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Profile: Dennis Ross

Dennis Ross was a participant or observer in the following events:

Right-wing political leader Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu becomes Israel’s new prime minister. When the campaign to replace assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (see November 4, 1995) began in early 1996, even Netanyahu’s fellow Likud leaders did not believe he had a chance of being elected. At at least one rally after Rabin’s death, crowds chanted “Bibi’s a murderer!” accusing Netanyahu of inciting the violence that led to Rabin’s death (see October 1995 and November 4, 1995 and After). Netanyahu’s opponent, Shimon Peres, cast himself as Rabin’s successor, and the Clinton administration tacitly endorsed Peres as the best hope for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. But Netanyahu is a polished orator with a strong following among the hardline conservatives and religious fundamentalists both in Israel and the US. He also knows how to appeal to America’s more secular, cosmopolitan Jewish community. He hired Arthur Finkelstein, a prominent Republican political consultant, to run a campaign smearing Peres as a weak, ineffective leader who will betray Israel to the Arabs. Peres was befuddled by Netanyahu’s slick, US-style attack campaign and his ability to secure financial and other support among American Christian fundamentalists. The election hung in the balance when a timely spate of Hamas bombings in February and March, and a Netanyahu ad campaign blaming the attack on Peres’s supposed weakness, gave Netanyahu enough voter support for him to eke out a razor-thin margin of victory. US envoy Dennis Ross, one of the Clinton officials involved in the Oslo peace talks, later recalls that he and his colleagues were horrified at Netanyahu’s victory. “Our collective relief became a collective dread,” he will later write. [Unger, 2007, pp. 143-144]

Entity Tags: Yitzhak Rabin, Arthur Finkelstein, Benjamin Netanyahu, Clinton administration, Dennis Ross, Hamas, Shimon Peres

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Democratic party leaders hold special briefings on Iraq for House Democrats. The message they give to lawmakers is that Saddam Hussein can only be dealt with militarily. Richard Holbrooke, former UN ambassador under Clinton, says he believes that Saddam Hussein is the most dangerous man in the world. Similarly, Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA analyst who served on Clinton’s National Security Council, says that Hussein could have a nuclear bomb within a few years and that containment is no longer an option. And echoing the claims of hawks like Paul Wolfowitz, Dennis Ross, Clinton’s top Middle East negotiator, says that Iraqis will greet Americans as liberators if Hussein is removed. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also agrees with the policy of regime change, saying that Hussein is developing nuclear weapons and cannot be deterred. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 124-126]

Entity Tags: Richard Holbrooke, Madeleine Albright, Dennis Ross, Kenneth Pollack

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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

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

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Scott Shane.Scott Shane. [Source: Charlie Rose (.com)]As the perjury and obstruction trial of former White House aide Lewis Libby gets underway (see January 16-23, 2007), the New York Times publishes a profile of Libby that paints him as a relatively nonpartisan figure with a keen intellect, a literary bent, and a driving interest in upholding the nation’s security. Most of the quotes used in the profile are from members of the Libby Legal Defense Trust (see After October 28, 2005 and February 21, 2006). The profile, written by Times reporter Scott Shane, emphasizes Libby’s complex nature, calling him “paradox[ical]” and contrasting his literary aspirations and buttoned-down demeanor with a fondness for tequila shooters and his use of his childhood nickname, “Scooter.” Shane lines up quotes from Libby’s friends and supporters who express their dismay at the charges he faces, and their disbelief that anyone could conceive of his involvement in any sort of criminal enterprise. “I don’t often use the word ‘incomprehensible,’ but this is incomprehensible to me,” says Dennis Ross, a foreign policy expert and the only Democrat on the Defense Trust board. “He’s a lawyer who’s as professional and competent as anyone I know. He’s a friend, and when he says he’s innocent, I believe him. I just can’t account for this case.” Shane writes that Libby’s friends and former colleagues consider the charges, and the conduct of special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald in prosecuting the case, both “unjust [and] a terrible irony.” Vice President Dick Cheney’s former communications adviser, Mary Matalin, says of Libby, “He’s going to be the poster boy for the criminalization of politics, and he’s not even political.” Matalin notes that Libby was often described as “Cheney’s Cheney,” an “absolutely salient translator” of the ideas and policy initiatives of Cheney, his former boss. But neoconservative Francis Fukuyama, who once worked with Libby in the State Department, says regardless of Libby’s closeness to Cheney, he is not a conservative ideologue. “He never struck me, even knowing him as I do, as an ideologue,” Fukuyama says. “I wouldn’t say I have a particularly good handle on his worldview.” In many ways, Shane notes, Libby was one of the driving forces behind the Iraq war. “Libby didn’t plan the war,” says historian John Prados, one of the few people quoted in the profile who are not close friends or political allies of the former White House aide. “But he did enable the administration to set out on that course. He was the facilitator.” Famed Washington attorney Leonard Garment, who headed a law firm Libby once worked for, calls Libby “reliable, immensely hard working, and guarded.” Garment once represented Richard Nixon during the Watergate investigation (see August 28, 1974). Libby’s friend Jackson Hogen, who describes himself as a liberal Democrat, says that Libby’s wife Harriet is also a Democrat. “She probably cancels his vote every four years,” Hogan says. “It’s a credit to Scooter that he can maintain a friend like me and a wife like her all these years.” Libby’s driving passion, say Matalin and other close friends and colleagues, is the security of the nation. “What animates him is security,” Matalin says. “On 9/12 [the day after the 9/11 attacks], there were but a handful of people who had the strategic grasp of terrorism that he did.” As a person, Hogen says that while Libby “puts up a tough front… there’s a kind human being in there who’s really gotten beat up in this affair.” Shane winds up his profile with a quote from liberal columnist Paul Andersen, who lunched with Libby last summer while Libby was vacationing in Colorado. “I got a feeling for him as a family man, a guy who likes the mountains,” Andersen recalls. “Later, it seemed like he was nursing some serious pain. It seemed a dreadful shame that circumstances can sometimes ruin lives.” [New York Times, 1/17/2007] Author and progressive blogger Marcy Wheeler is contemptuous of the Shane article, writing that it is almost obsequious in its regard for Libby, and notes that Shane’s “profile” of Libby is restricted to those who support him and raise money for his defense fund, including Ross, Fukuyama, and Matalin. Wheeler advises Shane, “[I]f you’re going to do a profile, base it on neutral observers.” Wheeler also speculates that Shane may even be trying to echo the defense’s talking points, observing that at the beginning of a trial that hinges on Libby’s divulging of a CIA official’s covert identity, Shane quotes several people who note how “reserved” Libby is, even quoting one as saying Libby is silent as “a tomb” on security matters. Shane, Wheeler notes, also hits on Libby’s “memory defense” (see January 31, 2006) by quoting several of his friends on his propensity for hard, intense work. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/17/2007]

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Jackson Hogen, Harriet Libby, Francis Fukuyama, Dennis Ross, Leonard Garment, Scott Shane, New York Times, Paul Andersen, Mary Matalin, Marcy Wheeler, Libby Legal Defense Trust, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Prados, Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Judge Reggie Walton, who presided over the Lewis Libby perjury trial (see March 6, 2007), says in the interest of transparency he will release the more than 150 letters he has received regarding Libby’s upcoming sentencing (see May 25, 2007 and June 5, 2007). He will release the letters after sentence is passed. Many of the letters are from current and former Bush administration officials pleading for leniency on Libby’s behalf. Libby, through his attorney William Jeffress, opposes the letters’ release, saying the letter writers never expected their words to be made public. [CBS News, 1/25/2007; Associated Press, 5/31/2007] The letters are released after Libby’s sentencing. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wrote of Libby, “I know Mr. Libby to be a patriot, a dedicated public servant, a strong family man, and a tireless, honorable, selfless human being.” Henry Kissinger, the secretary of state in the Nixon administration and an informal Bush administration adviser, wrote: “I would never have associated the actions for which he was convicted with his character. Nor do I believe that they will ever be repeated. Having served in the White House and under pressure, I have seen how difficult it is to recall precisely a particular series of events.” [Raw Story, 6/5/2007] Others who submitted letters include General Peter Pace, former Clinton administration peace negotiator Dennis Ross, and former Bush administration officials Paul Wolfowitz and John Bolton. President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney did not submit letters on behalf of Libby. [PBS, 6/5/2007] Jeffress actively solicited letters from Libby’s friends and associates asking Walton to either give Libby a light sentence or no real sentence at all. In Jeffress’s filing asking that the letters remain private, he writes, “Given the extraordinary media scrutiny here, if any case presents the possibility that these letters, once released, would be published on the Internet and their authors discussed, even mocked, by bloggers, it is this case.” Marcy Wheeler, who spearheaded a team of bloggers that provided in-depth coverage of the Libby case (see February 15, 2007), derides Jeffress’s fears of being mocked by bloggers, but says there are far more compelling reasons to release the letters than to discomfit the letter writers. Wheeler notes that a lighter sentence would dissuade Libby from testifying against his former boss, Cheney, who is widely suspected of orchestrating the Plame Wilson exposure. Moreover, some of Libby’s supporters themselves have reason, she writes, “to be thankful that Libby successfully obstructed the investigation” and are anything but neutral. Finally, she writes: “[T]his sentencing, now scheduled for June 5, takes place against the background of the Bush administration’s purge of at least nine US attorneys, in at least one case at the behest of Republicans who complained that the US attorney didn’t file charges against a Democrat before an election. We have every reason to suspect that Bush’s supporters have inappropriately intervened in the administration of justice. Without seeing those letters, how can we be sure the same isn’t happening here?” [Guardian, 5/29/2007]

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Donald Rumsfeld, Dennis Ross, George W. Bush, John R. Bolton, William Jeffress, Paul Wolfowitz, Henry A. Kissinger, Reggie B. Walton, Peter Pace, Marcy Wheeler, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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