Profile: Bush administration (43)
a.k.a. George W. Bush administration
July 7, 2003
“There is other reporting to suggest that Iraq tried to obtain uranium from Africa. However, the information is not detailed or specific enough for us to be certain that attempts were in fact made.”
[New York Times, 7/8/2003]
Bush administration (43) was a participant or observer in the following events:
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David Broder. [Source: Washington Post]Washington Post columnist David Broder dismisses the entire Patrick Fitzgerald investigation as nothing more than an “overblown” morass of “[c]onspiracy theories” based on “dark suspicions” that White House political strategist Karl Rove leaked CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to the public (see July 8, 2003 and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). According to Broder, there is no evidence that Rove either leaked Plame Wilson’s name to the press or “masterminded a conspiracy to discredit Iraq intelligence critic Joseph Wilson by ‘outing’ his CIA-operative wife” (see October 1, 2003). The entire issue is nothing more, Broder writes, than “a tempest in a teapot.” He says no one involved—Rove, Fitzgerald, another accused leaker, Lewis Libby, or the reporters involved, “behaved well in the whole mess,” and Broder writes that he stayed out of it except “to caution reporters who offered bold First Amendment defenses for keeping their sources’ names secret that they had better examine the motivations of the people leaking the information to be sure they deserve protection.” Critics of the Bush administration are indulging in “rants” about Rove and the White House’s approach to handling criticism, Broder writes. He concludes that reporters who criticized Rove and the White House “owe Karl Rove an apology. And all of journalism needs to relearn the lesson: Can the conspiracy theories and stick to the facts.” [Washington Post, 9/7/2006] Two months before, Novak revealed Rove as one of his sources for Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status (see July 12, 2006).
A bipartisan Senate report finds that no credible evidence of any links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s government ever existed, despite repeated and insistent claims by the White House and its allies (see Early 1995), March-June 1998, (2:40 p.m.) September 11, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 18, 2001, September 19, 2001, September 21, 2001, October 27, 2001, 2002, February 6, 2002, March 22, 2002, July 25, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 15, 2002, September 25, 2002, October 1, 2002, October 2, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 7, 2002, December 2, 2002, Mid-January 2003, January 26, 2003, January 28, 2003, January 28, 2003, February 1, 2003-February 4, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 6, 2003, February 8, 2003, February 9, 2003, February 11 or 12, 2003, February 16, 2003, March 9, 2003, March 17, 2003, March 17-18, 2003, Shortly After April 9, 2003, July 9, 2003, September 7, 2003, September 14, 2003-September 17, 2003, September 28, 2003, December 17, 2003, January 8, 2004, January 9, 2004, Early June 2004, June 14, 2004, June 15, 2004, June 15, 2004, October 4, 2004, May 2005, October 2005, (2006), January 31, 2006, March 29, 2006, and September 10, 2006). Panel Democrats say that the White House knew the intelligence surrounding its claims of such links was flawed and unreliable.
Tenet Admitted to Giving in to Pressure - They note that in July former CIA Director George Tenet told the panel that the White House pressured him to support its arguments and that he agreed despite the findings of his own analysts. “Tenet admitted to the Intelligence Committee that the policymakers wanted him to ‘say something about not being inconsistent with what the president had said,’” says Intelligence Committee member Carl Levin (D-MI). Such compliance was, in hindsight, “the wrong thing to do,” Tenet added, according to Levin. “Well, it was much more than that,” Levin says. “It was a shocking abdication of a CIA director’s duty not to act as a shill for any administration or its policy.” Tenet also admitted that he erred in issuing a statement after President Bush’s October 7, 2002 speech saying that Bush’s claims were consistent with CIA findings (see October 7, 2002).
Republicans Say Report Just 'Election-Year Politicking' - Republican committee members insist that there is little new information about prewar intelligence or claims about Iraq’s links to terrorism. Ranking committee member Pat Roberts (R-KS) accuses Levin and other Democrats of trying to “use the committee… insisting that they were deliberately duped into supporting the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime.… That is simply not true, and I believe the American people are smart enough to recognize election-year politicking when they see it.” Democrats retort that the report speaks for itself.
Impeachment Not Warranted - However, committee Democrats such as John Rockefeller (D-WV) say that the report does not prove any criminal behavior from Bush or his top officials, and say that impeachment of Bush or anyone else is not warranted.
Hussein Opposed to US Policies - An FBI summary quoted in the report shows Hussein acknowledging that his government had met with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, but denying any collusion. Hussein said he opposed only US policies, and added that “if he wanted to cooperate with the enemies of the US, he would have allied with North Korea or China,” according to the FBI summary.
Other Portions of Report - Other sections of the report find that no evidence existed to support claims that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program (see February 7, 2001, February 12, 2001, November 14, 2001, May 2002-September 2002, September 9, 2002, January 9, 2003, March 8, 2003, May 25, 2003, and May 30, 2003), had possessed biological weapons in 2003 (see 2002, 2002-March 2003, Mid-January 2002, March 22, 2002, August 2002, September 2002, September 24, 2002, December 2002, End of December 2002, January 9, 2003, and March 7, 2003), used the Salman Pak facility to train Islamist terrorists (see September 8, 2006), or that Iraqi officials met with 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta in the months before the 9/11 attacks (see September 8-10, 2006). The report also finds that the White House relied heavily on false intelligence from Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress (see After August 2, 1989, (1994), January 1996, November 6-8, 2001, Between February 12, 2002 and March 31, 2002, Between February 12, 2002 and March 31, 2002, Summer 2002, and June 26, 2002). [Senate Intelligence Committee, 9/8/2006 ; Associated Press, 9/9/2006]
Entity Tags: Iraqi National Congress, Bush administration (43), Ahmed Chalabi, Carl Levin, George J. Tenet, Saddam Hussein, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden, Pat Roberts, Senate Intelligence Committee, John D. Rockefeller, Mohamed Atta
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
US senior negotiator Christopher Hill warns North Korea that it should not test a nuclear device (see October 9, 2006), and that if it does, the US may consider it a “provocative act,” implying that the US might retaliate with military force. [BBC, 12/2007]
Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean is troubled by the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) currently under consideration in Congress. The MCA authorizes military tribunals instead of criminal court trials for suspected terrorists. Dean supported the idea of tribunals when they were first suggested in 2001, but, he writes: “[T]he devil… arrived later with the details. It never occurred to me (and most people) that Bush & Co. would design a system more befitting a totalitarian state than a democratic nation that once led the world by its good example.” After a previous tribunal procedure was struck down by the Supreme Court (see June 30, 2006), Bush sent another proposal to Congress in early September. Where the bill did not actively rewrite the Court’s findings, it ignored them altogether, Dean writes. Dean finds the law a stunning reversal of decades—centuries, in some instances—of US jurisprudence and international law, including its dismissal of Geneva protections, its retroactive protection for US officials who may have tortured detainees, and its dismissal of habeas corpus rights for detainees. Dean calls the proposed legislation “shameful,” and writes: “This proposal… is going to tell us a great deal about where we are as a nation, for as General [Colin] Powell said, ‘The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism. To redefine [the Geneva Conventions] would add to those doubts.’ As will amending the war crimes law to absolve prior wrongs, denying detainees ‘a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples,’ and enacting a law that insults the Supreme Court.” [FindLaw, 9/22/2006]
Paul Craig Roberts. [Source: Air America]Conservative author and commentator Paul Craig Roberts believes that the Bush administration will certainly attack Iran, and probably with tactical nuclear weapons. Roberts’s conservative credentials are impressive: he served as assistant treasury secretary under Ronald Reagan, was associate editor of the Wall Street Journal, and a contributing editor to the National Review. Roberts writes bluntly that a US military attack on Iran will happen, and will employ tactical nukes for the simple reason that “it is the only way the neocons believe they can rescue their goal of US (and Israeli) hegemony in the Middle East.” Roberts, unusually plain-spoken for a conservative in his opposition to the Bush policies in the Middle East, writes that the US has for all intents and purposes “lost the war in Iraq and in Afghanistan… there are no [more] troops to send” to win in either theater. Instead of acknowledging defeat, “Bush has tried to pawn Afghanistan off on NATO, but Europe does not see any point in sacrificing its blood and money for the sake of American hegemony.” In Iraq, “[T]he ‘coalition of the willing’ has evaporated. Indeed, it never existed. Bush’s ‘coalition’ was assembled with bribes, threats, and intimidation,” and cites the example of Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf admitting in September 2006 that his country was given two choices: join the US coalition or “be prepared to be bombed… back to the Stone Age” (see September 13-15, 2001). This leads Roberts back to his original position that Bush will use tactical nukes against Iran: “Bush’s defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan and Israel’s defeat by Hezbollah in Lebanon have shown that the military firepower of the US and Israeli armies, though effective against massed Arab armies, cannot defeat guerrillas and insurgencies. The US has battled in Iraq longer than it fought against Nazi Germany, and the situation in Iraq is out of control.… Bush is incapable of recognizing his mistake. He can only escalate. Plans have long been made to attack Iran. The problem is that Iran can respond in effective ways to a conventional attack. Moreover, an American attack on another Muslim country could result in turmoil and rebellion throughout the Middle East. This is why the neocons have changed US war doctrine to permit a nuclear strike on Iran.” Roberts, who has worked for and with neoconservatives for decades, says that this group believes “a nuclear attack on Iran would have intimidating force throughout the Middle East and beyond. Iran would not dare retaliate, neocons believe, against US ships, US troops in Iraq, or use their missiles against oil facilities in the Middle East. Neocons have also concluded that a US nuclear strike on Iran would show the entire Muslim world that it is useless to resist America’s will. Neocons say that even the most fanatical terrorists would realize the hopelessness of resisting US hegemony. The vast multitude of Muslims would realize that they have no recourse but to accept their fate.” The “collateral damage” of nuclear strikes against Iran would be acceptable, these neocons believe, especially in light of their “powerful intimidating effect on the enemy.” But Roberts cites nuclear expert Jorge Hirsch, who says such an attack would destroy the international Non-Proliferation Treaty “and send countries in pellmell pursuit of nuclear weapons. We will see powerful nuclear alliances, such as Russia/China, form against us. Japan could be so traumatized by an American nuclear attack on Iran that it would mean the end of Japan’s sycophantic relationship to the US.” Roberts writes that such an attack would make the US an international “pariah, despised and distrusted by every other country.” For the Bush neoconservatives, that is acceptable, Roberts writes: “Neocons believe that diplomacy is feeble and useless, but that the unapologetic use of force brings forth cooperation in order to avoid destruction. Neoconservatives say that America is the new Rome, only more powerful than Rome. Neoconservatives genuinely believe that no one can withstand the might of the United States and that America can rule by force alone.… It is astounding that such dangerous fanatics have control of the US government and have no organized opposition in American politics.” [Baltimore Chronicle, 9/26/2006; Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
Glenn Greenwald. [Source: Mother Jones]Former civil litigator Glenn Greenwald writes that the upcoming passage of the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) is nothing less than “legalizing tyranny in the United States. Period.” Greenwald puts the responsibility on both “the authoritarian Bush administration and its sickeningly submissive loyalists in Congress.” Greenwald continues: “There is a profound and fundamental difference between an Executive engaging in shadowy acts of lawlessness and abuses of power on the one hand, and, on the other, having the American people, through their Congress, endorse, embrace and legalize that behavior out in the open, with barely a peep of real protest. Our laws reflect our values and beliefs. And our laws are about to explicitly codify one of the most dangerous and defining powers of tyranny—one of the very powers this country was founded in order to prevent.” [Unclaimed Territory, 9/28/2006]
Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) speaks out against the Military Commissions Act (MCA), which gives the federal government wide latitude to incarcerate and interrogate “terror suspects” without charge or due process of the law (see October 17, 2006). Obama says that “political considerations” for the upcoming midterm elections played a significant role in the timing of the bill, but “what we’re doing here today—a debate over the fundamental human rights of the accused—should be bigger than politics. This is serious. If this was a debate with obvious ideological differences—heartfelt convictions that couldn’t be settled by compromise—I would understand. But it’s not.” Obama notes that in five years of the Bush administration’s system of military tribunals, “not one terrorist has been tried. Not one has been convicted. And in the end, the Supreme Court of the United States found the whole thing unconstitutional (see June 30, 2006), which is why we’re here today. We could have fixed all of this in a way that allows us to detain and interrogate and try suspected terrorists while still protecting the accidentally accused from spending their lives locked away in Guantanamo Bay. Easily. This was not an either-or question.” Congress could have written and passed legislation that would have established “a real military system of justice that would sort out the suspected terrorists from the accidentally accused,” one that would be in line with domestic law and the Geneva Conventions. Instead, “politics won today.… The administration got its vote, and now it will have its victory lap, and now they will be able to go out on the campaign trail and tell the American people that they were the ones who were tough on the terrorists.” Meanwhile, Obama says, questions about the efficacy and legality of the Bush system of justice persist, al-Qaeda and the Taliban are regrouping “while we look the other way,” and the administration is bent on fighting a war in Iraq “that our own government’s intelligence says is serving as al-Qaeda’s best recruitment tool.… This is not how a serious administration would approach the problem of terrorism.” [US Senate, 9/28/2006]
The US is receiving false and misleading information about Iran’s nuclear capabilities from an Iranian dissident group labeled as a terrorist organization, says a former UN weapons inspector. The Mujahedeen-e Khalq, or MEK (see 1970s), is an exile group labeled by the US State Department as a terrorist organization, but embraced by many Washington neoconservatives, including a key group of White House officials operating inside Vice President Dick Cheney’s office and another working with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), says, “We should be very suspicious about what our leaders or the exile groups say about Iran’s nuclear capacity. There’s a drumbeat of allegations, but there’s not a whole lot of solid information. It may be that Iran has not made the decision to build nuclear weapons. We have to be very careful not to overstate the intelligence.” Albright says the information from MEK is somewhat more believable than the extravagantly false information provided by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraq National Congress, which was used to bolster Bush administration allegations that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq posed a grave and imminent threat to world peace and US security (see (1994). In 2002, MEK provided critical information about Iran’s nuclear-enrichment complex at Natanz and a heavy-water production facility at Arak (see August 2002). It is unclear if Iran is pursuing a nuclear-weapons program; one UN official says of the information gleaned by the IAEA, “It’s a mixed bag.” Of MEK, he says, “The Mujahedeen Khalq appears to have some real sources inside Iran, but you can’t trust them all the time.” Iran has not been fully compliant with IAEA attempts to determine the nature and extent of its nuclear program. Nevertheless, some Congressional lawmakers say that, in light of the misinformation surrounding the claims of Iraq’s weapons programs, policy makers need to be doubly cautious about making claims and pursuing aggressive deterrence operations against Iran. Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says, “In Iran, as well as North Korea, Syria, and so on, we need accurate, unbiased and timely intelligence. Iraq has shown that our intelligence products have a credibility problem and improvements are critically needed.” Iranian journalist Emadeddin Baghi, a columnist for the liberal Sharq newspaper who served two years in prison for criticizing the religious establishment, says that in Iran, skepticism runs deep. “Many Iranians instinctively disbelieve anything their own government says, but they also disbelieve the Americans, and what has happened in Iraq has strengthened that,” Baghi says. “Iranians see the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and they see the American accusations about nuclear weapons as just another pretext for other hidden aims.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/26/2006]
Entity Tags: Iraqi National Congress, David Albright, Bush administration (43), Ahmed Chalabi, Emadeddin Baghi, International Atomic Energy Agency, Jane Harman, Paul Wolfowitz, US Department of State, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Saddam Hussein, People’s Mujahedin of Iran, House Intelligence Committee
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
According to journalist Seymour Hersh, during a discussion of national security in the Executive Office Building, someone asks what will happen if the Democrats win both the Senate and the House, and how will that change the White House’s policy towards Iran? According to someone familiar with the discussion, Vice President Cheney begins reminiscing about his days as a telephone lineman in Wyoming, and the policy towards unused lengths of copper wiring. Any leftover wire over three feet long was required to be returned to the power company. No one wanted to deal with the paperwork that resulted from such returns, so, Cheney recalls, he and his fellow workers would cut the longer lengths into shorter pieces and toss them aside—making the longer wire into “shorteners.” If the Democrats win, Cheney says, the White House will still pursue a course of using the US military to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb. The White House will merely put “shorteners” on any legislative restrictions Congress may pass, and stop Congress from interfering in the White House’s drive to war. A former senior intelligence official says, “They’re afraid that Congress is going to vote a binding resolution to stop a hit on Iran, a la Nicaragua in the Contra war.” Cheney’s office says it has no record of the discussion. [New Yorker, 11/27/2006]
Congress, stung into action by the Bush administration’s poor response to Hurricane Katrina and particularly the ineptitude of Michael Brown, the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA—see Early September 2001), passes a law saying that President Bush must nominate a replacement who has “a demonstrated ability in and knowledge of emergency management,” and “not less than five years of executive leadership.” In a signing statement, Bush says that only he, the head of the executive branch, can decide who to appoint to offices. Therefore, he states, he is ignoring the prohibition. [Savage, 2007, pp. 239-240]
Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel, says that everyting that has happened in the Middle East has been exactly the opposite of what Bush administration neoconservatives have predicted would happen. Echoing the words of conservative activist Grover Norquist (see October 2006), Indyk says, “Nobody thought going into this war that these guys would screw it up so badly, that Iraq would be taken out of the balance of power, that it would implode, and that Iran would become dominant.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 339]
The Iraq Study Group, working to finalize its long-awaited report (see December 2006), works all of its connections to the White House to ensure that the report receives a fair hearing. No one in the study group anticipates their report will receive a warm reception from the White House. Co-chairman James Baker is playing on both his ties with the president’s father and on the fact that he secured the 2000 election victory for President Bush. “Here you have Baker coming back trying to pull the president’s chestnuts out of the fire,” a former State Department official later observes. “Not only did he help Bush out in Florida, but now he is doing the Baker-Hamilton commission. He and [Brent] Scowcroft were talking relentlessly during the policy formulation of the Iraq Study Group report. Baker was keeping the president informed the whole time. He is trying to throw him a lifeline and give him an exit.” Scowcroft, another close ally of the elder Bush, is working with his former protege, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, to try to gain Bush’s attention. Rice indicates that she will help; unfortunately, she is not sincere in her assurances, as she never intervenes on Scowcroft’s behalf. [Unger, 2007, pp. 342-343]
United States Geological Survey graphic showing the location of the North Korea nuclear test. The USGS notes the test as ‘seismic activity.’ [Source: United States Geological Survey]North Korea explodes a nuclear weapon in an underground test site. The test takes place in spite of repeated US (see September 11, 2006), United Nations, and other international warnings. The North Koreans claim that the test is an unmitigated success. Both Japanese and US sources report a seismic event at the time of the test, and Russia says it is “100 percent certain” a nuclear test has occurred. The US calls the test a “provocative act”; China, in an unusually strong denunciation of its ally, calls the test “brazen,” expresses its “resolute opposition” to the test, and says it “defied the universal opposition of international society.” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan calls the test “unpardonable” and notes that the region is now “entering a new, dangerous nuclear age.” Many observers believe the United Nations will attempt to impose economic sanctions on the country, and to condemn it in a Security Council resolution. “We expect the UN Security Council to take immediate actions to respond to this unprovoked act,” says White House press secretary Tony Snow. Abe, in South Korea to meet with President Roh Moo-hyun, agrees, urging the Security Council to take “undaunted” action. Abe says the test will spur Japan and the US to speed up work on a joint missile-defense system begun after a North Korean missile test in 1998. Roh says the test creates a “severe situation” that threatens stability in the region; South Korea’s military is on high alert. For its part, North Korea says the test is a “historic event that brought happiness to our military and people,” and claims the test will maintain “peace and stability” in the region. It is “a great leap forward in the building of a great prosperous, powerful socialist nation.” [BBC, 10/9/2006] A week later, the US confirms that the North Koreans have, in fact, tested a nuclear weapon of less than a kiloton. [Bloomberg, 10/16/2006]
President Bush signs the Military Commissions Act into law. [Source: White House]President Bush signs the Military Commissions Act (MCA) into law. [White House, 10/17/2006] The MCA is designed to give the president the authority to order “enemy detainees” tried by military commissions largely outside the scope of US civil and criminal procedures. The bill was requested by the Bush administration after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (see June 28, 2004) that the US could not hold prisoners indefinitely without access to the US judicial system, and that the administration’s proposal that they be tried by military tribunals was unconstitutional (see June 28, 2004). [FindLaw, 10/9/2006] It is widely reported that the MCA does not directly apply to US citizens, but to only non-citizens defined as “enemy combatants. [CBS News, 10/19/2006] However, six months later, a Bush administration lawyer will confirm that the administration believes the law does indeed apply to US citizens (see February 1, 2007).
Sweeping New Executive Powers - The MCA virtually eliminates the possibility that the Supreme Court can ever again act as a check on a president’s power in the war on terrorism. Similarly, the law gives Congressional approval to many of the executive powers previously, and unilaterally, seized by the Bush administration. Former Justice Department official John Yoo celebrates the MCA, writing, “Congress… told the courts, in effect, to get out of the war on terror” (see October 19, 2006). [Savage, 2007, pp. 319, 322]
'Abandoning' Core 'Principles' - The bill passed the Senate on a 65-34 vote, and the House by a 250-170 vote. The floor debate was often impassioned and highly partisan; House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) called Democrats who opposed the bill “dangerous,” and Senate Judiciary Committee member Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said this bill showed that the US is losing its “moral compass.” Leahy asked during the debate, “Why would we allow the terrorists to win by doing to ourselves what they could never do, and abandon the principles for which so many Americans today and through our history have fought and sacrificed?” Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) had said he would vote against it because it is “patently unconstitutional on its face,” but then voted for it, saying he believes the courts will eventually “clean it up.” Specter’s attempt to amend the bill to provide habeas corpus rights for enemy combatants was defeated, as were four Democratic amendments. Republicans have openly used the debate over the MCA as election-year fodder, with House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) saying after the vote that “House Democrats have voted to protect the rights of terrorists,” and Boehner decrying “the Democrats’ irrational opposition to strong national security policies.” Democrats such as Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) say they will not fight back at such a level. “There will be 30-second attack ads and negative mail pieces, and we will be called everything from cut-and-run quitters to Defeatocrats, to people who care more about the rights of terrorists than the protection of Americans,” Obama says. “While I know all of this, I’m still disappointed, and I’m still ashamed, because what we’re doing here today—a debate over the fundamental human rights of the accused—should be bigger than politics.” [Washington Post, 10/19/2006] After winning the vote, Hastert accused Democrats who opposed the bill of “putting their liberal agenda ahead of the security of America.” Hastert said the Democrats “would gingerly pamper the terrorists who plan to destroy innocent Americans’ lives” and create “new rights for terrorists.” [New York Times, 10/19/2006]
Enemy Combatants - The MCA applies only to “enemy combatants.” Specifically, the law defines an “unlawful enemy combatant” as a person “who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents,” and who is not a lawful combatant. Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch says the definition far exceeds the traditionally accepted definition of combatant as someone who directly participates in hostilities. But under the MCA, someone who provides “material support” for terrorists—whether that be in the form of financial contributions or sweeping the floors at a terrorist camp—can be so defined. Worse, the label can be applied without recourse by either Bush or the secretary of defense, after a “competent tribunal” makes the determination. The MCA provides no guidelines as to what criteria these tribunals should use. Taken literally, the MCA gives virtually unrestricted power to the tribunals to apply the label as requested by the president or the secretary. Mariner believes the definition is both “blatantly unconstitutional” and a direct contradiction of centuries of Supreme Court decisions that define basic judicial rights. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006] Under this definition, the president can imprison, without charge or trial, any US citizen accused of donating money to a Middle East charity that the government believes is linked to terrorist activity. Citizens associated with “fringe” groups such as the left-wing Black Panthers or right-wing militias can be incarcerated without trial or charge. Citizens accused of helping domestic terrorists can be so imprisoned. Law professor Bruce Ackerman calls the MCA “a massive Congressional expansion of the class of enemy combatants,” and warns that the law may “haunt all of us on the morning after the next terrorist attack” by enabling a round of mass detentions similar to the roundup of Japanese-American citizens during World War II. [Savage, 2007, pp. 322]
Military Commissions - The MCA mandates that enemy combatants are to be tried by military commissions, labeled “regularly constituted courts that afford all the necessary ‘judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples’ for purposes of common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.” The commissions must have a minimum of five commissioned military officers and a military judge; if death is a possible penalty, the commissions must have at least 12 officers. The defendant’s guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt; convictions require a two-thirds vote. Sentences of beyond 10 years require a three-quarters vote, and death penalties must be unanimously voted for. Defendants may either represent themselves or by military or civilian counsel. The court procedures themselves, although based on standard courts-martial proceedings, are fluid, and can be set or changed as the secretary of defense sees fit. Statements obtained through methods defined as torture are inadmissible, but statements take by coercion and “cruel treatment” can be admitted. The MCA sets the passage of the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA—see December 15, 2005) as a benchmark—statements obtained before the December 30, 2005 enactment of that law can be used, even if the defendant was “coerced,” if a judge finds the statement “reasonable and possessing sufficient probative value.” Statements after that date must have been taken during interrogations that fall under the DTA guidelines. Defendants have the right to examine and respond to evidence seen by the commission, a provision originally opposed by the administration. However, if the evidence is classified, an unclassified summary of that material is acceptable, and classified exculpatory evidence can be denied in lieu of what the MCA calls “acceptable substitutes.” Hearsay evidence is admissible, as is evidence obtained without search warrants. Generally, defendants will not be allowed to inquire into the classified “sources, methods, or activities” surrounding evidence against them. Some human rights activists worry that evidence obtained through torture can be admitted, and the fact that it was obtained by torture, if that detail is classified, will not be presented to the court or preclude the evidence from being used. Public access to the commissions will be quite limited. Many experts claim these commissions are illegal both by US constitutional law and international law. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006]
Secret Courts - The military tribunals can be partially or completely closed to public scrutiny if the presiding judge deems such an action necessary to national security. The government can convey such concerns to the judge without the knowledge of the defense. The judge can exclude the accused from the trial if he deems it necessary for safety or if he decides the defendant is “disruptive.” Evidence can be presented in secret, without the knowledge of the defense and without giving the defense a chance to examine that evidence, if the judge finds that evidence “reliable.” And during the trial, the prosecution can at any time assert a “national security privilege” that would stop “the examination of any witness” if that witness shows signs of discussing sensitive security matters. This provision can easily be used to exclude any potential defense witness who might “breach national security” with their testimony. Author and investigative reporter Robert Parry writes, “In effect, what the new law appears to do is to create a parallel ‘star chamber’ system for the prosecution, imprisonment, and elimination of enemies of the state, whether those enemies are foreign or domestic.” [Consortium News, 10/19/2006]
Appeals - Guilty verdicts are automatically appealed to a Court of Military Commission Review, consisting of three appellate military justices. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals has extremely limited authority of review of the commissions; even its authority to judge whether a decision is consistent with the Constitution is limited “to the extent [that the Constitution is] applicable.”
Types of Crimes - Twenty-eight specific crimes fall under the rubric of the military commissions, including conspiracy (not a traditional war crime), murder of protected persons, murder in violation of the bill of war, hostage-taking, torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, mutilation or maiming, rape, sexual abuse or assault, hijacking, terrorism, providing material support for terrorism, and spying. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006]
CIA Abuses - The MCA, responding to the recent Supreme Court decision of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006) that found the CIA’s secret detention program and abusive interrogation practices illegal, redefines and amends the law to make all but the most pernicious interrogation practices, even those defined as torture by the War Crimes Act and the Geneva Conventions, legal. The MCA actually rules that the Geneva Conventions are all but unenforceable in US courts. It also provides retroactive protection under the law to all actions as far back as November 1997. Under the MCA, practices such as waterboarding, stress positioning, and sleep deprivation cannot be construed as torture. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006] The MCA even states that rape as part of interrogations cannot be construed as torture unless the intent of the rapist to torture his victim can be proven, a standard rejected by international law. The MCA provides such a narrow definition of coercion and sexual abuse that most of the crimes perpetrated at Abu Ghraib are now legal. [Jurist, 10/4/2006] Although the MCA seems to cover detainee abuse for all US agencies, including the CIA, Bush says during the signing of the bill, “This bill will allow the Central Intelligence Agency to continue its program for questioning key terrorist leaders and operatives.” International law expert Scott Horton will note, “The administration wanted these prohibitions on the military and not on the CIA, but it did not work out that way.” Apparently Bush intends to construe the law to exempt the CIA from its restrictions, such as they are, on torture and abuse of prisoners. [Salon, 5/22/2007]
No Habeas Corpus Rights - Under the MCA, enemy combatants no longer have the right to file suit under the habeas corpus provision of US law. This means that they cannot challenge the legality of their detention, or raise claims of torture and mistreatment. Even detainees who have been released can never file suit to seek redress for their treatment while in US captivity. [FindLaw, 10/25/2006]
Retroactive Immunity - The administration added a provision to the MCA that rewrote the War Crimes Act retroactively to November 26, 1997, making any offenses considered war crimes before the MCA is adopted no longer punishable under US law. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2007 that the only reason he can fathom for the change is to protect administration officials—perhaps including President Bush himself—from any future prosecutions as war criminals. Dean will note that if the administration actually believes in the inherent and indisputable powers of the presidency, as it has long averred, then it would not worry about any such criminal liability. [Dean, 2007, pp. 239-240]
Entity Tags: Human Rights Watch, Joanne Mariner, US Supreme Court, Patrick J. Leahy, Military Commissions Act, John Dean, George W. Bush, Scott Horton, Geneva Conventions, Bruce Ackerman, Dennis Hastert, American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Detainee Treatment Act, Arlen Specter, War Crimes Act, Barack Obama, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), John Boehner
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Keith Olbermann. [Source: Spidered News.com]MSNBC political commentator Keith Olbermann says that the nation has passed a grim milestone with the passage of the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006). By accepting this law, Olbermann says, the nation has accepted that to fight the terrorists, the US government must become “just a little bit like the terrorists.” But the ultimate threat to the nation is not terrorists, Olbermann says, it is George W. Bush himself. “We have a long and painful history of ignoring the prophecy attributed to Benjamin Franklin that ‘those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.’” Speaking directly to President Bush, Olbermann continues: “But even within this history we have not before codified the poisoning of habeas corpus (see March 28, 2007), that wellspring of protection from which all essential liberties flow. You, sir, have now befouled that spring. You, sir, have now given us chaos and called it order. You, sir, have now imposed subjugation and called it freedom. For the most vital, the most urgent, the most inescapable of reasons. And—again, Mr. Bush—all of them, wrong.” The MCA gives Bush a “blank check drawn against our freedom to a man who may now, if he so decides, declare not merely any non-American citizens ‘unlawful enemy combatants’ and ship them somewhere—anywhere—but may now, if he so decides, declare you an ‘unlawful enemy combatant’ and ship you somewhere—anywhere” (see September 28, 2006). Habeas corpus is now “gone” for those in the prison camps, Olbermann says, and Geneva Conventions protections are “optional.” He concludes: “The moral force we shined outwards to the world as an eternal beacon, and inwards at ourselves as an eternal protection? Snuffed out. These things you have done, Mr. Bush, they would be ‘the beginning of the end of America.’” [MSNBC, 10/19/2006]
Exercising its new authority under the just-signed Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006), the Bush administration notifies the US District Court in Washington that it no longer has jurisdiction to consider 196 habeas corpus petitions filed by Guantanamo detainees. Many of these petitions cover multiple detainees. According to the MCA, “no court, justice, or judge” can consider those petitions or other actions related to treatment or imprisonment filed by anyone designated as an enemy combatant, now or in the future. The MCA is already being challenged as unconstitutional by several lawyers representing Guantanamo detainees. The MCA goes directly against two recent Supreme Court cases, Rasul v. Bush (see June 28, 2004) and Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), which provide detainees with habeas corpus and other fundamental legal rights. Many Congressional members and legal experts say that the anti-habeas provisions of the MCA are unconstitutional. For instance, Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) notes that the Constitution says the right of any prisoner to challenge detention “shall not be suspended” except in cases of “rebellion or invasion.” [Washington Post, 10/20/2006] Law professor Joseph Margulies, who is involved in the detainee cases, says the administration’s persistence on the issue “demonstrates how difficult it is for the courts to enforce [the clause] in the face of a resolute executive branch that is bound and determined to resist it.” Vincent Warren of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents many of the detainees, expects the legal challenges to the law will eventually wind up before the Supreme Court. [Washington Post, 10/20/2006]
In an interview with WDAY’s Scott Heinen, Vice President Dick Cheney says it was a “no-brainer for me” to authorize waterboarding of suspected terrorists (see April 2002 and After and Summer 2003). Cheney says that since waterboarding and other brutal methods are not torture, as he defines the term (see Mid-March 2002), the entire issue is not really an issue. “We don’t torture,” he says. “That’s not what we’re involved in. We live up to our obligations in international treaties that we’re party to, and so forth. But the fact is, you can have a fairly robust interrogation program without torture, and we need to be able to do that.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 154-155; Financial Times, 10/26/2008] After Cheney’s statement causes a welter of criticism among lawmakers and media figures, the White House says Cheney was not talking about waterboarding, and insists that the US does not torture. Cheney calls reporters to bolster the denial. “I did not talk about specific techniques and won’t,” he says. “I didn’t say anything about waterboarding.… He [Heinen] didn’t even use that phrase.” Human Rights Watch says Cheney’s remarks are “the Bush administration’s first clear endorsement” of waterboarding. [Associated Press, 10/28/2006]
Lewis Libby’s defense team files three motions with the US District Court in Washington, asking Judge Reggie Walton to preclude evidence pertaining to the following:
that Libby improperly disclosed classified materials from the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE—see October 1, 2002) to reporters (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003);
reporters’ opposition to testifying on First Amendment grounds, and reporter Judith Miller’s incarceration (see September 30, 2005 and October 12, 2005); and
outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s employment status with the agency, and any actual or potential damage her exposure as a covert agent might have caused (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). [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/30/2006 ; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/30/2006 ; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/30/2006 ]
Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald files his own motion to preclude the defense from making much of the fact that other Bush administration officials also accused of leaking Plame Wilson’s identity to the press were not charged with crimes (see June 13, 2003, July 7, 2003, July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, July 8 or 9, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003,8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, and July 15, 2005). “The fact that no other person was charged with a crime relating to the disclosure of classified information says absolutely nothing about whether defendant Libby is guilty of the charged crimes,” Fitzgerald writes. “It is improper for the jury to consider, or for counsel to suggest, that the decisions by the government not to charge additional crimes or defendants are grounds that could support an acquittal on the crimes charged in the indictment.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/30/2006 ] Fitzgerald is referring to, among others, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who was recently identified as the first administration official to leak Plame Wilson’s identity to a reporter (see September 7, 2006). [MSNBC, 10/30/2006] Author and blogger Marcy Wheeler observes that, in her opinion, Libby is trying to keep the trial jury from deliberating on the administration’s “partial declassification” of the 2002 NIE, does not want jurors to know that reporter Judith Miller felt Libby did not want her to testify against him (see September 15, 2005 and August 2005), and wants to keep the jury unaware that Plame Wilson was a covert CIA agent. [Marcy Wheeler, 10/31/2006]
Vice President Dick Cheney says foreign terrorists in Iraq are launching a spate of attacks in order to influence the upcoming US midterm elections—in essence, accusing terrorists of trying to sway Americans to vote for Democrats. Al-Qaeda and other terror groups active in Iraq are trying to “break the will of the American people.” He continues, “They’re very sensitive to the fact that we’ve got an election scheduled.” He goes on to claim that terror attacks in Iraq are being scheduled to coincide with US election events and to garner maximum media coverage to impact the elections. He provides no evidence for this. October saw one of the highest death tolls for US forces since the invasion of March 2003. Republicans fear that bad news from Iraq will cost them seats in the US Congress. Pentagon spokesman Eric Ruff echoes Cheney’s statements, saying that Islamist militants are trying to “increase opposition to the war and have an influence against the president.” White House officials add that the US media is deliberately focusing on the “bad” news of casualties, carnage, and terrorist attacks, and failing to cover the “good” news coming out of the occupation. The White House and the Pentagon are launching a new propaganda effort to use “new media” outlets such as blogs to spread their message and counter what they say is a sophisticated propaganda effort by Islamists to manipulate the news and affect the US elections. [BBC, 10/31/2006]
The CIA acknowledges that it has operated under the rubric of two secret Bush administration documents that authorized it to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects overseas. Since 2004, the agency has refused to either confirm or deny the existence of the documents, and has argued in court that to make such an acknowledgement would jeopardize national security. The American Civil Liberties Union, which has fought the CIA in court over the documents, says in a statement by its executive director, Anthony Romero: “The CIA’s sudden reversal on these secret directives is yet more evidence that the Bush administration is misusing claims of national security to avoid public scrutiny. Confusion about whether such a presidential order existed certainly led to the torture and abuse scandal that embarrassed America. With a new Congress and renewed subpoena power, we now need to look up the chain of command.” One of the documents is a secret executive order signed by President Bush authorizing the CIA to set up “black site” detention facilities overseas (see September 17, 2001), and the other is a Justice Department legal analysis specifying interrogation methods that CIA interrogators could use against top al-Qaeda suspects. In legal papers previously filed in court, the CIA claimed that national security would be gravely injured if the CIA were compelled to admit or deny even an “interest” in interrogating detainees. Today, however, the agency acknowledges the existence of the two documents. It continues to withhold the documents themselves; their contents remain unknown to the public. The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer says: “We intend to press for the release of both of these documents. If President Bush and the Justice Department authorized the CIA to torture its prisoners, the public has a right to know.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 11/14/2006]
The Justice Department argues in federal court that immigrants arrested in the US and labeled as “enemy combatants” under the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) can be indefinitely detained without access to the US justice system. The argument comes as part of the Justice Department’s attempt to dismiss a habeas corpus suit challenging the detention of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a Qatari citizen accused by the government of being an al-Qaeda agent (see December 12, 2001 and February 1, 2007). The government argues that the MCA “removes federal court jurisdiction over pending and future habeas corpus actions and any other actions filed by or on behalf of detained aliens determined by the United States to be enemy combatants, such as petitioner-appellant al-Marri.… In plain terms, the MCA removes this Court’s jurisdiction (as well as the district court’s) over al-Marri’s habeas action. Accordingly, the Court should dismiss this appeal for lack of jurisdiction and remand the case to the district court with instructions to dismiss the petition for lack of jurisdiction.” This is the first time the Bush administration has argued in court that the MCA strips a detainee held within the US of habeas rights.
Defense Counterargument - Al-Marri’s lawyers say that because he is being held in a South Carolina detention facility, he has the right to challenge his detention in a civilian court like any other non-citizen held on criminal charges. The Justice Department says that enemy combatants have no such rights regardless of where they are being held. Jonathan Hafetz, one of al-Marri’s lawyers, says: “[T]he president has announced that he can sweep any of the millions of non-citizens off the streets of America and imprison them for life in a military jail without charge, court review, or due process. It is unprecedented, unlawful, and un-American.” [Jurist, 11/14/2006] The government has “never admitted that he has any rights, including the right not to be tortured,” Hafetz adds. “They’ve created a black hole where he has no rights.” [Progressive, 3/2007] The Bush administration is also challenging lawsuits filed by detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility on similar grounds. [Jurist, 11/14/2006]
The Lewis Libby defense team argues in a court filing that there was no such thing as an orchestrated plot to expose Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA official, and writes that Libby, a former White House official who told at least two reporters that Plame Wilson was a CIA official (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), had no reason to lie during the investigation of the leak (see October 14, 2003, November 26, 2003, March 5, 2004, and March 24, 2004). Libby’s lawyers want to present a wide-ranging defense concerning Libby’s duties and actions at the White House, while special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, the US Attorney prosecuting the case, wants to stay narrowly focused on evidence that Libby lied under oath to the FBI and to a grand jury. “It is doubtful that anyone committed an ‘underlying crime’ here,” Libby’s lawyers write. “The government’s investigation began as an effort to discover which government officials had ‘leaked’ Ms. Wilson’s affiliation with the CIA to Mr. Novak” (see July 14, 2003). The Libby lawyers base their argument on the fact that former State Department official Richard Armitage leaked Plame Wilson’s identity to a reporter before Libby did (see June 13, 2003). “Members of the jury will have heard for years that Mr. Libby leaked classified information about Valerie Wilson’s affiliation with the CIA, due to inaccurate reports in the press,” the defense attorneys write. “Indeed, the government has contributed to the likely misimpressions that potential jurors will have about this case.” In previous filings, Fitzgerald has argued that the upcoming trial should not be a forum to debate the leak itself or question why Libby was charged and others were not. [Associated Press, 11/14/2006]
An unnamed Pentagon consultant describes the Bush administration’s policy on Iraq and Iran as “a classic case of ‘failure forward.’” He adds: “They believe that by tipping over Iran they would recover their losses in Iraq—like doubling your bet. It would be an attempt to revive the concept of spreading democracy in the Middle East by creating one new model state.” In the light of belligerent statements made by several administration officials hostile to the current regime in Iran, he also says: “More and more people see the weakening of Iran as the only way to save Iraq.… [T]he goal in Iran is not regime change but a strike that will send a signal that America still can accomplish its goals. Even if it does not destroy Iran’s nuclear network, there are many who think that thirty-six hours of bombing is the only way to remind the Iranians of the very high cost of going forward with the bomb—and of supporting Moqtada al-Sadr and his pro-Iran element in Iraq.” (Note: al-Sadr’s closeness to Iran is a matter of dispute.) [New Yorker, 11/27/2006]
Thomas McInerney. [Source: New York Times]Several military analysts who serve as part of the Pentagon’s propaganda campaign to push the Iraq war and occupation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) emphasize their willingness to cooperate with the program even as they come to believe that they are being manipulated and deceived. NBC analyst Kenneth Allard, who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, will later say that he has discerned an ever-widening gap between what he and his fellow analysts are being told and what subsequent investigation and book analyses will later reveal. Allard will say, “Night and day, I felt we’d been hosed.” Yet Allard continues to repeat Pentagon talking points on NBC. Other analysts feel fewer qualms. Thomas McInerney, a retired Air Force general and Fox News analyst, writes to the Pentagon regarding the talking points they have given him: “Good work. We will use it.” [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
The US intelligence community begins plumbing the data they have compiled on Iran’s nuclear weapons program in an attempt to shore up the Bush administration’s premature conclusion that Iran is on the verge of producing a nuclear weapon. Instead, their conclusions are that Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003. In the process, White House aides begin a program of “deep dives,” or special briefings for President Bush to meet with not only his advisers but the actual analysts who study Iranian intelligence data, in an attempt to allow Bush to “get his hands dirty” with real intelligence and not just pre-digested summaries. Bush is dismayed at the lack of solid intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program and asks for more. When the intelligence community does provide more, it finds more and more evidence that Iran had shut down its nuclear weapons program years before. Those conclusions will be released in a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) a year later (see December 3, 2007).
Troubling Conclusions, White House Spin - Bush and his top officials don’t like the findings; if true, the reports disprove the entirety of the administration’s push to define Iran as an imminent threat to the Middle East. White House officials are initially skeptical, believing that the intelligence community might be a victim of Iranian disinformation. The intelligence agencies create a special “red team” of analysts to thoroughly test and, if possible, discredit the information. They are unable to do so. “They tried to figure out what exactly it would take to perpetrate that kind of deception, how many people would be involved, how they would go about doing it, when it would have been set up and so forth,” says one intelligence official. Analysts “scrubbed and rescrubbed” more than 1,000 pieces of evidence but conclude Iran’s program really had been shut down. Faced with that conclusion, the White House decides to focus on the findings that confirm their suspicions—that Iran did have a secret weapons program that could be restarted again. No one in the White House suggests that Bush tone down his rhetoric or change his policies towards Iran. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell decides to keep the new findings secret, the same position adopted by Vice President Cheney (see October 2006 and November 10, 2007). Only the Israelis are told of the new findings; Congress, the US’s European allies, and the UN’s monitoring agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are told nothing. McConnell will reluctantly change his mind out of a fear of leaks and possible charges of a coverup. That decision may come back to haunt the administration, particularly with the ill-will it will create among the US’s allies. Former State Department nonproliferation official Robert Einhorn says, “The administration is going to pay a price for not allowing allies in on it at an earlier date. The French had carried the administration’s water on this issue and really went out on a limb to get the European Union to adopt tough sanctions. And now the rug has been pulled out from under them.”
New NIE Draft Sparks Controversy - An NIE the year before (see August 2, 2005) had led the US to conclude that Iran was actively working on a nuclear weapons program. Congressional Democrats, not entirely convinced by the NIE’s conclusions and increasingly resistant to Bush’s push for confrontation with Iran, asks for a new NIE. Bush wants the new NIE to confirm his accusations and, in one official’s words, “get more information on Iran so we know what they’re up to.” The 2005 NIE had been based largely on information about Iran’s “Project 1-11,” a program that Iran is apparently pursuing to retrofit a ballistic missile to carry nuclear warheads (see Summer 2004). But no new information on Project 1-11 has been secured in three years, and the administration insists on new confirmations. “They just wouldn’t budge,” one agency official recalls. A new draft is completed in June, provoking heated discussions among agency and administration officials. CIA director Michael Hayden and NSA director Keith Alexander begin directing their agencies to closely monitor Iranians who were involved in their country’s nuclear program. Soon, communications intercepts from key Iranian officials indicate that the program had been mothballed in 2003. Some of the officials discuss their belief that the program may never be restarted.
Evolving NIE - As the draft NIE evolves, McConnell, with the assistance of his deputies Thomas Fingar and Donald Kerr, both national security veterans, lay down ground rules. One official later says that McConnell “quickly got the mantra down: ‘We must make a clear distinction between what we know and don’t know and what we judge to be the case.’” The internal debate over the NIE is sharp and often contentious. McConnell will finally inform Bush of the new conclusions—that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003—in August (see December 5, 2007 and December 3-4, 2007). In September, House and Senate intelligence committee members are informed as well. A September draft radically differs from the June version, based in large part on the communications intercepts and the exhaustive analysis on the data possessed by the CIA and NIE. The chief analysts are grilled by Hayden and his deputy Stephen Kappes, but the analyses stand up. Cheney, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and other key officials will be given a preliminary briefing on the new NIE on November 15; Bush, finalizing a Middle East peace conference in which he will try to rally Middle Eastern countries against Iran, is not officially told of the new NIE until November 28. Bush immediately tells Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (see November 26-28, 2007), and Cheney appraises Israeli Foreign Minister Ehud Barak. Discussions about whether or not to keep the NIE secret lead to McConnell’s decision to make a declassified version public. A top intelligence official says, “We knew it would leak, so honesty required that we get this out ahead, to prevent it from appearing to be cherry picking.” [Washington Post, 12/8/2007]
Entity Tags: Keith Alexander, Ehud Barak, Don Kerr, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Ehud Olmert, International Atomic Energy Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert Einhorn, National Security Agency, Mike McConnell, Michael Hayden, Stephen Kappes, Thomas Fingar, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
A study conducted for the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency finds that close American allies want the Bush administration to understand that “a greater US readiness to engage on nuclear disarmament issues would pay off in increased support from other third parties in pursuing US nonproliferation issues.” Many US allies, such as Canada, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, and others, are deeply unhappy with the US’s recent refusal to follow the restrictions of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (see Late May 2005). A similar study for Sandia National Laboratories, a US nuclear research facility, finds that while other nations are not any more likely to develop their own nuclear programs because of the US’s nuclear posture, the US has lost tremendous credibility in pursuing nonproliferation efforts among other states because of its perceived hypocrisy. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 278-279]
The Bush administration imposes what reporter and author Charlie Savage will later call “unprecedented controls” on scientists working with the US Geological Survey (USGS), an agency that studies environmental issues such as global warming and endangered species. Now, USGS scientists must submit research papers and prepared speeches to White House officials for approval prior to dissemination. The rules also require the scientists to let the public affairs office know about “findings or data that may be especially newsworthy, have an impact on government policy, or contradict previous public understanding to ensure that proper officials are notified and that communication strategies are developed.” USGS scientists say that the restrictions mean that government officials are monitoring and censoring their work. “The explanation was that this was intended to ensure the highest possible quality research,” says Jim Estes, a marine biologist who has worked for USGS since the 1970s. “But to me it feels like they’re doing this to keep us under their thumbs.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 106-107]
Congress passes a bill that restates an existing ban on government officials opening citizens’ first-class mail without a warrant. The single exception is if authorities suspect a letter or package of containing a bomb. President Bush issues a signing statement asserting the right of the executive branch to open mail without a warrant when “specifically authorized by law for foreign intelligence collection.” The statement, if interpreted as legally meaningful, renders Congress’s law impotent, since during the entire warrantless wiretapping controversy the administration has asserted it is authorized by the “law” of the president’s inherent power as commander in chief to intercept phone calls without a judge’s approval, and this power would also apply to opening mail. [Savage, 2007, pp. 238]
Silvestre Reyes. [Source: Foreign Policy (.com)]Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), slated to become the new speaker of the House when the Democrats take over leadership of the House in January 2007, names Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Reyes, a former soldier and Border Patrol chief before being elected to Congress, is named to the chairmanship over two other Intelligence Committee Democrats, Jane Harman (D-CA) and Alcee Hastings (D-FL), both of whom outrank him on the committee. Generally an advocate for the military, Reyes supports withdrawing from Iraq, and voted against the original war resolution. He has accused the Bush administration of using “cherry-picked” and “manipulated” intelligence to justify invading Iraq. He is also a strong critic of the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). [Washington Post, 12/2/2006] Evidence will later show that Harman may have improperly accepted assistance from an Israeli agent, who promised to lobby Pelosi on Harman’s behalf for the chairmanship (see October 2005 and April 19, 2009).
After the Iraq Study Group (ISG) report is tossed aside by President Bush (see December 2006), his neoconservative advisers quickly locate a study more to their liking. Not surprisingly, it is from the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute. The study, written by Frederick Kagan (the brother of Robert Kagan, a signatory of the 1998 PNAC letter urging then-President Clinton to overthrow Saddam Hussein—see January 26, 1998), was commissioned in late September or early October by Kagan’s AEI boss, Danielle Pletka, the vice president of foreign and defense studies at the institute. Kagan later says that Plekta thought “it would be helpful to do a realistic evaluation of what would be required to secure Baghdad.” The study is released during a four-day planning exercise that coincides with the release of the ISG report, but Kagan says neither the timing nor the report itself has anything to do with the ISG. “This is not designed to be an anti-ISG report,” Kagan insists. “Any conspiracy theories beyond that are nonsense. There was no contact with the Bush administration. We put this together on our own. I did not have any contact with the vice president’s office prior to… well, I don’t want to say that. I have had periodic contact with the vice president’s office, but I can’t tell you the dates.” Kagan’s study, with the appealing title “Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq,” says that 20,000 more US troops deployed throughout Baghdad will turn the tide and ensure success. The study becomes the centerpiece of Bush’s “surge” strategy (see January 2007). [Unger, 2007, pp. 342-343]
During the year, the US imposes sanctions on nine different entities in India for unsanctioned nuclear proliferation—giving, or selling, nuclear technology to nations and/or organizations prohibited from having them. Perhaps the most worrisome buyer of Indian nuclear technology is Iran. Two years before, Bush officials had reversed 30 years of US sanctions against India over its unrestricted development of nuclear technology, and entered into an agreement with India to provide it with more technology and even fissile material (see July 18, 2005). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 258]
Author Craig Unger asks a former State Department official if, had there been no attacks on 9/11, the Bush administration would have still invaded Iraq. “Absolutely,” the official replies. “They would have done it under any circumstances. Absolutely no doubt about it. They had the road map. They had the plan.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 213]
A State Department official reflects on the Bush administration’s expectation that Iraq would function smoothly after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and the administration’s complete failure to anticipate an insurgency and the sectarian strife which together have engulfed the country in violence. The official, who chooses to remain anonymous to interviewer Craig Unger, says this all happened because the neoconservatives driving the White House foreign policy know next to nothing about Iraq’s history and culture. “In all the literature they’ve written about Iraq, you will not see anything by them that has anything about the nature of Iraqi society,” the official says. “It was as if that stuff did not exist. Likewise, they did not think about Iraq in the context of the region. They viewed those things as distractions from their larger objectives. That is what was so frustrating about [Brent] Scowcroft (see October 2004) and others who spent a lifetime developing knowledge and expertise to examine the unintended consequences of various policies.” Scowcroft and other “realists” in the administration, most prominently Colin Powell, were derided, mocked, and ultimately driven out of the administration by the neoconservatives, to the detriment of the administration’s Iraq policies. [Unger, 2007, pp. 305-306]
The Pentagon-sponsored “military analysts” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) have been so successful in shaping the media response and public opinion towards the war that others in the Bush administration begin making use of them as well. General David Petraeus, newly appointed to command US forces in Iraq, meets with the analysts, presumably to craft the message they will spread in the media about the benefits of Petraeus’s appointment. [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales stuns Senate Judiciary Committee questioners when he says that the fundamental right of habeas corpus, the right for an accused person to go to court and challenge his or her imprisonment, is not protected by the Constitution. Gonzales, in response to questions by Arlen Specter (R-PA), says: “The Constitution doesn’t say every individual in the United States or every citizen is hereby granted or assured the right of habeas.… There is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution. There’s a prohibition against taking it away.” Specter is incredulous, asking how the Constitution could bar the suspension of a right that didn’t exist—a right, he notes, that was first recognized in medieval England as protection against the king’s power to send subjects to royal dungeons. Gonzales does say that habeas corpus is “one of our most cherished rights,” and admits that Congress has protected that right. But Gonzales refuses to acknowledge that the Constitution itself protects the right. If the Constitution does not, then Congress would be able to limit or nullify habeas corpus rights if it so chooses. Congress has not passed such an all-encompassing law yet, but it has passed a law, the Military Commissions Act, that strips the courts of any authority to hear habeas corpus suits filed by “enemy combatants.”
Experts Fear Government Encroachment on Civil Liberties - But constitutional experts on both the left and the right say that Gonzales’s position implies a far broader power. Erwin Chemerinsky, a law professor who has frequently criticized the Bush administration, says: “This is the key protection that people have if they’re held in violation of the law. If there’s no habeas corpus, and if the government wants to pick you or me off the street and hold us indefinitely, how do we get our release?” Former Reagan Justice Department official Douglas Kmiec agrees. If Gonzales’s view prevails, Kmiec says, “one of the basic protections of human liberty against the powers of the state would be embarrassingly absent from our constitutional system.” A Justice Department spokesman says that Gonzales is only noting the absence of a specific constitutional guarantee for habeas corpus, and acknowledges that the Supreme Court has declared “the Constitution protects [habeas corpus] as it existed at common law” in England. These rights, the spokesman says, do not apply to foreigners held as enemy combatants. [San Francisco Chronicle, 1/24/2007]
Habeas Protected in Constitution - The right of habeas corpus is clear in Article I, Section 9, Clause 2 of the Constitution: “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” [Think Progress, 1/19/2007]
Expansion of Presidential Powers - Former Reagan Justice Department attorney Bruce Fein says that Gonzales’s stance on habeas corpus is an underpinning of the Bush administration’s attempt to advocate the “unitary executive” theory of presidential power. Gonzales’s statements contain a message: “Congress doesn’t have to let [judges] decide national security matters. It’s part of an attempt to create the idea that during conflicts, the three branches of government collapse into one, and it is the president.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 1/24/2007]
Entity Tags: Senate Judiciary Committee, Military Commissions Act, George W. Bush, Patrick J. Leahy, Erwin Chemerinsky, Central Intelligence Agency, Alberto R. Gonzales, Arlen Specter, Douglas Kmiec, Bush administration (43), Bruce Fein
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Investigative reporter Robert Parry, writing for the progressive Web news outlet ConsortiumNews, notes that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage may be far more intimately involved with the 2003 White House attempt to besmirch the credibility of former ambassador Joseph Wilson than has been previously noted (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006). Armitage was the first administration official to expose former CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status to a reporter (see June 13, 2003), and later leaked it again (see July 8, 2003), that time to columnist Robert Novak, who exposed Plame Wilson in a July 2003 column (see July 14, 2003). Parry writes that conventional media wisdom paints Armitage as an outsider, not a member of the White House inner circle, and a skeptic about the Iraq war; therefore, the media argues, Armitage’s leaks of Plame Wilson’s identity were “inadvertent” and merely coincidental to the White House efforts to claim that former ambassador Joseph Wilson was sent to Africa (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) for partisan reasons by his wife. Parry notes that, as recently as September 2006, the Washington Post joined with conservative supporters of the Bush administration to claim that the White House did not intentionally “orchestrate” the leak of Plame Wilson’s identity (see Late August-Early September, 2006), and that Armitage had no connection with whatever efforts went on inside the White House to leak her identity. However, Parry notes, the mainstream media has consistently ignored the deep connections between Armitage and White House political savant Karl Rove, who many believe did orchestrate the Plame Wilson leak. According to Parry, “a well-placed conservative source… [a]n early supporter of George W. Bush who knew both Armitage and Rove… told me that Armitage and Rove were much closer than many Washington insiders knew.” Armitage and Rove became friends during the first weeks of the Bush administration’s first term, and they cooperated with one another to pass backchannel information between the White House and State Department. The source tells Parry that it is plausible to surmise that Armitage leaked Plame Wilson’s identity to two separate reporters, not by accident, but in collusion with Rove’s strategy to besmirch Wilson by exposing his wife’s CIA identity. Novak printed his column outing Plame Wilson using two primary sources—Armitage and Rove (see July 8, 2003 and July 8 or 9, 2003). The source says that Novak’s initial claim of being given Plame Wilson’s identity (see July 21, 2003) suggests, in Parry’s words, “Armitage and Rove were collaborating on the anti-Wilson operation, not simply operating on parallel tracks without knowing what the other was doing.” The source finds the media’s assumption that Armitage “inadvertently” let Plame Wilson’s identity slip out, almost as gossip, amusing, and inaccurate. “Armitage isn’t a gossip, but he is a leaker,” the source says. “There’s a difference.” [Consortium News, 1/17/2007]
Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Richard Armitage, Robert Parry, Washington Post, US Department of State, Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Novak
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Two weeks after a newly Democratic Congress is sworn in, President Bush issues an executive order directing every agency head to “designate one of the agency’s presidential [political] appointees to be its regulatory policy officer [RPO].” These officers are, according to author and reporter Charlie Savage, “the president’s political enforcers, apparatchiks embedded inside each bureaucracy and empowered ‘to ensure the agency’s compliance’ with his mandates as the professionals went about making decisions on new regulations.” No new regulations or rules can be implemented without the approval of the RPO, allowing them to stop new regulations “before outsiders could learn that agency professionals had identified a health, safety, or environmental problem they thought was worth fixing.” The rule also prevents any rules from being enacted until an agency can identify a specific “market failure” that justifies government intervention instead of allowing businesses to identify and handle problems themselves. Congress had already decided that certain problems, particularly health and safety issues, should be handled through regulation. But now, Bush officials get to override Congress’s intent and allow permissive standards even when a regulation is justified. Business groups hail the decision as an aggressive new attempt to reduce “burdensome” regulations. Critics say that Bush is trying to reward special interests by choking off new rules corporate interests may oppose. The aspect of the order that gets little media attention is the abrogation of Congressional intent and the usurpation of power to the executive branch. The order “achieves a major increase in White House control over domestic government,” says law professor Peter Strauss. “Having lost control of Congress, the president is doing everything he can to increase his control of the executive branch.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 306-307]
In a second day of testimony (see January 17, 2007), Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tells the Senate Judiciary Committee that the president has always had the inherent authority to bypass or ignore statutory law if he is acting in the interest of national security. Gonzales is referring to a recent Bush administration decision to use a sympathetic FISC judge to sign off on the warrantless wiretapping program (see January 17, 2007). “We commenced down this road five years ago because of a belief that we could not do what we felt was necessary to protect this country under FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act],” Gonzales testifies. “That is why the president relied upon his inherent authority under the Constitution. My own judgment is, the president has shown maturity and wisdom here in this particular decision. He recognizes that there is an inherent reservoir of inherent power that belongs to every president. You use it only when you have to. In this case, we don’t have to [anymore].” Yale law professor Jack Balkin strenuously disagrees. He points to a “remarkable similarity between the administration’s behavior in the Padilla case (see October 9, 2005 and December 21, 2005) and its behavior here.… Once again, the goal is to prevent a court from stating clearly that the president acted illegally and that his theories of executive power are self-serving hokum.” Instead of going to Congress for the authority to conduct a warrantless wiretapping program, Balkin writes that the administration used FISA’s supposed deficiencies “as an excuse to disregard the law, so that it could make claims of unbridled presidential authority to ignore FISA.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 207-208; Jack Balkin, 1/18/2007]
Theodore Wells, the lead lawyer for the Lewis Libby defense team, makes his opening statement to the jury in the Libby perjury and obstruction trial (see January 16-23, 2007), and proclaims Libby’s innocence of all charges. While Libby may have misspoken to the FBI (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003) and the Plame Wilson grand jury (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004) about his involvement in leaking Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status to reporters, he never lied to either one, Wells says, because there was never any intent to lie. He was not trying to cover anything up, Wells asserts, because he did nothing illegal or questionable. “This is a case about memory, about recollection, and about words,” Wells says. Wells surprises observers by claiming Libby was made a scapegoat by the White House in order to protect President Bush’s chief political strategist Karl Rove. Rove has admitted to being a source of the original leak (see October 15, 2004, February 2004, and October 14, 2005). Wells tells the jury that Libby believes his former colleagues in the Bush administration tried to “set him up” to “take a fall” in the investigation of the Plame Wilson identity leak. According to Wells, Libby said to his then-boss, Vice President Dick Cheney: “They’re trying to set me up. They want me to be the sacrificial lamb.” Libby, according to Wells, believed he was being sacrificed to protect Rove. Wells says that Libby told Cheney, “I will not be sacrificed so Karl Rove can be protected.” Wells tells the jury: “Mr. Libby was not concerned about losing his job in the Bush administration. He was concerned about being set up, he was concerned about being made the scapegoat.… People in the White House are trying to protect Karl Rove.” Libby was considered “just a staffer,” while Rove “was viewed as a political genius… the lifeblood of the Republican Party.” [Pensito Review, 1/23/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/23/2007; CBS News, 1/25/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] Plame Wilson will observe, “The tactic went against the conventional wisdom that Libby would play the good soldier, say nothing of value, and receive a presidential pardon if convicted.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 282-284] In a PowerPoint presentation, Wells presents the jury with the following bullet points about Libby:
He gave his best good faith recollection;
Any misstatements by him were innocent mistakes;
He had no knowledge that Plame Wilson’s job status was classified;
He did not push reporters to write about Plame Wilson;
He did not leak to Robert Novak: Richard Armitage did;
He is innocent and had no motive to lie.
Wells then engages the jury in a long explanation of Libby’s responsibilities, emphasizing his role in the administration’s efforts in the war on terror. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/23/2007] After a break for lunch, Wells resumes going through his version of events. He introduces a key element of the “memory defense” (see January 31, 2006), that Libby knew of Plame Wilson’s CIA status in July 2003 when he leaked her identity to reporters, but forgot that he knew it in October, when he denied knowing of her classified or covert status to the FBI and the grand jury. Wells equates Libby’s alleged memory difficulties with “similar” memory difficulties by the reporters involved in the leak to be examined during the trial. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/23/2007]
Robert Grenier. [Source: PBS]Former CIA official Robert Grenier testifies in the Lewis Libby perjury trial. He tells the jury that he received a telephone call from Libby on June 11, 2003, asking about the Niger trip made by former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003). [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007; CBS News, 1/25/2007; Associated Press, 1/25/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] Grenier was the CIA’s “Iraq Mission Manager,” a new position created by then-Director George Tenet. His job was to coordinate the CIA’s disparate efforts on Iraq. As part of his job, he often attended Deputies Committee meetings, where he met Libby. He worked on a regular basis with Libby as part of his position. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007]
Contradicts Libby's Claims - Grenier’s testimony directly contradicts Libby’s claim that he first learned of then-CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity from NBC bureau chief Tim Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003). Grenier says he quickly surmised that Libby was attempting to compile information on Wilson in order to discredit him (see 4:30 p.m. June 10, 2003). Grenier testifies that he knew nothing of Wilson’s Niger trip before Libby’s request, and to his surprise at being contacted by Libby to discuss Wilson. “It was pretty clear he wanted answers,” Grenier says. “It was unusual for him to call in the first place.… He was serious.” Grenier testifies that after his first meeting with Libby, Libby pulled him out of a meeting with Tenet to find out more about Wilson. “Someone came to the door and beckoned me out,” Grenier recalls. “I don’t think I’ve ever been pulled out a meeting with the director before.” Grenier testifies that he spoke to someone in the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division (CPD), who informed him of the trip and of Plame Wilson’s CIA status. (At the time, Plame Wilson worked in CPD.) The CPD person did not say Plame Wilson’s name directly, but identified her as “Wilson’s wife.” Grenier told Libby that the CIA had sanctioned Wilson’s trip to Niger, and that Wilson’s wife was involved in the decision; Grenier says that the information seemed to please Libby (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003). Grenier also testifies that Libby discussed the feasibility of leaking the information about Wilson and his wife to the press, and says that after talking with CIA press liaison Bill Harlow, he told Libby, “We can work something out.” Libby told Grenier that Vice President Dick Cheney’s communications director, Cathie Martin, would coordinate the effort with Harlow and the CIA public affairs office (see 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003); Libby had Martin speak with Harlow about the effort, a choice Grenier testifies he found “surprising.” He adds that when he read the newspaper column outing Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), he deduced that the information had come from someone in the White House. [ABC News, 1/24/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007; Mother Jones, 1/25/2007; Washington Post, 1/25/2007] Grenier testifies that after informing Libby of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity, he “felt guilty very briefly” about revealing personnel information that is usually closely held by the CIA. [USA Today, 1/24/2007] According to a transcript taken by court observer and progressive blogger Marcy Wheeler, Grenier says: “I didn’t know her name, so I didn’t give her name, but by saying Joe Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA, I was revealing the identity of a CIA officer. It wasn’t absolutely necessary, that is information that we guard pretty closely, and if we don’t have to say it, we don’t.” [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007]
Attacking Grenier's Memory - But Grenier’s testimony differs somewhat from his earlier statements to the FBI and to Patrick Fitzgerald’s grand jury (see December 10, 2003). Grenier said in earlier statements that he wasn’t sure if Plame Wilson’s name had come up in the conversations with Libby. It was only later, he testifies, that he developed what he calls “a growing conviction” that he’d mentioned “Wilson’s wife” to Libby. An attorney for Libby, William Jeffress, sharply questions Grenier on the inconsistencies in his story, forcing the agent to admit at one point that “my recollection of a lot of conversations from that time are pretty vague.” Grenier stays with his current claims, saying that he’d been “conservative” when he first talked to investigators, not wanting to cast “suspicion on Mr. Libby” unnecessarily. [ABC News, 1/24/2007; Mother Jones, 1/25/2007; Washington Post, 1/25/2007] Grenier testifies that when talking to the FBI, he couldn’t be completely sure he had disclosed Plame Wilson’s identity to Libby (see December 10, 2003), but when testifying before the grand jury, he testified that he definitely had given Libby that information. Jeffress says, “You told the FBI that you did not discuss Valerie Wilson with Mr. Libby.” Grenier replies: “I told them I really didn’t recall clearly whether I had said so or not. I think there’s some confusion, frankly, in this report from the FBI.” Grenier continues: “My memory of what I said in that meeting, I believe that that I conveyed in that meeting, and I want to caution, it’s hard for me to parse out what I said in what meeting and what time, but what I believe I reported to the FBI initially was that in my conversation, my second conversation, with Mr. Libby on June 11, I couldn’t recall clearly whether I told him that Mr. Wilson’s wife was working in the unit that dispatched him to Niger. I may have, but I didn’t have a clear recollection.” Jeffress reminds Grenier that five weeks had passed between his FBI appearance and his testimony before the grand jury, and asks, “In those five weeks, you didn’t remember having told Mr. Libby about Mr. Wilson’s wife?” Grenier replies, “I did not remember.” Jeffress presses: “When you testified before the grand jury, did you tell the grand jury that you had no clear recollection of having told Mr. Libby anything about Mr. Wilson’s wife, although it is possible [you] may have done so?” Grenier replies that he had tried to give the most conservative answer. However, when he appeared before the grand jury a second time, in 2005 (see July 29, 2005), he was read his original testimony. He was startled, Grenier says. “I remembered it and thought that I had always remembered it,” he testifies. “I was saying what I believed to be true at the time and subsequently had a different recollection.” Jeffress asks: “Do you find that your memory gets better the farther away you are in time? Does your memory improve with time?” Grenier laughs and answers, “Not in all cases, no.” Grenier now states that he is sure he told Libby about Wilson’s wife being a CIA official, but is not sure he told Libby her name. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007; National Review, 1/25/2007; New York Times, 2/4/2007]
Refusing to Pin Blame on CIA - Grenier tells Jeffress that he is not entirely sure the FBI interviewer got his responses correct. According to Wheeler’s transcript, Grenier testifies: “I would like to state, I have the greatest respect for the FBI, but the FBI agent may not have gotten what I said exactly right. What is important is that my belief that the WH [White House] was throwing blame on the CIA—not for Wilson’s trip—but for not having provided proper warning to the WH on this issue of Iraq’s attempt to buy nukes.” Wheeler writes that in her estimation, Jeffress is attempting to blame the CIA for the Bush administration’s faulty and misleading claims about Iraq’s WMDs, an attempt in which Grenier refuses to participate. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007]
Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Counterproliferation Division, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Bill Harlow, Valerie Plame Wilson, William Jeffress, Marcy Wheeler, Robert Grenier, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Cathie Martin entering the courthouse. [Source: New York Times]Cathie Martin, the former spokeswoman for Vice President Dick Cheney, testifies that she told Cheney and his former chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby about Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status weeks before Libby claims to have learned that information from reporter Tim Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003 and March 24, 2004). [CBS News, 1/25/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] At the time in question, Martin was Cheney’s assistant for public affairs. She now works at the White House as the deputy director of communications for policy and planning. As Cheney’s assistant, she worked closely with Libby and handled most press inquiries for Cheney and Libby. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007]
Passed along Information about Plame Wilson to Libby, Cheney - Martin testifies that in her presence Libby spoke with a senior CIA official on the telephone, and asked about the Joseph Wilson trip to Niger. She says she then spoke with CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, who told her that Wilson went to Niger on behalf of the agency, and that Wilson’s wife worked at the agency (see 5:25 p.m. June 10, 2003). Martin then says that she subsequently told both Libby and Cheney that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA (see 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003). The International Herald Tribune notes: “The perspective she laid out under questioning from a federal prosecutor was damaging to Libby.… She bolstered the prosecution’s assertion that Libby was fully aware of [Plame] Wilson’s identity from a number of administration officials, and did not first learn about her from reporters, as he has claimed. Perhaps more important[ly], she testified as a former close colleague of Libby’s and demonstrated her familiarity with him by repeatedly referring to him by his nickname, Scooter.” [International Herald Tribune, 1/25/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007] Of Plame Wilson’s outing by Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003), she testifies, “I knew it was a big deal that he had disclosed it.” [Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2007]
Testifies that Cheney Coordinated Attack on Wilson - Martin also gives detailed evidence that it was Cheney who coordinated the White House counterattack against Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson, in retaliation for his op-ed debunking administration claims that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003). She testifies that during the first week of July 2003, she and her staff were told to increase their monitoring of the media, including television news (which until that point had not been monitored closely), and to make transcripts of everything that was said pertaining to administration policies and issues. She testifies that Cheney and Libby were both very interested in what the media was reporting about Iraqi WMDs, and whether Cheney’s office had ordered Joseph Wilson to go to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). She discusses the talking points she disseminated to White House press secretary Ari Fleischer regarding Cheney’s lack of involvement in sending Wilson to Niger (see 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003). Martin testifies that she had already been using those talking points, based on conversations she had had with Libby, but sent the memo to Fleischer because of Wilson’s appearances on the Sunday morning talk shows (see July 6, 2003). According to Martin, Cheney “dictated” the talking points for Fleischer, and included direct quotes from the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002), which had been partially declassified without her knowledge (see July 12, 2003)—she says she urged Cheney and Libby to declassify the NIE before leaking information from it to reporters. (Judge Reggie Walton tells the jury, “You are instructed that there is no dispute between the parties that on July 8 certain portions of the NIE had been declassified, although Ms. Martin had not been made aware of the declassification.”) Martin testifies that Cheney told Libby to speak directly to reporters about Wilson, effectively bypassing her and other communications staffers in his office. Martin also says she told Cheney and Libby that Plame Wilson worked for the CIA days before Libby claims he “first” learned it from NBC reporter Tim Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003). Martin refuses to confirm that either Cheney or Libby suggested leaking Plame Wilson’s identity as part of a strategy to discredit her husband. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007]
Falsely Accused of Leaking Information to NBC Reporter - Martin goes on to describe a senior staff meeting at the White House, where she was implictly accused of leaking information to NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell (see July 9, 2003). She denies leaking the information to Mitchell, and testifies that Libby spoke with Mitchell about such subjects. [International Herald Tribune, 1/25/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007]
Defense Notes Change in Martin's Testimony - The defense notes that Martin has changed the dates of some of her recollections from her previous statements to prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigators. [International Herald Tribune, 1/25/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007; New York Times, 2/4/2007] The defense’s cross-examination of Martin extends into Monday, January 29; Fitzgerald briefly redirects her testimony. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2007]
Attempt to Slow Trial Fails - A January 25 attempt by defense attorney Theodore Wells to slow the pace of the trial fails. Wells attempts to delay Martin’s testimony by complaining that he has not had an opportunity to review what he calls a “whole box” of the original copies of Martin’s notes. It would, Wells says, take hours for the defense team to read and review the notes. Fitzgerald reminds the court that the defense has had the notes for a year. Wells then complains that some of the notes are illegible. “I think that’s a bit of a spin,” Fitzgerald retorts, noting that he is only using about four pages of notes as evidence. “These copies were legible. Show me the pages that weren’t legible.” Judge Reggie Walton says that since it would be unethical for Wells to misrepresent his inability to read the documents, he has to accept Wells’s assertion. Fitzgerald then produces the notes, a small stack of documents that do not comprise a “whole box.” Walton, apparently exasperated, tells Wells he can review the notes during his lunch hour, and refuses to delay the trial. [New York Times, 2/10/2007]
Entity Tags: Ari Fleischer, Andrea Mitchell, Bill Harlow, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Bush administration (43), Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Tim Russert, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Reggie B. Walton, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Theodore Wells, Robert Novak
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Ari Fleischer, outside the courthouse where the Libby trial is underway. [Source: Life]Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer testifies in the trial of Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see January 16-23, 2007), and tells the court that he learned of Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status from Libby three days before Libby has said he first learned of it. If Fleischer is telling the truth, then Libby cannot have been truthful in his claims. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has told the court that in 2004 he offered Fleischer blanket immunity in return for his testimony (see February 13, 2004), without being sure what Fleischer would say in court. The defense team calls the arrangement highly unusual, and days before attempted to bar Fleischer’s testimony (see January 25-27, 2007). [MSNBC, 2/21/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2009] The prosecution quickly elicits Fleischer’s admission that if he lies under oath, his immunity agreement becomes void and he, too, can be prosecuted. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2009]
Libby Told Fleischer of Plame Wilson's Identity - Testifying under oath, Fleischer tells prosecuting attorney Peter Zeidenberg (handling the examination for Fitzgerald) that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from Libby during a lunch with him on July 7, the day after Plame Wilson’s husband’s controversial op-ed appeared in the New York Times (see July 6, 2003). Libby has told reporters he first learned about Plame Wilson’s identity on either July 10 or July 11 from NBC reporter Tim Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003, March 5, 2004, and March 24, 2004). According to Fleischer, Libby told him: “Ambassador [Joseph] Wilson was sent by his wife. His wife works for the CIA.” Fleischer testifies that Libby referred to Wilson’s wife by her maiden name, Valerie Plame. Fleischer says, “He added it was hush-hush, on the Q.T., and that most people didn’t know it.” Fleischer also notes that Libby told him Plame Wilson worked in the Counterproliferation Division, where almost everyone is covert, though he testifies that he knows little about the CIA’s internal structure. Four days later, Fleischer heard of Plame Wilson’s CIA status again, that time from White House communications director Dan Bartlett (see July 6-10, 2003). Fleischer informed conservative columnist Robert Novak of Plame Wilson’s CIA status the same day he learned of it from Libby (see July 7, 2003), and told reporters David Gregory and John Dickerson the same information a week later in what he calls a casual conversation (see 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Fleischer insists he believed the information about Plame Wilson was not classified, saying, “[N]ever in my wildest dreams [did I think] this information would be classified.” [CBS News, 1/25/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2007; Washington Post, 1/30/2007; National Journal, 2/19/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2009]
Defense Cross - The defense notes that Fleischer originally mispronounced Plame Wilson’s maiden name as “plah-MAY,” indicating that he may have read about her instead of being told of her identity. Fleischer says under cross-examination that he did not reveal Plame Wilson’s identity to reporters until he heard about the CIA official from a second White House aide, Bartlett (see July 7, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, and July 15, 2005). It was after Bartlett’s “vent” about Wilson that Fleischer says he decided to inform two reporters, NBC’s David Gregory and Time’s John Dickerson, of Plame Wilson’s CIA status. (Dickerson has said Fleischer did not tell him Plame Wilson was a CIA official—see February 7, 2006.) Fleischer testifies that neither Libby nor Bartlett invoked a White House protocol under which colleagues warned him when they were providing classified information that could not be discussed with reporters. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2007; Washington Post, 1/30/2007; New York Times, 2/4/2007]
Post: Fleischer Impugns Libby 'Memory Defense' - The Washington Post calls Fleischer “the most important prosecution witness to date,” and continues: “Though a series of government officials have told the jury that Libby eagerly sought information about [Wilson], Fleischer was the first witness to say Libby then passed on what he learned: that Wilson’s wife was a CIA officer who had sent him on a trip to Africa.… Fleischer also reinforced the prosecution’s central argument: that Libby had been so determined to learn and spread information about Wilson and Plame that he could not have forgotten his efforts” (see January 31, 2006). [Washington Post, 1/30/2007] In 2004, Libby testified that he could not remember if he discussed Plame Wilson with Fleischer, though he admitted that he may have. [US Department of Justice, 3/5/2004 ]
Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, John Dickerson, David Gregory, Joseph C. Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Dan Bartlett, Peter Zeidenberg, Bush administration (43), Counterproliferation Division, Valerie Plame Wilson, Ari Fleischer, Robert Novak, Tim Russert
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Admiral William Fallon. [Source: US Navy]Admiral William Fallon, named to replace General John Abizaid as head of the US Central Command (Centcom) for the Middle East and Southwest Asia (see March 16, 2007), reportedly privately opposes the proposed addition of a third US aircraft carrier group in the Persian Gulf, and vows that there will be no war against Iran as long as he is chief of Centcom. Fallon’s opposition to a military strike against Iran results in a shift in the Bush administration away from its aggressive, threatening posture towards Iran, and instead moves the administration’s rhetoric incrementally towards diplomatic engagement with that nation. Historian and author Gareth Porter writes, “That shift, for which no credible explanation has been offered by administration officials, suggests that Fallon’s resistance to a crucial deployment was a major factor in the intra-administration struggle over policy toward Iran.” Fallon’s resistance to further naval buildups in the Gulf apparently surprises Bush officials; in January, Defense Secretary Robert Gates publicly suggested that Fallon’s appointment gives greater emphasis on the military option for Iran. Gates said in January, “As you look at the range of options available to the United States, the use of naval and air power, potentially, it made sense to me for all those reasons for Fallon to have the job.” A third carrier group deployment would have pushed the US naval presence in the region to the same level as it was during the last months of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. Apparently, the deployment of a third carrier group was envisioned as a means of pressuring the Iranian government, in a plan to engage in a series of operations that would appear to Tehran to be war preparations much like those that presaged the invasion of Iraq (see March 19, 2003). But Fallon’s opposition scotched those plans. Fallon recently told an informed source that an attack on Iran “will not happen on my watch.… You know what choices I have. I’m a professional.” And Fallon indicated he is not alone: “There are several of us trying to put the crazies back in the box.” Fallon’s position weakens the belligerent posture adopted by Vice President Dick Cheney and his aides, and strengthens that of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is now preparing to make high-level diplomatic contacts with Iranian officials. [Inter Press Service, 5/15/2007]
The Bush administration is opposed to a bill in Congress that would link military aid for Pakistan to tackling the Taliban. The bill, which has passed the House of Representatives, calls for an end to military assistance to Pakistan unless it stops the Taliban from operating out of Pakistan. Administration officials say the bill would undermine the fostering of a closer relationship with Pakistan. [Reuters, 2/1/2007]
The Bush administration confirms that it believes US citizens can be designated as “enemy combatants” under the Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006). The confirmation comes during the trial of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a Qatari and the only person on the American mainland being held as an enemy combatant. Al-Marri, currently held at the Charleston, South Carolina Naval brig, is a legal US resident accused of being a sleeper agent for al-Qaeda (see September 10, 2001). He was arrested in December 2001, while living with his family and studying computer science at Bradley University in Illinois. Al-Marri is charged, not with any direct terrorist activities, but with credit card fraud and lying to federal agents. He is challenging his indefinite detention in federal court, and the government is using the MCA to argue that al-Marri has no status in the courts because of his designation as an enemy combatant. One of the appellate court judges, Roger Gregory, asks Justice Department lawyer David Salmons, “What would prevent you from plucking up anyone and saying, ‘You are an enemy combatant?’” Salmons responds that the government can do just that, without interference from the courts, and adds, “A citizen, no less than an alien, can be an enemy combatant.” Gregory and the second of the three appellate judges, Diana Gribbon Motz, seem uncomfortable with the law’s provisions that the US judiciary has no role in such designations. When Motz asks Salmons about the difference between nations making war and individuals committing acts of terrorism, Salmons retorts with a familiar, and long-disputed, argument that the US Congress gave the government the right to detain terrorist suspects without charge or recourse to the judiciary when it granted the administration the right to use military force against terrorists after the 9/11 attacks (see September 14-18, 2001).
Theoretically Declaring War on PETA - Motz is skeptical of the argument, and asks a series of hypothetical questions about just what organizations or individuals President Bush could designate as enemy combatants. Using the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) as an example, Motz asks, “Could the president declare war on PETA?” Salmons says the question is unrealistic, but refuses to say that Bush could not do so if he chose. The Bush administration is careful in its use of the enemy combatant designation, Salmons says, therefore, “The representative of PETA can sleep well at night.” [New York Times, 2/2/2007]
Ignoring Constitutional Concept of 'Inalienable Rights' - Author and investigative journalist Robert Parry notes that in the al-Marri case, the Bush administration is arguing against the concept of “inalienable,” or “unalienable,” rights as granted by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. According to the administration, as long as the US is embroiled in what it calls the “war on terror,” Bush can use his “plenary,” or unlimited, executive powers to essentially waive laws and ignore Constitutional rights if he so chooses. Parry writes that “since the ‘war on terror’ will go on indefinitely and since the ‘battlefield’ is everywhere, Bush is asserting the president’s right to do whatever he wants to whomever he wants wherever the person might be, virtually forever.” Parry concludes, “The Justice Department’s arguments in the [al-]Marri case underscore that Bush still sees himself as a modern-day version of the absolute monarch who gets to decide which rights and freedoms his subjects can enjoy and which ones will be denied.” [Consortium News, 2/3/2007]
Entity Tags: Military Commissions Act, Bush administration (43), Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, Al-Qaeda, David Salmons, George W. Bush, Robert Parry, Roger Gregory, Diana Gribbon Motz, US Department of Justice, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Lewis Libby’s defense lawyers file a brief with the court arguing that they should be able to present evidence as to Libby’s state of mind during his tenure at the White House even if Libby does not testify on his own behalf. The legal team wants to use what some call a “memory defense”—an assertion that Libby’s workload at the White House was so stressful that he did not deliberately lie to the FBI (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003) and to a grand jury (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004), but merely “misremembered” pertinent facts regarding his involvement in the exposure of Valerie Plame Wilson as a covert CIA official (see January 31, 2006). The lawyers argue that to exclude such evidence, regardless of Libby’s choice to testify or not, would violate his constitutional rights to a fair trial. The brief notes that no decision as to Libby’s testimony has yet been made. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 2/5/2007 ] Criminal defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt, writing for the progressive blog TalkLeft, notes that according to the defense argument, testifying would force Libby to choose between his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. The brief also states, in a footnote, that while the lawyers had indicated it was “very likely” Libby would testify, no promises were made (see September 22, 2006). And the lawyers say they want to present three separate categories of classified, security-related evidence to prove Libby’s mental confusion: a government statement admitting relevant facts, testimony by members of Vice President Dic Cheney’s staff and perhaps Cheney himself, and some of Libby’s morning briefings. Merritt agrees with Libby’s lawyers in saying that Libby should be able to present some sort of memory defense without having to testify. “The prosecution has admitted a lot of evidence as to his state of mind,” she writes. “He should have the right to present circumstantial evidence refuting it.” She also believes the Libby lawyers are hesitant to put their client on the stand, and that they may be setting up an argument for an appeal if Libby is convicted. Former prosecutor Christy Hardin Smith, writing for the progressive blog FireDogLake, observes that Libby’s strongest argument may be his contention that by testifying, he would void his Fifth Amendment rights. She disagrees with Libby’s intention “to introduce reams and reams of national security materials in an attempt to confuse the jury or to overwhelm them,” or to distract the jury from the fact that he and Cheney were determined to discredit administration critic Joseph Wilson. Merritt contends that Judge Reggie Walton should approve of the motion, while Smith argues for its dismissal. Both agree that it is highly risky for the Libby team not to have their client speak before the jury. [Jeralyn Merritt, 2/6/2007; Christy Hardin Smith, 2/6/2007]
Author and media observer Eric Boehlert, writing for the progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters, criticizes the majority of mainstream news reporters and publications for failing to report aggressively and even accurately on the Plame Wilson leak investigation. Boehlert writes that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald “has consistently shown more interest—and determination—in uncovering the facts of the Plame scandal than most Beltway journalists, including the often somnambulant DC newsroom of the New York Times. Indeed, for long stretches, the special counsel easily supplanted the timid DC press corps and become the fact-finder of record for the Plame story. It was Fitzgerald and his team of G-men—not journalists—who were running down leads, asking tough questions, and, in the end, helping inform the American people about possible criminal activity inside the White House.” While Fitzgerald had subpoena power, Boehlert admits, reporters often had inside information that they consistently failed to reveal, instead “dutifully keeping their heads down and doing their best to make sure the details never got out about the White House’s obsession with discrediting former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV by outing his undercover CIA wife, Valerie Plame” Wilson. Boehlert writes that if not for Fitzgerald’s dogged investigation, the entire leak story would have “simply faded into oblivion like so many other disturbing suggestions of Bush administration misdeeds. And it would have faded away because lots of high-profile journalists at the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, and NBC wanted it to.”
'Watergate in Reverse' - “In a sense, it was Watergate in reverse,” Boehlert writes. “Instead of digging for the truth, lots of journalists tried to bury it. The sad fact remains the press was deeply involved in the cover-up, as journalists reported White House denials regarding the Plame leak despite the fact scores of them received the leak and knew the White House was spreading rampant misinformation about an unfolding criminal case.”
Going Along to Avoid Angering White House - Boehlert believes that in the early days of the investigation, most Washington reporters agreed with President Bush, who said that it was unlikely the leaker’s identity would ever be unearthed (see October 7, 2003). Historically, leak investigations rarely produced the leaker. “So if the leakers weren’t going to be found out, what was the point of reporters going public with their information and angering a then-popular White House that had already established a habit for making life professionally unpleasant for reporters who pressed too hard?” Boehlert asks. Now, of course, the press is pursuing the Libby trial for all it’s worth.
Early Instances of Misleading - Boehlert notes a number of instances where media figures either deliberately concealed information they had about who leaked Plame Wilson’s name, or were transparently disingenuous about speculating on the leaker’s identity. ABC reported in July 2005 that “it’s been unknown who told reporters the identity of Valerie Plame” for two years, an assertion Boehlert calls “silly” (see October 3, 2003). The following Washington journalists all had inside information to one extent or another about the case long before the summer of 2005: Robert Novak (see July 8, 2003), Tim Russert (see August 7, 2004), Andrea Mitchell (see July 20, 2003 and July 21, 2003), David Gregory (see 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), Chris Matthews (see July 21, 2003), Matthew Cooper (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), Michael Duffy (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), John Dickerson (see February 7, 2006), Viveca Novak (see March 1, 2004), Judith Miller (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), and Bob Woodward (see June 13, 2003). Had they come forward with the information they had, the identity of the various White House leakers would have been revealed much sooner. “[B]ut none of them did,” Boehlert writes. “Instead, at times there was an unspoken race away from the Bush scandal, a collective retreat that’s likely unprecedented in modern-day Beltway journalism.”
Cheerleading for Bush - Many journalists without inside information were openly cheering for the Bush administration and against the investigation, Boehlert contends. They included the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof (see October 1, 2003 and October 25, 2005), Newsweek’s Evan Thomas (see October 1, 2003 and November 7, 2005), Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen (see October 13, 2005 and January 30, 2007), fellow Post columnist Michael Kinsley (see October 28, 2005 and January 31, 2007), Slate editor Jacob Weisberg (see October 18, 2005), and Post columnist David Broder (see July 10, 2005 and September 7, 2006). Author and liberal blogger Marcy Wheeler, in her book on the Plame affair entitled Anatomy of Deceit, wrote that in her view, the media was attempting to “mak[e] the case that the press should retain exclusive judgment on the behavior of politicians, with no role for the courts.”
Fighting to Stay Quiet during the Election Campaign - Many journalists tried, and succeeded, to keep the story quiet during the 2004 presidential election campaign. Matthew Cooper refused to testify before Fitzgerald’s grand jury until mid-2005, when he asked for and was granted a waiver from Karl Rove to reveal him as the source of his information that Plame Wilson was a CIA agent (see July 13, 2005). Boehlert notes that Cooper’s bosses at Time decided to fight the subpoena in part because they “were concerned about becoming part of such an explosive story in an election year” (see July 6, 2005).
Russert, NBC Withheld Information from Public - Russert also withheld information from Fitzgerald, and the American public, until well after the November 2004 election. Boehlert notes that Russert “enjoyed a very close working relationship with Libby’s boss, Cheney,” and “chose to remain silent regarding central facts.” Russert could have revealed that in the summer of 2004, he had told Fitzgerald of his conversation with Libby during the summer of 2003 (see August 7, 2004). Libby had perjured himself by telling Fitzgerald that Russert had told him of Plame Wilson’s CIA status, when in reality, the reverse was true (see March 24, 2004). Instead, Russert testified that he and Libby never discussed Plame Wilson’s identity during that conversation, or at any other time. But neither Russert nor his employer, NBC News, admitted that to the public, instead merely saying that Libby did not reveal Plame Wilson’s identity to Russert (see August 7, 2004). Boehlert writes, “But why, in the name of transparency, didn’t the network issue a statement that made clear Russert and Libby never even discussed Plame?”
Woodward's Involvement - Washington Post editor Bob Woodward, an icon of investigative reporting (see June 15, 1974), told various television audiences that Fitzgerald’s investigation was “disgraceful” and called Fitzgerald a “junkyard prosecutor” (see October 27, 2005), and said the leak had not harmed the CIA (see July 14, 2003, July 21, 2003, September 27, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, and October 23-24, 2003). Woodward predicted that when “all of the facts come out in this case, it’s going to be laughable because the consequences are not that great” (see July 7, 2005). While Woodward was disparaging the investigation (see July 11, 2005, July 17, 2005, and October 28, 2005), he was failing to reveal that he himself had been the recipient of a leak about Plame Wilson’s identity years before (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, and June 27, 2003), which, Boehlert notes, “meant Woodward, the former sleuth, had been sitting been sitting on a sizeable scoop for more than two years.” Boehlert continues: “If at any point prior to the Libby indictments Woodward had come forward with his information, it would have been politically devastating for the White House. Instead, Woodward remained mum about the facts while publicly mocking Fitzgerald’s investigation.”
Conclusion - Boehlert concludes: “Regardless of the outcome from the Libby perjury case, the trial itself will be remembered for pulling back the curtain on the Bush White House as it frantically tried to cover up its intentional effort to mislead the nation to war. Sadly, the trial will also serve as a touchstone for how the Beltway press corps completely lost its way during the Bush years and became afraid of the facts—and the consequences of reporting them.” [Media Matters, 2/6/2007]
Entity Tags: David Gregory, David Broder, Richard Cohen, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Steve Soto, Tim Russert, Time magazine, Viveca Novak, Andrea Mitchell, Nicholas Kristof, Bob Woodward, Washington Post, Bush administration (43), New York Times, Robert Novak, Michael Kinsley, Chris Matthews, Jacob Weisberg, George W. Bush, Evan Thomas, Eric Boehlert, John Dickerson, Joseph C. Wilson, NBC News, Karl C. Rove, Marcy Wheeler, Matthew Cooper, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Media Matters, Michael Duffy, Judith Miller
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The US abruptly reverses course on its North Korean policy (see Mid-January 2003 and October 9, 2006) and reopens negotiations with the North Koreans. It offers to release $25 million in North Korean funds impounded by Banco Delta Asia and to allow chief negotiator Christopher Hill to finalize a deal on the North’s denuclearization. The US will provide heavy fuel oil as North Korea shuts down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor and allows international inspectors into the country. The deal is quite similar to the 1994 Agreed Framework negotiated by the Clinton administration (see October 21, 1994). The long-term goal is full disclosure of North Korea’s nuclear program, and normalized relations with the US. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “The North Korean regime seems no weaker for the years of antagonistic treatment by Bush conservatives” (see May 4, 2003). [BBC, 12/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 261]
Based on Monday’s parade of reporters testifying that they were not told of Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity by former White House official Lewis Libby (see February 12, 2007, February 12, 2007, February 12, 2007, February 12, 2007, and February 12, 2007), National Review columnist Byron York asks the same question Libby’s lawyers are asking during the trial: if Libby leaked Plame Wilson’s identity to reporters Judith Miller and Matt Cooper (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), why didn’t he leak it to the other reporters who testified? York writes: “Each was covering events in Washington during that intense period in mid-2003 when the Bush administration came under attack from former ambassador Joseph Wilson over its case for war in Iraq. Each interviewed Libby, then Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff. And each heard nothing from Libby about Valerie Plame Wilson.… Did Cheney, who is portrayed in some scenarios as the mastermind of the leak, tell Libby to disclose Mrs. Wilson’s identity to Matt Cooper and not to Bob Woodward? To Judith Miller and not to Robert Novak?” These are the questions York says the defense hopes the jury will ask. York notes that Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus directly contradicted former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer’s claim that he did not tell Pincus of Plame Wilson’s identity, an exchange York says heavily damages Fleischer’s credibility. The defense contends that Libby may have learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity from other, unnamed reporters; Libby, the defense says, later “misremembered” his source as being NBC’s Tim Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003 and February 7-8, 2007), who has contradicted Libby’s claim that he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity from him. York says that the most telling moments came during the testimony of Post reporter Bob Woodward, who played an audiotape of his conversation with then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who told him of Plame Wilson’s identity well before Libby exposed the CIA official to the press (see June 13, 2003). Armitage’s statement that “everyone knows it” refers, York writes, to Joseph Wilson being the anonymous former ambassador criticizing the Bush administration in the press, but York notes that some in the jury might take the reference to mean that “everyone knows” of Plame Wilson’s CIA status. “In any event, none of it had anything to do with Libby, except that Libby was not the one leaking,” York concludes. [National Review, 2/13/2007]
Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Bush administration (43), Bob Woodward, Ari Fleischer, Byron York, Judith Miller, Matthew Cooper, Richard Armitage, Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Novak, Tim Russert, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Joseph C. Wilson
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Columnist Byron York, writing for the conservative publication National Review, explains to readers why neither former White House official Lewis Libby nor Vice President Dick Cheney testified during Libby’s trial on perjury and obstruction charges (see February 13-14, 2007). York says that once the decision was made for Libby not to testify, there was no reason for Cheney to testify. “The vice president would likely have testified about Libby’s state of mind in May, June, and July of 2003, when the Bush administration’s case for war in Iraq was under attack by former ambassador Joseph Wilson,” York writes. “The Libby defense has maintained that he, Libby, was tremendously busy at the time and might well have forgotten about the particulars of how he learned, and then forgot, about the identity of Valerie Plame Wilson. With Libby not testifying, it followed that Cheney wouldn’t either.” York then addresses the decision to keep Libby off the witness stand. For York, the question was not whether the jury needed to hear Libby talk about his role in exposing Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA official, but whether the jury needed to hear it again, after listening to eight hours of Libby’s grand jury testimony (see February 5, 2007 and February 6, 2007). “[B]y the time Libby had to decide whether to testify,” York writes, “the jury had already heard a lot of Lewis Libby testifying.” It had also heard audio of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald quizzing Libby. York writes: “Libby’s defenders are betting that jurors took from those recordings an impression not only of the defendant but of the prosecutor. And the impression that Libby’s supporters hope jurors will have is that of a prosecutor trying too hard to find a crime where there was none.” What jurors did not hear during those hours of audio evidence, York notes, was Fitzgerald asking Libby about former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage’s leak of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity (see June 13, 2003). York concludes: “[T]he entirety of Fitzgerald’s grand jury questioning might leave jurors with a more nuanced impression: that of a prosecutor who had received faulty information, or incomplete information, from other witnesses and who looked to Libby—and not those who had omitted or failed to remember key acts during their testimony—as the suspected criminal. The grand jury tapes reveal a prosecutor who had had sand thrown in his eyes—to use Fitzgerald’s famous image—but it had not been thrown by Lewis Libby.” [National Review, 2/15/2007]
Bob Graham (D-FL), the former head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says that the White House found it almost impossible to refuse to appoint a special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see December 30, 2003) because of the Bush administration’s insistence on an aggressive investigation of a Congressional leak in 2002 (see June 19, 2002 and June 20, 2002). The strongest push for a leak investigation came from Vice President Dick Cheney and his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, Graham recalls: “They [the administration] would have had a certain exposure to hypocrisy if they hid behind executive privilege” when the Plame Wilson investigation began, or if they had fought the appointment of a special prosecutor, Graham says. “It made it politically untenable to avoid having a strong investigation, because they had demanded it of us. With us, they said we should call out the meanest, leanest dogs. The example that they set with us became the boomerang that came around and hit them.” Both Cheney and Libby are central suspects in the Plame Wilson outing, though no one has been charged with leaking her CIA status to the press. Cheney is known to have selectively leaked and declassified intelligence to bolster the administration’s case for war and later to defend against charges that he misrepresented prewar intelligence (see 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003, (July 11, 2003), and July 12, 2003). And evidence points to the conclusion that Cheney ordered Libby to leak Plame Wilson’s name to the press (see July 7-8, 2003 and July 12, 2003). Senior Justice Department officials and Senate Democrats all pushed for Attorney General John Ashcroft to recuse himself and name a special prosecutor. According to several senior Congressional staffers, Democrats made their case based in part on Cheney’s personal insistence that senators and their staffers be investigated over the NSA leak. [National Journal, 2/15/2007]
FireDogLake blogger Jane Hamsher, writing for her blog’s coverage of the Libby trial. [Source: Michael Temchine / New York Times]The New York Times publishes a profile of some of the bloggers covering the Lewis Libby trial. The article, by Times reporter Scott Shane, focuses on the team of six writers and researchers who work on a volunteer basis for FireDogLake (FDL), a liberal blog owned by movie producer and author Jane Hamsher. According to Shane, “FireDogLake has offered intensive trial coverage, using some six contributors in rotation,” including “a former prosecutor [Christy Hardin Smith], a current defense lawyer [Jeralyn Merritt, who also writes for her own blog, TalkLeft], a Ph.D. business consultant [Marcy Wheeler, who has written a book, Anatomy of Deceit, on the subject],” a blogger who has covered the issue since Valerie Plame Wilson’s outing (the pseudonymous “Swopa”), an acknowleged expert on the Iraq/Niger uranium claims (the pseudonymous “eRiposte”), and Hamsher, “all of whom lodge at a Washington apartment rented for the duration of the trial.” Their work is so intensive and the bloggers so well-versed in the intricacies of the trial and its surrounding issues that “[m]any mainstream journalists use [FDL’s live coverage] to check on the trial.”
'Coming of Age' for Bloggers - Shane writes: “For blogs, the Libby trial marks a courthouse coming of age. It is the first federal case for which independent bloggers have been given official credentials along with reporters from the traditional news media” (see Early January, 2007). Robert A. Cox of the Media Bloggers Association says, “My goal is to get judges to think of bloggers as citizen journalists who should get the same protections as other journalists get.” Left-leaning bloggers such as those from FDL routinely disparage Libby and other Bush administration members in their writings, Shane notes, while right-wing blogs covering the trial, such as American Thinker, have targeted prosecution witnesses such as Tim Russert (see February 7-8, 2007) for their criticism. Sheldon Snook, the court official in charge of the news media, says the decision to admit bloggers (five to 10 out of the 100 or so reporters present on busy trial days) has worked out well. Snook tells Shane, “It seems they can provide legal analysis and a level of detail that might not be of interest to the general public but certainly has an audience.” Shane observes that “the Libby trial bloggers are a throwback to a journalistic style of decades ago, when many reporters made no pretense of political neutrality. Compared with the sober, neutral drudges of the establishment press, the bloggers are class clowns and crusaders, satirists and scolds.” Wheeler says covering the trial alongside mainstream reporters has confirmed some of her skepticism about mainstream journalism. “It’s shown me the degree to which journalists work together to define the story,” she says. “[O]nce the narrative is set on a story, there’s no deviating from it.” Hamsher, who is battling breast cancer, says of blogging, “There’s a snarky, get-under-the-surface-of-things quality to it that’s really me.” (The Times later notes that the FDL and other bloggers are not the first to cover a federal trial; anti-tobacco activist Gene Borio covered the trial of the federal government’s lawsuit against the tobacco industry in 2004.) [Marcy Wheeler, 2/8/2007; New York Times, 2/15/2007]
Countered 'Involved' Mainstream Media - In a contemporaneous interview with US News and World Report, Hamsher says of the mainstream coverage: “The media was having difficulty covering it because they were so involved in it. When the investigation started, Karl Rove’s attorney start[ed] putting out all this stuff. And every day the story would change and the blogosphere would document that. We had thousands of people showing up at our site and pointing out that the stories were never consistent. This story had so much information, and so many articles were written that it enabled the blogosphere to take in all of this information. And a cadre of professional people—not kids in their underwear—came together, compared notes, and developed a narrative of the story that was a pushback to the one that was being generated by the powers that be.… Our work on this particular topic has done a lot to defeat the notion that bloggers are fact free.” [Christy Hardin Smith, 2/15/2007] Salon’s progressive blogger Glenn Greenwald calls FDL’s trial coverage “intense, comprehensive, and superb.… [T]hey have produced coverage of this clearly significant event—one which has provided rare insight into the inner workings of the Beltway political and journalistic elite—that simply never is, and perhaps cannot be, matched by even our largest national media outlets.” He notes that even conservative news outlets such as the National Review have relied on FDL’s “liveblogging” of the trial for their reporting. [Salon, 2/15/2007] Shortly before the article comes out, Wheeler posts: “[T]he importance of having this story be told from a blogger’s perspective… is because there is so much about it the mainstream media cannot comfortably report. This story strikes at the core reasons why there are bloggers, why so many readers and writers have decided to invest their time in citizen driven media.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/8/2007]
Presiding Judge Treats Bloggers as Professionals - Smith writes: “For the record, Judge Walton’s entire staff and all the folks at the courthouse have been wonderful throughout the entire process. From the first day forward, our whole team of bloggers were treated like every other professional covering the case—there was no distinction made, no patronizing attitude, just the same treatment for all of us. The amount of work that has gone into covering this case has been astronomical—the live blogging, the courtroom observations, the late night analysis, all the IMs [instant messages] and phone calls to cross-check details—you name it. But so worth it, still, to get the entire story out and not just blurbs and bits. And I cannot thank Judge Walton and his staff enough for giving us this opportunity. Truly.”
Error in Reporting Corrected - Smith corrects an error in Shane’s reporting, noting that the Media Bloggers Association did not negotiate their media passes to gain admittance to the courtroom; that was done largely by Hamsher and the other FDL contributors, with assistance from author and fellow blogger Arianna Huffington. [Christy Hardin Smith, 2/15/2007]
Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), American Thinker, Robert Cox, Scott Shane, Sheldon Snook, Arianna Huffington, New York Times, “Swopa”, “eRiposte”, National Review, Reggie B. Walton, Marcy Wheeler, Media Bloggers Association, FireDogLake, Gene Borio, Glenn Greenwald, Christy Hardin Smith, Jeralyn Merritt, Karl C. Rove, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Jane Hamsher
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Accuracy in Media logo. [Source: Accuracy in Media] (click image to enlarge)Roger Aronoff writes a press release about the Lewis Libby trial for the conservative media watchdog organization Accuracy in Media (AIM). Aronoff agrees with the defense’s decision not to allow Libby or Vice President Dick Cheney to testify (see February 13-14, 2007), calling the prosecution’s case “surprisingly thin” and noting that the defense’s goal is to get Libby acquitted, “not put on a show for [MSNBC news pundits] Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews, and the left-wing blogs.” Aronoff castigates the mainstream news media for being too aggressive in reporting on the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak and the accusations of White House involvement, saying instead that the media was not only sloppy and imprecise in its reporting, but it should have been far more willing to present the government’s assertions that it was merely defending itself against unfounded allegations by “left-wing” war critic Joseph Wilson (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006). Aronoff accepts the defense’s argument that Libby knew of Plame Wilson’s identity from Cheney, forgot it, and “relearned it” from NBC reporter Tim Russert, thereby rendering charges that he perjured himself in his FBI and grand jury testimonies groundless (see February 6, 2007). Aronoff attacks the journalists who testified about their contacts with Libby, and saves his heaviest criticisms for Russert, whom he says was “embarrassed” by what Aronoff says was the destruction of his credibility during cross-examination (see February 7-8, 2007). Aronoff concludes that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald “scapegoated” Libby because of Fitzgerald’s inability to bring charges against anyone for the actual leak of Plame Wilson’s identity, and expects Libby to be either acquitted or the jury to “hang,” causing a mistrial. But the trial was really about giving “left-wing” media critics such as Matthews “a vehicle to once again claim that the war was based on lies and misrepresentations. This trial was to be their chance to further undermine the Bush administration.” [Accuracy in Media, 2/16/2007]
Former CIA agent Larry Johnson, who trained with outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), pens an angry rebuttal of former Justice Department official Victoria Toensing’s critique of the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see February 18, 2007). Johnson accuses Toensing of “plumbing new depths of delusion and crazed fantasies,” notes that her op-ed should have been titled “I Am Ignorant of Basic Facts,” and excoriates the Washington Post for printing it. Johnson directly refutes two of Toensing’s strongest rejoinders: Plame Wilson was not a covert agent and Joseph Wilson misled the public about his trip to Niger, his report on his findings, and his public discussions of his wife’s CIA status. [Huffington Post, 2/18/2007] In 2007, Plame Wilson will add, “Toensing apparently hadn’t been following the trial very closely, or else she would have known that each of her ‘charges’ had been refuted in ample documentary and witness testimony.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 292]
Plame Wilson's Covert Status - Johnson writes: “Valerie Plame was undercover until the day she was identified in Robert Novak’s column. I entered on duty with Valerie in September of 1985. Every single member of our class—which was comprised of case officers, analysts, scientists, and admin folks—were undercover. I was an analyst and Valerie was a case officer. Case officers work in the Directorate of Operations and work overseas recruiting spies and running clandestine operations. Although Valerie started out working under ‘official cover’—i.e., she declared she worked for the US government but in something innocuous, like the State Department—she later became a NOC aka non official cover officer. A NOC has no declared relationship with the United States government. These simple facts apparently are too complicated for someone of Ms. Toensing’s limited intellectual abilities.” Johnson also notes that he and his fellow CIA veterans Jim Marcinkowski, Brent Cavan, and Mike Grimaldi, accompanied by another CIA veteran who declined to be identified, appeared on ABC News in 2003 and verified Plame Wilson’s covert status (see October 22-24, 2003). And the facts introduced into evidence in the Libby trial show that at least four White House officials—Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003 and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), Ari Fleischer (see July 7, 2003), and Richard Armitage (see June 13, 2003 and July 8, 2003)—told journalists that Plame Wilson was a CIA agent. The result was not only Plame Wilson’s exposure as a former NOC agent but the exposure of her NOC cover company, Brewster Jennings (see October 3, 2003). Johnson writes, “That leak by the Bush administration ruined Valerie’s ability to continue working as a case officer and destroyed an international intelligence network.” [Huffington Post, 2/18/2007] Plame Wilson will dismiss Toensing’s claim about her covert status as “dead wrong,” and ask a simple question: since Toensing is not a CIA employee herself, how does she know what Plame Wilson’s status was? [Wilson, 2007, pp. 292]
Joseph Wilson - Johnson notes that Toensing alleges an array of impropriety on Joseph Wilson’s part. Johnson counters that Toensing suffers from an apparent “reading disability.” The facts are plain: Vice President Dick Cheney asked his CIA briefer for information on the Iraq-Niger uranium claim in early February 2002 (see 2002-Early 2003 and (February 13, 2002)), and the CIA asked Wilson to investigate the matter a week later (see Shortly after February 13, 2002). Johnson writes: “Joe was a natural choice for the job. He had headed up the Africa desk at the National Security Council, he had served as an ambassador in West Africa, and had saved American lives from Saddam [Hussein] during the first Gulf War (see August 6, 1990 and September 20, 1990). He was not chosen by his wife, Valerie Plame. She only wrote a memo, at the behest of her boss in the Counterproliferation Divison of the Directorate of Operations, identifying Joe’s qualifications (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005). And she was asked to inform her husband about the CIA’s interest in him going to Niger to help answer a request from Vice President Cheney, who wanted to know if there was any truth to reports that Iraq was seeking uranium in Niger.… Valerie was not in the room when the decision was made nor was she in an administrative position with the clout to send her husband on such a mission.” This set of facts was confirmed by a memo from the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR—see June 10, 2003) introduced during the trial. Johnson writes: “Too bad Ms. Toensing did not take time to read the CIA report produced from Mr. Wilson’s trip. He made it very clear in that report that Iraq had not purchased or negotiated the purchase of uranium.” [Huffington Post, 2/18/2007]
Limitations of IIPA - Plame Wilson will write of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA), which Toensing helped negotiate in 1982, “If anything, her rantings pointed out the shortcomings of the bill she helped author—that is, the difficulty of prosecuting someone who had violated the law and passed along the covert identity of an operations officer to someone who did not have a security clearance.” Whether such an officer is currently overseas when their cover is blown is irrelevant, Plame Wilson will note; “[w]e use such things as alias passports, disguises, and other tradecraft secrets to do this. It’s called clandestine operations. Just as a general is still a general whether he or she is in the field or serving at the Pentagon, an operations officer by definition has responsibilities that don’t vanish depending on location.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 292]
Jury Tampering? - Johnson writes that Toensing’s op-ed is so obviously another attempt to defend Libby, Cheney, and other White House officials, and to smear prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s and the Wilsons’ credibility, that it can legitimately be considered an attempt at jury tampering—an attempt to influence the jury deciding Libby’s guilt or innocence. Johnson asks: “Just days before the Libby jury retires to consider a verdict, why was Toensing allowed to publish an article rife with lies and misstated facts? Why does the paper that played a key role in exposing the tyranny of Richard Nixon now allow this shallow woman to smear prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald?”
Public Service - According to Johnson, Fitzgerald has performed a public service in exposing the lies of Cheney, Libby, and others in the White House. “Cheney and Libby feared what the American people might do if they discovered they had been lied to about the case for war in Iraq. Now there is no doubt. They did lie and these lies have been exposed. Unfortunately, the Victoria Toensings of the world seem hell bent on perpetuating the lies and living in the delusional world that it is okay to out an undercover CIA officer during a time of war. While Toensing has the right to be wrong, we ought to ask why a paper with the reputation of the Washington Post is lowering its journalistic standards, ignoring ethics, and enabling the spread of lies. I think the owner of the Washington Post has some ‘splaining’ to do.” [Huffington Post, 2/18/2007]
Entity Tags: Intelligence Identities Protection Act, Washington Post, Counterproliferation Division, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Brewster Jennings, Brent Cavan, Ari Fleischer, Victoria Toensing, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard Armitage, Bush administration (43), Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Larry C. Johnson, Karl C. Rove, Mike Grimaldi, Jim Marcinkowski, Joseph C. Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert Novak, Patrick J. Fitzgerald
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Mike McConnell. [Source: US Defense Department]Retired Vice Admiral Mike McConnell is sworn in as the new Director of National Intelligence (DNI), replacing John Negroponte. [White House, 2/20/2007] Negroponte will become the Deputy Secretary of State under Condoleezza Rice, a position that has been vacant since July 2006, when the previous deputy, Robert Zoellick, left to take a position with the Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs. Negroponte is felt to be a voice of experience in the State Department, and one that will help the oft-faltering Rice in her duties. [Associated Press, 1/5/2007]
Cheney, Negroponte, and the Iran NIE - One of the major factors in the White House’s decision to replace Negroponte is Vice President Dick Cheney’s insistence that the administration release a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq that supports Cheney’s aggressive policy towards Iran, and does not include any dissenting views. Cheney, who has for months suppressed the draft NIE on Iran because he does not want any views other than his own to be included in the NIE (see November 10, 2007), was displeased with Negroponte; Negroponte angered Cheney and other neoconservatives when, in April 2006, he told reporters that the US intelligence community believes Iran is “a number of years off” from being “likely to have enough fissile material to assemble into or to put into a nuclear weapon, perhaps into the next decade.” Though Negroponte was merely echoing the position of the 2005 NIE on Iran, he came under fierce attack from Cheney allies inside and outside the administration. Undersecretary of State Robert Joseph publicly contradicted Negroponte, calling Iran’s nuclear program near the “point of no return,’ an Israeli concept referring to the mastery of industrial-scale uranium enrichment. And neoconservative Frank Gaffney, a protege of former defense adviser Richard Perle, called Negroponte’s position on Iran’s nuclear program “absurd.” Cheney himself approached McConnell about accepting the position. McConnell is far more amenable to White House influence than Negroponte. On February 27, he will tell the Senate Armed Services Committee that he is “comfortable saying it’s probable” that the alleged export of explosively formed penetrators to Shi’ite insurgents in Iraq was linked to the highest leadership in Iran. Negroponte, along with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, have refused to go that far. And the 2005 NIE on Iran estimated that it would take Iran five to ten years to produce a nuclear weapon, another position that Cheney opposes. [Inter Press Service, 11/10/2007]
Peter Zeidenberg (left) and Patrick Fitzgerald outside the courthouse during the Libby trial. [Source: Reuters / Jonathan Ernst]After some final sparring between opposing counsel, the prosecution makes its closing argument in the Lewis Libby perjury and obstruction trial. Assistant prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg opens with a lengthy presentation summing up the prosecution’s case against Libby. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007]
Evidence Proves Libby Lied to FBI, Grand Jury - According to Zeidenberg, the evidence as presented shows that Libby lied to both the FBI (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003) and the grand jury empaneled to investigate the Plame Wilson identity leak (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004). He lied about how he learned about Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity, who he spoke to about it, and what he said when he talked to others about Plame Wilson. A number of witnesses, including NBC reporter Tim Russert (see February 7-8, 2007), testified about Libby’s discussions to them about Plame Wilson’s identity. Libby forgot nine separate conversations over a four-week period, Zeidenberg says, and invented two conversations that never happened, one with Russert and one with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper. “That’s not a matter of forgetting or misremembering,” he says, “it’s lying.”
No Evidence of White House 'Scapegoating' - The defense argued in its opening statement that Libby was being “scapegoated” by the White House to protect the president’s deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove (see January 23, 2007). No witness, either for the prosecution or the defense, referenced any such effort to scapegoat Libby. The defense may have promised evidence showing such a conspiracy to frame Libby, but, Zeidenberg says, “unfulfilled promises from counsel do not constitute evidence.”
Libby Learned of Plame Wilson's Identity from Five Administration Officials in Three Days - Zeidenberg then walks the jury through the testimony as given by prosecution witnesses. Both former State Department official Marc Grossman (see January 23-24, 2007) and former CIA official Robert Grenier testified (see January 24, 2007) that Libby had badgered Grossman for information about former ambassador and administration critic Joseph Wilson (see May 29, 2003), and Grossman not only told Libby about Wilson and his CIA-sponsored trip to Niger, but that Wilson’s wife was a CIA official (see June 10, 2003 and 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003). Zeidenberg notes, “When Grossman told this to Libby, it was the fourth time, in two days, that Libby had been told about Wilson’s wife.” Libby had learned from Vice President Cheney that Wilson’s wife was a CIA official (see (June 12, 2003)). Two hours after Libby’s meeting with Grossman, Grenier told the jury that Libby had pulled him out of a meeting to discuss Wilson (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003). During that impromptu discussion, Grenier told Libby that Wilson’s wife was a CIA official. Libby then learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from Cathie Martin, Cheney’s communications aide (see 5:25 p.m. June 10, 2003 and 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003). Martin, who testified for the prosecution (see January 25-29, 2007), learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from CIA press official Bill Harlow. Zeidenberg ticks off the officials who informed Libby of Plame Wilson’s CIA status: Cheney, Grenier, Martin, and Grossman. (Zeidenberg is as yet unaware that Libby had also heard from another State Department official, Frederick Fleitz, of Plame Wilson’s CIA status—see (June 11, 2003)). On June 14, Libby heard about Plame Wilson from another CIA official, briefer Craig Schmall (see 7:00 a.m. June 14, 2003), who has also testified for the prosecution (see January 24-25, 2007). Schmall’s testimony corroborates the testimony from Martin, Grossman, and Grenier, Zeidenberg asserts.
Leaking Information to Judith Miller - On June 23, just over a week after learning Plame Wilson was a CIA official, Libby informed then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller of Plame Wilson’s CIA status (see June 23, 2003). Why? Zeidenberg asks. Because Libby wanted to discredit the CIA over what Libby saw as the agency’s failure to back the administration’s claims about Iraqi WMDs. Miller is the sixth person, Zeidenberg says, that Libby talked to about Plame Wilson. Miller also testified for the prosecution (see January 30-31, 2007).
Told Press Secretary - On July 7, Libby told White House press secretary Ari Fleischer about Plame Wilson (see 12:00 p.m. July 7, 2003). Fleischer, under a grant of immunity from the prosecution, also testified (see January 29, 2007). By that point, Wilson had published his op-ed in the New York Times (see July 6, 2003), a column the administration considered to be highly damaging towards its credibility. Libby told Fleischer that the information about Plame Wilson was to be kept “hush hush.” However, Zeidenberg says, it is likely that Libby intended Fleischer to spread the information about Plame Wilson to other reporters, which in fact he did (see 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Fleischer is the seventh person that evidence shows Libby spoke to concerning Plame Wilson.
Conferring with Cheney's Chief Counsel - The eighth person in this list is David Addington. At the time, Addington was Cheney’s chief counsel; after Libby stepped down over being indicted for perjury and obstruction (see October 28, 2005), Addington replaced him as Cheney’s chief of staff. Addington also testified for the prosecution (see January 30, 2007). Libby asked Addington if the president could legally declassify information at will, referring to the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (NIE—see October 1, 2002). Libby planned on leaking NIE material to Miller on July 8 (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003).
Leaking Classified Material to Miller - As stated, Libby indeed leaked classified material to Miller, during their meeting at the St. Regis Hotel. The “declassification” was highly unusual; only Cheney, Libby, and President Bush knew of the declassification. Libby again told Miller of Plame Wilson’s CIA status, and this time told her, incorrectly, that Plame Wilson worked in the WINPAC (Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control) section of the agency. Cheney and Libby chose Miller, of all the reporters in the field, to leak the information to, Zeidenberg says; in her turn, Miller went to jail for almost three months rather than testify against Libby (see October 7, 2004). That fact damages her credibility as a prosecution witness.
The Russert Claim - Zeidenberg then turns to NBC’s Russert, who also testified for the prosecution (see February 7-8, 2007). Zeidenberg notes that after lead defense attorney Theodore Wells initially asserted that neither Russert nor any other reporter testifying for the prosecution was lying under oath, Wells and other defense attorneys cross-examined Russert for over five hours trying to prove that he indeed did lie. Libby claimed repeatedly to the grand jury that Russert told him of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity (see July 10 or 11, 2003), an assertion Russert has repeatedly denied. Zeidenberg plays an audiotape of Libby’s grand jury testimony featuring Libby’s assertion. Libby, Zeidenberg states, lied to the grand jury. Russert never made any such statement to Libby. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007] The defense tried to assert that Russert lied about his conversation with Libby because of some “bad blood” between the two. However, “evidence of [such a] feud is completely absent from the trial.” And if such a feud existed, why would Libby have chosen Russert to lie about before the jury? Such an assertion is merely a desperate attempt to discredit Russert, Zeidenberg says.
Matthew Cooper - Zeidenberg then turns to former Time reporter Matthew Cooper, another recipient of a Libby leak about Plame Wilson (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003). Cooper also testified for the prosecution (see January 31, 2007). When Libby told the grand jury that Cooper asked him about Plame Wilson being a CIA official, and Libby said he responded, “I don’t know if it’s true,” Libby lied to the jury. Zeidenberg plays the audiotape of Libby making the Cooper claim. Had Libby made such a statement, Cooper could not have used it as confirmation of his own reporting. Cooper did indeed use Libby as a source for a Time article (see July 17, 2003). Cooper’s testimony is corroborated by Martin’s recollection of the Libby-Cooper conversation. Zeidenberg says: “Martin was present. She never heard any of what you heard Libby just hear it. She never heard, ‘I don’t know if it’s true.’ If she had heard it, she would have said something, because she knew it was true.”
FBI Agent Bond's Testimony - Zeidenberg briefly references testimony from FBI agent Deborah Bond (see February 1-5, 2007), who told the court that Libby may have discussed leaking Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. Bond’s testimony corroborates the prosecution’s assertion that Libby attempted to obscure where he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity.
Grounds for Conviction - Zeidenberg reminds the jury of the three separate instances the prosecution says are Libby lies, then tells them if they find any one of the three statements to be actual lies, they can convict Libby of perjury. “You don’t have to find that all three were false beyond reasonable doubt,” he says. “You have to unanimously agree on any one.” Of the two false statements Libby is charged with making to investigators, the jury need only find one of them is truly false.
Defense Assertions - Zeidenberg turns to Libby’s main defense, that he was so overwhelmed with important work as Cheney’s chief of staff that it is unreasonable to expect him to remember the details that he is accused of lying about (see January 31, 2006). Zeidenberg says the trial has elicited numerous instances of conversations Libby had, for example his conversation with Rove about Robert Novak (see July 8 or 9, 2003), that he remembered perfectly well. Zeidenberg then plays the relevant audiotape from the grand jury proceedings. Why is it, he asks, that Libby can remember that conversation so well, but consistently misremembered nine separate conversations he had about Plame Wilson? “When you consider Libby’s testimony, there’s a pattern of always forgetting about Wilson’s wife,” Zeidenberg says. Libby remembered details about Fleischer being a Miami Dolphins fan, but didn’t remember talking about Plame Wilson. He remembered talking about the NIE with Miller, but not Plame Wilson. He remembered talking about declassification with Addington, but not Wilson’s wife. Zeidenberg calls it a “convenient pattern,” augmented by Libby’s specific recollections about not discussing other issues, such as Cheney’s handwritten notes about Wilson’s op-ed (see July 7, 2003 or Shortly After). The defense also claims that Libby confused Russert with Novak; Zeidenberg puts up pictures of Russert and Novak side by side, and asks if it is credible to think that Libby made such a mistake. The entire “memory defense,” Zeidenberg says, is “not credible to believe. It’s ludicrous.” Libby was far too involved in the administration’s efforts to discredit Wilson (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006). [Associated Press, 2/20/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007]
Motive to Lie - Zeidenberg addresses the idea of motive: why would Libby lie to the FBI and the grand jury, and why nine government witnesses would lie to the Libby jury. “Is it conceivable that all nine witnesses would make the same mistake in their memory?” he asks. Not likely. It is far more likely that Libby was motivated to lie because when he testified to FBI investigators, he knew there was an ongoing investigation into the Plame Wilson leak. He knew he had talked to Miller, Cooper, and Fleischer. He knew the FBI was looking for him. He knew from newspaper articles entered into evidence that the leak could have severely damaged Plame Wilson’s informant network and the Brewster Jennings front company (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). Even Addington’s testimony, about Libby asking him about the legality of leaking classified information, is evidence of Libby’s anxiety over having disclosed such information. And Libby knew that such disclosure is a breach of his security clearance, not only risking his job, but prosecution as well. So when he is questioned by the FBI, he had a choice: tell the truth and take his chances with firing and prosecution for disclosing the identity of a covert agent, or lie about it. “And, ladies and gentlemen,” Zeidenberg says, “he took the second choice. He made up a story that he thought would cover it.” And when caught out, he claimed to have forgotten that he originally knew about Plame Wilson’s identity. Libby, Zeidenberg says, “made a gamble. He lied. Don’t you think the FBI and the grand jury and the American people are entitled to straight answers?” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007; Murray Waas, 12/23/2008]
No Conspiracy, Just a Lie - Zeidenberg concludes by telling the jury that there was no grand White House conspiracy to scapegoat Libby, nor was there an NBC conspiracy to smear him. The case is just about Libby lying to federal authorities. “When you consider all the evidence, the government has established that the defendant lied to the FBI, lied to the grand jury, and obstructed justice.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007]
Entity Tags: Matthew Cooper, Peter Zeidenberg, Theodore Wells, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Tim Russert, Marc Grossman, Robert Grenier, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Frederick Fleitz, Judith Miller, Bush administration (43), Bill Harlow, Ari Fleischer, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Craig Schmall, David S. Addington, Joseph C. Wilson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Deborah Bond, Karl C. Rove, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Boston Globe columnist H.D.S. Greenway. [Source: Camera (.org)]Boston Globe columnist H. D. S. Greenway writes that the trial of Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see January 16-23, 2007) has revealed “the astonishing lengths to which Vice President Dick Cheney and others in the Bush administration went to discredit Ambassador Joseph Wilson for his 2003 claim that the administration had been dead wrong about Saddam Hussein trying to buy material from Niger to make nuclear weapons. The intensity and single mindedness of this pursuit leapt out from the testimony.” Greenway calls the decision to “out” Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as a CIA agent in their attempt to impugn Wilson’s character an act of “desperation,” and “the intensity of the Wilson smear campaign… obsessive.” He writes, “The concept that she had sent her husband to Niger on some kind of boondoggle, instead of to investigate the Saddam sale, is bizarre in the extreme.” Most importantly, the trial revealed the lengths the White House went to protect both the case for going to war in Iraq and “Cheney’s connection to flawed intelligence. There you have it. In the most dysfunctional administration of our time, the vice president’s office felt free to use classified information to bolster a false impression of Saddam’s nuclear capabilities—going to absurd lengths to keep the truth from the American people and perhaps even the White House.” The real reason for war was to begin the neoconservative plan for remaking the Middle East to conform to their vision; the real reason for smearing Wilson was that he exposed that underlying rationale for war. Greenway concludes: “Everybody now, hawks and doves, even the neo-cons, agree that the Bush administration mismanaged the Iraq war. But what Americans need to realize is that the whole concept of attacking a country in order to remake it into America’s image is horribly wrong and counterproductive in the extreme—not just its faulty execution. The Libby trial jury is still out at this writing, but the concept that he could forget conversations he made on the excuse that he was too consumed with the plans for war is something I have trouble believing. At the time discrediting Wilson was Libby’s war.” [Boston Globe, 2/27/2007]
Grover Norquist, the influential conservative who heads Americans for Tax Reform, says that President Bush’s neoconservative advisers have been consistently wrong about their predictions for success in Iraq, and warns that Bush is now receiving similar advice about striking at Iran. “Everything the advocates of war said would happen hasn’t happened,” says Norquist, who initially supported the invasion of Iraq. “And all the things the critics said would happen have happened. [The president’s neoconservative advisers] are effectively saying, ‘Invade Iran. Then everyone will see how smart we are.’ But after you’ve lost x number of times at the roulette wheel, do you double-down?” [Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
Craig Unger. [Source: David Shankbone/Public Domain]Author and journalist Craig Unger writes that the 1996 Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies policy paper, “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm” (see July 8, 1996), was “the kernel of a breathtakingly radical vision for a new Middle East. By waging wars against Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, the paper asserted, Israel and the US could stabilize the region. Later, the neoconservatives argued that this policy could democratize the Middle East.” Unger’s thoughts are echoed by neoconservative Meyrav Wurmser, an Israeli-American policy expert who co-signed the paper with her husband, David Wurmser, now a top Middle East adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney. Mrs. Wurmser (see March 2007) calls the policy paper “the seeds of a new vision.” While many of the paper’s authors eventually became powerful advisers and officials within the Bush administration, and implemented the policies advocated in the paper in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the paper’s focus on Iran has been somewhat less noticed. Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for whom the paper was written, has observed, “The most dangerous of these regimes [Iran, Syria, and Iraq] is Iran.” Unger writes, “Ten years later, ‘A Clean Break’ looks like nothing less than a playbook for US-Israeli foreign policy during the Bush-Cheney era. Many of the initiatives outlined in the paper have been implemented—removing Saddam [Hussein] from power, setting aside the ‘land for peace’ formula to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, attacking Hezbollah in Lebanon—all with disastrous results.” [Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David Wurmser, Craig Unger, Saddam Hussein, Bush administration (43), Hezbollah, Meyrav Wurmser, Benjamin Netanyahu, Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US International Relations, Iraq under US Occupation, Neoconservative Influence
In hindsight, most observers believe that the break-in of the Nigerien embassy in Iraq that began the entire Iraq-Niger uranium affair (see January 2, 2001) was nothing more than it seemed—a crime of opportunity by individuals seeking to make money through fraud (see June or July 1999). They note that the burglary took place before President Bush took office. But Colonel Patrick Lang is not so sure. Lang, a former Middle East analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency, thinks that the entire affair may have been orchestrated to provoke an invasion of Iraq. He notes that he has no proof to back up his speculation. That being said, he goes on to note his belief that the US neoconservatives, who were so intensely interested in overthrowing Saddam Hussein, would not have hesitated to reach out to their friends in Italian intelligence (SISMI) even before Bush entered the White House. Lang tells author Craig Unger: “There’s no doubt in my mind that the neocons had their eye on Iraq. This is something they intended to do, and they would have communicated that to SISMI or anybody else to get the help they wanted.” SISMI would have cooperated, Lang says, if for no other reason than to ingratiate itself with the new US administration. Lang says: “These foreign intelligence agencies are so dependent on us that the urge to acquire IOUs is a powerful incentive by itself.… It would have been very easy to have someone go to Rome and talk to them or have one of the SISMI guys here [in Washington], perhaps the SISMI officer in the Italian embassy, talk to them.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 206-207]
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) welcomes the jury’s verdict in the Lewis Libby trial (see March 6, 2007), and calls on President Bush not to pardon Libby. “It’s about time someone in the Bush administration has been held accountable for the campaign to manipulate intelligence and discredit war critics,” Reid says. The White House refuses to comment on Reid’s statement. [Associated Press, 3/6/2007]
MSNBC ‘Breaking News’ image with photo of Lewis Libby immediately after he learns he is found guilty. [Source: MSNBC]A jury finds former White House official Lewis “Scooter” Libby guilty of multiple felonies relating to his divulging the identity of former CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to the press (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Libby is found guilty of two counts of perjury, one count of making false statements, and one count of obstruction of justice. He is acquitted of one count of lying to the FBI, Count Three of the charges. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/6/2007 ; Marcy Wheeler, 3/6/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007]
No Further Charges - The Associated Press writes, “The trial revealed how top members of the Bush administration were eager to discredit Plame [Wilson]‘s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who accused the administration of doctoring prewar intelligence on Iraq.” Libby remains expressionless during the reading of the verdicts, but his wife sobs and lowers her head as the verdicts are announced. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald says no additional charges pertaining to the Plame Wilson leak investigation will be filed. “The results are actually sad,” Fitzgerald tells reporters. “It’s sad that we had a situation where a high-level official person who worked in the office of the vice president obstructed justice and lied under oath. We wish that it had not happened, but it did.” Fitzgerald adds that Libby, by lying and obstructing justice, harmed the process of law, and made it more difficult to find out who actually did what in the Plame Wilson leak. [Associated Press, 3/6/2007; Christy Hardin Smith, 3/6/2007]
Libby the 'Fall Guy'; Memory Defense Implausible - Libby will be sentenced to 30 months in prison (see June 5, 2007). One juror, Denis Collins, tells reporters that he and his fellow jurors found passing judgment on Libby “unpleasant,” but that in final consideration, Libby’s story was too difficult to believe. Collins, a former Washington Post reporter, tells reporters that the jurors had constructed 34 poster-sized pages filled with information they distilled from the trial testimony (see March 1, 2007). They determined that Libby had been told about Plame Wilson’s CIA status at least nine different times, and could not accept the defense’s argument that he forgot about knowing it (see January 31, 2006). “Even if he forgot that someone told him about Mrs. Wilson, who had told him, it seemed very unlikely he would not have remembered about Mrs. Wilson,” Collins says. But, Collins goes on to say, the jurors believe there is more to the story than Libby’s criminal behavior. “We’re not saying we didn’t think Mr. Libby was guilty,” Collins says, “but it seemed like… he was the fall guy” for Vice President Dick Cheney, his former boss. Collins says the jurors felt “a tremendous amount of sympathy” for Libby, and wondered why they were not hearing from other White House officials in Libby’s defense, particularly Cheney and Bush political strategist Karl Rove. “It was said a number of times: ‘What are we doing with this guy here? Where’s Rove? Where are these other guys?’” He says that the testimony of Cheney aide John Hannah was particularly hurtful to Libby’s case (see February 13, 2007), with Hannah seesawing between claiming Libby had an “awful” memory (see January 31, 2006) and then saying he had an incredible grasp of minute details. Collins describes the jury as “dispassionate” in its deliberations, and adds that it took the jury over a week to conclude Libby was guilty of any charges. He says that one juror held out for Libby’s innocence on Count Three, based on reasonable doubt; otherwise the entire jury was unanimous for Libby’s guilt. Fitzgerald says that because Libby lied to both FBI investigators and the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak, it became impossible to fully investigate Cheney’s role in leaking Plame Wilson’s covert identity. [Associated Press, 3/6/2007; Jane Hamsher, 3/6/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 3/6/2007; Murray Waas, 12/23/2008] In her 2007 book Fair Game, Plame Wilson will reflect, “[I]t seemed that Libby’s defense tactic of casting him as a ‘scapegoat’ (see January 16-23, 2007) had worked, but not in the way they had intended.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 294-295]
New Trial? - Libby’s defense attorney, Theodore Wells, says he will request a new trial—something the BBC will call “a common tactic”—and if it is denied, Wells says he will appeal the verdict. Libby is fingerprinted and released on his own recognizance to await sentencing. [Christy Hardin Smith, 3/6/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] “We have every confidence Mr. Libby ultimately will be vindicated,” Wells tells reporters. “We believe Mr. Libby is totally innocent and that he didn’t do anything wrong.” [Associated Press, 3/6/2007]
Weeping with Relief - Plame Wilson will recall watching the news on television: “To say I was a bundle of nerves—it felt like I needed two hands to stir the milk in my coffee—would be an understatement.” When the verdicts are read, she begins to “cry with relief,” and immediately calls her husband Joseph Wilson. His response: “Thank God. The charge of obstruction of justice was the most important.” Of her own feelings, Plame Wilson will write, “My feelings of deep sadness over the entire affair were tempered by relief that our justice system still worked as intended.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 294-295]
White House Response - White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino says President Bush watched news of the verdict on television in the Oval Office. Perino says the president respects the jury’s verdict but “was saddened for Scooter Libby and his family.” Perino says the verdict should not be construed as in any way embarrassing for the White House: “I think that any administration that has to go through a prolonged news story that is unpleasant and one that is difficult—when you’re under the constraints and the policy of not commenting on an ongoing criminal matter—that can be very frustrating.” [Associated Press, 3/6/2007]
Entity Tags: Denis Collins, John Hannah, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Dana Perino, Theodore Wells, Valerie Plame Wilson, Office of the Vice President, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Joseph C. Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Patrick J. Fitzgerald
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The Wall Street Journal joins the National Review (see March 6, 2007 and March 6, 2007), the New York Post (see March 7, 2007), and a law professor whom the Journal published in today’s editorial pages (see March 7, 2007) in demanding that President Bush pardon convicted felon Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007). The Journal’s editorial board hopes that “Bush will realize that this case was always a political fight over Iraq and do the right thing by pardoning Mr. Libby.” Like its fellow conservative pundits and media outlets, the Journal calls the conviction “a travesty of justice,” and writes that the Libby defense team “seems to have blundered by portraying Mr. Libby as the ‘fall guy’ for others in the White House. That didn’t do enough to rebut [special counsel Patrick] Fitzgerald’s theory of the case, and so the jury seems to have decided that Mr. Libby must have been lying to protect something. The defense might have been better off taking on Mr. Fitzgerald for criminalizing political differences.” Libby was “convicted of telling the truth about” Joseph and Valerie Plame Wilson “to some reporters (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003) but then not owning up to it.” The Journal believes Libby “tried to cooperate with the grand jury because he never really believed he had anything to hide” (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004). The entire case was brought, the Journal avers, to attack the Bush administration’s push for war with Iraq. The Bush administration bears its own culpability, the Journal says, for not “confront[ing] Mr. Wilson’s lies head on” and instead becoming “defensive,” allowing “a trivial matter to become a threat to the administration itself.” The White House should not have allowed then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to recuse himself from the investigation (see December 30, 2003) and let the Justice Department appoint Fitzgerald to investigate the leaks. “Mr. Libby got caught in the eddy not because he was dishonest but because he was a rare official who actually had the temerity to defend the president’s Iraq policy against Mr. Wilson’s lies.” The Journal also criticizes “most of our brethren” in the media for “celebrating the conviction… because it damaged the Bush administration they loathe.” It concludes by asserting, “The time for a pardon is now.” [Wall Street Journal, 3/7/2007]
The New York Times editorial board publishes an op-ed about the conviction of former White House official Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007). The Times writes that Libby, at one time one of the most senior officials in the White House, “was caught lying to the FBI. He appears to have been trying to cover up a smear campaign that was orchestrated by his boss against the first person to unmask one of the many untruths that President Bush used to justify invading Iraq. He was charged with those crimes, defended by the best lawyers he could get, tried in an open courtroom, and convicted of serious felonies.” The Times says the verdict is a “reminder of how precious the American judicial system is, at a time when it is under serious attack from the same administration Mr. Libby served. That administration is systematically denying the right of counsel, the right to evidence, and even the right to be tried to scores of prisoners who may have committed no crimes at all.” The Times also notes that the trial gave an important glimpse into “the methodical way that [Vice President Dick] Cheney, Mr. Libby, [White House political strategist] Karl Rove, and others in the Bush inner circle set out to discredit Ms. Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson IV. Mr. Wilson, a career diplomat, [who] was sent by the State Department in 2002 [later corrected by the Times to acknowledge that the CIA sent Wilson] to check out a British intelligence report that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from the government of Niger for a secret nuclear weapons program.” Wilson’s exposure of the Bush administration’s false claims that Iraq had tried to buy Nigerien uranium (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) led to a Cheney-led “smear campaign” against Wilson (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006) which led to the exposure of his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as a covert CIA official (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). The Times writes: “That is what we know from the Libby trial, and it is some of the clearest evidence yet that this administration did not get duped by faulty intelligence; at the very least, it cherry-picked and hyped intelligence to justify the war.… What we still do not know is whether a government official used Ms. Wilson’s name despite knowing that she worked undercover. That is a serious offense, which could have put her and all those who had worked with her in danger.” While the Times decries special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald jailing a former Times reporter, Judith Miller, for refusing to reveal Libby as her confidential source (see July 6, 2005), “it was still a breath of fresh air to see someone in this administration, which specializes in secrecy, prevarication, and evading blame, finally called to account.” [New York Times, 3/7/2007]
Entity Tags: Judith Miller, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Karl C. Rove, George W. Bush, New York Times, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The lawyers for convicted felon Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007) are preparing a request for a new trial for their client. Meanwhile, the White House is working to lower expectations for a presidential pardon for Libby, as many conservative pundits and publications have demanded (see March 6, 2007, March 6, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 7, 2007, and March 7, 2007). Democrats are demanding that Libby not be pardoned (see March 6, 2007). President Bush, speaking to CNN En Espanol, says: “This was a lengthy trial on a serious matter, and a jury of his peers convicted him. And we’ve got to respect that conviction.… On a personal note, I was sad. I was sad for a man who had worked in my administration, and particularly sad for his family.” Bush refuses to say anything else because the issue is an “ongoing legal matter.” White House press secretary Tony Snow says: “All of this conversation, speculation about a pardon, I know, makes for interesting speculation, but it’s just that. Right now, Scooter Libby and his attorneys have made clear that they’re going to try to get a retrial and if they don’t get that, they’re going to get an appeal.” Snow says Bush is “careful” about awarding pardons. “These are not things to be treated blithely,” he says, adding that Bush takes the pardon process very seriously. “He wants to make sure that anybody who receives one—that it’s warranted, but I would caution against any speculation in this case.” One Libby trial juror, Ann Redington, says she supports the idea of a pardon, even though she was part of a unanimous decision to convict Libby of four felony counts. “It kind of bothers me that there was this whole big crime being investigated and he got caught up in the investigation as opposed to in the actual crime that was supposedly committed,” Redington says during an MSNBC interview. Libby’s lawyer William Jeffress says the lawyers are preparing a request for a new trial; the Associated Press observes that such requests are common and are rarely granted. Joseph Wilson, whose wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was exposed as a covert CIA official by Libby and other White House officials, praises the verdict. “Convicting him of perjury was like convicting Al Capone of tax evasion or Alger Hiss of perjury,” Wilson says. “It doesn’t mean they were not guilty of other crimes.” [Associated Press, 3/8/2007]
Mona Charen. [Source: News New Mexico]Conservative columnist Rich Lowry, who often writes for the National Review, writes a harsh denunciation of special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald in a syndicated column picked up by, among other media outlets, the Salt Lake Tribune. Lowry begins by joining other conservatives in calling for a presidential pardon for convicted felon Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007, March 6, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 8, 2007, and March 9, 2007), but quickly pivots to an all-out attack on Fitzgerald’s integrity as a prosecutor and on the jury that convicted Libby. Fitzgerald “had sufficient evidence to convince a handful of people drawn from Washington, DC’s liberal jury pool that Libby was guilty,” Lowry writes, and states, without direct evidence, that even the jury “didn’t believe Libby should have been in the dock in the first place.” Lowry echoes earlier arguments that Valerie Plame Wilson was exposed as a CIA official by her husband, Joseph Wilson (see November 3, 2005 and Late August-Early September, 2006), who, Lowry writes, should have known that once he wrote a column identifying himself as a “Bush-hater” (see July 6, 2003), questions would inevitably be asked as to why someone like him would be sent on a fact-finding mission to Niger. Lowry also echoes the false claim that Plame Wilson sent her husband on the mission (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005). “Fitzgerald let himself become an instrument of political blood lust,” Lowry writes. If Democrats and other opponents of the Bush administration want to “score points against ‘the case for war,’” Lowry writes, the way to do that “is through advocacy [and] political agitation,” not by “jailing [Vice President Dick Cheney’s] former chief of staff. This is the very definition of the criminalization of politics. If the other party occupies the White House, each side in our politics is willing to embrace this criminalization, even if it means doing violence to its own interests and principles.” [Salt Lake Tribune, 3/8/2007] A day later, Lowry’s National Review colleagues, Mona Charen and Thomas Sowell, echo Lowry’s charge that Fitzgerald’s investigation “criminalized politics.” Charen goes somewhat further, labeling Fitzgerald “Ahab” in reference to the obsessed whale-boat captain of Moby Dick, and compares the Libby trial with the alleged perjury committed by former President Clinton in a sexual harassment lawsuit, where Clinton denied having an affair with a White House intern. Sowell dismisses the entire leak investigation as a great deal of nothing, and writes that Libby’s life has been ruined so that “media liberals” can “exult… as if their conspiracy theories had been vindicated.” [National Review, 3/9/2007; National Review, 3/9/2007]
A close associate of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki tells the Associated Press that certain US officials have warned al-Maliki that continuing White House support for his government is contingent on an end to sectarian violence and passage of the oil law (see February 15, 2007) by the close of this parliamentary session on June 30. “They have said they are frustrated that he has done nothing to oust the Sadrists, that the oil law has not moved forward, that there is no genuine effort on reconciliation and no movement on new regional elections,” the source says. Al-Maliki fears that without American support his government will be ousted. [Associated Press, 3/13/2006]
James Knodell. [Source: CommonDreams (.org)]White House Director of Security James Knodell testifies to the House Oversight Committee that the White House never investigated the possible involvement of White House officials in exposing Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity. [Think Progress, 3/16/2007; Editor & Publisher, 3/18/2007; Nation, 3/19/2007] Knodell says he is aware of no such internal investigation or report from anyone in the White House: “I have no knowledge of any investigation in my office.” The White House Office of Security would be the lawful body to conduct such an investigation. Knodell testifies only after the White House dropped its resistance to his appearing before the committee, which had threatened to subpoena the White House for Knodell’s testimony. Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) says that President Bush had promised a full internal probe (see September 30, 2003 and September 30, 2003), and Knodell again states he knows of no such probe. He adds that he has never talked to Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, political strategist Karl Rove, or anyone in the White House about the Plame Wilson leak. His knowledge of the affair, he says, comes from “the press.” He tells the committee that those who had participated in the leaking of classified information are required by law to own up to this, but he is not aware that anyone, including Rove, had done that. Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) calls the failure of the White House to mount an internal investigation “shocking,” and says that Knodell’s office’s failure to mount such a probe constitutes a “breach within a breach.” Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) calls it a “dereliction of duty.” Knodell promises to “review this with senior management.” He attempts to assert that since a criminal investigation was launched, no such internal probe was needed, but committee Democrats challenge his statement, saying that the criminal probe is narrowly focused, began only after months of inaction and stonewalling by the White House, and is required by law regardless of whatever other investigations are underway. Waxman asks, “[T]here was an obligation for the White House to investigate whether classified information was being leaked inappropriately, wasn’t there?” to which Knodell replies, “If that was the case, yes.” Committee Democrats also note that anyone who leaked information about classified information is required by law to have their security clearances denied, and ask Knodell why Rove still has such clearance. [Think Progress, 3/16/2007; Editor & Publisher, 3/18/2007]
Entity Tags: House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Bush administration (43), Elijah Cummings, Henry A. Waxman, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, White House Office of Security, Karl C. Rove, Valerie Plame Wilson, James Knodell, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Lawyer Victoria Toensing, who, as journalist David Corn will write, has served as “a point-person for the Libby Lobby, denouncing special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation of the Plame leak, and deriding his indictment of… Libby” (see February 18, 2007), testifies to the House Oversight Committee about the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak. Toensing is following testimony from Plame Wilson herself (see March 16, 2007). Contradicting the former CIA agent, Toensing argues that the entire investigation was specious, that—despite all evidence to the contrary (see Fall 1985, Fall 1989, Fall 1992 - 1996, April 2001 and After, and February 18, 2007)—Plame Wilson was never a covert agent and therefore no one could have violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA) in revealing her identity to the press. Toensing even testifies that conservative columnist Robert Novak, who first printed Plame Wilson’s name in his column, didn’t identify her as a covert agent, but that identification was made by Corn in his own column (see July 16, 2003). Corn will call the allegation “a canard that some Republican spinners have been peddling for years, in an attempt to get Novak off the hook while muddying the waters.” Corn will note that once Novak published Plame Wilson’s name, her “cover was destroyed; her career was ruined; her operations and contacts were imperiled to whatever degree they were imperiled.” Corn wrote two days later that her outing was “a potential violation of the law” and that Novak may have violated the IIPA. Corn noted in the article that Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson, refused to confirm or deny his wife’s CIA status. Corn’s article raised the possibility that Plame Wilson had been a covert agent, but presented it as mere speculation. He will write, “In the column, I even raised the possibility that Novak had botched the story and that ‘the White House has wrongly branded’ Valerie Wilson ‘as a CIA officer.’ Bottom line: I did not identify her as a ‘covert’ officer or any other kind of CIA official. I merely speculated she was a NOC. That speculation was based on Novak’s column. And given that Novak had already IDed her as a CIA ‘operative on weapons of mass destruction’ (which happened to be a ‘covert’ position within the agency), her cover—whether nonofficial or official—was blown to smithereens by the time I posted my article.” Corn calls Toensing’s allegation “a desperation-driven and misleading act of hairsplitting” designed to deflect responsibility away from Novak and the White House. Therefore, Corn will write, Toensing has lied to Congress. [Christy Hardin Smith, 3/16/2007; Nation, 3/19/2007]
Toensing Lies about IIPA - Corn will note that Toensing is also lying when she insists that no one ever violated “her” law, the IIPA (which Toensing helped write). In her testimony, she says that to be a covert agent under the IIPA, an agent would have to live outside the US. Corn will note that the law makes no such distinction. The two criteria for an agent to be “covert” under the IIPA are: that person’s “identity as such an officer, employee, or member is classified information” and that the officer has to be “serving outside the United States or has within the last five years served outside the United States.” Because Plame Wilson testified earlier in the day that she indeed served overseas as a covert agent within five years of her outing by Novak, she is indeed covered by the IIPA. Corn will write: “Toensing is free to maintain that the law ought to cover only those officers residing overseas as part of a long-term foreign assignment. But that is not what the act says. By stating that the act defines a ‘covert agent’ as an officer residing abroad (as opposed to an officer who had ‘served’ overseas), Toensing misrepresented the law to members of the committee.”
Lying to Congress Is a Crime - Corn will write, “As a lawyer, Toensing is probably aware that knowingly making a false statement to a Congressional committee conducting an investigation or review is a federal crime. (See Title 18, Section 1001 of the US Code.) The punishment is a fine and/or imprisonment of up to five years. To say that I identified Valerie Wilson as a ‘covert’ officer is to make a false statement.” Committee chairman Henry Waxman is apparently unconvinced of Toensing’s honesty; when he concludes Toensing’s session, he says, “Some of the statements you’ve made without any doubt and with great authority I understand may not be accurate, so we’re going to check the information and we’re going to hold the record open to put in other things that might contradict some of what you had to say.” [Nation, 3/19/2007]
Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Henry A. Waxman, David Corn, Bush administration (43), House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Joseph C. Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Victoria Toensing, Intelligence Identities Protection Act, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Following the testimony of White House Security Director James Knodell to the House Oversight Committee, in which he admitted that the White House never conducted an internal probe of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see March 16, 2007), committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) writes a letter to White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten asking why the probe had never been conducted. Waxman notes that “your senior political advisor, Karl Rove, and other senior White House officials were required to report what they knew about the disclosure of Ms. Wilson’s identity, but they did not make any such report to the White House Office of Security; and [t]here has been no suspension of security clearances or any other administrative sanction for Mr. Rove and other White House officials involved in the disclosure.” Waxman observes that the decision not to mount an internal probe, and the decision not to revoke Rove’s security clearances, are “inconsistent with the directives of Executive Order 12958, which you signed in March 2003. Under this executive order, the White House is required to ‘take appropriate and prompt corrective action’ whenever there is a release of classified information. Yet Mr. Knodell could describe no such actions after the disclosure of Ms. Wilson’s identity.” Waxman concludes: “Taken as a whole, the testimony at today’s hearing described breach after breach of national security requirements at the White House. The first breach was the disclosure of Ms. Wilson’s identity. Other breaches included the failure of Mr. Rove and other officials to report their disclosures as required by law, the failure of the White House to initiate the prompt investigation required by the executive order, and the failure of the White House to suspend the security clearances of the implicated officials.” Waxman requests that Bolten provide the committee “with a complete account of the steps that the White House took following the disclosure of Ms. Wilson’s identity (1) to investigate how the leak occurred; (2) to review the security clearances of the White House officials implicated in the leak; (3) to impose administrative or disciplinary sanctions on the officials involved in the leak; and (4) to review and revise existing White House security procedures to prevent future breaches of national security.” [Speaker of the House, 3/16/2007]
Critics say that the legal pursuit of former Wisconsin state purchasing official Georgia Thompson, whose conviction on corruption charges was overturned by a federal appeals court (see April 5, 2007), may have been politically motivated. State Representative David Travis (D-Westport) says Thompson was persecuted by US Attorney Steven Biskupic, a Bush administration appointee. “I think it’s right out of the Karl Rove playbook,” he says, referring to White House political chief Karl Rove. “I never thought I’d see a prosecution like this. That woman is innocent. He’s ruined her life.” Republicans used Thompson’s prosecution and conviction (see June 13, 2006) as a centerpiece of their attempt to thwart the re-election attempts of Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI), who survived a 2006 challenge by Mark Green (R-WI), who accused Doyle of corruption throughout the campaign. Representative Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) calls on Congress to investigate the prosecution, saying the prosecution ties into Congress’s investigation into the firing of eight US Attorneys (see December 7, 2006 and December 20, 2006). “Congress should also look into whether partisan politics influenced, or even dictated, the investigations conducted by the US Attorneys’ offices in order to stay in the [Bush] administration’s good graces,” Baldwin says. “The 7th Circuit acquittal of Georgia Thompson, after a widely publicized pre-election prosecution, certainly raises serious questions about the integrity and motivation of the prosecutor.” Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asks Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to turn over all of the Justice Department’s records in the Georgia Thompson case to the committee, “including any communications between the Justice Department, the White House, and any other outside party, including party officials.” Leahy, joined by Wisconsin’s two senators Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Russell Feingold (D-WI), also asks Gonzales to turn over records related to voter fraud investigations in Wisconsin (see Early 2005) and any records pertaining to Biskupic’s possible firing. Wisconsin Democrats have long considered Thompson’s prosecution an attempt to besmirch Doyle before the 2006 election, and have accused Biskupic of mounting a politically motivated pursuit of an innocent government official. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 4/7/2007; Associated Press, 4/10/2007; Associated Press, 4/10/2007] Feingold says in a statement that Thompson was the victim of a “miscarriage of justice,” and adds, “In light of ongoing concerns about the politicization of US Attorneys’ offices around the country, I am seeking further information from the Department of Justice on how this case and voter fraud cases after the 2004 election came about and whether there was improper political pressure to pursue them.” [Federal Document Clearing House, 4/10/2007]
Denials of Political Motivations - Biskupic’s First Assistant US Attorney (FAUSA) Michelle Jacobs says that the prosecution of Thompson was not politically motivated, and the office received no contact from the White House or the Justice Department. “They acted on the evidence as they found it, convinced a jury of 12 that there was criminal conduct, convinced a judge who has been sitting on a state and federal bench for 33 years that the verdict was sound,” Jacobs says. “But we just did not convince the court of appeals, and we’ll respect the court of appeals decision.” Andy Gussert, president of the state employees union AFT-Wisconsin, says Congress should look into the Thompson case because servants should “not become political footballs to be kicked around.” He adds: “This prosecution raises additional questions that resonate with concerns about the recent firings of US Attorneys. If people are to have faith in our judicial system, those questions will need answers.” Former State Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, who was involved in the Thompson investigation, says the investigation was not politically motivated. Lautenschlager is a Democrat, but is considered a political enemy of Doyle’s.
Thompson Nearly Destitute - Thompson’s lawyer, Stephen Hurley, says Thompson has been left almost entirely penniless by the case. She lost her $77,300-a-year state job, about $60,000 in back wages, and owes somewhere between $250,000 and $400,000 in legal fees. She was forced to cash in her state pension and sell her $264,700 condominium, which she had paid off entirely. Travis says the federal government should pay her lost wages and legal costs, and compensate her for her time in prison. State officials say they are prepared to offer Thompson her old job or a similar position at the same salary, and are investigating whether they can reimburse her back wages and pay her legal bills. Thompson says she does not want her old job back, but would like another job in the same division. She is very concerned with staying out of the public spotlight. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 4/7/2007; Associated Press, 4/10/2007]
Biskupic Considered for Firing - Unbeknownst to Congress or the press, Biskupic was considered for firing in 2005 (see March 2, 2005), but was later removed from the list of people to be fired. Biskupic himself will soon claim that he did not prosecute Thompson for political purposes (see April 14, 2007).
Entity Tags: David Travis, Andy Gussert, Tammy Baldwin, US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, Stephen Hurley, Russell D. Feingold, Steven M. Biskupic, Patrick J. Leahy, Herbert Kohl, Georgia Lee Thompson, James E. (“Jim”) Doyle, Michelle Jacobs, Karl C. Rove, Peg Lautenschlager, Mark Andrew Green
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Jessica Lynch testifies before the House Oversight Committee. [Source: Shawn Thew / epa / Corbis]The House Oversight Committee holds a hearing focusing on misleading and false information provided to the press following the death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, and the capture and rescue of Army Private Jessica Lynch in Iraq (see March 23, 2003, April 1, 2003, and June 17, 2003).The committee focuses on how and why misinformation on the two incidents was disseminated, by whom, and if anyone in the Bush administration has been, or will be, held accountable. Lynch testifies that she is there to address “misinformation from the battlefield,” and notes, “Quite frankly, it is something that I have been doing since I returned from Iraq.” Lynch says that while she was being transported out of Iraq to a hospital in Germany: “tales of great heroism were being told. My parent’s home in Wirt County was under siege of the media all repeating the story of the little girl Rambo from the hills who went down fighting. It was not true. I have repeatedly said, when asked, that if the stories about me helped inspire our troops and rally a nation, then perhaps there was some good. However, I am still confused as to why they chose to lie and tried to make me a legend when the real heroics of my fellow soldiers that day were, in fact, legendary. People like Lori Piestewa and First Sergeant Dowdy who picked up fellow soldiers in harms way. Or people like Patrick Miller and Sergeant Donald Walters who actually fought until the very end. The bottom line is the American people are capable of determining their own ideals for heroes and they don’t need to be told elaborate tales.” She concludes: “I had the good fortune and opportunity to come home and I told the truth. Many other soldiers, like Pat Tillman, do not have the opportunity. The truth of war is not always easy to hear but it is always more heroic than the hype.” [House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, 4/27/2007; House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, 4/27/2007 ]
Tim Russert. [Source: Huffington Post]NBC political analyst and “Meet the Press” host Tim Russert is interviewed by PBS’s Bill Moyers about the apparent self-censorship and cooperation of the news media with the Bush administration after 9/11 (see February 25, 2003, September 10, 2003, April 25, 2007, and April 25, 2007). Russert says that he realizes top-level government officials are usually not the best sources of objective information (see April 25, 2007). “Look, I’m a blue-collar guy from Buffalo. I know who my sources are. I work ‘em very hard. It’s the mid-level people that tell you the truth.… [T]hey’re working on the problem. And they understand the detail much better than a lotta the so-called policy makers and political officials.” Moyers responds, “But they don’t get on the Sunday talk shows” (such as Russert’s “Meet the Press”). Russert answers, “No. I mean, they don’t want to be, trust me. I mean, they can lose their jobs, and they know it. But they can provide information which can help in me challenging or trying to draw out sometimes their bosses and other public officials.” Moyers asks, “What do you make of the fact that of the 414 Iraq stories broadcast on NBC, ABC and CBS nightly news, from September 2002 until February 2003, almost all the stories could be traced back to sources from the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department?” Russert’s answer is much less direct: “It’s important that you have an opposition party. That’s our system of government.” Moyers presses, “So, it’s not news unless there’s somebody…” and Russert interjects, “No, no, no. I didn’t say that. But it’s important to have an opposition party, your opposing views.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Peter Beinert. [Source: ViewImages.com]New Republic editor Peter Beinert, described by PBS host Bill Moyers as a “liberal hawk,” recalls his experience as one of the television news shows’ “hottest young pundits” in the months before the war. Beinert accused opponents of the war of being “intellectually incoherent,” and echoed administration talking points about Iraqi nuclear weapons. In an interview, Moyers asks Beinert, “Had you been to Iraq?” Beinert answers, “No,” and Moyers asks, “So what made you present yourself, if you did, as a Middle East expert?” Beinert responds: “I don’t think that I presented myself as a Middle East expert per se. I was a political journalist. I was a columnist writing about all kinds of things. Someone in my position is not a Middle East expert in the way that somebody who studies this at a university is, or even at a think tank. But I consumed that stuff. I was relying on people who did that kind of reporting and people who had been in the government who had access to classified material for their assessment.” Beinert confirms that most of his information came from government and government-associated sources, and from other reporters and columnists, and almost by necessity, his commentary was much more reflective of government and pro-war viewpoints than it should have been: “Where I think I was tragically wrong was not to see in February, March 2003 after we got the inspectors back in on the ground and we began to learn much more about what had been going on in Iraq than we had known in 2002 when we had no one on the ground that that assumption was being proven wrong.… I think the war has been a tragic disaster. I mean, the Americans killed, the Iraqis killed. It’s true, life under Saddam was hell. But can one really say that life for Iraqis is better today?” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
CNN’s Walter Isaacson recalls the mindset in much of the media during the months preceding the Iraq invasion. In an interview with PBS’s Bill Moyers, Isaacson notes that there was a great deal of censorship in the media, both self-imposed and from corporate executives reaching down into the newsrooms. Stories critical of the Bush administration or the war were not well tolerated, Isaacson recalls. “[T]here was even almost a patriotism police… sort of picking anything a [CNN international reporter] Christiane Amanpour (see September 10, 2003) or somebody else would say as if it were disloyal. There was a real sense that you don’t get that critical of a government that’s leading us in wartime… big people in corporations were calling us saying, ‘You’re being anti-American here.’” The compliant Isaacson sent his staff a memo reminding them not to focus on civilian casualties in Afghanistan, saying it seemed “perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in Afghanistan.” He also ordered his reporters to “balance” stories on civilian casualties with reminders of the 9/11 attacks. Isaacson recalls, “I felt if we put into context, we could alleviate the pressure of people saying, ‘Don’t even show what’s happening in Afghanistan.’” [Unger, 2007, pp. 254; PBS, 4/25/2007]
Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel. [Source: PBS]John Walcott, the bureau chief of Knight Ridder Newspapers (now McClatchy), recalls that he and his colleagues did not believe the Bush administration’s assertions of the connections between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks. “It was not clear to us why anyone was asking questions about Iraq in the wake of an attack that had al-Qaeda written all over it,” he recalls. He assigned his two top foreign affairs and national security reporters, Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay, veterans with more than 40 years’ experience between them, to investigate the claims. Strobel recalls, “We were basically, I think, hearing two different messages from—there’s a message, the public message the administration was giving out about Iraq—it’s WMD, the fact there was an immediate threat, grave threat, gathering threat—but that was so different from what we were hearing from people on the inside, people we had known in many cases for years and trusted.” Strobel and Landay learned from reliable sources inside the US intelligence community that few outside the White House believed the assertions of an Iraq-9/11 connection. “When you’re talking to the working grunts, you know, uniform military officers, intelligence professionals, professional diplomats, those people are more likely than not—not always, of course, but more likely than not—to tell you some version of the truth, and to be knowledgeable about what they’re talking about when it comes to terrorism or the Middle East, things like that,” says Strobel. He and Landay wrote numerous articles detailing the skepticism about the administration’s claims, but, in many cases, editors chose not to use their work. “There was a lot of skepticism among our editors because what we were writing was so at odds with what most of the rest of the Washington press corps was reporting and some of our papers frankly, just didn’t run the stories,” Strobel says. “They had access to the New York Times wire and the Washington Post wire and they chose those stories instead.” Walcott explains his own rationale: “A decision to go to war, even against an eighth-rate power such as Iraq, is the most serious decision that a government can ever make. And it deserves the most serious kind of scrutiny that we in the media can give it. Is this really necessary? Is it necessary to send our young men and women to go kill somebody else’s young men and women?”
Outside the Beltway - Knight Ridder did not have newspapers in either Washington or New York City, and therefore was viewed by many insiders as “out of the loop.” Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus says: “The administration can withstand the Knight Ridder critique because it wasn’t reverberating inside Washington. And therefore people weren’t picking it up.” Walcott describes Knight Ridder as “under the radar most of the time.… We were not a company that, I think, Karl Rove and others cared deeply about, even though in terms of readers, we’re much bigger than the New York Times and the Washington Post. We’re less influential. There’s no way around that.” Strobel half-humorously asks: “How many times did I get invited on the talk show? How many times did you [Landay] get invited on a talk show?” Landay replies: “You know what? I’ll tell you who invited me on a talk show. C-SPAN.”
Self-Doubts - Strobel says of that time period: “But there was a period when we were sittin’ out there and I had a lot of late night gut checks where I was just like, ‘Are we totally off on some loop here?‘… ‘Are we wrong? Are we gonna be embarrassed?’” Landay adds, “Everyday we would look at each other and say—literally one of us would find something out—and I’d look at him and say, ‘What’s going on here?’” Media analyst Eric Boehlert says: “But I think it’s telling that they didn’t really operate by that beltway game the way the networks, the cable channels, Newsweek, Time, New York Times, Washington Post. They seem to sort of operate outside that bubble. And look at what the benefits were when they operated outside that bubble. They actually got the story right. What’s important is it’s proof positive that that story was there. And it could have been gotten. And some people did get it. But the vast majority chose to ignore or not even try.” Former CNN news chief Walter Isaacson confirms the solid reporting of Strobel and Landay: “The people at Knight Ridder were calling the colonels and the lieutenants and the people in the CIA and finding out, ya know, that intelligence is not very good. We should’ve all been doing that.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Entity Tags: Walter Pincus, Washington Post, Walter Isaacson, Warren Strobel, Newsweek, Eric Boehlert, John Walcott, C-SPAN, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Jonathan Landay, Karl C. Rove, New York Times, Time magazine, Knight Ridder Newspapers
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
Facing a Congressional investigation into the practice of hiring conservative ideologues for the Justice Department’s civil rights division (CRD—see Fall 2002 and After and Spring 2007), the Department reverses its 2002 decision to give political appointees the power to decide who will be hired as career CRD lawyers. Such hiring now reverts to a committee of career civil servants, as has been the case for decades. Skeptics say that the reversal means little, as the career ranks are now packed with inexperienced conservative ideologues instead of the traditional veteran, highly experienced career lawyers. William Yeomans, a 24-year CRD veteran who accepted a 2005 buyout, says the Bush administration attempted to go farther than previous conservative administrations such as Nixon and Reagan. To make changes permanent, Yeomans notes, one has to entirely reshape the CRD bureaucracy. “Reagan had tried to bring about big changes in civil rights enforcement and to pursue a much more conservative approach, but it didn’t stick,” Yeomans says. “That was the goal here—to leave behind a bureaucracy that approached civil rights the same way the political appointees did.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 300]
Bush administration officials tell Senate Intelligence Committee members that they will not promise to continue seeking warrants for surveillance on US citizens, as the administration agreed to do in January 2007. They insist that President Bush has the Constitutional authority to decide whether or not to order the NSA to conduct surveillance without warrants if he desires. The secret wiretapping program was revealed to the public just weeks before the agreement (see December 15, 2005), and immediately drew tremendous outcries of criticism from civil libertarians, from lawmakers from all across the political spectrum, and from much of the public. Since the January agreement, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court has issued warrants for domestic wiretaps after being given evidence showing some kind of probable cause to justify the proposed surveillance. Previously, the wiretapping program had ignored the FISA restrictions. Now Bush officials, most notably the new director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, are saying that Bush has the authority under Article II of the Constitution to order warrantless wiretaps on US citizens.
Invoking Presidential Authority - In Senate testimony on this day, Russ Feingold (D-WI) asks McConnell if he is willing to promise that the administration will no longer ignore the law and the court when monitoring citizens. McConnell replies, “Sir, the president’s authority under Article II is in the Constitution. So if the president chose to exercise Article II authority, that would be the president’s call.” McConnell is echoing previous arguments made by Bush and other officials, who have said that Bush has the power to order wiretaps without court review, both under the Constitution and under the September 2001 Congressional authorization to use military force against al-Qaeda. McConnell says that the administration is conducting surveillance against Americans only with court warrants, and has no plans “that we are formulating or thinking about currently” to resume domestic wiretapping without warrants. “But I’d just highlight,” he adds, “Article II is Article II, so in a different circumstance, I can’t speak for the president what he might decide.” [New York Times, 5/2/2007] Article II is the section of the Constitution that delineates the powers of the executive branch, and establishes the fundamental “separation of powers” doctrine that governs American democracy. Constitutional expert Steve Mount notes that the “Constitution is deliberately inefficient; the “Separation of Powers devised by the framers of the Constitution was designed to do one primary thing: to prevent the majority from ruling with an iron fist.” [Mount, 1995]
White House Seeking Congressional Authorization - While the administration continues to argue that it has the power to eavesdrop on US citizens without warrants, it also continues to seek Congressional legislation affirming and perhaps expanding that power. The White House justifies that hoped-for legislation by pointing to national security and the war on terrorism, as well as the challenges posed by new communications technologies such as e-mail and wireless communications. White House officials have consistently refused to go into specifics as to what communications gaps they feel need plugging. And they have consistently ignored Congressional requests for information and documents related to the NSA’s domestic spy program, now being called the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” by White House officials and their Republican colleagues. Many Congressional Democrats say they would be reluctant to support any such legislation until they receive the information they have requested. “To this day, we have never been provided the presidential authorization that cleared that program to go or the attorney general-Department of Justice opinions that declared it to be lawful,” says Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). “Where’s the transparency as to the presidential authorizations for this closed program? That’s a pretty big ‘we’re not going to tell you’ in this new atmosphere of trust we’re trying to build.” [New York Times, 5/2/2007]
Russell Feingold. [Source: Flickr.com]Four senators—Russell Feingold (D-WI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), and Ron Wyden (D-OR)—send letters objecting to the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other extreme methods of interrogation against terrorism suspects after receiving a briefing from CIA Director Michael Hayden on the subject. Though lawmakers are bound by secrecy oaths from revealing the nature of the classified briefings on secret interrogation subjects, in November 2007, Feingold will breach that oath, complaining that the Bush administration is mischaracterizing the level of Congressional support for what administration officials call “enhanced interrogation tactics” (see November 7, 2007). [Washington Post, 12/9/2007]
John Baptiste, appearing on a CBS News broadcast. [Source: CBS News]CBS News fires retired Army Major General John Batiste as a paid “military analyst” after Batiste takes part in an advertisement that criticizes the Iraq strategy of President Bush. CBS says Batiste’s participation violates the network’s standards of not being involved in advocacy. CBS spokeswoman Linda Mason says if Batiste had appeared in an advertisement promoting Bush’s policies, he would have been fired as well. “When we hire someone as a consultant, we want them to share their expertise with our viewers,” she says. “By putting himself… in an anti-Bush ad, the viewer might have the feeling everything he says is anti-Bush. And that doesn’t seem like an analytical approach to the issues we want to discuss.” Batiste retired from the military in 2003, and since then has been an outspoken critic of the conduct of the war. In the advertisement, for the VoteVets Political Action Committee, Batiste said: “Mr. President, you did not listen. You continue to pursue a failed strategy that is breaking our great Army and Marine Corps. I left the Army in protest in order to speak out. Mr. President, you have placed our nation in peril. Our only hope is that Congress will act now to protect our fighting men and women.” [United Press International, 5/11/2007; CBS News, 5/11/2007] Two days after the ad aired, CBS fires Batiste. [Oregon Salem-News, 5/16/2007] Batiste, an Iraq veteran who describes himself as a “diehard Republican,” tells MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann that he and his colleagues at VoteVets are “patriots… VoteVets is not an antiwar organization. We’re focused on what’s best for this country. We’re focused on being successful and winning the effort against global terrorism.” He says he agreed to make the ad with VoteVets “because I care about our country, and I care about our soldiers and Marines and their families.” He says that because he is retired, he has the freedom to speak out. [MSNBC, 5/10/2007] The progressive political organization MoveOn.org calls the firing “censorship, pure and simple.” The Oregon Salem-News notes that CBS routinely employs analysts and commentators who advocate for the Bush administration, including former White House communications director Nicolle Wallace, who is, the Salem-News writes, “known for using her position to push White House talking points.” Wallace is also a consultant for the presidential campaign for Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and according to the Salem-News, CBS did not object when Wallace appeared on its broadcasts to promote his candidacy. [Oregon Salem-News, 5/16/2007] Batiste is not a participant in the Pentagon’s propaganda operation to promote the Iraq war that uses retired military officers as “independent analysts” to echo and elaborate on Pentagon and White House talking points (see April 20, 2008, Early 2002 and Beyond, and May 1, 2008).
Entity Tags: CBS News, George W. Bush, John Batiste, Bush administration (43), Linda Mason, John McCain, Move-On [.org], Nicolle Wallace, VoteVets, Keith Olbermann
Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
The trial of suspected al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla begins in a Miami criminal court. Padilla is charged with conspiring to “murder, kidnap, and maim” people overseas. The charges include no allegations of a “dirty bomb” plot or other plans for US attacks, as have been alleged by Bush administration officials (see June 10, 2002). Two co-defendants, Adham Amin Hassoun (see 1993) and Kifah Wael Jayyousi (see (October 1993-November 2001)), also face charges of supporting terrorist organizations. “The defendants were members of a secret organization, a terrorism support cell, based right here in South Florida,” says prosecutor Brian Frazier in his opening statement. “The defendants took concrete steps to support and promote this violence.” Defense attorneys argue that Padilla, Hassoun, and Jayyousi are peaceful Muslims interested in studying their religion and helping their fellow Muslims in war-ravaged areas of the world. Padilla’s attorney, Anthony Natale, calls the case against his client the product of “the politics of fear” in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. “Political crises can cause parts of our government to overreach. This is one of those times,” he says. “He’s a young man who has been wrongly accused.” Hassoun’s attorney, Jeanne Baker, says: “The government really is trying to put al-Qaeda on trial in this case, and it doesn’t belong in this courtroom. There’s a lot of rhetoric, but there’s no evidence.” Much of the evidence against the three consists of FBI wiretaps, documents, and witness statements. One of the strongest pieces of evidence against Padilla is his application to attend an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in July 2000 (see September-October 2000). Prosecutors say Hassoun recruited Padilla when they met in a Florida mosque. “Jose Padilla was an al-Qaeda terrorist trainee providing the ultimate form of material support—himself,” says Frazier. “Padilla was serious, he was focused, he was secretive. Padilla had cut himself off from most things in his life that did not concern his radical view of the Islamic religion.” [Associated Press, 5/14/2007]
Bush officials are battling a lawsuit filed against them by former CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson, according to a report by the Associated Press. Plame Wilson is suing (see July 13, 2006) four Bush administration officials—Vice President Dick Cheney (see July 7-8, 2003), White House political strategist Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003 and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), convicted perjurer Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007), and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see June 13, 2003)—for deliberately disclosing her identity as a CIA official to the public for political gain. Cheney’s lawyer calls the lawsuit “a fishing expedition” and accuses Plame Wilson of making “fanciful claims.” Plame Wilson says her constitutional rights were violated by the defendants. Armitage’s lawyer says the suit is “principally based on a desire for publicity and book deals.” Plame Wilson’s lawyer counters by saying the case is “about egregious conduct by defendants that ruined a woman’s career.” Rove’s lawyer, Robert Luskin, arguing on behalf of all four defendants, says that none of the officials deliberately disclosed classified information, specifically the information of Plame Wilson’s covert status in the CIA. The defendants’ lawyers claim that they should not be sued personally for actions taken as part of their official duties. And a Justice Department lawyer claims that Cheney should have much the same legal immunity as President Bush. [Associated Press, 5/17/2007] The lawsuit will soon be dismissed (see July 19, 2007).
Former Wisconsin procurement officer Georgia Thompson, wrongly convicted of corruption in 2006 (see 2001 and June 13, 2006) and freed by an appeals court in 2007 (see April 5, 2007) amid speculation that her prosecution was politically motivated (see April 7-10, 2007, April 16, 2007, and April 24, 2007), was pressured by federal prosecutors to turn on high-ranking Democrats in Wisconsin state government, according to officials involved in the case. In return, prosecutors promised leniency or dropping the charges in their entirety. Her lawyer, Stephen Hurley, says prosecutors wanted her to testify against Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI), the then-Department of Administration Secretary Marc Marotta, and other elected officials. The pressure came from US Attorney Steven Biskupic and others in his office, according to Hurley and co-counsel Marcus Berghahn. “I began to get the impression that the indictment was being used to squeeze her,” says Hurley, saying that these attempts continued even after Thompson’s sentencing (see September 22, 2006), with offers to seek a reduced sentence if Thompson produced evidence that Doyle or others in his administration had broken the law. Hurley, who has been a criminal defense attorney for over 30 years, says: “It was the only time in my career that, after the person was sentenced, the prosecutor has called to renew the discussion. I’ve never had that happen before.” Reporter Bill Lueders writes, “These offers, though not necessarily indicative of improper conduct, suggest that Biskupic and his staff prosecuted Thompson as part of a larger agenda, with potential political overtones.” Biskupic has denied any political motivations behind the prosecution (see April 14, 2007) and refuses to discuss any plea offers with Lueders. Former Dane County assistant district attorney John Burr, a past president of the Association of State Prosecutors, says of Biskupic’s plea offers: “You can’t tell me it was not politically motivated. The powers that be over there thought they were going to go all the way to the governor.” Biskupic’s office, says Burr, prosecuted Thompson to get to Doyle and others. And, “[w]hen they didn’t find anything, they were stuck with it. It blew up in their faces.” Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Green (R-WI) used the Thompson prosecution as the centerpiece of his campaign against Doyle in the 2006 elections, accusing Doyle of running a corrupt administration. Doyle defeated Green in the election. Many have speculated that the case can be tied to the 2006 US Attorney purge (see March 10, 2006, December 7, 2006, and December 20, 2006), with Biskupic pursuing the Thompson case to curry favor with the Bush administration and keep himself from being fired. Biskupic was considered for firing in 2005 (see March 2, 2005), but was later removed from the list of those being considered for firing. Biskupic insisted throughout the prosecution that the case was entirely about Thompson, and not about Doyle or other elected officials, but in his closing arguments, he cited Doyle, Marotta, and others as “players” in the affair, saying: “She’s the link. She’s the one who made this happen. What a terrible coincidence for her that she is in the middle of all this.” One juror later said that “nobody in the jury room had any doubt whatsoever” that Doyle and others were involved, though there is no evidence to support such a conclusion. Former US Attorney Frank Tuerkheimer says there is nothing untoward or unusual about Biskupic trying to “flip” Thompson to get information about higher-ups. “In principle, there is nothing wrong with it,” he says. “There’s no question in my mind that Biskupic was after Thompson to get higher-ups.” The problem was, Tuerkheimer adds, that “Biskupic had a theory of criminality that was ridiculous”—that Thompson was acting at others’ behest. “It just bothers you ‘cause the woman got screwed.” Tuerkheimer notes that Biskupic had Thompson jailed pending her appeal, which was unusual for such a case. She had no criminal history, was not a flight risk, and had a legitimate case for appeal. Most people in her position would have been allowed to stay out of jail pending the appeal. Why did Biskupic insist on having her jailed? Tuerkheimer replies, “It appeared to me that they were trying to pressure her to talk.” [Madison Isthmus, 5/18/2007] Doyle says he is alarmed by the reports that Biskupic and others tried to pressure Thompson into testifying against members of his administration. “The story is pretty alarming, particularly given that she had testified under oath that nobody had ever asked her to do anything inappropriately,” Doyle says. “Even after… testifying under oath they were still trying to get her to give information that just wasn’t true.” Doyle refuses to say directly that the prosecution was politically motivated, but asks rhetorically, “Does anybody really think that Georgia Thompson, if it hadn’t been an election year, that this would have ever happened to her?” Biskupic’s chief assistant Michelle Jacobs denies that the prosecution had any political components to it, saying: “We would never, and have never, encouraged a defendant to lie to us. To suggest that it is somehow untoward or unusual to approach a post-trial defendant, even a defendant who has testified, about cooperating with us, it’s just not unusual.” [Associated Press, 5/18/2007]
Entity Tags: James E. (“Jim”) Doyle, Bush administration (43), Bill Lueders, Georgia Lee Thompson, Steven M. Biskupic, Mark Andrew Green, Michelle Jacobs, Marc Marotta, John Burr, Frank Tuerkheimer, Stephen Hurley, Marcus Berghahn
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Brigadier General Lawrence Stutzriem. [Source: US Air Force]The US Air Force sets up a secret strategic planning group, nicknamed “Project Checkmate,” tasked with “fighting the next war” against Iran. Project Checkmate, a successor to the group that planned the 1991 Gulf War’s air campaign, reports directly to the Air Force’s commander, General Michael Moseley, and consists of twenty to thirty senior USAF officials as well as defense and cyberspace experts with strong access to the White House, the CIA, and other intelligence agencies. While planning for war with Iran began two years ago in Washington, the strategic planning group represents a serious escalation of planning and perhaps intent by the Bush administration and the US military. Checkmate is envisioned to modernize the stratified strategic thinking that often results in the US military “fighting the last war” over again, and intends to provide innovative strategies for tactical battles using air, space, and even cyberwarfare. The leader of Checkmate is Brigadier General Lawrence “Stutz” Stutzriem, and is assisted by former Israeli military officer Dr. Lani Kass, an expert on cyberwarfare. George W. Bush has said repeatedly that he prefers diplomacy with Iran over military action, but if Iran continues to work towards developing a nuclear weapon, as he and his top advisers believe, then he will consider aggressive, pre-emptive military action. However, Bush faces strong opposition from his own Joint Chiefs of Staff: “None of them think it is a good idea, but they will do it if they are told to,” says one senior defense source.
Aftermath the Biggest Problem - Retired Air Force Lieutenant General Thomas McInerney warns that the administration must seriously consider the aftermath of such a military offensive against Iran. “There is no question that we can take out Iran,” he says. “The problem is the follow-on, the velvet revolution that needs to be created so the Iranian people know it’s not aimed at them, but at the Iranian regime.” Checkmate, which is also looking at military contingencies against China and North Korea, was originally formed in the 1970s to counter threats from the then-Soviet Union, but fell into disuse in the 1980s when the Soviet Union began showing signs of internal collapse. Checkmate was revived under Colonel John Warden in 1990 to draw up plans for air strikes against Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War. “When Saddam [Hussein] invaded Kuwait, we had access to unlimited numbers of people with expertise, including all the intelligence agencies, and were able to be significantly more agile than Centcom,” Warden says, referring to the US Central Command in Florida. Warden says Checkmate’s primary role is to develop the necessary expertise so that “if somebody says Iran, it says: ‘here is what you need to think about.’ Here are the objectives, here are the risks, here is what it will cost, here are the numbers of planes we will lose, here is how the war is going to end and here is what the peace will look like.” [London Times, 9/27/2007]
Entity Tags: US Central Command, US Department of the Air Force, Saddam Hussein, Thomas G. McInerney, Michael Moseley, George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), John Warden, Project Checkmate, Lani Kass, Lawrence Stutzriem, Joint Chiefs of Staff
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
Amnesty International logo. [Source: Amnesty International]The human rights group Amnesty International hails an appeal court decision to release alleged al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see June 11, 2007) from military detention. Executive director Larry Cox says in a statement: “Today’s decision strikes down a fundamental premise of the Bush administration’s ill-advised and immoral detention regime: the president’s assertion that he can decide who to detain, and how to detain them, without any judicial review. The Fourth Circuit has affirmed al-Marri’s fundamental human right to challenge his detention. This and other recent developments are an indictment of the Bush administration’s detention regime. It’s now up to Congress to act. They should seize this opportunity to reverse their ill-considered decision last year to strip habeas rights from non-citizens in US custody. This decision restores constitutional habeas rights to those arrested on US soil. However, that is only a tiny subset of the many individuals whose rights have been trampled in the name of the war on terror. Today’s ruling is plain common sense: the president can’t seize civilians in the United States, hold them in military custody, and deny them habeas rights. It’s a sign of how bad things have gotten that the decision comes as such a welcome glimmer of hope.” [US Newswire, 6/11/2007]
Dana Perino. [Source: Associated Press]White House spokeswoman Dana Perino reacts with confusion to Vice President Dick Cheney’s recent assertions that the vice president is neither wholly part of the executive nor legislative branches (see 2003 and June 21, 2007). Perino says in response to reporters’ questions: “I’m not a legal scholar… I’m not opining on his argument that his office is making… I don’t know why he made the arguments that he did.” Reporter Keith Koffler remarks, “It’s a little surreal,” to which Perino replies, “You’re telling me.” Koffler presses, “You can’t give an opinion about whether the vice president is part of the executive branch or not? It’s a little bit like somebody saying, ‘I don’t know if this is my wife or not.’” Asked if President Bush believes Cheney is part of the executive branch, Perino sidesteps, calling it “an interesting constitutional question.” After further dodging, reporter Helen Thomas says, “You’re stonewalling.” Reporter Jim Axelrod suggests Perino is denying “sky-is-blue stuff” and points out that Cheney’s assertion revises “more than 200 years of constitutional scholarship.” Koffler continues, “He can’t possibly argue that he’s part of neither [branch], and it seems like he’s saying he’s part of neither.” Perino finally surrenders, “Okay, you have me thoroughly confused as well.” Cheney’s current position—he will not comply with an order governing the care of classified documents because the vice presidency is not “an entity within the executive branch”—contradicts his 2001 argument that he would not cooperate with a Congressional probe into the activities of his Energy Task Force because such a probe “would unconstitutionally interfere with the functioning of the executive branch.”
'Neither Fish Nor Fowl' - The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank writes, “Cheney has, in effect, declared himself to be neither fish nor fowl but an exotic, extraconstitutional beast who answers to no one.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) agrees, saying: “The vice president’s theory seems to be one almost laughable on its face, that he’s not part of the executive branch. I think if you ask James Madison or Benjamin Franklin or any of the writers of the Constitution, they’d almost laugh if they heard that.” [Washington Post, 6/26/2007; Wall Street Journal, 7/31/2007] Interestingly, Perino does assert that Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has no standing to investigate the compliance of the vice president’s office with the executive order. “The executive order is enforced solely by the president of the United States,” she says. “I think this is a little bit of a non-issue.” The government watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) retorts that, if Cheney and Perino are to be believed, then the Office of Senate Security, the counterpart to Waxman’s committee, should investigate Cheney’s office. “By claiming the Office of the Vice President is within the legislative branch does Mr. Cheney agree that he is subject to Senate security procedures?” CREW executive director Melanie Sloan asks. “The Security Office’s standards, procedures and requirements are set out in the Senate Security Manual, which is binding on all employees of the Senate.” [Raw Story, 6/24/2007]
John Bolton, the former head of the Bush administration’s arms control agency and the former US ambassador to the United Nations, tells author J. Peter Scoblic that he and his fellow neoconservatives continually warned administration officials of the dangers of “nation-building” in Iraq that would occur if the US kept forces inside that country for too long. He says, “My thought was—and this is exaggerating—we hand ‘em a copy of the Federalist Papers, say good luck, and then we’re out of there.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 229]
Conversations between Iranian military commanders indicate that Iran’s nuclear weapons program has been shut down for years. The calls are intercepted by the US and lead to the realization that the program was halted in 2003 (see December 3, 2007). However, when they first learn of them, senior White House officials will balk at accepting those calls, with some suggesting that the secretly intercepted calls are part of a clever Iranian disinformation campaign. Intelligence officers will spend months validating the new information before determining it is real. [Washington Post, 12/4/2007]
James Marks. [Source: Military Information Technology]CNN fires one of its “independent military analysts” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), retired Army general James “Spider” Marks, for using his position to help secure government contracts for his business. In 2004, Marks was hired as an analyst by CNN; about the same time, he took a senior management position at McNeil Technologies, where his job is to land military and intelligence contracts. As per CNN’s requirements, Marks disclosed that he received income from McNeil. But he was not required to describe what his job entailed, and CNN did not check any further. “We did not ask Mr. Marks the follow-up questions we should have,” CNN will admit in a written statement. For himself, Marks will say that it was no secret at CNN that his job at McNeil is about landing government contracts. “I mean, that’s what McNeil does,” he will say. But CNN will deny being aware of McNeil’s military business or what Marks does for the company. Marks was bidding on Pentagon contracts at the same time he was analyzing and commenting on the Pentagon’s military strategies for CNN, a clear conflict of interest. CNN will say that Marks should have been disqualified from working for the network as an analyst. During the summer and fall of 2006, for example, Marks regularly commented on the conditions in Iraq—lavishing glowing praise on the US military and the White House—while working to secure a $4.6 billion Pentagon contract for McNeil. In December 2006, Marks became president of a McNeil spin-off that won the huge contract. Marks will claim that he kept his analysis separate from his contracting work—“I’ve got zero challenge separating myself from a business interest”—but when CNN learns about his role in landing the contract, the network fires him. CNN will say, “We saw the extent of his dealings and determined at that time we should end our relationship with him.” [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
The White House finally releases a list of officials and organizations who met with Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001) in 2001. Cheney and the White House have successfully battled for six years to keep virtually all details of the task force secret (see May 10, 2005), and many other documents and files pertaining to the task force remain secret. The list of participants confirms what many have always suspected—that oil, gas, and energy executives and lobbyists were virtually the only ones to have any input in the task force’s policy deliberations. Many of the participants were also heavy donors to the Bush-Cheney campaign, and to the Republican Party in general.
Secrecy - Some participants say they were never sure why the White House fought so hard to keep the information about the task force secret. “I never knew why they fought so hard to keep it secret,” says Charles A. Samuels, a lawyer for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. “I am sure the vast majority of the meetings were very policy-oriented meetings—exactly what should take place.” Others say that their meetings with the task force were routine.
API Input - American Petroleum Institute president Red Cavaney says that when he met with the task force, he and his fellow API officials discussed position papers the organization had given to the Bush-Cheney campaign and to newly elected members of Congress. “We’re in the business of routinely providing advocacy materials,” Cavaney says. “Speaking for myself, I had zero hand in authoring or sitting with anyone from that task force and changing anything.” But Cavaney is seriously downplaying API’s influence (see March 20, 2001).
"Ridiculous" - Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who has been a driving force behind the effort to reveal the inner workings of the task force to the public, says it is it is “ridiculous” that it has taken six years to see who attended the meetings. He describes the energy task force as an early indicator of “how secretively Vice President Cheney wanted to act.” As to the makeup of the participants, Waxman is not surprised to see the dominance of energy industry groups in the meetings. “Six years later, we see we lost an opportunity to become less dependent on importing oil, on using fossil fuels, which have been a threat to our national security and the well-being of the planet,” he says. Climate expert David Hawkins of the Natural Resources Defense Council says: “Cheney had his finger on a critical issue. He just pushed it in the wrong direction.” [Washington Post, 7/18/2007]
Entity Tags: National Energy Policy Development Group, Bush administration (43), Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, American Petroleum Institute, Charles A. Samuels, Henry A. Waxman, Natural Resources Defense Council, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David Hawkins, Red Cavaney
Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties
Steven Bradbury, the chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a classified memo on what a new interpretation of the Geneva Conventions’ Common Article 3 means for the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation program.” The Bradbury memo, released after months of debate among Bush officials regarding the ramifications of the recent Supreme Court decision extending Geneva protections to enemy combatants in US custody (see June 30, 2006), new legislation following the Court’s decision (see October 17, 2006), and an executive order on interrogations (see July 20, 2007), spells out what interrogation practices the CIA can use. The memo’s existence will not become known until after the 2009 release of four Justice Department torture memos (see April 16, 2009). Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights will say upon learning of the memo, “The CIA still seems to want to get authority to interrogate people outside of what would be found to be a violation of the Geneva Conventions and the law.” Ratner will add that the memo raises questions about why the CIA felt it needed expanded authorities for interrogations. “What we don’t know is whether, after Hamdan, that 2007 memo modifies what the CIA is able to do in interrogation techniques,” he will say. “But what’s more interesting is why the CIA thinks it needs to use those interrogation techniques. Who are they interrogating in 2007? Who are they torturing in 2007? Is that they’re nervous about going beyond what OLC has said? These are secret-site people. Who are they? What happened to them?” [Washington Independent, 4/21/2009]
Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) disputes Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s characterization of the March 10, 2004 Congressional briefing (see March 10, 2004) regarding the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002) as about other surveillance programs, and not the NSA program now referred to as the Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP). Gonzales testified earlier today (see July 24, 2007) that the briefing did not cover the NSA program, but Rockefeller says that it did. Rockefeller was at that meeting, then serving as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Rockefeller confirms that the Congressional leaders at the briefing, known colloquially as the “Gang of Eight,” had no idea about the tremendous dispute over the legality of the wiretapping program. He also says, again in contradiction to Gonzales’s testimony, that they were never asked to draft legislation that would make the wiretapping program legal. As to the topic of discussion, Rockefeller says, “As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one” intelligence program. Rockefeller says at the end of the briefing, most of the lawmakers were still unclear about the nature and extent of the program, nor were they clear as to the White House’s plans for the program. “They were not telling us what was really going on,” Rockefeller says. Asked if he believed that Gonzales had purposely misled the Judiciary Committee today, Rockefeller replies, “I would have to say yes.” [Politico (.com}, 7/24/2007] He calls Gonzales’s testimony “untruthful.” [New York Times, 7/24/2007]
Other Democrats Bolster Rockefeller's Recollections - Other Democrats present at the briefing add their voices to Rockefeller’s. Jane Harman (D-CA), then the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, says Gonzales is inaccurate in his characterizations of the briefing, and that the program under discussion could have only been the NSA wiretapping operation. “That doesn’t make any sense to me,” Harman says. The NSA program was “the only program we were ever briefed about.” Harman and Rockefeller both say that this and later briefings about the program were quite limited in scope. “We were briefed on the operational details—period—not the legal underpinnings,” Harman says. [Roll Call, 7/25/2007] Harman adds that Gonzales was apparently being deliberately deceptive in trying to characterize the program as something other than the NSA operation. “The program had different parts, but there was only one program,” she says. Gonzales was, she says, “selectively declassifying information to defend his own conduct,” an action Harman calls improper. [New York Times, 7/24/2007] Harman says that Gonzales should not even have revealed that there had been such a classified briefing, especially revealing such a meeting in order to defend his own contradictory testimonies. “He doesn’t have the authority to do that,” she says. [Roll Call, 7/25/2007]
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell asks Congress to allow the government to monitor overseas phone calls without warrants. In a letter to the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), McConnell says that Congress must “act immediately” to change the law, which he says now requires burdensome court orders that hinder the administration’s efforts to combat terrorism. McConnell is advocating a raft of changes in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) proposed by the Bush administration; Congress is studying the law pending any possible amendments. McConnell writes that “clarifications are urgently needed” in the law to enable the use of “our capabilities to collect foreign intelligence about foreign targets overseas without requirements imposed by an out-of-date FISA statute,” and says he has “deep concern[s]” about the nation’s ability to counter terrorist threats. At issue are overseas phone calls between two international sources, but which travel through US-based terminals or switches. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), the ranking Republican on the committee, is also pushing for the changes in FISA, calling the proposals “simple fix[es]” that would expedite the US’s ability to monitor terrorist organizations without adversely affecting US civil liberties. But fellow committee member John Tierney (D-MI) disagrees, saying that FISA “already allows for foreign-to-foreign communications to be intercepted” but that the administration “has chosen to say that it wants a warrant nonetheless.” [Washington Post, 7/28/2007]
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband formally asks the Bush administration to release five British citizens from detention at Guantanamo. The administration will release three, but refuse to release Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001 and November 4, 2005) and Shaker Aamer, citing security concerns. [Guardian, 2/5/2009]
Representative Nick Rahall. [Source: Nick Rahall]The House Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing to investigate the role that Vice President Dick Cheney and other Bush administration officials played in the decision that led to the largest fish kill in modern Western United States history (see Mid-2001 - Early 2002 and June 27-28, 2007). The committee is unable to find conclusive proof that Cheney directly gave the orders that led to the fish kill. A former Interior Department official, Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall, testifies that Cheney pressured the department to release water in the Klamath River in Northern California, even though the water release would threaten the life cycle of tens of thousands of salmon who live and breed in the river. The water release was to benefit drought-stricken farmers and ranchers in the area. The decision went against the provisions of the Endangered Species Act as well as an overwhelming majority of scientific opinion and the tribal water rights of local Native Americans. Former fisheries biologist Michael Kelly, who worked on the Klamath issue, testifies that he cannot be sure whether Cheney interfered in the situation. “I was aware that President Bush had declared he’d do everything he could to get water to the farms,” Kelly says, and adds that he knew his own superiors were being pressured to speed up assessments and tilt the science to favor the farmers. “I was essentially asked to support a conclusion that made as much sense as 1+1=3,” Kelly says. The biological opinion underlying the plan was “completely bogus and illegal,” he adds. Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV) calls the Klamath fish kill “a fiasco” and lambasts Cheney and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne for refusing to testify before the committee. “I will not pretend to be surprised [Cheney] declined our invitation,” Rahall says. “But I am obliged to express disappointment at the difficulty we have had in trying to learn the truth and conduct basic oversight over an agency and an administration that have made secrecy and lack of accountability hallmarks of their tenure.” Rahall notes that “[w]hen it comes to political interference and ethical lapses at the department, the Klamath River is just the tip of the iceberg.… I find it difficult to see how we can trust any decision made in an agency that has, time and again, betrayed its own career scientists, repeatedly failed to hold its appointees to ethical standards and so callously disregarded its mission for the sake of political gain.” [Environmental News Service, 8/1/2007]
FBI agents raid the home of former Justice Department prosecutor Thomas Tamm, who is suspected of leaking information to the New York Times regarding the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005). Tamm previously worked in the Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR), which oversees surveillance of terrorist and espionage suspects. The FBI agents seize Tamm’s computer as well as those of his three children and a store of personal files. They also take some of his books (including one on famed Watergate whistleblower “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005), and even the family’s Christmas card list. Tamm is not home when the raid is staged, so the agents sit his wife and children around the kitchen table and grill them about Tamm’s activities. His oldest son, Terry, will later recall: “They asked me questions like ‘Are there any secret rooms or compartments in the house’? Or did we have a safe? They asked us if any New York Times reporters had been to the house. We had no idea why any of this was happening.” The raid is part of a leak probe ordered by President Bush (see December 30, 2005). James X. Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology calls the decision to stage the raid “amazing,” and says it shows the administration’s misplaced priorities: using FBI agents to track down leakers instead of processing intel warrants to close the gaps. [Newsweek, 8/2007; Newsweek, 12/22/2008] In late 2008, Tamm will reveal to Newsweek that he is one source for the Times articles (see December 22, 2008). At the time of the raid, his family has no idea that he knows anything about the wiretapping program, or that he has spoken to reporters. [Newsweek, 12/22/2008]
The Protect America Act (PAA) (see August 5, 2007), an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA—see 1978), is introduced in Congress. With limited debate and no committee hearings, it passes both houses with substantial majorities. [US Senate, 8/5/2007; Boston Globe, 8/6/2007; House Judiciary Committee, 9/18/2007 ] Congressional Democrats quickly capitulate on the bill, submitting to what the Washington Post later calls “a high-pressure campaign by the White House to change the nation’s wiretap law, in which the administration capitalized on Democrats’ fears of being branded weak on terrorism and on Congress’s desire to act on the issue before its August recess.” [Washington Post, 8/5/2007] Indeed, one Republican senator, Trent Lott, warns during the initial debate that lawmakers should pass the law quickly and get out of Washington before they could be killed in a terrorist attack (see August 2, 2007). McConnell tells the Senate, “Al-Qaeda is not going on vacation this month.” And Democrat Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), a supporter of the bill, told his colleagues: “We’re at war. The enemy wants to attack us. This is not the time to strive for legislative perfection.” [Slate, 8/6/2007]
Some Democrats Unhappy - One Democratic lawmaker responds angrily: “There are a lot of people who felt we had to pass something. It was tantamount to being railroaded.” Many House Democrats feel betrayed by the White House; Democratic leaders had reached what they believed was a deal on the bill with the Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, only to have the White House throw out the deal and present a new list of conditions at the last minute. Both McConnell and the White House deny that any such deal was reached. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says, “I think the White House didn’t want to take ‘yes’ for an answer from the Democrats.” Representative Jerrold Nadler (R-NY) says lawmakers were “stampeded by fear-mongering and deception” into voting for the bill. Fellow House Democrat Jane Harman (D-CA) warns that the PAA will lead to “potential unprecedented abuse of innocent Americans’ privacy.” [Washington Post, 8/5/2007] The ACLU’s Caroline Fredrickson has a succinct explanation of why the Democrats folded so quickly: “Whenever the president says the word terrorism, they roll over and play dead.” [Slate, 8/6/2007]
AT&T Whistleblower: Democratic Leadership Colluded in Passing PAA - AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and December 15-31, 2005) will later write that the Democrats played a far more active role in getting the PAA passed than others acknowledge. He will quote a 2008 column by liberal civil liberties advocate Glenn Greenwald, who will write: “[I]n 2006, when the Congress was controlled by [then-Senate Majority Leader] Bill Frist [R-TN] and [then-House Speaker] Denny Hastert [R-IL], the administration tried to get a bill passed legalizing warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty, but was unable. They had to wait until the Congress was controlled by [House Majority Leader] Steny Hoyer [D-MD], [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi [D-CA], and [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid [D-NV] to accomplish that.” According to Klein, once the Democrats took control of Congress in January 2007, they engaged in “pure theater, posturing as opponents of the illegal NSA program while seeking a way to protect the president.” The few principled Democrats to actively oppose the legislation, such as Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), were, Klein will write, “hamstrung by their own leadership.” The PAA passage was accompanied by refusals from the Democratic leaders of “the relevant Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, which were now led by Democrats such as [John D.] Rockefeller, [Dianne] Feinstein (see February 1-6, 2006), and [Patrick] Leahy in the Senate, and John Conyers and Sylvestre Reyes in the House,” who “quickly decided not to launch any serious investigations into the NSA spying.” Klein will later add that at the time of the PAA passage, he was unaware of how thoroughly Democrats had been briefed on the NSA program (see October 1, 2001, October 11, 2001, October 25, 2001 and November 14, 2001, July 17, 2003, and March 10, 2004), “and thus were in on the secret but took no action to stop it.” [Salon, 6/19/2008; Klein, 2009, pp. 86-87]
Entity Tags: Trent Lott, Mike McConnell, Protect America Act, Joseph Lieberman, Mitch McConnell, Jane Harman, Jerrold Nadler, Caroline Fredrickson, Bush administration (43), Jan Schakowsky, House Intelligence Committee
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Congressional Democrats attempt to short-circuit the Protect America Act (see August 5, 2007) currently under debate. They introduce their own bill, the Improving Foreign Intelligence Surveillance to Defend the Nation and the Constitution Act, that would address the administration’s concerns that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act imposed unwieldy limitations on the NSA’s ability to electronically monitor foreign communications that were transmitted through communications networks inside the US. The Democrats’ bill redefines “electronic surveillance” to allow the NSA to monitor such communications without a FISA warrant if it “reasonably believes” the targets of those communications to be outside the US. This would give the NSA new surveillance powers, so the Democrats’ bill provides for oversight by the FISA Court, audits by the Justice Department’s Inspector General, and restrictions on domestic surveillance. However, the Bush administration does not want the bill to become law. President Bush announces that he opposes the bill, and threatens to hold Congress in session past its August adjournment date until he can get the Protect America Act passed. The Democrats’ bill dies before ever coming up for a full vote in Congress. [US House of Representatives, 8/3/2007 ; Slate, 8/6/2007]
Ryan Singel. [Source: Wired]According to Ryan Singel of Wired, the new Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) gives the Bush administration “the power to order the nation’s communication service providers—which range from Gmail, AOL IM, Twitter, Skype, traditional phone companies, ISPs, internet backbone providers, Federal Express, and social networks—to create possibly permanent spying outposts for the federal government.” He adds: “These outposts need only to have a ‘significant’ purpose of spying on foreigners, would be nearly immune to challenge by lawsuit, and have no court supervision over their extent or implementation. Abuses of the outposts will be monitored only by the Justice Department, which has already been found to have underreported abuses of other surveillance powers to Congress.” In addition, Singel says the PAA redefines any monitoring of US citizens’ telephone and Internet communications “reasonably believed” to be outside the country as not surveillance, allows telecommunications firms to target both foreign and domestic parties for surveillance, and forces those firms to give assistance in secret, without informing Congress or the targeted parties. [Wired News, 8/6/2007]
Aziz Huq. [Source: American Prospect]Aziz Huq, an author and the director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, writes that the Protect America Act (PAA-see August 5, 2007) came about as a result of what he calls “the most recent example of the national security waltz, a three-step administration maneuver for taking defeat and turning it into victory.” Step one is a court defeat for the administration, for example regarding detainees at Guantanamo (see June 28, 2004), or the overruling of military commissions in 2006 (see June 30, 2006). The second step, which comes weeks or months later, is an announcement that the ruling has created a security crisis and must be “remedied” through immediate legislation. The third and final step is the administration pushing legislation through Congress, such as the Detainee Treatment Act (see December 15, 2005) or the Military Commissions Act, that, Huq writes, “not only undoes the good court decision but also inflicts substantial damage to the infrastructure of accountability.”
Step One: FISC Refuses to Approve NSA's Surveillance Program - In January 2007, the administration announced that it was submitting the NSA’s domestic surveillance program to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), the secret court that issues FISA warrants for surveillance (see May 1, 2007). This was due to pending court cases threatening to rule the program in violation of FISA and the Fourth Amendment; the administration wanted to forestall, or at least sidestep, those upcoming rulings. In June, FISC refused to approve parts of the NSA program that involved monitoring overseas communications that passed through US telecom switches. Since a tremendous amount of overseas communications are routed through US networks, this ruling jeopardized the NSA’s previous ability to wiretap such communications virtually at will without a warrant. The administration objected to the NSA having to secure such warrants.
Step Two: The Drumbeat Begins - Months later, the drumbeat for new legislation to give the NSA untrammeled rights to monitor “overseas” communications, which not only traveled through US networks, but often began or ended with US citizens, began with appearances in the right-wing media by administration supporters, where they insisted that the FISC ruling was seriously hampering the NSA’s ability to garner much-needed intelligence on terrorist plots against the US. The White House and Congressional Republicans drafted legislation giving the NSA what it wanted, and presented it during the last week of the Congressional session, minimizing the time needed for scrutiny of the legislation as well as reducing the time available for meaningful debate.
Step Three: Passing a Law With Hidden Teeth - The legislation that would become the Protect America Act was carefully written by Bush officials, and would go much farther than giving the NSA the leeway it needed to wiretap US citizens. Instead, as Huq writes, “the Protect America Act is a dramatic, across-the-board expansion of government authority to collect information without judicial oversight.” Democrats believed they had negotiated a deal with the administration’s Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, to limit the law to addressing foreign surveillance wiretaps, but, Huq writes, “the White House torpedoed that deal and won a far broader law.” The law removes any real accountability over domestic surveillance by either Congress or the judiciary. Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi says that the PAA provides “unlimited access to currently protected personal information that is already accessible through an oversight procedure.” The law is part of the administration’s continual attempts to “eviscerat[e]” the checks and balances that form the foundation of US democracy.
Ramifications - The law includes the provision that warrantless surveillance can be “directed at a person reasonably believed to be located outside of the United States.” Huq writes that this is a tremendously broad and vague standard that allows “freewheeling surveillance of Americans’ international calls and e-mails.” He adds: “The problem lies in the words ‘directed at.’ Under this language, the NSA could decide to ‘direct’ its surveillance at Peshawar, Pakistan—and seize all US calls going to and from there.… Simply put, the law is an open-ended invitation to collect Americans’ international calls and e-mails.” The law does not impose any restrictions on the reason for surveillance. National security concerns are no longer the standard for implementing surveillance of communications. And the phrase “reasonably believe” is uncertain. The provisions for oversight are, Huq writes, “risibly weak.” Surveillance need only be explained by presentations by the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General to FISC, which has little room to invalidate any surveillance, and furthermore will not be informed of any specific cases of surveillance. As for Congress, the Attorney General only need inform that body of “incidents of noncompliance” as reported by the administration. Congress must rely on the administration to police itself; it cannot demand particulars or examine documentation for itself. The law expires in six months, but, Huq notes, that deadline comes up in the middle of the 2008 presidential campaign, with all the pressures that entails. And the law allows “the NSA to continue wielding its new surveillance powers for up to a year afterward.” The law, Huq writes, “does not enhance security-related surveillance powers. Rather, it allows the government to spy when there is no security justification. And it abandons all but the pretense of oversight.” [Nation, 8/7/2007]
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