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Context of 'March 6, 2007: Wilson Calls on Bush, Cheney to Release Transcripts of Their Interviews in Plame Leak Investigation'

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Joseph Wilson, the former US ambassador to Gabon and a former diplomatic official in the US embassy in Iraq during the Gulf War (see September 20, 1990), writes an op-ed for the New York Times entitled “What I Didn’t Find in Africa.” Wilson went to Africa over a year ago (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003) to investigate claims that the Iraqi government surreptitiously attempted to buy large amounts of uranium from Niger, purportedly for use in nuclear weapons. The claims have been extensively debunked (see February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). Wilson opens the op-ed by writing: “Did the Bush administration manipulate intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq? Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.” Wilson notes his extensive experience in Africa and the Middle East, and says candidly: “Those news stories about that unnamed former envoy who went to Niger? That’s me” (see May 6, 2003). He makes it very clear that he believes his findings had been “circulated to the appropriate officials within… [the] government.”
Journey to Niger - Wilson confirms that he went to Africa at the behest of the CIA, which was in turn responding to a directive from Vice President Cheney’s office. He confirms that the CIA paid his expenses during the week-long trip, and that, while overseas, “I made it abundantly clear to everyone I met that I was acting on behalf of the United States government.” About Nigerien uranium, Wilson writes: “For reasons that are understandable, the embassy staff has always kept a close eye on Niger’s uranium business. I was not surprised, then, when the ambassador [Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick] told me that she knew about the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq—and that she felt she had already debunked them in her reports to Washington” (see November 20, 2001). Wilson met with “dozens of people: current government officials, former government officials, people associated with the country’s uranium business. It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place.” Wilson notes that Nigerien uranium is handled by two mines, Somair and Cominak, “which are run by French, Spanish, Japanese, German, and Nigerian interests. If the government wanted to remove uranium from a mine, it would have to notify the consortium, which in turn is strictly monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Moreover, because the two mines are closely regulated, quasi-governmental entities, selling uranium would require the approval of the minister of mines, the prime minister, and probably the president. In short, there’s simply too much oversight over too small an industry for a sale to have transpired.” Wilson told Owens-Kirkpatrick that he didn’t believe the story either, flew back to Washington, and shared his findings with CIA and State Department officials. “There was nothing secret or earth-shattering in my report,” he writes, “just as there was nothing secret about my trip.”
State of the Union Reference - Wilson believed that the entire issue was settled until September 2002, when the British government released an intelligence finding that asserted Iraq posed an immediate threat because it had attempted to purchase uranium from Africa (see September 24, 2002). Shortly thereafter, President Bush repeated the charges in his State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Wilson was surprised by the charge, but put it aside after discussing the issue with a friend in the State Department (see January 29, 2003). Wilson now knows that Bush was indeed referring to the Niger claims, and wants to set the record straight.
Posing a Real Nuclear Threat? - Wilson is now concerned that the facts are being manipulated by the administration to paint Iraq as a looming nuclear threat, when in fact Iraq has no nuclear weapons program. “At a minimum,” he writes, “Congress, which authorized the use of military force at the president’s behest, should want to know if the assertions about Iraq were warranted.” He is quite sure that Iraq has some form of chemical and biological weapons, and in light of his own personal experience with “Mr. Hussein and his thugs in the run-up to the Persian Gulf war of 1991, I was only too aware of the dangers he posed.” But, he asks, are “these dangers the same ones the administration told us about? We have to find out. America’s foreign policy depends on the sanctity of its information.… The act of war is the last option of a democracy, taken when there is a grave threat to our national security. More than 200 American soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq already. We have a duty to ensure that their sacrifice came for the right reasons.” [New York Times, 7/6/2003]
'Playing Congress and the Public for Fools' - Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2004 that after Wilson’s editorial appears, he checks out the evidence behind the story himself. It only takes Dean a few hours of online research using source documents that Bush officials themselves had cited, from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Department of Energy, the CIA, and the United Nations. He will write: “I was amazed at the patently misleading use of the material Bush had presented to Congress. Did he believe no one would check? The falsification was not merely self-evident, it was feeble and disturbing. The president was playing Congress and the public for fools.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 145-146]

Entity Tags: US Department of Energy, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, United Nations, Somair, Office of the Vice President, Joseph C. Wilson, Bush administration (43), Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, New York Times, Cominak, John Dean, George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency, International Atomic Energy Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The Justice Department authorizes the FBI to open a criminal investigation into leaks of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert identity by sources within the Bush administration (see July 14, 2003, July 30, 2003, and September 16, 2003). [MSNBC, 2/21/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007] The investigation is headed by the Justice Department’s counterespionage chief, John Dion. [Vanity Fair, 1/2004]
Questions of Impartiality - Dion is a veteran career prosecutor who has headed the counterespionage section since 2002. He will rely on a team of a half-dozen investigators, many of whom have extensive experience in investigating leaks. However, some administration critics are skeptical of Dion’s ability to run an impartial investigation: he will report to the Justice Department’s Robert McCallum, who is an old friend and Yale classmate of President Bush. Both Bush and McCallum were members of the secret Skull & Bones Society at Yale. Others believe the investigation will be non-partisan. “I believe that the career lawyers in Justice—the people who preceded [Attorney General] John Ashcroft and who will be there after he leaves—will do a nonpolitical investigation, an honest investigation,” says legal ethics specialist Stephen Gillers. “Ashcroft’s sole job is to stay out of it.” [Associated Press, 10/2/2003; Los Angeles Times, 10/2/2003]
CIA Director Filed Request - The request for an investigation (see September 16, 2003) was filed by CIA Director George Tenet; a CIA official says Tenet “doesn’t like leaks.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan says he knows of no leaks about Wilson’s wife: “That is not the way this White House operates, and no one would be authorized to do such a thing. I don’t have any information beyond an anonymous source in a media report to suggest there is anything to this. If someone has information of this nature, then he or she should report it to the Department of Justice.” McClellan calls Joseph Wilson’s charges that deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove leaked his wife’s name (see August 21, 2003) “a ridiculous suggestion” that is “simply not true.” A White House official says that two administration sources (later revealed to be Rove and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage—see June 13, 2003, July 8, 2003, and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003) leaked Plame Wilson’s name to six separate journalists (see Before July 14, 2003). The White House is notoriously intolerant of leaks, and pursues real and supposed leakers with vigor. Wilson says that if the White House did indeed leak his wife’s name, then the leak was part of what he calls “a deliberate attempt on the part of the White House to intimidate others and make them think twice about coming forward.” [Washington Post, 9/28/2003]
White House, Democrats Respond - National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says that the White House is willing to have the Justice Department investigate the charges. “I know nothing of any such White House effort to reveal any of this, and it certainly would not be the way that the president would expect his White House to operate,” she tells Fox News. “My understanding is that in matters like this, a question like this is referred to the Justice Department for appropriate action and that’s what is going to be done.” However, some Democrats want more. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says the Justice Department should appoint a special counsel to investigate the charges, since the department has an inherent conflict of interest: “I don’t see how it would be possible for the Justice Department to investigate whether a top administration official broke the law and endangered the life of this agent (see July 21, 2003). Even if the department were to do a thorough and comprehensive investigation, the appearance of a conflict could well mar its conclusions.… Leaking the name of a CIA agent is tantamount to putting a gun to that agent’s head. It compromises her safety and the safety of her loved ones, not to mention those in her network of intelligence assets. On top of that, it poses a serious threat to the national security of this nation.” Representative Richard Gephardt (D-MO) says the White House should find out who is responsible for the leak, and Congress should investigate the matter as well. [Washington Post, 9/28/2003; Fox News, 9/29/2003]
FBI Will Acknowledge Investigation - The FBI officially acknowledges the investigation on September 30 (see September 30, 2003), and informs the White House of the investigation. [New York Times, 2006]

Entity Tags: Richard Gephardt, Karl C. Rove, Richard Armitage, Stephen Gillers, US Department of Justice, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, Scott McClellan, John Dion, Robert McCallum, George W. Bush, Charles Schumer, Condoleezza Rice, Bush administration (43), George J. Tenet, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Ashcroft

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

President Bush is interviewed for over an hour as part of the ongoing investigation into the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003). Bush, who is not sworn in, is interviewed by a team of federal prosecutors led by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald. His lawyer, James Sharp (whom Bush has nicknamed “Shooter”), is also present during questioning (see June 5, 2004). White House press secretary Scott McClellan refuses to divulge any details of what Bush says to his interviewers, only telling reporters: “The leaking of classified information is a very serious matter. The president directed the White House to cooperate fully with those in charge of the investigation. He was pleased to do his part to help the investigation move forward.” Fitzgerald has already interviewed Vice President Dick Cheney (see May 8, 2004), and has called several current and former White House officials to testify before a grand jury. He has also subpoenaed a number of records, including White House phone logs. McClellan confirms that the interview with Bush and Sharp lasted about 70 minutes; asked if the White House had set a time limit on the interview, he says it would be “wrong to characterize it that way.” Even though Bush does not testify under oath, federal law requires him to be truthful in his statements, and he could be charged with making false statements if prosecutors found he lied or was evasive. [New York Times, 6/25/2004; McClellan, 2008, pp. 228]
Directly Contradicting Cheney - The media will later learn that Bush says he personally directed Cheney to lead a White House effort to counter allegations made by Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson, that the White House had manipulated intelligence to make the case for war with Iraq (see March 9, 2003 and After). Bush also admits that he directed Cheney to disclose classified information that would both defend his administration and discredit Wilson. His testimony directly contradicts Cheney’s. Bush says he did not know that Cheney had told his then-chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, to covertly leak the classified information to the media instead of releasing it to the public in the usual, overt fashion.
Denies Instructing Subordinates to Leak Plame Wilson Info - He also denies telling anyone to reveal Plame Wilson’s CIA status, and says he does not know who in his administration made her CIA status public knowledge. Libby has testified that neither Bush nor Cheney directed him or any other White House official to leak Plame Wilson’s identity. According to one senior government official, Bush told Cheney to “Get it out,” or “Let’s get this out,” regarding information that administration officials believed would rebut Wilson’s allegations and would discredit him. Another source with direct knowledge of the interview will later say that characterization is consistent with what Bush tells Fitzgerald. Libby told the grand jury that Cheney had told him to “get all the facts out” to defend the administration and besmirch Wilson. [National Journal, 7/3/2006]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, James Sharp, George W. Bush, Joseph C. Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Scott McClellan, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Valerie Plame Wilson, the former CIA agent whose undercover status was blown by a White House leak of her identity (see July 14, 2003), sues Vice President Dick Cheney, White House aide Karl Rove, and former White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Plame Wilson accuses them and other White House officials of conspiring to destroy her career as a CIA operative as well as conspiring to besmirch the reputation and integrity of her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who is also part of the lawsuit. The suit does not specify monetary damages to be assessed. [Associated Press, 7/13/2006; New York Times, 7/14/2006; Washington Post, 7/3/2007] The Wilsons will later add former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see June 13, 2003 and July 8, 2003) to the suit. [Associated Press, 5/17/2007]
Alleges Constitutional, Civil Rights Violations - The lawsuit claims that Cheney, Rove, Libby, and 10 yet-to-be-named government officials—named “John Does 1-10” in the lawsuit—violated the Wilsons’ First Amendment rights to free speech, their Fifth Amendment rights to equal protection under the law, and their right to privacy and property. The suit alleges that the defendants conspired to deprive the Wilsons of their civil rights, as well as charging the defendants with neglecting to prevent civil rights violations, public disclosure of private facts, and civil conspiracy. (The “John Doe” defendants will be included when the Wilsons learn who else was involved.) The Wilsons file their lawsuit one day before the statute of limitations would have expired on any such lawsuit. In 2007, Plame Wilson will write that her husband had talked of such a lawsuit since her outing in 2003, but she had consistently avoided the idea. “I got angry, defensive, and emotional,” she will recall. “I didn’t want to talk about it; the leak was still too raw for me and I wasn’t ready yet to think rationally through what such an action would mean.” But when Plame Wilson began to come to terms with the ramifications of the leak to her personal and professional life, she “began to tally up the costs of the campaign to smear Joe and to out me carelessly: the near destruction of Joe’s reputation and his consulting business, the end of my career, the wholesale invasion of our privacy, threats to our physical security, the chronic level of stress that had adversely affected our health in myriad ways, and two small children wondering why their parents were fighting again. A lawsuit couldn’t completely remedy the situation, but to me, it began to look more appealing.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 7/13/2006 pdf file; New York Times, 7/14/2006; Wilson, 2007, pp. 252-254]
Trying to Accomplish Three Things in Lawsuit - In discussing the idea, the Wilsons decided that the lawsuit could possibly accomplish three things:
bullet Finding the truth behind what Plame Wilson calls “the erroneous 16 words about the uranium from Niger” and how they made it into President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union speech (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003);
bullet Holding “government officials accountable for actions that might be illegal or unconstitutional”; and
bullet Serving “as a deterrent to future public servants who might think they are above the law.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 7/13/2006 pdf file; Wilson, 2007, pp. 252-254]
Rove: Allegations 'without Merit' - Rove spokesman Mark Corallo says, “Without even having had a chance to review the complaint, it is clear that the allegations are absolutely and utterly without merit.” [Associated Press, 7/13/2006] Rove’s lawyer Robert Luskin gives a similar statement to the press: “The allegations are without merit. We may comment further when we have an opportunity to review the complaint.” [New York Times, 7/14/2006]
'Exposing Administration Wrongdoing' - With the continuing attempts from the White House and conservative elements in the media to downplay and/or rewrite the history of the leak (see July 13, 2006), Plame Wilson will write, “Our civil suit seemed to be the only means by which we could expose the administration’s wrongdoing.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 252-254]
Problems with Lawsuit - The lawsuit will face difficulties in bringing the law to bear against Cheney and Rove. The basis for suing federal officials is a 1982 Supreme Court case that says federal officials may be sued for violating someone’s constitutional rights if a reasonable person would believe they had violated “clearly established law.” The Libby investigation has not yet produced solid evidence that there was a deliberate, illegal effort to leak Plame Wilson’s identity. [New York Times, 7/14/2006]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Joseph C. Wilson, Karl C. Rove, Mark Corallo, George W. Bush, Robert Luskin, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Valerie Plame Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Richard Armitage

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Joseph Wilson, the former ambassador and administration critic (see July 6, 2003) whose wife Valerie Plame Wilson’s outing as a covert CIA official sparked an investigation (see September 26, 2003), speaks to a group of reporters about the conviction of Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007). Wilson is joined by Melanie Sloan, the lawyer who represents the Wilsons in their civil suit against Libby and other Bush officials they consider responsible for exposing Plame Wilson’s CIA identity (see July 13, 2006). Wilson says that since the Libby trial is over, he would like to see President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney share what they told prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald during the investigation (see June 24, 2004 and May 8, 2004). As for the role of the press in the investigation, Wilson says that members of the press should rethink their efforts to protect government sources who are engaged in “disinformation campaigns.” Sloan says that many Bush administration officials, such as Cheney, “are in fact still hiding” from the truth about their involvement in exposing Plame Wilson. [FireDogLake, 3/6/2007]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, George W. Bush, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Melanie Sloan, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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