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Context of '7:00 a.m. June 14, 2003: Libby Discusses Plame Wilson with CIA Briefer'

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Joseph Wilson.Joseph Wilson. [Source: public domain]The CIA sends Joseph C. Wilson, a retired US diplomat, to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from that country (see February 13, 2002). The CIA pays Wilson’s expenses for the trip, but does not pay him in any other respect. The identity of the party who requests the mission is later disputed. While Wilson will claim the trip was requested directly by Dick Cheney’s office, other sources will indicate that the CIA had decided (see February 19, 2002) that a delegation to Niger was needed in order to investigate questions raised by one of Dick Cheney’s aides (see (February 13, 2002)). [New York Times, 5/6/2003; Washington Post, 6/12/2003 pdf file; Independent, 6/29/2003; New York Times, 7/6/2003; US Congress, 7/7/2004]
Reason behind Request - Former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman will later note that “Wilson was asked to go to Niger for one specific purpose. It was the CIA’s idea to get Cheney off their backs. Cheney would not get off their backs about the yellowcake documents. They couldn’t get Cheney to stop pressing the issue. He insisted that was the proof of reconstitution of [Iraq’s nuclear] program.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 214]
Normal Skepticism - Wilson goes into the situation with a healthy dose of skepticism. “My skepticism was the same as it would have been with any unverified intelligence report, because there is a lot of stuff that comes over the transom every day,” he will recall in 2006. Wilson knows nothing of the influence of the Pentagon neoconservatives (see July 8, 1996, January 26, 1998, July 1998, September 2000, Late December 2000 and Early January 2001, Shortly after January 20, 2001, and Shortly After September 11, 2001) or the growing rift in the intelligence community over the reports: “I was aware that the neocons had a growing role in government and that they were interested in Iraq,” he will recall. “But the administration had not articulated a policy at this stage.” He is not given a copy of the Niger documents before leaving for Africa, nor is he told of their history. “To the best of my knowledge, the documents were not in the possession of the [CIA] at the time I was briefed,” he will recall. “The discussion was whether or not this report could be accurate. During this discussion, everyone who knew something shared stuff about how the uranium business worked, and I laid out what I knew about the government in Niger, what information they could provide.” With this rather sketchy preparation, Wilson leaves for Niger. [Unger, 2007, pp. 240; Wilson, 2007, pp. 113] Wilson’s wife, senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, will later write, “He figured that if the vice president had asked a serious and legitimate question, it deserved a serious answer and he would try to help find it.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 111]
No Trouble Finding Information - Wilson, who knows the Nigerien government and many of its officials, has little trouble finding the information he needs in the following week. In 2006, he will recall: “Niger has a simplistic government structure. Both the minister of mines and the prime minister had gone through the mines. The French were managing partners of the international consortium [which handles Niger’s uranium]. The French mining company actually had its hands on the project. Nobody else in the consortium had operators on the ground.” Wilson also personally knows Wissam al-Zahawie, Iraq’s ambassador to the Vatican who supposedly negotiated the uranium deal with Niger (see February 1999). Wilson will later observe: “Wissam al-Zahawie was a world-class opera singer, and he went to the Vatican as his last post so he could be near the great European opera houses in Rome. He was not in the Ba’athist inner circle. He was not in Saddam [Hussein]‘s tribe. The idea that he would be entrusted with the super-secret mission to buy 500 tons of uranium from Niger is out of the question.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 240-241] Wilson meets with, among other officials, Niger’s former minister of mines, Mai Manga. As later reported by the Senate Intelligence Committee (see July 9, 2004), Manga tells Wilson “there were no sales outside of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) channels since the mid-1980s,” and he “knew of no contracts signed between Niger and any rogue states for the sale of uranium.” Manga says a “French mining consortium controls Nigerien uranium mining and keeps the uranium very tightly controlled from the time it is mined until the time it is loaded onto ships in Benin for transport overseas,” and, “it would be difficult, if not impossible, to arrange a special shipment of uranium to a pariah state given these controls.” [CounterPunch, 11/9/2005]
Meeting with US Ambassador - Wilson arrives in Niger on February 26, two days after Marine General Carlton W. Fulford Jr.‘s meeting (see February 24, 2002) with Nigerien officials. Wilson first meets with US Ambassador to Niger Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, a veteran Foreign Service official, whom Wilson will later describe as “crisp” and well-informed. Over tea in the US Embassy offices in Niamey, Niger’s capital, Owens-Kirkpatrick tells Wilson that she has already concluded that the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq are unfounded. “She had already debunked them in her reports to Washington,” Wilson will later recall. “She said, yeah, she knew a lot about this particular report. She thought she had debunked it—and, oh, by the way, a four-star Marine Corps general had been down there as well—Carlton Fulford. And he had left satisfied there was nothing to report.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 20-22]
Details of Alleged Uranium Production - Niger extracts uranium from two mines, both located in remote locations in the Sahara Desert. It takes well over a day to drive from the mines to Niamey. The mines are owned by a consortium of foreign companies and the Nigerien government, and managed by a French mining company, COGEMA. Because of a recent upswing in the production of Canadian uranium, Niger’s uranium is mined at a net loss, and its only customers are consortium members. Wilson will later write, “[T]he Nigerien government has sold no uranium outside the consortium for two decades.” If Iraq had bought 500 tons of uranium, as the story is told, that would have represented a 40 percent production increase. “There is no doubt,” Wilson will later write, “that such a significant shift from historic production schedules would have been absolutely impossible to hide from the other partners, and most certainly from the managing partner, COGEMA. Everyone involved would have known about it.” Any Nigerien government decision to produce such an amount of uranium would have involved numerous government officials and many well-documented meetings. Because the transaction would have been to a foreign country, Niger’s Foreign Ministry would also have been involved in the decision. To sell Iraq uranium during that time would have been a violation of international law and of UN sanctions against Iraq, a weighty decision that would have ultimately been made by the president of Niger in conjuction with the foreign minister and the minister of mines. Such a decision would have been published in the Nigerien equivalent of the Federal Register and would have dramatic tax and revenue implications. The unexpected huge infusion of cash from the sale would have had a strong impact on the Nigerien economy, and would have been much anticipated and talked about throughout the Nigerien business community. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 22-25]
Off-the-Books Production Virtually Impossible - It is conceivable that such an enormous operation could have been conducted entirely “off the books,” Wilson will write, but virtually impossible to pull off. True, a military junta was in power at the time of the alleged sale, one that felt no responsibility or accountability to the Nigerien people. But even a secret transaction would have been impossible to conceal. Such a transaction would have involved thousands of barrels of clandestinely shipped uranium, extensive and complex adjustments to shipping schedules, and other ramifications. “It simply could not have happened without a great many people knowing about it, and secrets widely known do not remain hidden for long. And again, COGEMA, as the managing partner, would have had to know and be complicit.” Add to that Niger’s dependence on US foreign economic aid and its unwillingness to threaten the loss of that aid by secretly shipping uranium to a country that the US considers a dangerous rogue nation. All told, Wilson concludes, the possibility of such a clandestine operation is remote in the extreme. [Wilson, 2004; Wilson, 2004]
1999 Meeting with Iraqi Official - While speaking with a US Embassy official, Wilson learns about a 1999 meeting between the embassy official and an Iraqi representative in Algiers, perhaps in concert with a similar meeting between Iraqi officials and Niger’s prime minister (see June 1999). [Wilson, 2004, pp. 27-28]
Confirmation that Allegations are Unrealistic - After spending several days talking with current government officials, former government officials, and people associated with the country’s uranium business, Wilson concludes the rumors are completely false. He will later call the allegations “bogus and unrealistic.” [Washington Post, 6/12/2003 pdf file; Knight Ridder, 6/13/2003; Independent, 6/29/2003; New York Times, 7/6/2003; CBS News, 7/11/2003; Vanity Fair, 1/2004; Wilson, 2004, pp. 20-28, 424; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 282; Wilson, 2007, pp. 113]

Entity Tags: Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, Wissam al-Zahawie, Carlton W. Fulford, COGEMA, Mai Manga, Valerie Plame Wilson, Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, Melvin A. Goodman, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Joseph C. Wilson

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

According to the investigation by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, learns from Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman that former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is an undercover CIA agent (see June 10, 2003). Grossman tells Libby that “Joe Wilson’s wife works for the CIA,” and that State Department personnel are saying that Wilson’s wife was involved in planning Wilson’s trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 216; Marcy Wheeler, 1/23/2007] Plame Wilson was working on counterproliferation issues for the CIA, and Grossman is allegedly involved in a nuclear smuggling ring (see (1997-2002) and Summer 2001). Grossman tipped the ring off to Plame Wilson’s attempts to penetrate it in the summer of 2001 (see Summer-Autumn 2001). Libby also receives the same information from an unnamed senior CIA official. [MSNBC, 2/21/2007] According to Libby’s 2005 indictment for perjury and obstruction of justice (see October 28, 2005), “Libby spoke with a senior officer of the CIA to ask about the origin and circumstances of Wilson’s trip (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), and was advised by the CIA officer that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA and was believed to be responsible for sending Wilson on the trip.” The next day, according to the indictment, Cheney will tell Libby that Plame Wilson works for the CIA’s counterproliferation division (see (June 12, 2003)). [National Journal, 2/2/2006]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Marc Grossman

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Portion of Libby’s notes indicating the approximated date of June 12, 2003.Portion of Libby’s notes indicating the approximated date of June 12, 2003. [Source: Office of the Vice President / The Next Hurrah]Vice President Cheney informs his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, that Valerie Plame Wilson is a senior official for the CIA’s counterproliferation division. Cheney tells Libby that he has learned that information from CIA Director George Tenet (see June 11 or 12, 2003). Cheney’s conversation with Libby is made public over two years later, when Libby is indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice in regards to the investigation of White House officials leaking Plame Wilson’s identity to the press (see October 28, 2005). According to the indictment: “On or about June 12, 2003, Libby was advised by the vice president of the United States that [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson’s wife worked at the Central Intelligence Agency in the counterproliferation division. Libby understood that the vice president had learned this information from the CIA.” Cheney was within the law to inform Libby of Plame Wilson’s CIA employment, as he could with any government official with the proper security clearance. [Office of the Vice President, 6/12/2003 pdf file; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 216; New York Times, 2006; National Journal, 2/2/2006; MSNBC, 2/21/2007] Libby has also learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from Marc Grossman of the State Department (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003).
Date of Conversation Unclear - The exact date of the Cheney-Libby conversation is somewhat unclear. Libby’s note on the conversation is dated June 12, but Libby later admits that he wrote the date and the description of the conversation—“telephone VP re ‘Uranium in Iraq’—Kristof NYT article”—after the fact, and then changed the date at an even later time. [Office of the Vice President, 6/12/2003 pdf file; Marcy Wheeler, 2/3/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 6/6/2007] Libby will later testify that the date of the conversation might have been before June 12. [US Department of Justice, 3/5/2004 pdf file] He will also testify that Cheney tells him about Plame Wilson “in an off sort of, curiosity sort of, fashion,” according to other court documents later made public. [National Journal, 2/6/2006] Libby will soon inform a reporter of Plame Wilson’s CIA status (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). He is aware of Plame Wilson’s covert status (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003).

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, George J. Tenet, Counterproliferation Division, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Valerie Plame Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

According to the investigation by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, discusses former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) and his wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003 and (June 12, 2003)), with his CIA briefer, Craig Schmall. According to Schmall’s later testimony (see January 24-25, 2007), Libby is annoyed over Wilson’s 2002 trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 216; MSNBC, 2/21/2007] Libby asks Schmall why Wilson was told the trip originated from questions emanating from Cheney. Schmall’s handwritten notes indicate that Libby refers to “Joe Wilson” and “Valerie Wilson.” [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007; New York Times, 2/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Craig Schmall, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

CIA official Craig Schmall, who serves as Vice President Dick Cheney’s agency briefer and has served as the briefer for Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby (see 7:00 a.m. June 14, 2003 and July 14, 2003), is interviewed by the FBI in the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation. Schmall says nothing about either Valerie Plame Wilson or her husband, Joseph Wilson, though he discussed both of them with Libby and Cheney. It is not known if the FBI is aware of the earlier conversations between Schmall, Libby, and Cheney. [Central Intelligence Agency, 1/9/2004 pdf file; Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Central Intelligence Agency, Craig Schmall, Joseph C. Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Valerie Plame Wilson, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

CIA official Craig Schmall, who serves as Vice President Dick Cheney’s agency briefer and has served as the briefer for Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby (see 7:00 a.m. June 14, 2003 and July 14, 2003), is interviewed again by the FBI in the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see January 8, 2004). As in his first interview, Schmall says nothing about either Valerie Plame Wilson or her husband, Joseph Wilson, though he discussed both of them with Libby and Cheney; it is unclear if the FBI is aware of Schmall’s discussions with the two White House officials. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007]

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

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

A court filing by Lewis Libby’s defense team lists the witnesses the lawyers say they intend to put on the stand in their client’s defense. The list includes:
bullet Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see June 13, 2003, After October 28, 2005, and November 14, 2005);
bullet Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see July 7, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, and 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003);
bullet Former Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman (see June 10, 2003);
bullet Former Secretary of State Colin Powell (see July 16, 2004);
bullet White House political strategist Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003, July 8 or 9, 2003, and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003);
bullet Former CIA Director George Tenet (see June 11 or 12, 2003, July 11, 2003 and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003);
bullet Former US ambassador Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003);
bullet Former CIA covert operative Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003);
bullet National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley (see July 21, 2003 and November 14, 2005);
bullet CIA briefers Craig Schmall (see 7:00 a.m. June 14, 2003), Peter Clement, and/or Matt Barrett;
bullet Former CIA officials Robert Grenier (see 4:30 p.m. June 10, 2003, 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, and 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003) and/or John McLaughlin (see June 11 or 12, 2003);
bullet Former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow (see 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), and Before July 14, 2003);
bullet Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington (see July 8, 2003);
bullet Former Cheney press secretary Cathie Martin (see 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003); and
bullet Cheney himself (see July 12, 2003 and Late September or Early October, 2003).
The defense also:
bullet Wants notes from a September 2003 White House briefing where Powell reportedly claimed that many people knew of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity before it became public knowledge;
bullet Implies that Grossman may not be an unbiased witness;
bullet Suspects Fleischer may have already cooperated with the investigation (see June 10, 2004);
bullet Intends to argue that Libby had no motive to lie to either the FBI (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003) or the grand jury (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004); and
bullet Intends to argue that columnist Robert Novak’s primary source for his column exposing Plame Wilson as a CIA official was not Libby, but “a source outside the White House” (see July 8, 2003). [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/17/2006 pdf file; Jeralyn Merritt, 3/18/2006]
Criminal defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt believes Libby’s team may be preparing to lay blame for the Plame Wilson leak on Grossman. She writes that, in her view, “Libby’s lawyers are publicly laying out how they intend to impeach him: by claiming he is not to be believed because (either or both) his true loyalty is to Richard Armitage rather than to the truth, or he is a self-aggrandizing government employee who thinks of himself a true patriot whose duty it is to save the integrity of the State Department.” [Jeralyn Merritt, 4/4/2006] Libby’s lawyers indicate that they will challenge Plame Wilson’s significance as a covert CIA official (see Fall 1992 - 1996, April 2001 and After, Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, and February 13, 2006). “The prosecution has an interest in continuing to overstate the significance of Ms. Wilson’s affiliation with the CIA,” the court filing states. They also intend to attempt to blame Armitage, Grossman, Grenier, McLaughlin, Schmall, and/or other officials outside the White House proper as the real sources for the Plame Wilson identity leak. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/17/2006 pdf file; Truthout (.org), 3/18/2006]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Novak, Robert Grenier, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Colin Powell, Ari Fleischer, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Bill Harlow, Richard Armitage, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Stephen J. Hadley, Matt Barrett, George J. Tenet, Peter Clement, Craig Schmall, Jeralyn Merritt, John E. McLaughlin, David S. Addington, Karl C. Rove, Joseph C. Wilson, Marc Grossman, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Court papers affirm that two CIA officials will testify that accused perjurer Lewis Libby (see October 28, 2005) lied about how he learned the identity of former covert CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson. Former senior CIA official Robert Grenier (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003) and CIA briefer Craig Schmall (see 7:00 a.m. June 14, 2003) will testify for the prosecution, and say they informed Libby of Plame Wilson’s CIA status a month before Libby claims he learned of her CIA identity from a reporter (see July 10 or 11, 2003). [New York Daily News, 5/23/2006]

Entity Tags: Craig Schmall, Central Intelligence Agency, Robert Grenier, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

CIA officer Craig Schmall, who regularly briefed both Lewis Libby and his former boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, testifies that Libby had spoken to him about former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s Niger trip on June 14, 2003 (see 7:00 a.m. June 14, 2003). [MSNBC, 2/21/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007]
Libby Quizzed Schmall about Wilson Trip - Schmall is now a manager in the Directorate of Intelligence. In 2003, he was the CIA’s assigned briefer for Libby and later Cheney. He recalls that at the June 14 briefing, Libby was “annoyed” that someone at the CIA had apparently discussed sensitive issues with a reporter, specifically regarding allegations that Cheney was pressuring CIA officials to produce slanted intelligence “proving” Iraq harbored WMDs. He then asked Schmall about Wilson’s Niger trip. Libby wanted to know why someone told Wilson that the Office of the Vice President had pushed for his trip to Niger. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007]
'Grave Danger' of Leaking CIA Official's Identity - Schmall testifies that when he read Robert Novak’s column outing Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), he expressed his concerns to both Cheney and Libby. “I thought there was a grave danger leaking the name of a CIA officer,” Schmall says he told the two. “Foreign intelligence services where she served now have the opportunity to investigate everyone whom she had come in contact with. They could be arrested, tortured, or killed.” [National Journal, 2/15/2007]
Jury Cannot Consider Plame Wilson's CIA Status - Before the defense cross-examines Schmall, Judge Reggie Walton instructs the jury that it will not receive evidence of Plame Wilson’s CIA status—i.e. whether or not she was a covert official—and whether her outing posed a real risk to national security. According to a transcript by court observer and progressive blogger Marcy Wheeler, Walton says: “Her actual status, or damage, are totally irrelevant to your assessment of defendant’s guilt or innocence. You may not speculate or guess about them. You may consider what Mr. Libby believed about her status.” [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007]
Defense Impugns Schmall's Memory - Defense lawyer John Cline reads item after item from the 27 points in a morning briefing prepared for Libby by Schmall; the CIA briefer cannot recall any of the items. “This was very important stuff,” Cline observes. The Associated Press will later write, “Cline wants to make the point that if Schmall cannot remember the details of the briefing—which included more than two dozen potential terrorist threats or intelligence issues—it is plausible Libby forgot about it, too.” Cline also establishes that Schmall is not clear about who from the prosecution was present during his 2004 discussion with FBI interviewers (see April 22, 2004). [Associated Press, 1/25/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007; New York Times, 2/4/2007]
Judge: 'Suicide' if Libby Fails to Testify - The defense’s cross-examination of Schmall spills over into the morning of January 25. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald performs a brief redirect of Schmall, attempting to establish his reliable memory. The defense successfully objects to Fitzgerald’s line of questionining; Wheeler speculates that Fitzgerald is trying to lead Schmall too strongly. Lawyers for both sides engage in a lengthy sidebar over whether the defense can use Schmall as part of its “memory defense” strategy (see January 31, 2006) without actually putting Libby on the stand; Walton says the defense will commit “suicide” if Libby fails to testify (see January 24, 2007). Walton instructs the jury that Cline’s questions are not evidence, they are only to consider Schmall’s answers. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Craig Schmall, John Cline, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Office of the Vice President, Central Intelligence Agency, Robert Novak, Reggie B. Walton, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Marcy Wheeler, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Peter Zeidenberg (left) and Patrick Fitzgerald outside the courthouse during the Libby trial.Peter Zeidenberg (left) and Patrick Fitzgerald outside the courthouse during the Libby trial. [Source: Reuters / Jonathan Ernst]After some final sparring between opposing counsel, the prosecution makes its closing argument in the Lewis Libby perjury and obstruction trial. Assistant prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg opens with a lengthy presentation summing up the prosecution’s case against Libby. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007]
Evidence Proves Libby Lied to FBI, Grand Jury - According to Zeidenberg, the evidence as presented shows that Libby lied to both the FBI (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003) and the grand jury empaneled to investigate the Plame Wilson identity leak (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004). He lied about how he learned about Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity, who he spoke to about it, and what he said when he talked to others about Plame Wilson. A number of witnesses, including NBC reporter Tim Russert (see February 7-8, 2007), testified about Libby’s discussions to them about Plame Wilson’s identity. Libby forgot nine separate conversations over a four-week period, Zeidenberg says, and invented two conversations that never happened, one with Russert and one with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper. “That’s not a matter of forgetting or misremembering,” he says, “it’s lying.”
No Evidence of White House 'Scapegoating' - The defense argued in its opening statement that Libby was being “scapegoated” by the White House to protect the president’s deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove (see January 23, 2007). No witness, either for the prosecution or the defense, referenced any such effort to scapegoat Libby. The defense may have promised evidence showing such a conspiracy to frame Libby, but, Zeidenberg says, “unfulfilled promises from counsel do not constitute evidence.”
Libby Learned of Plame Wilson's Identity from Five Administration Officials in Three Days - Zeidenberg then walks the jury through the testimony as given by prosecution witnesses. Both former State Department official Marc Grossman (see January 23-24, 2007) and former CIA official Robert Grenier testified (see January 24, 2007) that Libby had badgered Grossman for information about former ambassador and administration critic Joseph Wilson (see May 29, 2003), and Grossman not only told Libby about Wilson and his CIA-sponsored trip to Niger, but that Wilson’s wife was a CIA official (see June 10, 2003 and 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003). Zeidenberg notes, “When Grossman told this to Libby, it was the fourth time, in two days, that Libby had been told about Wilson’s wife.” Libby had learned from Vice President Cheney that Wilson’s wife was a CIA official (see (June 12, 2003)). Two hours after Libby’s meeting with Grossman, Grenier told the jury that Libby had pulled him out of a meeting to discuss Wilson (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003). During that impromptu discussion, Grenier told Libby that Wilson’s wife was a CIA official. Libby then learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from Cathie Martin, Cheney’s communications aide (see 5:25 p.m. June 10, 2003 and 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003). Martin, who testified for the prosecution (see January 25-29, 2007), learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from CIA press official Bill Harlow. Zeidenberg ticks off the officials who informed Libby of Plame Wilson’s CIA status: Cheney, Grenier, Martin, and Grossman. (Zeidenberg is as yet unaware that Libby had also heard from another State Department official, Frederick Fleitz, of Plame Wilson’s CIA status—see (June 11, 2003)). On June 14, Libby heard about Plame Wilson from another CIA official, briefer Craig Schmall (see 7:00 a.m. June 14, 2003), who has also testified for the prosecution (see January 24-25, 2007). Schmall’s testimony corroborates the testimony from Martin, Grossman, and Grenier, Zeidenberg asserts.
Leaking Information to Judith Miller - On June 23, just over a week after learning Plame Wilson was a CIA official, Libby informed then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller of Plame Wilson’s CIA status (see June 23, 2003). Why? Zeidenberg asks. Because Libby wanted to discredit the CIA over what Libby saw as the agency’s failure to back the administration’s claims about Iraqi WMDs. Miller is the sixth person, Zeidenberg says, that Libby talked to about Plame Wilson. Miller also testified for the prosecution (see January 30-31, 2007).
Told Press Secretary - On July 7, Libby told White House press secretary Ari Fleischer about Plame Wilson (see 12:00 p.m. July 7, 2003). Fleischer, under a grant of immunity from the prosecution, also testified (see January 29, 2007). By that point, Wilson had published his op-ed in the New York Times (see July 6, 2003), a column the administration considered to be highly damaging towards its credibility. Libby told Fleischer that the information about Plame Wilson was to be kept “hush hush.” However, Zeidenberg says, it is likely that Libby intended Fleischer to spread the information about Plame Wilson to other reporters, which in fact he did (see 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Fleischer is the seventh person that evidence shows Libby spoke to concerning Plame Wilson.
Conferring with Cheney's Chief Counsel - The eighth person in this list is David Addington. At the time, Addington was Cheney’s chief counsel; after Libby stepped down over being indicted for perjury and obstruction (see October 28, 2005), Addington replaced him as Cheney’s chief of staff. Addington also testified for the prosecution (see January 30, 2007). Libby asked Addington if the president could legally declassify information at will, referring to the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (NIE—see October 1, 2002). Libby planned on leaking NIE material to Miller on July 8 (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003).
Leaking Classified Material to Miller - As stated, Libby indeed leaked classified material to Miller, during their meeting at the St. Regis Hotel. The “declassification” was highly unusual; only Cheney, Libby, and President Bush knew of the declassification. Libby again told Miller of Plame Wilson’s CIA status, and this time told her, incorrectly, that Plame Wilson worked in the WINPAC (Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control) section of the agency. Cheney and Libby chose Miller, of all the reporters in the field, to leak the information to, Zeidenberg says; in her turn, Miller went to jail for almost three months rather than testify against Libby (see October 7, 2004). That fact damages her credibility as a prosecution witness.
The Russert Claim - Zeidenberg then turns to NBC’s Russert, who also testified for the prosecution (see February 7-8, 2007). Zeidenberg notes that after lead defense attorney Theodore Wells initially asserted that neither Russert nor any other reporter testifying for the prosecution was lying under oath, Wells and other defense attorneys cross-examined Russert for over five hours trying to prove that he indeed did lie. Libby claimed repeatedly to the grand jury that Russert told him of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity (see July 10 or 11, 2003), an assertion Russert has repeatedly denied. Zeidenberg plays an audiotape of Libby’s grand jury testimony featuring Libby’s assertion. Libby, Zeidenberg states, lied to the grand jury. Russert never made any such statement to Libby. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007] The defense tried to assert that Russert lied about his conversation with Libby because of some “bad blood” between the two. However, “evidence of [such a] feud is completely absent from the trial.” And if such a feud existed, why would Libby have chosen Russert to lie about before the jury? Such an assertion is merely a desperate attempt to discredit Russert, Zeidenberg says.
Matthew Cooper - Zeidenberg then turns to former Time reporter Matthew Cooper, another recipient of a Libby leak about Plame Wilson (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003). Cooper also testified for the prosecution (see January 31, 2007). When Libby told the grand jury that Cooper asked him about Plame Wilson being a CIA official, and Libby said he responded, “I don’t know if it’s true,” Libby lied to the jury. Zeidenberg plays the audiotape of Libby making the Cooper claim. Had Libby made such a statement, Cooper could not have used it as confirmation of his own reporting. Cooper did indeed use Libby as a source for a Time article (see July 17, 2003). Cooper’s testimony is corroborated by Martin’s recollection of the Libby-Cooper conversation. Zeidenberg says: “Martin was present. She never heard any of what you heard Libby just hear it. She never heard, ‘I don’t know if it’s true.’ If she had heard it, she would have said something, because she knew it was true.”
FBI Agent Bond's Testimony - Zeidenberg briefly references testimony from FBI agent Deborah Bond (see February 1-5, 2007), who told the court that Libby may have discussed leaking Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. Bond’s testimony corroborates the prosecution’s assertion that Libby attempted to obscure where he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity.
Grounds for Conviction - Zeidenberg reminds the jury of the three separate instances the prosecution says are Libby lies, then tells them if they find any one of the three statements to be actual lies, they can convict Libby of perjury. “You don’t have to find that all three were false beyond reasonable doubt,” he says. “You have to unanimously agree on any one.” Of the two false statements Libby is charged with making to investigators, the jury need only find one of them is truly false.
Defense Assertions - Zeidenberg turns to Libby’s main defense, that he was so overwhelmed with important work as Cheney’s chief of staff that it is unreasonable to expect him to remember the details that he is accused of lying about (see January 31, 2006). Zeidenberg says the trial has elicited numerous instances of conversations Libby had, for example his conversation with Rove about Robert Novak (see July 8 or 9, 2003), that he remembered perfectly well. Zeidenberg then plays the relevant audiotape from the grand jury proceedings. Why is it, he asks, that Libby can remember that conversation so well, but consistently misremembered nine separate conversations he had about Plame Wilson? “When you consider Libby’s testimony, there’s a pattern of always forgetting about Wilson’s wife,” Zeidenberg says. Libby remembered details about Fleischer being a Miami Dolphins fan, but didn’t remember talking about Plame Wilson. He remembered talking about the NIE with Miller, but not Plame Wilson. He remembered talking about declassification with Addington, but not Wilson’s wife. Zeidenberg calls it a “convenient pattern,” augmented by Libby’s specific recollections about not discussing other issues, such as Cheney’s handwritten notes about Wilson’s op-ed (see July 7, 2003 or Shortly After). The defense also claims that Libby confused Russert with Novak; Zeidenberg puts up pictures of Russert and Novak side by side, and asks if it is credible to think that Libby made such a mistake. The entire “memory defense,” Zeidenberg says, is “not credible to believe. It’s ludicrous.” Libby was far too involved in the administration’s efforts to discredit Wilson (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006). [Associated Press, 2/20/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007]
Motive to Lie - Zeidenberg addresses the idea of motive: why would Libby lie to the FBI and the grand jury, and why nine government witnesses would lie to the Libby jury. “Is it conceivable that all nine witnesses would make the same mistake in their memory?” he asks. Not likely. It is far more likely that Libby was motivated to lie because when he testified to FBI investigators, he knew there was an ongoing investigation into the Plame Wilson leak. He knew he had talked to Miller, Cooper, and Fleischer. He knew the FBI was looking for him. He knew from newspaper articles entered into evidence that the leak could have severely damaged Plame Wilson’s informant network and the Brewster Jennings front company (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, October 29, 2005, and February 13, 2006). Even Addington’s testimony, about Libby asking him about the legality of leaking classified information, is evidence of Libby’s anxiety over having disclosed such information. And Libby knew that such disclosure is a breach of his security clearance, not only risking his job, but prosecution as well. So when he is questioned by the FBI, he had a choice: tell the truth and take his chances with firing and prosecution for disclosing the identity of a covert agent, or lie about it. “And, ladies and gentlemen,” Zeidenberg says, “he took the second choice. He made up a story that he thought would cover it.” And when caught out, he claimed to have forgotten that he originally knew about Plame Wilson’s identity. Libby, Zeidenberg says, “made a gamble. He lied. Don’t you think the FBI and the grand jury and the American people are entitled to straight answers?” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007; Murray Waas, 12/23/2008]
No Conspiracy, Just a Lie - Zeidenberg concludes by telling the jury that there was no grand White House conspiracy to scapegoat Libby, nor was there an NBC conspiracy to smear him. The case is just about Libby lying to federal authorities. “When you consider all the evidence, the government has established that the defendant lied to the FBI, lied to the grand jury, and obstructed justice.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007]

Entity Tags: Matthew Cooper, Peter Zeidenberg, Theodore Wells, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Tim Russert, Marc Grossman, Robert Grenier, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Frederick Fleitz, Judith Miller, Bush administration (43), Bill Harlow, Ari Fleischer, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Craig Schmall, David S. Addington, Joseph C. Wilson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Deborah Bond, Karl C. Rove, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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