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Context of 'September 20, 2006: NBC Producer Writes Analysis Promoting Use of Armitage Admission in Libby Defense'

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Syndicated columnist Robert Novak discusses former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s journey to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see Late June 2003). Novak asks Armitage, “Why in the world did [the CIA] send Joe Wilson on this?” and Armitage answers by revealing what he has learned from a State Department intelligence memo (see June 10, 2003) that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a CIA agent who works with the issue of weapons of mass destruction. “I don’t know,” Armitage says, “but his wife works out there.” Armitage also tells Novak that Plame Wilson “suggested” her husband for the Niger trip. [Fox News, 9/8/2006; Wilson, 2007, pp. 256; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007] Novak has already learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see July 7, 2003). Either later this day, or sometime during the next day, Novak also learns of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from White House political adviser Karl Rove (see July 8 or 9, 2003). Novak will publicly reveal Plame Wilson’s CIA status in his next column, apparently as part of an effort to discredit her husband (see July 6, 2003 and July 14, 2003). [New York Times, 7/15/2005; New York Times, 7/16/2005]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Karl C. Rove, Richard Armitage, Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Robert Novak

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Screen graphic from CNN’s coverage of Lewis Libby’s indictment.Screen graphic from CNN’s coverage of Lewis Libby’s indictment. [Source: CNN / Flickr]Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, is indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice. Libby is accused of “outing” Valerie Plame Wilson, an undercover CIA agent, to the press (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, and 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003), and then lying about it to the FBI and to a grand jury empaneled by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald (see December 30, 2003, March 5, 2004, and March 24, 2004). Libby immediately resigns his position as Cheney’s chief of staff. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 pdf file; CNN, 5/14/2006; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007]
Five Counts of Obstruction, Two Counts of Perjury - Libby is indicted on five counts of obstruction of justice and two counts of perjury. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 pdf file; MSNBC, 2/21/2007] Though the original investigation was of the Plame Wilson leak, Fitzgerald says it is important to understand that Libby’s crimes, though not the prime focus of the initial investigation, should be prosecuted as well. “Investigators do not set out to investigate the statute, they set out to gather the facts,” he says. The indictment does not charge Libby with knowingly disclosing the identity of a covert agent. [New York Times, 10/28/2005]
Confirms that CIA Agent's Status Classified; Important to National Security - Fitzgerald confirms that the fact of Plame Wilson’s employment at the CIA was in and of itself classified information, and not to be shared to the media or the public. He says: “The fact that she was a CIA officer was not well known, for her protection or for the benefit of all us. It’s important that a CIA officer’s identity be protected, that it be protected not just for the officer, but for the nation’s security.… [T]he damage wasn’t to one person. It wasn’t just Valerie Wilson. It was done to all of us” (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, and February 13, 2006). [New York Times, 10/28/2005; Nation, 3/16/2007]
Libby Lied about Knowledge of Plame Wilson's Status, Indictment Charges - The indictment charges that Libby lied when he claimed that he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from NBC reporter Tim Russert (see November 24, 2003, March 5, 2004, March 24, 2004, and August 7, 2004). Instead, the indictment charges, Libby learned about Plame Wilson and her possible role in sending her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger to investigate claims of Iraqi attempts to buy uranium (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) from a number of people, including an undersecretary of state (see June 10, 2003), a CIA officer who regularly briefed him on national security issues (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), an unidentified “senior CIA officer,” and from his superior, Cheney (see (June 12, 2003)). In his turn, Libby shared that information with several officials in the Office of the Vice President, including Cheney’s senior counsel David Addington (see July 8, 2003), Cheney’s national security adviser John Hannah (see May 29, 2003), and Cheney’s press secretary at the time, Cathie Martin (who may have actually informed Libby—see 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003). “In fact, Mr. Libby was the first official known to have told a reporter when he talked to Judith Miller in June of 2003 about Valerie Wilson” (see June 23, 2003), Fitzgerald says. “[T]o be frank, Mr. Libby gave the FBI a compelling story,” he adds. “It would be a compelling story that will lead the FBI to go away if only it were true. It is not true, according to the indictment.” [New York Times, 10/28/2005; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 pdf file; National Journal, 10/30/2005] (The unidentified “senior CIA officer” is later revealed to be Frederick Fleitz, who served both as a senior officer at the Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control (WINPAC) desk and as Undersecretary of State John Bolton’s chief of staff—see (June 11, 2003).) [Raw Story, 11/2/2005] Jeralyn Merritt, a criminal defense attorney who writes for the progressive blog TalkLeft, notes that according to the indictment, the phrases used by Libby in his denials to the grand jury were nearly verbatim echoes of Cheney’s own denials as told to NBC’s Tim Russert in September 2003 (see September 14, 2003). [Jeralyn Merritt, 10/31/2005]
Sought Information on Plame Wilson's CIA Status - The indictment also charges that Libby sought information from the CIA and the State Department about Plame Wilson’s CIA status, and tried to determine whether she had been responsible for sending her husband to Niger. According to the indictment, Libby asked David Addington, the chief counsel to Cheney, “in sum and substance, what paperwork there would be at the CIA if an employee’s spouse undertook an overseas trip.” The court papers do not say what action, if any, Addington may have taken in response to Libby’s request. [New York Times, 10/28/2005; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 pdf file; National Journal, 12/16/2005]
Discussed with Multiple Officials before Leaking to Reporters - In a press conference, Fitzgerald walks reporters and listeners through the indictment: from Libby’s learning of Plame Wilson’s identity from State Department and CIA sources and from Cheney, through his discussing it with at least three White House officials, all before the supposed “disclosure” from Russert. Libby subsequently lied to the FBI and to Fitzgerald’s grand jury about those discussions with government officials and again with Miller and Time reporter Matthew Cooper. “[H]e lied about it afterwards,” Fitzgerald says, “under oath and repeatedly.… [A]nyone who would go into a grand jury and lie, obstruct, and impede the investigation has committed a serious crime.” [New York Times, 10/28/2005]
Leak Seriously Jeopardized National Security - Fitzgerald tells reporters that the leaking of a CIA officer’s identity is a serious breach of national security. “This is a very serious matter and compromising national security information is a very serious matter,” he says. “But the need to get to the bottom of what happened and whether national security was compromised by inadvertence, by recklessness, by maliciousness is extremely important.” Fitzgerald continues: “At a time when we need our spy agencies to have people work there, I think just the notion that someone’s identity could be compromised lightly… [discourages] our ability to recruit people and say, ‘Come work for us… come be trained… come work anonymously here or wherever else, go do jobs for the benefit of the country for which people will not thank you.” Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, says: “Revealing the identity of a covert agent is the type of leak that gets people killed. Not only does it end the person’s career… it puts that person in grave personal danger as well as their colleagues and all the people they have had contact with.” [New York Times, 10/28/2005; National Journal, 10/30/2005]
Charges Are Serious, Not 'Technicalities' - Responding to a question about Republican charges that Libby is being charged as a “technicality,” and Fitzgerald “overreached” his authority in filing the indictment, Fitzgerald says: “That talking point won’t fly. If you’re doing a national security investigation, if you’re trying to find out who compromised the identity of a CIA officer and you go before a grand jury and if the charges are proven… that the chief of staff to the vice president went before a federal grand jury and lied under oath repeatedly and fabricated a story about how he learned this information, how he passed it on, and we prove obstruction of justice, perjury, and false statements to the FBI, that is a very, very serious matter.… [T]he truth is the engine of our judicial system. And if you compromise the truth, the whole process is lost.… Any notion that anyone might have that there’s a different standard for a high official, that this is somehow singling out obstruction of justice and perjury, is upside down.… If these facts are true, if we were to walk away from this and not charge obstruction of justice and perjury, we might as well just hand in our jobs. Because our jobs, the criminal justice system, is to make sure people tell us the truth. And when it’s a high-level official and a very sensitive investigation, it is a very, very serious matter that no one should take lightly.” [New York Times, 10/28/2005]
Explanation for Delay in Filing Indicitment - Fitzgerald gives one reason for the delay in filing the indictment against Libby. When asked why he went to such lengths to compel the testimony of reporters such as Miller (see September 30, 2005) and Cooper (see July 13, 2005), Fitzgerald replies that the rights of the accused are paramount in his mind. The testimony of Miller, Cooper, and other journalists could bolster the case against Libby, or could help exonerate him. The possibility that he might charge someone, only to learn later that one of the journalists who had declined to testify had information to clear the person, was something that “frightens me,” Fitzgerald says. “I think the only way you can do an investigation like this is to hear all eyewitnesses.” [New York Times, 10/28/2005; National Journal, 11/12/2005]
No Charges against Cheney - Asked whether the investigation found evidence of criminal acts by Cheney, Fitzgerald answers: “We make no allegation that the vice president committed any criminal act. We make no allegation that any other people who provided or discussed with Mr. Libby committed any criminal act. But as to any person you asked me a question about other than Mr. Libby, I’m not going to comment on anything.” Fitzgerald refuses to comment on whether White House political strategist Karl Rove or anyone else will be named as co-conspirators, charged, or even named in court. [New York Times, 10/28/2005]

Entity Tags: John Hannah, Judith Miller, John D. Rockefeller, John R. Bolton, Karl C. Rove, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Jeralyn Merritt, Frederick Fleitz, Central Intelligence Agency, David S. Addington, Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control, Valerie Plame Wilson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of State, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Tim Russert, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Matthew Cooper

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Lewis Libby’s lawyers reveal a detailed outline of their planned defense strategy to combat government charges that their client committed perjury and obstructed justice (see October 28, 2005). Libby’s lawyers intend to offer what some call a “memory defense,” a claim that Libby did not deliberately lie to the FBI (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003) or to special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald’s grand jury (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004), but instead was a victim of his own confusion and faulty memory, a condition brought on by his preoccupation with national security matters. Libby’s lawyers have asked for a huge number of highly classified documents (see January 23, 2006 and January 31, 2006) to support his claim of being overworked due to his involvement in the administration’s battle against terrorism and other threats against the nation. The documents, the lawyers claim in a court filing, “are material to establishing that any misstatements he may have made were the result of confusion, mistake, and faulty memory resulting from his immersion in other, more significant matters, rather than deliberate lies.” Libby’s conversations with reporters during the summer of 2003 about CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 10 or 11, 2003, 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003) “occurred in the midst of an unending torrent of meetings, briefings, and discussions of far more urgent and sensitive issues, including for example, the detection and prevention of terrorist attacks against the United States,” bringing stability to Iraq, and the spread of nuclear weapons in North Korea and Iran. Libby was “inundated from early in the morning until late at night with the most sensitive national security issues this country faces,” his lawyers say, and his faulty memory about what he did and did not tell reporters about Plame Wilson is insignificant compared to the other matters that were on his mind. [New York Times, 2/1/2006]

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Valerie Plame Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage admits telling Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward (see June 13, 2003) and columnist Robert Novak (see July 8, 2003) that Valerie Plame Wilson was a CIA official, and says it was a “terrible” mistake to have done so. “Oh, I feel terrible,” he says. “Every day, I think I let down the president. I let down the secretary of state. I let down my department, my family, and I also let down Mr. and Mrs. Wilson.… I value my ability to keep state secrets. This was bad, and I really felt badly about this.” Asked if he owes the Wilsons an apology, Armitage says, “I think I’ve just done it.” He explains his conversation with Novak: “At the end of a wide-ranging interview he asked me, ‘Why did the CIA send Ambassador Wilson [Joseph Wilson, Plame Wilson’s husband] to Africa?’ I said I didn’t know, but that she worked out at the agency.” Armitage calls it “just an offhand question,” and adds, “I didn’t put any big import on it and I just answered and it was the last question we had.” He claims that the State Department intelligence memo that listed Plame Wilson as a CIA agent was only partially classified, and excuses his revelation by saying, “I had never seen a covered agent’s name in any memo in, I think, 28 years of government,” so he had no idea that Plame Wilson was a covert agent. He believes he referred to her as either “Mrs. Wilson” or “Wilson’s wife,” and adds: “I didn’t know the woman’s name was Plame. I didn’t know she was an operative.” Armitage claims he realized he was Novak’s source several months after Plame Wilson’s outing, and immediately informed the FBI (see October 1, 2003). He says he has not publicly discussed his role in the Plame Wilson affair until now because special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald asked him to remain silent: “[T]he special counsel, once he was appointed, asked me not to discuss this and I honored his request.” Fitzgerald has now released him from his pledge. Armitage has testified three times before Fitzgerald’s grand jury, the last time in December 2005, without being subpoenaed. “I was a cooperating witness from the beginning,” he says. [CBS News, 9/7/2006; New York Times, 9/8/2006]

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Bob Woodward, Joseph C. Wilson, Robert Novak, Richard Armitage, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Conservative columnist Robert Novak, who outed CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson three years ago (see July 14, 2003) after receiving the information about her from, among other sources, then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see July 8, 2003), writes of the Armitage leak. Novak writes that he feels free to discuss it publicly now that Armitage has publicly admitted to being one of Novak’s sources (see September 7, 2006).
Accusation of Misrepresentation - Novak says Armitage misrepresented the nature of their conversation, and wants “to set the record straight based on firsthand knowledge.” Armitage was not passing along information that he “thought” might be the case, Novak writes. “Rather, he identified to me the CIA division where Mrs. Wilson worked [counterproliferation], and said flatly that she recommended the mission to Niger by her husband, former Amb[assador] Joseph Wilson. Second, Armitage did not slip me this information as idle chitchat, as he now suggests. He made clear he considered it especially suited for my column.”
Armitage Leak Discredits 'Left-Wing Fantasy' of White House Smear Campaign - Novak then says that Armitage’s identity as one of the Plame Wilson leakers discredits the “left-wing fantasy of a well-crafted White House conspiracy to destroy Joe and Valerie 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, and April 5, 2006). Armitage was a long-time skeptic of the Iraq invasion, as was Wilson, and Novak himself writes that he “long had opposed military intervention in Iraq.” After his July 2003 column, “[z]ealous foes of George W. Bush transformed me improbably into the president’s lapdog.… The news that [Armitage] and not Karl Rove was the leaker was devastating news for the Left.” Novak is apparently not admitting that Rove was a primary source for the Plame Wilson column (see July 8, 2003, July 8 or 9, 2003, and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Novak also writes that he finds it difficult to believe Armitage’s claim that he only realized he was Novak’s source for the leak after reading Novak’s October 1, 2003 column (see October 1, 2003). He calls Armitage’s disclosure “tardy” and “tainted,” since in Novak’s view, Armitage’s silence “enabled partisan Democrats in Congress to falsely accuse Rove of being my primary source.” [Chicago Sun-Times, 9/14/2006]
Author: Novak Changed Story for Fourth Time - Progressive author and blogger Marcy Wheeler accuses Novak of “changing his story for the fourth time” (see July 12, 2006) in his recounting of the Armitage episode. In his original column (based in part on Armitage’s confirmation—see July 8, 2003 and July 14, 2003), Novak called Valerie Plame Wilson “an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction,” and credited that information to an unnamed CIA source (later revealed to be CIA spokesman Bill Harlow—see (July 11, 2003) and Before July 14, 2003). In an October 2003 column (see October 1, 2003), Novak named “a senior administration official”—Armitage—as his source for Plame Wilson’s status as an employee of the CIA’s counterproliferation division, which works on WMD (see April 2001 and After). During a subsequent interview with Fox News anchor Brit Hume, Novak again changed Armitage’s description of Plame Wilson’s duties at the CIA. Novak has also changed his story on whether Armitage’s leak was deliberate or merely “chitchat,” as Armitage has claimed. Novak told Newsday reporters that he “didn’t dig out” information on Plame Wilson, “it was given to me.… They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it.” In his October 2003 column, he revised his story, saying he “did not receive a planned leak” and called Armitage’s information “an offhand revelation.” In this current column, he reverts to claiming that Armitage deliberately leaked the information. [Marcy Wheeler, 9/13/2006]

Entity Tags: Marcy Wheeler, Joseph C. Wilson, George W. Bush, Bill Harlow, Karl C. Rove, Richard Armitage, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

NBC producer Joel Seidman interviews two former prosecutors, and asks them to assess the impact of the recent revelation that Richard Armitage, not Lewis Libby, was the first government official to leak Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status on Libby’s upcoming trial (see September 7, 2006). Seidman opens his article by claiming that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald may face an “uphill battle” in getting a conviction in light of the Armitage revelation, writing, “The possible testimony of the State Department’s former number two official [Armitage], and that of the first journalist to print the name Valerie Plame Wilson [columnist Robert Novak], could potentially sway a jury that there is reasonable doubt to the perjury charges against Libby.” Seidman goes on to call the news of Armitage’s leak a “bombshell announcement,” and a piece of information that Fitzgerald “chose to keep… secret.” Further, Seidman notes that because Armitage and Novak are in some disagreement about the chain of events surrounding Armitage’s leak to Novak (see July 8, 2003) and September 13, 2006), this discontinuity “could enable Libby to argue that he, Libby, wasn’t the only one confused in this case” (see January 31, 2006). It is unclear whether Armitage will testify at Libby’s trial. Seidman interviews two former prosecutors: Solomon Weisenberg, who worked with special prosecutor Kenneth Starr during the Whitewater investigation, and Larry Barcella. Weisenberg says Libby’s lawyers can take “full advantage of the emotional value of Armitage’s admission,” and that while Armitage is not part of the case against Libby, the lawyers could argue that Fitzgerald conducted a sloppy investigation, and has witnesses who contradict one another. However, Barcella says that because the charges facing Libby are about his lying under oath (see October 28, 2005), Armitage’s leaks are irrelevant. [MSNBC, 9/20/2006] Former prosecutor Christy Hardin Smith, writing for the progressive blog FireDogLake, says Seidman is echoing “GOP-pushed media logic,” which she analogizes to the argument that “someone who steals three of your hubcaps, strips your car down of all the valuable parts, take[s] the license plate, and steals your registration should not be charged for all of those crimes because someone else took the first hubcap a little earlier in the day. Um… yeah. Try again. You lie repeatedly to a federal investigator, you pay the penalty, and no amount of after-the-fact *ss-covering obfuscation gets around the fact that Libby lied, repeatedly. If he didn’t need to do so because he and those around him did nothing wrong, then why did he lie on multiple occasions? And why did a federal grand jury find it troubling enough to indict him on five felony counts for doing so?” [Christy Hardin Smith, 9/20/2006]

Entity Tags: Solomon Weisenberg, Joel Seidman, Christy Hardin Smith, Lawrence Barcella, Richard Armitage, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Valerie Plame Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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