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Context of 'November 17, 2005: Washington Lawyers Say Woodward May Have Told Libby of CIA Official’s Identity'

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Lewis Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, and NBC News reporter and anchor Tim Russert speak on the telephone. Libby wants to complain to Russert about an MSNBC talk show host, Chris Matthews, and Matthews’s coverage of the Iraq-Niger controversy (see July 10, 2003). Libby will later claim that, during the conversation, Russert informs him that Valerie Plame Wilson, the wife of war critic Joseph Wilson, is a CIA officer. “All the reporters know” that Plame Wilson is a CIA officer, Libby will testify that Russert says. Russert will testify that he and Libby never discuss Plame Wilson (see November 24, 2003 and February 7-8, 2007), and at the time he has no knowledge of her CIA status. [US Department of Justice, 3/5/2004 pdf file; Washington Post, 1/10/2006; MSNBC, 2/21/2007] It is unclear whether Libby speaks to Russert before or after his conversation with White House political strategist Karl Rove, who tells him that he has “outed” Plame Wilson to columnist Robert Novak (see July 10 or 11, 2003).

Entity Tags: Robert Novak, Chris Matthews, Karl C. Rove, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Valerie Plame Wilson, Tim Russert

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

Victoria Toensing, a former deputy attorney general in the Reagan administration, writes a guest editorial for the Wall Street Journal that demands the Plame Wilson investigation, as it stands, be closed. Instead, she says, the CIA should be investigated for causing Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to become public knowledge. Toensing blames the CIA’s “bizarre conduct” for Plame Wilson’s exposure. The CIA is responsible for Plame Wilson’s exposure, Toensing states, by allowing her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to go to Niger to look into claims that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from that country (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Toensing writes that Plame Wilson “suggested” her husband for the trip (see February 13, 2002, February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005). The CIA did not have Wilson write a report, but instead conducted an oral debriefing (see March 4-5, 2002, (March 6, 2002), and March 8, 2002) that, Toensing writes, was never sent to Vice President Dick Cheney’s office (see March 5, 2002). Wilson’s subsequent New York Times op-ed (see July 6, 2003) was not approved or vetted with the CIA’s Prepublication Review Board, something Toensing finds puzzling even though she notes that Wilson was not asked to sign a nondisclosure or confidentiality agreement. She also alleges, without giving specifics, that the statements in Wilson’s op-ed do not jibe with the information in the CIA’s report on his trip, though that report is classified and not available for her inspection. For the CIA to allow Wilson to write the op-ed was, Toensing says, tantamount to giving a green light for Plame Wilson’s exposure as a CIA official. Conservative colunnist Robert Novak, who publicly exposed Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), was told by “a still-unnamed administration source” (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, and July 12, 2003) that Wilson’s wife “suggested him for the assignment,” leading Novak to uncover Plame Wilson’s identity. Toensing also claims that Novak was never asked not to publish Plame Wilson’s name in anything but the most “perfunctory” fashion (see (July 11, 2003) and Before July 14, 2003). Toensing defends her allegation by writing: “Every experienced Washington journalist knows that when the CIA really does not want something public, there are serious requests from the top, usually the director. Only the press office talked to Mr. Novak.” Toensing goes on to note that the CIA permitted Plame Wilson to make political contributions under the name “Wilson, Valerie E.,” contributions recorded by the Federal Elections Commission. Toensing concludes, “The CIA conduct in this matter is either a brilliant covert action against the White House or inept intelligence tradecraft,” and demands that Congress conduct an investigation into the CIA’s conduct. [Wall Street Journal, 11/3/2005] The Journal does not inform its readers that Toensing was one of a group of lawyers and conservative activists who filed an amici curiae brief with the court asking that it overturn its decision to compel the testimony of two lawyers in the Plame Wilson investigation (see March 23, 2005).

Entity Tags: Office of the Vice President, Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Victoria Toensing, Wall Street Journal, Robert Novak, Prepublication Review Board

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Conservative Washington lawyers David Rivkin and Lee Casey publish a guest editorial in the Wall Street Journal defending the Bush administration, and specifically the indicted Lewis Libby (see October 28, 2005), for their actions in the Plame Wilson identity leak. No crime was committed, Rivkin and Casey allege, and no legal ethics were breached. Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA official was moot because, Rivkin and Casey write, “she was not a covert agent—a readily ascertainable fact that should have concluded special counsel Fitzgerald’s investigation almost as soon as it got underway” (see Fall 1992 - 1996). In fact, Rivkin and Casey write, exposing Plame Wilson’s role in her husband Joseph Wilson’s 2002 mission to Africa (see February 19, 2002, February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005) “was relevant to an accurate understanding of his later allegations against the administration.” In general, the lawyers state, it is not a crime to expose an intelligence official’s “classified” status, only genuine covert agents. Since Plame Wilson was not a covert agent, by Rivkin and Casey’s standards, no crime was committed in exposing her as a CIA official. And even had she been, they continue, certainly no damage could have been done by her exposure (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, October 29, 2005, and February 13, 2006). When Wilson decided to publish his New York Times op-ed (see July 6, 2003), the lawyers write, he “eliminated whatever shreds of anonymity” Plame Wilson retained. The lawyers conclude that “the revelation of Ms. Plame [Wilson]‘s connection to the CIA was a public service, neither criminal nor unethical.” [Wall Street Journal, 11/4/2005]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Bush administration (43), David Rivkin, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Joseph C. Wilson, Wall Street Journal, Lee Casey, Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward testifies under oath in a sworn deposition to special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald concerning his knowledge of the identity of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see December 30, 2003), and how he came upon that knowledge. Woodward testifies that he spoke “with three current or former Bush administration officials” in regards to his book Plan of Attack. He testifies for two hours under an agreement that he will only discuss matters specifically relevant to Fitzgerald’s investigation, and with written statements from each of the three administration officials waiving confidentiality “on the issues being investigated by Fitzgerald.” Woodward’s name came to Fitzgerald’s attention after one of the three officials, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, told Fitzgerald that he had revealed Plame Wilson’s identity to Woodward (see June 13, 2003 and After October 28, 2005). In his story for the Post about his testimony, Woodward does not reveal Armitage’s identity, but it is soon disclosed by other sources (see March 14, 2006). Woodward spoke with a second administration official, whose identity he also does not disclose, and with Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, but says he did not discuss Plame Wilson with either Libby or the other official (see June 23, 2003). He testifies that he did not discuss Plame Wilson with any other government officials (see June 20, 2003) before Robert Novak publicly outed her on July 14 (see July 14, 2003). Woodward notes, “It was the first time in 35 years as a reporter that I have been asked to provide information to a grand jury.” [Washington Post, 11/16/2005; Washington Post, 11/16/2005; Washington Post, 7/3/2007] Investigative reporters for the progressive news Web site Raw Story identify National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley as Woodward’s source for Plame Wilson’s identity, a claim echoed by the Times of London. Hadley refuses to answer questions on the topic. [Raw Story, 11/16/2005; London Times, 11/20/2005] In 2006, the National Security Council will refuse to directly deny Hadley’s involvement, and will request that Raw Story attribute denials to the White House and not to itself.) [Raw Story, 3/19/2006]
Woodward Told Second Reporter about Plame Wilson - Woodward testifies that he told another reporter about Plame Wilson: “I told Walter Pincus, a reporter at the Post, without naming my source, that I understood Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA as a WMD analyst.” Pincus says he has no memory of Woodward telling him anything about Plame Wilson, and says he would certainly have remembered such a conversation, especially since he was writing about Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic Joseph Wilson, at the time (see June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, and (July 11, 2003)). “Are you kidding?” Pincus says. “I certainly would have remembered that.” Pincus believes Woodward is confused about the timing and the nature of their conversations; he remembers Woodward making a vague allusion to Plame Wilson in October 2003. That month, Pincus had written a story explaining how an administration source had contacted him about Wilson. Pincus recalls Woodward telling him that he was not the only person who had been contacted.
Libby Lawyer: Woodward's Testimony Undermines Case against Client - Lewis Libby’s lawyer, William Jeffress, says Woodward’s testimony undermines the case Fitzgerald is building against his client (see October 28, 2005). “If what Woodward says is so, will Mr. Fitzgerald now say he was wrong to say on TV that Scooter Libby was the first official to give this information to a reporter?” Jeffress says. “The second question I would have is: Why did Mr. Fitzgerald indict Mr. Libby before fully investigating what other reporters knew about Wilson’s wife?” [Washington Post, 11/16/2005]
Plame Wilson 'Deeply Disappointed' in Woodward - In 2007, Plame Wilson will write, “I was deeply disappointed that [Woodward] had chosen to react as a journalist first and a responsible citizen only when his source ‘outed’ him to the special prosecutor.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 238]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Walter Pincus, Robert Novak, Richard Armitage, Raw Story, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, National Security Council, Bob Woodward, Bush administration (43), Joseph C. Wilson, William Jeffress, London Times, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Stephen J. Hadley

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Lawyers David Rivkin and Lee Casey demand that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald drop his prosecution of former White House official Lewis Libby. In a Washington Times editorial, Rivkin and Casey write that, because Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward has admitted to being the recipient of leaked information about CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson before Libby leaked her covert identity (see November 14, 2005), it is possible that Woodward himself told Libby of Plame Wilson’s CIA status—it is possible that Libby merely “misremembered” the reporter who told him as NBC’s Tim Russert, when it was likely Woodward (see July 10 or 11, 2003). Moreover, the lawyers assert, the likelihood of a jury actually convicting Libby of perjury and obstruction of justice (see October 28, 2005) is unlikely in light of Woodward’s revelation and the “reasonable doubt” they say Woodward’s recent testimony raises. Rivkin and Casey echo previous assertions that the CIA did not bother to ensure the safety of Plame Wilson’s covert status (see November 3, 2005), in effect blaming the agency for her identity being exposed. [Washington Times, 11/17/2005] Rivkin and Casey, in a previous Washington Times editorial, called the exposure of Plame Wilson a “public service” (see November 4, 2005).

Entity Tags: Washington Times, Bob Woodward, David Rivkin, Valerie Plame Wilson, Lee Casey, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Neoconservative John Podhoretz adds his voice to the recent demands from conservatives for special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald to drop his prosecution of former White House official Lewis Libby (see November 10, 2005, November 17, 2005, November 17, 2005, and November 17, 2005). Podhoretz calls Fitzgerald’s investigation an “inquisition,” and, like many of his fellow commentators, points to the recent revelation that reporter Bob Woodward received leaked information about Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status before Libby leaked it to a different reporter (see November 14, 2005). In his indictment of Libby (see October 28, 2005), Fitzgerald said that Libby was “the first official to disclose this information outside the government to a reporter” when he told former New York Times reporter Judith Miller about Plame Wilson (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Fitzgerald did not know then that another, as-yet-unnamed government official (later revealed to be former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage—see June 13, 2003) had “outed” Plame Wilson before Libby. Therefore, Podhoretz concludes, there is no evidence that Libby knowingly lied to the FBI (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003) and to Fitzgerald’s grand jury (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004) in denying his leaks of Plame Wilson’s identity. “How can it be fair to convict Libby when even the prosecutor himself can’t get the story straight?” Podhoretz asks. [New York Post, 11/18/2005]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Bob Woodward, John Podhoretz, Judith Miller, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Richard Armitage, Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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