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Profile: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney
Positions that Richard (“Dick”) Cheney has held:
- US Vice President
- CEO of Halliburton, Inc.
- Secretary of Defense
September 16, 2001
“There is—in the past, there have been some activities related to terrorism by Saddam Hussein. But at this stage, you know, the focus is over here on al-Qaida and the most recent events in New York. Saddam Hussein’s bottled up, at this point, but clearly, we continue to have a fairly tough policy where the Iraqis are concerned.”
[Meet the Press, 9/16/2001]
March 16, 2002
“I think Mr. ElBaradei, frankly, is wrong [about his conclusion that there ‘is no indication of resumed nuclear activities’ ]. And I think if you look at the track record of the International Atomic Energy Agency in this kind of issue, especially where Iraq’s concerned, they have consistently underestimated or missed what it was Saddam Hussein was doing. I don’t have any reason to believe they’re any more valid this time than they’ve been in the past…. We believe [Saddam] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.”
[Meet the Press, 9/14/2003; New Republic, 6/30/2003 ]
August 26, 2002
“What he wants is time, and more time to husband his resources to invest in his ongoing chemical and biological weapons program, and to gain possession of nuclear weapons.”
[New York Times, 8/26/2002]
September 8, 2002
“[B]ased on intelligence that?s becoming available—some of it has been made public [referring to the recent New York Times story—… he has indeed stepped up his capacity to produce and deliver biological weapons,… he has reconstituted his nuclear program to develop a nuclear weapon,… there are efforts under way inside Iraq to significantly expand his capability.… There?s a story in The New York Times this morning… [I]t?s now public that, in fact, he has been seeking to acquire, and we have been able to intercept and prevent him from acquiring through this particular channel, the kinds of tubes that are necessary to build a centrifuge. And the centrifuge is required to take low-grade uranium and enhance it into highly enriched uranium, which is what you have to have in order to build a bomb. This is a technology he was working on back, say, before the Gulf War. And one of the reasons it?s of concern,… is… [that] we know about a particular shipment. We?ve intercepted that. We don?t know what else—what other avenues he may be taking out there, what he may have already acquired. We do know he?s had four years without any inspections at all in Iraq to develop that capability.… [W]e do know, with absolute certainty, that he [Saddam Hussein] is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment [aluminum tubes] he needs in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon.… We are trying very hard not be unilateralist, We are working to build support with the American people, with the Congress, as many have suggested we should. And we are also as many of us suggested we should, going to the United Nations, and the president will address this issue.… We would like to do it with the sanction of the international community. But the point in Iraq is this problem has to be dealt with one way or the other.”
[Washington Post, 2/7/2003; Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/27/2003]
December 2, 2002
“[Saddam Hussein] is pressing forward with weapons of mass destruction—weapons he’s already used in his war against Iran and against his own people…. As we destroy the terrorist networks and hunt down the killers, we must simultaneously confront the regime that is developing weapons for the sole purpose of inflicting death on a massive scale.”
[White House, 12/2/2002]
March 16, 2003
“He’s had years to get good at it and we believe he [Saddam Hussein] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons. I think Mr. ElBaradei [the director of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)] frankly is wrong.”
[Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 7/13/2003]
September 14, 2003
“With respect to 9/11, of course, we’ve had the story… the Czechs alleged that Mohamed Atta, the lead attacker, met in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official five months before the attack, but we’ve never been able to develop anymore of that yet, either in terms of confirming it or discrediting it.”
[Democracy Now!, 9/16/2003; Washington Post, 9/29/2003]
January 22, 2004
“In terms of the question what is there now, we know for example that prior to our going in that he had spent time and effort acquiring mobile biological weapons labs, and we’re quite confident he did, in fact, have such a program. We’ve found a couple of semi trailers at this point which we believe were, in fact, part of that program. Now it’s not clear at this stage whether or not he used any of that to produce or whether he was simply getting ready for the next war. That, in my mind, is a serious danger in the hands of a man like Saddam Hussein, and I would deem that conclusive evidence, if you will, that he did, in fact, have programs for weapons of mass destruction.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/23/2004; Washington Post, 1/23/2004]
June 13, 2005
“Any suggestion that we did not exhaust all alternatives before we got to that point, I think, is inaccurate.”
Richard (“Dick”) Cheney was a participant or observer in the following events:
Time reporter Matt Cooper testifies at the perjury and obstruction trial of former White House official Lewis “Scooter” Libby about his conversations with Libby concerning the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson. Cooper confirms that he learned that Plame Wilson worked with the CIA from both Libby and White House political strategist Karl Rove (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), but did not ask Libby how he knew Plame Wilson was indeed a CIA officer. According to Cooper, when he mentioned learning from Rove that Plame Wilson was a CIA officer, Libby said, “I’ve heard that too.” Cooper says that Libby did not qualify his statement in any way, though in 2004, Libby testified to the grand jury (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004) that he told both Cooper and reporter Judith Miller that he was merely citing rumors he had heard from other reporters (see July 10 or 11, 2003). Cooper confirms that Libby did not indicate the information about Plame Wilson was classified, nor did he say anything about learning it from other journalists. Libby’s lawyers attack Cooper’s credibility, noting that his testimony does not precisely match what he told his editors at the time, and suggest he could have learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity from other reporters. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/31/2007; Washington Post, 2/1/2007; National Review, 2/1/2007; New York Times, 2/4/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] Cooper initially said that he considered Libby’s remark “off the record,” a term reporters use to indicate that a comment cannot be used in print. Later, Cooper says he considered it confirmation that could be used as background attribution. He also acknowledges that he changed the wording of Libby’s quote slightly for the Time article. Cooper testifies that he didn’t take any notes on that exchange or include it in his memo to his editor and fellow reporters. “I can’t explain that,” he says. “It was late in the day. I didn’t write it down, but it is my memory.” [Associated Press, 1/31/2007]
Rove's Involvement - Cooper’s testimony gives defense lawyers the opportunity to bring up Rove’s involvement, since Cooper learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from Rove before he learned it from Libby (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003). Cooper says that he was told by Rove that Plame Wilson, not Vice President Dick Cheney, sent former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger (see July 6, 2003). [CBS News, 1/25/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/31/2007]
Sloppy Journalism - The Washington Post notes of Cooper’s testimony juxtaposed with Judith Miller’s, who preceded him on the stand (see January 30-31, 2007): “The pair’s turn on the witness stand also provided an unflattering portrayal of how some of Washington’s most prominent journalists work. If the testimony of half a dozen government officials earlier in the trial exposed infighting at the highest levels of the Bush administration, the testimony of Cooper and Miller exposed jurors—and the public—to the sloppy and incomplete note-taking of reporters, their inability to remember crucial interviews, and, in Miller’s case, important interview notes stuffed into a shopping bag under her desk.” [Washington Post, 2/1/2007]
Admiral William Fallon. [Source: US Navy]Admiral William Fallon, named to replace General John Abizaid as head of the US Central Command (Centcom) for the Middle East and Southwest Asia (see March 16, 2007), reportedly privately opposes the proposed addition of a third US aircraft carrier group in the Persian Gulf, and vows that there will be no war against Iran as long as he is chief of Centcom. Fallon’s opposition to a military strike against Iran results in a shift in the Bush administration away from its aggressive, threatening posture towards Iran, and instead moves the administration’s rhetoric incrementally towards diplomatic engagement with that nation. Historian and author Gareth Porter writes, “That shift, for which no credible explanation has been offered by administration officials, suggests that Fallon’s resistance to a crucial deployment was a major factor in the intra-administration struggle over policy toward Iran.” Fallon’s resistance to further naval buildups in the Gulf apparently surprises Bush officials; in January, Defense Secretary Robert Gates publicly suggested that Fallon’s appointment gives greater emphasis on the military option for Iran. Gates said in January, “As you look at the range of options available to the United States, the use of naval and air power, potentially, it made sense to me for all those reasons for Fallon to have the job.” A third carrier group deployment would have pushed the US naval presence in the region to the same level as it was during the last months of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. Apparently, the deployment of a third carrier group was envisioned as a means of pressuring the Iranian government, in a plan to engage in a series of operations that would appear to Tehran to be war preparations much like those that presaged the invasion of Iraq (see March 19, 2003). But Fallon’s opposition scotched those plans. Fallon recently told an informed source that an attack on Iran “will not happen on my watch.… You know what choices I have. I’m a professional.” And Fallon indicated he is not alone: “There are several of us trying to put the crazies back in the box.” Fallon’s position weakens the belligerent posture adopted by Vice President Dick Cheney and his aides, and strengthens that of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is now preparing to make high-level diplomatic contacts with Iranian officials. [Inter Press Service, 5/15/2007]
FBI agent Deborah Bond testifies for the prosecution in the trial of former White House official Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see January 16-23, 2007). Bond took over the Libby investigation when the previous head, John Eckenrode (see November 24, 2003), retired. She discusses two interviews she held with Libby, in October and November 2003 respectively (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003). She says that in one interview Libby acknowledged that his former boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, “may have talked” on July 12, 2003, about telling the press that former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, worked at the CIA, though Libby told her that he was “not sure” the conversation actually took place. According to Bond, Libby acknowledged that he and Cheney “may have” discussed the Plame Wilson matter the same day, while the two flew back to Washington from Norfolk aboard Air Force Two (see July 12, 2003); Libby said that Cheney might have learned about Plame Wilson’s CIA status from CIA Director George Tenet or another CIA official, though he was not sure. Cheney was wondering how to discredit Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic Joseph Wilson. Days before, Cheney had written in the margin of an op-ed by Wilson a question about the possibility of Plame Wilson sending her husband on a fact-finding “junket” to Niger (see July 7, 2003 or Shortly After). Libby told the FBI during a November 2003 interview that, in the agent’s words, “there was a discussion whether to report to the press that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA” during that July 12 flight. “Mr. Libby told us he believed they may have talked about it but he wasn’t sure.” In the hours after the discussion, Libby called reporter Judith Miller; in their conversation, he outed Plame Wilson as a CIA official and accused her of sending her husband to Niger (see Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), though Bond testifies that Libby denied ever mentioning Plame Wilson to Miller. Libby also called Time reporter Matthew Cooper and confirmed that Plame Wilson was a CIA officer, and had been involved in her husband’s trip (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003). Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff says of Bond’s testimony, “This is significant, because it bring [sic] Cheney himself far more directly into the case, and for the first time suggests that it was the vice president who wanted the news about Wilson’s wife to be circulated to the news media.” Bond’s testimony also establishes the first time Libby claimed he “forgot” about learning Plame Wilson’s CIA status until “remembering” in October 2003. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/1/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/1/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/1/2007; Washington Post, 2/2/2007; Associated Press, 2/2/2007; National Journal, 2/15/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007] The defense presses Bond to acknowledge that Libby told her he was unsure of his memory and needed to consult his notes to be sure of his facts. Defense lawyer Theodore Wells also notes that Bond’s notes from the Libby interview are incomplete, and fail to mention Libby’s denials of disclosing Plame Wilson’s identity to Miller. Bond says that while she is sure Libby denied discussing Plame Wilson’s CIA identity with then-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see January 29, 2007), FBI notes of Libby’s testimony contain no record of such a denial. The notes say that he may have discussed it, but he couldn’t recall. “Adamantly might not be the perfect word,” Bond testifies. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/1/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/1/2007; Associated Press, 2/5/2007; FireDogLake, 2/5/2007; FireDogLake, 2/5/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007]
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Deborah Bond, George J. Tenet, Judith Miller, John Eckenrode, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Ari Fleischer, Michael Isikoff, Joseph C. Wilson, Matthew Cooper, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Valerie Plame Wilson, Theodore Wells
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Jurors in the Lewis Libby perjury and obstruction trial (see January 16-23, 2007) hear eight hours of audio recordings of Libby’s 2003 and 2004 grand jury testimony (see March 5, 2004, March 24, 2004, and February 1-5, 2007). Three of the five perjury and obstruction of justice charges stem from Libby’s testimony before that grand jury. In the tapes, Libby acknowledges to prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that he understands a person who does not tell the truth to a grand jury can be charged with perjury. Libby’s memory was extraordinarily poor during his testimony; he told jurors in 2004 that he could recall little of his conversations with his then-boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, about former ambassador and administration critic Joseph Wilson (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004). Libby did recall Cheney telling him that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was a CIA officer, but said Cheney told him in “sort of an offhand manner, as a curiosity.” Presiding judge Reggie Walton rules that once the jury is finished with them, the tapes will be released to the media. Libby’s lawyers had argued that releasing them would “seriously threaten” his right to a fair trial. [CBS News, 1/25/2007; FireDogLake, 2/5/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] Jurors will hear more grand jury testimony the next day (see February 6, 2007).
Jurors in the Lewis Libby perjury trial (see January 16-23, 2007) hear six more hours of audio recordings of Libby’s 2003 and 2004 grand jury testimony (see March 5, 2004, March 24, 2004, and February 1-5, 2007). They spent all of yesterday listening to Libby’s testimony from the same audio recordings (see February 5, 2007). Today, jurors hear Libby acknowledging that he originally learned of Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity from his then-boss, Vice President Dick Cheney (see (June 12, 2003)). But, Libby said, he “forgot” that he had learned that information from Cheney, so when he heard it a second time from NBC News bureau chief Tim Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003), he thought that he was hearing it for the first time. According to Libby, Russert asked him in July 2003, “Did you know that [former] ambassador [Joseph] Wilson’s wife works at the CIA?” Libby added: “And I was a little taken aback by that. I remember being taken aback by it.” Libby’s testimony conflicts with testimony given by many other witnesses, who say Libby discussed Wilson’s wife with them before the stated date of the Libby-Russert conversation. In his grand jury testimony, Russert said he didn’t recall Plame Wilson’s name coming up at all in his conversation with Libby (see February 7-8, 2007). In other portions of the audio tapes, Libby is heard repeatedly claiming that he cannot remember details of conversations other officials have said they had with him. [FireDogLake, 2/5/2007; FireDogLake, 2/6/2007; FireDogLake, 2/6/2007; FireDogLake, 2/6/2007; FireDogLake, 2/6/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald says of Libby’s claimed memory lapse, “You can’t be startled about something on Thursday [July 10] that you told other people about on Monday [July 7] and Tuesday [July 8].” Fitzgerald is referring to Libby’s disclosure of Plame Wilson’s identity to reporter Judith Miller (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). [FireDogLake, 2/5/2007; National Journal, 2/19/2007] Jurors are able to follow the audiotapes with printed copies of Libby’s testimony as well as from a display on a large television monitor. [CBS News, 1/25/2007; FireDogLake, 2/5/2007] The grand jury replay will conclude tomorrow morning (see February 7, 2007).
Author and media observer Eric Boehlert, writing for the progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters, criticizes the majority of mainstream news reporters and publications for failing to report aggressively and even accurately on the Plame Wilson leak investigation. Boehlert writes that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald “has consistently shown more interest—and determination—in uncovering the facts of the Plame scandal than most Beltway journalists, including the often somnambulant DC newsroom of the New York Times. Indeed, for long stretches, the special counsel easily supplanted the timid DC press corps and become the fact-finder of record for the Plame story. It was Fitzgerald and his team of G-men—not journalists—who were running down leads, asking tough questions, and, in the end, helping inform the American people about possible criminal activity inside the White House.” While Fitzgerald had subpoena power, Boehlert admits, reporters often had inside information that they consistently failed to reveal, instead “dutifully keeping their heads down and doing their best to make sure the details never got out about the White House’s obsession with discrediting former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV by outing his undercover CIA wife, Valerie Plame” Wilson. Boehlert writes that if not for Fitzgerald’s dogged investigation, the entire leak story would have “simply faded into oblivion like so many other disturbing suggestions of Bush administration misdeeds. And it would have faded away because lots of high-profile journalists at the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, and NBC wanted it to.”
'Watergate in Reverse' - “In a sense, it was Watergate in reverse,” Boehlert writes. “Instead of digging for the truth, lots of journalists tried to bury it. The sad fact remains the press was deeply involved in the cover-up, as journalists reported White House denials regarding the Plame leak despite the fact scores of them received the leak and knew the White House was spreading rampant misinformation about an unfolding criminal case.”
Going Along to Avoid Angering White House - Boehlert believes that in the early days of the investigation, most Washington reporters agreed with President Bush, who said that it was unlikely the leaker’s identity would ever be unearthed (see October 7, 2003). Historically, leak investigations rarely produced the leaker. “So if the leakers weren’t going to be found out, what was the point of reporters going public with their information and angering a then-popular White House that had already established a habit for making life professionally unpleasant for reporters who pressed too hard?” Boehlert asks. Now, of course, the press is pursuing the Libby trial for all it’s worth.
Early Instances of Misleading - Boehlert notes a number of instances where media figures either deliberately concealed information they had about who leaked Plame Wilson’s name, or were transparently disingenuous about speculating on the leaker’s identity. ABC reported in July 2005 that “it’s been unknown who told reporters the identity of Valerie Plame” for two years, an assertion Boehlert calls “silly” (see October 3, 2003). The following Washington journalists all had inside information to one extent or another about the case long before the summer of 2005: Robert Novak (see July 8, 2003), Tim Russert (see August 7, 2004), Andrea Mitchell (see July 20, 2003 and July 21, 2003), David Gregory (see 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), Chris Matthews (see July 21, 2003), Matthew Cooper (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), Michael Duffy (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), John Dickerson (see February 7, 2006), Viveca Novak (see March 1, 2004), Judith Miller (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), and Bob Woodward (see June 13, 2003). Had they come forward with the information they had, the identity of the various White House leakers would have been revealed much sooner. “[B]ut none of them did,” Boehlert writes. “Instead, at times there was an unspoken race away from the Bush scandal, a collective retreat that’s likely unprecedented in modern-day Beltway journalism.”
Cheerleading for Bush - Many journalists without inside information were openly cheering for the Bush administration and against the investigation, Boehlert contends. They included the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof (see October 1, 2003 and October 25, 2005), Newsweek’s Evan Thomas (see October 1, 2003 and November 7, 2005), Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen (see October 13, 2005 and January 30, 2007), fellow Post columnist Michael Kinsley (see October 28, 2005 and January 31, 2007), Slate editor Jacob Weisberg (see October 18, 2005), and Post columnist David Broder (see July 10, 2005 and September 7, 2006). Author and liberal blogger Marcy Wheeler, in her book on the Plame affair entitled Anatomy of Deceit, wrote that in her view, the media was attempting to “mak[e] the case that the press should retain exclusive judgment on the behavior of politicians, with no role for the courts.”
Fighting to Stay Quiet during the Election Campaign - Many journalists tried, and succeeded, to keep the story quiet during the 2004 presidential election campaign. Matthew Cooper refused to testify before Fitzgerald’s grand jury until mid-2005, when he asked for and was granted a waiver from Karl Rove to reveal him as the source of his information that Plame Wilson was a CIA agent (see July 13, 2005). Boehlert notes that Cooper’s bosses at Time decided to fight the subpoena in part because they “were concerned about becoming part of such an explosive story in an election year” (see July 6, 2005).
Russert, NBC Withheld Information from Public - Russert also withheld information from Fitzgerald, and the American public, until well after the November 2004 election. Boehlert notes that Russert “enjoyed a very close working relationship with Libby’s boss, Cheney,” and “chose to remain silent regarding central facts.” Russert could have revealed that in the summer of 2004, he had told Fitzgerald of his conversation with Libby during the summer of 2003 (see August 7, 2004). Libby had perjured himself by telling Fitzgerald that Russert had told him of Plame Wilson’s CIA status, when in reality, the reverse was true (see March 24, 2004). Instead, Russert testified that he and Libby never discussed Plame Wilson’s identity during that conversation, or at any other time. But neither Russert nor his employer, NBC News, admitted that to the public, instead merely saying that Libby did not reveal Plame Wilson’s identity to Russert (see August 7, 2004). Boehlert writes, “But why, in the name of transparency, didn’t the network issue a statement that made clear Russert and Libby never even discussed Plame?”
Woodward's Involvement - Washington Post editor Bob Woodward, an icon of investigative reporting (see June 15, 1974), told various television audiences that Fitzgerald’s investigation was “disgraceful” and called Fitzgerald a “junkyard prosecutor” (see October 27, 2005), and said the leak had not harmed the CIA (see July 14, 2003, July 21, 2003, September 27, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, and October 23-24, 2003). Woodward predicted that when “all of the facts come out in this case, it’s going to be laughable because the consequences are not that great” (see July 7, 2005). While Woodward was disparaging the investigation (see July 11, 2005, July 17, 2005, and October 28, 2005), he was failing to reveal that he himself had been the recipient of a leak about Plame Wilson’s identity years before (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, and June 27, 2003), which, Boehlert notes, “meant Woodward, the former sleuth, had been sitting been sitting on a sizeable scoop for more than two years.” Boehlert continues: “If at any point prior to the Libby indictments Woodward had come forward with his information, it would have been politically devastating for the White House. Instead, Woodward remained mum about the facts while publicly mocking Fitzgerald’s investigation.”
Conclusion - Boehlert concludes: “Regardless of the outcome from the Libby perjury case, the trial itself will be remembered for pulling back the curtain on the Bush White House as it frantically tried to cover up its intentional effort to mislead the nation to war. Sadly, the trial will also serve as a touchstone for how the Beltway press corps completely lost its way during the Bush years and became afraid of the facts—and the consequences of reporting them.” [Media Matters, 2/6/2007]
Entity Tags: David Gregory, David Broder, Richard Cohen, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Steve Soto, Tim Russert, Time magazine, Viveca Novak, Andrea Mitchell, Nicholas Kristof, Bob Woodward, Washington Post, Bush administration (43), New York Times, Robert Novak, Michael Kinsley, Chris Matthews, Jacob Weisberg, George W. Bush, Evan Thomas, Eric Boehlert, John Dickerson, Joseph C. Wilson, NBC News, Karl C. Rove, Marcy Wheeler, Matthew Cooper, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Media Matters, Michael Duffy, Judith Miller
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Artist’s sketch of Tim Russert testifying in the Libby trial. [Source: Art Lien / CourtArtist (.com)]NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert testifies in the trial of Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see January 16-23, 2007), following almost three days of videotaped testimony from Libby (see February 7, 2007). Russert’s testimony is virtually identical to statements he previously made to an FBI investigator (see November 24, 2003) and to the Plame Wilson grand jury (see August 7, 2004).
Never Discussed Plame Wilson with Libby - Questioned by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, Russert contradicts Libby’s 2004 testimony, where Libby said he learned of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity from Russert in July 2003 (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004). Russert says that in July 2003 he spoke with Libby, who complained about MSNBC news anchor Chris Matthews’s coverage of the Iraq war (see July 10 or 11, 2003). Libby testified that at the end of that phone call, Russert broached the subject of war critic Joseph Wilson and told him that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA, saying, “[A]ll the reporters know” that Plame Wilson is a CIA officer. Russert tells the jury: “That would be impossible. I didn’t know who that person was until several days later.” He adds: “If he had told me [Plame Wilson’s identity], I would have asked him how he knew that, why he knew that, what is the relevance of that. And since [it was] a national security issue, my superiors [would] try to pursue it.”
Cross-Examination Focuses on Faulty Recollections - Libby’s lawyer, Theodore Wells, is skeptical of Russert’s denial. “You have the chief of staff of the vice president of the United States on the telephone and you don’t ask him one question about it?” he asks. “As a newsperson who’s known for being aggressive and going after the facts, you wouldn’t have asked him about the biggest stories in the world that week?” Russert replies, “What happened is exactly what I told you.” Wells cites a transcript of Russert’s initial testimony before the FBI, in which he said he could not rule out discussing Plame Wilson with Libby. Russert says he doesn’t believe that is what he told the FBI. Wells asks, “Did you disclose in the affidavit to the court that you had already disclosed the contents of your conversation with Mr. Libby?” Russert attempts to answer, saying, “As I’ve said, sir…” but Wells cuts him off, saying, “It’s a yes or no question.” Russert responds, “I’d like to answer it to the best of my ability.” Wells says: “This is a very simple question. Either it’s in the affidavit or it’s not. Did you disclose to the court that you had already communicated to the FBI the fact that you had communicated with Mr. Libby?” Russert answers, “No” (see Late February or Early March, 2004). Wells attempts to raise questions about Russert’s ethics and credibility, and implies that Russert wanted to see Libby face charges. In follow-up questioning, Fitzgerald asks Russert, “Did you take joy in Mr. Libby’s indictment?” Russert replies: “No, not at all. And I don’t take joy in being here” in the courtroom as a witness. During the second day of Russert’s testimony, defense lawyers ask why Russert told the FBI about his conversation with Libby, but said he would not testify if subpoenaed; Russert says he viewed the FBI conversation and the subpoena differently. During redirect, Fitzgerald notes that during Libby’s grand jury testimony, Libby claimed that he had indeed learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from his then-boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, but had forgotten about it, and when Russert told him about Plame Wilson’s CIA status, it was as if it were new information to him (see February 6, 2007). [FireDogLake, 2/7/2007; FireDogLake, 2/7/2007; FireDogLake, 2/7/2007; FireDogLake, 2/7/2007; FireDogLake, 2/7/2007; FireDogLake, 2/7/2007; CNN, 2/8/2007; New York Times, 2/9/2007; Associated Press, 2/9/2007; MSNBC, 2/12/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007] The Associated Press writes: “Wells wants to cast Russert as someone who cannot be believed, who publicly championed the sanctity of off-the-record conversations but privately revealed that information to investigators. Russert said he viewed the FBI conversation and testimony to prosecutors differently.” [Associated Press, 2/9/2007]
Potential Mistrial Averted - The jurors are not supposed to read about the trial in the press or watch television coverage of it; resultingly, they are provided newspapers with the pertinent information scissored out. As the jurors enter the courtroom for Russert’s second day of testimony, Judge Reggie Walton notes that they were given newspapers with a Washington Post article, headlined “Tim Russert on the Uncomfortable Side of a Question,” unredacted. A juror brought the newspaper to the attention of the marshals immediately upon receipt of it, and no juror admits to having read it. Walton rules that no harm has been done, and a potential mistrial is averted. [FireDogLake, 2/7/2007]
Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald rests the prosecution’s case against Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see January 16-23, 2007) after 11 days of trial and 10 witnesses. [CBS News, 1/25/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007] The prosecution’s case ends with the introduction of a previously stipulated deposition by Debbie Heiden, Vice President Dick Cheney’s executive assistant. Heiden said in the deposition that she was assigned to search for documents on October 3, 2003, relating to the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see September 26, 2003), and found a document that is now filed as Government Exhibit 402. Cheney’s office turned over the document four days later. The document, an annotated copy of Joseph Wilson’s op-ed “What I Didn’t Find in Africa” (see July 6, 2003), contains Cheney’s handwritten notations (see May 14, 2006). The prosecution also submits a number of newspaper articles into evidence. [FireDogLake, 2/7/2007]
New York Times reporters Scott Shane and Jim Rutenberg, writing for the Times-owned International Herald Tribune, observe that if Vice President Dick Cheney does choose to testify in the Lewis Libby trial, he may not bolster Libby’s defense as much as he may intend. The reporters write: “If he testifies, Cheney will bring to the jurors the awesome authority of his office and could attest to Libby’s character as policy adviser and family man, to his crushing workload and dedication to keeping the country safe. That could give extra heft to Libby’s defense against the charge that he lied to the FBI and grand jury: that he was so occupied with important matters of state, he did not accurately remember conversations from July 2003. But the first 10 days of testimony has already exposed some of the long-hidden workings of Cheney’s extraordinary vice presidency, revealing how deeply the vice president himself was engaged during 2003 in managing public relations as the administration’s case for war came under attack.” Court and legal observers believe that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will be respectful but probing, and will hold Cheney accountable for any misstatements or contradictions. The reporters write, “If Cheney makes a statement that conflicts with the public record—and nearly every witness so far has done so at least once—it could prove embarrassing for him and for the administration.” A former federal prosecutor who knows Fitzgerald says: “If Cheney said anything that’s contradicted in the record, though I think that’s unlikely, Pat will slam him. He’ll do it respectfully, but I have no doubt he’ll do it.” [International Herald Tribune, 2/11/2007]
Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler and Newsweek assistant managing editor Evan Thomas both testify, in brief stints, in the Lewis Libby perjury and obstruction case. Both testify that they did not learn of Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity from Libby. Kessler says he focuses in his reporting on US foreign policy, and says he spoke twice to Libby in July 2003 without discussing Plame Wilson (see July 12, 2003). He says that as per instructions from Vice President Dick Cheney’s communications team, all of his conversations with Libby were considered “deep background,” and Libby is a confidential source. He says he learned of Plame Wilson’s covert status as a CIA official from reading Robert Novak’s column (see July 14, 2003). Thomas then testifies, identifying himself as primarily reporting on national security and political issues. He says he spoke to Libby perhaps a dozen times during the summer of 2003, without discussing Plame Wilson. [USA Today, 2/12/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] Kessler and Thomas are the last of six journalists to testify for the defense in today’s proceedings (see February 12, 2007, February 12, 2007, February 12, 2007, and February 12, 2007). The Associated Press writes that the defense is trying to portray Libby as an administration scapegoat, being forced to take the blame for leaks made by other White House officials. [Associated Press, 2/12/2007]
New York Times reporter David Sanger, a veteran White House correspondent and the third reporter to testify for the defense in the Lewis Libby perjury and obstruction trial, testifies that he did not learn of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity from Libby. He testifies that he spoke to Libby for a lengthy July 2003 Times article about intelligence matters, and for a number of articles about Vice President Dick Cheney, Libby’s former boss. Sanger says he only learned about Plame Wilson’s CIA status by reading the Robert Novak column (see July 14, 2003). [USA Today, 2/12/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] Libby did reveal classified information to Sanger, though not about Plame Wilson (see July 2, 2003).
Criminal defense lawyer Jeralyn Merritt, picking up on a thread of criticism earlier discussed by reporter Dan Froomkin (see February 8, 2007) and liberal author/blogger Arianna Huffington (see February 8, 2007), writes that the Lewis Libby trial is exposing how quickly, and effectively, Vice President Dick Cheney turned to the Washington press corps to discredit and besmirch the credibility of war critic Joseph Wilson (see October 1, 2003). Merritt, writing for her blog TalkLeft, notes what she calls “the symbiotic relationship between prominent journalists and high ranking administration officials,” and adds: “The currency in Washington has always been information. That’s nothing new. But the Libby trial has laid bare, for anyone caring enough to take a look, how the administration used the press to present its unfounded case for war.” After war critic Joseph Wilson penned his July 2003 op-ed (see July 6, 2003), Cheney had his staffers phone reporters to discredit and impugn Wilson’s credibility as part of his strategy to use the press to counter Wilson’s criticisms (see July 7-8, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, 12:00 p.m. July 7, 2003, July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8 or 9, 2003, July 9, 2003, On or Around July 10, 2003, July 10, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003. 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, and Before July 14, 2003). Merritt writes, “Cheney’s first response, when he thought Wilson was suggesting publicly that he was the impetus behind Wilson’s trip to Niger, was to use the press as his personal attack vehicle.” [Jeralyn Merritt, 2/13/2007]
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
Based on Monday’s parade of reporters testifying that they were not told of Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity by former White House official Lewis Libby (see February 12, 2007, February 12, 2007, February 12, 2007, February 12, 2007, and February 12, 2007), National Review columnist Byron York asks the same question Libby’s lawyers are asking during the trial: if Libby leaked Plame Wilson’s identity to reporters Judith Miller and Matt Cooper (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), why didn’t he leak it to the other reporters who testified? York writes: “Each was covering events in Washington during that intense period in mid-2003 when the Bush administration came under attack from former ambassador Joseph Wilson over its case for war in Iraq. Each interviewed Libby, then Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff. And each heard nothing from Libby about Valerie Plame Wilson.… Did Cheney, who is portrayed in some scenarios as the mastermind of the leak, tell Libby to disclose Mrs. Wilson’s identity to Matt Cooper and not to Bob Woodward? To Judith Miller and not to Robert Novak?” These are the questions York says the defense hopes the jury will ask. York notes that Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus directly contradicted former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer’s claim that he did not tell Pincus of Plame Wilson’s identity, an exchange York says heavily damages Fleischer’s credibility. The defense contends that Libby may have learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity from other, unnamed reporters; Libby, the defense says, later “misremembered” his source as being NBC’s Tim Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003 and February 7-8, 2007), who has contradicted Libby’s claim that he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity from him. York says that the most telling moments came during the testimony of Post reporter Bob Woodward, who played an audiotape of his conversation with then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who told him of Plame Wilson’s identity well before Libby exposed the CIA official to the press (see June 13, 2003). Armitage’s statement that “everyone knows it” refers, York writes, to Joseph Wilson being the anonymous former ambassador criticizing the Bush administration in the press, but York notes that some in the jury might take the reference to mean that “everyone knows” of Plame Wilson’s CIA status. “In any event, none of it had anything to do with Libby, except that Libby was not the one leaking,” York concludes. [National Review, 2/13/2007]
Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Bush administration (43), Bob Woodward, Ari Fleischer, Byron York, Judith Miller, Matthew Cooper, Richard Armitage, Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Novak, Tim Russert, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Joseph C. Wilson
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
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]
With one exception, the jury comes to the courtroom wearing red Valentine’s Day T-shirts. [Source: Art Lien / Court Artist (.com)]The defense in the Lewis Libby trial (see January 16-23, 2007) rests after a speech by defense attorney John Cline, who tells jurors about Libby’s briefings on terrorist threats, bomb scares, insurgent attacks, and other issues. [ABC News, 2/14/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/14/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007]
Jury Intends to 'Act Independently' - In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, the jurors all enter the courtroom wearing identical red shirts with white hearts on the chests (one juror, an art historian and former museum curator, is not so attired). Juror 1432, whose name is not available to the press, stands up and says to Judge Reggie Walson, “We wanted to express our appreciation to you for our comfort and our safety thanks to the marshals.” The juror then adds: “This is where our unity ends.… We are committed to act independently… and base our decision on an independent basis.” Judge Reggie Walton calls the jurors “conscientious” and thanks them for their service. [ABC News, 2/14/2007; Associated Press, 2/14/2007; New York Sun, 2/15/2007] Court artist Art Lien predicts that the one juror who refuses to wear the red T-shirt will “surely [be] the likely holdout when it comes to a verdict.” [Art Lien, 2/14/2007]
Judge Denies Request to Recall Reporter - Walton denies a defense request to recall NBC reporter Tim Russert (see February 7-8, 2007). When Russert, who has a law degree, testified for the prosecution, he said he did not know that a witness could have a lawyer present during his testimony before prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald (see November 24, 2003) and August 7, 2004). The defense has three video clips from Russert’s broadcasts during the investigation of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair that indicate he did know witnesses could have lawyers present. Russert was not forced to testify before the grand jury (see August 9, 2004), and the defense argues that he was given favorable treatment by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald. Had Walton allowed the clips into evidence, he would have allowed the defense to recall Russert to explain the inconsistencies. “It does touch on his credibility,” Walton says. “His credibility, it seems to me, is crucial to this case. He’s probably, if not the most important, one of the most important witnesses.” Lead defense attorney Theodore Wells also argues that Russert misrepresented himself during the investigation, saying, “He went around the country telling people he was this great protector of the First Amendment,” when in fact he had cooperated with the probe. “It was totally kept out of the public record and Mr. Russert took great advantage of that.” But Walton eventually agrees with Fitzgerald, who says Libby’s attorneys already had five hours of cross-examination with Russert after 15 minutes of testimony, and because they were apparently unsuccessful in shaking his credibility, they want a “do over.” Fitzgerald says it does not matter to the case what Russert knew about grand jury procedure, and therefore he should not be recalled. Walton agrees, saying, “It’s a totally, wholly collateral matter.” [Associated Press, 2/14/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/14/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/14/2007; New York Sun, 2/15/2007]
Denies Request to Admit Classified Evidence - Walton also reiterates his refusal to allow Libby’s former CIA briefers to testify on his behalf (see February 13-14, 2007). Walton says he had decided to allow the defense to enter a large number of classified documents into evidence to prove Libby’s daily workload and bolster his “memory defense” (see January 31, 2006) because he understood Libby would testify in court and subject himself to cross-examination by the prosecution; since Libby is declining to testify (see February 13-14, 2007), Walton rules he will not allow the material to be entered into evidence. “This seeks to get Mr. Libby’s statement [that he did not lie about his knowledge of Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status, he merely “misremembered” it when testifying to the FBI and the grand jury] in through the back door without opening him up to cross-examination.… I just don’t buy that, counsel. I don’t think you can play coy by suggesting Mr. Libby is going to testify” and then hold the government to the deal without putting Libby on the stand. “It was absolutely understood from everything that was said to me that Mr. Libby was going to testify.” Defense lawyers should not be able to use the pretrial process for handling classified information to force disclosures based on a particular defense and then use that information in a different way, Walton says. “It’s too much of a game now. This is supposed to be about finding the truth. I won’t permit it.” The defense protests, saying the decision violates Libby’s Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights. Walton shakes his head in refusal and says, “If I get reversed [on appeal] on this one, maybe I have to hang up my spurs.” [ABC News, 2/14/2007; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 2/14/2007; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 2/14/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/14/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/14/2007; New York Sun, 2/15/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007]
Stipulation Read into Evidence - Before the defense rests, the lawyers read a stipulation (a statement of fact agreed to by both sides) from former FBI agent John Eckenrode, who led the FBI’s initial leak investigation (see September 26, 2003). Eckenrode’s statement focuses on a report he wrote concerning two occasions of his speaking to Russert about the leak (see November 24, 2003 and August 7, 2004). Russert testified during the trial that Eckenrode had contacted him to discuss statements in which Libby said he had learned about Plame Wilson from Russert (see February 7-8, 2007). Eckenrode’s statement says Russert told him he had one or possibly two conversations with Libby on or around July 10, 2003, but couldn’t remember all the details. Eckenrode stipulates that Russert “[d]oes not recall saying anything about the wife of Ambassador Wilson.… Although he could not rule out the possibility he had such an exchange, Russert was at a loss to remember it.” The defense hopes this statement helps bolster Libby’s “memory defense” (see January 31, 2006). [ABC News, 2/14/2007]
Testimony Phase Concludes - Fitzgerald does not call rebuttal witnesses, merely reading a brief rebuttal statement noting that Plame Wilson had worked at the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division (CPD) at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Walton then tells the jury, “All of the evidence has now been presented in this case.” The defense rests its case after only two days of witness testimony over three days, whereas the prosecution’s case spanned 11 days. [CBS News, 1/25/2007; ABC News, 2/14/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/14/2007]
Defense Lawyer Says Decision for Libby, Cheney Not to Testify Was His Own - After the jury is dismissed for the day, Wells tells the judge that it was his decision not to have either Libby or Vice President Dick Cheney testify (see February 13-14, 2007). “It was my recommendation,” he says. “I had the vice president on hold right up to the last minute. [H]e had his schedule open.” Wells says the defense began to reverse its initial intention to put Libby on the stand when the government turned over evidence that could undermine the testimony of some prosecution witnesses. He cites the grant of immunity to former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, another Plame Wilson identity leaker (see February 13, 2004). “The canvas and the landscape radically changed” after the defense learned more about the government witnesses, Wells says. The defense does not believe the prosecution has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Libby perjured himself before FBI investigators and a grand jury. Wells says: “There’s no box on the verdict sheet that says ‘innocent’ or ‘you didn’t tell the whole story.’ The box says ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty.’” Ultimately, Wells says, “We have to make decisions on our client’s best interest.” The trial now moves to closing arguments and then jury deliberations leading to a verdict. [ABC News, 2/14/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/14/2007; New York Sun, 2/15/2007]
Entity Tags: Art Lien, Ari Fleischer, John Cline, Valerie Plame Wilson, Tim Russert, John Eckenrode, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Reggie B. Walton, Theodore Wells
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Criminal defense lawyer Jeralyn Merritt, writing for the liberal Huffington Post, says that she understands why the Lewis Libby defense team chose not to put either Libby or his former boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, on the witness stand (see February 13-14, 2007). Libby, she writes, “is not required to prove he didn’t lie or obstruct justice. All he has to do is raise a reasonable doubt in the mind of the jurors that he did.” Merritt writes that in her opinion, the Libby team made a “serious misstep” at the beginning of the trial, when instead of merely focusing on the memory lapses of the various government witnesses—“every fact witness had them,” she notes—it chose to argue that the Bush administration “threw Libby under the bus to save Karl Rove” (see January 23, 2007) and NBC reporter Tim Russert, the prosecution’s star witness, “was biased against Libby” (see February 7-8, 2007). “They didn’t establish either one,” Merritt writes. Merritt believes the defense has a good chance at establishing reasonable doubt in at least some jurors’ minds about Libby’s intention to lie as opposed to merely having memory difficulties (see January 31, 2006). She writes: “No one on this jury is going to buy Libby as victim, although they may conclude he was no more mistaken than any other witness. Once the jurors try to figure out motive, even though it’s not a necessary element of the charged crimes, I call a draw.” As for Cheney, Merritt speculates that the defense lawyers used focus groups to decide his effectiveness, writing, “I wouldn’t be surprised if the focus groups found Cheney to be such a polarizing figure that Team Libby concluded that any good Cheney would do for Libby on substance would be completely overtaken by the jury’s loathing for him personally.” [Huffington Post, 2/14/2007]
Former Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), the former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says in an interview that the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak is one of the worst security breaches in US history. He also says that he believes Vice President Dick Cheney, and not just White House staffers such as Cheney’s former chief of staff Lewis Libby, was responsible for the leak. “It’s hard to believe that the chief of staff to the vice president was acting as a rogue agent,” Graham says. “What we have learned from the trial validates the suspicion that Libby was not just operating as a lone ranger. He was carrying out what the vice president wanted him to do, which was to besmirch Joe Wilson [Plame Wilson’s husband and a forceful critic of the Iraq war]. I think Libby has been a conspirator in one of the most reprehensible and damaging breaches of American security in modern history.” [National Journal, 2/15/2007]
Author and former Clinton administration adviser Sidney Blumenthal writes that months before the start of the Lewis Libby trial (see January 16-23, 2007), “one of Scooter Libby’s old mentors, a prominent Washington attorney and Republican with experience going back to the Watergate scandal and with intimate ties to neoconservatives, implored him repeatedly to stop covering up for Vice President Cheney and to cut a deal with the special prosecutor [Patrick Fitzgerald]. Yet another distinguished Washington lawyer and personal friend of Libby’s, privy to the mentor’s counsel, reinforced his urgent advice and offered to provide Libby with introductions to former prosecutors who might help guide him. But Libby rebuffed them. He refused to listen. He insisted on the trial.” Blumenthal does not name the two attorneys who allegedly urged Libby to make a deal with the prosecution. [Salon, 2/15/2007]
Columnist Byron York, writing for the conservative publication National Review, explains to readers why neither former White House official Lewis Libby nor Vice President Dick Cheney testified during Libby’s trial on perjury and obstruction charges (see February 13-14, 2007). York says that once the decision was made for Libby not to testify, there was no reason for Cheney to testify. “The vice president would likely have testified about Libby’s state of mind in May, June, and July of 2003, when the Bush administration’s case for war in Iraq was under attack by former ambassador Joseph Wilson,” York writes. “The Libby defense has maintained that he, Libby, was tremendously busy at the time and might well have forgotten about the particulars of how he learned, and then forgot, about the identity of Valerie Plame Wilson. With Libby not testifying, it followed that Cheney wouldn’t either.” York then addresses the decision to keep Libby off the witness stand. For York, the question was not whether the jury needed to hear Libby talk about his role in exposing Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA official, but whether the jury needed to hear it again, after listening to eight hours of Libby’s grand jury testimony (see February 5, 2007 and February 6, 2007). “[B]y the time Libby had to decide whether to testify,” York writes, “the jury had already heard a lot of Lewis Libby testifying.” It had also heard audio of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald quizzing Libby. York writes: “Libby’s defenders are betting that jurors took from those recordings an impression not only of the defendant but of the prosecutor. And the impression that Libby’s supporters hope jurors will have is that of a prosecutor trying too hard to find a crime where there was none.” What jurors did not hear during those hours of audio evidence, York notes, was Fitzgerald asking Libby about former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage’s leak of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity (see June 13, 2003). York concludes: “[T]he entirety of Fitzgerald’s grand jury questioning might leave jurors with a more nuanced impression: that of a prosecutor who had received faulty information, or incomplete information, from other witnesses and who looked to Libby—and not those who had omitted or failed to remember key acts during their testimony—as the suspected criminal. The grand jury tapes reveal a prosecutor who had had sand thrown in his eyes—to use Fitzgerald’s famous image—but it had not been thrown by Lewis Libby.” [National Review, 2/15/2007]
Bob Graham (D-FL), the former head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says that the White House found it almost impossible to refuse to appoint a special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see December 30, 2003) because of the Bush administration’s insistence on an aggressive investigation of a Congressional leak in 2002 (see June 19, 2002 and June 20, 2002). The strongest push for a leak investigation came from Vice President Dick Cheney and his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, Graham recalls: “They [the administration] would have had a certain exposure to hypocrisy if they hid behind executive privilege” when the Plame Wilson investigation began, or if they had fought the appointment of a special prosecutor, Graham says. “It made it politically untenable to avoid having a strong investigation, because they had demanded it of us. With us, they said we should call out the meanest, leanest dogs. The example that they set with us became the boomerang that came around and hit them.” Both Cheney and Libby are central suspects in the Plame Wilson outing, though no one has been charged with leaking her CIA status to the press. Cheney is known to have selectively leaked and declassified intelligence to bolster the administration’s case for war and later to defend against charges that he misrepresented prewar intelligence (see 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003, (July 11, 2003), and July 12, 2003). And evidence points to the conclusion that Cheney ordered Libby to leak Plame Wilson’s name to the press (see July 7-8, 2003 and July 12, 2003). Senior Justice Department officials and Senate Democrats all pushed for Attorney General John Ashcroft to recuse himself and name a special prosecutor. According to several senior Congressional staffers, Democrats made their case based in part on Cheney’s personal insistence that senators and their staffers be investigated over the NSA leak. [National Journal, 2/15/2007]
Accuracy in Media logo. [Source: Accuracy in Media] (click image to enlarge)Roger Aronoff writes a press release about the Lewis Libby trial for the conservative media watchdog organization Accuracy in Media (AIM). Aronoff agrees with the defense’s decision not to allow Libby or Vice President Dick Cheney to testify (see February 13-14, 2007), calling the prosecution’s case “surprisingly thin” and noting that the defense’s goal is to get Libby acquitted, “not put on a show for [MSNBC news pundits] Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews, and the left-wing blogs.” Aronoff castigates the mainstream news media for being too aggressive in reporting on the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak and the accusations of White House involvement, saying instead that the media was not only sloppy and imprecise in its reporting, but it should have been far more willing to present the government’s assertions that it was merely defending itself against unfounded allegations by “left-wing” war critic Joseph Wilson (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006). Aronoff accepts the defense’s argument that Libby knew of Plame Wilson’s identity from Cheney, forgot it, and “relearned it” from NBC reporter Tim Russert, thereby rendering charges that he perjured himself in his FBI and grand jury testimonies groundless (see February 6, 2007). Aronoff attacks the journalists who testified about their contacts with Libby, and saves his heaviest criticisms for Russert, whom he says was “embarrassed” by what Aronoff says was the destruction of his credibility during cross-examination (see February 7-8, 2007). Aronoff concludes that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald “scapegoated” Libby because of Fitzgerald’s inability to bring charges against anyone for the actual leak of Plame Wilson’s identity, and expects Libby to be either acquitted or the jury to “hang,” causing a mistrial. But the trial was really about giving “left-wing” media critics such as Matthews “a vehicle to once again claim that the war was based on lies and misrepresentations. This trial was to be their chance to further undermine the Bush administration.” [Accuracy in Media, 2/16/2007]
Former CIA agent Larry Johnson, who trained with outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), pens an angry rebuttal of former Justice Department official Victoria Toensing’s critique of the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see February 18, 2007). Johnson accuses Toensing of “plumbing new depths of delusion and crazed fantasies,” notes that her op-ed should have been titled “I Am Ignorant of Basic Facts,” and excoriates the Washington Post for printing it. Johnson directly refutes two of Toensing’s strongest rejoinders: Plame Wilson was not a covert agent and Joseph Wilson misled the public about his trip to Niger, his report on his findings, and his public discussions of his wife’s CIA status. [Huffington Post, 2/18/2007] In 2007, Plame Wilson will add, “Toensing apparently hadn’t been following the trial very closely, or else she would have known that each of her ‘charges’ had been refuted in ample documentary and witness testimony.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 292]
Plame Wilson's Covert Status - Johnson writes: “Valerie Plame was undercover until the day she was identified in Robert Novak’s column. I entered on duty with Valerie in September of 1985. Every single member of our class—which was comprised of case officers, analysts, scientists, and admin folks—were undercover. I was an analyst and Valerie was a case officer. Case officers work in the Directorate of Operations and work overseas recruiting spies and running clandestine operations. Although Valerie started out working under ‘official cover’—i.e., she declared she worked for the US government but in something innocuous, like the State Department—she later became a NOC aka non official cover officer. A NOC has no declared relationship with the United States government. These simple facts apparently are too complicated for someone of Ms. Toensing’s limited intellectual abilities.” Johnson also notes that he and his fellow CIA veterans Jim Marcinkowski, Brent Cavan, and Mike Grimaldi, accompanied by another CIA veteran who declined to be identified, appeared on ABC News in 2003 and verified Plame Wilson’s covert status (see October 22-24, 2003). And the facts introduced into evidence in the Libby trial show that at least four White House officials—Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003 and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), Ari Fleischer (see July 7, 2003), and Richard Armitage (see June 13, 2003 and July 8, 2003)—told journalists that Plame Wilson was a CIA agent. The result was not only Plame Wilson’s exposure as a former NOC agent but the exposure of her NOC cover company, Brewster Jennings (see October 3, 2003). Johnson writes, “That leak by the Bush administration ruined Valerie’s ability to continue working as a case officer and destroyed an international intelligence network.” [Huffington Post, 2/18/2007] Plame Wilson will dismiss Toensing’s claim about her covert status as “dead wrong,” and ask a simple question: since Toensing is not a CIA employee herself, how does she know what Plame Wilson’s status was? [Wilson, 2007, pp. 292]
Joseph Wilson - Johnson notes that Toensing alleges an array of impropriety on Joseph Wilson’s part. Johnson counters that Toensing suffers from an apparent “reading disability.” The facts are plain: Vice President Dick Cheney asked his CIA briefer for information on the Iraq-Niger uranium claim in early February 2002 (see 2002-Early 2003 and (February 13, 2002)), and the CIA asked Wilson to investigate the matter a week later (see Shortly after February 13, 2002). Johnson writes: “Joe was a natural choice for the job. He had headed up the Africa desk at the National Security Council, he had served as an ambassador in West Africa, and had saved American lives from Saddam [Hussein] during the first Gulf War (see August 6, 1990 and September 20, 1990). He was not chosen by his wife, Valerie Plame. She only wrote a memo, at the behest of her boss in the Counterproliferation Divison of the Directorate of Operations, identifying Joe’s qualifications (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005). And she was asked to inform her husband about the CIA’s interest in him going to Niger to help answer a request from Vice President Cheney, who wanted to know if there was any truth to reports that Iraq was seeking uranium in Niger.… Valerie was not in the room when the decision was made nor was she in an administrative position with the clout to send her husband on such a mission.” This set of facts was confirmed by a memo from the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR—see June 10, 2003) introduced during the trial. Johnson writes: “Too bad Ms. Toensing did not take time to read the CIA report produced from Mr. Wilson’s trip. He made it very clear in that report that Iraq had not purchased or negotiated the purchase of uranium.” [Huffington Post, 2/18/2007]
Limitations of IIPA - Plame Wilson will write of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA), which Toensing helped negotiate in 1982, “If anything, her rantings pointed out the shortcomings of the bill she helped author—that is, the difficulty of prosecuting someone who had violated the law and passed along the covert identity of an operations officer to someone who did not have a security clearance.” Whether such an officer is currently overseas when their cover is blown is irrelevant, Plame Wilson will note; “[w]e use such things as alias passports, disguises, and other tradecraft secrets to do this. It’s called clandestine operations. Just as a general is still a general whether he or she is in the field or serving at the Pentagon, an operations officer by definition has responsibilities that don’t vanish depending on location.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 292]
Jury Tampering? - Johnson writes that Toensing’s op-ed is so obviously another attempt to defend Libby, Cheney, and other White House officials, and to smear prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s and the Wilsons’ credibility, that it can legitimately be considered an attempt at jury tampering—an attempt to influence the jury deciding Libby’s guilt or innocence. Johnson asks: “Just days before the Libby jury retires to consider a verdict, why was Toensing allowed to publish an article rife with lies and misstated facts? Why does the paper that played a key role in exposing the tyranny of Richard Nixon now allow this shallow woman to smear prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald?”
Public Service - According to Johnson, Fitzgerald has performed a public service in exposing the lies of Cheney, Libby, and others in the White House. “Cheney and Libby feared what the American people might do if they discovered they had been lied to about the case for war in Iraq. Now there is no doubt. They did lie and these lies have been exposed. Unfortunately, the Victoria Toensings of the world seem hell bent on perpetuating the lies and living in the delusional world that it is okay to out an undercover CIA officer during a time of war. While Toensing has the right to be wrong, we ought to ask why a paper with the reputation of the Washington Post is lowering its journalistic standards, ignoring ethics, and enabling the spread of lies. I think the owner of the Washington Post has some ‘splaining’ to do.” [Huffington Post, 2/18/2007]
Entity Tags: Intelligence Identities Protection Act, Washington Post, Counterproliferation Division, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Brewster Jennings, Brent Cavan, Ari Fleischer, Victoria Toensing, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard Armitage, Bush administration (43), Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Larry C. Johnson, Karl C. Rove, Mike Grimaldi, Jim Marcinkowski, Joseph C. Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert Novak, Patrick J. Fitzgerald
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Victoria Toensing, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Reagan administration, writes an op-ed for the Washington Post structured to imitate a legal indictment. Toensing asks if anyone can explain “why Scooter Libby is the only person on trial in the Valerie Plame [Wilson] leak investigation?” (The Washington Post, which publishes the op-ed, does not disclose Toensing’s own ties to Libby’s defense—see March 23, 2005. [Washington Post, 2/18/2007] Neither does it disclose the longtime personal relationship between Toensing, her husband Joseph DiGenova, and columnist Robert Novak, who outed Plame Wilson—see July 14, 2003. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 292] Neither does it disclose Toensing’s frequent criticisms of the investigation, including her position that the CIA and/or Joseph Wilson is responsible for outing Plame Wilson, and her belief that the entire trial is invalid (see November 2-9, 2005, November 3, 2005, November 7, 2005, and September 15, 2006).) Toensing dismisses the arguments laid out by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, lied to grand jurors (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004) in order to keep secret a White House conspiracy to besmirch the reputation of White House critic Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003). Toensing calls the Libby indictment a “he said, she said” case based on conflicting testimony from other people. She proceeds to lay out her own “indictments”:
Patrick Fitzgerald - for “ignoring the fact that there was no basis for a criminal investigation from the day he was appointed,” for “handling some witnesses with kid gloves and banging on others with a mallet,” for “engaging in past contretemps with certain individuals that might have influenced his pursuit of their liberty, and with misleading the public in a news conference because… well, just because.” Toensing argues that Fitzgerald should have known from the outset that Plame Wilson was never a covert agent, and if he didn’t, he could have merely asked the CIA. Toensing writes, “The law prohibiting disclosure of a covert agent’s identity requires that the person have a foreign assignment at the time or have had one within five years of the disclosure, that the government be taking affirmative steps to conceal the government relationship, and for the discloser to have actual knowledge of the covert status.” Toensing is grossly in error about Plame Wilson’s covert status (see Fall 1992 - 1996, Late 1990s-2001 and Possibly After, April 22, 1999, (July 11, 2003), Before July 14, 2003, July 22, 2003, July 30, 2003, September 30, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, January 9, 2006, February 13, 2006, and September 6, 2006). She also insinuates that Fitzgerald has two conflicts of interest: one in prosecuting Libby, as Fitzgerald investigated the Clinton-era pardon of financier Marc Rich, who was represented by Libby, and another in moving to jail reporter Judith Miller for refusing to provide evidence (see July 6, 2005) because Fitzgerald had subpoenaed Miller’s phone records for another, unrelated prosecution. Toensing questions Fitzgerald’s grant of immunity to former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see January 29, 2007), and complains that Fitzgerald allowed NBC News bureau chief Tim Russert to be interviewed with his lawyer present (see August 7, 2004), while columnist Robert Novak “was forced to testify before the grand jury without counsel present.” She concludes by accusing Fitzgerald of “violating prosecutorial ethics by discussing facts outside the indictment during his Oct. 28, 2005, news conference” (see October 28, 2005).
The CIA - “for making a boilerplate criminal referral to cover its derriere.” The Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA), which Toensing helped negotiate in 1982, was never violated, she asserts, because Plame Wilson was never a covert agent. Instead of handling the issue internally, Toensing writes, the CIA passed the responsibility to the Justice Department by sending “a boiler-plate referral regarding a classified leak and not one addressing the elements of a covert officer’s disclosure.”
Joseph Wilson - for “misleading the public about how he was sent to Niger, about the thrust of his March 2003 oral report of that trip, and about his wife’s CIA status, perhaps for the purpose of getting book and movie contracts.” Toensing writes that Wilson appeared on Meet the Press the same day as his op-ed was published in the New York Times, and told host Andrea Mitchell, “The Office of the Vice President, I am absolutely convinced, received a very specific response to the question it asked and that response was based upon my trip there.” Toensing accepts Cheney’s denial of any involvement in Wilson’s trip and his denial that he was ever briefed on Wilson’s findings. Toensing argues that Wilson lied when he told other reporters that he was sent to Niger because of his “specific skill set” and his connections in the region (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), and not because his wife sent him (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005). Toensing uses portions of the Senate Intelligence Committee report to bolster her claim (see June 11, 2003 and July 9, 2004). She also challenges Wilson’s assertions that his oral report on his trip was not classified (see March 4-5, 2002, (March 6, 2002), March 8, 2002, and March 5, 2002). And she accuses Wilson of “play[ing] coy” about his wife’s CIA status.
The Media - for “hypocrisy in asserting that criminal law was applicable to this ‘leak’ and with misreporting facts to wage a political attack on an increasingly unpopular White House.” Major newspapers have “highfalutin’, well-paid” lawyers who should have known better than to let their clients call for special investigations into the Plame Wilson leak. The media has consistently “display[ed] their prejudice in this case.”
Ari Fleischer - “because his testimony about conversations differs from reporters’ testimony, just as Libby’s does.” Fleischer testified under oath that he revealed Plame Wilson’s identity to two reporters, Time’s John Dickerson and NBC’s David Gregory (see 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Dickerson denies it and Gregory refuses to comment. Fleischer testified he did not tell the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus about Plame Wilson’s identity, contradicting Pincus’s own testimony that Fleischer did, indeed, ask repeatedly about the Wilsons (see January 29, 2007 and February 12, 2007). Because Fleischer “contradicted Pincus as materially as Libby contradicted Russert or Time’s Matthew Cooper,” he should be indicted as well. Instead, Fitzgerald gave Fleischer immunity in return for his testimony (see February 13, 2004). In that case, Toensing argues, Fitzgerald should indict Pincus insamuch as his testimony differs from Fleischer’s.
Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage - for not publicly revealing that he was perhaps the first to leak Plame Wilson’s name to the press (see June 13, 2003 and July 8, 2003). Armitage also discussed his FBI interview with his then-subordinate, Marc Grossman, the night before Grossman was due to meet with FBI investigators (see June 10, 2003).
The US Justice Department - for “abdicating its legal and professional responsibility by passing the investigation off to a special counsel out of personal pique and reasons of ambition.” Both then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and his deputy, James Comey, could have asked the CIA to confirm Plame Wilson’s covert status, Toensing writes. She also insinuates that Comey acted improperly in giving the investigation to Fitzgerald, “a former colleague and one of his best friends.” [Washington Post, 2/18/2007]
Refutation - Toensing’s arguments are refuted by former CIA agent Larry Johnson, who accuses Toensing of attempted jury tampering (see February 18, 2007).
Entity Tags: John Dickerson, Valerie Plame Wilson, US Department of Justice, Victoria Toensing, Walter Pincus, John Ashcroft, David Gregory, Andrea Mitchell, Ari Fleischer, Central Intelligence Agency, Tim Russert, Senate Intelligence Committee, Washington Post, Richard Armitage, Larry C. Johnson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Judith Miller, Joseph C. Wilson, Joseph diGenova, James B. Comey Jr., Robert Novak, Matthew Cooper, Office of the Vice President, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Marc Rich, Marc Grossman
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Mike McConnell. [Source: US Defense Department]Retired Vice Admiral Mike McConnell is sworn in as the new Director of National Intelligence (DNI), replacing John Negroponte. [White House, 2/20/2007] Negroponte will become the Deputy Secretary of State under Condoleezza Rice, a position that has been vacant since July 2006, when the previous deputy, Robert Zoellick, left to take a position with the Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs. Negroponte is felt to be a voice of experience in the State Department, and one that will help the oft-faltering Rice in her duties. [Associated Press, 1/5/2007]
Cheney, Negroponte, and the Iran NIE - One of the major factors in the White House’s decision to replace Negroponte is Vice President Dick Cheney’s insistence that the administration release a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq that supports Cheney’s aggressive policy towards Iran, and does not include any dissenting views. Cheney, who has for months suppressed the draft NIE on Iran because he does not want any views other than his own to be included in the NIE (see November 10, 2007), was displeased with Negroponte; Negroponte angered Cheney and other neoconservatives when, in April 2006, he told reporters that the US intelligence community believes Iran is “a number of years off” from being “likely to have enough fissile material to assemble into or to put into a nuclear weapon, perhaps into the next decade.” Though Negroponte was merely echoing the position of the 2005 NIE on Iran, he came under fierce attack from Cheney allies inside and outside the administration. Undersecretary of State Robert Joseph publicly contradicted Negroponte, calling Iran’s nuclear program near the “point of no return,’ an Israeli concept referring to the mastery of industrial-scale uranium enrichment. And neoconservative Frank Gaffney, a protege of former defense adviser Richard Perle, called Negroponte’s position on Iran’s nuclear program “absurd.” Cheney himself approached McConnell about accepting the position. McConnell is far more amenable to White House influence than Negroponte. On February 27, he will tell the Senate Armed Services Committee that he is “comfortable saying it’s probable” that the alleged export of explosively formed penetrators to Shi’ite insurgents in Iraq was linked to the highest leadership in Iran. Negroponte, along with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, have refused to go that far. And the 2005 NIE on Iran estimated that it would take Iran five to ten years to produce a nuclear weapon, another position that Cheney opposes. [Inter Press Service, 11/10/2007]
Peter Zeidenberg (left) and Patrick Fitzgerald outside the courthouse during the Libby trial. [Source: Reuters / Jonathan Ernst]After some final sparring between opposing counsel, the prosecution makes its closing argument in the Lewis Libby perjury and obstruction trial. Assistant prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg opens with a lengthy presentation summing up the prosecution’s case against Libby. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007]
Evidence Proves Libby Lied to FBI, Grand Jury - According to Zeidenberg, the evidence as presented shows that Libby lied to both the FBI (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003) and the grand jury empaneled to investigate the Plame Wilson identity leak (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004). He lied about how he learned about Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity, who he spoke to about it, and what he said when he talked to others about Plame Wilson. A number of witnesses, including NBC reporter Tim Russert (see February 7-8, 2007), testified about Libby’s discussions to them about Plame Wilson’s identity. Libby forgot nine separate conversations over a four-week period, Zeidenberg says, and invented two conversations that never happened, one with Russert and one with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper. “That’s not a matter of forgetting or misremembering,” he says, “it’s lying.”
No Evidence of White House 'Scapegoating' - The defense argued in its opening statement that Libby was being “scapegoated” by the White House to protect the president’s deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove (see January 23, 2007). No witness, either for the prosecution or the defense, referenced any such effort to scapegoat Libby. The defense may have promised evidence showing such a conspiracy to frame Libby, but, Zeidenberg says, “unfulfilled promises from counsel do not constitute evidence.”
Libby Learned of Plame Wilson's Identity from Five Administration Officials in Three Days - Zeidenberg then walks the jury through the testimony as given by prosecution witnesses. Both former State Department official Marc Grossman (see January 23-24, 2007) and former CIA official Robert Grenier testified (see January 24, 2007) that Libby had badgered Grossman for information about former ambassador and administration critic Joseph Wilson (see May 29, 2003), and Grossman not only told Libby about Wilson and his CIA-sponsored trip to Niger, but that Wilson’s wife was a CIA official (see June 10, 2003 and 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003). Zeidenberg notes, “When Grossman told this to Libby, it was the fourth time, in two days, that Libby had been told about Wilson’s wife.” Libby had learned from Vice President Cheney that Wilson’s wife was a CIA official (see (June 12, 2003)). Two hours after Libby’s meeting with Grossman, Grenier told the jury that Libby had pulled him out of a meeting to discuss Wilson (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003). During that impromptu discussion, Grenier told Libby that Wilson’s wife was a CIA official. Libby then learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from Cathie Martin, Cheney’s communications aide (see 5:25 p.m. June 10, 2003 and 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003). Martin, who testified for the prosecution (see January 25-29, 2007), learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from CIA press official Bill Harlow. Zeidenberg ticks off the officials who informed Libby of Plame Wilson’s CIA status: Cheney, Grenier, Martin, and Grossman. (Zeidenberg is as yet unaware that Libby had also heard from another State Department official, Frederick Fleitz, of Plame Wilson’s CIA status—see (June 11, 2003)). On June 14, Libby heard about Plame Wilson from another CIA official, briefer Craig Schmall (see 7:00 a.m. June 14, 2003), who has also testified for the prosecution (see January 24-25, 2007). Schmall’s testimony corroborates the testimony from Martin, Grossman, and Grenier, Zeidenberg asserts.
Leaking Information to Judith Miller - On June 23, just over a week after learning Plame Wilson was a CIA official, Libby informed then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller of Plame Wilson’s CIA status (see June 23, 2003). Why? Zeidenberg asks. Because Libby wanted to discredit the CIA over what Libby saw as the agency’s failure to back the administration’s claims about Iraqi WMDs. Miller is the sixth person, Zeidenberg says, that Libby talked to about Plame Wilson. Miller also testified for the prosecution (see January 30-31, 2007).
Told Press Secretary - On July 7, Libby told White House press secretary Ari Fleischer about Plame Wilson (see 12:00 p.m. July 7, 2003). Fleischer, under a grant of immunity from the prosecution, also testified (see January 29, 2007). By that point, Wilson had published his op-ed in the New York Times (see July 6, 2003), a column the administration considered to be highly damaging towards its credibility. Libby told Fleischer that the information about Plame Wilson was to be kept “hush hush.” However, Zeidenberg says, it is likely that Libby intended Fleischer to spread the information about Plame Wilson to other reporters, which in fact he did (see 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Fleischer is the seventh person that evidence shows Libby spoke to concerning Plame Wilson.
Conferring with Cheney's Chief Counsel - The eighth person in this list is David Addington. At the time, Addington was Cheney’s chief counsel; after Libby stepped down over being indicted for perjury and obstruction (see October 28, 2005), Addington replaced him as Cheney’s chief of staff. Addington also testified for the prosecution (see January 30, 2007). Libby asked Addington if the president could legally declassify information at will, referring to the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (NIE—see October 1, 2002). Libby planned on leaking NIE material to Miller on July 8 (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003).
Leaking Classified Material to Miller - As stated, Libby indeed leaked classified material to Miller, during their meeting at the St. Regis Hotel. The “declassification” was highly unusual; only Cheney, Libby, and President Bush knew of the declassification. Libby again told Miller of Plame Wilson’s CIA status, and this time told her, incorrectly, that Plame Wilson worked in the WINPAC (Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control) section of the agency. Cheney and Libby chose Miller, of all the reporters in the field, to leak the information to, Zeidenberg says; in her turn, Miller went to jail for almost three months rather than testify against Libby (see October 7, 2004). That fact damages her credibility as a prosecution witness.
The Russert Claim - Zeidenberg then turns to NBC’s Russert, who also testified for the prosecution (see February 7-8, 2007). Zeidenberg notes that after lead defense attorney Theodore Wells initially asserted that neither Russert nor any other reporter testifying for the prosecution was lying under oath, Wells and other defense attorneys cross-examined Russert for over five hours trying to prove that he indeed did lie. Libby claimed repeatedly to the grand jury that Russert told him of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity (see July 10 or 11, 2003), an assertion Russert has repeatedly denied. Zeidenberg plays an audiotape of Libby’s grand jury testimony featuring Libby’s assertion. Libby, Zeidenberg states, lied to the grand jury. Russert never made any such statement to Libby. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007] The defense tried to assert that Russert lied about his conversation with Libby because of some “bad blood” between the two. However, “evidence of [such a] feud is completely absent from the trial.” And if such a feud existed, why would Libby have chosen Russert to lie about before the jury? Such an assertion is merely a desperate attempt to discredit Russert, Zeidenberg says.
Matthew Cooper - Zeidenberg then turns to former Time reporter Matthew Cooper, another recipient of a Libby leak about Plame Wilson (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003). Cooper also testified for the prosecution (see January 31, 2007). When Libby told the grand jury that Cooper asked him about Plame Wilson being a CIA official, and Libby said he responded, “I don’t know if it’s true,” Libby lied to the jury. Zeidenberg plays the audiotape of Libby making the Cooper claim. Had Libby made such a statement, Cooper could not have used it as confirmation of his own reporting. Cooper did indeed use Libby as a source for a Time article (see July 17, 2003). Cooper’s testimony is corroborated by Martin’s recollection of the Libby-Cooper conversation. Zeidenberg says: “Martin was present. She never heard any of what you heard Libby just hear it. She never heard, ‘I don’t know if it’s true.’ If she had heard it, she would have said something, because she knew it was true.”
FBI Agent Bond's Testimony - Zeidenberg briefly references testimony from FBI agent Deborah Bond (see February 1-5, 2007), who told the court that Libby may have discussed leaking Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. Bond’s testimony corroborates the prosecution’s assertion that Libby attempted to obscure where he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity.
Grounds for Conviction - Zeidenberg reminds the jury of the three separate instances the prosecution says are Libby lies, then tells them if they find any one of the three statements to be actual lies, they can convict Libby of perjury. “You don’t have to find that all three were false beyond reasonable doubt,” he says. “You have to unanimously agree on any one.” Of the two false statements Libby is charged with making to investigators, the jury need only find one of them is truly false.
Defense Assertions - Zeidenberg turns to Libby’s main defense, that he was so overwhelmed with important work as Cheney’s chief of staff that it is unreasonable to expect him to remember the details that he is accused of lying about (see January 31, 2006). Zeidenberg says the trial has elicited numerous instances of conversations Libby had, for example his conversation with Rove about Robert Novak (see July 8 or 9, 2003), that he remembered perfectly well. Zeidenberg then plays the relevant audiotape from the grand jury proceedings. Why is it, he asks, that Libby can remember that conversation so well, but consistently misremembered nine separate conversations he had about Plame Wilson? “When you consider Libby’s testimony, there’s a pattern of always forgetting about Wilson’s wife,” Zeidenberg says. Libby remembered details about Fleischer being a Miami Dolphins fan, but didn’t remember talking about Plame Wilson. He remembered talking about the NIE with Miller, but not Plame Wilson. He remembered talking about declassification with Addington, but not Wilson’s wife. Zeidenberg calls it a “convenient pattern,” augmented by Libby’s specific recollections about not discussing other issues, such as Cheney’s handwritten notes about Wilson’s op-ed (see July 7, 2003 or Shortly After). The defense also claims that Libby confused Russert with Novak; Zeidenberg puts up pictures of Russert and Novak side by side, and asks if it is credible to think that Libby made such a mistake. The entire “memory defense,” Zeidenberg says, is “not credible to believe. It’s ludicrous.” Libby was far too involved in the administration’s efforts to discredit Wilson (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006). [Associated Press, 2/20/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007]
Motive to Lie - Zeidenberg addresses the idea of motive: why would Libby lie to the FBI and the grand jury, and why nine government witnesses would lie to the Libby jury. “Is it conceivable that all nine witnesses would make the same mistake in their memory?” he asks. Not likely. It is far more likely that Libby was motivated to lie because when he testified to FBI investigators, he knew there was an ongoing investigation into the Plame Wilson leak. He knew he had talked to Miller, Cooper, and Fleischer. He knew the FBI was looking for him. He knew from newspaper articles entered into evidence that the leak could have severely damaged Plame Wilson’s informant network and the Brewster Jennings front company (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, October 29, 2005, and February 13, 2006). Even Addington’s testimony, about Libby asking him about the legality of leaking classified information, is evidence of Libby’s anxiety over having disclosed such information. And Libby knew that such disclosure is a breach of his security clearance, not only risking his job, but prosecution as well. So when he is questioned by the FBI, he had a choice: tell the truth and take his chances with firing and prosecution for disclosing the identity of a covert agent, or lie about it. “And, ladies and gentlemen,” Zeidenberg says, “he took the second choice. He made up a story that he thought would cover it.” And when caught out, he claimed to have forgotten that he originally knew about Plame Wilson’s identity. Libby, Zeidenberg says, “made a gamble. He lied. Don’t you think the FBI and the grand jury and the American people are entitled to straight answers?” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007; Murray Waas, 12/23/2008]
No Conspiracy, Just a Lie - Zeidenberg concludes by telling the jury that there was no grand White House conspiracy to scapegoat Libby, nor was there an NBC conspiracy to smear him. The case is just about Libby lying to federal authorities. “When you consider all the evidence, the government has established that the defendant lied to the FBI, lied to the grand jury, and obstructed justice.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007]
Entity Tags: Matthew Cooper, Peter Zeidenberg, Theodore Wells, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Tim Russert, Marc Grossman, Robert Grenier, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Frederick Fleitz, Judith Miller, Bush administration (43), Bill Harlow, Ari Fleischer, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Craig Schmall, David S. Addington, Joseph C. Wilson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Deborah Bond, Karl C. Rove, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
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
Lead prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald delivers the rebuttal to the defense’s closing argument (see 11:00 a.m. February 20, 2007) in the final stage of the Lewis Libby perjury trial. Fitzgerald is transformed in his rebuttal, from the dispassionate, methodical presence he has displayed throughout the trial into a figure of outrage and scorn. He virtually leaps from his seat to rebut the defense’s argument, shouting: “Madness! Madness! Outrageous!” Tightening up somewhat, he tells the jury that in the defense’s characterization, “The government has brought a case about two witnesses, two phone calls. And they just want you to speculate. The defense wishes that were so. Saying it loudly, pounding the table, doesn’t change the facts. Let’s talk about the facts. Let’s get busy.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007; Salon, 2/22/2007] Progressive blogger Jane Hamsher, who is present in the courtroom, describes Fitzgerald’s rebuttal as “lacerating and precise, speaking so quickly that the court reporter couldn’t catch up. His command of the material was a bit daunting, able to recall voluminous evidentiary document numbers simply by looking at some chart in his own brain.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 293; Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007]
Nine Versus One - The case is anything but a “he said, she said” situation, as defense attorney Theodore Wells characterized it during his portion of the closing argument. It is, Fitzgerald says, about nine different people having one version of events, and Libby alone with a markedly different version. Fitzgerald focuses on NBC reporter Tim Russert, whom the defense spent a lavish amount of time and attention attempting to discredit. Instead of Russert being such an impeachable witness, Fitzgerald says, “I’ll tell you that Russert alone can give you proof beyond reasonable doubt.” And even without Russert’s testimony, there is plenty of evidence to convict Libby of perjury and obstruction. Fitzgerald refutes Wells’s contention that all of the prosecution witnesses had faulty memories, telling the jury: “I submit you can’t believe that nine witnesses remembered 10 conversations exactly the same wrong way.… It’s not one on one. It’s not, ‘He said, she said.’ Nine witnesses can’t all misremember.” He addresses the defense’s contention that Valerie Plame Wilson was not important, calling that characterization a “myth” and stating that to the Bush administration, “she wasn’t a person, she was an argument, she was a fact to use against [her husband Joseph] Wilson.” Fitzgerald quickly runs through the prosecution’s structure of events as laid down by its current and former administration witnesses and even some defense witnesses. The documents entered into evidence corroborate the prosecution’s contention that to Libby and his boss Vice President Dick Cheney, both Wilson and Plame Wilson were “hugely important.” Libby was “wrapped around the issue of who told him. He’s wrapped himself around the issue of Valerie Wilson.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007]
'Cloud over the Vice President' - Fitzgerald focuses on Cheney, saying: “There is a cloud over the vice president. He wrote on those columns. He had those meetings. He sent Libby off to the meeting with Judith Miller where Plame was discussed. That cloud remains because the defendant obstructed justice. That cloud is there. That cloud is something that we just can’t pretend isn’t there.” Libby was “not supposed to be talking to other people,” Fitzgerald says. “The only person he told is the vice president.… Think about that.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007; Salon, 2/22/2007; Murray Waas, 12/23/2008] Plame Wilson will later write, “He suggested that [Cheney] was, at a minimum, complicit with Libby in the leak of my name.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 293]
Defense Objection - Fitzgerald lists example after example of Libby’s memory being far better than the defense describes. In the process, he tells the jury that Libby must have known Plame Wilson’s role at the CIA was important, and therefore something he was unlikely to forget, because he was “discussing something with people that could lead to people being killed.… If someone is outed, people can get in trouble overseas. They can get arrested, tortured, or killed.” Fitzgerald’s implication is clear: Plame Wilson was a covert agent. The defense objects, citing Judge Reggie Walton’s ruling that neither the prosecution nor defense will refer to Plame Wilson’s covert status. Fitzgerald tells the jurors they should think about the “people being killed” scenario to understand Libby’s “state of mind,” but they should not draw any conclusions about “whether it’s true or false.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007; National Review, 2/21/2007; New York Sun, 2/21/2007]
No Conspiracy, Just Lies - The things Libby remembered best were the things we all remember best, Fitzgerald says: items that are unique, items that are important, and items that make you angry. The Plame Wilson identity issue, he says, was all three to Libby. His memory did not let him down. Instead, Fitzgerald says, Libby lied under oath. “He made his bet, planted his feet, and stuck. From then on he told the same story.” There is no conspiracy to scapegoat Libby, he reiterates (see January 23, 2007). There is just Libby, lying to protect his job and his freedom from imprisonment. “You know you’re not surprised on Thursday, if you gave it out Monday and Tuesday, you weren’t surprised.”
Conclusion - “Don’t you think the American people are entitled to answers?” Fitzgerald asks. “Don’t you think the FBI deserves straight answers?… He threw sand in the eyes of the FBI. He stole the truth of the judicial system. You return a verdict of guilty and you give the truth back.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007]
Judge Instructs Jury on Fitzgerald's Argument - After Fitzgerald concludes, Walton tells the jury: “I’m going to give you another cautionary. The truth of whether someone could be harmed based upon the disclosure of people working in a covert capacity is not at issue in this case. Remember what I have told you several times. Mr. Libby is not charged with leaking classified information.” Walton is referring to Fitzgerald’s implication that Plame Wilson was a covert CIA official. Walton dismisses the jurors for the day, and tells them that tomorrow they begin their deliberations. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007; National Review, 2/21/2007]
Media responses to the closing arguments in the Libby trial (see 9:00 a.m. February 20, 2007, 11:00 a.m. February 20, 2007, and 3:00 p.m. February 20, 2007) are strong and varied.
'Strongest Arguments Yet' of Cheney's Complicity - New York Sun reporter Josh Gerstein writes that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s “explosive” statements were his “strongest arguments yet” that Vice President Dick Cheney directed former chief of staff Lewis Libby to out CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson. Libby was “not supposed to be talking to other people,” Fitzgerald said. “The only person he told is the vice president.… Think about that.” [New York Sun, 2/21/2007]
Fitzgerald Put 'Vice President on Trial' - Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff writes, “Fitzgerald pretty much made it clear to the jury that Libby, in the prosecution’s mind, was protecting the vice president of the United States.” Tom DeFrank of the New York Daily News adds: “I think Fitzgerald and his fellow prosecutors put the vice president on trial, even though he was not charged with anything. But he was very much front and center in this trial from start to finish.” [Washington Post, 2/21/2007]
Fitzgerald 'Sinister,' 'Overcaffeinated'; Wells 'Erratic' - Conservative columnist Byron York is somewhat taken aback at Fitzgerald’s focus on Cheney, calling Fitzgerald “quite sinister” in his statements about Cheney’s apparent complicity in the leak. York sums up the two sides’ arguments and presentational styles. He calls both sides “uneven,” and says that defense attorney Theodore Wells’s performance “was erratic, sometimes appearing to defend his own honor more than his client’s, and sometimes brilliantly dismantling the credibility of key prosecution witnesses.” York writes that Fitzgerald “seemed overcaffeinated and overreaching, perhaps overwhelming the jury with the minutiae of the case.” He concludes, “How their closing summations will play with jurors is anybody’s guess.” [National Review, 2/21/2007]
Praise for Wells - The Washington Post’s Linton Weeks is more complimentary of Well’s closing statement. Weeks’s analysis of Wells’s close is similar to the glowing profile published by the New York Times earlier in the trial (see February 10, 2007). He portrays Wells as “tall, athletic, mustachioed—like a fighter imaging the bout to come,” and possessed of “an inner toughness of someone who will use any combination of punches to win big.” He notes that Wells paused during the proceedings to check on his elderly mother, watching her son from a wheelchair in the courtroom aisle. Though Weeks writes that Wells had “moments [that] seemed out of sync,” hurrying through a PowerPoint slide presentation, “[a]t other times, he was impressive, trying to convince the jury that the prosecution was attempting to ruin Libby based on a few conversations with reporters.” Weeks quotes one of Wells’s colleagues, Washington lawyer Stanley Brand, as saying Wells “has a wonderful demeanor… a master tactician… a bulldog, but in a gentle way.” Brand calls Wells “one of the five best trial lawyers in the country.” Weeks then spins an admiring biography of the “tough defense attorney who has mastered the balance between easygoing and hard-charging,” and uses Wells’s high school and college football career upon which to hang his final metaphor: “There in the middle of the courtroom, Wells was playing center again, helping call the plays and protecting the guy with the ball. Laughing in the beginning, crying in the end.” [Washington Post, 2/21/2007]
Sincere and Insincere Emotions - Author Marcy Wheeler, writing for the blog FireDogLake (see February 15, 2007), says that assistant prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg baited Wells into going into a sincere rage at the beginning of his argument. In the first portion of the prosecution’s close, Zeidenberg told the jury that Wells had not proven the White House conspiracy he alleged, and, Wheeler writes, Wells spent the first 20 minutes of his closing argument defending his trial strategy. “This was real rage,” she writes, “but it was rage in the service of Ted Wells, not rage in the service of Scooter Libby.” By goading Wells into losing his composure and defending his own actions, Wheeler writes, Wells was forced to rush his climactic argument. Wheeler says that Wells “really does have a schtick, one that the journalists who have seen him before all recognize. He finishes the rational part of his case. Then he spends the last 20 minutes or so summoning rage for his client. He brings all the emotion summoned for his client to a crescendo. And then he weeps, demonstrating clearly to the jury how deeply he believes that his client has been wronged.” But because Wells wasted the first 20 minutes defending his own actions, he “had no time to get into character, and he went immediately from a rushed but rational argument about memory into his emotional appeal.… [C]ompared to the real rage Wells had shown earlier in the day, it looked fake. Utterly, completely fake. Because Wells reacted to Zeidenberg’s barbs, he showed the jury true emotion that made all his elaborate schtick—the thing that Wells does best, normally—look like an act.” Moreover, Fitzgerald was able to mock the outrage that Wheeler believes to be “schtick” (see 3:00 p.m. February 20, 2007) all the more effectively because he almost never raised his voice or displayed any passion throughout the trial. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/21/2007]
Facts vs. Emotion - Sidney Blumenthal, a former Clinton administration adviser who has written a book critical of the Bush administration, writes that the prosecution depended largely on a structure of facts and evidence, while the defense relied much more on emotional appeals to the jury. He writes, “[T]he final argument on behalf of Scooter Libby was Libby’s last disinformation campaign.” Of the defense’s attacks on the credibility of news reports and the journalists who make them, Blumenthal writes: “This extraordinary defense—that nothing in any newspaper can be considered true—was the reductio ad absurdum of the Bush administration’s use and abuse of the press corps. Having manipulated it to plant stories on weapons of mass destruction to legitimize the Iraq war, Libby, who was centrally involved in those disinformation efforts, was reduced to defending himself on the basis that newspapers cannot be trusted to publish the truth.” Of Fitzgerald’s pronouncement of a “cloud” over Cheney, Blumenthal writes that “Fitzgerald made clear that he believed that Cheney was the one behind the crime for which he was prosecuting Libby. It was Cheney who was the boss, Cheney who gave the orders, and Cheney to whom Libby was the loyal soldier, and it is Cheney for whom Libby is covering up.” [Salon, 2/22/2007]
Entity Tags: Marcy Wheeler, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Linton Weeks, Josh Gerstein, Byron York, Thomas DeFrank, Theodore Wells, Valerie Plame Wilson, Sidney Blumenthal, Reggie B. Walton, Stanley Brand, Michael Isikoff, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Peter Zeidenberg
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Vice President Dick Cheney flies to Pakistan to meet with President Pervez Musharraf. The White House is tight-lipped about the trip and refuses to provide details about what the two leaders discuss. But media accounts, citing administration officials, suggest that Cheney warns Musharraf that US aid to Pakistan could be in jeopardy if his government does not improve in its efforts to combat al-Qaeda and the Taliban. [New York Times, 2/26/2007] Cheney’s trip comes after the head of US military operations in Afghanistan compiled a dossier of evidence indicating the Pakistani government is secretly supporting the militants attacking US troops in Afghanistan (see Autumn 2006- February 2007). But Cheney is known to be a strong supporter of Musharraf and generally has blocked pressure against him (see June 27, 2007). Pakistani intelligence sources will later tell ABC news that the two leaders discussed a secret operation (see 2005 and After) to support attacks against Iran by the Sunni militant group Jundullah. [ABC News, 4/3/2007]
Boston Globe columnist H.D.S. Greenway. [Source: Camera (.org)]Boston Globe columnist H. D. S. Greenway writes that the trial of Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see January 16-23, 2007) has revealed “the astonishing lengths to which Vice President Dick Cheney and others in the Bush administration went to discredit Ambassador Joseph Wilson for his 2003 claim that the administration had been dead wrong about Saddam Hussein trying to buy material from Niger to make nuclear weapons. The intensity and single mindedness of this pursuit leapt out from the testimony.” Greenway calls the decision to “out” Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as a CIA agent in their attempt to impugn Wilson’s character an act of “desperation,” and “the intensity of the Wilson smear campaign… obsessive.” He writes, “The concept that she had sent her husband to Niger on some kind of boondoggle, instead of to investigate the Saddam sale, is bizarre in the extreme.” Most importantly, the trial revealed the lengths the White House went to protect both the case for going to war in Iraq and “Cheney’s connection to flawed intelligence. There you have it. In the most dysfunctional administration of our time, the vice president’s office felt free to use classified information to bolster a false impression of Saddam’s nuclear capabilities—going to absurd lengths to keep the truth from the American people and perhaps even the White House.” The real reason for war was to begin the neoconservative plan for remaking the Middle East to conform to their vision; the real reason for smearing Wilson was that he exposed that underlying rationale for war. Greenway concludes: “Everybody now, hawks and doves, even the neo-cons, agree that the Bush administration mismanaged the Iraq war. But what Americans need to realize is that the whole concept of attacking a country in order to remake it into America’s image is horribly wrong and counterproductive in the extreme—not just its faulty execution. The Libby trial jury is still out at this writing, but the concept that he could forget conversations he made on the excuse that he was too consumed with the plans for war is something I have trouble believing. At the time discrediting Wilson was Libby’s war.” [Boston Globe, 2/27/2007]
Meyrav Wurmser. [Source: Publicity photo via the Hudson Institute]Neoconservative Meyrav Wurmser, the director of the Center for Middle East Policy and the wife of Vice President Dick Cheney’s senior aide David Wurmser, says the failures in Iraq stem from the failure of America to think big. “My argument has always been that this war is senseless if you don’t give it a regional context,” she says. Author and journalist Craig Unger explains Wurmser’s comment by noting that she is saying that the only reason the invasion and occupation of Iraq makes sense if it is the first step in a post-millenial version of the “domino theory”—lining up one Arab regime after another, starting with Iran, and knocking them down. [Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
Craig Unger. [Source: David Shankbone/Public Domain]Author and journalist Craig Unger writes that the 1996 Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies policy paper, “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm” (see July 8, 1996), was “the kernel of a breathtakingly radical vision for a new Middle East. By waging wars against Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, the paper asserted, Israel and the US could stabilize the region. Later, the neoconservatives argued that this policy could democratize the Middle East.” Unger’s thoughts are echoed by neoconservative Meyrav Wurmser, an Israeli-American policy expert who co-signed the paper with her husband, David Wurmser, now a top Middle East adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney. Mrs. Wurmser (see March 2007) calls the policy paper “the seeds of a new vision.” While many of the paper’s authors eventually became powerful advisers and officials within the Bush administration, and implemented the policies advocated in the paper in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the paper’s focus on Iran has been somewhat less noticed. Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for whom the paper was written, has observed, “The most dangerous of these regimes [Iran, Syria, and Iraq] is Iran.” Unger writes, “Ten years later, ‘A Clean Break’ looks like nothing less than a playbook for US-Israeli foreign policy during the Bush-Cheney era. Many of the initiatives outlined in the paper have been implemented—removing Saddam [Hussein] from power, setting aside the ‘land for peace’ formula to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, attacking Hezbollah in Lebanon—all with disastrous results.” [Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David Wurmser, Craig Unger, Saddam Hussein, Bush administration (43), Hezbollah, Meyrav Wurmser, Benjamin Netanyahu, Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US International Relations, Iraq under US Occupation, Neoconservative Influence
Joseph Wilson, the former ambassador and administration critic (see July 6, 2003) whose wife Valerie Plame Wilson’s outing as a covert CIA official sparked an investigation (see September 26, 2003), speaks to a group of reporters about the conviction of Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007). Wilson is joined by Melanie Sloan, the lawyer who represents the Wilsons in their civil suit against Libby and other Bush officials they consider responsible for exposing Plame Wilson’s CIA identity (see July 13, 2006). Wilson says that since the Libby trial is over, he would like to see President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney share what they told prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald during the investigation (see June 24, 2004 and May 8, 2004). As for the role of the press in the investigation, Wilson says that members of the press should rethink their efforts to protect government sources who are engaged in “disinformation campaigns.” Sloan says that many Bush administration officials, such as Cheney, “are in fact still hiding” from the truth about their involvement in exposing Plame Wilson. [FireDogLake, 3/6/2007]
MSNBC ‘Breaking News’ image with photo of Lewis Libby immediately after he learns he is found guilty. [Source: MSNBC]A jury finds former White House official Lewis “Scooter” Libby guilty of multiple felonies relating to his divulging the identity of former CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to the press (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Libby is found guilty of two counts of perjury, one count of making false statements, and one count of obstruction of justice. He is acquitted of one count of lying to the FBI, Count Three of the charges. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/6/2007 ; Marcy Wheeler, 3/6/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007]
No Further Charges - The Associated Press writes, “The trial revealed how top members of the Bush administration were eager to discredit Plame [Wilson]‘s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who accused the administration of doctoring prewar intelligence on Iraq.” Libby remains expressionless during the reading of the verdicts, but his wife sobs and lowers her head as the verdicts are announced. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald says no additional charges pertaining to the Plame Wilson leak investigation will be filed. “The results are actually sad,” Fitzgerald tells reporters. “It’s sad that we had a situation where a high-level official person who worked in the office of the vice president obstructed justice and lied under oath. We wish that it had not happened, but it did.” Fitzgerald adds that Libby, by lying and obstructing justice, harmed the process of law, and made it more difficult to find out who actually did what in the Plame Wilson leak. [Associated Press, 3/6/2007; Christy Hardin Smith, 3/6/2007]
Libby the 'Fall Guy'; Memory Defense Implausible - Libby will be sentenced to 30 months in prison (see June 5, 2007). One juror, Denis Collins, tells reporters that he and his fellow jurors found passing judgment on Libby “unpleasant,” but that in final consideration, Libby’s story was too difficult to believe. Collins, a former Washington Post reporter, tells reporters that the jurors had constructed 34 poster-sized pages filled with information they distilled from the trial testimony (see March 1, 2007). They determined that Libby had been told about Plame Wilson’s CIA status at least nine different times, and could not accept the defense’s argument that he forgot about knowing it (see January 31, 2006). “Even if he forgot that someone told him about Mrs. Wilson, who had told him, it seemed very unlikely he would not have remembered about Mrs. Wilson,” Collins says. But, Collins goes on to say, the jurors believe there is more to the story than Libby’s criminal behavior. “We’re not saying we didn’t think Mr. Libby was guilty,” Collins says, “but it seemed like… he was the fall guy” for Vice President Dick Cheney, his former boss. Collins says the jurors felt “a tremendous amount of sympathy” for Libby, and wondered why they were not hearing from other White House officials in Libby’s defense, particularly Cheney and Bush political strategist Karl Rove. “It was said a number of times: ‘What are we doing with this guy here? Where’s Rove? Where are these other guys?’” He says that the testimony of Cheney aide John Hannah was particularly hurtful to Libby’s case (see February 13, 2007), with Hannah seesawing between claiming Libby had an “awful” memory (see January 31, 2006) and then saying he had an incredible grasp of minute details. Collins describes the jury as “dispassionate” in its deliberations, and adds that it took the jury over a week to conclude Libby was guilty of any charges. He says that one juror held out for Libby’s innocence on Count Three, based on reasonable doubt; otherwise the entire jury was unanimous for Libby’s guilt. Fitzgerald says that because Libby lied to both FBI investigators and the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak, it became impossible to fully investigate Cheney’s role in leaking Plame Wilson’s covert identity. [Associated Press, 3/6/2007; Jane Hamsher, 3/6/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 3/6/2007; Murray Waas, 12/23/2008] In her 2007 book Fair Game, Plame Wilson will reflect, “[I]t seemed that Libby’s defense tactic of casting him as a ‘scapegoat’ (see January 16-23, 2007) had worked, but not in the way they had intended.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 294-295]
New Trial? - Libby’s defense attorney, Theodore Wells, says he will request a new trial—something the BBC will call “a common tactic”—and if it is denied, Wells says he will appeal the verdict. Libby is fingerprinted and released on his own recognizance to await sentencing. [Christy Hardin Smith, 3/6/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] “We have every confidence Mr. Libby ultimately will be vindicated,” Wells tells reporters. “We believe Mr. Libby is totally innocent and that he didn’t do anything wrong.” [Associated Press, 3/6/2007]
Weeping with Relief - Plame Wilson will recall watching the news on television: “To say I was a bundle of nerves—it felt like I needed two hands to stir the milk in my coffee—would be an understatement.” When the verdicts are read, she begins to “cry with relief,” and immediately calls her husband Joseph Wilson. His response: “Thank God. The charge of obstruction of justice was the most important.” Of her own feelings, Plame Wilson will write, “My feelings of deep sadness over the entire affair were tempered by relief that our justice system still worked as intended.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 294-295]
White House Response - White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino says President Bush watched news of the verdict on television in the Oval Office. Perino says the president respects the jury’s verdict but “was saddened for Scooter Libby and his family.” Perino says the verdict should not be construed as in any way embarrassing for the White House: “I think that any administration that has to go through a prolonged news story that is unpleasant and one that is difficult—when you’re under the constraints and the policy of not commenting on an ongoing criminal matter—that can be very frustrating.” [Associated Press, 3/6/2007]
Entity Tags: Denis Collins, John Hannah, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Dana Perino, Theodore Wells, Valerie Plame Wilson, Office of the Vice President, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Joseph C. Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Patrick J. Fitzgerald
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The New York Post joins the National Review (see March 6, 2007 and March 6, 2007) in demanding an immediate presidential pardon for convicted felon Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007). The Post accuses “Democrats and Bush-bashers in the media” of “chortling with glee” over the guilty verdicts, and says special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald now “has a high-level scalp on his belt,” Libby’s. The Post joins many other conservative media pundits and publications in asking why Libby was prosecuted for leaking Valerie Plame Wilson’s name to the press (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003) when the first admitted leaker was another government official, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see June 13, 2003). (The Post fails to note that Armitage admitted to his leak—see October 2, 2003—while Libby committed perjury and obstruction of justice in his untruthful denials of leaking Plame Wilson’s identity—see October 14, 2003, November 26, 2003, March 5, 2004, and March 24, 2004.) Instead, the Post writes, the entire investigation and trial was about “[s]coring points against [President] Bush. That much is obvious, given prosecutor Fitzgerald’s conduct during Libby’s trial.” The Post charges Fitzgerald with being “blatantly political” in charging Vice President Dick Cheney with orchestrating the leak and violating the court’s orders not to discuss Plame Wilson’s covert status (see 9:00 a.m. February 20, 2007). It paints the jury as “wholly confused,” and writes that perhaps the jury was less interested in issuing a fair verdict for Libby and more interested “in just going home.” The Post exhorts President Bush to pardon Libby, and writes: “Sure, he’d take a lot of political heat for it. But Libby was in the dock because of politics—and turnabout is fair play. Free Scooter Libby.” [New York Post, 3/7/2007]
The New York Times editorial board publishes an op-ed about the conviction of former White House official Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007). The Times writes that Libby, at one time one of the most senior officials in the White House, “was caught lying to the FBI. He appears to have been trying to cover up a smear campaign that was orchestrated by his boss against the first person to unmask one of the many untruths that President Bush used to justify invading Iraq. He was charged with those crimes, defended by the best lawyers he could get, tried in an open courtroom, and convicted of serious felonies.” The Times says the verdict is a “reminder of how precious the American judicial system is, at a time when it is under serious attack from the same administration Mr. Libby served. That administration is systematically denying the right of counsel, the right to evidence, and even the right to be tried to scores of prisoners who may have committed no crimes at all.” The Times also notes that the trial gave an important glimpse into “the methodical way that [Vice President Dick] Cheney, Mr. Libby, [White House political strategist] Karl Rove, and others in the Bush inner circle set out to discredit Ms. Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson IV. Mr. Wilson, a career diplomat, [who] was sent by the State Department in 2002 [later corrected by the Times to acknowledge that the CIA sent Wilson] to check out a British intelligence report that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from the government of Niger for a secret nuclear weapons program.” Wilson’s exposure of the Bush administration’s false claims that Iraq had tried to buy Nigerien uranium (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) led to a Cheney-led “smear campaign” against Wilson (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006) which led to the exposure of his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as a covert CIA official (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, and July 12, 2003). The Times writes: “That is what we know from the Libby trial, and it is some of the clearest evidence yet that this administration did not get duped by faulty intelligence; at the very least, it cherry-picked and hyped intelligence to justify the war.… What we still do not know is whether a government official used Ms. Wilson’s name despite knowing that she worked undercover. That is a serious offense, which could have put her and all those who had worked with her in danger.” While the Times decries special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald jailing a former Times reporter, Judith Miller, for refusing to reveal Libby as her confidential source (see July 6, 2005), “it was still a breath of fresh air to see someone in this administration, which specializes in secrecy, prevarication, and evading blame, finally called to account.” [New York Times, 3/7/2007]
Entity Tags: Judith Miller, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Karl C. Rove, George W. Bush, New York Times, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Denis Collins, in a photo taken shortly after the Libby verdict was rendered. [Source: CBS News / Crooks and Liars]New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd prints a column based on an interview with Denis Collins, a juror in the Lewis Libby trial (see March 6, 2007). Dowd knows Collins from grade school as well as being journalists together, though Collins worked at the Washington Post as a sportswriter and Metro reporter while Dowd worked the same stints at the now-defunct Washington Star. Collins is tired of being interviewed by one reporter and media host after another, to the point where he has already posted his diary of his time on the jury on the Web, been interviewed by Larry King, and been reviled by Rush Limbaugh. Collins recalls that most of the jury felt Libby was relatively “small beer” compared to more high-level White House officials also involved in leaking the CIA identity of Valerie Plame Wilson to the press. “He’s too many steps away from the king,” Collins says. “One of the jurors said, ‘He was too busy looking out for No. 1; he should have been looking out for No. 2 and then he wouldn’t have gotten in trouble.’ One of the witnesses told us that Libby spent more time with [his former boss, Vice President Dick] Cheney than he did with his own wife and kids.” Collins says that by far the most damaging testimony came from the prosecution’s government witnesses and not the reporters who took the stand. Asked how he would feel if Libby was pardoned, Collins replies: “I would really not care. I feel like the damage has been done in terms of his reputation and the administration’s reputation.” Collins is equally ambivalent about calls for Cheney to resign or be fired, saying: “Here’s the thing: Libby followed Cheney’s instructions to go talk to reporters, but there’s no evidence at all that Cheney told him to lie about it. So the question is, was Libby just kind of inept at getting this story out?” [New York Times, 3/8/2007]
Columnist Robert Novak, who first publicly exposed Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA official in 2003 (see July 14, 2003), weighs in on the Lewis Libby felony convictions (see March 6, 2007). Novak accuses Democrats of trying to gin up “another Iran-Contra affair or Watergate” by demanding an investigation of the Plame Wilson leak, and of being after “much bigger game” than Libby—particularly Vice President Dick Cheney or White House political strategist Karl Rove. Novak then claims he played “but a minor role in [Libby’s] trial,” testifying only that he did not discuss Plame Wilson with Libby (see February 12, 2007). “Other journalists said the same thing under oath,” Novak writes, “but we apparently made no impression on the jury.” Novak goes on to say that “[t]he trial provided no information whatsoever about Valerie Plame [Wilson]‘s status at the CIA at the time I revealed her role in her husband’s mission. No hard evidence was produced that Libby was ever told she was undercover. [Special counsel Patrick] Fitzgerald had argued that whether or not she was covert was not material to this trial, and US District Judge Reggie B. Walton had so ruled.” (Novak’s statement contradicts former Justice Department official Victoria Toensing’s assertion that Fitzgerald repeatedly told the jury of Plame Wilson’s “classified” or “covert” status, even though Novak slams Fitzgerald for “referr[ing] to Mrs. Wilson’s secret status” during his closing statement—see 9:00 a.m. February 20, 2007). Novak denies revealing former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage as one of his sources for his Plame Wilson article (see July 8, 2003), saying that Fitzgerald already knew that Armitage was one of his sources (see October 2, 2003). He writes that he assumed Fitzgerald’s knowledge “was the product of detective work by the FBI”; he did not know that Armitage had “turned himself in to the Justice Department three months before Fitzgerald entered the case, without notifying the White House or releasing me from my requirement of confidentiality” (in 2006, Novak wrote that he did name Armitage as a source—see January 14, 2004). Novak writes that President Bush “lost control of this issue when he permitted a special prosecutor to make decisions that, unlike going after a drug dealer or Mafia kingpin, turned out to be inherently political.” He concludes: “It would have taken courage for the president to have aborted this process. It would require even more courage for him to pardon Scooter Libby now, and not while he is walking out of the White House in January 2009.” [Washington Post, 3/8/2007]
Syndicated columnist Linda Chavez extends the recent spate of conservative attacks on the integrity of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in the aftermath of the Lewis Libby trial verdict (see March 6, 2007). Echoing columns by other conservative pundits and editorial boards (see March 6, 2007, March 6, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 8-9, 2007, and March 9, 2007), Chavez accuses Fitzgerald and even “some jury members” of having inappropriate “motivations” to wreak harm on Libby’s former boss, Vice President Dick Cheney. Fitzgerald was either a deliberate or an unwitting tool of “virtually everyone on the left and much of the press” to pursue the leak of official Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status in an attempt to go after Cheney, a pursuit Chavez calls a “vendetta.” Chavez concludes: “It is clear that from the beginning, Fitzgerald’s only interest was in directly implicating the vice president in the leak. When he was unable to do so, he decided to punish Scooter Libby for protecting his boss.” [Post Chronicle, 3/11/2007] Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Steyn joins Chavez in denouncing Fitzgerald, calling the prosecution “perverse” and a “mockery” of justice, and accusing Fitzgerald of deliberately attempting to besmirch the White House by prosecuting Libby. He concludes by saying that Fitzgerald’s conduct during the entire investigation and trial was a “disgrace.” [Chicago Sun-Times, 3/11/2007]
Vice President Dick Cheney says that Congressional Democrats’ efforts to bring the Iraqi war to a close do nothing except undermine the troops and "embolden" Islamic terrorists. He tells American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), "When members speak not of victory but of time limits, deadlines and other arbitrary measures, they are telling the enemy simply to watch the clock and wait us out. When members of Congress pursue an anti-war strategy that’s been called ‘slow bleed,’ they are not supporting the troops, they are undermining them." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) responds that Cheney’s remarks prove "the administration’s answer to continuing violence in Iraq is more troops and more treasure from the American people." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) adds that America is less safe today because of the war. Bush "must change course, and it’s time for the Senate to demand he do it," he says. Both Pelosi and Reid are crafting legislation that will continue to fund the troops in Iraq, but will set a deadline for those troops to begin withdrawing. Meanwhile, Cheney says he wants Congress to begin discussing how to win in Iraq. As he has done many times before, he predicts "disaster" and "chaos" in the Middle East, with either al-Qaeda or Iran emerging dominant from a bloody sectarian battle and compromising regional security, if US troops withdrew from Iraq. Former Democratic senator and Vietnam veteran Max Cleland responds tartly to Dick Cheney’s veiled accusations that Democrats who want a timetable for ending the Iraq occupation are traitors. Cleland rhetorically asks Cheney, "Where the hell were you in the Vietnam War? If you had gone to Vietnam like the rest of us, maybe you would have learned something about war. You can’t keep troops on the ground forever. You gotta have a mission. You gotta have a purpose. You can’t keep sending ‘em back and back and back with no mission and no purpose. As a matter of fact, the real enemy is al-Qaeda, it’s al-Qaeda, stupid, it’s not in Iraq." [Associated Press, 3/12/2007]
A CNN/Opinion Research poll shows that almost 70 percent of Americans believe the president should not pardon convicted felon Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007). The results show that 69 percent oppose a pardon and 18 percent favor a pardon. Also, 52 percent believe that Libby’s former boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, was involved in covering up the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak. Twenty-nine percent disagree. [CNN, 3/12/2007] A poll published four days later by Gallup shows that 67 percent of those polled believe President Bush should not pardon Libby, and 21 percent believe that he should. The Gallup poll shows that 34 percent of Republicans support a pardon, along with 21 percent of independents and 11 percent of Democrats. [Gallup Poll News Service, 3/16/2007] Hours after the CNN poll comes out, NBC reporter and MSNBC commentator Andrea Mitchell, who was tangentially involved in the Libby case (see October 3, 2003 and February 12, 2007), tells a viewing audience: “[P]olling… indicates that most people think, in fact, that he should be pardoned. Scooter Libby should be pardoned.” [Eschaton, 3/12/2007]
James Knodell. [Source: CommonDreams (.org)]White House Director of Security James Knodell testifies to the House Oversight Committee that the White House never investigated the possible involvement of White House officials in exposing Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity. [Think Progress, 3/16/2007; Editor & Publisher, 3/18/2007; Nation, 3/19/2007] Knodell says he is aware of no such internal investigation or report from anyone in the White House: “I have no knowledge of any investigation in my office.” The White House Office of Security would be the lawful body to conduct such an investigation. Knodell testifies only after the White House dropped its resistance to his appearing before the committee, which had threatened to subpoena the White House for Knodell’s testimony. Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) says that President Bush had promised a full internal probe (see September 30, 2003 and September 30, 2003), and Knodell again states he knows of no such probe. He adds that he has never talked to Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, political strategist Karl Rove, or anyone in the White House about the Plame Wilson leak. His knowledge of the affair, he says, comes from “the press.” He tells the committee that those who had participated in the leaking of classified information are required by law to own up to this, but he is not aware that anyone, including Rove, had done that. Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) calls the failure of the White House to mount an internal investigation “shocking,” and says that Knodell’s office’s failure to mount such a probe constitutes a “breach within a breach.” Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) calls it a “dereliction of duty.” Knodell promises to “review this with senior management.” He attempts to assert that since a criminal investigation was launched, no such internal probe was needed, but committee Democrats challenge his statement, saying that the criminal probe is narrowly focused, began only after months of inaction and stonewalling by the White House, and is required by law regardless of whatever other investigations are underway. Waxman asks, “[T]here was an obligation for the White House to investigate whether classified information was being leaked inappropriately, wasn’t there?” to which Knodell replies, “If that was the case, yes.” Committee Democrats also note that anyone who leaked information about classified information is required by law to have their security clearances denied, and ask Knodell why Rove still has such clearance. [Think Progress, 3/16/2007; Editor & Publisher, 3/18/2007]
Entity Tags: House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Bush administration (43), Elijah Cummings, Henry A. Waxman, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, White House Office of Security, Karl C. Rove, Valerie Plame Wilson, James Knodell, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Valerie Plame Wilson testifies before the House Oversight Committee. [Source: Life]The House Oversight Committee holds a hearing about the ramifications of the Lewis Libby guilty verdict (see March 6, 2007) and the outing of former covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). Plame Wilson is the star witness, and for the first time publicly discusses the leak and her former status as a covert agent. As earlier revealed by authors Michael Isikoff and David Corn in their book Hubris, Plame Wilson was the covert operations chief for the Joint Task Force on Iraq (JTFI), a section of the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division (CPD), which itself is part of the agency’s clandestine operations directorate. Indeed, as Libby special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has already stated, the fact of her employment with the CIA was itself classified information (see October 28, 2005). [Wilson, 2007, pp. 299; Think Progress, 3/16/2007; Nation, 3/19/2007]
Republican Attempts to Close Hearing Fail - Tom Davis (R-VA), the committee’s ranking Republican, attempts to close Plame Wilson’s testimony to the public on the grounds that her statements might threaten national security. “It would be with great reluctance, but we have to protect confidential information,” he says. Politico reporter John Bresnahan describes Davis as “clearly unhappy that the hearing is taking place at all, so his threat has to be viewed in that context.” Davis goes on to say: “We are mining something that has been thoroughly looked into. There are so many other areas where [Congressional] oversight needs to be conducted instead of the Plame thing.” The hearing will remain open to the public. [Politico, 3/14/2007]
Pre-Testimony Jitters - In her book Fair Game, Plame Wilson recalls the jitters she experiences in the hours leading up to her appearance before the committee. She had tried, in the days before the hearing, “to think of every possible question the committee could throw at me.… I had to be sharp to avoid giving any information that the CIA would deem sensitive or classified. It was a minefield.” She is relieved to learn that CIA Director Michael Hayden has met with committee staffers and, she will write, “explicitly approved the use of the term ‘covert’ in describing my cover status.” She will write that though she still cannot confirm the length of her service with the CIA, she can “at least counter those who had suggested over the last few years that I was no more than a ‘glorified secretary’” (see Fall 1985, Fall 1989, Fall 1992 - 1996, and April 2001 and After). [Wilson, 2007, pp. 299]
CIA Confirmed Plame Wilson's Covert Status - Before Plame Wilson testifies, committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) reads a statement saying that she had been a “covert” officer” who had “served at various times overseas” and “worked on the prevention of the development and use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States.” Waxman notes that the CIA had cleared this statement. And during subsequent questioning, committee member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) reports that Hayden had told him, “Ms. Wilson was covert.” [Nation, 3/16/2007; Think Progress, 3/16/2007; FireDogLake, 3/16/2007; Christy Hardin Smith, 3/16/2007]
Confirms Her Status in CPD - Plame Wilson testifies that she is still bound by secrecy oaths and cannot reveal many of the specifics of her CIA career. However, she testifies, “I served the United States of America loyally and to the best of my ability as a covert operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency.” She says, “In the run-up to the war with Iraq, I worked in the Counterproliferation Division of the CIA, still as a covert officer whose affiliation with the CIA was classified.” She also notes that she helped to “manage and run secret worldwide operations.” Prior to the Iraq war, she testifies, she had “raced to discover intelligence” on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. “While I helped to manage and run secret worldwide operations against this WMD target from CIA headquarters in Washington, I also traveled to foreign countries on secret missions to find vital intelligence.” Those trips had occurred within the last five years, she says, contradicting arguments that she had not functioned as a covert agent within the last five years and therefore those who revealed her identity could not be held legally accountable (see February 18, 2007). “Covert operations officers, when they rotate back for temporary assignment in Washington, are still covert,” she says. Furthermore, far from her identity as a CIA agent being “common knowledge on the Georgetown cocktail circuit,” as some have alleged (see September 30, 2003, July 12, 2004, and March 16, 2007), she testifies that she can “count on one hand” the number of people outside the agency who knew of her CIA status before her outing by White House officials. “But, all of my efforts on behalf of the national security of the United States, all of my training, and all of the value of my years service were abruptly ended when my name and identity were exposed irresponsibly.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 300-302; Nation, 3/16/2007; Mother Jones, 3/16/2007] During this portion of testimony, Davis repeats an assertion that neither President Bush nor Vice President Dick Cheney were aware of Plame Wilson’s covert status during the time of her exposure. [FireDogLake, 3/16/2007]
'They Should Have Been Diligent in Protecting Me and Other CIA Officers' - Plame Wilson testifies that, as the Libby trial progressed, she was “shocked and dismayed by the evidence that emerged. My name and identity were carelessly and recklessly abused by senior government officials in both the White House and the State Department. All of them understood that I worked for the CIA, and having signed oaths to protect national security secrets, they should have been diligent in protecting me and every CIA officer.” Many agents in CPD are covert, she says, and thusly, officials such as Cheney and Libby, who knew she worked in that division, should have been careful in spreading information about her.
'Grave' Damage to National Security - Plame Wilson says she cannot be specific about what kind of damage was done by her identity being revealed (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, October 29, 2005, and February 13, 2006); the CIA did perform a damage assessment, but did not share the results with her, and that assessment is classified (see Before September 16, 2003). “But the concept is obvious,” she says. “Not only have breaches of national security endangered CIA officers, it has jeopardized and even destroyed entire networks of foreign agents who in turn risked their own lives and those of their families—to provide the United States with needed intelligence. Lives are literally at stake. Every single one of my former CIA colleagues, from my fellow covert officers, to analysts, to technical operations officers, to even the secretaries, understands the vulnerability of our officers and recognizes that the travesty of what happened to me, could happen to them. We in the CIA always know that we might be exposed and threatened by foreign enemies. It was a terrible irony that administration officials were the ones who destroyed my cover… for purely political motives.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 300-302; Nation, 3/16/2007] She refuses to speculate as to the intentions of White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove in exposing her identity (see July 10, 2005). [FireDogLake, 3/16/2007]
Politicization of Intelligence Dangerous, Counterproductive - Plame Wilson decries the increasingly partisan politicization of intelligence gathering and presentation under the Bush regime, saying: “The tradecraft of intelligence is not a product of speculation. I feel passionately as an intelligence professional about the creeping, insidious politicizing of our intelligence process. All intelligence professionals are dedicated to the ideal that they would rather be fired on the spot than distort the facts to fit a political view—any political view—or any ideology.… [I]njecting partisanship or ideology into the equation makes effective and accurate intelligence that much more difficult to develop. Politics and ideology must be stripped completely from our intelligence services, or the consequences will be even more severe than they have been and our country placed in even greater danger. It is imperative for any president to be able to make decisions based on intelligence that is unbiased.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 300-302; Nation, 3/16/2007]
No Role in Deciding to Send Husband to Niger - Plame Wilson discusses the persistent rumors that she dispatched her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from that country (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Such rumors imply that Wilson was unqualified for the mission, and was sent by his wife for reasons having to do with partisan politics and nepotism (see July 9, 2004). Plame Wilson testifies that she had no authority to send her husband anywhere under CIA auspices, that it was a co-worker’s suggestion, not hers, to send her husband (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005), and that her participation was limited to writing a note outlining her husband’s qualifications for such a fact-finding mission (see Fall 1999 and February 13, 2002). She testifies that a colleague had been misquoted in an earlier Senate Intelligence Committee report in saying that she proposed her husband for the trip, and that this colleague was not permitted to correct the record. [FireDogLake, 3/16/2007; Nation, 3/16/2007; Nation, 3/19/2007]
Further Investigation Warranted - After Plame Wilson concludes her testimony, Waxman declares: “We need an investigation. This is not about Scooter Libby and not just about Valerie Plame Wilson.” Journalist David Corn concurs: “Waxman was right in that the Libby trial did not answer all the questions about the leak affair, especially those about the roles of Bush administration officials other than Libby. How did Cheney learn of Valerie Wilson’s employment at the Counterproliferation Division and what did he do with that information? How did Karl Rove learn of her CIA connection? How did Rove manage to keep his job after the White House declared anyone involved in the leak would be fired?… What did Bush know about Cheney’s and Rove’s actions? What did Bush do in response to the disclosure that Rove had leaked and had falsely claimed to White House press secretary Scott McClellan that he wasn’t involved in the leak?” Republican committee members are less sanguine about the prospect of such an investigation, with Davis noting that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had already conducted an investigation of the leak. Corn writes: “Not all wrongdoing in Washington is criminal. Valerie Wilson’s presence at the hearing was a reminder that White House officials (beyond Libby) engaged in improper conduct (which possibly threatened national security) and lied about it—while their comrades in the commentariat spinned away to distort the public debate.” [Nation, 3/16/2007; Nation, 3/19/2007]
Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Joint Task Force on Iraq, David Corn, George W. Bush, Henry A. Waxman, Elijah Cummings, Valerie Plame Wilson, Counterproliferation Division, Scott McClellan, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Karl C. Rove, Tom Davis, Michael Hayden, Joseph C. Wilson, John Bresnahan, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Michael Isikoff, Patrick J. Fitzgerald
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Jack Kemp. [Source: Los Angeles Times]Former representative and Republican vice-presidential candidate Jack Kemp (R-NY) recommends that President Bush pardon convicted felon Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007). Kemp’s column, printed in the conservative Web publication Town Hall, is not as vociferous in its condemnation of the Libby perjury trial and special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald as some published by his conservative colleagues (see March 6, 2007, March 6, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 8-9, 2007, March 9, 2007, and March 11, 2007). Kemp begins his column by telling his readers that two jurors in the trial, Ann Redington and Denis Collins, have “endors[ed] a pardon,” quoting Redington from her interview on MSNBC’s Hardball (see March 8, 2007) and Collins from a column by the New York Times’s Maureen Dowd (Collins’s “endorsement” was a tepid “I would really not care” when asked if he would support a pardon for Libby—see March 8, 2007). Kemp writes of a pardon, “It’s the right thing to do and it’s the right thing to do now—anything less makes a travesty of our system of justice.” Kemp echoes his colleagues’ arguments that Fitzgerald prosecuted Libby for political reasons, particularly in an attempt to target Vice President Dick Cheney. He then notes that two previous presidents, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, have pardoned government officials who were targeted by special prosecutors—Bush in his pardon of convicted Iran-Contra conspirator Caspar Weinberger (see December 25, 1992) and Clinton’s pre-emptive pardon of then-CIA Director John Deutch, who was under investigation for mishandling classified information on his home computer. Weinberger was facing the possibility of years of jail time; Deutch was negotiating with prosecutors for a guilty plea to a single misdemeanor charge. Kemp repeats debunked charges that the CIA did not treat Valerie Plame Wilson’s status as either classified or particularly sensitive (see Fall 1992 - 1996, Late 1990s-2001 and Possibly After, April 22, 1999, (July 11, 2003), Before July 14, 2003, July 22, 2003, July 30, 2003, September 30, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, January 9, 2006, February 13, 2006, September 6, 2006, and March 16, 2007) and also repeats his colleagues’ charges that the government’s witnesses had no better memories of key events than did Libby. Kemp concludes: “Most prosecutors would walk away from such a case—a case based on a faulty premise and focused on faulty memories months after the fact. President Bush would be well within presidential authority and past presidential practice if he were to rectify this travesty in the near future. My hope is he pardons Libby now!” [Town Hall (.com), 4/3/2007]
Entity Tags: John Deutch, Caspar Weinberger, Ann Redington, Denis Collins, Jack Kemp, Maureen Dowd, George W. Bush, Valerie Plame Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Eric Lichtblau. [Source: PBS]Jack Goldsmith, the former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see October 6, 2003 and June 17, 2004), is subpoenaed to testify in the Justice Department’s investigation of the leaks that resulted in the New York Times’s dramatic disclosure of the NSA domestic wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). Goldsmith had spoken to one of the two Times reporters, Eric Lichtblau, in October 2004, three months after his resignation from the OLC, but lied to Lichtblau, saying he knew nothing of the program. He immediately alerted his former boss, Deputy Attorney General James Comey, of the interview.
'Stunned' By Subpoena - In his September 2007 book The Terror Presidency, Goldsmith will recall being “stunned” at the subpoena, though the two FBI agents who give him the subpoena—in public—say that they don’t suspect him as the source of the leak. Goldsmith later recalls, “What angered me most about the subpoena I received on that wet day in Cambridge was not the expense of lawyers or a possible perjury trap, but rather the fact that it was Alberto Gonzales’s Justice Department that had issued it. As [the two FBI agents] knew, I had spent hundreds of very difficult hours at OLC, in the face of extraordinary White House resistance, trying to clean up the legal mess that then-White House Counsel Gonzales, David Addington, John Yoo, and others had created in designing the foundations of the Terrorist Surveillance Program. It seemed rich beyond my comprehension for a Gonzales-led Department of Justice to be pursuing me for possibly illegal actions in connection with the Terrorist Surveillance Program….”
Supported Surveillance of Terrorism - Goldsmith will continue, “I was not opposed to the leak investigation itself or to vigorous surveillance of terrorists. I agreed with President Bush that the revelations by [James] Risen and Lichtblau had alerted our enemies, put our citizens at risk, and done ‘great harm’ to the nation. I hoped the FBI would find and punish the leakers, and I had spent many hours trying to help them do so. I also shared many of the White House’s concerns with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the 1978 domestic wiretapping law that required executive officers, on pain of jail, to get a court warrant before wiretapping suspected enemies in the United States. We were at war with terrorists who were armed with disposable cell phones and encrypted e-mails buried in a global multibillion-communications-per-day system. It seemed crazy to require the commander in chief and his subordinates to get a judge’s permission to listen to each communication under a legal regime that was designed before technological revolutions brought us high-speed fiber-optic networks, the public Internet, e-mail, and ten-dollar cell phones. But I deplored the way the White House went about fixing the problem. ‘We’re one bomb away from getting rid of that obnoxious [FISA] court,’ Addington had told me in his typically sarcastic style during a tense White House meeting in February of 2004 (see February 2004). The vice president’s counsel, who was the chief legal architect of the Terrorist Surveillance Program, was singing the White House tune on FISA. He and the vice president had abhorred FISA’s intrusion on presidential power ever since its enactment in 1978. After 9/11 they and other top officials in the administration dealt with FISA the way they dealt with other laws they didn’t like: They blew through them in secret based on flimsy legal opinions that they guarded closely so no one could question the legal basis for the operations. My first experience of this strict control, in fact, had come in a 2003 meeting when Addington angrily denied the NSA inspector general’s request to see a copy of OLC’s legal analysis in support of the Terrorist Surveillance Program. Before I arrived in OLC, not even NSA lawyers were allowed to see the Justice Department’s legal analysis of what NSA was doing.”
Difficult to Justify Legally - Goldsmith will write of the difficulties he found in finding legal justifications for the program. “I first encountered the program in 2003-2004, long after it had been integrated into the post-9/11 counterterrorism architecture. Putting it legally aright at that point, without destroying some of the government’s most important counterterrorism tools, was by far the hardest challenge I faced in government. And the whole ordeal could have been avoided.…In 2004, I and others in the Department of Justice had begun the process of working with the FISA court to give the commander in chief much more flexibility in tracking terrorists. From the beginning the administration could have taken these and other steps to ramp up terrorist surveillance in indisputably lawful ways that would have minimized the likelihood of a devastating national security leak. But only if it had been willing to work with the FISA court or Congress. The White House had found it much easier to go it alone, in secret.” [Slate, 9/10/2007]
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice, New York Times, Terrorist Surveillance Program, John C. Yoo, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), James B. Comey Jr., Eric Lichtblau, David S. Addington, Alberto R. Gonzales, James Risen, Jack Goldsmith, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Federal Bureau of Investigation, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey delivers dramatic testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the March 2004 attempts by then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and then-White House chief of staff Andrew Card to pressure a seriously ill John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, to certify the legality of the Bush/NSA domestic wiretapping program (see March 10-12, 2004, Early 2002). Comey testifies that even though he, who at the time has the full authority of the attorney general during Ashcroft’s illness, and Ashcroft both refused to authorize the program due to their belief that the program is illegal, President Bush will certify the program anyway. Only a threatened mass resignation by Ashcroft, Comey, FBI director Robert Mueller, and other senior officials will persuade Bush, weeks later, to make changes in the program that bring it somewhat closer to operating within the law. [Think Progress, 5/15/2007; Washington Post, 5/16/2007]
Bush Sent Gonzales, Card to Ashcroft's Hospital Room, Comey Believes - Comey says that while he cannot be certain, he believes Gonzales and Card went to Ashcroft’s hospital room on orders from President Bush: “I have some recollection that the call was from the president himself, but I don’t know that for sure,” he tells the committee. His major concern in heading off Gonzales and Card at the hospital, Comey testifies, is that, “given how ill I knew the attorney general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in no condition to do that.” Comey says he was “stunned” by how forceful Ashcroft was in refusing to comply with Gonzales and Card’s directive to sign the reauthorization.
Gonzales a 'Loyal Bushie' - Committee members are openly contemptuous of Gonzales’s actions, and question his fitness to serve as attorney general. “He’s presided over a Justice Department where being a, quote, loyal Bushie seems to be more important than being a seasoned professional, where what the White House wants is more important than what the law requires or what prudence dictates,” says Charles Schumer (D-NY). Arlen Specter (R-PA) is hardly less critical. “It is the decision of Mr. Gonzales as to whether he stays or goes, but it is hard to see how the Department of Justice can function and perform its important duties with Mr. Gonzales remaining where he is,” Specter says. “And beyond Mr. Gonzales’s decision, it’s a matter for the president as to whether the president will retain the attorney general or not.” [New York Times, 5/15/2007]
Not a 'Team Player' - Interestingly, President Bush views Comey with disdain because Comey isn’t what Bush calls a “team player;” Bush earlier tagged Comey, who resigned his position in 2005 and who previously tangled with the White House over its embrace of torture for terrorist suspects, with the derisive nickname “Cuomo,” after the former Democratic governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, famous for vacillating over whether to run for the presidency in the 1980s. The White House denies the nickname. [Newsweek, 1/9/2006] Comey is not popular in the White House in part because of his 2003 appointment of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, for perjury connected to the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see Shortly after February 13, 2002). And after the 9/11 attacks, Comey challenged Cheney’s assertions that the use of torture and other “war on terror” policies were legal (see January 9, 2002). Comey says he has been prepared to testify about the Ashcroft hospital visit for three years, but never did until now, because “Nobody ever asked.…I’ve never been in a forum where I was obligated to answer the question. Short of that, it was not something I was going to volunteer.” Card says that his actions at the hospital earned him bureaucratic punishment from Card. After Gonzales became attorney general, Ashcroft’s then-chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, told Comey that Gonzales’s “vision” was to merge the deputy’s office with Gonzales’s own office, stripping Comey of much of his autonomy and reducing him, in essence, to a staff member. Comey refused to cooperate. “You may want to try that with the next deputy attorney general,” Comey told Sampson. “But it’s not going to work with me.” [US News and World Report, 5/20/2007]
Entity Tags: Robert S. Mueller III, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Senate Judiciary Committee, D. Kyle Sampson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrew Card, John Ashcroft, James B. Comey Jr., George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Bush officials are battling a lawsuit filed against them by former CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson, according to a report by the Associated Press. Plame Wilson is suing (see July 13, 2006) four Bush administration officials—Vice President Dick Cheney (see July 7-8, 2003), White House political strategist Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003 and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), convicted perjurer Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007), and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see June 13, 2003)—for deliberately disclosing her identity as a CIA official to the public for political gain. Cheney’s lawyer calls the lawsuit “a fishing expedition” and accuses Plame Wilson of making “fanciful claims.” Plame Wilson says her constitutional rights were violated by the defendants. Armitage’s lawyer says the suit is “principally based on a desire for publicity and book deals.” Plame Wilson’s lawyer counters by saying the case is “about egregious conduct by defendants that ruined a woman’s career.” Rove’s lawyer, Robert Luskin, arguing on behalf of all four defendants, says that none of the officials deliberately disclosed classified information, specifically the information of Plame Wilson’s covert status in the CIA. The defendants’ lawyers claim that they should not be sued personally for actions taken as part of their official duties. And a Justice Department lawyer claims that Cheney should have much the same legal immunity as President Bush. [Associated Press, 5/17/2007] The lawsuit will soon be dismissed (see July 19, 2007).
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
Legal analysts call Vice President Dick Cheney’s publicly expressed desire for convicted felon Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007) to be freed “unusual” and “troubling.” They note that while Cheney and President Bush are friends and former colleages of Libby, they are also officials sworn to uphold the law and run the branch of government that prosecuted Libby. “It’s a disappointment whenever a person who occupies a high office and takes an oath doesn’t respond to a demonstrated serious criminal event in a serious governmental way,” says former Iran-Contra prosecutor John Barrett. “It’s an adversary process and I understand the personal dimension, but the United States is the side of the case that President Bush and Vice President Cheney are on. Those are their jobs.” Attorney Lance Cole, who worked with Democrats on the Senate Whitewater Committee, says, “Libby’s lies derailed the investigation, and Cheney’s role has never been fully explained; the comments of the president and especially the vice president are troubling in this context” (see May 25, 2007). Presidential scholar Stanley Kutler, author of The Wars of Watergate, a famous book on the Watergate scandal, says Cheney’s statement is unusual in a historical content. “I know of no time in Watergate where someone who was convicted got the warm embrace of those in power,” Kutler says. He calls allegations that Libby’s political activity was unfairly criminalized “spurious.” [Associated Press, 6/6/2007]
Henry Waxman (D-CA), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, writes to Vice President Cheney demanding an explanation for his decision not to comply with executive orders (see 2003). Cheney’s office, like other executive branch entities, is required to annually report on the amount of documents it is classifying, and how those documents are being kept secure. The annual requests are made in pursuance of an executive order, last updated by President Bush in 2003. The order states that it applies to any “entity within the executive branch that comes into the possession of classified information.” Cheney has justified the decision by saying that because the Vice President is also the president of the Senate, the vice president’s office is not strictly a part of the executive branch, and therefore is not subject to the president’s executive orders; he cites as evidence his Constitutional role as a tie breaker in the Senate. Waxman writes, “Your decision to exempt your office from the President’s order is problematic because it could place national security secrets at risk. It is also hard to understand given the history of security breaches involving officials in your office.” Waxman’s point is that, if Cheney’s office is not part of the executive branch, then it is not authorized to view many of the classified documents it routinely receives; therefore the viewing of these documents by Cheney and his officials constitutes a breach of security. Waxman writes, “I question both the legality and the wisdom of your actions. In May 2006, an official in your office [Leandro Aragoncillo] pled guilty to passing classified information to individuals in the Philippines [as part of a plot to overthrow President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo… Aragoncillo reportedly disclosed numerous secret and top secret documents to Philippine officials over several years while working in your office.… In March 2007, your former chief of staff, Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, was convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice, and false statements for denying his role in disclosing the identity of a covert CIA agent (see November 20, 2007). In July 2003, you reportedly instructed Mr. Libby to disclose information from a National lntelligence Estimate to Judith Miller, a former New York Times reporter. This record does not inspire confidence in how your office handles the nation’s most sensitive security information. Indeed, it would appear particularly irresponsible to give an office with your history of security breaches an exemption from the safeguards that apply to all other executive branch officials.… Your office may have the worst record in the executive branch for safeguarding classified information.” Waxman notes that Cheney’s office is notorious for declassifying information for purely political reasons, as in the Libby case. Waxman concludes, “Given this record, serious questions can be raised about both the legality and the advisability of exempting your office from the rules that apply to all other executive branch officials.” [Congress Committee On Oversight And Government Reform, 6/21/2007; New York Times, 6/22/2007] The next day, when asked what he believes about Cheney’s position, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will quip, “I always thought that he was president of this administration.” [Cox News Service, 6/22/2007] Five days later, Waxman will say, “I know the vice president wants to operate with unprecedented secrecy, but this is absurd. This order is designed to keep classified information safe. His argument is really that he’s not part of the executive branch, so he doesn’t have to comply.… He doesn’t have classified information because of his legislative function. It’s because of his executive function.” [New York Times, 6/22/2007]
House Democratic Caucus chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) says that if Vice President Dick Cheney does not accept that his office is an “entity within the executive branch,” then taxpayers should not finance his executive expenses. Cheney has refused to comply with executive branch rules governing disclosure of classification procedures by claiming that the vice president is part of the legislative branch as well as the executive (see 2003). Cheney needs to make up his mind one way or the other, Emanuel says, and live with the consequences. Cheney spokeswoman Lea Ann McBride retorts that Emanuel “can either deal with the serious issues facing our country or create more partisan politics.” In response to a letter from Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, that charges Cheney with refusing to obey a 2003 executive order requiring that all executive offices detail the number of documents they classify or declassify (see June 21, 2007), President Bush has already said that reporting requirements do not cover either his office or Cheney’s. And McBride says that because of Bush’s decision, the question of whether the office is part of the executive or the legislative branch is irrelevant. “The executive order’s intent is to treat the vice president like the president, rather than like an agency” within the executive branch, McBride says. Many Democrats disagree. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) calls Cheney’s position “the height of arrogance,” and says Emanuel’s proposal “might not be a bad idea.” [USA Today, 6/24/2007]
John Kerry. [Source: Peace Corps]Senator John Kerry (D-MA) writes to David Addington, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, challenging Cheney and Addington’s claim that the Vice Presidency is not part of the executive branch (see 2003). Kerry tells reporters, “It comes as no surprise that the ‘imperial president’ and his vice president are once again trying to dodge scrutiny with a ridiculous claim that Dick Cheney is not part of the executive branch of government. This is an unprecedented break with hundreds of years of history, and undermines the integrity of executive power and the Executive Order as an institution.” In the letter, Kerry writes of his concern: “[Cheney] self-designated his position as part of neither the legislative branch nor the executive branch, and is therefore not accountable to the laws that govern either branch.… This is an unprecedented break with hundreds of years of history and does not keep good faith with the hierarchy of government. While I appreciate that the Vice President has authority as President of the Senate, this does not exclude him from the executive and its oversight. Claiming to be party to neither the legislative branch nor the executive branch only serves to evade a standing executive order and bring secrecy to the Office of the Vice President.… The Vice President has routinely operated as a member of the executive branch and all the benefits and responsibilities that comes with that position. To propose that all this time the Vice President did not believe he was functioning as a member of the executive branch is disingenuous.” Kerry demands the reasoning behind Cheney and Addington’s assertions, and, in light of Cheney’s refusal to comply with reporting requirements of the National Archives as to how it treats classified documents, demands “to know what steps the Office is taking to protect classified information. This is our nation’s most sensitive information and it is critical that it is kept protected which is why the Archives does this oversight.” [John Kerry, 6/25/2007]
Dana Perino. [Source: Associated Press]White House spokeswoman Dana Perino reacts with confusion to Vice President Dick Cheney’s recent assertions that the vice president is neither wholly part of the executive nor legislative branches (see 2003 and June 21, 2007). Perino says in response to reporters’ questions: “I’m not a legal scholar… I’m not opining on his argument that his office is making… I don’t know why he made the arguments that he did.” Reporter Keith Koffler remarks, “It’s a little surreal,” to which Perino replies, “You’re telling me.” Koffler presses, “You can’t give an opinion about whether the vice president is part of the executive branch or not? It’s a little bit like somebody saying, ‘I don’t know if this is my wife or not.’” Asked if President Bush believes Cheney is part of the executive branch, Perino sidesteps, calling it “an interesting constitutional question.” After further dodging, reporter Helen Thomas says, “You’re stonewalling.” Reporter Jim Axelrod suggests Perino is denying “sky-is-blue stuff” and points out that Cheney’s assertion revises “more than 200 years of constitutional scholarship.” Koffler continues, “He can’t possibly argue that he’s part of neither [branch], and it seems like he’s saying he’s part of neither.” Perino finally surrenders, “Okay, you have me thoroughly confused as well.” Cheney’s current position—he will not comply with an order governing the care of classified documents because the vice presidency is not “an entity within the executive branch”—contradicts his 2001 argument that he would not cooperate with a Congressional probe into the activities of his Energy Task Force because such a probe “would unconstitutionally interfere with the functioning of the executive branch.”
'Neither Fish Nor Fowl' - The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank writes, “Cheney has, in effect, declared himself to be neither fish nor fowl but an exotic, extraconstitutional beast who answers to no one.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) agrees, saying: “The vice president’s theory seems to be one almost laughable on its face, that he’s not part of the executive branch. I think if you ask James Madison or Benjamin Franklin or any of the writers of the Constitution, they’d almost laugh if they heard that.” [Washington Post, 6/26/2007; Wall Street Journal, 7/31/2007] Interestingly, Perino does assert that Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has no standing to investigate the compliance of the vice president’s office with the executive order. “The executive order is enforced solely by the president of the United States,” she says. “I think this is a little bit of a non-issue.” The government watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) retorts that, if Cheney and Perino are to be believed, then the Office of Senate Security, the counterpart to Waxman’s committee, should investigate Cheney’s office. “By claiming the Office of the Vice President is within the legislative branch does Mr. Cheney agree that he is subject to Senate security procedures?” CREW executive director Melanie Sloan asks. “The Security Office’s standards, procedures and requirements are set out in the Senate Security Manual, which is binding on all employees of the Senate.” [Raw Story, 6/24/2007]
Aziz Huq. [Source: American Prospect]Civil libertarian Aziz Huq writes that Vice President Dick Cheney’s claim that his office is not part of the executive branch and therefore not subject to compliance with executive orders (see 2003 and June 21, 2007) is a genuine constitutional crisis. Huq writes, “The term ‘constitutional crisis’ is much abused, invoked generally whenever Congress shows some life. Confrontations on war funding and Congressional subpoenas, to cite recent examples, are in fact as old as the Republic. They are but healthy sparks from a constitutional confrontation of ‘ambition against ambition,’ precisely as the Framers intended. But the true crisis is hidden in plain sight—the existence of an office in the Constitution—the Vice President’s—with no real remit and no real limits, open to exploitation and abuse.” It is nonsensical, Huq writes, for Cheney on the one hand to claim that as a member of the executive branch he has access to the most secret of classified documents, and on the other hand he is not subject to oversight because he is not a member of the executive branch. Cheney receives these documents as a senior member of the executive branch, not of the legislative. Yet, as president of the Senate, Cheney is not subject to the strict Senate rules on handling classified documents—rules far stricter than those imposed on senior members of the executive branch. Cheney’s arguments create what Huq calls a “legal black hole (another one!) where classified documents can disappear without a trace.” Huq finally asks, “Why should addition of legislative duties trigger the subtraction of executive obligations? In lawyerly terms, the 2003 order applies to ‘any’ entity within the executive branch. Having another label doesn’t stop Cheney from being one of those ‘any’ entities.” Huq says, “If it weren’t so frightening, the irony would be delicious: A Vice President who has done more than any other to push the envelope on executive privilege at the expense of the courts and Congress takes the position that his office has both legislative and executive functions so as to avoid accounting for the use of classified materials. Any veneer of intellectual legitimacy that executive power defenders have caked on their vision of a monarchical executive evaporates in the glare of this naked opportunism.… Cheney and [chief of staff David] Addington will go down in history as the most aggressive and successful advocates of executive powers in this nation’s history.… They grounded their vision of executive power on the prerogatives exercised by the British kings who were overthrown by the American Revolution.” Huq recommends that Congress clarify the situation with legislation that would clearly create a system for handling classified documents that would be binding on the entire government, including the Office of the Vice President. [Nation, 6/26/2007]
Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, disputes Vice President Dick Cheney’s assertion that he is not strictly part of the executive branch (see 2003). The dispute relates to reporting of document classification—Cheney argues his office does not have to report on its classification activities, partly because it is not a fully-fledged member fo the executive branch. In a letter to White House counsel Fred Fielding, Waxman also criticizes the administration’s handling of classified information and security issues. White House staffers regularly block inspections by security officials checking for compliance with security rules, Waxman writes, but also regularly ignore security breaches reported by the Secret Service and CIA, and mismanage the White House Security Office for political reasons. And President Bush’s top political adviser, Karl Rove, recently had his security clearance renewed even though it was prohibited under guidelines signed by Bush. Rove is believed to have leaked classified information in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson. [CBS News, 6/27/2007]
Responding to a letter from Senator John Kerry (D-MA) that challenges Vice President Dick Cheney’s assertion that the Office of the Vice President (OVP) is not part of the executive branch of government (see 2003 and June 25, 2007), Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington seems to imply that the OVP is indeed part of the executive branch. Addington writes that the executive order in question (an order Cheney says his office does not have to follow because of the OVP’s unique status) “makes clear that the vice president is treated like the president and distinguishes the two of them from ‘agencies,’” which are explicitly covered under the order. Addington notes that on June 22, President Bush affirmed that the order does not apply to either the office of the president or the OVP. After this tacit admission that the OVP is part of the executive branch, Addington lectures Kerry on the appropriateness of his questions: “Constitutional issues in government are best left for discussion when unavoidable disputes arise instead of in theoretical discussions.…[I]t is not necessary in these circumstances to address the subject of any alternative reasoning, based on the law and history of the legislative functions of the vice presidency and the more modern executive functions of the vice presidency.” [David Addington, 6/26/2007 ] The Politico’s Mike Allen writes that Addington’s letter amounts “to throwing in the towel on the claim that the vice president is distinct from the executive branch, according to administration officials speaking on condition of anonymity, and the White House has no plans to reassert the argument.” Kerry calls Addington’s letter “legalistic” and a continued attempt to “duck and dodge on agency scrutiny, classified documents.” He calls the entire argument “Orwellian.” Two senior Republican officials say that the claim originated from OVP lawyers and not Cheney himself. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), who has led a move in the House to strip Cheney’s office of executive branch funding (see June 27, 2007), says the reversal shows that the White House “told Cheney that he would have to come up with another excuse—that this was not sustainable in the public arena.” Emanuel says that regardless of what arguments the OVP makes, it needs to comply with National Archives regulations. [Politico (.com), 6/27/2007]
After saying that if Vice President Dick Cheney does not consider himself entirely part of the executive branch, then taxpayers should not fund his executive branch office (see June 24, 2007), House Democrats led by Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) move to strip federal funding for the Office of the Vice President (OVP). Cheney has said that because the vice president is not strictly part of the executive branch, therefore he and his office are not subject to an executive order mandating disclosure of how many documents his office has classified. President Bush has said that neither his office nor Cheney’s is subject to that order. Emanuel notes that, five years ago, Cheney claimed executive privilege in refusing to release information about oil industry executives during meetings of his Energy Task Force. “Now when we want to know what he’s doing as it relates to America’s national security in the lead-up to the war in Iraq and after the fact, the vice president has declared he is a member of the legislative branch,” Emanuel says. Therefore, “we will no longer fund the executive branch of his office and he can live off the funding for the Senate presidency.” As vice president, Cheney presides over the Senate. [CBS News, 6/27/2007] The federal government, through the executive branch, pays about $4.8 million a year to fund the OVP. [Politico (.com), 6/27/2007] After Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington tacitly admits that Cheney is, after a fashion, part of the executive branch (see June 26, 2007), the Democrats drop their proposal to strip Cheney’s office of executive branch funding.
Pakistani journalist and regional expert Ahmed Rashid writes an editorial in the Washington Post entitled, “America’s Bad Deal With Musharraf, Going Down in Flames.”
Cheney in Control - Rashid reveals, “Current and past US officials tell me that Pakistan policy is essentially being run from [Dick] Cheney’s office. The vice president, they say, is close to [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf and refuses to brook any US criticism of him. This all fits; in recent months, I’m told, Pakistani opposition politicians visiting Washington have been ushered in to meet Cheney’s aides, rather than taken to the State Department.” The State Department seems acquiescent to this policy, and is refusing to even consider alternative policies if Musharraf were threatened with being ousted. But the CIA and Defense Department are more resistant, and worry about the lack of an alternative to fully supporting Musharraf. Officials in these agencies, “many of whom have served in Islamabad or Kabul, understand the double game that Musharraf has played—helping the United States go after al-Qaeda while letting his intelligence services help the Taliban claw their way back in Afghanistan.”
Lack of Expertise - Due to recent turnover, there has been a “dramatic drop-off in US expertise on Pakistan. Retired American officials say that, for the first time in US history, nobody with serious Pakistan experience is working in the South Asia bureau of the State Department, on State’s policy planning staff, on the National Security Council staff or even in Vice President Cheney’s office.” One former senior US diplomat says, “They know nothing of Pakistan.”
US Policy Making Matters Worse - Rashid concludes that instead of confronting the Islamist militant threat, the Pakistani army “has focused on keeping Musharraf in power—negotiating with extremists, letting radical Islamic students set up a base in Islamabad, and so forth. Meanwhile, to spook the West into continuing to support him, Musharraf continues to grossly exaggerate the strength of the Islamic parties that he warns might take over his nuclear-armed country. In fact, the United States would be far safer if it pushed for a truly representative Pakistani government that could marginalize the jihadists, rather than placing all its eggs in Musharraf’s basket.” He speculates that the US’s blind support of Musharraf allows Musharraf to continue to resist democratization and sharing power, exacerbating the crisis. “The message to the Pakistani public is clear: To the Bush White House, the war on terrorism tops everything, and that includes democracy.” [Washington Post, 6/27/2007]
Some of the tens of thousands of salmon killed due to the artificial water lowering by the Department of the Interior. [Source: Environmental News Service]The House Natural Resources Committee, led by Nick Rahall (D-WV) and Mike Thompson (D-CA), decides to investigate the role of Vice President Dick Cheney in a 2002 salmon kill (see April 2002) on Northern California’s Klamath River, the largest fish kill in modern Western history (see September 2002). “We know where the smoking gun lays,” says Chris Lawson, a fisherman and president of the Bodega Bay Fisherman’s Marketing Association. No one in Northern California or Oregon (another state affected by the fish kill) knew of Cheney’s role until a recent story in the Washington Post uncovered Cheney’s successful attempt to subvert both scientific evidence and the Endangered Species Act to allow a water release that drastically lowered the water level in the Klamath. The day the article appears, Thompson and 35 other Democrats call for a hearing by the House Natural Resources Committee, saying in a letter that “[t]he ramifications of that salmon kill are still being felt today as returns to the Klamath River are so low that commercial, sport and tribal fishing seasons have been curtailed for the past three years.” A day later, Rahall agrees. The hearing will be held a month later (see August 1, 2007). In October 2002, Thompson piled 500 pounds of dead coho salmon in front of the Interior Department, accusing that agency of “gross mismanagement” in the wildlife disaster. Now Thompson asks, “We know that science was manipulated and the law was violated. Did in fact the vice president of the United States put pressure on mid-level bureaucrats to alter the science and circumvent the law in order to gain political votes for his re-election or the election of other people in Oregon?” Cheney’s office responds to the hearings by saying it is “disappointing the Democrats would rather investigate than legislate,” and that the Post story is nothing more than “a repackaging of old accusations.” Cheney’s office refuses to say whether Cheney will agree to testify before the committee. The reduced river flow in 2002, says Thompson, “wasn’t about salmon or water, it was about electoral votes in Oregon.” Since the fish kill, the courts have prohibited the diversion of Klamath water for agricultural use once the water levels drop below a critical point. But in the years after the fish kill, the salmon catch has been gravely reduced. Commercial fishing in California and Oregon has suffered a more than 90% drop as recently as 2006; Congressional Democrats say the result has been over $60 million in damage to coastal economies. Only in 2007 have the number of young salmon in the Klamath shown indications that salmon numbers may once again be increasing. [Associated Press, 6/28/2007; Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, 7/9/2007] However, the Klamath salmon are still gravely threatened by rampant fish diseases infesting tens of thousands of juvenile salmon, as well as abnormally high water temperatures and low water levels. [CounterPunch, 7/16/2007]
Congress Daily reporter Keith Koffler writes an article saying that Vice President Dick Cheney’s own words contradict his assertions that the vice president is not a true member of the executive branch (see 2003 and June 21, 2007). Cheney once did note he is “a product of the United States Senate” and has no “official duties” in the White House—but those words were intended as a joke. According to Knoffler, on more serious occasions Cheney has repeatedly insisted that he is a fully-fledged member of the executive branch (see April 9, 2003 and April 14, 2004). Just after assuming office, President Bush asserted the same thing (see Late January, 2001). Knoffler finds that the White House Web site notes, “To learn more about the executive branch please visit the president’s Cabinet page on the White House Web site.” Clicking on the “Cabinet page” shows Cheney to be a member of the Cabinet. The Senate Web page, on the other hand, reads: “During the twentieth and twenty-first centuries the vice president’s role has evolved into more of an executive branch position, and is usually seen as an integral part of a president’s administration. He presides over the Senate only on ceremonial occasions or when a tie-breaking vote may be needed.” [Congress Daily, 6/29/2007]
After years of wrangling over whether the Office of the Vice President (OVP) should disclose how often it exercises its powers to classify documents (see March 25, 2003), and an effort by Vice President Cheney to abolish the Information Security Oversight Office of the National Archives (ISOO) pressing the issue (see May 29, 2007-June 7, 2007), President Bush issues an executive order stating that the OVP is not required to follow the law requiring such disclosure. [Savage, 2007, pp. 164; Henry A. Waxman, 6/21/2007 ] In a letter to Senator John Kerry (D-MA) concerning the matter, Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington, writes: “Constitutional issues in government are generally best left for discussion when unavoidable disputes arise in a specific context instead of theoretical discussions. Given that the executive order treats the vice president like the president rather than like an ‘agency,’ it is not necessary in these circumstances to address the subject of any alternative reasoning, based on the law and history of the legislative functions of the vice presidency, and the more modern executive functions of the vice presidency, to reach the same conclusion that the vice presidency is not an ‘agency’ with respect to which ISOO has a role.” [David Addington, 6/26/2007 ]
David Wurmser. [Source: ThinkProgress.org]Vice-President Dick Cheney is reportedly considering asking Israel to launch limited missile strikes against the Iranian nuclear site at Natanz in order to provoke an Iranian counterattack. The Iranian retaliation would then give the US an excuse to launch its own air strikes against nuclear and military targets in Iran. Cheney’s Middle East adviser, well-known neoconservative and war proponent David Wurmser, tells a small group of unidentified officials that Cheney is considering such a request. Meyrav Wurmser, the wife of Cheney’s adviser and a member of the neoconservative Hudson Institute, later denies the story, which is reported in late September 2007 by Newsweek, from two unidentified sources. [Reuters, 9/23/2007; Ha'aretz, 9/23/2007; Newsweek, 10/1/2007]
Ending weeks of speculation, President Bush commutes the sentence of convicted felon and former White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see March 6, 2007 and June 5, 2007), calling the sentence “excessive.” Libby is now a free man, though he is still due to serve two years’ probation period and pay a $250,000 fine. Many Libby supporters, including Vice President Dick Cheney, have called upon Bush to pardon Libby [Politico, 7/2/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] , but Bush stopped short of issuing a full pardon. [Washington Post, 7/3/2007] White House press secretary Tony Snow says that the White House did not bow to pressure from Republicans and conservative pundits to pardon or commute Libby’s sentence. “This has nothing to do with political pressure,” Snow says. “It has everything to do with justice.… The president is doing the right thing for a principled reason. For once, it might be refreshing for people to consider that principle tends to be governing in this White House and not polls. He’s laid out some highly defensible reasons and he takes his powers very seriously. If you take a look at pardons and commutations, they’ve been done very carefully in this White House. Not every White House has done that.” [Washington Post, 7/3/2007] Bush says in a written statement that he decided to “respect” the jury’s conviction of Libby, but adds that Libby’s “exceptional public service” and prior lack of a criminal record led him to conclude that the 30-month sentence handed down last month was “excessive.” Bush notes that he had previously promised not to intervene until Libby had exhausted all of his appeals, but because an appeals court denied Libby a delay in beginning his prison sentence (see July 2, 2007), Bush decided to act: “With the denial of bail being upheld and incarceration imminent, I believe it is now important to react to that decision.… The reputation he gained through his years of public service and professional work in the legal community is forever damaged. His wife and young children have also suffered immensely. He will remain on probation. The significant fines imposed by the judge will remain in effect. The consequences of his felony conviction on his former life as a lawyer, public servant, and private citizen will be long-lasting.” Libby’s lawyer Theodore Wells says in a statement that Libby and his family “wish to express their gratitude for the president’s decision today,” and says Libby will continue to pursue an appeal. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald acknowledges Bush’s power to commute Libby’s sentence, but disputes the characterization of Libby’s sentence as excessive, saying: “An experienced federal judge considered extensive argument from the parties and then imposed a sentence consistent with the applicable laws. It is fundamental to the rule of law that all citizens stand before the bar of justice as equals. That principle guided the judge during both the trial and the sentencing.” [Politico, 7/2/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007]
Libby's Commutation Allows Refusal to Testify before Congress - Author Laura Rozen will note that by commuting Libby’s sentence instead of pardoning Libby, Bush allows Libby to retain the ability to refuse to testify before Congress on the grounds that he could incriminate himself. Thusly, Libby can avoid not only testifying about his own actions in the Valerie Plame Wilson leak affair, but about the roles of his former bosses, Bush and Cheney. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 388]
Split Reactions - The reactions to Libby’s commutation are split along largely partisan lines, with many Democrats and their supporters expressing their outrage over the decision to spare Libby from serving prison time (see July 2, 2007).
Eric Edelman. [Source: BBC]Seven weeks after Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates calling for Congressional briefings on Pentagon plans to withdraw troops from Iraq or explanations as to why those plans do not exist (see May 23, 2007), Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman responds to Clinton in a letter of his own. After giving a brief overview of the current military and political situation in Iraq, Edelman says: “Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia.…[S]uch talk understandably unnerves the very same Iraqi allies we are asking to assume enormous personal risks.” [US Department of Defense, 7/16/2007 ] Some observers are surprised by Edelman’s language as Clinton is not only a senator, but a member of the Armed Services Committee. The New York Times’s Kate Phillips terms the letter “a stunning rocket.” [New York Times, 7/19/2007] The letter also directly contradicts Gates, who said earlier that the Senate debate on withdrawing from Iraq was “helpful in bringing pressure” on the Iraqi government to work towards peace and unity (see March 30, 2007).
'Impugning the Patriotism of Any of Us Who Raise Questions' - Clinton fires back four days later, accusing Edelman of dodging her questions. Instead, she says, Edelman “made spurious arguments to avoid addressing contingency planning.… Undersecretary Edelman has his priorities backward.” [USA Today, 7/20/2007] Edelman, Clinton says, is “impugning the patriotism of any of us who raise serious questions.” [Army Times, 8/6/2007] Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines says, “We sent a serious letter to the secretary of defense, and unacceptably got a political response back.” Clinton again asks for a briefing on end-of-war planning, classified if necessary. Edelman does imply that the Pentagon is formulating such plans in his letter, but says that the Pentagon will not divulge any such planned operations. [USA Today, 7/20/2007]
Democrats Defend Clinton - Fellow Democratic senator John Kerry joins in criticizing Edelman’s response. “This administration reminds us every day that they will say anything, do anything, and twist any truth to avoid accountability,” Kerry says in a statement. [US Senate, 7/19/2007] Clinton’s husband, former president Bill Clinton, calls Edelman “one of the more ideological holdovers” in the Defense Department from President Bush’s first term in office. Edelman, who replaced Douglas Feith in the Pentagon, is a former national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney. [Think Progress, 7/22/2007]
Conservatives Weigh In - On the other side, conservative blogger and Fox News pundit Michelle Malkin asks rhetorically, “Wasn’t this a case of Hillary putting on her little imaginary four stars on her sleeve and playing armchair general?” [Media Matters, 7/23/2007] But an Army Times writer, Air Force veteran Robert Dorr, calls Edelman’s letter “disrespectful” and writes: “No matter what you think of the war or of Clinton, Edelman’s response was unusually harsh. Senators hold their jobs because people voted for them. Appointees such as Edelman, who weren’t elected by anyone (and in the case of Edelman, received a recess appointment and wasn’t confirmed by the Senate), should be responsive to lawmakers’ concerns.” [Army Times, 8/6/2007]
Entity Tags: Eric Edelman, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Douglas Feith, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Kate Phillips, Robert M. Gates, Philippe Reines, US Department of Defense, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Michelle Malkin, Robert Dorr
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
The White House finally releases a list of officials and organizations who met with Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001) in 2001. Cheney and the White House have successfully battled for six years to keep virtually all details of the task force secret (see May 10, 2005), and many other documents and files pertaining to the task force remain secret. The list of participants confirms what many have always suspected—that oil, gas, and energy executives and lobbyists were virtually the only ones to have any input in the task force’s policy deliberations. Many of the participants were also heavy donors to the Bush-Cheney campaign, and to the Republican Party in general.
Secrecy - Some participants say they were never sure why the White House fought so hard to keep the information about the task force secret. “I never knew why they fought so hard to keep it secret,” says Charles A. Samuels, a lawyer for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. “I am sure the vast majority of the meetings were very policy-oriented meetings—exactly what should take place.” Others say that their meetings with the task force were routine.
API Input - American Petroleum Institute president Red Cavaney says that when he met with the task force, he and his fellow API officials discussed position papers the organization had given to the Bush-Cheney campaign and to newly elected members of Congress. “We’re in the business of routinely providing advocacy materials,” Cavaney says. “Speaking for myself, I had zero hand in authoring or sitting with anyone from that task force and changing anything.” But Cavaney is seriously downplaying API’s influence (see March 20, 2001).
"Ridiculous" - Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who has been a driving force behind the effort to reveal the inner workings of the task force to the public, says it is it is “ridiculous” that it has taken six years to see who attended the meetings. He describes the energy task force as an early indicator of “how secretively Vice President Cheney wanted to act.” As to the makeup of the participants, Waxman is not surprised to see the dominance of energy industry groups in the meetings. “Six years later, we see we lost an opportunity to become less dependent on importing oil, on using fossil fuels, which have been a threat to our national security and the well-being of the planet,” he says. Climate expert David Hawkins of the Natural Resources Defense Council says: “Cheney had his finger on a critical issue. He just pushed it in the wrong direction.” [Washington Post, 7/18/2007]
Entity Tags: National Energy Policy Development Group, Bush administration (43), Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, American Petroleum Institute, Charles A. Samuels, Henry A. Waxman, Natural Resources Defense Council, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David Hawkins, Red Cavaney
Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties
A federal district court in Washington dismisses the lawsuit filed by Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame Wilson against four current and former White House officials (see July 13, 2006). Judge John C. Bates finds that while the lawsuit, asking for punitive damages against Vice President Dick Cheney, his former chief of staff Lewis Libby, White House political strategist Karl Rove, and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage for violating their rights in outing Plame Wilson as a CIA agent, may have merit, and the actions of the defendants were “highly unsavory,” there is no constitutional remedy for their claims. The Wilsons’ allegations pose “important questions relating to the propriety of actions undertaken by our highest government officials,” but the claims are dismissed on jurisdictional grounds. “Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim on which relief can be granted,” Bates finds. “This court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiffs’ claims for public disclosure of private facts.” The Wilsons will appeal the decision; their lawyer, Melanie Sloan, says in a statement: “While we are obviously very disappointed by today’s decision, we have always expected that this case would ultimately be decided by a higher court. We disagree with the court’s holding and intend to pursue this case vigorously to protect all Americans from vindictive government officials who abuse their power for their own political ends.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 305; Bloomberg, 7/19/2007]
Larry King. [Source: Newsday]After backing down from a confrontation with Congress over his assertion that the Office of the Vice President (OVP) is separate from the executive branch (see 2003 and June 26, 2007), Dick Cheney again implies that the OVP is a separate entity. In two separate media interviews, one with CNN’s Larry King and another with CBS’s Mark Knoller, Cheney makes the argument that as vice president, “I have a foot in both camps, if you will.… The job of the vice president is an interesting one, because you’ve got a foot in both the executive and the legislative branch.” He tells King, “The fact is, the vice president is sort of a weird duck in the sense that you do have some duties that are executive and some are legislative.” To Knoller, he says, “The vice president is kind of a unique creature, if you will, in that you’ve got a foot in both branches.” [Wall Street Journal, 7/31/2007]
Vice President Dick Cheney reignites the controversy over a request by Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) that the Pentagon begin planning for withdrawal from Iraq (see May 23, 2007). On July 16, Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman sent Clinton a response that accused her of reinforcing “enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies” (see July 16-20, 2007). Edelman contradicted the stance of his boss, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who recently said that Congressional debates on withdrawal were useful and positive (see March 30, 2007). But on July 31, Cheney tells CNN talk show host Larry King that Edelman, his former foreign policy adviser, had written Clinton a “good letter.” Cheney implies that Clinton had asked for operational plans from the Pentagon, a suggestion that Clinton dismisses in a letter to Cheney. “Your comments, agreeing with Under Secretary Edelman, not Secretary Gates, have left me wondering about the true position of the administration,” Clinton writes, adding she will write to President George Bush to ask he “set the record straight” about the administration’s position regarding Congressional oversight of the war. It is unclear whether Bush ever replies to Clinton’s letter. [Washington Post, 8/1/2007]
Representative Nick Rahall. [Source: Nick Rahall]The House Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing to investigate the role that Vice President Dick Cheney and other Bush administration officials played in the decision that led to the largest fish kill in modern Western United States history (see Mid-2001 - Early 2002 and June 27-28, 2007). The committee is unable to find conclusive proof that Cheney directly gave the orders that led to the fish kill. A former Interior Department official, Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall, testifies that Cheney pressured the department to release water in the Klamath River in Northern California, even though the water release would threaten the life cycle of tens of thousands of salmon who live and breed in the river. The water release was to benefit drought-stricken farmers and ranchers in the area. The decision went against the provisions of the Endangered Species Act as well as an overwhelming majority of scientific opinion and the tribal water rights of local Native Americans. Former fisheries biologist Michael Kelly, who worked on the Klamath issue, testifies that he cannot be sure whether Cheney interfered in the situation. “I was aware that President Bush had declared he’d do everything he could to get water to the farms,” Kelly says, and adds that he knew his own superiors were being pressured to speed up assessments and tilt the science to favor the farmers. “I was essentially asked to support a conclusion that made as much sense as 1+1=3,” Kelly says. The biological opinion underlying the plan was “completely bogus and illegal,” he adds. Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV) calls the Klamath fish kill “a fiasco” and lambasts Cheney and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne for refusing to testify before the committee. “I will not pretend to be surprised [Cheney] declined our invitation,” Rahall says. “But I am obliged to express disappointment at the difficulty we have had in trying to learn the truth and conduct basic oversight over an agency and an administration that have made secrecy and lack of accountability hallmarks of their tenure.” Rahall notes that “[w]hen it comes to political interference and ethical lapses at the department, the Klamath River is just the tip of the iceberg.… I find it difficult to see how we can trust any decision made in an agency that has, time and again, betrayed its own career scientists, repeatedly failed to hold its appointees to ethical standards and so callously disregarded its mission for the sake of political gain.” [Environmental News Service, 8/1/2007]
Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean considers the newly passed Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) a dire threat to American civil liberties. Dean writes that the ire of rank-and-file Democrats with their Congressional leadership is well earned, that the Democrats meekly lined up and voted it into law after some pro forma protestations. Dean notes that editorialists from around the country, and organizations as politically disparate as the ACLU (see August 6, 2007), the Cato Institute, and the John Birch Society (see March 10, 1961 and December 2011) all agree that the new law is a serious threat to civil liberties. They all agree that the law violates the Fourth Amendment while at the same time hides its operations under the rubric of national security secrecy. Dean notes, “Congress was not even certain about the full extent of what it has authorized because President Bush and Vice President Cheney refused to reveal it.”
Executive Power Grab - Dean writes that as much of a threat as the PAA is to citizens’ privacy, it is more threatening because it is another step in the Bush administration’s push for enhancing the powers of the executive branch at the expense of the legislative and judiciary branches, a move towards a so-called “unitary executive.” Bush and Cheney have worked relentlessly “to weaken or eliminate all checks and balances constraining the executive,” Dean writes, pointing to “countless laws enacted by the Republican-controlled Congresses during the first six years of the administration, and in countless signing statements added by the president interpreting away any constraints on the Executive.” The new law “utterly fails to maintain any real check on the president’s power to undertake electronic surveillance of literally millions of Americans. This is an invitation to abuse, especially for a president like the current incumbent.”
Repairing the Damage - Dean is guardedly optimistic about the Democrats’ stated intentions to craft a new law that will supersede the PAA, which expires in February 2008, and restore some of the protections the PAA voids. Any such legislation may be quickly challenged by the Bush administration, which wants retroactive legislative immunity from prosecution for both US telecommunications firms cooperating with the government in monitoring Americans’ communications, and for government officials who may have violated the law in implementing domestic surveillance. Dean writes: “[B]efore Congress caved and gave Bush power to conduct this surveillance, he and telecommunication companies simply opted to do so illegally. Now, Bush will claim, with some justification, that because Congress has now made legal actions that were previously illegal, it should retroactively clear up this nasty problem facing all those who broke the law at his command.” Dean writes that Democrats need only do one thing to “fix [this] dangerous law: [add] meaningful accountability.” He continues: “They must do so, or face the consequences. No one wants to deny the intelligence community all the tools it needs. But regardless of who sits in the Oval Office, no Congress should trust any president with unbridled powers of surveillance over Americans. It is not the way our system is supposed to work.” [FindLaw, 8/10/2007]
Alexis Debat. [Source: PBS]Conservative security consultant Alexis Debat, a former French military official often used by ABC News and other US media outlets, admits that he published an interview with Democratic senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama that he never conducted. In the interview, Obama supposedly said that Iraq was “already a defeat for America” and that the US has “wasted thousands of lives.” Debat claims that he signed off on the article, published in the Summer 2007 issue of the French magazine Politique Internationale, but did not write it, instead farming it out to a freelance journalist, Rob Sherman, and having it published under Debat’s name. Sherman concocted the interview, says Debat, who says both he and Obama are victims. [Washington Post, 9/13/2007] “Rob Sherman asked me to remove his name from the interview, and my mistake was to put my name on it,” says Debat. [ABC News, 9/12/2007] “I was scammed. I was very, very stupid. I made a huge mistake in signing that article and not checking his credentials.” [Washington Post, 9/13/2007]
Greenspan: No Such Interview - Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan said on September 7 that an interview with him, conducted by Debat and published in the same magazine, also never happened. [Rue 89, 9/7/2007]
Many US Officials Also Not Interviewed - Hours after Obama’s campaign disavowed the Debat interview, numerous other US politicians and business figures also say they were victimized by fake interviews supposedly conducted by Debat. Those figures include former President Bill Clinton, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Politique Internationale editor Patrick Wajsman says “This guy is just sick,” and says his magazine is removing all of Debat’s work from its Web site. Annan’s deputy communications director, Stephane Dujarric, says he warned the magazine that the Annan interview was a fabrication back in June 2005, and said that if the magazine published it—which it did—Annan’s office would “denouce the interview as a fake. This was not some obscure guy. This was the sitting secretary-general of the UN, and the magazine was told it was a fake.” Nevertheless, ABC News and Politique Internationale continued to rely on Debat as a source of information and a regular contributor of “interviews” with a variety of influential Americans. The magazine published a second interview with Annan earlier this year, but it, too, was a fabrication, apparently culled from a speech Annan gave at Princeton University. Wajsman calls the publications of the Annan interviews either a “technical” error or a misunderstanding. “I was a victim of this man. I had no reason to suspect someone like him could lie,” Wajsman says. So why did Wajsman continue to rely on Debat after the UN protests? “Everybody can be trusted once,” Wajsman says. “He seemed to be well-connected in Washington, working for ABC and the Nixon Center.” Debat admits he never interviewed any of the above-named figures, but explains: “The magazine asked me to send questions. They got the answers, and then I edited and translated them and put my name on it.” Wajsman retorts, “That is an outright lie.” [ABC News, 9/13/2007]
Debat Frequent Source of Unreliable Information on Iran - Debat has been a frequent source of incendiary information and commentary about the US’s need to invade Iran; on September 2, The Times of London published commentary from Debat in which he claimed the US is planning massive, systematic air strikes against Iran, and called it a “very legitimate strategic calculus” (see Late August, 2007). Recent reports have claimed that an organized campaign to insert reports and commentary in the US and European media drumming up support for a US attack against Iran is being orchestrated by the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. [Attytood, 9/13/2007]
Debat Falsified University Record - Debat’s other reports are now being scrutinized for possible fabrications. ABC News fired Debat in June 2007 after finding that Debat lied about his background: Debat claimed he has a Ph.D from the Sorbonne, when in fact he does not. (Debat claims he earned his Ph.D, but the university hasn’t granted him the degree because of an “administrative issue.”) ABC’s chief investigative reporter Brian Ross, who has worked closely with Debat and has high praise for his work, now says: “I was angry with him because it called into question, of course, everything he had done. He could never satisfy us that he had the Ph.D.… I was very upset.” Debat has specialized in reports on terrorism and national security for the last six years. ABC spokesman Jeffrey Schnieder says that while it has so far verified all of Debat’s reporting: “There are some very serious questions about exactly who he is and how he works. We want nothing more than to get to the absolute bottom of that.” Debat directed the terrorism and national security program from Washington’s Nixon Center, a conservative think tank set up by former President Richard Nixon. He wrote for the conservative political journal National Interest, which is chaired by Henry Kissinger. Debat has now resigned both positions. His position as a regular contributor to Politique Internationale has also probably ended, Debat admits. [Washington Post, 9/13/2007]
'Never Spoke with Your Alexis What's-His-Name' - The French magazine Rue 89 exposed Debat earlier this week, calling him a “strange character” and questioning his credibility. It interviewed the purported freelance journalist, Rob Sherman, who is not a journalist but a radio talk show host in Chicago; according to Sherman, he “never spoke with your Alexis what’s-his-name.” It also reports that Debat once claimed to have earned a Ph.D from Edenvale University, in Britain, an institution that does not exist. He has also claimed to be the director of the scientific committee for the Institut Montaigne in Paris, which denies Debat ever worked with it; he has appeared on French television news claiming to be a former social worker and to be a former French commando who fought against Serbian soldiers in Yugoslavia, claims which have not been confirmed. As for his service in the French military, the French government confirms that Debat indeed held a desk job in its Ministry of Defense for a few months. [Rue 89, 9/7/2007]
'Lone Wolf' or Disinformation Source? - Philadelphia Daily News journalist Will Bunch observes: “[T]here are two radically different ways to look at this scandal. Either Debat is a lone wolf, a deluded self-aggrandizer whose main agenda is promoting himself. Or he is acting in his role at the Nixon Center as a conduit, spreading information and occasional disinformation at the behest of others.” [Attytood, 9/13/2007]
ABC News Also to Blame - Reporter Laura Rozen, a regular contributor to numerous high-end US media outlets such as the Boston Globe and Mother Jones, is unforgiving of both Debat and ABC News: “My own feeling as primarily a print world reporter… is that it is deeply problematic for a news organization to have a paid source/consultant to sometimes put on the reporter hat and act as the reporter too.… Seriously, imagine if a New York Times reporter put an ex-NSC or CIA operative on the payroll for about $2,000 to $4,000 a month as a source, cited in articles as a source, and then sometimes let him or her report news stories with a byline, without glaringly indicating to readers what was going on. But this is what ABC was doing with Debat. ABC must have known they were stretching the rules on this one. For instance, their consultant Richard Clarke is never presented as the reporter. But ABC changed the rules in the Debat case, presumably because he was bringing them such sexy scoops, that they loved flacking at the time. Now they insist the scoops were solid, but Debat misrepresented his credentials. They’re blameless.… [D]id ABC bend the rules by paying a source who also served as their reporter while having a full time appointment elsewhere, smoothing over any complications by calling him an all purpose ‘consultant?’ How much did Brian Ross approve the unusual arrangement and independently verify the information Debat was bringing from the dark corners of Pakistan? [If] Debat faked interviews for a French journal, what was to keep him from faking interviews that informed multiple stories for ABC? I find it implausible that ABC has independently re-reported all that stuff so quickly and determined it’s kosher.” [Laura Rozen, 9/12/2007]
Entity Tags: Politique Internationale, Philadelphia Daily News, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard A. Clarke, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Will Bunch, Stephane Dujarric, Patrick Wajsman, William Gates, Nixon Center, Richard M. Nixon, Michael R. Bloomberg, Brian Ross, Barack Obama, ABC News, Alexis Debat, Alan Greenspan, French Ministry of Defense, Colin Powell, Nancy Pelosi, Laura Rozen, London Times, Jeffrey Schnieder, Henry A. Kissinger, Kofi Annan
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
The New York Times reveals that the Justice Department issued two secret rulings authorizing far more extensive use of torture and abuse during the interrogation of terror suspects than has previously been acknowledged by the White House (see February 2005 and Late 2005). The White House’s deputy press secretary, Tony Fratto, makes the same counterclaim that Bush officials have made for years, saying, “We have gone to great lengths, including statutory efforts and the recent executive order, to make it clear that the intelligence community and our practices fall within US law” and international agreements. But that claim is countered by the statements of over two dozen current and former officials involved in counterterrorism. When Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resigned in September after accusations of misleading Congress and the public on a wide array of issues, he said in his farewell speech that the Justice Department is a “place of inspiration” that had balanced the necessary flexibility to pursue the administration’s war on terrorism with the need to uphold the law and respect civil liberties (see July 25, 2007). But many of Gonzales’s associates at the Justice Department now say that Gonzales was usually compliant with the wishes of Vice President Cheney and Cheney’s chief counsel and adviser, David Addington, to endorse whatever interrogation policies the White House wished in the name of protecting the nation, no matter what conflicts may arise with US and international law or whatever criticisms from other governments, Congressional Democrats, or human rights groups may ensue. Critics, including many of the officials now speaking out, say that Gonzales turned the Justice Department from the independent law enforcement arm of the US government into just another arm of the White House. [New York Times, 10/4/2007]
Part of the White House’s $196 billion emergency funding request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is $88 million for modifying B-2 stealth bombers to carry “Massive Ordnance Penetrator,” or bunker-busting, bombs. Many both in and out of government believe that the order has nothing to do with Iraq or Afghanistan, but is part of the Bush administration’s plans for attacking Iran. The 30,000-pound bombs, called MOPs, are the largest conventional bombs in the military’s arsenal, designed to penetrate up to 200 feet underground before exploding. The only explanation given in the White House’s budget request is that it comes in response to “an urgent operational need from theater commanders.” But no one at the Pentagon or the US Central Command has, so far, been able or willing to identify that need. Military experts say that there is no need for MOPs in Iraq. They could potentially be useful in Afghanistan to destroy Taliban or al-Qaeda hideouts in the mountainous, cave-riddled border area of Afghanistan and Pakistan, but there is no need to use stealth bombers to deploy such weapons. But MOPs are ideal for a strike at Iraq’s heavily fortified, deeply buried nuclear facility in Natanz. John Pike of Globalsecurity.org says, “You’d use it on Natanz. And you’d use it on a stealth bomber because you want it to be a surprise. And you put in an emergency funding request because you want to bomb quickly.” Pike says he does not fully understand the rationale behind the public funding request. “It’s kind of strange,” he says. “It sends a signal that you are preparing to bomb Iran, and if you were actually going to bomb Iran I wouldn’t think you would want to announce it like that.” [ABC News, 10/24/2007] The request for the bomber modifications comes simultaneously with one of Vice President Dick Cheney’s most belligerent challenges towards Iran (see October 21, 2007).
George W. Bush warns that world leaders are risking World War III unless they work to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Bush makes his remarks at the White House, remarks timed to coincide with Russian president Vladimir Putin’s visit to Tehran. Russia has in recent weeks warned the US about moving too quickly towards a violent confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program; Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and other Bush officials have responded by escalating their rhetoric towards Iran (see October 21, 2007) and requesting funding for weapons that could be used against Iran’s nuclear facilities (see Mid-October, 2007). “We’ve got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel,” Bush says. “So I’ve told people that, if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.” In fact, Putin and Russian officials have repeatedly said that Iran is not building nuclear weapons, Russia has pledged to continue helping Iran develop its nuclear power technology, and Russia has led a coalition of Caspian nations who vow to prevent the US from using that region to launch any attacks against Iran. [Daily Telegraph, 10/20/2007]
In some of his most challenging and belligerent statements yet on Iran, Vice President Dick Cheney says flatly that Iran will not be allowed to pursue its nuclear program. He dismisses Iran’s claims that its nuclear program is intended for peaceful use only, and accuses Iranian leaders of pursuing a practice of “delay and deception in an obvious effort to buy time.… Our country, and the entire international community, cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its grandest ambitions. The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences.” Cheney does not specify what those “serious consequences” are, but many inside and outside the government believe that Cheney is signaling the administration’s intent to use military force against Iran before Cheney and President Bush leave office in January 2009. Michael O’Hanlon of the centrist Brookings Institution says, “That’s pretty firm, clear language. And it raises more clearly the specter of military action. That is much more than saying this isn’t just an option that we’ve taken off the table.” Cheney’s office says that his statements are in line with earlier statements that warn of possible military confrontations with Iran. In March 2006, he said, “We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.” In May 2007, he said, “We’ll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region.” However, analysts say that the rhetoric from Cheney and Bush has recently escalated to a point where military action seems more likely than ever before. [ABC News, 10/21/2007]
While the Bush administration claims that Iran is risking “World War III” by continuing to pursue nuclear weapons (see October 20, 2007), an array of experts inside and outside the government quoted in a McClatchy News article say that there is no conclusive evidence that Iran is actively pursuing such weapons. The story, and the alleged facts, change depending on which administration official is doing the speaking. President Bush and Vice President Cheney use harsh, bellicose rhetoric reminiscent of the rhetoric used in the run-up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, but others, such as Bush’s “point man” on Iran, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, is attempting to tone down the rhetoric. Burns recently told reporters, “Iran is seeking a nuclear capability… that some people fear might lead to a nuclear-weapons capability.” Another US official says more directly, “I don’t think that anyone right today thinks [Iran is] working on a bomb.” Iran has the capability to continue working on producing a nuclear weapon, experts note, and could transform its current uranium-enrichment program into a weapons program if it so desired. But as of now, US experts have an amalgamation of circumstantial evidence and supposition, and no real proof; reporter Jonathan Landay observes, “Bush’s rhetoric seems hyperbolic compared with the measured statements by his senior aides and outside experts.” The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency agrees. With four years of inspections of Iran’s nuclear energy program behind it, the IAEA says it has no information that would show Iran has an active nuclear weapons program. The circumstantial evidence that leads some to assert the reality of Iran’s active nuclear weapons program is extensive, but not always solid. In 2006, the CIA gave the IAEA thousands of pages of computer simulations and documents that it claimed it took from a defector’s laptop; those documents showed that Iranian experts were working on mounting a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile, and working on developing nuclear “triggers,” or detonators. The CIA calls all of this Project 111. The Iranians denounced the materials as “politically motivated and baseless,” and have promised to cooperate with an IAEA investigation into the matter. Many Western intelligence officials and outside experts believe the materials are genuine—“I wouldn’t go to war over this, but it’s reason for suspicion,” says one—but Dr. Muhammad Sahimi, an Iranian defector who has closely monitored Iran’s nuclear program for decades, dismisses the materials as “totally not believable,” observing, “If the laptop did exist, I find it hard to believe that its absence wasn’t noticed for so long that somebody could take it out of Iran.” The IAEA has other questions as well, including a document from the nuclear black-market program of Dr. A. Q. Khan that shows how to form uranium into explosive cores, Iran’s experiments with radioactive materials used primarily in nuclear warheads, Iranian involvement with a uranium mine, and Iran’s claim that it needs large amounts of nuclear energy to feed its energy needs when it sits on such large reserves of oil and gas. Sahimi answers this last point by noting Iran would, in his opinion, do better to sell its petroleum on the global market and rely on nuclear energy for its own needs. [McClatchy News, 11/4/2007] A month after this article is published, the administration will release an intelligence report that concludes Iran stopped work on nuclear weapons in 2003 (see December 3, 2007).
Michael Mukasey. [Source: US Department of Justice]After two months of controversy, and a round of sporadically contentious Senate confirmation hearings, former judge Michael Mukasey narrowly wins the Senate’s approval to become the next attorney general, by an almost-party line 53-40 vote. Musakey replaces Alberto Gonzales, who resigned under fire in September 2007. Many Democrats vote against Mukasey because of his refusal to categorize the interrogation technique of waterboarding as torture, and his refusal to say that he would oppose President Bush’s insistence on eavesdropping on US citizens. Some Democrats took comfort in Mukasey’s characterization of waterboarding as “repugnant,” but others were not pleased by his refusal to say that the practice constitutes torture. Two key Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) refused to block Mukasey from going to the Senate for a confirmation vote. Both indicated that they reluctantly supported Mukasey’s nomination because the Justice Department needs an immediate infusion of leadership—Schumer called the department “adrift and rudderless” and in need of “a strong and independent leader”—and they feared if Mukasey was not confirmed, President Bush would put someone worse in the position as an interim appointment. [CNN, 11/8/2007] Schumer says he eventually decided to vote for Mukasey after the judge said “if Congress passed further legislation in this area, the president would have no legal authority to ignore it and Judge Mukasey would enforce it.” But Schumer’s colleague, Ted Kennedy (D-MA), is unimpressed. “Enforcing the law is the job of the attorney general,” Kennedy says. “It’s a prerequisite—not a virtue that enhances a nominee’s qualifications.” Ben Cardin (D-MD) wonders just how far, and how specifically, Congress will have to go to outlaw torture. He asks, “Are we going to have to outlaw the rack because there’s a question whether the rack is torture in this country?” [National Public Radio, 11/7/2007] Arlen Specter (R-PA), the committee’s ranking Republican, calls Mukasey “ethical, honest [and] not an intimate of the president.” [CNN, 11/8/2007] Mukasey is quietly sworn in only hours after winning the Senate vote. [National Public Radio, 11/9/2007] All four Democratic senators running for president—Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Barack Obama (D-IL), Joseph Biden (D-DE), and Christopher Dodd (D-CT)—have said they oppose Mukasey’s nomination. Obama calls Mukasey’s refusal to label waterboarding as torture “appalling,” and notes that Mukasey’s belief that the president “enjoys an unwritten right to secretly ignore any law or abridge our constitutional freedoms simply by invoking national security” disqualify him for the position. The other candidates make similar statements. [Fox News, 10/30/2007] However, none of them actually show up to cast their vote for or against Mukasey. John McCain (R-AZ), another senator running for president, also does not vote. [Associated Press, 11/8/2007] Three days after Mukasey’s confirmation, the New York Times writes a blistering editorial excoriating both the Bush administration and the compliant Senate Democrats for allowing Mukasey to become attorney general (see November 11, 2007).
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Senate Judiciary Committee, Michael Mukasey, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, Dianne Feinstein, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Alberto R. Gonzales, Geneva Conventions, Arlen Specter, Charles Schumer, Ben Cardin, New York Times
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
Vice President Cheney’s office has been holding up the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran for over a year, while pressuring the intelligence community to remove dissenting judgments on Iran’s nuclear program, two former CIA officers now reveal. So far the intelligence community has not bowed to Cheney’s pressure, and the White House has apparently decided to release the “unsatisfactory” draft NIE—but not make its key findings public. NIEs are the product of the 16 US intelligence agencies, and usually focus on a single nation or issue. According to one former CIA officer, the Iran NIE was ready to be published a year ago, but was delayed then because the Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, wanted the NIE to reflect a consensus on key conclusions, especially on Iran’s nuclear program (see February 20, 2007). The US intelligence community is split on its view of Iran’s nuclear program, with less independent-minded analysts willing to embrace Cheney’s alarmist positions, and others rejecting that view. The first draft was unacceptable to the White House; according to the former CIA officer, “They refused to come out with a version that had dissenting views in it.” Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi agrees with the unnamed officer’s assessment. “The White House wants a document that it can use as evidence for its Iran policy,” Giraldi says. Giraldi wrote in October 2006 that the Iran NIE was being held up by Cheney’s office, which objected to its findings on both Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s putative role in arming Iraq. The White House then chose to delay any decision on the internal release of the NIE until after the November 2006 Congressional elections (see October 2006). In April 2007, Thomas Fingar, the chairman of the National Intelligence Council, said that the report would be delayed while the intelligence community evaluated “new reporting” from the International Atomic Energy Agency and other sources, as well as “reexamining old evidence.” According to the two former CIA officers, Fingar’s statement sent a powerful signal to the intelligence community that the White House wanted the NIE to be specific, focused, and alarming in its conclusions. In past weeks, officials involved in producing the NIE have been “throwing their hands up in frustration” over the refusal of the administration to allow the estimate to be released, according to the former intelligence officer. [Inter Press Service, 11/10/2007]
Journalist Seymour Hersh says that a new CIA assessment concludes, in his words, that “there’s no evidence Iran is doing anything that puts them close to a bomb. There’s no secret program of significant bomb making.” However, the White House is ignoring that assessment and still moving forward with plans to launch a military strike against Iran.
'Stovepiping' - Hersh says that President Bush and Vice President Cheney are “stovepiping” intelligence [funnelling selected intelligence directly to top officials] and keeping information provided by the Israelis hidden from the CIA. According to Hersh, the Israelis have informed White House officials that Israel has a reliable agent inside Iraq, and that agent reports that Iran is working on a trigger for a nuclear device (see November 2005). “[T]he CIA isn’t getting a good look at the Israeli intelligence. It’s the old word, stovepiping. It’s the President and the Vice President, it’s pretty much being kept in the White House. Of course the people in the CIA want to know who [the agent] is, obviously,” Hersh tells a reporter. “They certainly want to know what other evidence he has of actual making of a warhead. This is the internecine fight that’s going on—the same fight, by the way, that we had before Iraq.” The CIA has no way of verifying the Israeli intelligence claims, but in light of recent events with unverifiable evidence such as the “Curveball” debacle (see November 1999), that agency is understandably wary of such dramatic claims that contradict their own findings. [CNN, 11/19/2007]
Israeli Claims Unverifiable - A former senior intelligence official says of the Israeli’s claim: “The problem is that no one can verify it. We don’t know who the Israeli source is. The briefing says the Iranians are testing trigger mechanisms,” simulating a zero-yield nuclear explosion without any weapons-grade materials, “but there are no diagrams, no significant facts. Where is the test site? How often have they done it? How big is the warhead—a breadbox or a refrigerator? They don’t have that.” But the report is being used by the White House to “prove the White House’s theory that the Iranians are on track. And tests leave no radioactive track, which is why we can’t find it.” Another problem that evokes the “stovepiping” of pre-war Iraq intelligence is the fact that White House officials have asked the Israelis for the raw intelligence, the original, unanalyzed, and unvetted material. Similar requests were used to draw false conclusions about Iraq’s WMD program before the US invasion of that country. A Pentagon consultant says, “Many presidents in the past have done the same thing, but intelligence professionals are always aghast when presidents ask for stuff in the raw. They see it as asking a second grader to read Ulysses.” [New Yorker, 11/27/2006]
Similar to Iraq Intelligence Problems - Former State Department intelligence expert Greg Thielmann noted in October 2003 that before the Iraq war, “garbage was being shoved straight to the President.” [New Yorker, 10/27/2003] Hersh suggests the same effect is happening now. [CNN, 11/19/2007]
White House Hostile to CIA Analysis - According to a current senior intelligence official, the White House is actively hostile to the CIA analysis, which is based on satellite imagery and other empirical evidence such as measurement of the radioactivity of water samples and highly classified radiation-detection devices surreptitiously placed near the Iranian nuclear facilities. Empirical data or not, the CIA analysis does not fit the White House’s needs, the intelligence official says. In its analysis, the CIA specifically warns that it would be a mistake to conclude that the failure to find a secret nuclear-weapons program in Iran is evidence that the Iranians are hiding it well. According to a former senior intelligence official, at the height of the Cold War, the Soviets were quite effective at deception and misdirection, but the US intelligence community was readily able to discern the details of their nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs. But, the former official says, many in the White House, particularly in Cheney’s office, are making just such an assumption: “the lack of evidence means they must have it.” [New Yorker, 11/27/2006]
Scott McClellan. [Source: White House]Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan says he “passed along false information” at the behest of five top Bush administration officials—George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Lewis Libby, and Andrew Card—about the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson during his time in the White House. McClellan is preparing to publish a book about his time in Washington, to be titled What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and What’s Wrong With Washington and available in April 2008. [Editor & Publisher, 11/20/2007] According to McClellan’s publisher Peter Osnos, McClellan doesn’t believe that Bush deliberately lied to him about Libby’s and Rove’s involvement in the leak. “He told him something that wasn’t true, but the president didn’t know it wasn’t true,” Osnos says. “The president told him what he thought to be the case.” [Bloomberg, 1/20/2007] Early in 2007, McClellan told reporters that everything he said at the time was based on information he and Bush “believed to be true at the time based on assurances that we were both given.” [Associated Press, 11/21/2007] In his book, McClellan writes: “Andy Card once remarked that he viewed the Washington media as just another ‘special interest’ that the White House had to deal with, much like the lobbyists or the trade associations. I found the remark stunning and telling.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 155]
White House Denials; Outrage from Plame, Democrats - White House press secretary Dana Perino says it isn’t clear what McClellan is alleging, and says, “The president has not and would not ask his spokespeople to pass on false information,” adding that McClellan’s book excerpt is being taken “out of context.” Plame has a different view. “I am outraged to learn that former White House press secretary Scott McClellan confirms that he was sent out to lie to the press corps,” she says. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) adds, “If the Bush administration won’t even tell the truth to its official spokesman, how can the American people expect to be told the truth either?” [Bloomberg, 1/20/2007; Associated Press, 11/21/2007] Senator and presidential candidate Christopher Dodd (D-CT) calls for a Justice Department investigation into Bush’s role in the Plame outing, and for the new attorney general, Michael Mukasey, to lead the investigation. [Raw Story, 11/21/2007]
Alleged Criminal Conspiracy - Investigative reporter Robert Parry writes: “George W. Bush joined in what appears to have been a criminal cover-up to conceal the role of his White House in exposing the classified identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson. That is the logical conclusion one would draw from [McClellan’s book excerpt] when it is put into a mosaic with previously known evidence.” [Consortium News, 11/21/2007] Author and columnist John Nichols asks if McClellan will become the “John Dean of the Bush administration,” referring to the Nixon White House counsel who revealed the details of the crimes behind the Watergate scandal. Nichols writes: “It was Dean’s willingness to reveal the details of what [was] described as ‘a cancer’ on the Nixon presidency that served as a critical turning point in the struggle by a previous Congress to hold the 37th president to account. Now, McClellan has offered what any honest observer must recognize as the stuff of a similarly significant breakthrough.” Former Common Cause President Chellie Pingree says: “The president promised, way back in 2003, that anyone in his administration who took part in the leak of Plame’s name would be fired. He neglected to mention that, according to McClellan, he was one of those people. And needless to say, he didn’t fire himself. Instead, he fired no one, stonewalled the press and the federal prosecutor in charge of the case, and lied through his teeth.” [Nation, 1/21/2007]
Entity Tags: Peter Osnos, Public Affairs, Michael Mukasey, Scott McClellan, Robert Parry, Richard M. Nixon, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Valerie Plame Wilson, Karl C. Rove, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Nichols, Central Intelligence Agency, Andrew Card, Bush administration (43), Charles Schumer, Joseph C. Wilson, Christopher Dodd, George W. Bush, Dana Perino, Chellie Pingree
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Joseph Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, jointly respond to former White House press secretary Scott McClellan’s revelation that he had unknowingly misled the public as part of a White House campaign of deception surrounding the “outing” of Plame Wilson, then an undercover CIA agent (see November 20, 2007). The Wilsons quote the words of former President George H. W. Bush in labeling the Bush administration officials they believe betrayed Plame’s identity—Lewis Libby, Karl Rove, Richard Armitage, and Ari Fleischer—as “the most insidious of traitors” (see April 26, 1999). McClellan’s naming of George W. Bush as being “involved” in orchestrating the campaign of deception makes Bush, they write, a “party to a conspiracy by senior administration officials to defraud the public.” The two continue: “If that isn’t a high crime and misdemeanor then we don’t know what is. And if the president was merely an unwitting accomplice, then who lied to him? What is he doing to punish the person who misled the president to abuse his office? And why is that person still working in the executive branch?”
Criticism of Mainstream Media - The Wilsons are particularly irate at the general failure of the mainstream media, with the exception of several MSNBC pundits and reporters, to pay much attention to McClellan, instead dismissing it as “old news.” The Wilsons write: “The Washington press corps, whose pretension is to report and interpret events objectively, has been compromised in this matter as evidence presented in the courtroom demonstrated. Prominent journalists acted as witting agents of Rove, Libby and Armitage and covered up this serious breach of US national security rather than doing their duty as journalists to report it to the public.” They quote one reporter asking if McClellan’s statement was not anything more than “another Wilson publicity stunt.” The Wilsons respond: “Try following this tortuous logic: Dick Cheney runs an operation involving senior White House officials designed to betray the identity of a covert CIA officer and the press responds by trying to prove that the Wilsons are publicity seekers. What ever happened to reporting the news? Welcome to Through the Looking Glass.” They conclude with the question, again using the elder Bush’s words: “Where is the outrage? Where is the ‘contempt and anger?’” [Huffington Post, 11/22/2007]
Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard Armitage, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Ari Fleischer, MSNBC, George Herbert Walker Bush, Joseph C. Wilson, George W. Bush, Karl C. Rove
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The Iran NIE. [Source: Office of the Director of National Intelligence]The newly released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) for Iran’s nuclear weapons program concludes that Iran stopped working on nuclear weapons in 2003, and that the program remains on hold today. The Bush administration has repeatedly claimed that Iran is on the verge of acquiring nuclear arms, and has intimated that it is ready to attack that nation to prevent such an event from happening (see October 20, 2007). Interestingly, the administration has tried to have the NIE rewritten to more suit their view of Iran, an effort spearheaded by Vice President Dick Cheney (see October 2006). The findings of the NIE are expected to have a large impact on the negotiations between Iran and several Western countries, including the US, aimed at pressuring and cajoling Iran into giving up its nuclear energy program. The NIE, an assessment representing the consensus of the US’s 16 inteligence agencies, finds that while Iran’s ultimate ambitions towards becoming a nuclear-armed power remain unclear, Iran’s “decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs.… Some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways might—if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible—prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program.” The NIE says that even if Iran were to restart development of its nuclear weapons program today, it would be at least two years at a minimum before it would have enough enriched uranium to produce a single bomb. The report says that Iran is more likely to develop a nuclear weapon by no earlier than 2013, “because of foreseeable technical and programmatic problems.” The report flatly contradicts the assessment made by a 2005 NIE that concluded Iran had an active nuclear weapons program and was determined to create them as quickly as possible. “We felt that we needed to scrub all the assessments and sources to make sure we weren’t misleading ourselves,” says one senior intelligence official. [New York Times, 12/3/2007; Director of National Intelligence, 12/3/2007 ] There is no official word as to why the NIE has been publicly released by the White House when it so transparently contradicts the stance of the Bush administration, but Cheney implies the decision stems from a fear that it would be leaked anyway: “[T]here was a general belief that we all shared that it was important to put it out—that it was not likely to stay classified for long, anyway.” [Politico, 12/5/2007] The NIE is compiled from information gathered since 2004; one of the key intelligence findings is from intercepted phone calls between Iranian military commanders indicating that the nuclear program has been halted (see July 2007).
The White House refuses to allow special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to turn over key documents from his investigation into the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak to Congress, as requested by House Oversight Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) since June 2007 and revealed by Waxman today. Waxman has repeatedly requested reports of interviews by President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and five top White House aides—White House political strategist Karl Rove, former press secretary Scott McClellan, former chief of staff Andrew Card, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and former communications director Dan Bartlett. Waxman has also requested transcripts and other documents relevant to these officials’ testimony. According to Waxman, Fitzgerald is willing to turn over the documents to the committee, but cannot gain White House permission to do so. Waxman appeals to newly appointed Attorney General Michael Mukasey to overrule the White House and release the documents. “I hope you will not accede to the White House objections,” Waxman writes to Mukasey. “During the Clinton administration, your predecessor, Janet Reno, made an independent judgment and provided numerous FBI interview reports to the committee, including reports of interviews with President Clinton, Vice President Gore, and three White House chiefs of staff. I have been informed that Attorney General Reno neither sought nor obtained White House consent before providing these interview records to the committee. I believe the Justice Department should exercise the same independence in this case.… There is no legitimate basis for the withholding of these documents. Mr. Fitzgerald has apparently determined that these documents can be produced to the committee without infringing on his prosecutorial independence or violating the rules of grand jury secrecy. As records of statements made by White House officials to federal investigators, outside the framework of presidential decision-making, the documents could not be subject to a valid claim of executive privilege.” Mukasey will not accede to Waxman’s request. Many believe that even though Fitzgerald only managed to convict one White House official as a result of his investigation (see March 6, 2007), he compiled evidence that indicates others, including Cheney, were involved in leaking Plame Wilson’s CIA status. Fitzgerald has indicated that his investigation into other White House officials was drastically hindered by Libby’s repeated lies under oath (see 9:00 a.m. February 20, 2007 and May 25, 2007). Fitzgerald has declined to testify before Waxman’s committee, citing rules that prohibit him from revealing grand jury proceedings, and noting that prosecutors “traditionally refrain from commenting outside of the judicial process on the actions of persons not charged with criminal offenses.” [Washington Post, 12/3/2007] Waxman will continue, without success, to request the information (see June 3, 2008), though the White House will release heavily redacted transcripts of Libby’s grand jury testimony in the summer of 2008. [Murray Waas, 12/23/2008]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Stephen J. Hadley, Valerie Plame Wilson, Andrew Card, Dan Bartlett, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Scott McClellan, Michael Mukasey, Henry A. Waxman, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Janet Reno, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
George W. Bush, apparently taken somewhat aback by the US intelligence community’s findings released on December 3, 2007, that Iran halted its work on a nuclear bomb four years ago (see December 3, 2007), claims that he only learned about the findings on November 28. The intelligence community’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) has been in production for some 18 months. According to National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, both Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were first given initial briefings in either August or September. [White House, 11/28/2007; Washington Post, 12/4/2007] Bush tells reporters he wasn’t even aware of the evidence showing Iran had halted its nuclear program, “I was made aware of the NIE last week. In August, I think it was [Director of National Intelligence] Mike McConnell [who] came in and said, ‘We have some new information.’ He didn’t tell me what the information was. He did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze.… And it wasn’t until last week that I was briefed on the NIE that is now public.” A clearly incredulous reporter follows up by asking, “I understand what you’re saying about when you were informed about the NIE. Are you saying at no point while the rhetoric was escalating, as World War III was making it into conversation—at no point, nobody from your intelligence team or your administration was saying, ‘Maybe you want to back it down a little bit?’” Bush answers, “No—I’ve never—nobody ever told me that.” [CNN, 12/4/2007] From Hadley’s words, the date that Bush knew of the NIE findings may be much earlier. Hadley tells reporters attempting to pin him down on the exact date when Bush was told of the findings, “[W]hen was the president notified that there was new information available? We’ll try and get you a precise answer. As I say, it was, in my recollection, is in the last few months. Whether that’s October—August-September, we’ll try and get you an answer for that.” All told, Hadley says that Bush was told of the findings within “the last few months” five different times during the press conference. [Think Progress, 12/3/2007] By December 5, the White House will begin refusing to answer the question at all. White House spokesman Tony Fratto will tell reporters, “I don’t have anything on that.… I can’t give you more detail on what Director McConnell said to the President.” [White House, 12/5/2007]
Bush Either 'Lying' or 'Stupid' - Many find Bush’s claim hard to accept. Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) notes that he and ranking committee member Kit Bond (R-MO) received a briefing on the NIE’s intelligence “several months ago,” and says, “I was really struck when the president said that he only got the final judgments on Tuesday.” He cannot imagine that he and Bond received information months in advance of Bush. Rockefeller says he “can’t believe” that McConnell’s indication of new information didn’t prevent Bush from “talking about a nuclear holocaust.” [PBS, 12/4/2007] Former National Security Council official Flynt Leverett says the White House is probably being dishonest about what Bush knew and when he knew it. “I can’t imagine that McConnell… would tell the president about this and not tell him what the information actually said,” Leverett observes. [CNN, 12/5/2007] Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) says, “What’s shocking today is that apparently he knew about this estimate a month or more before he made those statements. I don’t think that shows a responsible use of intelligence.” [Reuters, 12/5/2007] And MSNBC talk show host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican Congressman, says flatly, “We are left with only two options here. Either the President of the United States is lying to the American people about what happened during that meeting, or the President of the United States is stupid.” [MSNBC, 12/5/2007]
Cheney Not Hampered by Lack of Intelligence - If Bush was indeed ignorant of the intelligence findings, as he asserts, it is not likely that his vice president labored under the same lack of information, judging from the fact that Cheney’s office has been involved in trying to suppress the NIE for over a year (see October 2006).
Entity Tags: Mike McConnell, Joseph Scarborough, Stephen J. Hadley, John D. Rockefeller, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jack Reed, Bush administration (43), Flynt Leverett, George W. Bush, Senate Intelligence Committee, Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, Tony Fratto
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
While many inside and outside the Bush administration consider the recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, which concluded that Iran halted its push towards building nuclear weapons in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), a disappointment, a small but influential group inside the Defense Department consider it a victory for their viewpoint. The NIE almost guarantees that Bush will not order any sort of military strike against Iran, a result sought by, among others, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Michael Mullen, and Admiral William Fallon, the supreme commander of US forces in the Middle East. All three have, in recent months, privately and publicly opposed the idea of going to war with Iran; indeed, the Pentagon’s intelligence units were instrumental in forming the NIE’s conclusions. Time reporter Mark Thompson writes, “Some critics have suggested that the military simply found a public way to quiet the drumbeat for war coming from Vice President Dick Cheney and his shrinking band of allies in the administration.” Additionally, some Pentagon officials believe that this NIE shows the US intelligence community is not as tied to ideological and political concerns as was evidenced by the 2002 NIE on Iraq (see October 1, 2002). For his part, Gates warns that the US and the international community must continue pressuring Iran to keep its nuclear-weapons program dormant, and “[a]s long as they continue with their enrichment activities, then the opportunity to resume that nuclear weapons program is always present.” But Gates adds that the NIE demonstrates that non-military actions are the best way to keep Iran’s nuclear program in check: “If anything, the new national estimate validates the administration’s strategy of bringing diplomatic and economic pressures to bear on the Iranian government to change its policies.” [Time, 12/5/2007]
The White House confirms that President Bush was told in August 2007 that Iran’s nuclear weapons program “may be suspended,” the conclusion of the recently released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) (see December 3, 2007). The White House’s admission is a direct contradiction of Bush’s assertion that he only learned of the NIE in late November (see December 3-4, 2007 and November 26-28, 2007). Press secretary Dana Perino says Bush was not told in August of the specifics behind the information about Iran’s nuclear program. Perino says that Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Mike McConnell told Bush in August that the new information might cause the intelligence community to revise its assessment of the Iranian program, but analysts still needed to complete their review before making a final judgment. However, Perino says there is no conflict between her statement and Bush’s insistence that he knew nothing about the substance of the intelligence assessment until late November, because Bush “wasn’t given the specific details” of the revised estimate. Perino’s account raises questions about why, if Bush knew the intelligence community believed Iran’s nuclear weapons program was in abeyance, two months later, he was still giving dire warnings about Iran being a threat to cause “World War III” if not halted (see October 20, 2007). Perino offers an explanation of those warnings, saying, “The president didn’t say we’re going to cause World War III. He was saying he wanted to avoid World War III.” Perino says it is unfair to question Bush’s veracity: “If anyone wants to call the president a liar, they are misreading the situation for their own political purposes. The liar is [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad [the president of Iran], and he has a lot of explaining to do.”
Reaction - Joseph Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calls Bush’s explanation unbelievable. “I refuse to believe that,” Biden says. “If that’s true, he has the most incompetent staff in modern American history, and he’s one of the most incompetent presidents in modern American history.” [CNN, 12/5/2007] Four former CIA officials call Bush’s claim of ignorance about the Iran intelligence “preposterous.” Melvin Goodman, a 24-year CIA veteran, calls Bush’s claim “unbelievable.” He is joined by Ray McGovern, another CIA veteran who routinely briefed George H. W. Bush during his two terms as vice president; Larry Johnson, the former deputy of the State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism; and Bruce Riedel, a former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asian offices. McGovern is almost contemptuous of Bush’s claim: “The notion that the head of National Intelligence whispered in Bush’s ear, ‘I’ve got a surprise for you and it’s really important, but I’m not going to tell you about it until we check it out’—the whole thing is preposterous.” Riedel says that Bush “either chose to ignore what he heard or his director of national intelligence is not doing his job.” He doubts McConnell failed to do his part. “To me it is almost mind boggling that the president is told by the DNI that we have new important information on Iran and he doesn’t ask ‘what is that information?’” Riedel adds. It is not McConnell’s responsibility to tell Bush to “stop hyperventilating about the Iranian threat,” he says, but instead the job of National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and Bush’s other policy advisers to keep “their eye on the intelligence and to take into account new information as it comes along.” Johnson says that the information used in the NIE would have been available months before it was released to the public, and would have automatically been included in the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB). Bush would have been told of the intelligence findings, as would Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Goodman and McGovern agree with Johnson’s statement. [Huffington Post, 12/5/2007] A deconstruction of Bush’s own statements over the last several months indicates that Bush changed his wording in early August, most likely because he was informed about the intelligence findings over Iran (see December 5, 2007).
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Dana Perino, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Bruce Riedel, Stephen J. Hadley, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mike McConnell, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Larry C. Johnson, Joseph Biden, Condoleezza Rice, Ray McGovern, Robert M. Gates, Melvin A. Goodman
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
Fred Kaplan. [Source: ForeignAffairs.com]Both Vice-President Dick Cheney and Slate’s Fred Kaplan back the accuracy of the new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that says Iran’s nuclear program ended in 2003 (see December 3-6, 2007 and December 7, 2007). Cheney is asked by a reporter from the online news magazine The Politico, “[D]o you believe the new [NIE] that’s out—or is there a reason to question those conclusions?” Cheney replies: “I don’t have any reason to question the—what the community has produced, with respect to the NIE on Iran. Now, there are things they don’t know. There are always—there’s always the possibility that the circumstances will change. But I think they’ve done the best job they can with the intelligence that’s available to give us their best judgment on those issues.” [White House, 12/6/2007] Kaplan refutes a claim that three State Department officials, at least one hostile to Bush, wrote the NIE, saying: “[T]he NIE is not ‘a team of three in the State Department.’ It’s the product of all 16 US intelligence agencies. From all accounts, this was a very elaborate process involving thousands of new pieces of information, including intercepts, human intelligence, and so forth. It also seems to have been scrubbed meticulously, subjected to ‘red team’ exercises—the works.” [Slate, 12/6/2007]
Thomas Fingar. [Source: Office of Personnel Management]Some Bush administration members and supporters accuse three former State Department officials of deliberately writing the recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (NIE) (see December 3, 2007) in an inaccurate and partisan manner. The three former State Department officials are Thomas Fingar, deputy director of national intelligence for analysis; Vann Van Diepen, national intelligence officer for weapons of mass destruction and proliferation; and Kenneth Brill, director of the national counterproliferation center. All three currently work at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Fingar, Van Diepen, and Brill helped compile the information in the NIE, and helped write the final draft, but none of them actually produced or analyzed the intelligence used in the report. A spokesman for Senator John Ensign (R-NV) says that intelligence reports such as the recent Iran NIE are “becoming very politicized.” David Wurmser, the former chief Middle East adviser to Vice President Cheney, says, “One has to look at the agendas of the primary movers of this report, to judge how much it can really be banked on.” The officials say that when the three DNI officials worked in the State Department under then-Secretary Colin Powell, they supported Powell’s belief that diplomacy, not confrontation and belligerence, would best address the threat from Iran’s nuclear program. On the other side was then-Undersecretary John Bolton, who, like his fellow neoconservatives in the White House, believed that the only way to handle Iran’s nuclear threat was by confrontation. Unnamed officials accuse Fingar, Van Diepen, and Brill of trying to “torpedo the threat that this administration would pose to their desired policy outcomes on Iran, which is some kind of accommodation with an Iranian nuclear program.” The officials accuse Fingar, Van Diepen, and Brill of working to block economic and military sanctions against Iran and “sabotag[ing]” the administration’s attempt to pressure foreign allies to impose sanctions. The three former State officials were brought to the DNI by then-director John Negroponte, considered a strong Powell ally. Van Diepen is particular criticized and accused of having a personal animosity towards Bolton, and of opposing anything towards Iran except what they call “tea-cup diplomacy.” Brill is accused of being “extremely close” to Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, an agency which these officials view as an Iran apologist. [Washington Times, 12/7/2007] The anonymous officials’ charges are refuted by, among others, Vice President Dick Cheney (see December 6, 2007).
Entity Tags: John Negroponte, George W. Bush, David Wurmser, Colin Powell, Bush administration (43), John Ensign, Vann Van Diepen, Mohamed ElBaradei, Thomas Fingar, John R. Bolton, Kenneth Brill, International Atomic Energy Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of State
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
Eric Margolis. [Source: Eric Margolis]Toronto Sun columnist Eric Margolis calls the recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran the “revenge” of a “fifth column [of] America’s spooks” for being forced in 2002 and 2003 “to concoct a farrago of lies about Iraq, and then take the blame for the ensuing fiasco there.” While Margolis’s conclusions about the motives of the US intelligence community may be a bit hyperbolic, it is apparent that the NIE is, as Margolis writes, “a devastating, humiliating blow to Bush, Dick Cheney, and the neocons who have been fulminating for war against Iran.” The irony that “Iran’s leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was telling the truth all along when he said Iran was not working on nuclear arms, while Bush and Company were lying through their teeth, just as they have over Iraq and Afghanistan,” must be particularly galling in certain quarters of the White House.
Turning to Israel - Margolis also notes that part of the underlying message of the NIE is that the White House should rely on its own intelligence community, and not other sources, for proper information. When the White House first learned over a year ago that the US intelligence community wasn’t going to give it the conclusions it wanted on Iran, it turned instead to Israel’s Mossad, which gave Bush officials the answers they wanted. (The Mossad still says Iran will have a nuclear weapon by 2008.) Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has called the NIE report a “blow to the groin.” Israel has worked tirelessly, Margolis writes, to convince the US to destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. It is less clear whether Israel will now consider performing that task on its own.
Impeachment Doubtful - Margolis writes, “This is the final disgrace for Bush and Cheney. Their war propaganda and efforts to suppress the new NIE should constitute grounds for immediate impeachment.” His argument is one that many find compelling: “If Bill Clinton could be impeached for lying about oral sex, shouldn’t Bush and Cheney face trial for attempting to lie and deceive Americans into yet another war of aggression?” Yet, he notes sourly, Congress “lacks the guts for such action.” [Toronto Sun, 12/9/2007]
A fire erupts in Vice President Dick Cheney’s ceremonial offices in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building while White House press secretary Dana Perino is answering questions about the destruction of CIA interrogation videos, at approximately 9:15 in the morning, next door at the White House. White House spokesperson Emily Lawrimore says she is unaware of any documents or artwork lost in the fire. DC fire department spokesman Alan Etter says that smoke came from an electrical closet on the second floor, which may have been the location of the fire’s cause. Perino says the fire may have originated in the electrical closet or a phone bank. The vice president’s working office is located in the West Wing of the White House, whereas the Eisenhower Executive Office Building houses the Office of Management and Budget, staff of the National Security Council, other agencies, and the ceremonial offices of the vice president. The adjacent office of the vice president’s political director Amy Whitelaw is heavily damaged in the fire, according to Cheney spokesperson Lea Anne McBride. [CBS News, 12/19/2007; Associated Press, 12/19/2007; Los Angeles Times, 12/20/2007]
J. William Leonard, resigning his post as the director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) at the National Archives after 34 years of government service, says his battles with the Office of the Vice President (OVP) are a contributing factor in his decision to resign. Leonard’s office challenged Dick Cheney’s attempt to declare his office exempt from federal rules governing classified information, and in return Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington, attempted to have ISOO abolished (see 2003 and May 29, 2007-June 7, 2007). Leonard is described by Archivist Allen Weinstein as “the gold standard of information specialists in the federal government.” Leonard says that he was “disappointed that rather than engage on the substance of an issue, some people would resort to that.” Leonard says he was frustrated when President Bush announced that he never intended for Cheney’s office to have to comply with classification reporting rules: “I’ve had 34 years of frustration. That’s life in the big city. I also accept that I’m not always right…. But this was a big thing as far as I was concerned.”
Possible Connection to Plame Affair - Leonard refuses to say whether he believes the timing of Cheney’s decision—the fall of 2003, the same time as the media began paying attention to the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson—is significant, but “some of the things based on what I’ve read [have] given me cause for concern.” Leonard says that some of the exhibits in the trial of former Cheney chief of staff Lewis Libby were annotated “handle as SCI,” or “sensitive compartmentalized information,” including an unclassified transcript of a conversation between Cheney and his staff members about concocting a plan to respond to the media over the allegations of Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson.
National Security vs. National Security - Leonard believes that the government needs to “introduce a new balancing test” for deciding whether to classify information. “In the past, we’ve looked at it as, ‘we have to balance national security against the public’s right to know or whatever.’ My balancing test would be national security versus national security: yes, disclosing information may cause damage, but you know what, withholding that information may even cause greater damage…. And I don’t think we sufficiently take[…] that into greater account. The global struggle that we’re engaged in today is more than anything else an ideological struggle. And in my mind… that calls for greater transparency, not less transparency. We’re in a situation where we’re attempting to win over the hearts and minds of the world’s population. And yet, we seem to have a habit—when we restrict information, we’re often times find ourselves in a position where we’re ceding the playing field to the other side. We allow ourselves to be almost reduced to a caricature by taking positions on certain issues, oh, we simply can’t talk about that.” [Newsweek, 12/27/2007]
Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Office of the Vice President, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Joseph C. Wilson, David S. Addington, National Archives and Records Administration, Allen Weinstein, J. William Leonard, Information Security Oversight Office, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Center for Public Integrity logo. [Source: Center for Public Integrity]The Center for Public Integrity (CPI), a non-profit, non-partisan investigative journalism organization, releases an analysis of top Bush administration officials’ statements over the two years leading up to the March 18, 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Significance - Analysts and authors Charles Lewis and Mark Reading-Smith state that the analysis proves that the Bush administration engaged in deliberate deception to lead the country into war with Iraq, and disproves the administration’s contention that its officials were the victims of bad intelligence. CPI states that the analysis shows “the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.” According to CPI’s findings, eight top administration officials made 935 false statements concerning either Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction or Iraq’s links to al-Qaeda, between September 11, 2001 and the invasion itself. These statements were made on 532 separate occasions, by the following administration officials: President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and former White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan.
Foundation of Case for War - These deliberate falsehoods “were the underpinnings of the administration’s case for war,” says CPI executive director Bill Buzenberg. Lewis says, “Bush and the top officials of his administration have so far largely avoided the harsh, sustained glare of formal scrutiny about their personal responsibility for the litany of repeated, false statements in the run-up to the war in Iraq.” According to the analysis, Bush officials “methodically propagated erroneous information over the two years beginning on September 11, 2001.” The falsehoods dramatically escalated in August 2002, just before Congress passed a war resolution (see October 10, 2002). The falsehoods escalated again in the weeks before Bush’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) and Powell’s critical presentation to the United Nations (see February 5, 2003). All 935 falsehoods are available in a searchable database on the CPI Web site, and are sourced from what the organization calls “primary and secondary public sources, major news organizations and more than 25 government reports, books, articles, speeches, and interviews.” CPI finds that “officials with the most opportunities to make speeches, grant media interviews, and otherwise frame the public debate also made the most false statements.”
Breakdown - The tally of falsehoods is as follows:
Bush: 260. 232 of those were about Iraqi WMD and 28 were about Iraq’s ties to al-Qaeda.
Powell: 254, with 244 of those about Iraq’s WMD programs.
Rumsfeld and Fleischer: 109 each.
The analysis only examines the statements of these eight officials, but, as CPI notes, “Other administration higher-ups, joined by Pentagon officials and Republican leaders in Congress, also routinely sounded false war alarms in the Washington echo chamber.”
An 'Impenetrable Din' - Lewis and Reading-Smith write that the “cumulative effect of these false statements,” amplified and echoed by intensive media coverage that by and large did not question the administration’s assertions, “was massive, with the media coverage creating an almost impenetrable din for several critical months in the run-up to war.” CPI asserts that most mainstream media outlets were so enthusiastically complicit in the push for war that they “provided additional, ‘independent’ validation of the Bush administration’s false statements about Iraq.” Lewis and Reading-Smith conclude: “Above all, the 935 false statements painstakingly presented here finally help to answer two all-too-familiar questions as they apply to Bush and his top advisers: What did they know, and when did they know it?” [Center for Public Integrity, 1/23/2008; Center for Public Integrity, 1/23/2008] The Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin approvingly calls the study “old-fashioned accountability journalism.” [Washington Post, 1/23/2008]
Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Charles Lewis, Center for Public Integrity, Bush administration (43), Bill Buzenberg, Ari Fleischer, Al-Qaeda, Colin Powell, Dan Froomkin, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Saddam Hussein, Condoleezza Rice, Scott McClellan, Paul Wolfowitz, George W. Bush, US Department of Defense, Mark Reading-Smith
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
George W. Bush delivering his State of the Union address. [Source: US Department of Defense]President Bush gives his final State of the Union address. During the speech, Bush calls on Congress to immediately pass legislation awarding retroactive immunity to US telecommunications firms that may have illegally cooperated with the NSA and other US intelligence agencies to eavesdrop on the electronic communications of US citizens (see November 7-8, 2007). Bush says of those agencies: “[O]ne of the most important tools we can give them is the ability to monitor terrorist communications. To protect America, we need to know who the terrorists are talking to, what they are saying, and what they’re planning. Last year, Congress passed legislation to help us do that. Unfortunately, Congress set the legislation to expire on February the 1st. That means if you don’t act by Friday, our ability to track terrorist threats would be weakened and our citizens will be in greater danger. Congress must ensure the flow of vital intelligence is not disrupted.” He then says of the telecoms involved in domestic surveillance: “Congress must pass liability protection for companies believed to have assisted in the efforts to defend America. We’ve had ample time for debate. The time to act is now.” (In this statement, Bush refuses to admit that the telecoms have actually cooperated with US surveillance operations; two days later, Vice President Dick Cheney will make just such an admission (see January 30, 2008).) [White House, 1/28/2008; New York Times, 1/29/2008] Bush says that while the nation is at risk of terrorist attack if this legislation is not enacted, he will veto such legislation if it does not contain provisions to protect the telecom industry from civil and criminal prosecution. Harpers commentator Scott Horton calls Bush’s rhetoric a “squeeze play… an exercise in fear-mongering of the purest, vilest sort.” Horton boils down Bush’s comments to say, “‘If Congress doesn’t give me just what I want, then Congress will be responsible for whatever attacks befall the country,’ he reasons.” [Harper's, 1/29/2008]
Vice President Dick Cheney calls in to conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh’s broadcast. Cheney argues in favor of the administration’s push for Congress to grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications firms suspected of cooperating with US intelligence agencies in illegally monitoring the telephone and e-mail communications of US citizens (see November 7-8, 2007). In his recent State of the Union address, President Bush made the same call, but refused to admit that the telecoms had actually participated in such actions (see January 28, 2008). Cheney is more forthcoming. He tells Limbaugh that the proposed legislation is about “retroactive liability protection for the companies that have worked with us and helped us prevent further attacks against the United States.” [MSNBC, 1/31/2008]
Dick Cheney addressing the CPAC audience. [Source: AP / Evan Vucci]An unrepentant Vice President Dick Cheney tells an audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) that he is proud of his administration’s actions in Iraq. “I have been proud to stand by” President Bush in the war on Iraq and other policy decisions. “And would I support those same decisions today? You’re damn right I would.” Cheney says, “We’re not going to waste a moment” of his and Bush’s last year in office, and promises to “revitalize” the US economy and continue to aggressively pursue the administration’s “war on terror.” Cheney’s speech is a grab-bag of ideas and policies, all extolling the virtues of the current administration. He pushes for making the Bush tax cuts permanent, saying, “Letting the Bush tax cuts expire would be one of the largest government money grabs in American history, and we must not let it happen.” He credits Bush with preventing another massive terrorist attack: “The absence of another 9/11 is not an accident. It is an achievement.” Cheney says that the US’s telecommunications industry must be granted retroactive immunity for civil and criminal claims in its cooperation with the government’s domestic spying program. He claims that the administration’s support of “enhanced” interrogation tactics against suspected terrorists has gleaned critically useful information while avoiding illegal torture tactics. The US “takes human rights seriously” and does “not torture,” he claims. He concludes to riotous applause, “When the last chapter [of history] is written, it will be said that our nation became more prosperous and more secure because George Bush was the president of the United States.” [Chicago Tribune, 2/7/2008]
In an interview given during his trip to the Middle East, Vice President Dick Cheney insists that the “surge” (see January 10, 2007) in Iraq is working: “On the security front, I think there’s a general consensus that we’ve made major progress, that the surge has worked. That’s been a major success.” When asked how his assessment of success jibes with polls that show two-thirds of Americans oppose the war—“Two-thirds of Americans say it’s not worth fighting,” interviewer Martha Raddatz points out—Cheney replies, “So?” Raddatz asks: “So? You don’t care what the American people think?” Cheney replies: “No. I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls.” [ABC News, 3/19/2008; New York Times, 3/19/2008] Multiple polls show a relatively steady decrease in public support for the Iraq war, and for the presence of US troops in Iraq, since early highs in March 2003 when the US launched its opening attacks (see March 19, 2003). [Mother Jones, 3/19/2008]
Responding to Vice President Dick Cheney’s dismissal of Americans’ lack of support for the Iraq war with the reply, “So?” (see March 19, 2008), a reporter says to White House press secretary Dana Perino that, contrary to Cheney’s assertions of “fluctuations in the public opinion polls,” “It’s not that there’s been fluctuations in polls; it’s been different degrees of opposition to the war. So is the vice president saying it really does not matter what the American public thinks about the war?” Perino responds: “No, I don’t think that’s what he’s saying.… But what he went on to say is that [the] president should not make decisions based on polls.” Another reporter observes: “The American people are being asked to die and pay for this, and you’re saying they have no say in this war?… Well, what it amounts to is you saying we have no input at all.” Perino replies: “You had input. The American people have input every four years, and that’s the way our system is set up.” [White House, 3/20/2008] According to polls conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland, 94 percent of US citizens believe that “leaders should pay attention to the views of the people as they make decisions,” and 81 percent say leaders “should pay attention to public opinion polls because this will help them get a sense of the public’s views.” Steven Kull, the director of PIPA, notes: “While Americans do not say that leaders should always follow the will of the public, they do think that American leaders should be considerably more responsive to the people and should even pay attention to polls. Dismissing the public as irrelevant and incompetent only contributes to already low levels of trust in government.” [World Public Opinion (.org), 3/21/2008]
Vice President Dick Cheney, on a trip to the Middle East, meets with Saudi King Abdullah on Abdullah’s horse farm for about four hours. Cheney also meets with his long-time friend, Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Nuaimi. The conversations between the men are not reported in any depth; a senior US official says the discussions are “confidential and private.” Cheney will then leave for discussions with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. [Agence France-Presse, 3/22/2008] Interestingly, after Cheney’s meeting with the Saudi leaders, the Saudi Shura Council, the governmental group that implements the decisions of the Saudi leadership, plans to secretly meet to discuss “national plans to deal with any sudden nuclear and radioactive hazards that may affect the kingdom following experts’ warnings of possible attacks on Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactors,” according to the Saudi newspaper Okaz. A leading Saudi agency, the King Abdul-Aziz City for Science and Technology, has prepared a plan to deal with the probability of radiation hazards in case of any unexpected nuclear attacks on Iran. [Deutche Presse-Agentur, 3/22/2008] Certainly a swift and massively destructive US strike against Iran is possible. Author and military expert William Arkin wrote in 2005 that the US could strike Iranian targets within about 12 hours from the time President Bush gave the final order (see January 25, 2005). Arkin quoted Lieutenant General Bruce Carlson, commander of the 8th Air Force, as saying that his fleet of B-2 and B-52 bombers were on, essentially, perpetual alert: “We have the capacity to plan and execute global strikes,” Carlson said. He added that his forces were the US Strategic Command’s “focal point for global strike” and could execute an attack “in half a day or less.” [Washington Post, 5/15/2005] And in 2006, reporter Seymour Hersh noted that US Air Force planning groups had drawn up detailed lists of Iranian targets as part of the military’s plan to launch major air attacks against Iran. Teams of US combat troops had clandestinely entered Iran to collect targeting data and to establish contact with anti-government ethnic minority groups; US warplanes were making repeated practice “nuclear delivery” runs near the Iranian border in preparation for air strikes. [New Yorker, 4/17/2006]
Vice President Dick Cheney says that President Bush, not the US soldiers serving in Iraq, bears “the biggest burden” of the war. ABC reporter Martha Raddatz asks Cheney about what effect he believes the “milestone” of 4,000 US soldiers killed in Iraq has on the country. Cheney answers: “Well, it obviously brings home, I think for a lot of people, the cost that’s involved in the global war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. It places a special burden, obviously, on the families. We recognize, I think—it’s a reminder of the extent to which we’re blessed with families who have sacrificed as they have. The president carries the biggest burden, obviously; he’s the one who has to make the decision to commit young Americans. But we are fortunate to have the group of men and women, the all-volunteer force, who voluntarily put on the uniform and go in harm’s way for the rest of us. You wish nobody ever lost their life, but unfortunately it’s one of those things that go with living in the world we live in. Sometimes you have to commit military force, and when you do, there are casualties.” [White House, 3/24/2008]
'Jaw-Dropping' Insensitivity - The Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin writes that Cheney’s statement “crystallizes [his and Bush’s] detachment and self-involvement” quite vividly, illuminating the “bubble of flattery and delusion” in which he says they live. Froomkin adds: “And in an era where failing to support the troops is the ultimate political sin, Cheney’s breezy dismissal of their sacrifice—heck, they’re volunteers, and dying goes with the territory—was jaw-dropping even by the vice president’s own tone-deaf standards. Does Cheney really believe that Bush’s burden is so great? The president tells people he’s sleeping just fine, thank you, and in public appearances appears upbeat beyond all reason. Or does Cheney simply have no idea what it means to go to war? He and Bush, after all, famously avoided putting themselves in the line of fire when it was their time. Or are they just so wrapped up in themselves they can’t see how ridiculous it is to even suggest such a thing?”
Backhanded Agreement - Retired General Wesley Clark agrees with Cheney, in a backhanded fashion: “Well, I guess you could say [Bush] does bear an enormous burden of guilt and responsibility, for misdirecting the resources of the United States and for the travesty of going to war in Iraq.… But that’s not a burden that’s anything like the burden these families bear when their loved ones are overseas, and they suffer losses, or they come back home and they’ve got post-traumatic stress disease and other problems, when the little kids don’t recognize the parents when they come in the door because of the frequent deployments and so forth. This is an entirely different kind of burden. So I think that Vice President Cheney is not being fair to the men and women who serve. He should recognize the enormous sacrifices they’re making.” [Washington Post, 3/25/2008]
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