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Context of 'December 1, 2006: Judge Releases Classified Document Ruling; Libby to Ask for 129 Classified Documents for Trial'

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Yellowcake.Yellowcake. [Source: CBC]Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan takes a trip to West Africa. Ostensibly, he is going to oversee the construction of the Hendrina Khan Hotel in Timbuktu, Mali, which he bought the year before and is named after his wife, but it is believed that is just a cover for nuclear-related business. He spends several days in Khartoum, Sudan, where he is spotted touring the al-Shifa factory, bombed by the US the year before in response to al-Qaeda bombings in Africa (see August 20, 1998). In 2006, intelligence sources in India and Israel will claim that Khan actually partly owns the factory. Khan then travels to N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, Timbuktu in Mali, and Niamey, the capital of Niger. Niger has considerable uranium deposits and had been a major supplier of yellowcake uranium to Pakistan in the 1970s. Khan returns to Sudan, where he meets with the Sudanese president, and then returns to Pakistan. He is accompanied by his top nuclear aides and a number of Pakistani generals, and all expenses on the trip are paid for by the Pakistani government.
CIA Investigates Khan Trip - CIA undercover agent Valerie Plame Wilson learns about the trip, and the CIA is so concerned that it launches an investigation, especially to find out if Khan could be buying yellowcake from Niger. Plame Wilson’s husband Joseph Wilson, a former National Security Council official and US ambassador to the nearby country of Gabon who has close ties to important politicians in Niger, and who who has just set up a private consulting firm with a focus on advising clients who want to do business in Africa, is approached by officials from the CIA’s National Resources Division (NR) to visit Niger. The agency asks Wilson, who already has a business trip planned to West Africa, to find out what he can about Khan’s trip.
Illicit Uranium Sales Highly Unlikely - Wilson concludes that illicit uranium sales are very unlikely since the French government tightly controls Niger’s uranium mines and uranium sales. However, Khan’s trip does raise concern that he could be working with Osama bin Laden, because of his interest in the al-Shifa factory in Sudan, and because of intelligence that the hotel he owns in Timbuktu was paid for by bin Laden as part of a cooperative deal between them. The CIA writes and distributes a report on the trip. (In 2004, the Senate Intelligence Committee will erroneously conclude that the CIA did not distribute the Wilson-Niger report—see July 9, 2004.) Wilson will keep this trip secret, even refusing to mention it in his 2004 memoir The Politics of Truth, presumably because he signed a confidentiality agreement with the CIA. In 2002, he will return to Niger to investigate if Saddam Hussein could be buying uranium in Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). That will lead to the eventual outing of his wife Plame Wilson’s status as a CIA agent. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 283-285, 516; Wilson, 2007, pp. 358-360]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Abdul Qadeer Khan, Osama bin Laden, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

After former White House official Lewis Libby’s indictment (see October 28, 2005), he retains the services of three of Washington’s most powerful attorneys: Theodore Wells, William Jeffress, and John Cline. [Boston Globe, 2/26/2006] (Cline will not officially join the defense team until mid-November.) [San Francisco Chronicle, 11/22/2005] Wells, who has successfully defended other government officials from criminal charges, is “an excellent choice,” according to criminal defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt. Jeffress is a partner at Baker Botts, the law firm headed by former Secretary of State James Baker. [Jeralyn Merritt, 11/3/2005] Cline is an expert on classified government documents; according to former CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, he is “presumably hired to help the defense figure out how to ‘graymail’ the government, that is, force the government to choose between prosecuting an employee for serious crimes or preserving national security secrets.” Stanford University criminal law expert Robert Weisberg says of Cline’s addition to the team: “This is about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the government. This suggests they are going to use a very concerted and aggressive strategy.”
Legal Defense Fund Headed by GOP Fundraiser - Shortly after the indictment, Libby’s legal defense fund is created, headed by former GOP finance chief Melvin Sembler, a Florida real estate tycoon. Sembler is a highly successful fundraiser for Republican candidates, and is a close friend of Vice President Dick Cheney. Lobbyist and former Justice Department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock, a close friend of Libby’s, recruited Sembler to head the fund. According to Comstock, Sembler “holds Scooter [Libby] in high esteem as many members of the committee have. We’re confident that Scooter will be exonerated. He has declared he’s innocent.” [Tampa Tribune, 11/24/2005] In her 2007 book Fair Game, Plame Wilson will note, “Sembler, ironically enough, was President George W. Bush’s ambassador to Italy when the embassy in Rome first received the forged yellowcake documents, whose contents precipitated [Joseph Wilson]‘s trip to Niger and Libby’s legal odyssey.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 289-290] The first contribution to the defense fund comes from Richard Carlson, a former US ambassador, the former president of the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, and the father of conservative pundit Tucker Carlson. “He spent years in government service,” Carlson will later say of Libby, whom Carlson calls a friend. He “hasn’t made a lot of dough.” The fund will soon raise over $2 million, in part through a Web site, scooterlibby.com (see February 21, 2006). Comstock and former Cheney communications director Mary Matalin (see July 10, 2003 and January 23, 2004) are deeply involved in the fund. The fund’s board of directors and advisers is studded with prominent Republicans, including former Republican presidential candidates Steve Forbes and Jack Kemp; former senator, lobbyist, and actor Fred Thompson; former senator Alan Simpson; former Education Secretary William Bennett; Princeton professor Bernard Lewis, one of the driving intellectual forces behind the invasion and occupation of Iraq; former UN ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick; former Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham; former Clinton Middle East envoy Dennis Ross; and former CIA Director James Woolsey, another neoconservative ally of Libby’s. [New York Times, 11/18/2005; San Francisco Chronicle, 11/22/2005; Boston Globe, 2/26/2006] Howard Leach and Wayne Berman, two top fundraisers for the 2004 Bush-Cheney presidential campaign, are also part of the defense fund. Comstock tells a New York Times reporter that because both Ross and Woolsey served in the Clinton administration, the Libby defense fund is a bipartisan entity. She adds that the amount of money raised by the fund will not be disclosed: “It’s a private trust fund for a private individual and we haven’t disclosed that.” [New York Times, 11/18/2005; Tampa Tribune, 11/24/2005]
Plame Wilson Disappointed in Woolsey's Involvement - Plame Wilson will write of her disappointment that a former CIA director (Woolsey) could come to the defense of someone accused of outing a covert CIA agent. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 289-290]

Entity Tags: Dennis Ross, Tucker Carlson, Theodore Wells, Steve Forbes, Barbara Comstock, Wayne Berman, William J. Bennett, William Jeffress, Alan Simpson, Baker Botts, Bernard Lewis, Spencer Abraham, Robert Weisberg, Valerie Plame Wilson, Mel Sembler, Fred Thompson, Howard Leach, Jack Kemp, James Woolsey, Jeane Kirkpatrick, James A. Baker, John Cline, Jeralyn Merritt, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Mary Matalin, Richard Carlson, Joseph C. Wilson

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

Author and columnist David Corn, who was the first member of the media to speculate that Valerie Plame Wilson’s exposure as a CIA official may have been a crime (see July 16, 2003), now speculates that the Lewis Libby defense team may resort to “graymail” to derail Libby’s criminal prosecution (see After October 28, 2005 and January 31, 2006). Corn writes: “[Y]ears ago defense attorneys representing clients connected to the national security establishment—say, a former CIA employee gone bad—figured out a way to squeeze the government in order to win the case: Claim you need access to loads of classified information in order to mount a defense—more than might truly be necessary. Of course, the government is going to put up a fight. It may release some information—but not everything a thorough defense attorney will say is needed. The goal is to get the government to say no to the informant. Then the defense attorney can attempt to convince the judge that without access to this material he or she cannot put up an adequate defense. If the lawyer succeeds, it’s case dismissed. In such situations, the defendant is essentially saying, ‘Prosecute me and I’ll blow whatever government secrets I can.’” Corn notes the defense’s requests for 10 months of highly classified Presidential Daily Briefings (PDBs), a request that may yet be granted (see February 24, 2006) and as such, will set up a battle with the Bush White House, which is almost certain to refuse to release any PDBs. Corn also notes defense requests for information surrounding Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status (see Fall 1992 - 1996 and April 2001 and After), another request that, if granted, will likely be refused by the CIA. Both scenarios are openings for the defense to ask for the dismissal of all charges against their client. And Libby’s team may ask for further classified information, from the State Department, the National Security Council, and the Office of the President. [Nation, 2/6/2006]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, David Corn

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald makes a filing to the court in opposition to the Lewis Libby defense team’s requests for highly classified information (see December 14, 2005, January 9, 2006, January 23, 2006, January 31, 2006, and February 21, 2006), requests that some have characterized as an attempt to “graymail” the government (see After October 28, 2005, January 31, 2006, and February 6, 2006) by threatening to reveal national security secrets. In his brief, Fitzgerald calls the defense request for almost 11 months of Presidential Daily Briefings (PDBs) “breathtaking” and unnecessary for a perjury defense. “The defendant’s effort to make history in this case by seeking 277 PDBs in discovery—for the sole purpose of showing that he was ‘preoccupied’ with other matters when he gave testimony to the grand jury—is a transparent effort at ‘greymail.’” [Nation, 2/17/2006]

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

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

After ruling that the prosecution’s proposed summations and substitutions for classified documents requested by the defense are inadequate (see November 13, 2006), Judge Reggie Walton issues an order detailing how much classified evidence the Lewis Libby defense team may have access to in its preparations to defend its client against perjury and obstruction charges. It is up to the prosecution and defense lawyers to decide how much, or how little, of the classified materials to redact before presenting them in the trial. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has accused the Libby defense team of engaging in “graymail,” an attempt to derail the prosecution by threatening to reveal national security secrets (see After October 28, 2005, January 31, 2006, February 6, 2006, and (February 16, 2006)). Walton’s ruling is sealed, so it is unclear what will and will not be made available to Libby. [Associated Press, 11/15/2006] The public may learn of some of Walton’s ruling in December, when intelligence and national security agencies report back to him as to the status of the classified materials sought by Libby. Walton acknowledges that he has had to keep some information out of the public view, writing, “While this court has strived to make the proceedings in this action as transparent as possible, because the defendant seeks to introduce at trial evidence that is currently classified, this court has been required to close to the public may proceedings and seal a substantial number of pleadings.” [MSNBC, 11/16/2006] Walton will release his ruling, in redacted form (see December 1, 2006).

Entity Tags: Reggie B. Walton, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald notifies the court that he plans to appeal a recent ruling that grants the Lewis Libby defense team wide access to classified documents (see November 15, 2006). As a result, the scheduled trial date for Libby—early January 2007—may be delayed. The US Court of Appeals has a brief window of time to consider the Fitzgerald appeal without delaying the trial. [Washington Post, 11/23/2006] Judge Reggie Walton will issue strict limitations on what Libby can introduce at trial (see December 11, 2006).

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Reggie B. Walton

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Judge Reggie Walton releases a heavily redacted, 38-page document containing his November 15, 2006 opinion about the release of classified documents on behalf of the Libby defense team (see November 15, 2006 and November 22, 2006). Material pertaining to the classified documents themselves is redacted from the document. According to Walton’s ruling, Lewis Libby wants to use 129 classified documents to bolster his contention that his systemic and widespread memory failures led him to misinform investigators about his role in exposing CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see January 31, 2006). According to the Associated Press, if Walton decides to bar the use of some or all of those classified documents, Libby’s lawyers could then ask for a dismissal of the case. “If the case goes forward and the evidence is allowed,” the AP writes, “the trial could offer a behind-the-scenes look at the White House in the early months of the war in Iraq.” Walton has said he has tried to balance national security concerns with Libby’s right to a fair trial (see November 15, 2006 and November 22, 2006). He has said that pre-approving classified evidence “requires a court to play the role of Johnny Carson’s character Carnac the Magnificent by requiring it to render rulings before knowing the exact context of how those rulings will coincide with other evidence that has actually been developed at trial.” Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald has characterized Libby’s threat to reveal classified information during the trial “graymail” (see After October 28, 2005, January 31, 2006, February 6, 2006, and (February 16, 2006)). Libby’s defense will argue that Libby was absorbed by several major national security areas of concern during the time Plame Wilson was exposed: threats from Islamist terror groups, working with Homeland Security to bolster US defenses, countering the nuclear threat posed by Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan (see Late February 1999) and North Korea, the Iranian threat, developing security in Iraq after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, Israeli-Palestinian relations, incidents between Iraq and Turkey, and the unrest in Liberia as it threatened the safety of the US Embassy in Monrovia. [US District Court of the District of Columbia, 12/1/2006 pdf file; Associated Press, 12/1/2006; MSNBC, 12/4/2006]

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Associated Press, Reggie B. Walton, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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