover its derriere.” The Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA), which Toensing helped negotiate in 1982, was never violated, she asserts, because Plame Wilson was never a covert agent. Instead of handling the issue internally, Toensing writes, the CIA passed the responsibility to the Justice Department by sending “a boiler-plate referral regarding a classified leak and not one addressing the elements of a covert officer’s disclosure.”
Joseph Wilson - for “misleading the public about how he was sent to Niger, about the thrust of his March 2003 oral report of that trip, and about his wife’s CIA status, perhaps for the purpose of getting book and movie contracts.” Toensing writes that Wilson appeared on Meet the Press the same day as his op-ed was published in the New York Times, and told host Andrea Mitchell, “The Office of the Vice President, I am absolutely convinced, received a very specific response to the question it asked and that response was based upon my trip there.” Toensing accepts Cheney’s denial of any involvement in Wilson’s trip and his denial that he was ever briefed on Wilson’s findings. Toensing argues that Wilson lied when he told other reporters that he was sent to Niger because of his “specific skill set” and his connections in the region (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), and not because his wife sent him (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005). Toensing uses portions of the Senate Intelligence Committee report to bolster her claim (see June 11, 2003 and July 9, 2004). She also challenges Wilson’s assertions that his oral report on his trip was not classified (see March 4-5, 2002, (March 6, 2002), March 8, 2002, and March 5, 2002). And she accuses Wilson of “play[ing] coy” about his wife’s CIA status.
The Media - for “hypocrisy in asserting that criminal law was applicable to this ‘leak’ and with misreporting facts to wage a political attack on an increasingly unpopular White House.” Major newspapers have “highfalutin’, well-paid” lawyers who should have known better than to let their clients call for special investigations into the Plame Wilson leak. The media has consistently “display[ed] their prejudice in this case.”
Ari Fleischer - “because his testimony about conversations differs from reporters’ testimony, just as Libby’s does.” Fleischer testified under oath that he revealed Plame Wilson’s identity to two reporters, Time’s John Dickerson and NBC’s David Gregory (see 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Dickerson denies it and Gregory refuses to comment. Fleischer testified he did not tell the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus about Plame Wilson’s identity, contradicting Pincus’s own testimony that Fleischer did, indeed, ask repeatedly about the Wilsons (see January 29, 2007 and February 12, 2007). Because Fleischer “contradicted Pincus as materially as Libby contradicted Russert or Time’s Matthew Cooper,” he should be indicted as well. Instead, Fitzgerald gave Fleischer immunity in return for his testimony (see February 13, 2004). In that case, Toensing argues, Fitzgerald should indict Pincus insamuch as his testimony differs from Fleischer’s.
Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage - for not publicly revealing that he was perhaps the first to leak Plame Wilson’s name to the press (see June 13, 2003 and July 8, 2003). Armitage also discussed his FBI interview with his then-subordinate, Marc Grossman, the night before Grossman was due to meet with FBI investigators (see June 10, 2003).
The US Justice Department - for “abdicating its legal and professional responsibility by passing the investigation off to a special counsel out of personal pique and reasons of ambition.” Both then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and his deputy, James Comey, could have asked the CIA to confirm Plame Wilson’s covert status, Toensing writes. She also insinuates that Comey acted improperly in giving the investigation to Fitzgerald, “a former colleague and one of his best friends.” [Washington Post, 2/18/2007]
Refutation - Toensing’s arguments are refuted by former CIA agent Larry Johnson, who accuses Toensing of attempted jury tampering (see February 18, 2007).

Entity Tags: John Dickerson, Valerie Plame Wilson, US Department of Justice, Victoria Toensing, Walter Pincus, John Ashcroft, David Gregory, Andrea Mitchell, Ari Fleischer, Central Intelligence Agency, Tim Russert, Senate Intelligence Committee, Washington Post, Richard Armitage, Larry C. Johnson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Judith Miller, Joseph C. Wilson, Joseph diGenova, James B. Comey Jr., Robert Novak, Matthew Cooper, Office of the Vice President, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Marc Rich, Marc Grossman

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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