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Context of 'May 19, 2006: Libby Continues to Argue for Provision of Classified Documents, Contends that Op-Ed Should Not Be Presented'

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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

Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Cheney, is interviewed by the FBI concerning the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). [Office of the Vice President, 10/14/2003 pdf file; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 pdf file; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/30/2006 pdf file; MSNBC, 2/21/2007] Libby tells investigators that in his conversations with reporters Judith Miller (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003) and Matthew Cooper (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003) he was careful to tell them that the information about Plame Wilson was merely “unsubtianted gossip” and not necessarily reliable. He also claims that, before he spoke to either Miller or Cooper, he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from another journalist, NBC’s Tim Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003). Libby is lying in both instances (see August 7, 2004). [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 pdf file; National Journal, 6/8/2006; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/30/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Judith Miller, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Valerie Plame Wilson, Matthew Cooper, Tim Russert

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, is interviewed for a second time (see October 14, 2003) by the FBI concerning the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). [MSNBC, 2/21/2007] During one or both interviews, Libby insists that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from journalists (see July 10 or 11, 2003), a lie that will play a large part in his upcoming indictment (see October 28, 2005). Investigators are compiling evidence that he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from Cheney and other senior government officials (see (June 12, 2003)). Some investigators will come to believe that Libby is lying, and continues to lie, to protect Cheney’s involvement in attempting to discredit Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic Joseph Wilson (see October 1, 2003). [National Journal, 2/2/2006]

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Valerie Plame Wilson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald files a brief with the court concerning the newspaper articles he intends to introduce during the trial of former White House official Lewis Libby. Fitzgerald says he intends to submit only one article in its entirety, a copy of the New York Times op-ed written by former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003), and he intends to instruct the jury that the op-ed is not necessarily being submitted for its factual accuracy so much as for the handwritten annotations made on the copy by Vice President Dick Cheney (see May 14, 2006). Fitzgerald says he also intends to submit five other news articles in redacted form, including Robert Novak’s article that outed Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). Fitzgerald’s brief reads in part: “The July 14 Chicago Sun Times column by Mr. Novak is relevant because on the day the article was published, a CIA official was asked in the defendant’s presence, by another person in the OVP [Office of the Vice President], whether that CIA official had read that column. (The CIA official had not.) At some time thereafter… the CIA official discussed in the defendant’s presence the dangers posed by disclosure of the CIA affiliation of one of its employees as had occurred in the Novak column. This evidence directly contradicts the defense position that the defendant had no motive to lie because at the time of his interview and testimony the defendant thought that neither he nor anyone else had done anything wrong. Moreover, the evidence rebuts the defense assertion that the defendant could have easily forgotten his conversations with reporters Cooper and Miller on July 12 (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003 and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003) if he learned of the potential consequences of such disclosures as a result of the publication of the Novak column on July 14. Instead, the evidence about the conversation concerning the Novak column provides a strong motivation for the defendant to provide false information and testimony about his disclosures to reporters.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 5/12/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 5/12/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Robert Novak, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

A photograph of the copy of Wilson’s op-ed annotated by Dick Cheney.A photograph of the copy of Wilson’s op-ed annotated by Dick Cheney. [Source: Department of Justice / New York Times] (click image to enlarge)Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, pursuing charges that former vice-presidential chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby lied to his grand jury about revealing the identity of CIA undercover agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see January 2004, March 5, 2004, and March 24, 2004), introduces into evidence a document that directly implicates Libby’s former boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, in Libby’s allegedly criminal behavior.
Notated Clipping - Fitzgerald submits an original clipping of a New York Times op-ed written by Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson, challenging the Bush administration’s claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003). The clipping bears notations in Cheney’s own hand, as well as Cheney’s fingerprints. Cheney’s commentary reads: “Have they done this sort of thing before? [Cheney is referring to the CIA’s decision to send Wilson to Niger to investigate the uranium claims—see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002.] Send an amb. to answer a question. Do we ordinarily send people out to do pro bono work for us? Or did his wife send him on a junket?” It is unclear when Cheney made the notes, but prosecutors believe they were taken before the July 14, 2003 column by Robert Novak that outed Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). According to Fitzgerald’s filing, Cheney’s copy of the op-ed is now “at the center of the sequence of events leading” to Libby’s alleged perjury and obstruction of justice. [CNN, 5/14/2006; New York Times, 5/14/2006; Newsweek, 5/16/2006]
'Acutely Focused' Attention of Cheney, Libby on Wilson - The filing goes on to state that Cheney’s notes support the idea that Wilson’s op-ed drew the attention of Cheney and Libby, and “acutely focused” their attention on Wilson’s assertions “and on responding to those assertions.… The article, and the fact that it contained certain criticisms of the administration, including criticism regarding issues dealt with by the Office of the Vice President, serve both to explain the context of, and provide the motive for, many of the defendant’s statements and actions at issue in this case. The annotated version of the article reflects the contemporaneous reaction of the vice president to Mr. Wilson’s op-ed article, and thus is relevant to establishing some of the facts that were viewed as important by the defendant’s immediate superior, including whether Mr. Wilson’s wife had sent him on a junket.” [CNN, 5/14/2006; Newsweek, 5/16/2006] Libby testified before the grand jury about the annotated op-ed, and that testimony is now entered into evidence. Libby said he recalled discussing the issues with Cheney, and said of those conversations: “I recall that along the way he asked, ‘Is this normal for them to just send somebody out like this uncompensated, as it says?’ He was interested in how did that person come to be selected for this mission. And at some point, his wife worked at the agency, you know, that was part of the question.” A prosecutor asked Libby, “Was it a topic that was discussed on a daily basis… on multiple occasions each day in fact?” Libby answered, “Yes, sir.” Libby acknowledged that during that time, Cheney indicated that he was upset about the Wilson article and what he considered to be false attacks on his credibility, saying: “I recall that he was very keen to get the truth out. He wanted to get all the facts out about what he [Cheney] had or hadn’t done—what the facts were or were not. He was very keen on that and said it repeatedly. ‘Let’s get everything out.’” During his testimony before the grand jury, prosecutors did not believe Libby’s assertion that Cheney might have “scribbled” notes on the Wilson op-ed on July 14, the day Novak’s column was published. Libby testified: “And I think what may have happened here is what he may have—I don’t know if he wrote, he wrote the points down. He might have pulled out the column to think about the problem and written on it, but I don’t know. You’ll have to ask him.” [National Journal, 1/12/2007]
Cheney's Other Actions - Fitzgerald has already asserted that Cheney had attempted to pass Wilson’s trip to Niger off as a “junket”—essentially a taxpayer-funded excursion with little real purpose—to discredit Wilson’s claims about the Iraq-Niger affair. Fitzgerald has also asserted that Cheney, acting with the approval of President Bush, authorized Libby to disclose some of the classfied portions of the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002, June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003) to reporters to rebut some of Wilson’s claims. The Cheney notes provide, in reporter Michael Isikoff’s words, “significant new context to that assertion.” The notes show that Cheney had “personally raised questions about Wilson’s trip right after the publication of the Wilson column—and five days before Libby confirmed to Time reporter Matt Cooper that he had ‘heard’ that Wilson’s wife… had played a role in sending him to Africa” (see July 13, 2005). [CNN, 5/14/2006; Newsweek, 5/16/2006]
Cheney 'at Center of Campaign to Discredit Wilson' - Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein later write, “The annotation places Cheney at the center of the campaign to discredit Wilson, aware early on that Wilson’s wife was a CIA agent.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 217] Plame Wilson herself will write: “Given Cheney’s vaunted decades of government service, it is frankly unbelievable that he would ask such questions. He would have known that the CIA frequently sends US citizens abroad, on a pro bono basis, to answer specific intelligence questions. It is even quite possible that the CIA debriefed employees of Halliburton, the multinational company that Cheney headed prior to becoming vice president, when they returned from business trips in restricted countries of interest to the United States. Cheney’s marginal notes should be more accurately interpreted as marching orders to staff on how to spin Joe’s story so that Cheney could stay as far from it as possible while simultaneously undermining Joe’s credibility.” (Emphasis in the original.) [Wilson, 2007, pp. 288]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Michael Isikoff, Jake Bernstein, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Lou Dubose, Valerie Plame Wilson, Office of the Vice President, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Matthew Cooper, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert Novak

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The Libby defense team files a brief with the court arguing that the special counsel’s recent filing about presentation of news articles into evidence is unsatisfactory (see May 12, 2006), and says that the prosecution must not be allowed to present a copy of former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s New York Times op-ed (see July 6, 2003), annotated with notes written by Vice President Dick Cheney (see May 14, 2006), into evidence. The defense says that Lewis Libby had never seen the op-ed before the FBI showed it to him in November 2003 (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003). “These arguments are tantamount to an acknowledgment that the state of mind of witnesses other than Mr. Libby will be important at trial,” Libby’s lawyers write. The defense also reiterates arguments that the government must provide classified documents for Libby to mount an adequate defense (see May 12, 2006), and reassures Judge Reggie Walton that they do not intend “to use this case to reargue the reasons why the United States invaded Iraq.” They acknowledge that given the fact that a jury will made up of Washington, DC, residents, “such an approach would be a foolish and self-destructive trial strategy.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 5/19/2006 pdf file; NBC News, 5/20/2006; Washington Post, 5/20/2006]

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Joseph C. Wilson, Reggie B. Walton, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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