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Context of 'September 15, 2004: Post Reporter Testifies in Plame Wilson Leak Investigation'

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White House press secretary Ari Fleischer reveals Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status to Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus. Fleischer, returning from Africa aboard Air Force One, attacked the credibility of Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic Joseph Wilson, just hours before (see 3:20 a.m. July 12, 2003). Since then, Vice President Dick Cheney has coordinated a White House strategy to discredit Wilson (see July 12, 2003). Fleischer tells Pincus that the White House paid no attention to the 2002 mission to Niger by Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) because it was set up as a boondoggle by Wilson’s wife, whom Fleischer incorrectly identifies as an “analyst” with the agency working on WMD issues. Pincus will not reveal the Fleischer leak until October 2003. [Pincus, 7/12/2003 pdf file; Nieman Watchdog, 7/6/2005; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007] Reporter Murray Waas will later write that Fleischer outed Plame Wilson to Pincus and others “in an effort to undermine Wilson’s credibility.” [American Prospect, 4/22/2005] Fleischer will later testify that he did not inform Pincus of Plame Wilson’s identity (see June 10, 2004 and January 29, 2007). “No sir,” he will say. “I would have remembered it if it happened.” [Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2007]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Joseph C. Wilson, Bush administration (43), Ari Fleischer, Murray Waas, Valerie Plame Wilson, Walter Pincus

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Patrick Fitzgerald.Patrick Fitzgerald. [Source: US Department of Justice]Citing potential conflicts of interest, Attorney General John Ashcroft formally recuses himself from any further involvement in the investigation of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see September 26, 2003 and September 30, 2003). The Justice Department names Patrick Fitzgerald, the US attorney for the Chicago region, to handle the investigation. In a letter to Fitzgerald authorizing the position, Deputy Attorney General James Comey writes: “I hereby delegate to you all the authority of the attorney general with respect to the department’s investigation into the alleged unauthorized disclosure of a CIA employee’s identity, and I direct you to exercise that authority as special counsel independent of the supervision or control of any officer of the department.” Many believe that Ashcroft’s continued involvement has become politically untenable, and that the investigation has reached a point where his potential conflicts of interest can no longer be ignored. The White House steadfastly denies that any of its officials leaked Plame Wilson’s name to conservative columnist Robert Novak, who first outed Plame Wilson in his column (see July 14, 2003), or any other member of the press. The FBI has already spoken to White House political adviser Karl Rove, suspected of being one of Novak’s sources; Rove has close political ties to Ashcroft. Upon Ashcroft’s recusal, the investigation was given over to Comey, who immediately named Fitzgerald to head the investigation. Fitzgerald and Comey, himself a former Manhattan prosecutor, are close friends and colleagues. [Office of the Deputy Attorney General, 12/30/2003 pdf file; Associated Press, 12/30/2003; New York Times, 12/31/2003]
Appearance of Conflict of Interest - Comey tells the press: “The attorney general, in an abundance of caution, believed that his recusal was appropriate based on the totality of the circumstances and the facts and evidence developed at this stage of the investigation. I agree with that judgment. And I also agree that he made it at the appropriate time, the appropriate point in this investigation.” Comey says that while Ashcroft denies an actual conflict of interest exists, “The issue that he was concerned about was one of appearance.” White House officials say that President Bush had no role in the decision; some White House and law enforcement officials were surprised upon learning of Comey’s decision.
Investigation Reaching into White House? - Some Democrats believe that Ashcroft’s recusal is an indication that the investigation is moving into the White House itself. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says of Comey’s decision, “This isn’t everything that I asked for, but it’s close.” In regards to Fitzgerald, Schumer says, “I would have preferred to have someone outside the government altogether, but given Fitzgerald’s reputation for integrity and ability—similar to Comey’s—the glass is three-quarters full.” Governor Howard Dean (D-VT), a leading Democratic contender for the presidency, says Ashcroft’s decision “is too little, too late.” For the last three months, the investigation has been run by John Dion, the Justice Department’s chief of counterespionage. Whether Fitzgerald will ask Dion or other Justice Department investigators to remain on the case remains to be seen. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he thought maybe he ought to keep some or all of the career folks involved,” says Comey. Fitzgerald has the authority to issue subpoenas and grant immunity on his own authority, Comey confirms. “I told him that my mandate to him was very simple. Follow the facts wherever they lead, and do the right thing at all times. And that’s something, if you know this guy, is not something I even needed to tell him.” [New York Times, 12/31/2003]
Fitzgerald's 'Impressive Reputation' - Fitzgerald has earned an “impressive reputation,” in Plame Wilson’s words, as a government prosecutor. In 1993, he won a guilty plea from Mafia capo John Gambino, and a conviction against Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see July 3, 1993). He put together the first criminal indictment against Osama bin Laden. In 2003 he indicted former Illinois Republican governor George Ryan on fraud and conspiracy charges; in 2005, he indicted several aides of Chicago Democratic mayor Richard Daley on mail fraud. He brought charges of criminal fraud against Canadian media tycoon Conrad Black. As Plame Wilson will write, “Fitzgerald was not easily intimidated by wealth, status, or threats.”
'Belated Christmas Present' - In 2007, Plame Wilson will write: “It was a belated but welcome Christmas present. Ashcroft had clearly given some thought to his extensive financial and personal ties to Karl Rove, who even then was believed to have had a significant role in the leak, and made the right decision.” She will also add that several years after the recusal, she hears secondhand from a friend of Ashcroft’s that Ashcroft was “troubled” and “lost sleep” over the administration’s action. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 174-175]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Karl C. Rove, US Department of Justice, John Dion, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, James B. Comey Jr., Bush administration (43), Charles Schumer, Howard Dean, George W. Bush, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald informs Washington Post lawyer Eric Lieberman that he wants to interview Post reporters Walter Pincus and Glenn Kessler regarding the Plame Wilson identity leak. Additionally, he informs Newsday that he wants to interview reporters from that publication. Fitzgerald declines to specify what information he wants from the reporters. Both Pincus (see June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 12, 2003, (July 11, 2003), and 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003) and Kessler (see July 12, 2003) have some involvement in the White House’s attempt to discredit war critic Joseph Wilson, and in its outing of his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as a CIA official; so do Newsday reporters Knut Royce and Timothy Phelps (see February 2004). Some of the reporters will eventually cooperate, to a limited extent, with Fitzgerald’s investigation (see June 2004 and September 15, 2004). [Washington Post, 5/15/2004; Washington Post, 5/22/2004]

Entity Tags: Newsday, Eric Lieberman, Bush administration (43), Glenn Kessler, Knut Royce, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Washington Post, Joseph C. Wilson, Timothy Phelps, Valerie Plame Wilson, Walter Pincus

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus is subpoenaed by the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003). Pincus has written that a Post reporter received information about Plame Wilson from a Bush administration official. The Post says it intends to fight the subpoena (see August 20, 2004). [New York Times, 8/10/2004; Washington Post, 8/10/2004] Pincus later reflects that he had dodged attempts by the FBI to interview him about Plame Wilson, and believed that the Bush official who had informed him of her identity had not broken any laws. “I thought it was damage control,” he will later say. “My source had been trying to get me to stop writing about Joe Wilson [Plame Wilson’s husband]. I believed that the Democrats were too wound up thinking that a crime had been committed.” [Vanity Fair, 4/2006]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation, Walter Pincus, Washington Post

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

Columnist and media observer Allan Wolper notes that while conservative columnist Robert Novak, who outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson apparently at the behest of the White House (see July 14, 2003), continues to “spout… off in his syndicated column, he keeps a secret he would not permit any politician to get away with.” Wolper is writing of Novak’s continued refusal to divulge whether he was subpoenaed by the grand jury investigating the case, or if he testified before that grand jury. Wolper calls it an “untenable ethical position,” and bolsters his position with observations from media ethicists such as Robert Steele, the director of ethics for the Poynter Institute of Media Studies. “If he has a justifiable reason to withhold that information, he should give a reason why,” Steele says. “Otherwise, he is undermining his credibility as an honest broker of ethical journalism. If he were on the other side, he would challenge journalists for not saying anything.” Novak is defended by, among others, Washington Post reporter and assistant managing editor Bob Woodward, who says: “Bob Novak has taken a stand that is supported by many in the press. He is protecting his sources. He has done nothing that is illegal or improper.” (Wolper is unaware as of this writing that Woodward has his own secondary involvement in the case, having been himself told of Plame Wilson’s identity several times before (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, and June 27, 2003).) Wolper notes that while Novak has refused to speak about subpoenas or testimonies, Post reporters Glenn Kessler and Walter Pincus have both given sworn depositions to the grand jury (see June 22, 2004 and September 15, 2004). Wolper writes, “They might have been able to fight off their subpoenas if their lawyers had known whether Novak… had been called by the grand jury.” Aside from Kessler and Pincus, Time reporter Matthew Cooper (see July 17, 2003) testified after being threatened with jail (see May 21, 2004, August 24, 2004, July 6, 2005, and July 13, 2005), and New York Times reporter Judith Miller is facing jail rather than testify (see December 2004). “Novak has an obligation to own up,” Wolper writes. Instead, “Novak continues to live a charmed life in journalism, writing his column and appearing regularly on CNN, where he is never challenged.” CNN media critic Jeff Greenfield says of Novak’s case, “I haven’t thought it through. I don’t want to talk about it, because I have no opinion on it.” Jack Nelson, the retired bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times, says: “This whole thing is really strange. Novak was the guy who wrote the column that exposed the CIA agent, and yet they don’t seem to be going after him.” [Editor & Publisher, 12/1/2004]

Entity Tags: Jack Nelson, Bob Woodward, Allan Wolper, Bush administration (43), Glenn Kessler, Walter Pincus, Robert Steele, Jeff Greenfield, Judith Miller, Valerie Plame Wilson, CNN, Matthew Cooper, Robert Novak

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Eve Burton, the general counsel for the Hearst Corporation, says the success of the subpoenas and compelled testimony levied against reporters in the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see August 7, 2004, August 9, 2004, August 9, 2004, August 12, 2004 and After, August 24, 2004, September 13, 2004, September 15, 2004, October 7, 2004, October 13, 2004, December 2004, February 15, 2005, June 27, 2005, July 1, 2005, July 6, 2005, July 6, 2005, July 11, 2005, July 13, 2005, September 15, 2005, September 29, 2005, September 30, 2005, October 7, 2005, October 12, 2005, November 14, 2005, November 16-17, 2005, and January 20, 2006) has been chilling for reporters. She calls recent developments “troubling,” and continues, “From July to December [2005] we had 42 subpoenas, eight times the number we got in the same six-month period last year.” The language in all the court cases and filings “either invoke[s] the Plame case or they say that now all the rules have changed.” Burton blames the Bush Justice Department in part for the trend, saying: “It is clearly a political decision coming out of the Bush Justice Department to go after the press in this country. In our 42 subpoenas, they will come after anything and everything—B roll at the TV stations, for example. Basic general assignment reporting. A call will come in from the government: ‘I understand you took footage of Joe Blow!’ And the reporter at a station, usually inexperienced, will say, ‘No, we did not take any footage.’ Then we will end up having fights in court with the prosecutor about what constitutes a waiver.” The subpoenas at Hearst, Burton says, involve broadcast stations and newspapers all over the country. “Typically, it is non-published and confidential material” being subpoenaed, she says. “This is the danger of making the press the investigative arm for the government.” Burton and Hearst are fighting every subpoena, no matter how seemingly minor. Burton does not blame special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald as much as she blames the increasing lackadaisical attitude of the press itself. “The media has taken its responsibility to fight these subpoenas too loosely,” she says. “When we were fighting every single battle, we were doing better. Then we went through a time when we started to make deals. When you start making deals, you empower people to come after you. It is as simple as that.” [Vanity Fair, 4/2006]

Entity Tags: Eve Burton, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, US Department of Justice, Hearst Corporation

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

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