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Profile: John Hannah
Positions that John Hannah has held:
- Vice president's deputy assistant for national-security affairs
John Hannah was a participant or observer in the following events:
Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, had met briefly with Cheney earlier in the morning, but is now back in his own office in the Old Executive Office Building, located next door to the White House. According to journalist and author Stephen Hayes, Libby has just commenced a meeting with John Hannah, who serves on the vice president’s national security staff. [Hayes, 2007, pp. 328 and 330] However, Newsweek reports that he is with his top deputy, Eric Edelman. The meeting is reportedly to discuss the stalled peace process in the Middle East. [Newsweek, 12/31/2001] Before it started, Libby had given his assistant Jennifer Mayfield strict instructions not to interrupt. But as soon as she sees a plane has hit the World Trade Center, Mayfield goes in and tells Libby about it. [Hayes, 2007, pp. 330] Asked, “Do they think it’s terrorism?” she replies that no one is sure, and it appears that a small plane hit the building. [Newsweek, 12/31/2001] Libby tells her, “Unless it’s terrorism, don’t interrupt me again.” [Hayes, 2007, pp. 330] He turns on his television briefly, but then turns it off again as he does not want to be distracted from his conversation about the Middle East. [Newsweek, 12/31/2001] After the second tower is hit, Mayfield goes back in and tells Libby, “It’s terrorism.” [Hayes, 2007, pp. 331] She marches across the office and turns on the TV. Libby later comments, “That’s very unlike her, so I knew it was serious.” Edelman later recalls, “We looked at each other and said, ‘That’s no accident.’” [Newsweek, 12/31/2001] Libby receives a call from Dick Cheney, summoning him to the White House, and soon afterwards hurries across to rejoin the vice president. [Hayes, 2007, pp. 331]
The King of Jordan, Abdullah II, visits Washington to discuss the Israel-Palestinian peace process. Abdullah’s visit comes on the heels of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah’s earlier visit, where he threatened to break off discussions with the US if President Bush refused to deal seriously with the matter (see Spring 2002). Though the Saudi leader seemingly shook up Bush with his unusually direct insistence on American action, Bush appears surprised that the Jordanian king is also concerned with the issue. Bush listens politely to Abdullah’s appeal, and says that the king’s idea of a “road map to peace” sounds reasonable. National Security Council official Flynt Leverett, the head of the NSC’s Mideast affairs division, promises Abdullah that such a “road map” will be drawn up by the end of 2002. No such proposal is ever completed; neoconservatives in the Defense Department (Donald Rumsfeld and Douglas Feith), the Vice President’s Office (John Hannah and Lewis “Scooter” Libby), and the NSC (Elliott Abrams) continue to oppose the idea, calling it nothing but a reward to the Palestinians for “bad behavior” (see December 2001-January 2002). Only if Palestine rejects terrorism and implements democracy will the US enter into negotiations, they insist, regardless of what promises Bush has made. [Esquire, 10/18/2007]
Entity Tags: Office of the Vice President, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Abdullah II ibn al-Hussein, Douglas Feith, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Elliott Abrams, George W. Bush, US Department of Defense, Flynt Leverett, National Security Council, John Hannah
Timeline Tags: US International Relations
The Iraqi National Congress (INC—see 1992-1996) sends a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee asking that the INC’s “Intelligence Collection Program” be transferred from the State Department’s oversight to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)‘s HUMINT (Human Intelligence) Service. In what former DIA official Patrick Lang will later call “a clumsy act of indiscretion,” the letter reveals that there is, in Lang’s words, “already a direct flow of information from the INC into the hands of Bill Luti [a senior official at the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans—see September 2002 ] and John Hannah, the latter being Scooter Libby’s deputy in [Vice President] Cheney’s office.” [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
Vice President Cheney and his staff have become increasingly reliant on intelligence from Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress (INC—see Early 2003). Cheney’s senior aide John Hannah, the liaison between Cheney and the INC, has become increasingly invested in the exile group. “He relied on Ahmed Chalabi for insights and advice,” a Bush administration official will later recall. Cheney has himself become an increasingly vocal Chalabi advocate. At a meeting of President Bush’s National Security Council, the State Department and Pentagon officials argue over whether to increase funding to the INC. Cheney, a former NSC staffer will recall, “weighed in, in a really big way. He said, ‘We’re getting ready to go to war, and we’re nickel-and-diming the INC at a time when they’re providing us with unique intelligence on Iraqi WMD.’” The fact that no one else, particularly the CIA, could confirm anything the INC was providing was merely proof that the CIA was recklessly disregarding INC intelligence. The administration official will say that before long, “there was something of a willingness to give [INC- provided intelligence] greater weight” than that offered by the intelligence community. In return, Cheney’s aides tried to inject their intelligence into the CIA’s own conduits. One CIA analyst will recall that both Cheney and his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, “come out there loaded with crap from OSP [the Office of Special Plans—see September 2002], reams of information from Chalabi’s people” on both terrorism and WMD. One of the main channels into the CIA for Cheney and his staff is Alan Foley, the director of the CIA’s Nonproliferation Center. Cheney’s office inundates Foley with questions about Iraq’s nuclear weapons program, particularly about Iraq’s supposed attempts to purchase uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, March 1, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002). At first, Foley attempts to push back by “stressing the implausibility of it,” a colleague of Foley’s will recall. But as Cheney and his aides keep pressing, Foley begins to give in. “He was bullied and intimidated,” one of his friends will recall. The pressure on Foley and other analysts is both relentless and hostile. One retired CIA analyst close to current analysts will recall: “It was done along the lines of: ‘What’s wrong with you bunch of assh_les? You don’t know what’s going on, you’re horribly biased, you’re a bunch of pinkos.’” A current analyst later explains, “It gets to the point where you just don’t want to fight it anymore.” [New Republic, 11/20/2003]
Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Alan Foley, Ahmed Chalabi, Bush administration (43), John Hannah, Central Intelligence Agency, Office of Special Plans, Iraqi National Congress, National Security Council, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US International Relations
As Vice President Cheney and his staff members pressure CIA analysts for the “proper” intelligence findings (see 2002-Early 2003), intelligence analysts grow increasingly resentful towards both Cheney and his staff. In fact, they see little difference between any of them. CIA analysts in particular see them as acting in concert under Cheney’s direction (see Fall 2002 and After). One former analyst will later recall, “When I heard complaints from people, it was, ‘Man, you wouldn’t believe this sh_t that [Lewis] Libby and [Douglas] Feith and [Paul] Wolfowitz do to us.’ They were all lumped together. I would hear them say, ‘G_ddamn, that f_cking John Hannah, you wouldn’t believe.’ And the next day it would be, ‘That f_cking Bill Luti’ (see September 2002). For all these guys, they’re interchangeable.” Another former analyst will later say: “They had power. Authority. They had the vice president behind them.… What Scooter [Libby] did, Cheney made possible. Feith, Wolfowitz—Cheney made it all possible. He’s the fulcrum. He’s the one.” [New Republic, 11/20/2003]
An article in the Boston Globe suggests that neoconservatives in the Bush administration see war in Iraq as “merely a first step” in transforming the entire Middle East. Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, John Hannah, I. Lewis Libby, and John Bolton are said to be some of the top officials pushing this view. “Iraq, [they] argue, is just the first piece of the puzzle. After an ouster of Hussein, they say, the United States will have more leverage to act against Syria and Iran, will be in a better position to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and will be able to rely less on Saudi oil.” Vice President Dick Cheney also mentioned this motive in a speech in August, saying, “When the gravest of threats are eliminated, the freedom-loving peoples of the region will have a chance to promote the values that can bring lasting peace” (see August 26, 2002). The article also says: “A powerful corollary of the strategy is that a pro-US Iraq would make the region safer for Israel and, indeed, its staunchest proponents are ardent supporters of the Israeli right-wing. Administration officials, meanwhile, have increasingly argued that the onset of an Iraq allied to the US would give the administration more sway in bringing about a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though Cheney and others have offered few details on precisely how.” One US official says, “Maybe we do stir the pot and see what comes up.” Former CIA analyst and Iraq expert Judith Yaphe is critical, saying: “There are some people who religiously believe that Iraq is the beginning of this great new adventure of remapping the Middle East and all these countries. I think that’s a simplistic view.” Jessica T. Mathews, president of Carnegie Endownment for International Peace, a Washington policy group, is also critical. “The argument we would be starting a democratic wave in Iraq is pure blowing smoke,” Mathews says. “You have 22 Arab governments and not one has made any progress toward democracy, not one. It’s one of the great issues before us, but the very last place you’d suspect to turn the tide is Iraq. You don’t go from an authoritarian dictatorship to a democracy overnight, not even quickly.” But one anonymous senior US official says: “There are people invested in this philosophy all throughout the administration. Some of the strongest voices are in [the State Department].” [Boston Globe, 9/10/2002]
Colin Powell’s chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, meets with other administration officials and aides at the CIA’s Langley headquarters in a conference room down the hall from George Tenet’s office to review two White House reports on Iraq’s alleged illegal activities. The team includes George Tenet, John McLaughlin, William Tobey and Robert Joseph from the National Security Council, and John Hannah from Vice President Cheney’s office. (Tenet had intended to leave for a Middle East junket, but Powell stopped him from going, insisting on his input and participation.) The two dossiers are meant to serve as the basis for Powell’s upcoming speech at the UN (see February 5, 2003). One of the reports—a 48-page dossier that had been provided to Powell’s office a few days earlier (see January 29, 2003)—deals with Iraq’s supposed arsenal of weapons of mass destruction while the other, a slightly more recent report totaling some 45 pages, addresses the issue of Iraq’s history of human rights violations and its alleged ties to Islamic militant groups. Shortly after Wilkerson begins reviewing the 48-page report on Iraq’s alleged WMD, it becomes apparent that the material is not well sourced. [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 177; Unger, 2007, pp. 276]
Dossiers Contain Large Amounts of White House Misinformation - Wilkerson has been given three dossiers: about 90 pages of material on Iraq’s WMD, on its sponsorship of terrorism, and on its violation of human rights. Wilkerson is not well informed about the variety of machinations surrounding the WMD issue, but it doesn’t take him long to realize there is a problem. The CIA has an array of analysts with decades of experience studying Iraq’s weapons programs, rigorous peer review procedures to prevent unreliable intelligence from making it into the final assessments, and a large budget devoted to Middle East intelligence. But the CIA had not produced Wilkerson’s dossiers. They had been prepared by Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff. Wilkerson is taken aback by such a breach of procedure, especially on such a critically important matter of state. Former NSC counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke later says, “It’s very strange for the Vice President’s senior adviser to be… saying to the Secretary of State, ‘This is what you should be saying.’” As Wilkerson goes through the material, he realizes, in Unger’s words, “just how aggressively Cheney and his men have stacked the deck.” Wilkerson first reads the 48-page WMD dossier, and is not impressed. “It was anything but an intelligence document,” he later says. “It was, as some people characterized it later, sort of a Chinese menu from which you could pick and choose.”
Cherry-Picked Intel - Wilkerson will continue, “When we had a question, which was virtually every line, John Hannah from the vice president’s office would consult a huge clipboard he had.” Hannah, a former official of the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy, had coauthored the dossier with Libby. He had also worked closely with Libby in the White House Iraq Group (see August 2002). Hannah cites the source of each questionable datum Wilkerson asks about, and Wilkerson and his team set about tracking down the original sources of each item. They spend hours poring over satellite photos, intercepts of Iraqi military communications, and various foreign intelligence reports. Wilkerson and his team find that in almost every instance, the original sources do not support the conclusions drawn in the dossier. “Once we read the entirety of those documents,” he will recall, “we’d find that the context was not quite what the cherry-picked item imparted.” Wilkerson believes that much of the dossier’s intelligence comes from Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress (see 1992-1996), a belief given credence by the fact that Hannah had served as the chief liaison between the INC and Cheney’s office. As Wilkerson will later recall, “It was clear the thing was put together by cherry-picking everything from the New York Times to the DIA.” Reporters Michael Isikoff and David Corn will later write that “a Defense Intelligence Agency report was not being used properly, a CIA report was not being cited in a fair way, a referenced New York Times article was quoting a DIA report out of context,” and will confirm that much of the material had come from the Iraqi National Congress. [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 177; Unger, 2007, pp. 276-278]
Incomprehensible 'Genealogy' - According to Wilkerson, Feith’s office had strung together an incomprehensible “genealogy.” “It was like the Bible,” Wilkerson later recalls. “It was the Old Testament. It was ‘Joe met Bob met Frank met Bill met Ted met Jane in Khartoum and therefore we assume that Bob knew Ralph.’ It was incredible.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 180-181]
Link to Office of Special Plans? - Powell’s staff is also “convinced that much of it had been funneled directly to Cheney by a tiny separate intelligence unit set up by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld” (see Summer 2002 and September 2002), Vanity Fair magazine later reports. [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230]
Cheney's Aides Attempt to Reinsert Deleted Material - Soon Wilkerson’s team faces the same difficulties with the dossier on Iraq’s connections to Islamist terrorism that it faced with the White House-prepared dossier on Iraq’s WMD (see January 30-February 4, 2003). Tenet has tried manfully to give the administration what it so desperately wants—proof of Iraq’s connections to the 9/11 attacks. The CIA’s unit on Osama bin Laden had gone through 75,000 pages of documents and found no evidence of any such connections. Vice President Cheney and his staffers have always insisted that such a connection does indeed exist. Their strongest claim to that effect is the supposed meeting between 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence agent in April 2000 (see September 14, 2001). This claim has long been discredited (see September 18, 2001), but Cheney’s people keep attempting to bring it back into play (see February 1, 2003-February 4, 2003). [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003; Bamford, 2004, pp. 370-1; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230; Unger, 2007, pp. 276-278]
Information about Australian Software Erroneous - One item in the White House’s original draft alleged that Iraq had obtained software from an Australian company that would provide Iraqis with sensitive information about US topography. The argument was that Iraqis, using that knowledge, could one day attack the US
with biological or chemical weapons deployed from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). But when Powell’s intelligence team investigated the issue, it became “clear that the information was not ironclad” (see October 1, 2002). [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003]
'Idiocy' - “We were so appalled at what had arrived from the White House,” one official later says. [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230] As another senior official (likely Wilkerson) will later recall, “We went through that for about six hours—item by item, page by page and about halfway through the day I realized this is idiocy, we cannot possibly do this, because it was all bullsh_t—it was unsourced, a lot of it was just out of the newspapers, it was—and I look back in retrospect—it was a [Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas] Feith product, it was a Scooter Libby product, it was a Vice President’s office product. It was a product of collusion between that group. And it had no way of standing up, anywhere, I mean it was nuts.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 368-9]
Starting from Scratch - After several hours, Wilkerson and Tenet are both so fed up that they decide to scrap the WMD dossier entirely. “Let’s go back to the NIE,” Tenet suggests, referring to the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002). Wilkerson is not aware of how badly the NIE had been, in author Craig Unger’s words, “tampered with,” but Powell should have known, as his own intelligence bureau in the State Department had disputed key elements of the NIE. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 368-9; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 177-178; Unger, 2007, pp. 276-278]
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Office of the Vice President, National Security Council, Richard A. Clarke, White House Iraq Group, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Robert G. Joseph, William H. Tobey, Lawrence Wilkerson, John Hannah, Michael Isikoff, Iraqi National Congress, Colin Powell, Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Chalabi, Craig Unger, David Corn, Donald Rumsfeld, John E. McLaughlin, George J. Tenet, Douglas Feith
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Colin Powell’s chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, tasked with the duty of preparing Powell’s upcoming UN presentation (see January 29, 2003), meets with his hastily assembled team: Lynne Davidson, Powell’s chief speechwriter; Carl Ford, the head of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR); and Barry Lowenkron, principal deputy director of policy planning at State. They also consult with a UN staffer on the logistics of making such a presentation to the Security Council. Later that day, Wilkerson drives to the CIA building in Langley, where he meets with CIA Director George Tenet and Tenet’s deputy, John McLaughlin. Wilkerson examines information provided for Powell’s speech by the White House, and quickly determines that it is unreliable to the point of uselessness (see January 30-February 4, 2003). He decides that his team will assemble its own information. [Unger, 2007, pp. 276]
INR Analysts Not Invited to Presentation Planning Sessions - Over the next few days, Wilkerson and his team works almost around the clock putting together Powell’s upcoming presentation. In addition to Wilkerson’s staff, McLaughlin and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice are frequent participants. Others who take part include Rice’s deputy, Stephen Hadley; National Security Council officer Robert Joseph, who had ensured mention of the Iraq-Niger claim in President Bush’s recent State of the Union address (see January 26 or 27, 2003); another NSC official, Will Tobey; two of Vice President Cheney’s senior aides, John Hannah and Lewis “Scooter” Libby; and Lawrence Gershwin, one of the CIA’s top advisers on technical intelligence. Aside from Ford, there are no representatives from the State Department’s own intelligence analysts of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). They had refused to give in to White House pressure to “cook” the intelligence on Iraq (see November 14, 2001, January 31, 2002, March 1, 2002, and December 23, 2002). Their absence, author Craig Unger will later write, is “another striking indication that Powell had capitulated and was trying to avoid a showdown with the White House.… [T]he hard-nosed analysts at INR, who had not bowed to White House pressure, would be a political liability for Powell.” [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003; Bamford, 2004, pp. 370-1; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230; Unger, 2007, pp. 276-278]
Inspirational Film - Early in the process, Wilkerson and his colleagues watch an archived film of then-UN ambassador Adlai Stevenson’s historic 1962 speech before the UN Security Council. Stevenson’s ringing denunciation of the Soviet Union, and his dramatic use of irrefutable evidence that showed Soviet missiles in Cuba, inspires the team to seek what Wilkerson calls “a similar confluence of evidence and rhetoric.” They want Powell to have his own “Stevenson moment” before the UN. [Unger, 2007, pp. 276-278]
Roadblocks - Throughout the process, Wilkerson’s team is deviled by the insistence of White House representatives, most notably those from Cheney’s office, on the insertion of information and claims that Wilkerson and his team know are unreliable (see January 30-February 4, 2003). [Unger, 2007, pp. 275]
Entity Tags: John E. McLaughlin, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Central Intelligence Agency, Carl W. Ford, Jr., Bush administration (43), George J. Tenet, Barry Lowenkron, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, William H. Tobey, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of State, Lynne Davidson, United Nations, Robert G. Joseph, Craig Unger, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, National Security Council, Stephen J. Hadley, Lawrence Wilkerson, John Hannah, Lawrence Gershwin
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
A day after former ambassador Joseph Wilson appears on CNN questioning the validity of the administration’s claims about the Iraq-Niger uranium purchase (see March 8, 2003), Vice President Dick Cheney and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley begin a campaign to discredit him. The information comes from senior sources within the State Department, the CIA, and the National Security Council (NSC), all with direct knowledge of the campaign, and from Wilson himself. The sources will say that they and other officials are directed to unearth or “invent” embarrassing information on Wilson that could be used against him in public. Aides in the Office of the Vice President and others, including the sources, prepare a “workup” on Wilson, including memos and classified material on him for Cheney and the NSC. Officials meet regularly in Cheney’s office to discuss the progress of the campaign with Cheney, Hadley, and other officials.
Visit to CIA Headquarters - According to an official in the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division (CPD), Cheney and Hadley visit the CIA the day after Wilson’s interview on CNN. Cheney’s original target for discrediting was not Wilson, but David Albright, the former UN weapons inspector who has also challenged the credibility of the Iraq-Niger claims and the rationale for invading Iraq (see March 8, 2003). Cheney asked several CIA officials to find “dirt” on Albright for use in discrediting him in the media. At the outset, the CIA official will say: “Vice President Cheney was more concerned with Mr. Albright. The international community had been saying that inspectors should have more time, that the US should not set a deadline. The vice president felt Mr. Albright’s remarks would fuel the debate.” The CIA will eventually send a “binder” to Cheney’s office containing information about Albright; it is not clear to what, if any, use that information is put.
Cheney 'Enraged' - But Wilson’s appearance on CNN and his public ridicule of the Iraq-Niger uranium claim enraged Cheney, who saw Wilson’s comments as a personal attack against him. Hadley also took an interest in Wilson’s remarks because he personally allowed the Iraq-Niger claim to remain in Bush’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) even after being informed that the documents the claim was based upon were forgeries. Both Cheney and Hadley view Wilson as a possible impediment to the public’s acceptance of the impending Iraq invasion. Cheney chairs a meeting in his office the day after Wilson’s appearance on CNN, attended by, among others, Hadley, White House political guru Karl Rove, Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s deputy national security adviser John Hannah, and several officials from the CIA and State Department, including the officials who will later discuss the matter with the press. “The way I remember it,” says the CIA official, “is that the vice president was obsessed with Wilson. He called him an ‘_sshole,’ a son-of-a-b_tch. He took his comments very personally. He wanted us to do everything in our power to destroy his reputation and he wanted to be kept up to date about the progress.” Hadley says he will write an editorial about the Iraqi threat that should offset Wilson’s remarks; the State Department will redistribute a February 16, 2003 editorial by Hadley that appeared in the Chicago Tribune to newspaper editors around the country. Cheney will appear on NBC’s Meet the Press to refute the challenges to the Iraq-Niger claims (see March 16, 2003). [Truthout (.org), 2/9/2006] In 2004, Wilson will write: “I learned that a meeting right around the time of this particular CNN appearance (see March 8, 2003) led to the decision to produce a ‘workup’ on me for the Office of the Vice President. It was not made clear to me whether Dick Cheney himself attended this meeting, although I was told that senior members of his staff and quite possibly other senior Republicans, including former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, were present and that Gingrich actively participated in a strategy session, the objective of which was to figure out how to discredit me.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 326-327]
False Allegations of 'Womanizing,' Drug Use - Within days, officials in the CIA, NSC, and State Department pass on information to Cheney and Libby that purportedly shows Wilson is a “womanizer” who had occassionally used drugs in his youth; the sources later say that the allegations are entirely false. The sources will say that they are unsure the material was ever used to discredit Wilson, since after the war began on March 19, the media lost interest in Wilson’s warnings. [Truthout (.org), 2/9/2006] Wilson later writes that the meeting about him does “not include discussion of how the president and his senior staff might address the indisputable, if inconvenient, fact that the allegation I had made was true. In other words, from the very beginning, the strategy of the White House was to confront the issue as a ‘Wilson’ problem rather than as an issue of the lie that was in the State of the Union address.… The immediate effect of the workup, I am told by a member of the press, citing White House sources, was a long harangue against the two of us within the White House walls. Over a period of several months, Libby evidently seized opportunities to rail openly against me as an ‘assh_le playboy’ who went on a boondoggle ‘arranged by his CIA wife’—and was a Democratic Gore supporter to boot.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 441-442]
New Interest in Wilson - Cheney’s interest in Wilson will be renewed in May 2003 (see May 2003), when Wilson informs New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that he was the special envoy who had gone to Niger in February 2002 to investigate the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002).
Entity Tags: Office of the Vice President, National Security Council, David Albright, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Joseph C. Wilson, John Hannah, Karl C. Rove, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, CNN, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of State, Newt Gingrich, Stephen J. Hadley, Valerie Plame Wilson
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
According to the subsequent investigation by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, calls the State Department to ask about the results of former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Libby is particularly interested in learning who the “unnamed ambassador” was, and who sent Wilson to Niger. [Raw Story, 11/2/2005; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 216] According to the New York Times, Libby asks an undersecretary of state, presumably Marc Grossman (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), for the information. [New York Times, 2006] Grossman later testifies that Libby did indeed contact him for the information (see January 23-24, 2007). Grossman is allegedly involved in a nuclear smuggling ring (see (1997-2002) and Summer 2001), and knows Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is investigating the ring (see Summer-Autumn 2001).
Libby Contacts Bolton? - However, according to a 2005 report by the news Web site Raw Story, Libby asks Undersecretary of State John Bolton for the information regarding Wilson’s mission to Niger. Bolton refers the query to Grossman, who directs the State Department’s intelligence arm, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), to prepare a report concerning Wilson and his trip (see June 10, 2003). Within days, Grossman informs Libby of Wilson’s identity. The INR memo is written as part of a work-up order orchestrated by the White House Iraq Group (WHIG—see August 2002). [Raw Story, 11/2/2005; CounterPunch, 11/9/2005]
CIA Tells Bolton of Plame Wilson's Identity - Bolton also learns that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a CIA official. He learns this from his chief of staff, Frederick Fleitz, who also serves as a senior CIA Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control official. Bolton tells his aide David Wurmser, who is working concurrently in Cheney’s office. Wurmser passes the information along to another Cheney aide, John Hannah. Around June 11, Fleitz will inform Libby of Plame Wilson’s status (see (June 11, 2003)).
Bolton's Connections to CIA - According to Raw Story, Bolton has “his own connections to agents at the CIA who share… his political philosophy on Iraq.” Greg Thielmann, a former director at the State Department who was assigned to Bolton and entrusted with providing him with intelligence information, will later say of Bolton, “He surrounded himself with a hand-chosen group of loyalists, and found a way to get CIA information directly.” [Raw Story, 11/2/2005]
Entity Tags: US Department of State, Valerie Plame Wilson, White House Iraq Group, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Marc Grossman, Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Central Intelligence Agency, Frederick Fleitz, David Wurmser, John Hannah, John R. Bolton, Greg Thielmann
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Vice President Dick Cheney’s National Security Adviser, John Hannah, sends Cheney a copy of an April 3 CIA report (see April 3, 2003). The report summarized the CIA’s knowledge of the supposed Iraq-Niger uranium deal through early April. [US Department of Justice, 2/2007 ]
According to the investigation by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, the CIA faxes Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, classified documents concerning Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger (see March 4-5, 2002, (March 6, 2002) and March 8, 2002), in response to a recent op-ed by Wilson (see July 6, 2003). Although the documents do not mention Wilson by name, the words “Wilson” and “Joe Wilson,” in Libby’s handwriting, are later found written on one of them. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 ; Marcy Wheeler, 11/1/2005; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 216; National Journal, 6/14/2006; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 9/22/2006 ] Another, unidentified White House official also receives the documents. [New York Times, 2006] He is most likely Cheney’s national security adviser, John Hannah. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 ] Reporter Murray Waas will write, “It is unclear if one of the documents in question, or the one with Wilson’s name handwritten on it by someone in the vice president’s office, was the March 2002 CIA report (see July 12, 2003), but the fact that it did not mention Wilson by name suggests that it possibly was indeed the one with the handwriting.” [National Journal, 6/14/2006]
John Hannah, a senior aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, begins cooperating with the investigation into the exposure of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson. Sources close to the investigation say that Hannah agreed to cooperate after learning that witnesses identified him as a co-conspirator in the Plame Wilson leak. Those sources say that Hannah has not been granted immunity from prosecution, but most likely has been offered a deal in exchange for information that could lead to indictments of any number of White House officials. Sources say that, in June 2003, Hannah and another Cheney aide, David Wurmser (see May 29, 2003), were ordered by their superiors in Cheney’s office to leak Plame Wilson’s name and CIA identity in an attempt to discredit her husband, war critic Joseph Wilson. [Raw Story, 10/19/2005; New York Times, 10/19/2005] Hannah helped pass along information about Plame Wilson’s CIA status from the State Department to Cheney (see May 29, 2003), and provided Cheney with a classified CIA report on the agency’s investigation into Iraq’s supposed attempt to procure uranium from Niger (see June 9, 2003).
David Wurmser, an aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, begins cooperating with the investigation into the exposure of Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA agent. This follows the news that another Cheney aide, John Hannah, is also cooperating (see Before October 17, 2005). The news that Wurmser is cooperating comes from sources close to the investigation. He is expected to provide special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald with evidence that the leak of Plame Wilson’s identity was part of a coordinated effort to discredit her husband, 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). Wurmser is Cheney’s adviser on Middle East affairs, and formerly served as an assistant to then-Undersecretary of State John Bolton (see May 29, 2003). The sources say Wurmser is cooperating in order to negate potential criminal charges for his role in exposing Plame Wilson’s identity. Wurmser was a key member of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG—see August 2002), the propaganda group that operated primarily out of Cheney’s office. The sources say that in June 2003, Wurmser and Hannah were ordered by their superiors in Cheney’s office to leak Plame Wilson’s name and CIA identity in an attempt to discredit her husband, Joseph Wilson. In 2004, Wurmser was questioned by the FBI for his role in divulging classified national security information to Israel, an investigation that included Hannah and several prominent neoconservatives in the Defense Department. Wilson says: “John Hannah and David Wurmser, mid-level political appointees in the vice president’s office, have both been suggested as sources of the leak.… Mid-level officials, however, do not leak information without the authority from a higher level.” [Raw Story, 10/19/2005]
Screen graphic from CNN’s coverage of Lewis Libby’s indictment. [Source: CNN / Flickr]Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, is indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice. Libby is accused of “outing” Valerie Plame Wilson, an undercover CIA agent, to the press (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, and 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003), and then lying about it to the FBI and to a grand jury empaneled by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald (see December 30, 2003, March 5, 2004, and March 24, 2004). Libby immediately resigns his position as Cheney’s chief of staff. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 ; CNN, 5/14/2006; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007]
Five Counts of Obstruction, Two Counts of Perjury - Libby is indicted on five counts of obstruction of justice and two counts of perjury. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 ; MSNBC, 2/21/2007] Though the original investigation was of the Plame Wilson leak, Fitzgerald says it is important to understand that Libby’s crimes, though not the prime focus of the initial investigation, should be prosecuted as well. “Investigators do not set out to investigate the statute, they set out to gather the facts,” he says. The indictment does not charge Libby with knowingly disclosing the identity of a covert agent. [New York Times, 10/28/2005]
Confirms that CIA Agent's Status Classified; Important to National Security - Fitzgerald confirms that the fact of Plame Wilson’s employment at the CIA was in and of itself classified information, and not to be shared to the media or the public. He says: “The fact that she was a CIA officer was not well known, for her protection or for the benefit of all us. It’s important that a CIA officer’s identity be protected, that it be protected not just for the officer, but for the nation’s security.… [T]he damage wasn’t to one person. It wasn’t just Valerie Wilson. It was done to all of us” (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, and February 13, 2006). [New York Times, 10/28/2005; Nation, 3/16/2007]
Libby Lied about Knowledge of Plame Wilson's Status, Indictment Charges - The indictment charges that Libby lied when he claimed that he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from NBC reporter Tim Russert (see November 24, 2003, March 5, 2004, March 24, 2004, and August 7, 2004). Instead, the indictment charges, Libby learned about Plame Wilson and her possible role in sending her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger to investigate claims of Iraqi attempts to buy uranium (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) from a number of people, including an undersecretary of state (see June 10, 2003), a CIA officer who regularly briefed him on national security issues (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), an unidentified “senior CIA officer,” and from his superior, Cheney (see (June 12, 2003)). In his turn, Libby shared that information with several officials in the Office of the Vice President, including Cheney’s senior counsel David Addington (see July 8, 2003), Cheney’s national security adviser John Hannah (see May 29, 2003), and Cheney’s press secretary at the time, Cathie Martin (who may have actually informed Libby—see 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003). “In fact, Mr. Libby was the first official known to have told a reporter when he talked to Judith Miller in June of 2003 about Valerie Wilson” (see June 23, 2003), Fitzgerald says. “[T]o be frank, Mr. Libby gave the FBI a compelling story,” he adds. “It would be a compelling story that will lead the FBI to go away if only it were true. It is not true, according to the indictment.” [New York Times, 10/28/2005; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 ; National Journal, 10/30/2005] (The unidentified “senior CIA officer” is later revealed to be Frederick Fleitz, who served both as a senior officer at the Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control (WINPAC) desk and as Undersecretary of State John Bolton’s chief of staff—see (June 11, 2003).) [Raw Story, 11/2/2005] Jeralyn Merritt, a criminal defense attorney who writes for the progressive blog TalkLeft, notes that according to the indictment, the phrases used by Libby in his denials to the grand jury were nearly verbatim echoes of Cheney’s own denials as told to NBC’s Tim Russert in September 2003 (see September 14, 2003). [Jeralyn Merritt, 10/31/2005]
Sought Information on Plame Wilson's CIA Status - The indictment also charges that Libby sought information from the CIA and the State Department about Plame Wilson’s CIA status, and tried to determine whether she had been responsible for sending her husband to Niger. According to the indictment, Libby asked David Addington, the chief counsel to Cheney, “in sum and substance, what paperwork there would be at the CIA if an employee’s spouse undertook an overseas trip.” The court papers do not say what action, if any, Addington may have taken in response to Libby’s request. [New York Times, 10/28/2005; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 ; National Journal, 12/16/2005]
Discussed with Multiple Officials before Leaking to Reporters - In a press conference, Fitzgerald walks reporters and listeners through the indictment: from Libby’s learning of Plame Wilson’s identity from State Department and CIA sources and from Cheney, through his discussing it with at least three White House officials, all before the supposed “disclosure” from Russert. Libby subsequently lied to the FBI and to Fitzgerald’s grand jury about those discussions with government officials and again with Miller and Time reporter Matthew Cooper. “[H]e lied about it afterwards,” Fitzgerald says, “under oath and repeatedly.… [A]nyone who would go into a grand jury and lie, obstruct, and impede the investigation has committed a serious crime.” [New York Times, 10/28/2005]
Leak Seriously Jeopardized National Security - Fitzgerald tells reporters that the leaking of a CIA officer’s identity is a serious breach of national security. “This is a very serious matter and compromising national security information is a very serious matter,” he says. “But the need to get to the bottom of what happened and whether national security was compromised by inadvertence, by recklessness, by maliciousness is extremely important.” Fitzgerald continues: “At a time when we need our spy agencies to have people work there, I think just the notion that someone’s identity could be compromised lightly… [discourages] our ability to recruit people and say, ‘Come work for us… come be trained… come work anonymously here or wherever else, go do jobs for the benefit of the country for which people will not thank you.” Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, says: “Revealing the identity of a covert agent is the type of leak that gets people killed. Not only does it end the person’s career… it puts that person in grave personal danger as well as their colleagues and all the people they have had contact with.” [New York Times, 10/28/2005; National Journal, 10/30/2005]
Charges Are Serious, Not 'Technicalities' - Responding to a question about Republican charges that Libby is being charged as a “technicality,” and Fitzgerald “overreached” his authority in filing the indictment, Fitzgerald says: “That talking point won’t fly. If you’re doing a national security investigation, if you’re trying to find out who compromised the identity of a CIA officer and you go before a grand jury and if the charges are proven… that the chief of staff to the vice president went before a federal grand jury and lied under oath repeatedly and fabricated a story about how he learned this information, how he passed it on, and we prove obstruction of justice, perjury, and false statements to the FBI, that is a very, very serious matter.… [T]he truth is the engine of our judicial system. And if you compromise the truth, the whole process is lost.… Any notion that anyone might have that there’s a different standard for a high official, that this is somehow singling out obstruction of justice and perjury, is upside down.… If these facts are true, if we were to walk away from this and not charge obstruction of justice and perjury, we might as well just hand in our jobs. Because our jobs, the criminal justice system, is to make sure people tell us the truth. And when it’s a high-level official and a very sensitive investigation, it is a very, very serious matter that no one should take lightly.” [New York Times, 10/28/2005]
Explanation for Delay in Filing Indicitment - Fitzgerald gives one reason for the delay in filing the indictment against Libby. When asked why he went to such lengths to compel the testimony of reporters such as Miller (see September 30, 2005) and Cooper (see July 13, 2005), Fitzgerald replies that the rights of the accused are paramount in his mind. The testimony of Miller, Cooper, and other journalists could bolster the case against Libby, or could help exonerate him. The possibility that he might charge someone, only to learn later that one of the journalists who had declined to testify had information to clear the person, was something that “frightens me,” Fitzgerald says. “I think the only way you can do an investigation like this is to hear all eyewitnesses.” [New York Times, 10/28/2005; National Journal, 11/12/2005]
No Charges against Cheney - Asked whether the investigation found evidence of criminal acts by Cheney, Fitzgerald answers: “We make no allegation that the vice president committed any criminal act. We make no allegation that any other people who provided or discussed with Mr. Libby committed any criminal act. But as to any person you asked me a question about other than Mr. Libby, I’m not going to comment on anything.” Fitzgerald refuses to comment on whether White House political strategist Karl Rove or anyone else will be named as co-conspirators, charged, or even named in court. [New York Times, 10/28/2005]
Entity Tags: John Hannah, Judith Miller, John D. Rockefeller, John R. Bolton, Karl C. Rove, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Jeralyn Merritt, Frederick Fleitz, Central Intelligence Agency, David S. Addington, Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control, Valerie Plame Wilson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of State, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Tim Russert, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Matthew Cooper
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The press learns that UN Ambassador John Bolton was contacted in May 2003 by Lewis Libby to find out who sent former ambassador Joseph Wilson on a fact-finding mission to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and May 29, 2003). Bolton was the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs when Libby contacted him. The progressive news Web site Raw Story learns of the Bolton contact from lawyers involved in the investigation of the Plame Wilson identity leak, and from documents posted on the investigation’s Web site. The lawyers say that two former Libby aides, John Hannah and David Wurmser, informed special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald of Libby’s inquiry to Bolton (see Before October 17, 2005 and Before October 19, 2005). At the time, Wurmser was on loan from Bolton’s office and serving as a Middle Eastern affairs aide to Vice President Dick Cheney and Libby. Both Hannah and Wurmser have been cooperating with Fitzgerald’s investigation, the lawyers say. MSNBC has reported that Bolton testified before the Plame Wilson grand jury. Wurmser, the lawyers say, has been cooperating for fear that he would be charged for his role in leaking Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity; Hannah began cooperating after learning that he had been identified by witnesses as a co-conspirator in the leak. Raw Story writes: “It is unclear whether Bolton played any other role in the Plame outing, but his connection to the Iraq uranium claims certainly gave him a motive to discredit Wilson, who had called into question the veracity of the Niger documents. A probe by the State Department inspector general revealed that Bolton’s office was responsible for the placement of the Niger uranium claims in the State Department’s December 2002 ‘fact sheet’ on Iraq’s WMD program.” The lawyers say it is doubtful that the information Hannah and Wurmser have provided will ever be made public, but their information was crucial to Fitzgerald’s investigation because it allowed him “to put together a timeline that showed how various governmental agencies knew about Plame [Wilson]‘s covert CIA status.” [Raw Story, 11/2/2005]
John Hannah. [Source: PBS]Dick Cheney’s Office of the Vice President (OVP) is so cloaked in secrecy, journalist Robert Dreyfuss reports, that it routinely refuses to provide a directory of staff members or even the numbers of staff and employees. Dreyfus writes, “Like disciplined Bolsheviks slicing through a fractious opposition, Cheney’s team operates with a single-minded, ideological focus on the exercise of American military power, a belief in the untrammeled power of the presidency, and a fierce penchant for secrecy.” The list of current and former staffers includes, as of April 2006: former chief of staff Lewis Libby; his replacement, David Addington; top national security advisers Eric Edelman and Victoria Nuland; neoconservative and hardline Middle East specialists such as John Hannah, William Luti, and David Wurmser; anti-Chinese Asia specialists such as Stephen Yates and Samantha Ravich; a varying number of technocratic neoconservatives in other posts; and an array of communications specialists, including “Cheney’s Angels”: Mary Matalin, Juleanna Glover Weiss, Jennifer Millerwise, Jennifer Mayfield, Catherine Martin, and Lea Anne McBride. It is known that Cheney’s national security staff was assembled by Libby from various far-right think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute, the Hudson Institute, and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), as well as carefully screened Cheney supporters from a variety of Washington law firms. [American Prospect, 4/16/2006] Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, will recall in early 2007: “A friend of mine counted noses [at the office] and came away with 88. That doesn’t count others seconded from other agencies.” [Washington Monthly, 1/7/2007]
'Cabal' of Zealots - Wilkerson calls Cheney’s inner group a “cabal” of arrogant, intensely zealous, highly focused loyalists. Recalling Cheney’s staff interacting in a variety of interagency meetings and committees, “The staff that the vice president sent out made sure that those [committees] didn’t key anything up that wasn’t what the vice president wanted,” says Wilkerson. “Their style was simply to sit and listen, and take notes. And if things looked like they were going to go speedily to a decision that they knew that the vice president wasn’t going to like, generally they would, at the end of the meeting, in great bureaucratic style, they’d say: ‘We totally disagree. Meeting’s over.’” The committee agendas were generally scuttled. And if something did get written up as a “decision memo” bound for the Oval Office, Cheney himself would ensure that it died before ever reaching fruition.”
Sidestepping the NSC - The National Security Council (NSC) is designated as the ultimate arbiter for foreign policy options and recommendations for the president. But, according to Wilkerson, Cheney’s office and the NSC were often at loggerheads, and Cheney’s “shadow NSC” had the upper bureaucratic hand. Cheney “set up a staff that knew what the statutory NSC was doing, but the NSC statutory staff didn’t know what his staff was doing,” says Wilkerson.
China Threat - Cheney’s Asia advisers, Yates and Ravich, were most often encountered by Wilkerson. They helped drive Cheney’s agenda for China, which was obsessive to the point of paranoia. China was a grave, if long-term, threat to the US, they believed. The US must begin strongly cultivating Taiwan as a counterbalance to China, whom they asserted was preparing for military action against the US. Former US ambassador to China Charles Freeman compares Yates to the Defense Department’s Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith; all three believed, Freeman says, that China was “the solution to ‘enemy deprivation syndrome.’”
Iraq Policy - Cheney’s current and former staffers played an even larger role in shaping the administration’s Iraq policy than is generally known, and Cheney “seeded” staffers in other departments to promote his war agenda. Luti left the OVP in 2001 to join the Department of Defense, where he organized the Office of Special Plans (OSP). Wurmser, an AEI neoconservative, joined the Pentagon and created the forerunner of the OSP, the Counterterrorism Evaluation Group, which helped manufacture the evidence of connections between Hussein and al-Qaeda. Wurmser worked closely with Hannah, Libby, Luti, and another Pentagon official, Harold Rhode. Ravich worked with neoconservative Middle East analyst Zalmay Khalilzad to build up Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, their designated supplanter of Hussein.
US or Israel Interests? - Many of Cheney’s most influential staffers are pro-Israeli to the point where many observers wonder where their ultimate loyalties lie. David Wurmser is a standout of this group. Wurmser worked at WINEP with Hannah, then joined the AEI, where he directed that group’s Middle East affairs, then joined Feith’s OSP before moving on to Bolton’s inner circle at the State Department, all before joining Cheney in the OVP. Most outsiders consider Wurmser’s ideas wildly unrealistic. A former ambassador says of Wurmser, “I’ve known him for years, and I consider him to be a naive simpleton.” [American Prospect, 4/16/2006]
Entity Tags: Elizabeth (“Liz”) Cheney, William Luti, Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), Victoria Nuland, US Department of State, Douglas Feith, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Samantha Ravich, Stephen Yates, David Wurmser, David S. Addington, David Phillips, Aaron Friedberg, American Enterprise Institute, Benjamin Netanyahu, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Central Intelligence Agency, Robert G. Joseph, Counterterrorism Evaluation Group, Chas Freeman, Robert Dreyfuss, American Prospect Magazine, US Department of Defense, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jennifer Mayfield, Jennifer Millerwise, John Hannah, James Woolsey, John R. Bolton, Iraqi National Congress, Harold Rhode, Entifadh Qanbar, Eric Edelman, George W. Bush, Hudson Institute, Richard Perle, Office of the Vice President, Lawrence Wilkerson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Mary Matalin, Lea Anne McBride, National Security Council, Dean McGrath, Paul Wolfowitz, Office of Special Plans, Juleanna Glover Weiss
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Judge Reggie Walton rules that if Lewis Libby does not testify on his own behalf during his perjury and obstruction trial, the defense will be prohibited from presenting some of its evidence and arguments about his poor memory accounting for his lies and misstatements (see January 31, 2006 and January 24, 2007). The defense protests, leading some court observers to speculate that Libby may indeed not testify, though defense lawyers say no decision has yet been made as to his potential testimony. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007; New York Sun, 2/13/2007; Washington Post, 2/13/2007; New York Times, 2/13/2007] Walton tells the defense that he feels he was misled, having been told all along that Libby would testify. “I didn’t think that was the landscape in which we were operating,” Walton says. The Washington Post calls Walton “irritated,” and the New York Times characterizes him as “annoyed.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007; Washington Post, 2/13/2007; New York Times, 2/13/2007] Assistant prosecutor Debra Bonamici tells Walton that all of their filings regarding what classified information could be presented in open court were based on the assumption that Libby would testify: “The truth is we did assume that Libby was going to testify, and we did so because [the defense] asked us to assume that. Everything we did was based on the asumption and it would be fundamentally unfair to hold us to an agreement we made based on those assumptions.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007] Walton says that unless Libby testifies, he does not plan to allow the defense to argue in its closing that the Valerie Plame Wilson issue was less important to Libby than other matters. Only Libby can testify to how important those issues were to him, Walton says. But, the Times writes, Libby’s lawyers do not want to expose him to cross-examination by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. John Cline, one of Libby’s lawyers, says he hopes to introduce evidence of Libby’s busy schedule through testimony of his former top aide, John Hannah (see February 13, 2007). [Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007; New York Times, 2/13/2007] Former federal prosecutor Joshua Berman, who has worked with both Fitzgerald and lead defense lawyer Theodore Wells, says Wells often waits until the last minute to decide which witnesses to call. “I’ve heard him say, ‘I often make the decision [to call a key witness] that morning,” Berman says, and adds that Wells has been “thinking about it every single morning and night since the trial began.” [USA Today, 2/12/2007]
The defense for accused perjurer Lewis “Scooter” Libby questions Vice President Dick Cheney’s national security adviser, John Hannah, who says he worked very closely with Libby while Libby served as Cheney’s chief of staff. Hannah testifies that Libby has a poor memory (see January 31, 2006), telling defense lawyer John Cline, “On certain things Scooter had an awful memory.” Hannah also says that part of Libby’s job as chief of staff to Cheney was to “push back” on any criticism of the vice president such as that leveled by war critic Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003). [New York Times, 2/13/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/13/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] Hannah says of Libby’s memory, “It would often be the case where he was quite good at remembering ideas and concepts and very bad at figuring out how those ideas came to him.” Hannah portrays Libby’s typical workday as, in the words of the Associated Press, “breakneck,” with CIA briefings beginning a long and often hectic workday peppered with top-level meetings. “He was the key person talking about and helping advise the vice president on issues of homeland security,” Hannah testifies. Hannah’s testimony is key to the defense strategy, helping paint Libby as a man consumed with the duties of an intensely stressful job and therefore prone to make mistakes in recollection, especially about issues such as the identity of a CIA official whose husband is publicly criticizing the government. Hannah is also able to introduce some specifics about the national threats Libby worked to prevent, including terrorism and the problems posed by Iran and Pakistan, without subjecting Libby to cross-examination (see February 12, 2007). When Libby tried to remember things during his hectic workday, Hannah testifies, he often was unable to do so completely. [Associated Press, 2/13/2007; New York Times, 2/13/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/13/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/13/2007] Hannah’s attempt to paint Libby as overworked and mnemonically challenged is short-lived, as prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald pins Hannah down in cross-examination. Fitzgerald asks Hannah if it would be accurate to say that because of Libby’s crushing work schedule during the week of July 6, 2003, the former chief of staff would have only spent time on things he considered important. “If he gave something an hour or two that week,” Fitzgerald asks, “it would be something Mr. Libby thought was important, right?” Hannah agrees. The jury is well aware that Libby spent two hours with New York Times reporter Judith Miller on July 8 of that week (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). Both outed CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson and FireDogLake blogger Jane Hamsher will observe, “It was a Perry Mason moment.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 290-291; Associated Press, 2/13/2007; New York Times, 2/13/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/13/2007; Jane Hamsher, 2/13/2007] Former Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal, the author of a recent book critical of the Bush administration, calls Hannah “Cheney’s stand-in, but without Cheney’s enormous potential liabilities that might be explored through cross-examination. Hannah’s role was to be the first-person witness to buttress Libby’s memory defense.” [Salon, 2/15/2007]
Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, John Cline, John Hannah, Valerie Plame Wilson, Sidney Blumenthal, Jane Hamsher, Reggie B. Walton, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Judith Miller, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Patrick J. Fitzgerald
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
After days of back-and-forth indications (see January 16-23, 2007 and February 12, 2007), the defense lawyers for Lewis Libby announce that neither their client nor Vice President Dick Cheney, Libby’s former boss, will testify in Libby’s defense. Judge Reggie Walton asks Libby to confirm that he is giving up his right to speak in his own defense, prompting the only words he speaks in court: “Yes, sir.” [New York Times, 2/13/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] Libby’s lawyers had previously announced that both Cheney and Libby would testify at the trial (see June 22, 2006 and December 19, 2006). The lawyers intend to question three CIA briefers, presumably those who briefed Cheney and Libby, before the court, but the prosecution argues that the CIA briefers should not be allowed to testify if Libby himself refuses to testify. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald calls the defense tactic of promising Libby’s testimony, and then inserting other witnesses such as Cheney’s national security adviser, John Hannah (see February 13, 2007), and the CIA briefers in lieu of Libby’s testimony, a “bait and switch.” After exhaustive wrangling in front of the bench, Walton agrees, and the briefers do not testify. [New York Times, 2/13/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/13/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/14/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/14/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/14/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007]
Defense lawyer Theodore Wells makes his closing argument to the jury, as Judge Reggie Walton looks on. [Source: Art Lien / Court Artist (.com)]Defense lawyer Theodore Wells makes his team’s closing argument in the Lewis Libby perjury and obstruction trial. Wells is following a two-hour closing argument by assistant prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg (see 9:00 a.m. February 20, 2007). [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007]
Indignation - Wells begins by saying he finds Zeidenberg’s arguments so incredible, he thinks he might be drunk. “[I]t sure sounded like I said a lot of things I could not deliver on,” he says. Court observer Marcy Wheeler, notating the arguments for the progressive blog FireDogLake, writes that while Zeidenberg came across as dispassionate and methodical, Wells’s tone is indignant and charged with emotion. In her book Fair Game, former CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson later describes Wells’s demeanor as “over the top, emotional… stalking the courtroom and changing the pitch and cadence of his voice like a seasoned Baptist preacher.” Wells says he will refrain from besmirching Zeidenberg’s character over some of the claims made in his argument, “because I don’t want to be personal.” Wells says that in the grand jury proceedings where Libby allegedly lied under oath (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004), lawyers asked “the same question time after time after time,” causing Libby to stumble and misstate himself. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 293; Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007]
Revives Claim of Libby Being 'Scapegoated' - Wells denies claiming the existence of a White House conspiracy to “scapegoat” Libby in his opening statement (see January 23, 2007), saying he instead merely put into evidence the so-called “meat grinder” note from Vice President Dick Cheney that asserted it would be unfair to protect White House official Karl Rove and sacrifice Libby (see October 4, 2003). (Wells is misstating the contents of the note; it does not mention Rove at all.) Instead of lying, Wells says, Libby was “fight[ing] to get clear,” fighting to save his credibility after White House officials “blew him off.”
'He Said, She Said' - Wells asserts Libby’s complete innocence of all the charges brought against him, and says the entire body of evidence amounts to nothing more than a case of “he said, she said,” indicating that witnesses contradicted and disputed one another. Libby’s recollections, Wells says, are different from those of the reporters who testified for the prosecution. None of the charges pertain to Libby’s conversations with the White House officials who testified for the prosecution. The question hinges on whether Libby lied about his conversations with reporters Judith Miller, Matthew Cooper, and Robert Novak. One of the charges, hinging on Libby’s statements about his conversation with Miller, is no longer in contention. Of the conversation with Cooper (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003), Wells says Libby was truthful when he told Cooper he “didn’t know” whether Plame Wilson was a CIA official or not. The evidence supports Libby’s position, Wells says.
Tim Russert - Wells turns to NBC reporter Tim Russert, whom Libby claimed told him about Plame Wilson being a CIA official (see July 10 or 11, 2003). Russert either lied under oath, Wells says, or had a major memory lapse. Because of what Wells calls Russert’s contradictory testimony, that “in and of itself is reasonable doubt,” and grounds for acquittal. The prosecution is flatly wrong in its timeline of events. It is almost certain Russert read Robert Novak’s column naming Plame Wilson as a CIA official on July 11, 2003, after it was issued on the Associated Press wire (see July 11, 2003), and informed Libby of that fact during their conversation shortly thereafter. Perhaps Russert merely misremembered the dates or the events of his discussion with Libby, Wells says, but his testimony was wrong. “You cannot convict Mr. Libby solely on the word of this man,” he says. “It would just be fundamentally unfair.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007; Associated Press, 2/20/2007]
Presumed Innocent - Wells admonishes the jury not to forget that Libby is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Libby didn’t testify (see February 13-14, 2007) because the defense is not required to prove the innocence of the accused. The only question, Wells states, is whether Libby is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Did the government prove that guilt beyond a reasonable doubt? Wells says no. He then ticks off the five counts of criminal behavior that Libby is charged with, and links each one of them to either Russert, Cooper, or both. In the instances of both reporters, Wells says, there is doubt as to their recollections and therefore doubt as to whether Libby lied about his conversations with them. Wells calls it “madness… that someone would get charged with this.” If Libby misstated himself, Wells says, he did so with good intentions, with a good-faith effort to tell the truth. There was no “deliberate, purposeful intent to lie.” Wells walks the jury through his version of events, which he says proves Libby told the truth to the best of his ability throughout. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007]
Jeffress - William Jeffress, another defense attorney, takes up the defense’s closing argument after lunch. Wheeler writes that his demeanor is far calmer and reasonable than Wells’s emotional presentation. Jeffress says that common sense alone should lead the jury to find that Libby either told the truth as he understood it or merely misremembered as an honest mistake. The case, he says, is about memory first and foremost. Libby may have misremembered, Jeffress says. The reporters who testified may have misremembered. It is plausible to think that Libby learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status in June 2003, told some government officials, then in the crush of events, forgot about it until July, when he learned it again from Russert. Jeffress walks the jury through a timeline of how reporters learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from various government officials other than Libby, and says some of them, particularly former press secretary Ari Fleischer, may well have lied under oath to cover themselves (see January 29, 2007). Jeffress plays selections from Libby’s grand jury testimony to bolster his arguments about the various reporters learning of Plame Wilson’s identity from other officials.
Motive to Lie? - Libby had no motive to lie, Jeffress asserts. He was never charged with violating the statutes covering the exposure of a covert intelligence agent (see May 10, 2006). No one has testified that they knew without a doubt that Plame Wilson was covert, though the prosecution implied it more than once. If newspaper articles claimed that Plame Wilson was covert, those articles cannot be taken as factual; many articles and op-eds asserted that Plame Wilson was never covert. “It remains far from clear that a law was violated.” And Libby had no way to know that Plame Wilson was herself covert. No one, not Libby or any other government official who exposed Plame Wilson’s identity, lost their job over exposing her CIA status.
Judith Miller - Jeffress again turns to the issue of reporters’ credibility, beginning with Miller. Her testimony (see January 30-31, 2007) was, he says, marred with mistakes and failures of memory, even going so far as testifying, when she spoke to the grand jury, that she had not learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from Libby (see September 30, 2005), and then reversing that claim in subsequent testimony (see October 12, 2005). “Pretty amazing, a person testifying about this after not remembering for two years,” Jeffress observes. As Libby kept no notes of his conversations with Miller, he has only his word to refute her claims. Miller, Jeffress says, is an unreliable witness.
Matthew Cooper - Jeffress, who is running out of time for his portion of the close, turns to Cooper. The difference between Libby’s recollection of events and Cooper’s is, Jeffress asserts, the difference that the government wants the jury to convict on three separate charges. Yet Cooper never wrote about Plame Wilson until after her status was made public. Libby did not serve as a source for his reporting (see July 17, 2003). And as with Miller, Cooper’s testimony proved his failure to keep accurate notes (see January 31, 2007).
Cathie Martin - Jeffress moves quickly to address the testimony of Cathie Martin, then a communications aide to Cheney (see January 25-29, 2007). Martin testified that Libby’s version of his telephone conversation with Cooper was incorrect, and as she was there for the conversation, her testimony is accurate. However, Martin misremembered the number of calls made (two, not one) and did not hear Libby’s side of the conversation accurately. She had no way to know what Cooper was saying on the other end.
Jeffress Concludes - Jeffress concludes by telling the jurors that they are the first people to examine the case “through the lens of a presumption of innocence.” The prosecution, he says, has not proven the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. “It’s not even close.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007]
Wells Continues - Theodore Wells once again addresses the jury. He has less than an hour to finish. He refers back to the “meat grinder” note from Cheney that proves, Wells says, Libby did not leak classified information (see June 27, 2003, July 2, 2003, 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Wells also revisits his claim that Libby was “left out to dry” by other White House officials. He disputes the timeline of events from the prosecution, again attacks the credibility of prosecution witnesses such as Russert and Fleischer, and calls the prosecution’s evidence “circumstantial” and unconvincing. He even disputes that Libby was involved in any effort to discredit Joseph Wilson, or that there even was an effort among White House officials to do so. As he reaches the end of his time, Wells’s demeanor once again begins to exhibit agitation and indignation, and he calls the idea that Libby, whom he says devoted himself to serving the Bush administration, committed a crime in that service “outrageous.” He revisits the contention that Libby’s memory was faulty and failed him at inopportune times, calls the courtroom a “laboratory of recollection,” and asks the jurors if they can emphathize with Libby’s forgetfulness. He reminds the jury of former Cheney aide John Hannah’s claims to that effect, and his testimony to Libby’s stressful job (see February 13, 2007). Libby, Wells says, deserves the “benefit of the doubt.” Wells admits that Libby “made mistakes” in his grand jury testimony, but those mistakes were honest “misrecollect[ions].” During his final minutes, Wells becomes emotional, breaking into tears and imploring the jurors not to sacrifice Libby because they might disapprove of the Bush administration or the war in Iraq. “This is a man with a wife and two children,” he says. “He is a good person. He’s been under my protection for the past month. I give him to you. Give him back! Give him back to me!” Wells sits down, sobbing. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007; Associated Press, 2/20/2007; Washington Post, 2/21/2007; New York Sun, 2/21/2007]
Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Ari Fleischer, Marcy Wheeler, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Judith Miller, John Hannah, William Jeffress, Karl C. Rove, Tim Russert, Matthew Cooper, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert Novak, Theodore Wells, Peter Zeidenberg, Valerie Plame Wilson
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
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
CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer interviews investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, who recently alleged that an “executive assassination wing” operated out of the White House (see March 10, 2009). Blitzer notes that the entity Hersh cited, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), denies Hersh’s claim, and says, in Blitzer’s words, “their forces operate under established rules of engagement and the law of armed conflict.” The JSOC “has no command and control authorities over the US military,” the JSOC has told Blitzer. Additionally, former Bush national security expert Frances Townsend has denied Hersh’s claim.
Not New Reporting - Hersh tells Blitzer that though he has not written specifically about the “assassination wing,” he and others have written about the actions of the JSOC well before now. “[I]t’s a separately independent unit that does not report to Congress, at least in the years I know about.… It has been given executive authority by the president in as many as 12 countries to go in and kill we’re talking about high value targets. That’s absolutely correct.” He says that such actions are not only illegal, but have no basis in intelligence. “The idea that you’re telling a group of American combat soldiers,” he says, “[t]he idea that we have a unit set up who goes after high-value targets who up to a certain point I know for sure until very recently were clearing lists. That doesn’t mean Cheney has an assassination unit that he says I want to go get somebody. That’s how it sort of played out in the press. The idea that we have a unit that goes around and without reporting to Congress, Congress knows very little about this group, can’t get clearings, can’t get hearings, can’t get even a classified hearings on it. Congresspeople have told me this. Those are out and has authority for the president to go into a country without telling the CIA station chief or the ambassador and whack somebody and I’m sorry, Wolf, I have a lot of problems with that.”
Poor Choice of Phrase - Hersh says he regrets using the phrase “executive assassination wing,” because it is a “loaded phrase.” Word choice aside, Hersh says: “It comes down to the same thing, that you can—you’ve delegated authority to troops in the field to hit people on the basis of whatever intelligence they think is good and I can tell you it’s always not good and sometimes things get very bloody.… The bottom line is, it’s—if it were the way your little presentation set up, that everything was checked and cleared, in fact, it was an awful lot of delegation to this group, which does not brief the Congress. And this does raise profound questions of constitutional authority. It’s the same questions that have come up repeatedly in the Bush administration. That is a unitarian president, the notion that a president can do things without telling Congress and unilaterally. This is an extension of that issue.”
Implied Confirmation from Former Cheney Adviser - John Hannah, the former national security adviser to Vice President Cheney, says Hersh’s allegations are “not true,” but in his next statement, he seems to confirm Hersh’s allegations to an extent. Blitzer says: “Explain exactly what’s going on in terms of a list. Is there a list of terrorists, suspected terrorists, out there who can be assassinated?” Hannah replies: “There is—there’s clearly a group of people that go through a very extremely well-vetted process—interagency process, as I think was explained in your piece, that have committed acts of war against the United States, who are at war with the United States, or is suspected of planning operations of war against the United States, who authority is given, to our troops in the field in certain war theaters to capture or kill those individuals. That is certainly true.… Osama bin Laden and his number two are right at the top of the list. [The number of individuals to be assassinated] is a small group and the point is that it is very, very heavily vetted throughout the interagency process.” Hannah says that he has trouble believing that Congress was not aware of actions, presumably including possible assassinations, carried out by the JSOC: “I don’t know exactly what the consultations are with the Congress, but it’s hard for me to believe that those committee chairman and the leadership on the Hill involved in intelligence and armed services, if they want to know about these operations, cannot get that information through the Defense Department.” Asked if such assassinations are legal and Constitutional, Hannah says: “There is no question. And in a theater of war, when we are at war, and there’s no doubt, we are still at war against al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and on that Pakistani border, that our troops have the authority to go out after and capture and kill the enemy, including the leadership of the enemy.” [CNN, 3/30/2009; MinnPost (.com), 3/31/2009]
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