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Context of 'September 29, 2003: White House Denies Rove Involvement in Plame Wilson Leak, Says Leaker Should Be Fired'

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

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

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Eleven days after White House political strategist Karl Rove told press secretary Scott McClellan that he had not been one of the sources responsible for outing CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see September 16, 2003), the Washington Post prepares to print a story that alleges “a senior administration official” is claiming two senior White House officials spoke with at least six reporters about Plame Wilson (see September 28, 2003). The Post reporters do not yet know who those two officials are. In 2008, McClellan will write: “The implication of the Post story was clear: the White House had disclosed Plame’s identity to discredit or even punish Joseph Wilson. The story would put the leak of her identity right at the White House’s doorstep… implying the possibility of concerted effort by the White House to reveal Plame’s role and her involvement in her husband’s trip to Niger.” McClellan learns from his deputy, Claire Buchan, that Rove had indeed spoken to columnist Robert Novak. According to Buchan, Rove admits that Novak called him about Plame Wilson’s CIA status, but says he could not confirm it because he did not know; McClellan checks with Novak, who says the same thing to him as he told Buchan. McClellan will describe himself as “bewilder[ed]” by Rove’s contradictory statements to him and Buchan. He will write, “I felt that Rove should have disclosed this conversation to me previously, so I decided to call him.” He asks Rove, “Were you involved in this in any way?” and later writes: “I was clearly referring to the leaking of Valerie Plame’s identity—information that was believed to be classified—to any reporter.” Rove replies: “No. Look, I didn’t even know about his wife.” McClellan will later note that Rove does not mention his phone discussion of Plame’s CIA identity with Time reporter Matt Cooper (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). He will write: “Rove’s categorical ‘no’ gave me the assurance I needed to defend a fellow member of the Bush team and fellow Texan I had known for more than a decade, who was invariably a prime target of our most partisan critics.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 180-181]

Entity Tags: Robert Novak, Bush administration (43), Valerie Plame Wilson, Scott McClellan, Washington Post

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Scott McClellan and Karl Rove.Scott McClellan and Karl Rove. [Source: Doug Mills / New York Times]Newly promoted White House press secretary Scott McClellan takes part in his first truly contentious White House press briefing. He will later recall feeling “well prepared,” both from the morning’s less formal “press gaggle” and from a prebriefing preparation session with his staff. He has confirmed from President Bush and White House chief of staff Andrew Card that the White House had no involvement in the Plame Wilson leak (see September 29, 2003). McClellan is authorized to say that anyone involved in the leak “would no longer be in this administration”; Bush has said, “I would fire anybody involved.” McClellan will later write, “I had his full, unequivocal approval.” Bush has also reminded McClellan to ask reporters to come forward if they know who the leakers are. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 187-189]
Leakers 'Would No Longer Be Part of This Administration' - During the briefing, McClellan says that it is “simply not true” that White House political adviser Karl Rove is involved in the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity (see September 26, 2003 and September 27, 2003). He says, after frequent questioning about Bush being “passive” about the possibility of criminal activities in the White House, “If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration.” [White House, 9/29/2003; New York Times, 2006]
Denying Rove's Involvement - McClellan denies again and again that Rove or any other White House official leaked Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. “[T]hat is not the way this White House operates,” he says. “The president expects everyone in his administration to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. No one would be authorized to do such a thing. Secondly, there—I’ve seen the anonymous media reports, and if I could find out who ‘anonymous’ was, it would make my life a whole lot easier.… [A]nyone—anyone—who has information relating to this should report that information to the Department of Justice.” The only information suggesting White House involvement has come from the media, McClellan says. A reporter asks McClellan about his statement earlier in the day that “the president knows” Rove did not leak Plame Wilson’s name. McClellan says: “I’ve said that it’s not true. And I have spoken with Karl Rove.… [Bush is] aware of what I’ve said, that there is simply no truth to that suggestion. And I have spoken with Karl about it.” When pressed about discussing the matter with Rove, McClellan adds, somewhat contradictorily: “I’ve known Karl for a long time, and I didn’t even need to go ask Karl, because I know the kind of person that he is, and he is someone that is committed to the highest standards of conduct.… I have spoken with Karl about this matter and I’ve already addressed it.” McClellan refuses to answer repeated questions about any possible White House investigations or attempts to find the leakers, repeating his answer that any such investigation is a task best left to the Justice Department and repeatedly asking reporters if they have any information about the leaks. He dodges repeated questions about the possibility of Attorney General John Ashcroft appointing a special counsel to investigate the leaks (see December 30, 2003). [White House, 9/29/2003]
'Aggressive' Push Back against Reporters' 'Assumptions' and 'Challenges' - McClellan will later describe his performance at the briefing as “push[ing] back aggressively on assumptions embedded in the questions, and challeng[ing] reporters to produce information suggesting that White House aides were responsible for the leak.” He will write: “Those last words [the statement that anyone caught leaking information ‘would no longer be part of this administration’] would get plenty of media play over the next few years, particularly as important information came to light. With the president’s approval and his oft-stated commitment to honor and integrity embedded in my mind, I could not have been more confident in what I said.” The post-briefing critique with his staff, he will recall, is “very positive.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 187-189]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Scott McClellan, Andrew Card, John Ashcroft, US Department of Justice, Valerie Plame Wilson, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The media begins probing as to whether Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, was involved in the Plame Wilson leak. CBS correspondent John Roberts asks White House press secretary Scott McClellan: “You said the other day, emphatically, that you have received assurances from Karl Rove that he had nothing to do with this (see September 16, 2003, September 27, 2003, and September 29, 2003). Have you since received similar assurances from the vice president’s chief of staff?” McClellan attempts to finesse the question, replying, “I’m not going to go down a list of every single member of the staff of the White House.” Roberts retorts, “That’s just one name.” After the gaggle, McClellan runs into Libby, and warns him that his name is beginning to surface in connection with the leak. McClellan reiterates his answer to Roberts, and says: “Now that there’s an investigation under way, I can’t put myself in that position. I want you to know I’m not trying to leave you hanging out there to dry.” Libby says little in response. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 216-217]

Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, John D. Roberts, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Salon columnist and media observer Eric Boehlert notes that while the White House has specifically, and emphatically, denied Karl Rove leaked the CIA identity of Valerie Plame Wilson (see September 29, 2003), it has not yet given such coverage to Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney. Circumstantial evidence that the White House may be leaving Libby to, in Boehlert’s words, “twist in the wind” is mounting. The New York Daily News has reported that “Democratic Congressional sources said they would like to hear from… Lewis Libby.” On MSNBC, an administration critic, former counterterrorism official Larry Johnson, who says he knows who the leaker is, would not deny it was Libby. And Senator Chuck Hagel has implied that the leak originated from the vice president’s office when he said that President Bush needs to sit down with Cheney and “ask… what he knows about it.” A former senior CIA officer says, “Libby is certainly suspect No. 1.” Even Cheney’s own spokeswoman, Cathie Martin, refuses to deny Libby’s involvement, saying only, “This is a serious matter and we shouldn’t be speculating in light of an ongoing investigation.” Boehlert notes that conservative columnist Robert Novak, who outed Plame Wilson in one of his columns (see July 14, 2003), has dropped several hints about his primary source that point (inconclusively) to Libby. Novak’s assertion that his source is “no partisan gunslinger” (see October 1, 2003) is a better characterization of Libby than of Rove. Since Novak has referred to his source as “he,” the source cannot be National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice or any other White House female. Most interestingly, Boehlert notes, Novak was never looking for Plame Wilson’s identity when he spoke with his sources in July 2003. Rather, he wanted to know why former ambassador Joseph Wilson was chosen to go to Niger (see Shortly after February 13, 2002 and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). The logical place for Novak to begin such an inquiry, Boehlert writes, was Cheney’s office. Wilson believed Cheney was primarily, if indirectly, responsible for sending him to Niger (see (February 13, 2002)). Time magazine ran a story that revealed Libby was talking to reporters about Wilson (see July 17, 2003). And Boehlert notes other, less significant clues that add incrementally to the evidence showing that Libby might well have been Novak’s source. Finally, Boehlert comes back to Larry Johnson. Johnson confirmed for PBS that Plame Wilson was an undercover CIA agent and not merely an “analyst,” as Novak has asserted. He recently said flatly on MSNBC, “I know the name of the person that spoke with Bob Novak,” and that person works “at the White House,” and more specifically, “in the Old Executive Office Buildings.” Cheney’s office is located inside the Old Executive Office Building. Johnson was asked by co-host Pat Buchanan: “Scooter Libby. Now, is Scooter Libby the name you heard?” Johnson replied, “I’m not going to comment on that.” [Salon, 10/3/2003] The day after Boehlert’s column appears, White House press secretary Scott McClellan gives reporters the same assurance about Libby that he gave to Rove (see October 4, 2003).

Entity Tags: Larry C. Johnson, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Bush administration (43), Chuck Hagel, Karl C. Rove, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Robert Novak, Eric Boehlert, Office of the Vice President, Valerie Plame Wilson, Patrick Buchanan, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

At his home, White House press secretary Scott McClellan receives a call from White House chief of staff Andrew Card. Card makes a request that shocks McClellan: “The president and vice president spoke this morning. They want you to give the press the same assurance for Scooter [Lewis Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff] that you gave for [White House deputy chief of staff] Karl [Rove]” (see September 29, 2003). According to McClellan’s 2008 book What Happened, he acquiesces, “not really indicating my instinctive disinclination to do what he was directing me to do.” McClellan doesn’t want to begin absolving one official after another to the press. He has already refused to absolve Libby for the press once (see October 1, 2003), and knows “if other names started to surface… the press would be curious why I’d asked Scooter about his involvement, and why the White House wasn’t asking every staff member the same question.” However, he will write: “this was an order coming from on high. As a result, I was about to cross the line I’d drawn publicly once the investigation had gotten underway earlier in the week.” McClellan will write that he is sure President Bush had no knowledge of Libby, Rove, or anyone else being involved in leaking Plame Wilson’s identity. “I wish I could say the same about the vice president,” he will add. “I simply don’t know for sure.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 217-218] Card makes his request shortly after Vice President Cheney writes a memo demanding Libby’s public exoneration (see October 4, 2003).

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Andrew Card, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Scott McClellan, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

White House press secretary Scott McClellan reiterates the White House’s stance that three senior aides—deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and National Security Council official Elliott Abrams—bear no responsibility for leaking the identity of covert CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson to the press. McClellan has already made the same assurances before (see September 29, 2003 and October 4, 2003). During a press briefing, he is asked: “Scott, you have said that you personally went to Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, and Elliott Abrams to ask them if they were the leakers. Is that what happened? Why did you do that? And can you describe the conversations you had with them? What was the question you asked them?” McClellan replies: “Yes, unfortunately, in Washington, DC, at a time like this, there are a lot of rumors and innuendo. There are unsubstantiated accusations that are made. And that’s exactly what happened in the case of these three individuals. They’re good individuals. They’re important members of our White House team. And that’s why I spoke with them, so that I could come back to you and say that they were not involved. I had no doubt with that, in the beginning (see October 4, 2003), but I like to check my information to make sure it’s accurate before I report back to you. And that’s exactly what I did.” A reporter asks: “You’re saying, categorically, those three individuals were not the leakers or did not authorize the leaks. Is that what you’re saying?” McClellan responds: “That’s correct. I have spoken with them.” A reporter then asks, “Did the president direct you to check with those individuals and get—to find out if they were the leaker?” McClellan refuses to answer directly, but says that President Bush “wants… to get to the bottom of this matter, the sooner the better,” and touts the White House’s “full cooperation” with the Justice Department investigation. Asked the same question again, McClellan again emphasizes the White House’s cooperation with the investigation, and adds, “I think part of cooperating fully is looking into these unsubstantiated accusations that were made to make it clear to everybody that those individuals are not involved.” He gives a similar answer when asked if Bush wants someone “to individually poll senior staff members to find out who the leaker is,” and adds that no one in the White House has any more information on the matter than has been made available in the media—a blanket, if indirect, denial of any White House involvement. McClellan also notes that it would be “premature” to speculate if the White House will claim executive privilege to keep any information out of the investigation (see October 7, 2003). [Washington Transcript Service, 10/7/2003]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Bush administration (43), Elliott Abrams, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, George W. Bush, US Department of Justice, Scott McClellan, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

John Dickerson.John Dickerson. [Source: Writers Voice (.net)]Time magazine carries an article suggesting that White House official Karl Rove is no longer under suspicion for leaking the identity of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson. However, at least three reporters involved in the writing and editing of the article know that Rove leaked the name, according to an analysis by the Media Matters website. The article prominently features White House press secretary Scott McClellan’s denial that Rove had any involvement in the leak (see September 29, 2003). Reporter Matthew Cooper, who himself had Plame Wilson’s identity leaked to him by Rove (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), and editors Michael Duffy and John Dickerson all know of Rove’s involvement in the leak. Duffy learned of the Rove leak from an e-mail Cooper sent him. Dickerson will later acknowledge that he, too, is aware of Rove’s leak to Cooper at the same time (see February 7, 2006). Although both Cooper and Dickerson are credited with writing the article, and Duffy edits it, none reveal their knowledge that McClellan’s denial is false and that Rove had, indeed, leaked Plame Wilson’s identity. Indeed, Media Matters will note, the article gives implicit credence to the notion that Rove is no longer under suspicion for the leak. Media Matters will also note that Dickerson will go on to co-write a January 2004 Time article with another reporter, Viveca Novak, which will say in part, “If there are culprits in the White House who leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame, they may now be dependent on reporters to protect their identities.” Media Matters will note that Dickerson was well aware that there were indeed “culprits” in the White House who outed Plame Wilson: “He knew there was at least one, and he knew who it was. Yet he told readers it was an open question and that no charges were likely.” Media Matters will also note that Novak knew at some point that Rove was Cooper’s source, though it is unclear if she knows it when she co-writes the January 2004 article with Dickerson. [Time, 1/12/2004; Media Matters, 2/6/2006] In 2005, the Los Angeles Times will report that Time magazine justified its reporting by saying it was “concerned about becoming part of such an explosive story in an election year.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/25/2005]

Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, Karl C. Rove, John Dickerson, Bush administration (43), Matthew Cooper, Michael Duffy, Valerie Plame Wilson, Viveca Novak, Media Matters

Timeline Tags: 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

After Deputy Attorney General James Comey announces the naming of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to head the Plame Wilson CIA identity leak investigation (see December 30, 2003), White House press secretary Scott McClellan is contacted by Ron Roos, the FBI’s deputy counterespionage director, to arrange a time where McClellan can testify before Fitzgerald’s grand jury. This time, Roos says, he would like McClellan to come alone, without a White House lawyer (see October 10, 2003). McClellan’s sister-in-law, a former assistant district attorney, advises him to retain a lawyer, as many of his co-workers have done, but McClellan decides not to do so. Perhaps, he will later write, he was lulled by the almost-perfunctory interview sessions he has already participated in (see Mid-October 2003 and Late October or Early November, 2003). McClellan meets with Roos and other prosecutors for a pre-jury interview. This time, McClellan will recall, the interview is far more adversarial than the first two. Roos asks McClellan why he publicly exonerated Karl Rove (see September 29, 2003) and Lewis Libby (see October 4, 2003), and then asks why McClellan failed to mention in previous interviews that Rove had spoken with columnist Robert Novak. McClellan, later writing that he was “taken aback” by the question, reminds Roos that he had indeed informed them of Rove’s contact with Novak in an earlier interview. Afterwards, McClellan will write, he worries about the FBI’s “initial hard-edged approach.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 224-225]

Entity Tags: Ron Roos, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation, Karl C. Rove, Scott McClellan, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Robert Novak

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

White House press secretary Scott McClellan testifies before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak. He is quizzed before some 35 or 40 jurors by prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg. Most of the questions are reiterations of those asked in earlier interviews (see Mid-October 2003, Late October or Early November, 2003, and January 2004), but Zeidenberg asks some that have not yet been asked. One question is whether McClellan had told National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to say that White House political adviser Karl Rove was not involved in the leak before her September 28 appearance on Meet the Press. Though Rice had not specifically discussed the leak on that broadcast, McClellan recalls briefing her on a number of issues. He cannot recall, he testifies, whether he discussed the subject of the leak with Rice or not, and tells Zeidenberg that he probably told her what he said publicly (see September 29, 2003), and to refer back to that if pressed. McClellan is startled when Zeidenberg asks him bluntly whether President Bush had told him in the Oval Office that Rove had denied to him any involvement in the leak. McClellan knows that Bush has not yet testified, but chief of staff Andrew Card has, and Card most likely revealed Bush’s comments. McClellan will later write: “Knowing the president’s preference that his private conversations remain private, I hesitated momentarily [in answering the question]. But this was different. A frog in my throat, I managed to confirm that the president had indeed made such a statement.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 225-227] Days after McClellan’s testimony, someone the Washington Post identifies as “a source close to the investigation” will say that McClellan and other White House witnesses are asked about cell phone calls, and shown handwritten, diary-style notes from colleagues and e-mails from reporters to administration officials. The source will say the questioning of McClellan and others is often quite aggressive, with agents focusing on specific conversations with journalists. “Even witnesses that they describe as being potentially helpful are being treated as adversaries,” the source will say. [Washington Post, 2/10/2004]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, Scott McClellan, Peter Zeidenberg, George W. Bush, Andrew Card, Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

A reporter asks President Bush in reference to allegations that White House officials leaked the identity of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson, “[D]o you stand by your pledge to fire anyone found to have done so” (see September 29, 2003)? Bush responds: “Yes. And that’s up to the US Attorney to find the facts.” [White House, 6/10/2004] Bush will later modify his position to say that he would fire anyone convicted of a criminal offense (see July 18, 2005), and will refuse to fire White House political strategist Karl Rove (see July 13, 2005) after he admits to being one of the leakers (see July 10, 2005).

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

David Gregory.David Gregory. [Source: TopNews (.us)]In light of the revelation that White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove was a source for a reporter in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see July 10, 2005), the White House press corps grills press secretary Scott McClellan unmercifully on the entire issue. Plame Wilson will reveal a modicum of sympathy for the beleaguered McClellan, whom she will note “endured what had to be one of his hardest days on the job as reporters competed to ask the next question.” The reporters are eager to pry information out of McClellan and are exasperated at his refusal to answer questions in any depth.
Fire Rove? - One of the most probing questions involves the White House’s promise to fire anyone involved in the leak (see September 29, 2003). Asked, “Does the president stand by his pledge to fire anyone involved in the leak of a name of a CIA operative?” McClellan responds that the White House is not going to comment on an ongoing investigation, an answer the gathered reporters find less than satisfactory. “Excuse me,” the reporter continues, “but I wasn’t actually talking about any investigation. But in June of 2004, the president said that he would fire anybody who was involved in the leak. And I just want to know, is that still his position?” McClellan continues to deflect the question with the standard “refusal to comment on an ongoing investigation” line. He also refuses to answer the direct question, “Did Karl Rove commit a crime?”
McClellan Cleared Rove, Others of Culpability - Another reporter, apparently NBC’s David Gregory, asks why McClellan told reporters that Rove, along with National Security Council staffer Elliott Abrams and the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, were definitely not involved in the leak. “[Y]ou said, ‘I’ve gone to each of those gentlemen, and they have told me they are not involved in this’—do you stand by that statement?” McClellan confirms he said that “as part of helping the investigation move forward on the investigation we’re not going to get into commenting on it. That was something I stated back near that time, as well.” The reporter calls McClellan’s response “ridiculous,” and says: “The notion that you’re going to stand before us after having commented with that level of detail and tell people watching this that somehow you decided not to talk. You’ve got a public record out there. Do you stand by your remarks from that podium, or not?” When McClellan says he will go into further detail “at the appropriate time,” Gregory interjects, “Why are you choosing when it’s appropriate and when it’s inappropriate?” McClellan begins, “If you’ll let me finish—” and Gregory cuts him off, saying: “No, you’re not finishing—you’re not saying anything. You stand at that podium and said that Karl Rove was not involved. And now we find out that he spoke out about Joseph Wilson’s wife. So don’t you owe the American public a fuller explanation? Was he involved, or was he not? Because, contrary to what you told the American public, he did, indeed, talk about [Wilson’s] wife, didn’t he?” McClellan continues to refuse to answer. Later in the conference, he is asked if “you will be consistent with your word and the president’s word that anybody who was involved would be let go?” McClellan says he “will be glad to talk about it at that point.”
Ordered to Stop Talking? - Another reporter, following up on Gregory’s relentless questioning, asks: “When did they ask you to stop commenting on it, Scott? Can you peg down a date?” McClellan answers vaguely, “Back in that time period.” The reporter then notes that “the president commented on it nine months later (see June 10, 2004). So was he not following the White House plan?” Again, McClellan refuses to answer. Another reporter tries a different tack, asking, “Can you walk us through why, given the fact that Rove’s lawyer has spoken publicly about this, it is inconsistent with the investigation, that it compromises the investigation to talk about the involvement of Karl Rove?” McClellan answers that “those overseeing the investigation expressed a preference to us that we not get into commenting on the investigative side while it’s ongoing.”
When Did Bush Know? - McClellan is asked bluntly, “When did the president learn that Karl Rove had—” to which McClellan interrupts with, “I’ve responded to that question.”
Changing the Subject - McClellan then calls on Raghubar Goyal of the India Times, who he is sure will ask a foreign policy question having nothing to do with Rove or Plame Wilson. He manages to keep the subject more or less off of Rove for the remainder of the conference. Plame Wilson will recall, “I almost felt sorry for McClellan, who was perspiring and had that deer-in-the-headlights look to him.” [White House, 7/11/2005; Wilson, 2007, pp. 223-227]
Change in Media Focus - After this press conference, as Plame Wilson will note, the press begins issuing far more skeptical reports on the leak and its investigation, depending less on White House spin about the Wilsons’ supposed culpability and zeroing in on the roles of Rove, Libby, and other White House officials. Plame Wilson will recall that for the first time, the pressure was easing off of them and being refocused onto the White House. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 227-228]
McClellan: Press Conference 'Brutal,' 'Humiliating' - McClellan will later characterize the press conference as “brutal.” He calls NBC’s Gregory “mocking” when Gregory asks whether he still stands by his old assertions of no involvement by Rove (see September 29, 2003), Lewis Libby (see October 4, 2003), and Elliott Abrams (see October 5, 2003). ABC’s Terry Moran is incredulous that McClellan would try to hide behind a refusal to “comment on an ongoing investigation.” McClellan will later write, “Eventually, long after leaving the White House, I came to see that standing in front of the speeding press bus in those days had much more to do with protecting the president and the White House from further political embarrassment than respecting the sanctity of the investigation.” McClellan will reflect that it was during this press conference, as he felt his “reputation crumbling away, bit by bit,” that he began to lose his “affection for the job.” He will write: “The ridicule I received that day and the following ones, though dispiriting and humiliating, was justified, given what I had previously said. Since my hands were tied (see July 10, 2005), about all I could do was go into a defensive crouch.” After the conference, McClellan receives a brief verbal apology from Rove. McClellan will write, “It’s clear to me, Karl was only concerned about protecting himself from possible legal action and preventing his many critics from bringing him down.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 260-261]

Entity Tags: Elliott Abrams, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, David Gregory, Bush administration (43), Raghubar Goyal, Karl C. Rove, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Scott McClellan, Valerie Plame Wilson, Terry Moran

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

President Bush says he is withholding judgment on whether senior political adviser Karl Rove was one of the administration officials who leaked the identity of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson to the press. Rove has been identified in court testimony as having disclosed Plame Wilson’s identity to two separate journalists, Robert Novak (see July 14, 2005) and Matthew Cooper (see July 6, 2005). Bush has said repeatedly that anyone identified as leaking Plame Wilson’s identity would be fired (see September 29, 2003 and June 10, 2004). He now says it would be wrong for him to discuss an ongoing criminal investigation. “I have instructed every member of my staff to fully cooperate in this investigation,” he says. “I also will not prejudge the investigation based on media reports.” Bush makes these statements with Rove literally sitting at his elbow. Rove’s attorney Robert Luskin indicates that Rove already told the grand jury of his conversation with Cooper (see July 17, 2003). “Rove has cooperated completely with the special prosecutor, and he has been repeatedly assured he is not a target of the investigation,” Luskin says. “Rove has done nothing wrong. We’re confident that he will not become a target after the special prosecutor has reviewed all evidence.” Rove’s supporters inside and outside the administration emphasize that Rove never told the reporter Plame Wilson’s actual name, nor mentioned her undercover status, but merely told Cooper that “Joseph Wilson’s wife” worked at the CIA. Critics note that it would take anyone a matter of moments to identify Plame Wilson as Wilson’s wife. Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee have asked Bush to revoke Rove’s security clearance. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) says the issue of whether Rove actually broke the law is not the only issue. “We just don’t hold those working at the closest and highest levels to the president to a criminal standard and say, ‘If you have not committed a crime, show up for work tomorrow morning,’” he says. [New York Times, 7/14/2005] Days later, Bush will modify his earlier statements, saying that someone who has committed a crime would no longer work in his administration (see July 18, 2005).

Entity Tags: House Intelligence Committee, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Karl C. Rove, Robert Luskin

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

During a press conference, President Bush is asked if he still intends to fire anyone involved in the Plame Wilson leak, and if he is “displeased that Karl Rove told a reporter that Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife worked for the [CIA] on WMD issues.” Bush, described as looking “mildly annoyed,” responds, “We have a serious ongoing investigation here,” and adds: “[I]t’s being played out in the press. And I think it’s best that people wait until the investigation is complete before you jump to conclusions. And I will do so, as well. I don’t know all the facts. I would like to know all the facts. The best place for the facts to be done is by somebody who’s spending time investigating it. I would like this to end as quickly as possible so we know all the facts, and if someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration.” The last line regarding a “crime” was carefully selected before the conference by White House communications director Dan Bartlett, who, press secretary Scott McClellan will later write, wanted to “redefine the terms of firing someone who might have been involved in the leak, specifically Karl.” The New York Times observes, “The remarks appeared to shift the standard for dismissal that has been expressed repeatedly over many months by Mr. Bush’s spokesmen—from promises to fire anyone who played a role in the disclosure, to Mr. Bush’s statement today that criminal conduct would have to be involved.” McClellan dutifully echoes the new phrase in his own press conference, “barely objecting that it did not square with what the president had previously committed to do” (see September 29, 2003 and June 10, 2004). “I think that the president was stating what is obvious when it comes to people who work in the administration: that if someone commits a crime, they’re not going to be working any longer in this administration,” McClellan tells reporters. “I think that you should not read anything into it more than what the president said at this point.” McClellan will later describe himself as “psychologically battered” by this point (see July 11, 2005). [New York Times, 7/18/2005; White House, 7/18/2005; New York Times, 7/19/2005; McClellan, 2008, pp. 262-263]
Accusations of Shifting Standards, 'Lowering the Ethics Bar' - Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says he is disappointed in what he believes to be Bush’s shifting stance. “The standard for holding a high position in the White House should not simply be that you didn’t break the law,” he says. Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) writes a letter to Bush charging that he has “significantly changed” his position, and that a president has “an affirmative obligation” to take quick action to protect national security secrets without waiting for a prosecution to run its course. [New York Times, 7/18/2005] Other Democrats charge that Bush has “lowered the ethics bar” for his administration. Representative John Conyers (D-MI) says: “It appears that an administration that came to office promising ‘honesty and integrity’ and to avoid ‘legalisms’ is now defining ethical standards downward. In this White House, apparently no aide will be fired or forced to resign unless and until the jail cell door is locked behind him.” [Associated Press, 7/18/2005]
Rove Held to Different Standard of Accountability, Say Experts - Some experts say that by insisting on waiting for a final legal verdict, Bush is setting a different standard of accountability for Rove than for other government employees. Elaine Kaplan, who headed the Office of Special Counsel from 1998 through 2003, says: “Government employees and officials who are negligent with classified information can lose their jobs for carelessness. They don’t have to be convicted of intentionally disseminating the information. Crime has never been the threshold. That’s not the standard that applies to rank-and-file federal employees. They can be fired for misconduct well short of a crime.” Beth Slavet, the former chair of the Merit Systems Protection Board, adds: “The government can fire a Civil Service employee if it can show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that it would ‘promote the efficiency of the service’ to do so. The person does not have to be guilty of a crime. You can be dismissed because you didn’t submit paperwork on time, you didn’t follow instructions, you repeatedly showed up late for work, or you yelled at supervisors and fellow workers.” [New York Times, 7/19/2005]

Entity Tags: Beth Slavet, Charles Schumer, Dan Bartlett, Henry A. Waxman, Elaine Kaplan, Scott McClellan, George W. Bush, John Conyers, Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Terry Moran, ABC News’s chief White House correspondent, tells ABC host George Stephanopoulos that he believes White House press secretary Scott McClellan unwittingly lied to reporters when he asserted that White House staffers Karl Rove (see September 16, 2003, September 27, 2003, September 29, 2003, and September 29, 2003) and Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see October 4, 2003 and October 4, 2003) knew nothing of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak. “He was telling falsehoods right at us over and over unwittingly,” Moran says. Asked if McClellan knew he was lying, Moran replies: “No. And he signaled he wants to tell us the story,” referring to McClellan’s comments that he would like to be able to discuss his public support of Rove and Libby. Stephanopoulos asks, “[Y]ou say he didn’t know it, so that means Karl Rove lied to him?” “Yes,” Moran answers, “yes.” Moran notes that the White House will most likely do nothing except continue to “stonewall” and deny involvement: “My sense it right now they’ll kick this down the road. They’ll say it’s a continuing case and we’re going to kick it down the road.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 265-266]

Entity Tags: Terry Moran, ABC News, Bush administration (43), George Stephanopoulos, Karl C. Rove, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Scott McClellan

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Washington Post reporter Dan Froomkin writes that since special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald has decided not to charge White House political strategist Karl Rove with any crime related to the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see June 13, 2006), it is up to the press to find out the extent of Rove’s involvement. “The White House has long maintained—spuriously, I might add—that the ongoing criminal investigation precluded them from answering any questions even vaguely related to Rove’s conduct,” Froomkin writes. “Now, without charges against Rove in the offing, the media should demand answers to a slew of questions. The overriding issue: Just because Rove wasn’t charged with a crime doesn’t mean his conduct meets the standards the public expects from its White House. If Rove was irresponsibly lax with classified information, if he intentionally misled the press, the press secretary, and the president, if he conspired with fellow White House aides to punish someone who spoke out against the president—all of which appears to be the case—what is he still doing serving as the president’s most trusted aide?” Froomkin continues: “Is a criminal indictment the only thing that gets someone in trouble over there? Here’s a question for Bush: You said you’d fire anyone involved in the leak (see September 29, 2003, June 10, 2004, and June 10, 2004). Rove no longer faces criminal charges, but undeniably was involved. Now that nothing you do or say can in any way influence the criminal investigation, will you tell us what you know and when you knew it? Will you fire him? Will you strip him of his security clearance? It seems to me that the White House has a variety of options: Admit Rove misled the president and his colleagues; admit the president and his colleagues misled the public on his behalf; admit they intentionally engaged in legalistic hairsplitting; or sweep it all under the rug. It’s up to the press corps to rule out the last of those options.” [Washington Post, 6/13/2006]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Dan Froomkin

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Lewis Libby, second from left, and members of the press watch video of former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan’s press briefing.Lewis Libby, second from left, and members of the press watch video of former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan’s press briefing. [Source: Art Lien / NBC]In the Lewis Libby perjury trial, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald plays video excerpts from press briefings by White House press secretary Scott McClellan, who fielded questions about the Valerie Plame Wilson CIA identity leak (see October 4, 2003 and October 7, 2003). Judge Reggie Walton has ruled that he does not grant credibility to charges by Libby’s defense team that Libby is being “scapegoated” by the White House to protect White House political strategist Karl Rove, and denies the defense’s attempt to suppress the videos. “There’s no evidence of an effort to throw [Libby] under the bus,” Fitzgerald argues to Walton, and he says he wants to show the videos to disprove Libby’s contention of scapegoating. However, Walton rules that because the press briefings were so emotionally charged (see September 29, 2003 and July 11, 2005), to allow the jury to hear them in their entirety would prejudice it against Libby. Instead, prosecutors read aloud the questions reporters asked McClellan and the jurors see only brief excerpts. The videos show McClellan assuring reporters that he had been assured Libby did not leak classified information, and promising that any White House official who did leak information would be summarily fired. [Washington Post, 2/2/2007; Associated Press, 2/2/2007; Los Angeles Times, 2/2/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007]

Entity Tags: Reggie B. Walton, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Karl C. Rove, Nathan Siegel, Scott McClellan, Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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