Plamegate

RIP Bob Novak

Some greatest hits:

He was an old-school Washington reporter.  He took a downward spiral when he became a member of the fledgling Tv network CNN in the early 1980's.  The Evans-Novak Report was pretty thoughtful, but then came Capital Gang, and the Crossfire, setting the groundwork for TV political panel yell-a-thons.  Then he became a tool for the Bush White House, outting Valerie Plame.  This led to a few on-air bad behavior incidents.  He retired last year after being diagnosed with a brain tumor.

In 2007, he explained what he envisions heaven to look like: “I’m going to a place where there are no blogs.”

UPDATE:  Eleanor Clift, who often sparred with Novak on The McLaughlin Group remembers Novak:

On television, we were rarely on the same side. Bob Novak reveled in his hardline views. I was one of those bleeding-heart liberals whose views he routinely ridiculed. It was the mid-'80s, and we would sometimes drive out together on Friday afternoons to the NBC studio to tape The McLaughlin Group. The top would be down on his LeBaron convertible, and he always wore his Chicago Cubs cap. I considered him a friend, and he was instrumental in getting me on the show, which at the time was all male.

His office was on the same floor as NEWSWEEK's Washington, D.C., bureau, in a building just one block from the White House. He'd been there since 1964; I was a relative newcomer, arriving a dozen years later. We shared the elevator and a copying machine and enough face time in our comings and goings over the years that I thought we were buddies. But when that red light came on atop the camera to signal that the taping had begun, more often than not, he would lunge forward, wag his finger in my face, and ascribe some terrible left-wing transgression to "Eleanor Clift and her ilk."

The McClellan Book

You know, it doesn’t say anything that many of us didn’t already know.  It’s just nice to see someone on the inside of the Bush Administration admit that these things went on:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The incidents that first left then-White House press secretary Scott McClellan "dismayed and disillusioned" about Washington involved the surreptitious release of classified information, McClellan said Thursday.

The first of the "defining moments," McClellan told NBC’s "Today" show, was when CIA operative Valerie Plame’s name was leaked to the media.

The second, he said, was when he learned that President Bush had secretly declassified a report on Iraq so Vice President Dick Cheney and Cheney aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby could disclose it to reporters.

"We had been out there talking about how seriously the president took the leaking of classified information, and here we were learning that the president had authorized the very same that we were criticizing," McClellan said, the day after his controversial memoir hit bookstore shelves.

***

As White House spokesman, McClellan defended Bush’s policies during much of the Iraq war, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the scandal that followed the leak of Plame’s identity.

But he now says the administration was mired in propaganda and political spin and played loose with the truth at times.

In March 2007, Libby was found guilty of perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements for lying about what he said to reporters about Plame. Bush later commuted Libby’s 2½-year sentence prison sentence, but left in place Libby’s fine and probation.

McClellan told "Today" on Thursday, "I had been assured — and [then-senior adviser] Karl Rove and ‘Scooter’ Libby both — I asked them point-blank, ‘Were you involved in this in any way?’ And both assured me in unequivocal terms, ‘No, we were not involved.’ "

"And Rove even told the president, and the president and VP directed me to go out and exonerate ‘Scooter’ Libby on this, and that’s when I went to ‘Scooter’ and asked him the question," McClellan said.

***

McClellan also discussed how, he said, Bush decided to go to war against Iraq soon after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. The president ordered aides to make arrangements for it, McClellan told "Today."

"I think very early on, a few months after September 11, he made a decision that we’re going to confront Saddam Hussein, and if Hussein doesn’t come fully clean, then we’re going to go to war. There was really no flexibility in his approach," McClellan said. "Then it was put on the advisers: How do we go about implementing this? How do we go about doing this?"

So, there you have it.  From someone on the inside.  They lied.  They leaked.  They manipulated.

Also:

In hindsight, McClellan views the war as a mistake by a president swept up by his own propaganda and a grand plan of seeding democracy in the Middle East by overturning Saddam Hussein‘s regime.

McClellan says Bush and his aides became so wrapped up in trying to shape the story to their political advantage that they ignored facts that didn’t fit the picture. He blames it on a "permanent campaign culture" that pervades Washington.

Over 4,000 U.S. soldiers dead.  Because the Bush Administration was obsessed with a second term and engaged in groupthink.

What is "groupthink"?  It plagued the Johnson administration, too.  It is a term coined by social psychologist Irving Janis.  In order to make groupthink testable, Irving Janis devised eight symptoms that are indicative of groupthink.  They are:

1. Illusions of invulnerability creating excessive optimism and encouraging risk taking.
2. Rationalising warnings that might challenge the group’s assumptions.
3. Unquestioned belief in the morality of the group, causing members to ignore the consequences of their actions.
4. Stereotyping those who are opposed to the group as weak, evil, disfigured, impotent, or stupid.
5. Direct pressure to conform placed on any member who questions the group, couched in terms of “disloyalty”.
6. Self censorship of ideas that deviate from the apparent group consensus.
7. Illusions of unanimity among group members, silence is viewed as agreement.
8. Mindguards — self-appointed members who shield the group from dissenting information.

So, future presidents, what have we learned?

The wingnut blogosphere is blaming the messenger as they always do, attacking McClellan as a liberal, a liar, a charlatan trying to sell books, and claiming they never liked him anyway.

The White House is perhaps even more spittle-flecked than the bloggers, calling McClellan "disgruntled" and even a traitor.

And so it shall always be.

Recommended Reading

Slate’s Top Ten Bush Administration’s Dumbest Legal Arguments of the Year.  It’s a doozy.

Number one:

1. The United States does not torture.

First there was the 2002 torture memo. That was withdrawn. Then there was the December 2004 statement that declared torture "abhorrent." But then there was the new secret 2005 torture memo. But members of Congress were fully briefed about that. Except that they were not. There was Abu Ghraib. There were the destroyed CIA tapes. So you see, the United States does not torture. Except for when it does.

Plame Responds To McLennan’s Assertion That “Bush Knew”

Valerie Plame released the following statement in response to this new story:

Nov. 20, 2007 10pm EST

Santa Fe, New Mexico–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 and the American public about two senior White House officials, Karl Rove and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby who deliberately and recklessly revealed my identity as a covert CIA operations officer. Even more shocking, McClellan confirms that not only Karl Rove and Scooter Libby told him to lie but Vice President Cheney, Presidential Chief of Staff Andrew Card, and President Bush also ordered McClellan to issue his misleading statement. Unfortunately, President Bush’s commutation of Scooter Libby’s felony sentence has short-circuited justice.

Vice President Cheney in particular knew that Scooter Libby was involved because he had ordered and directed his actions. McClellan’s revelations provide important support for our civil suit against those who violated our national security and maliciously destroyed my career.

Bush Implicated In Plame Scandal

…by none other than Scotty McLellan, in his new book, which contains the following excerpt:

"The most powerful leader in the world had called upon me to speak on his behalf and help restore credibility he lost amid the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. So I stood at the White house briefing room podium in front of the glare of the klieg lights for the better part of two weeks and publicly exonerated two of the senior-most aides in the White House: Karl Rove and Scooter Libby.

"There was one problem. It was not true.

"I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the highest ranking officials in the administration were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice President, the President’s chief of staff, and the president himself."

I suspect that as the days of the Bush Administration winds down — and certainly into the next Administration — we’re going to learn more and more about the criminal doings of the President himself.  After all, it was the President who got in front of the cameras and specifically said that he would get to the bottom of the Plame leak, and if it turned out to be someone on his staff, he would take apporpriate measures.  Now we learn (a couple of years after it matters) that the President knew all along that Rove and Libby were involved.

The Sleaziness Of The Libby Clemency

Get20out20of20jailHow can this be viewed as anything other a brazen admission that Bush & Co. feels they are above the law?

Scooter Libby was convicted by a jury consisting of the American people who heard all the evidence, and concluded that he committed purjury and obstructed justice.  Even Bush admits that he respects the jury’s verdict; his only issue was with the "excessive" sentence.  So the unquestioned guilt of Scooter Libby is not a disputed issue.  Why then he is spending less time in prison than Paris Hilton?  Is that the message — serving any time in prison for obstructing justice and lying under oath is "excessive"?  WaPo editorial:

The probation office, as the president noted, recommended less time — 15 to 21 months. But Mr. Bush, while claiming to "respect the jury’s verdict," failed to explain why he moved from "excessive" to zero. It’s true that the felony conviction that remains in place, the $250,000 fine and the reputational damage are far from trivial. But so is lying to a grand jury. To commute the entire prison sentence sends the wrong message about the seriousness of that offense.

Also, let’s remember that Bush — both as governor and president — is notorious for not giving pardons and clemency

Bloomberg notes, “Bush has granted fewer pardons — 113 — than any president in the past 100 years, while denying more than 1,000 requests, said Margaret Colgate Love, the Justice Department’s pardon attorney from 1990 to 1997. In addition, Bush has denied more than 4,000 commutation requests, and hundreds of requests for pardons and commutations are still pending, Love said.”

A death row inmate was born-again, and even a plea from the Pope himself would not stop then-governor George Bush from sending that woman to the chair.

So why does Libby get special treatment?  Not because he was innocent.  But because he was one of the Bush Administration’s "inner circle".

[UPDATE:  Did I write "special treatment"?  Incredibly, the White House is trying to pass this off as — what chutzpah! — "routine":

“The president spent weeks and weeks consulting with senior members of this White House about the proper way to proceed,” said [WH Press Secretary Tony] Snow, adding, “I think it handled it in a routine manner in the sense that the president took a careful look.”

This exchange with a reporter is mind-numbingly telling:

QUESTION: Can I follow on that? If there are more than 3,000 current petitions for commutation — not pardons, but commutation — in the federal system, under President Bush, will all 3,000 of those be held to the same standard that the president applied to Scooter Libby?

SNOW: I don’t know.

QUESTION: Tony, I’m trying to get a handle on it. Are you saying this White House handled this in an extraordinary manner or in a routine manner?

SNOW: I think it handled it in a routine manner in the sense that the president took a careful look.

Snow is not even trying to answer the question.  He’s just stuck on trying to say that the whole thing is "routine".  Yet, unlike the pending thousands of petitioners, Libby didn’t even seek a pardon or commutation.  And certainly, Bush is not going to "spend weeks and weeks consulting with senior members of this White House about the proper way to proceed" when it comes to other people.

As Sully says: "If Bush is not actually, you know, creating one system of justice for his friends and employees and another for everyone else, why doesn’t Snow have an answer to that question?"]

How brazenly partisan is that?  For the President to commute the sentences of HIS OWN PEOPLE, who were convicted IN COURT — ist there any other word to use besides "corrupt"?

And where is the right on this?  Many, as suspected, as supporting Bush — and these are the same people who cried "foul" when it came to amnesty for illegal immigrants!!  Go figure.

I also wonder how a sentence which is within the sentencing guidelines can bee deemed "excessive" by Bush.  If it is within the guidelines, is it not, by definition, NOT "excessive"?  Mogolori points to this WaPo story on Rita v. U.S.:

Victor Rita, convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice, asked for a lighter sentence based in part on his past military service. But the judge gave him 33 months, as suggested by the guidelines. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, based in Richmond, upheld the sentence, saying that penalties within the guidelines are "presumptively reasonable."

Anonymous Liberal talks about the "manifest sleaziness" of the whole thing:

Let’s put it this way: if this had happened in the Clinton administration, this would have been the lead count in the House’s bill of impeachment. Does anyone doubt that? Republicans would have demanded Clinton’s immediate resignation.

Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald speaks too:

We comment only on the statement in which the President termed the sentence imposed by the judge as “excessive.”   The sentence in this case was imposed pursuant to the laws governing sentencings which occur every day throughout this country.  In this case, 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.

More reactions:

"This commutation sends the clear signal that in this administration, cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice."—Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.

"The arrogance of this administration’s disdain for the law and its belief it operates with impunity are breathtaking. Will the president also commute the sentences of others who obstructed justice and lied to grand juries, or only those who act to protect President Bush and Vice President Cheney?"—New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

"It is time for the American people to be heard—I call for all Americans to flood the White House with phone calls tomorrow expressing their outrage over this blatant disregard for the rule of law."—Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del.

"The Constitution gives President Bush the power to commute sentences, but history will judge him harshly for using that power to benefit his own vice president’s chief of staff who was convicted of such a serious violation of law."—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

"When it comes to the law, there should not be two sets of rules—one for President Bush and Vice President Cheney and another for the rest of America. Even Paris Hilton had to go to jail. No one in this administration should be above the law."—Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

"This is exactly the kind of politics we must change so we can begin restoring the American people’s faith in a government that puts the country’s progress ahead of the bitter partisanship of recent years."—Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

Editorials:

The [Washington] Post, which had often mocked the court case, declares today: "We agree that a pardon would have been inappropriate and that the prison sentence of 30 months was excessive. But reducing the sentence to no prison time at all, as Mr. Bush did — to probation and a large fine — is not defensible. … Mr. Bush, while claiming to ‘respect the jury’s verdict,’ failed to explain why he moved from ‘excessive’ to zero.

"It’s true that the felony conviction that remains in place, the $250,000 fine and the reputational damage are far from trivial. But so is lying to a grand jury. To commute the entire prison sentence sends the wrong message about the seriousness of that offense."

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: "President Bush’s commutation of a pal’s prison sentence counts as a most shocking act of disrespect for the U.S. justice system. It’s the latest sign of the huge repairs to American concepts of the rule of law that await the next president."

The Denver Post found that "such big-footing of other branches of government is not unprecedented with this administration. The president’s abuse of signing statements show his disrespect for Congress’ power to make law. His insistence that terror detainees at Guantanamo Bay be denied Habeas Corpus rights mocks legal tradition. It’s a shame that his actions in the Libby affair will add to that list. Libby should be held accountable for his crimes."

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s editorial declares that "mostly this commutation fails on the most basic premise. There was no miscarriage of justice in Libby’s conviction or his sentence. The trial amply demonstrated that he stonewalled. Like President Clinton’s 11th-hour pardons of an ill-deserving few, this commutation is a travesty."

New York’s Daily News: "However misbegotten was the probe by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, the fact is that Libby did commit a federal crime and the fact is also that he was convicted in a court of law. Thankfully, Bush did not pardon Libby outright, but time in the slammer was in order. Sixty days, say, wouldn’t have hurt the justice system a bit."

Chicago Tribune believes that "in nixing the prison term, Bush sent a terrible message to citizens and to government officials who are expected to serve the public with integrity. The way for a president to discourage the breaking of federal laws is by letting fairly rendered consequences play out, however uncomfortably for everyone involved. The message to a Scooter Libby ought to be the same as it is for other convicts: You do the crime, you do the time."

The Arizona Republic: "We thought Scooter Libby was going through the criminal justice system. Just like anyone else. Then, President Bush whipped out a get-out-of-jail-free card. This is the wrong game to play on a very public stage."

San Jose Mercury News: "Other presidents have doled out pardons and the like, usually on the way out of office. It’s never pretty. But few have placed themselves above the law as Bush, Cheney and friends repeatedly have done by trampling civil liberties and denying due process. Chalk up another point for freedom. Scooter’s, at least."

The Sacramento Bee: President Bush, a recent story in the Washington Post tells us, is obsessed with the question of how history will view him. He has done himself no favors on that count by commuting the prison term of I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby."

Blogosphere:

Atrios: President Bush engages in ongoing obstruction of justice by commuting Scooter Libby’s sentence.

And all of the Wise Men of Washington cheered.

Politely tell the White House what you think about this.

….WH has closed the comment line. We can call tomorrow.

FDL: Demonstrating his complete contempt for trial by jury, rule of law and his own Department of Justice appointees, George Bush thumbed his nose once again at the very concept of democracy and the Beltway Brahmins are cheering. The dirty unwashed masses who populate our juries are fit to judge each other, but evidently not the ruling class. David Broder can breathe a sigh of relief that People Like Him are safe from those overly zealous US Attorneys who might want to hold them accountable to the same absurd standards that the little people must live by.

How quaint.

Josh Marshall: There is a conceivable argument — a very poor one but a conceivable one — for pardoning Scooter Libby, presumably on the argument that the entire prosecution was political and thus illegitimate. But what conceivable argument does the president have for micromanaging the sentence? To decide that the conviction is appropriate, that probation is appropriate, that a substantial fine is appropriate — just no prison sentence.

This is being treated in the press as splitting the difference, an elegant compromise. But it is the least justifiable approach. The president has decided that the sentencing guidelines and the opinion of judge don’t cut it.

The only basis for this decision is that Libby is the vice president’s friend, the vice president rules the president and this was the minimum necessary to keep the man silent.

Glenn Greenwald: What kind of country do we expect to have when we have a ruling Washington class that believes that they and their fellow members of the Beltway elite constitute a separate class, one that resides above and beyond the law? That is plainly what they believe. And we now have exactly the country that one would expect would emerge from a political culture shaped by such a deeply insulated, corrupt and barren royal court.

and

A lawyer, former prosecutor, and current GW law professor weighs in, and this one a Republican. Orin Kerr at Volokh Conspiracy:

…I find Bush’s action very troubling because of the obvious special treatment Libby received. President Bush has set a remarkable record in the last 6+ years for essentially never exercising his powers to commute sentences or pardon those in jail. His handful of pardons have been almost all symbolic gestures involving cases decades old, sometimes for people who are long dead. Come to think of it, I don’t know if Bush has ever actually used his powers to get one single person out of jail even one day early. If there are such cases, they are certainly few and far between. So Libby’s treatment was very special indeed.

Sanford Levinson‘s cogent and extended remarks are worth reading, especially this part:

As it happens, the commutation also connects with my general theme in most of my Open University postings, which involves criticisms of various aspects of our Constitution. Interestingly enough, if one reads the so-called "anti-Federalist" papers, collected together some years ago in a magnificent edition by Herbert J. Storing, one discovers that a number of the opponents of the Constitution were quite concerned by the power to pardon. George Mason, a distinguished Virginian who refused to sign the Constitution, noted that "the President of the United States has the unrestrained Power of granting Pardon for Treason; which may be sometimes exercised to screen from Punishment those whom he had secretly instigated to commit the Crime, and thereby prevent a Discovery of his own guilt." Luther Martin, another non-signatory, also objected to the potential "attempt [of the President] to assume to himself powers not given by the constitution, and establish himself in regal authority; in which attempt a provision is made for him to secure from punishment the creatures of his ambition, the associates and abettors of his treasonable practices, by granting them pardons should they be defeated in their attempts to subvert the constitution."

No one, of course, believes that Mr. Libby committed Treason; indeed, his most ardent defenders view him as attempting to save the Republic from the like of Joseph Wilson. But, just as obviously, Mr. Libby was convicted of perjury after an extensive trial, and the judge quite justifiably thought that Mr. Libby’s actions demonstrated utter contempt for what the Constitution calls a "Republican Form of Government." Even if one agrees with President Bush that 30 months was "excessive," it is obviously a logical fallacy to assume that the alternative to 30 months is not a single day. More to the point, it is altogether tempting to put the pardon within the framework set out by Mason and Martin: The best explanation of the pardon is not compassion but, rather, fear that Mr. Libby might be tempted to provide more information about the cabal to turn the presidency (and vice-presidency) into "regal," if not out-and-out dictatorial, authorities totally independent from any scrutiny or accountability. This is simply one more illustration of the mendacity and corruption at the heart of the Bush Administration (and, therefore, of the present American system of government).

No one should doubt that we are in a constitutional crisis. And part of the crisis can be found within the Constitution itself. Perhaps it is a good idea that the President can pardon (or commute) convicted criminals. This is the notion that justice should be tempered by mercy. But it is also clear that the pardoning authority can be abused by unscrupulous presidents. Bill Clinton, of course, was roundly criticized for his last-day pardon of Marc Rich, though no one can seriously believe that high issues of the polity were involved. Some attributed it to campaign contributions; others, to the possibility of a "relationship" between the President and Rich’s former wife, Denise. As with so much of the Clinton presidency, the act was tawdry but unthreatening to a Republican Form of Government. Mr. Bush’s commutation, is such a threat, unless, of course, one defines a "Republican Form of Government" as "Government by the Republican Party." It will be interesting to see if any of those who look to the Founding Generation for wisdom about current realities will give any credence to the timely warnings of Mason and Martin (and others) about the potentially cancerous consequences of the Pardoning Power.

Anti-Federalist Paper No. 67, Cato, 1787, weighs in:

It is, therefore, obvious to the least intelligent mind to account why great power in the hands of a magistrate [i.e., a single executive], and that power connected with considerable duration, may be dangerous to the liberties of a republic. . . . [T]he unrestrained power of granting pardons for treason, which may be used to screen from punishment those whom he had secretly instigated to commit the crime, and thereby prevent a discovery of his own guilt; his duration in office for four years-these, and various other principles evidently prove the truth of the position, that if the president is possessed of ambition, he has power and time sufficient to ruin his country.

Though the president, during the sitting of the legislature, is assisted by the senate, yet he is without a constitutional council in their recess. He will therefore be unsupported by proper information and advice, and will generally be directed by minions and favorites, or a council of state will grow out of the principal officers of the great departments, the most dangerous council in a free country.

The public at large:

21% of Americans familiar with the legal case involving former White House aide Scooter Libby agree with President Bush’s decision to commute Libby’s prison sentence, according to a SurveyUSA nationwide poll conducted immediately after the decision was announced. 1,500 Americans were surveyed. Of them, 825 were familiar with the Libby case. Only those familiar were asked to react to the President’s action. 17% say Bush should have pardoned Libby completely. 60% say Bush should have left the judge’s prison sentence in place. 32% of Republicans agree with the President’s decision, compared to 14% of Democrats and 20% of Independents. 26% of Republicans say Libby should have been pardoned completely, compared to 21% of Independents and 8% of Democrats. Conservatives split evenly: 31% say Libby should have been pardoned. 35% say the judge’s sentence should have been left in place. 31% agree with the President’s decision to commute the prison sentence, but to leave the fine and conviction in place.

SO…. what to do?  There’s a call to action:

So, you can sit around grousing and moaning until the cows come home, wallowing in your misery and cursing the heavens about George Bush.  Or…you can do something about him and his corrupt Grand Ole Imperial Party.

I’ll take fighting back for $1000, Alex.

****

Call your elected representatives and the White House and register your disgust:

White House Phone Numbers Comments: 202-456-1111 Switchboard: 202-456-1414 FAX: 202-456-2461

U.S. Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121

Didn’t We Settle This Before?

In a court filing today, Patrick Fitzgerald provides a summary of Valerie Plame Wilson’s status with the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division at the time she was outed to the press by members of the Bush administration. Guess what? She was covert:

While assigned to CPD, Ms. Wilson engaged in temporary duty (TDY) travel overseas on official business. She traveled at least seven times to more than ten countries. When traveling overseas, Ms. Wilson always traveled under a cover identity — sometimes in true name and sometimes in alias — but always using cover — whether official or non-official cover (NOC) — with no ostensible relationship to the CIA.

At the time of the initial unauthorized disclosure in the media of Ms. Wilson’s employment relationship with the CIA on 14 July 2003, Ms. Wilson was a covert employee for whom the CIA was taking affirmative measures to conceal her intelligence relationship to the United States.

For years, the rightwing blogosphere and Fox News pundits were crowing to anyone who would listen, that Plame was not a covert agent.  They were wrong then, as we all knew.  Glenn Greenwald looks back.

Christy Hardin Smith weighs in:

Now, let’s see. Who called this correctly? Victoria Toensing and Joe DiGenova, the Boris and Natasha of bobbleheads, who shilled their asinine fact-free "oh no, clearly not covert" bullshit on every talk show from here to China and back again? Nope.  Wrong. Over and over again. Completely wrong.  On cable teevee. In the WaPo. You name it.  And did I mention they were wrong?

Oh wait…and to Congress.

Waxman: Ms. Toensing, I just only can say that we are pleased to accommodate the request of the Minority to have you as a witness and some of the statements you’ve made without any doubt and with great authority I understand may not be accurate so we’re going to check the information and we’re going to hold the record open to put in other things that might contradict some of what you had to say.

Oooopsie.  Wonder if the time has elapsed to revise and extend Ms. Toensing’s remarks to Rep. Waxman’s committee?  Sure hope not, because I hear a perjury charge can really set you back.

Pardon Libby? Not Under The Bush Guildelines

Bush was among the many critics of Clinton’s policy regarding pardons.  So much so, in fact, that when Bush came into office, he re-established the guidelines under which a convicted person can be entitled to receiving a pardon.

Newsweek has an eye-opening report, suggesting that under the Bush guildelines, the possibility of a pardon for Libby is a "non-starter":

But there’s one significant roadblock on the path to Libby’s salvation: Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff does not qualify to even be considered for a presidential pardon under Justice Department guidelines.

From the day he took office, Bush seems to have followed those guidelines religiously. He’s taken an exceedingly stingy approach to pardons, granting only 113 in six years, mostly for relatively minor fraud, embezzlement and drug cases dating back more than two decades. Bush’s pardons are “fewer than any president in 100 years,” according to Margaret Love, former pardon attorney at the Justice Department.

Following the furor over President Bill Clinton’s last-minute pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich (among others), Bush made it clear he wasn’t interested in granting many pardons. “We were basically told [by then White House counsel and now Attorney General Alberto Gonzales] that  there weren’t going to be pardons—or if there were, there would be very few,” recalls one former White House lawyer who asked not to be identified talking about internal matters.

The president has since indicated he intended to go by the book in granting what few pardons he’d hand out—considering only requests that had first been reviewed by the Justice Department under a series of publicly available guidelines.

Those regulations, which are discussed on the Justice Department Web site at www.usdoj.gov/pardon, would seem to make a Libby pardon a nonstarter in George W. Bush’s White House. They “require a petitioner to wait a period of at least five years after conviction or release from confinement (whichever is later) before filing a pardon application,”  according to the Justice Web site.

Moreover, in weighing whether to recommend a pardon, U.S. attorneys are supposed to consider whether an applicant is remorseful. “The extent to which a petitioner has accepted responsibility for his or her criminal conduct and made restitution to … victims are important considerations. A petitioner should be genuinely desirous of forgiveness rather than vindication,” the Justice Web site states.

Of course, these are merely guidelines, and Bush does not have to follow them.  But this will lead to serious charges of hypocrisy — establishing guideliens about how pardons should be done, and then ignoring those guidelines when it comes to one of "your own".

Fox News Doesn’t Understand The Law

Take a look at this graphic from Fox News yesterday:

Hclibby2

The caption reads: "Libby Convicted On 4 Counts But Was There Even A Crime?"

This shows the level of stupid thinking (as well as propagandazing) that one sees every day on Faux News.

Yes, Hannity.  There was a crime.  Perjury is a crime.  Obstruction of justice is a crime.  Making false statements is a crime.  It’s a crime regardless of whether or not there is an underlying crime.

Apparently, these people cannot even remember back as far as the Clinton years.  While wingnuts rejoiced that Clinton committed perjury, they didn’t stop (as they are now) to ask if there was actually any sexual harrassment.  A crime is a crime is a crime, they said.  And they were right.

One of the reasons, by the way, that we may never know if a crime was actually committed in the Plamegate matter is simply because Libby (and perhaps others) lied to investigators.  Did the boys at Fox News think of that?

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

UPDATE:  And look how Fox initiall reported the Libby verdict story:

Fox_libby_not_guilty

Laugh. *Snort*.

Breaking: Libby Guilty

on four of five counts in his perjury and obstruction of justice trial.

The verdict isn’t as important as what the whole Plamegate process and trial actually revealed, i.e., the Vice President’s main adviser has just been convicted of obstructing an investigation not just of himself but of the Vice President, and the trial brought out substantial evidence that Cheney was Libby’s original source of the information that Valerie Plame was a CIA agent; that Cheney remained aware that Plame worked at the CIA throughout the relevant period; and that Cheney made it an important part of the pushback against Joe Wilson after Wilson published his op-ed, probably directing Libby to disclose Plame’s identity to Judith Miller on July 8 in order to get the information published.

And why?  Because Joe Wilson called Bush on a lie (the lie that Saddam had tried to obtain uranium from Africa).

RELATED:  Here are all my Plame posts (the first post I had about the Plame scandal was 3 years and one day ago)

Bombshells In The Libby Case

Stg_hz_cheney_958aI haven’t followed the case of Scooter Libby (an extension of the whole Valerie Plame leak thing) lately.  But I have to heap praise on the folks at FDL, who are liveblogging the trial from the courtroom.  If they gave Pulitzers for blogging, these people would be the recipients.

Today is opening statements, and the trial, which I dismissed long ago as boring, is turning out to be a bit of a bombshell.  MSNBC (on the heels of FDL) is reporting the prosecutor’s statement that Dick Cheney was neck deep in the whole CIA leak, and that Libby destroyed evidence linking Cheney to that leak.

FDL has been noting that the trial is likely to paint a picture of a dysfunctional White House — one in which there is (and has been) a severe rift between Bush and his "brain" (Karl Rove), and the office of VP Cheney (who apparently wields real power).

I kind of like the circularity of this thing:

(1) In his SOTU Address in 2003, Bush used the now infamous "16 words" about how Iraq was seeking to buy uranium from Africa. 

(2) In July that year, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Joe Wilson wrote a column about those "16 words", informing the public that he was sent to Africa to find out the truth of this claim …and found that there was no truth behind the Iran-Africa uranium claim …and Bush knew it.  This resulted in several anti-Wilson columns from conservative pundits, some of whom noted that Wilson’s wife (Valerie Plame) was a CIA agent

(3)  Outting a covert CIA agent is a crime, so a federal investigation was conducted as to the "leaker" of this information to administration-friendly reporters. 

(4)  Evidence points to Cheney’s inner circle, and although the leaker is never identified, Scooter Libby is indicted for lying to federal prosecutors.

(5)  Four years later, another SOTU address.  And the Libby trial starts on the same day.

Although the prosecutor is setting his sites on Cheney and his circle, it looks like the strategy for Libby’s defense team is intending to throw Karl Rove under the bus.  Interesting inside politics. 

Plamegate Is Bogus?

The WaPo editorial board thinks so:

Nevertheless, it now appears that the person most responsible for the end of Ms. Plame’s CIA career is Mr. Wilson. Mr. Wilson chose to go public with an explosive charge, claiming — falsely, as it turned out — that he had debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger and that his report had circulated to senior administration officials. He ought to have expected that both those officials and journalists such as Mr. Novak would ask why a retired ambassador would have been sent on such a mission and that the answer would point to his wife. He diverted responsibility from himself and his false charges by claiming that President Bush’s closest aides had engaged in an illegal conspiracy. It’s unfortunate that so many people took him seriously.

Well, that says maybe.  It doesn’t alter the fact that Time’s Matt Cooper has identified Karl Rove has his source for Plame’s identity as a covert CIA agent.  Nor does it alter the fact that New York Times reporter Judith Miller identified Scooter Libby as her source regarding Plame’s identity.

So Armitage’s role aside, the public record is without question: senior White House aides wanted to use Valerie Wilson’s CIA employment against her husband.

This ain’t over.

Plamegate In The News In A Big Way

Murray Waas, who has an excellent track record for these things, reports that Novak’s source regarding Valerie Plame was Karl Rove.  Moreover, he reports that three days after the announcement of a federal investigation into the leak, Rove and Novak spoke by phone and — some investigators believe — concocted a cover story.  (What this means in legal terms?  The two engaged in a felony known as "obstruction of justice", among other things:

On September 29, 2003, three days after it became known that the CIA had asked the Justice Department to investigate who leaked the name of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame, columnist Robert Novak telephoned White House senior adviser Karl Rove to assure Rove that he would protect him from being harmed by the investigation, according to people with firsthand knowledge of the federal grand jury testimony of both men. . . .

Rove and Novak, investigators suspect, might have devised a cover story to protect Rove because the grand jury testimony of both men appears to support Rove’s contentions about how he learned about Plame.

Below is a picture of the two together.  Rove’s pin says, "I’m a source not a target" (looks like he’s both):

Rovenovakpals3_2

The Week Ahead

So much to write about, so little time.

I don’t have much to say about Bush’s approval rating breaking the 30% mark (last week’s Harris poll puts him at 29%).  And the fallout over the NSA datamining of telecom records continues.

But I’m looking forward to this week.  There are two rumors which are getting the buzz:

(1)  Rove indicted in L’Affaire Plame.  (Talkleft has more).

(2)  Former NSA staffer and whistleblower Russell Tice will reveal to the Senate even more shenanigans going on with the NSA.  He is quoted as saying that what the public knows now (regarding wiretapping and records collections) is only "the tip of the iceberg".  There was, according to Tice, llegal and unconstitutional surveillance of U.S. citizens while he was with the NSA, and this was all conducted with the knowledge of General Hayden, Bush’s pick to head the CIA.

As they say, stay tuned.

Why Outing Plame Mattered

Here’s the press release (in its original allcaps):

INTELLIGENCE SOURCES SAY VALERIE WILSON WAS PART OF AN OPERATION THREE YEARS AGO TRACKING THE PROLIFERATION OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS MATERIAL INTO IRAN. AND THE SOURCES ALLEGE THAT WHEN MRS. WILSON’S COVER WAS BLOWN, THE ADMINISTRATION’S ABILITY TO TRACK IRAN’S NUCLEAR AMBITIONS WAS DAMAGED AS WELL.

Interesting.

Rove Indictment Imminent?

Could be.  Larry O’Donnell wrote:

Karl Rove’s return to the grand jury today could mean the end of the Rove investigation or the beginning of the Rove prosecution. It depends on who asked Rove to return. If Fitzgerald asked Rove to return to the grand jury, that means Fitzgerald thinks he doesn’t have enough for an indictment.

If Rove asked to return to the grand jury, that means Rove’s lawyer, Bob Luskin, believes an indictment is imminent and is sending his client back to make a final desperate attempt to avoid indictment.

Well, as it turns out, Rove volunteered to testify and was not subpoenaed.  Rove’s decision followed a recent conversation by his lawyers with Fitzgerald.  All this, according to NBC News’ David Shuster.

Ohboyohboyohboyohboyohboyohboyohboyohboyohboyohboy Ohboyohboyohboyohboyohboyohboyohboyohboyohboyohboy

Holy Crap!

Why is nobody talking about this (which comes from the right-leaning NY Sun, no less)?!?

A former White House aide under indictment for obstructing a leak probe, I. Lewis Libby, testified to a grand jury that he gave information from a closely-guarded "National Intelligence Estimate" on Iraq to a New York Times reporter in 2003 with the specific permission of President Bush, according to a new court filing from the special prosecutor in the case.

Bush okayed leaks of classified info?!?

The source of this information comes from prosecutor Fitzgerald himself, in papers filed with the Court late last night.  It was based on the testimony of Libby. 

This is the first time the President has been placed in the loop (albeit tangentially) regarding the Plame leak.

I-M-P-E-A-C-H-A-B-L-E.  What’s more, this revelation — if it holds true — shows the duplicity of Bush, who has said:

“There’s just too many leaks, and if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is.” [Bush, 9/30/03]

“I want to know the truth. … I have no idea whether we’ll find out who the leaker is, partially because, in all due respect to your profession, you do a very good job of protecting the leakers.” [Fox News, 10/8/03]

“I’d like to know if somebody in my White House did leak sensitive information.” [Bush, 10/28/03]

UPDATE:  Ah, it’s starting to get some movement.  Murray Waas is writing about it at the National Journal, and clears it up a bit.

Apparently, Libby received "approval from the President through the Vice President" (emphasis mine) to divulge portions of a National Intelligence Estimate regarding Saddam Hussein’s purported efforts to develop nuclear weapons to NYT reporter Judith Miller.  In the course of this, Libby outted Plame as a CIA agent.

Waas adds:

Although not reflected in the court papers, two senior government officials said in interviews with National Journal in recent days that Libby has also asserted that Cheney authorized him to leak classified information to a number of journalists during the run-up to war with Iraq. In some instances, the information leaked was directly discussed with the Vice President, while in other instances Libby believed he had broad authority to release information that would make the case to go to war.

In yet another instance, Libby had claimed that President Bush authorized Libby to speak to and provide classified information to Washington Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward for "Plan of Attack," a book written by Woodward about the run-up to the Iraqi war.

I think the controversy will lie in this particular paragraph:

Libby also testified that an administration lawyer told him that Bush, by authorizing the disclosure of classified information, had in effect declassified the information. Legal experts disagree on whether the president has the authority to declassify information on his own.

Still nothing on the cable news websites, but the New York Sun website is down (probably from everybody checking out the story).

UPDATE:  Finally, the AP picks up on it (just before noon).  Watch the avalanche.

UPDATE (as of 1:40 pm EST):  Okay, it’s everywhere now.  I like the georgia10 summary at Daily Kos:

Did the President personally authorize the selected release of classified information meant to manipulate public opinion about Iraq? Or did Cheney lie? If Cheney corroborates Scooter Libby’s story, he implicates the President. If he denies it, he calls his former Chief of Staff a liar.

Digby is also thinking:

So we find out today that Bush personally authorized leaking sensitive intelligence information for political reasons.

Explain to me again how we can trust that this President has not used his illegal NSA program to wiretap Americans for political reasons?

VERY LATE UPDATE (posted 4/13/06):  Kevin Drum explains

White House Infighting

The rumors are apparently true.   Rove is cooperating with the Fitzgerald investigation, and pointing investigators to the Cheney office.  It was Rove, reports say, who informed Fitzgerald about the "missing" emails from the VP’s office.  From The Washington Note:

According to several Pentagon sources close to Rove and others familiar with the inquiry, Bush’s senior adviser tipped off Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to information that led to the recent "discovery" of 250 pages of missing email from the office of Vice President Dick Cheney.

***

According to one source close to the case, Rove is providing information on deleted emails, erased hard drives and other types of obstruction by staff and other officials in the Vice President’s office. Pentagon sources close to Rove confirmed this account.

None would name the staffers and/or officials whom Rove is providing information about. They did, however, explain that the White House computer system has "real time backup" servers and that while emails were deleted from computers, they were still retrievable from the backup system. By providing the dates and recipient information of the deleted emails, sources say, Rove was able to chart a path for Fitzgerald directly into the office of the Vice President.

Waas’s New Scoop

Pretty big news:

Beyond what was stated in the court paper, say people with firsthand knowledge of the matter, Libby also indicated what he will offer as a broad defense during his upcoming criminal trial: that Vice President Cheney and other senior Bush administration officials had earlier encouraged and authorized him to share classified information with journalists to build public support for going to war. Later, after the war began in 2003, Cheney authorized Libby to release additional classified information, including details of the NIE, to defend the administration’s use of prewar intelligence in making the case for war.

So let me get this straight.

If you leak about the super-secret classified NSA wiretapping program to the New York Times, you’re a traitor.

But if you leak classified information on order to defend the Bush Administration, you’re a patriot.

Plame: Yes, She Was Covert

Well, the ridiculous defense that "Valarie Plame was not covert" has finally — finally — been handed a death blow:

Newly released court papers could put holes in the defense of Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, in the Valerie Plame leak case. Lawyers for Libby, and White House allies, have repeatedly questioned whether Plame, the wife of White House critic Joe Wilson, really had covert status when she was outed to the media in July 2003. But special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald found that Plame had indeed done "covert work overseas" on counterproliferation matters in the past five years, and the CIA "was making specific efforts to conceal" her identity, according to newly released portions of a judge’s opinion. (A CIA spokesman at the time is quoted as saying Plame was "unlikely" to take further trips overseas, though.)

But sadly, the wingnuts will keep attempting to argue that she was not covert, including this wingnut — he suggests that "carrying out covert work overseas" is not the same as "serving" covertly overseas.  Um, okaaaaay.  Any port in a storm.

Valerie Plame Is Outted Again

The Washington couple at the heart of the CIA leak investigation had their cover blown by their small son as they tried to sneak away on vacation on Thursday.

The former spy, who just retired from the agency, and the diplomat have been at the center of a CIA leak scandal that has reached into the White House.

They said they were headed to an undisclosed vacation location with their twins but stopped for a brief interview inside the airport terminal.

"My daddy’s famous, my mommy’s a secret spy," declared the 5-year-old of his parents, former diplomat Joe Wilson and retired CIA operative Valerie Plame.

D’oh!  [Source]

Rove In The Crosshairs

I haven’t been following the minutae of Plamegate lately, but if this is true, it doesn’t bode well for Karl Rove:

In late January 2004, the grand jury investigating whether top officials in the Bush administration knowingly leaked Valerie Plame Wilson’s name and covert CIA status to reporters subpoenaed the White House for records of administration contacts with more than two-dozen journalists going back two years, to determine if any officials talked about Plame with the media.

According to people close to Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s probe, one such document was not turned over to the grand jury by the Feb. 6, 2004 deadline: an email White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove had sent in July 2003 to then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. In the email, Rove told Hadley that he spoke to Time Magazine reporter Matthew Cooper about Plame’s husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, a vocal critic of the administration’s prewar Iraq intelligence.

Rove testified before the grand jury for the first time in February 2004. At the time, he didn’t disclose that he had been one of the anonymous sources for Cooper and conservative columnist Robert Novak. The two filed the first stories on Plame, identifying her as a CIA operative.

The grand jury subpoenaed the White House for any information concerning contacts with the 25 reporters on Jan. 22, 2004. It was the second time a directive was issued ordering White House officials to turn over records to determine if officials had spoken about Plame, her husband, and the administration’s claims that Iraq had attempted to acquire uranium-the key component for a nuclear bomb-from Niger with journalists.

Three months earlier, in late 2003, then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales enjoined all White House staff to turn over any communication about Valerie Plame Wilson and her husband. Gonzales’ request came 12 hours after senior White House officials had been told of the pending investigation. The email Rove sent to Hadley never turned up in that request either, people close to the investigation said.

Rove’s alleged failure to disclose his conversations with Cooper and Novak and the fact that he didn’t turn over the Hadley email on two separate occasions is the reason he’s been in Fitzgerald’s crosshairs and may end up being indicted, people close to the investigation said.

So Shouldn’t He Be Subpoenaed?

If Bob Novak is right, I think Fitz needs to subpoena POTUS.  From the News-Observer:

Newspaper columnist Robert Novak is still not naming his source in the Valerie Plame affair, but he says he is pretty sure the name is no mystery to President Bush.

"I’m confident the president knows who the source is," Novak told a luncheon audience at the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh on Tuesday. "I’d be amazed if he doesn’t."

"So I say, ‘Don’t bug me. Don’t bug Bob Woodward. Bug the president as to whether he should reveal who the source is.’ "

Pew Poll Puts Bush At 36%

2622

I like this graph.  Especially the dropoff among independents.

Additional info from The Left Coaster:

A new Pew Center poll out this afternoon shows that Bush’s approval rating has fallen to a new low of 36%, and he’s losing the support of moderate and liberal Republicans, and is seeing a steep decline in support amongst independents. The poll also shows that a higher number of Americans think the Scooter Libby indictment is important to the nation than Clinton’s impeachment was. And 6 in 10 do not feel that the media is giving too much coverage to the story.

But here’s the kicker in this poll: for the first time ever, more respondents felt the Administration lied about Iraq’s WMDs (43%) than those who feel the Administration was misinformed by bad intelligence (41%).

Punditry Gone Amok

This is an incredible piece of wishful thinking, spin, and rationalization from conservative blogger Tom McGuire at Just One Minute.

McGuire starts his story by quoting from the "always interesting, sometimes accurate" (McGuire’s words) WorldNetDaily.  You know you are in for a treat when the basis for a wingnut post starts out with WorldNetDaily (heck, even McGuire acknowledges that the online "news" service has questionable accuracy).

Anyway, the thrust of the post relates to a retired Army General named Paul Vallely, who came out yesterday and claimed that, back in spring 2002, Joseph Wilson told him that Valerie Plame was a CIA agent.  This conversation supposedly took place in a Fox News green room.

McGuire notes one problem with Vallely’s story: Wilson and Vallely couldn’t have met in the spring of 2002, since neither appeared on Fox on the same day.  Not until September 2002.

So, one might conclude that Vallely is either (1) lying about the whole thing, or (to be more generous) (2) his recollection is faulty.  After all, if Vallely doesn’t know the date, perhaps he doesn’t recall his casual conversation with Wilson accurately either.

Does McGuire reach that conclusion?  Nope.  He engages in the most amazing spin in mankind — to wit, the fact that Vallely got the date wrong actually supports the truthfulness of Vallely’s claim.  Read this:

However (here comes the spin!), like a flaw in fine leather, this sort of glitch in a minor detail actually increases the plausibility of the General’s story.  Yes it does!  Had the General been cutting this story from whole cloth, he surely would have taken the trouble to check his dates and do a bit of oppo research on Wilson, in which case, he would have said that they met in the late summer or early fall of 2002.

Yup.  According to McGuire logic, nobody can ever be caught in a lie, because all liars are good liars, and all lies successfully dupe their listeners. 

Very bizarre.

[Yes, McGuire’s meta-point is also bizarre.  His argument is that if some people know about Plame’s classified CIA status, then she was not a "covert agent".  This is not only silly, but contrary to what the laws and statutes say.  In other words, things do not become "declassified" simply because some people know — or think they know — about it.]

Plamegate: Most Serious Scandal In Three Decades

Via Atrios, Editor & Publisher takes a look at a recent CBS poll and tells us that the public thinks the Valerie Plame scandal is more important than any scandal in the past 30 years. Here are the numbers:

  • Plamegate: 86% important 12% not important

  • Clinton-Lewinsky: 62% important, 37% not important

  • Whitewater: 49% important, 45% not important

  • Iran-Contra: 81% important, 19% not important

  • Watergate: 78% important, 22% not important

It’s important to note that these survey numbers are contemporaneous with the related scandal.  In other words, this is NOT people looking back on Watergate from today‘s vantage point with 78% saying it was important.  Back then, at the time, 78% said Watergate was important.  Compared with 86% today for Plamegate.

Even William F Buckley Gets It

Bill Buckley:

The importance of the law against revealing the true professional identity of an agent is advertised by the draconian punishment, under the federal code, for violating it. In the swirl of the Libby affair, one loses sight of the real offense, and it becomes almost inapprehensible what it is that Cheney/Libby/Rove got themselves into. But the sacredness of the law against betraying a clandestine soldier of the republic cannot be slighted.

Smearing Wilson

I honestly don’t give a crap about Joe Wilson.  What he did or didn’t do is irrelevant.  It’s certainly not an excuse to out his wife as a covert CIA agent.  I know this because I’ve read the statutes and there is no "Joe Wilson Is A Liar" exception.

Still, Bush supporters somehow think that Libby’s behavior can be justified because Wilson is a "liar".  You see these editorials all over the place.  They start out talking about Libby, and in a matter of paragraphs, the piece turns into a smear piece on Joe Wilson, as if one had to do with the other.

Here is a typical example.

The Boot editorial is mindboggling facile in its irrelevant attacks on Wilson.  For example, (after starting out about the Libby indictments, Boot writes:

Joseph C. Wilson IV has retailed more whoppers than Burger King.

The least consequential of these fibs was his denial that it was his wife who got him sent to Niger in February 2002 to check out claims that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy uranium. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence later stated, in a bipartisan report, that evidence indicated it was Mrs. Wilson who "had suggested his name for the trip." By leaking this fact to the news media, Libby and other White House officials were merely setting the record straight — not, as Wilson would have it, punishing his Mata Hari wife.

Really?  So the White House — Libby, Rove, etc. — went into full court press mode, and called up reporters left and right, merely to correct a "least consequential" "fib" about how Wilson got the Niger gig?  That doesn’t pass the laugh test.  Let’s not pretend that the White House was going all out to make sure the media (which hadn’t reported the story yet) was going to this very inconsequential fact correct.

Boot continues:

Much more egregious were the ways in which Wilson misrepresented his findings. In his famous New York Times Op-Ed article (July 6, 2003), Wilson gave the impression that his eight-day jaunt proved that Iraq was not trying to acquire uranium in Africa. Therefore, when administration officials nevertheless cited concerns about Hussein’s nuclear ambitions, Wilson claimed that they had "twisted" evidence "to exaggerate the Iraqi threat." The Senate Intelligence Committee was not kind to this claim either.

That simply is untrue, or at least a gross overstatement.  It’s straight from the Rove talking points about Wilson.  But, according to Bloomberg:

Yet the Senate panel conclusions didn’t discredit Wilson. The committee concluded that the Niger intelligence information wasn’t solid enough to be included in the State of the Union speech. It added that Wilson’s report didn’t change the minds of analysts on either side of the issue, while also concluding that an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate "overstated what the Intelligence Community knew about Iraq’s possible procurement attempts.”

Boot’s swarthiness continues:

The panel’s report found that, far from discrediting the Iraq-Niger uranium link, Wilson actually provided fresh details about a 1999 meeting between Niger’s prime minister and an Iraqi delegation. Beyond that, he had not supplied new information.

That’s right.  And the meeting between Niger’s prime minister and an Iraqi delegation does not mean uranium was changing hands.  Countries meet all the time.  Hell, Donald Rumsfeld met with Saddam in 1985.  So was Ronald Reagan in cahoots with Saddam?

But what Boot and his cohorts seem to forget is this: in July 2003, the White House conceded that the uranium assertion should not have been included in the president’s speech. Several administration officials have accepted responsibility for allowing it into the speech, including Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser and now secretary of state; Stephen Hadley, then Rice’s deputy and now the national security adviser; and then-CIA Director George Tenet.

Doesn’t that end the debate?  Doesn’t the White House admission close down the debate?  Wasn’t the crux of Wilson’s criticism that the White House overstated the Niger-Iraq correction, you know, shown to be correct?

UPDATE:  I’ve only scratched the surface.  There’s waaay more to this that meets the eye.  If you want to wade deep into this, go here.

This Is An Important Post Because This Is What It Is All About

Neo-cons were certainly thrown today by Senator Reid’s invocation of a rule calling for a closed session of the Senate.  Mostly, they just said that Reid was throwing a "temper tantrum", which is of course, bullshit.  Not to mention a childish response to a serious concern.

In order for the Senate to discuss matters of intelligence, it is prudent — and probably mandated by law — for the Senate to close its doors.  Republicans, who care about their party more than issues of national security (witness their constant pooh-poohing of Plamegate), simply refuse to acknowledge that basic truth.

Anyway, Reid wanted to discuss manipulation of intelligence in the run-up to the war.  Frankly, I think neo-cons should be happy that these matters were, at least initially, discussed in private.  But to get a sense of what Reid was referring to, let me link to Matt Yglesius, and shamelessly blogwhore what he writes (although you should, as the kids say, read the whole thing):

In case you’re looking for examples of the sort of manipulation of intelligence Harry Reid is talking about, a few are remarkably easy to find and clear-cut. This is a report entitled "Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs" released before the war as an unclassified document. It was based, we were told, on a classified National Intelligence Estimate. Over here, you can read some portions of the original NIE that have since been declassified. Mostly, the declassified bits of the document and the unclassified document are the same. But here are a few salient points that were left out of the unclassified release.

State/INR Alternative View of Iraq’s Nuclear Program

The Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research (INR) believes that Saddam continues to want nuclear weapons and that available evidence indicates that Baghdad is pursuing at least a limited effort to maintain and acquire nuclear weapon-related capabilities. The activities we have detected do not, however, add up to a compelling case that Iraq is currently pursuing what INR would consider to be an integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons. Iraq may be doing so, but INR considers the available evidence inadequate to support such a judgment. Lacking persuasive evidence that Baghdad has launched a coherent effort to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program, INR is unwilling to speculate that such an effort began soon after the departure of UN inspectors or to project a timeline for the completion of activities it does not now see happening. As a result, INR is unable to predict when Iraq could acquire a nuclear device or weapon.

In INR’s view Iraq’s efforts to acquire aluminum tubes is central to the argument that Baghdad is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program, but INR is not persuaded that the tubes in question are intended for use as centrifuge rotors. INR accepts the judgment of technical experts at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) who have concluded that the tubes Iraq seeks to acquire are poorly suited for use in gas centrifuges to be used for uranium enrichment and finds unpersuasive the arguments advanced by others to make the case that they are intended for that purpose. INR considers it far more likely that the tubes are intended for another purpose, most likely the production of artillery rockets. The very large quantities being sought, the way the tubes were tested by the Iraqis, and the atypical lack of attention to operational security in the procurement efforts are among the factors, in addition to the DOE assessment, that lead INR to concluded that the tubes are not intended for use in Iraq’s nuclear weapon program.

Hmm. And:

INR’s Alternative View: Iraq’s Attempts to Acquire Aluminum Tubes

Some of the specialized but dual-use items being sought are, by all indications, bound for Iraq’s missile program. Other cases are ambiguous, such as that of a planned magnet-production line whose suitability for centrifuge operations remains unknown. Some efforts involve non-controlled industrial material and equipment – including a variety of machine tools – and are troubling because they would help establish the infrastructure for a renewed nuclear program. But such efforts (which began well before the inspectors departed) are not clearly linked to a nuclear end-use. Finally, the claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are, in INR’s assessment, highly dubious.

Now a couple of points. First, the White House obviously has perfectly good reasons for keeping some of the intelligence it sees classified. Nevertheless, it’s hard to see what about these INR dissents had to be kept secret. Second, when intelligence agencies disagree (as they do now and again) the White House is perfectly within its rights to choose to believe what one agency says and disagree with the INR’s take. Nevertheless, people outside the White House would seem to have a right to know that controversy exists. What the White House did here was manipulate the classification process to cover-up the existence of disagreement, and deny people opposed to its policy potentially valuable arguments.

Exactly, Matt.  THAT’S what we’ve (or at least I’ve) been talking about.  In a democracy, ultimate power rests with the people.  The people, as well as their elected representatives in Congress (who, constitutionally, have the power to commit the nation to war), require complete information.  That way, a reasoned national debate takes place, and informed decisions get made.  But when the Executive Branch only deals the cards that it wants from a stacked deck, it does a disservice to the country.

Matt continues:

Another point. The classified NIE said this:

Baghdad for now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or CBW against the United States, fearing that exposure of Iraqi involvement would provide Washington a stronger cause for making war.

Iraq probably would attempt clandestine attacks against the US Homeland if Baghdad feared an attack that threatened the survival of the regime were imminent or unavoidable, or possibly for revenge. Such attacks – more likely with biological than chemical agents – probably would be carried out by special forces or intelligence operatives.

  • The Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) probably has been directed to conduct clandestine attacks against US and Allied interests in the Middle East in the event the United States takes action against Iraq. The IIS probably would be the primary means by which Iraq would attempt to conduct any CBW attacks on the US Homeland, although we have no specific intelligence information that Saddam’s regime has directed attacks against US territory.

Saddam, if sufficiently desperate, might decide that only an organization such as al-Qa’ida – with worldwide reach and extensive terrorist infrastructure, and already engaged in a life-or-death struggle against the United States – would perpetrate the type of terrorist attack that he would hope to conduct.

  • In such circumstances, he might decide that the extreme step of assisting the Islamist terrorists in conducting a CBW attack against the United States would be his last chance to exact vengeance by taking a large number of victims with him.

In other words, Saddam was unlikely to use whatever WMD he had or might in the future acquire unless the United States attacked him first. Meanwhile, during his infamous speech, "President Bush Outlines Iraqi Threat", the threat was described thusly:

Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists. Alliance with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints.

Some have argued that confronting the threat from Iraq could detract from the war against terror. To the contrary; confronting the threat posed by Iraq is crucial to winning the war on terror. When I spoke to Congress more than a year ago, I said that those who harbor terrorists are as guilty as the terrorists themselves. Saddam Hussein is harboring terrorists and the instruments of terror, the instruments of mass death and destruction. And he cannot be trusted. The risk is simply too great that he will use them, or provide them to a terror network.

This is plainly at odds with the consensus view of the Intelligence Community, as expressed in the classified NIE. Again, the White House is entitled to ignore the Intelligence Community and put forward some other beliefs. But the unclassified version of the NIE simply omits the stuff about how Iraq wouldn’t launch an unprovoked terrorist attack on the United States. There was no legitimate national security rationale for denying the public access to this information. Rather, there was a clear-cut political rationale — the White House wanted to obscure the extent to which their argument for war was based on claims that were unsupported by professional analysis.

Those are only two examples, but there are many more. An investigation into the matter is long overdue.

This is what Senator Reid wants to know.  This is exactly why an investigation is needed.  Why wasn’t this information — the dissents of the intelligence community — made known?  Why was it hidden from us?  Why were the American people given an incomplete and one-sided picture of what our government knew?

These questions were supposed to be part of a Congressional investigation.  The Republican-controlled Senate has been dragging its feet, probably until after the 2006 elections. 

Political stunt or not, Reid just put the matter on the front burner, forcing Frist’s hand.  The Senate is now moving forward with Phase II of their investigation, which seeks to asks the following question (again, via Matt):

The subject of dispute is the phase two report, which Pat Roberts has been refusing to produce. I’ve been writing about this for months; Laura Rozen has an article in our current print issue on the subject. Items designated for phase two include:

Whether public statements, reports, and testimony regarding Iraq by U.S. Government officials made between the Gulf War period and the commencement of Operation Iraqi Freedom were substantiated by intelligence information.

Along with "prewar intelligence assessments about postwar Iraq" and a couple of other things.

2,025 U.S. soldiers are dead.  Aren’t these issues worthy of an investigation?  For their sake, if not for the sake of our nation’s soul?

UPDATE: A Daily Kos contributor explains how Reid’s victory turned the political landscape "on a dime".  I think that is true.  Read it here.

Cooperating?

Supposedly, WH Press Secretary Scott McClellan just said:

The president directed everybody in the White House to cooperate fully with the special counsel…The White House has been cooperating fully with the special counsel, and we will continue to do so.

Libby worked in the White House.  And he was charged with . . . oh, what was it  . . . oh, yeah . . . obstruction of justice (among other things).  Since when is "cooperating fully with the special counsel" and "obstructing justice" synonymous?  (H/T: Think Progress).

Restoration Project

From Billmon:

George W. Bush will repair what has been damaged . . . On the first hour of the first day, he will restore decency and integrity to the Oval Office.

Dick Cheney
Speech to the 2000 Republican Convention
August 2, 2000

My fellow citizens, we can begin again. After all of the shouting, and all of the scandal. After all of the bitterness and broken faith. We can begin again.

George W. Bush
Speech to the 2000 Republican Convention
August 3, 2000

Barely a third of Americans — 34 percent — think Bush is doing a good job ensuring high ethics in government, which is slightly lower than President Bill Clinton’s standing on this issue when he left office. (emphasis added).

Washington Post
White House Ethics, Honesty Questioned
October 30, 2005

Stupid Wall Street Journal Quote

WSJ editorial:

Unless Mr. Fitzgerald can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Libby was lying, and doing so for some nefarious purpose, this indictment looks like a case of criminalizing politics.

"Nefarious purpose"?  No, idiots.  He only has to prove that Libby intentially lied to the prosecutors and grand jury.   What do you think?  It’s okay too lie under oath, if you are doing in benevolently?

Really Not Too Smart

Matt Yglesius observes:

Watching CNN it’s obvious that the conservative strategy on these indictments is the same old playbook: Slime and defend. Except they can’t slime Patrick Fitzgerald, so instead they’re going to attack … Joe Wilson. But why? Wilson has literally nothing to do with the allegations being made here. Scooter Libby said some things under oath to the grand jury. Some of those things were false. Those are crimes.

Paul Begala completes the thought:

“So now it looks like there are going to go after Joe Wilson, which is what got them in trouble in the first place.”

The Bar They Set

Standards Of Official Conduct

Memorandum
January 20, 2001

MEMORANDUM FOR THE HEADS OF EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES

SUBJECT: Standards of Official Conduct

Everyone who enters into public service for the United States has a duty to the American people to maintain the highest standards of integrity in Government. I ask you to ensure that all personnel within your departments and agencies are familiar with, and faithfully observe, applicable ethics laws and regulations, including the following general principles from the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch:

(1) Public service is a public trust, requiring employees to place loyalty to the Constitution, the laws, and ethical principles above private gain.

(7) Employees shall not use public office for private gain.

(11) Employees shall disclose waste, fraud, abuse, and corruption to appropriate authorities.

(12) Employees shall satisfy in good faith their obligations as citizens, including all just financial obligations, especially those — such as Federal, State, or local taxes — that are imposed by law.

(14) Employees shall endeavor to avoid any actions creating the appearance that they are violating applicable law or the ethical standards in applicable regulations.

Please thank the personnel of your departments and agencies for their commitment to maintain the highest standards of integrity in Government as we serve the American people.

GEORGE W. BUSH

Via Digby.

Recall also that when Bush first spoke about this, he said he would fire anyone involved with the leak of Plame’s name.

Well, here’s Exhibit A:

Indictmentseg

If Bush is at all true to his word and standards, he will fire "Official A".  Just because Fitzgerald wasn’t able to indict "Official A" does not mean Official A should be off the hook from a White House which told the American people it was going to do more than just be legal, but ethical as well.

You hear me, Karl Rove Official A?

Fitzmas

Libby indicted on five counts: (2) perjury, (2) false statement, (1) obstruction of justice.   

Here’s the Libby indictment in case you haven’t already seen it. 

Libby resigns

Fitzgerald says the probe is not over.

But it’s clear that Libby himself was the leaker.  Fitzgerald couldn’t indict him, it seems, because Fitzgerald would have to prove that Libby knew the information was classified at the time he leaked it (mes rea for all you law students).  How do you prove what someone knows?  It’s very hard.

That’s all you need to know for now.

Seriously, don’t try to digest this too fast.  Chew everything 20 times before swallowing.  You are going to be hearing a lot about this everywhere for a long time.

UPDATE:  Okay, I lied.  but Kevin Drum has a really succinct "indictment primer", which I share:

INDICTMENT PRIMER….The two false statement charges are these:

  • Libby told the FBI that Tim Russert told him about Valerie Plame on July 10 or 11. He also told the FBI that he was surprised to hear this from Russert. This was a lie: Russert never told him this, and Libby knew about Plame’s status long before that in any case.

  • Libby told the FBI that he told Matt Cooper on July 12 that reporters had told him about Plame, but Libby didn’t know if it was true. This was a lie: Libby actually confirmed "without qualification" to Cooper that Plame worked for the CIA.

The two perjury charges revolve around the fact that Libby made the same misstatements to the grand jury. The obstruction of justice charge is based on the false statement and perjury charges. Taken together, they amount to obstruction of justice.

Basically, the charges are that Libby consistently tried to mislead both the FBI and the grand jury about how he had learned of Plame’s status. On multiple occasions he told investigators that he had learned about it from reporters in July, but the truth was quite different. In reality, Libby actively sought out information about Joe Wilson’s trip to Niger starting in late May, learned from both State Department and CIA sources in early June that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA, and received the same information from Dick Cheney shortly after that. Libby subsequently discussed Plame with quite a few people within the White House, at one point admitting to his deputy that "there would be complications at the CIA in disclosing that information publicly," an indication that he knew perfectly well that the CIA didn’t want Plame’s status disclosed. He later told Ari Fleischer that the fact that Joe Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA was "not widely known."

Indictment Update

It seems silly to post about indictment rumors today, especially since I’m kind of busy.  So here’s the lowdown — plain and simple.

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. ET to announce his actions resulting from his investigation of the CIA leak.

NBC News says Fitzgerald "is expected to release some documents in the case around 12 p.m. ET. That information may be posted on his website.

I have nothing more to say until then.

Except this. 

I have a response to the already-developing right-wing talking point that "an indictment is not a conviction". 

And that response is: "Wow.  You are soooooo smart."

UPDATE:  And this stupid talking point:

Libby, apparently, will be indicted for being untruthful during the course of the investigation, not for leaking state secrets.

This is likely to be a case of no crime having been committed until there was an investigation.

You mean like Clinton’s perjury, dickhead?  Oh, wait.  I forgot Rule # 1: IOKIYAR.

A Not-So-White Fitzmas?

The New York Times is reporting that Libby will be indicted.  Not Rove.  Certain wingnuts are already claiming victory, or at least taking pleasure in the fact that today was no massacre of the Bush Administration.

Their celebration is way premature, since we still could see some surprises:

Mr. Fitzgerald’s preparations for a Friday announcement were shrouded in secrecy, but advanced amid a flurry of behind-the-scenes discussions that left open the possibility of last-minute surprises. As the clock ticked down on the grand jury, people involved in the investigation did not rule out the disclosure of previously unknown aspects of the case.

Black_knight_1But assuming that it is just Libby who is indicted today, let’s remember that the Watergate grand jury originally handed down indictments for the five burglars, Hunt and Liddy.  And that didn’t end too well for President Nixon, as I recall. 

Moreover, the New York Times notes that Karl Rove will remain under investigation.   That’s right.  The investigation has been extended.

So this is far from over.  In fact, the slow hemorrhaging may prove to be worse for the Republicans in the long run.

UPDATE:  Ann Coulter agrees.  She says a "worst case scenario" is an indictment and a continuing investigation.

Even Karl Rove’s Mistress Is Distancing Herself

Because convicts make crappy boyfriends, I guess:

[S]everal Texas political insiders say Rove’s longtime relationship with lobbyist Karen Johnson may be in jeopardy, too, if Johnson’s relatives have their way.

In July we reported on the very close relationship Johnson, a single, Austin-based lobbyist, has enjoyed with Rove since they met over a decade ago in Texas. But now that Rove’s White House tenure is looking increasingly shaky, friends are whispering that the forty-something lobbyist—who pulls in well over $1 million a year thanks to her administration connections—may be cooling toward the married presidential advisor.

Plamegate Primer

A frequent reader of this blog emails to ask where she can find an unbiased account of what this Plamegate thing is all about. 

Well, Mom, I highly recommend this.  Dig as deep as you like, or browse to get to know the basics. 

Antici-pa-yay-tion Is Making Me Wait

Plamegate Prosecutor Fitzgerald gets more office space.  Doesn’t look like he’s planning on going anywhere soon.  (LATE AFTERNOON UPDATE:  Oops.  The office space story appears to be false.)

The AP reports there will be no announcements today.

Over at TPMCafe, Paul Begala speculates on "What It’s Like" in this White House under seige (having served with Clinton during L’Affaire Lewinsky).  Noting that Bush’s A-Team have all made steady exits (just like the cast of "The West Wing" in Season Six), leaving the Prez with C-level staffers, Begala adds:

And so they wait.  And they sniff the royal throne.  They tell the Beloved Leader he’s the victim of a partisan plot (although how the Bush CIA, which referred the Plame case for prosecution, became ground zero of Democratic liberalism escapes me).  They assure him all is well.  But all is not well.  People are looking over their shoulders.  The smart ones have stopped taking notes in meetings.  The very smart ones have stopped using email for all but the most pedestrian communications.  And the smartest ones have already obtained outside counsel.   

When a White House is under siege, no one wants to talk to anyone.  Literally, anything you say can and will be used against you.  When you’re in a meeting and you see one of your colleagues taking notes, you start to wonder how long it will be before you’re interrogated based on her notes.  Maybe she’s doodling.  Or maybe she’s digging your grave.  The mind tries to focus on the task at hand, but the grand jury is never far from your thoughts.   

Compared to these folks, I had it easy.  I’d never met Monica Lewinsky, had no knowledge of the affair, which took place when I was living in Austin, and I knew that neither I nor any of my colleagues were in Ken Starr’s perverse crosshairs.  The Fitzgerald investigation is very different.  It’s not about the President’s extracurricular activities.  It’s about the essence of how the White House works – and the suggestion that this White House has become deeply corrupt. 

Read the whole thing.

The La Repubblica Revelations

Crooked Timber has the latest.  Key summary:

As best as I can piece this together, the timeline that La Repubblica is arguing for goes as follows. Italian intelligence collected [genuine] information that Hussein was trying to obtain raw uranium at the end of the 1980’s, before the First Gulf War. This information was stored by the branch of Italian intelligence dealing with weapon proliferation issues. When the invasion of Iraq was imminent, this information was brought out from the archives, and bundled together with fake documents in order to make the latter look more legitimate. This dossier was then circulated to UK and US intelligence. The latter didn’t bite at first, causing the director of Italian intelligence to use back channels to Hadley and to Wolfowitz via Ledeen. UK intelligence did bite, either then or later. UK intelligence later claimed that it had a source of intelligence independent from the faked documents saying that Iraq was trying to obtain uranium. However, according to La Repubblica the ‘independent’ source was also from Italian intelligence, and related to efforts by Hussein’s regime to obtain uranium in the 1980’s. Hence, it was for all intents and purposes irrelevant to the question of whether Hussein was trying to obtain uranium in post-sanctions Iraq.

Usual caveats apply — we don’t know how true this is, or what La Repub’s sources are. 

And it begs a very important question:  Why would someone in the Italian intelligence agency want to mislead US and UK intelligence with false information regarding Saddam and Niger?  Were they being "helpful" or "hurtful" to Bush’s interests?  In fact, in whose interest were they acting?

Hindrocket Wins Wanker Of The Day Award, Again

From Is That Legal, via Atrios:

John Hinderaker, yesterday:

Tomorrow may bring indictments of Karl Rove and Scooter Libby on charges that can charitably be described as trivial. Tonight, one of our readers urged us to link to President Bush’s great speech to the Joint Armed Forces Officers’ Wives’ group rather than being distracted by the minutiae of the day. Good suggestion.

John Hinderaker, December 17, 1998:

"Like many others, we have been frustrated by the apparent inability of much of the American public to take the Clinton scandals seriously. "It’s not about sex," we have patiently repeated to our benighted friends. "It’s about perjury. It’s about obstruction of justice. The sex is only incidental. At most it was the motive for the crimes. You wouldn’t think murder was unimportant just because the motive for the murder was sex, would you?" So goes our argument."

Four Questions

The Liberal Avenger points to a wonderful Salon article which asks "four of the biggest questions Fitzgerald’s investigation may be able to answer".  I’ll post the "questions", but seriously, the whole article is worth a read:

Did the vice president’s office put pressure on intelligence analysts in the run-up to war?

Did pressure from the vice president’s office have anything to do with the more aggressive views expressed in the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) or the accompanying "white paper" about Iraq’s weapons threat?

Who forged the Niger documents that purported to show a sales agreement for Uranium with Iraq?

What role did the vice president’s office and the Pentagon play in gathering and disseminating intelligence from sources outside the normal intelligence process?

Inquiring (enquiring?) minds want to know.

Less Than One Hour To Fitzmasday?

Steve Clemons:

An uber-insider source has just reported the following to TWN:

1. 1-5 indictments are being issued. The source feels that it will be towards the higher end.

2. The targets of indictment have already received their letters.

3. The indictments will be sealed indictments and "filed" tomorrow [Wednesday].

4. A press conference is being scheduled for Thursday.

The shoe is dropping.

More soon.

CBS adds some info (via Think Progress):

CBS’ JOHN ROBERTS: Lawyers familiar with the case think Wednesday is when special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will make known his decision, and that there will be indictments. Supporters say Rove and the vice president’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, are in legal jeopardy. But they insisted today the two are secondary players, that it was an unidentified Mr. X who actually gave the name of CIA agent V alerie Plame to reporters. Fitzgerald knows who Mr. X is, they say, and if he isn’t indicted, there’s no way Rove or Libby should be. But charges may not focus on the leak at all. Obstruction of justice or perjury are real possibilities. Did Rove or Libby change statements made under oath? Did they deliberately leave critical facts out of their testimony or did they honestly forget? Some Republicans urged Rove to step down if indicted. Not a happy prospect for president Bush.

Who is "Mr. X"?

SCHIEFFER: John, I am very interested in Mr. X. Is there any clue or hint as to whether he be – maybe someone who outranks Libby and Rove or would he be a lower-ranking official?

ROBERTS: The best guess is that Mr. X, even though his name is not known and some people are just speculating on who he might be or she might be, is somebody who is actually outside the White House, and in that case would be of a lower rank that both Rove and Libby.

My guess:  Bolton.

Chill The Champagne

Raw Story, which has been slightly ahead of the curve on Plamegate these past few weeks (i.e., it seems to have reliable inside information), reports the following:

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has decided to seek indictments in the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson and has submitted at least one to the grand jury, those close to the investigation tell RAW STORY.

Fitzgerald will seek at least two indictments, the sources say. They note that it remains to be seen whether the grand jury will approve the charges.

Those familiar with the case state that Fitzgerald may not seek indictments that assert officials leaked Plame’s name illegally. Rather, they say that he will focus charges in the arena of lying to investigators. The sources said, however, they wouldn’t rule out charges of conspiracy.

The specifics of the charges remain unclear, and they are not final, so charges beyond lying to the grand jury could certainly be handed down.

Any possible indictments are now in the hands of the grand jury. They are expected to be made public later this week.

The Pollari-Hadley Connection

Josh Marshall, not one to give in to hysterics and histrionics, points to an article in today’s Italian Daily La Repubblica — an article which, if accurate, could "rock the foundations of official Washington".

I strongly urge you to read the whole thing, including Josh’s cautionary caveats, but here is the gist:

It’s about the forged Niger/uranium documents.   Back in 2002, the Bush administration wanted to refer to the uranium sales between Iraq and Niger as evidence that Saddam had an active nuclear program.  Unfortunately, the CIA believed then, as they do now, that there was no evidence of a Iraq/Niger sale, and urged Bush to keep it out of a speech in September 2002.

Eventually, Bush did refer to the alleged (attempted) sale of yellowcake to Saddam’s Iraq, in a speech on October 7, 2002.  (It was this reference to the yellowcake sale that prompted Cheney to ask the CIA to check out whether the sale actually took place, which led to Ambassador Joe Wilson going to Africa to investigate on behlaf of the CIA, which led to Joe Wilson publicly reporting that the whole Niger thing was bogus, which led to anger in the halls of the White House, which led to the outting of Wilson’s wife — Valerie Plame — as a CIA agent, which has now led to the Fitzgerald investigation).

But what the Italian newspaper article reveals is that sometime in September 2002, a guy named Nicolo Pollari was trying to pass on documents about the alleged sale to the White House (doing an end run around the CIA).  Nicolo Pollari is not a nobody — he is the head of the Italian military intelligence. 

More importantly, one week before Bush first mentioned the yellowcake sale in his October 7 speech, Pollari met with Stephen Hadley (then deputy advisor for the NSA) to discuss the documents — documents that Pollari knew were forgeries.

So what’s the implication here?  The White House wanted evidence of an Iraqi weapons system, but the CIA was saying there was no evidence of a uranium sale.  So the White House (through Hadley) met with the head of Italian military intelligence, who gave details about the documents relating to a supposed sale, and voila — the White House could now make the claim . . . even knowing that the documents were fake.

Josh Marshall says there is more to this story coming, but it should be up on your radar now.

UPDATE:  Okay, I’m in the thickets on the timeline.  Or Josh is.  Or somebody is.  Kevin Drum writes about the Niger/Iraq documents as well from a different angle but comes to a similar conclusion — that when Bush first mentioned the alleged sale of uranium to Iraq, the White House knew that the information was false.  They knew the year before!

They knew that not only were the Nigerien documents fake, but that they had been proven fake the previous year — though not by Wilson or the IAEA. At that time, everybody thought the timeline went like this: (1) Bush gives SOTU address in January 2003, (2) IAEA proves Nigerien documents are phony in March. That’s bad, but not catastrophic. However, the real timeline, known to only a few, was this: (1) State Department determines Nigerien docs are phony in October 2002, (2) Bush mentions African uranium anyway in January SOTU address.

This blows the whole lid off of the defense that "the Bush Administration was given bad information".  It didn’t.  It (apparently) intentionally used information that it knew was false, avoiding the regular channels of the CIA and the State Department.

This explains why the White House attempted to discredit Joe Wilson — because they thought that Wilson had proof that the White House intentionally mislead the American people by referencing a uranium sale that the White House knew to be bogus.  (The ironic thing is that Joe Wilson didn’t have such proof, but his op-ed piece came dangerously close to exposing it anyway).

P.S.  Kevin posts a helpful "Uraniumgate timeline":

  • February 2002: The CIA receives "verbatim text" from Italian intelligence of some documents claiming that Saddam Hussein had tried to purchase uranium yellowcake from Niger. Joe Wilson goes to Niger to investigate this claim and reports back that it seems highly unlikely.

  • October 2002: State Department intelligence agency (INR) gets an actual copy of the Niger docs and immediately concludes that they’re bogus. However, nobody outside the government knows this.

  • January 2003: George Bush gives SOTU address, claiming that Iraq has sought uranium from Africa.

  • March 2003: IAEA publicly announces the Niger docs are forgeries.

  • May/June 2003: Based on anonymous sourcing from Wilson, Kristof and Pincus report on the Niger story, mistakenly saying that "the envoy" had debunked the docs back in February 2002.

  • July 6, 2003: Wilson publishes his op-ed.

  • July 11, 2003: CIA director George Tenet admits that Bush shouldn’t have included the uranium claim in the SOTU.

UPDATE:  The American Prospect flushes out the details.  Key grafs (with my emphasis):

Although Sismi’s involvement in promoting the Niger yellowcake tale to U.S. and British intelligence has been previously reported, the series in La Repubblica includes many new details, including the name of a specific Sismi officer, Antonio Nucera, who helped to set the Niger forgeries hoax in motion.

What may be most significant to American observers, however, is the newspaper’s allegation that the Italians sent the bogus intelligence about Niger and Iraq not only through traditional allied channels such as the CIA, but seemingly directly into the White House. That direct White House channel amplifies questions about a now-infamous 16-word reference to the Niger uranium in President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address — which remained in the speech despite warnings from the CIA and the State Department that the allegation was not substantiated.

Plamegate Spotlight On Cheney

The New York Times doesn’t quite come out and directly implicate Cheney, but if this is true, it certainly hurts Cheney politically.

I. Lewis Libby Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, first learned about the C.I.A. officer at the heart of the leak investigation in a conversation with Mr. Cheney weeks before her identity became public in 2003, lawyers involved in the case said Monday.

Notes of the previously undisclosed conversation between Mr. Libby and Mr. Cheney on June 12, 2003, appear to differ from Mr. Libby’s testimony to a federal grand jury that he initially learned about the C.I.A. officer, Valerie Wilson, from journalists, the lawyers said.

The notes, taken by Mr. Libby during the conversation, for the first time place Mr. Cheney in the middle of an effort by the White House to learn about Ms. Wilson’s husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, who was questioning the administration’s handling of intelligence about Iraq’s nuclear program to justify the war.

Lawyers involved in the case, who described the notes to The New York Times, said they showed that Mr. Cheney knew that Ms. Wilson worked at the C.I.A. more than a month before her identity was made public and her undercover status was disclosed in a syndicated column by Robert D. Novak on July 14, 2003.

Mr. Libby’s notes indicate that Mr. Cheney had gotten his information about Ms. Wilson from George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, in response to questions from the vice president about Mr. Wilson. But they contain no suggestion that either Mr. Cheney or Mr. Libby knew at the time of Ms. Wilson’s undercover status or that her identity was classified. Disclosing a covert agent’s identity can be a crime, but only if the person who discloses it knows the agent’s undercover status.

It would not be illegal for either Mr. Cheney or Mr. Libby, both of whom are presumably cleared to know the government’s deepest secrets, to discuss a C.I.A. officer or her link to a critic of the administration.

Fitzmas, Fitzmas Time Is Here

RonK at Next Hurrah has some thoughts about Fitzmas, scheduled (most say) to arrive this week:

The goose is cooked, the ox is gored, the chickens are coming home to roost. The kiddies are giddy with visions of sugarplums, marching frogs, TV specials, seasonal trappings and wrappings piled so deep you can’t find the dog in the living room.

Fitzmas is coming — all holidays rolled into one! The extravagance of Mardi Gras plus Thanksgiving plus Boxing Day plus Purim plus Halloween … the weightier meditations and rededications of 4th of July, Yom Kippur, New Year’s Eve, Good Friday, Memorial Day and Pesach (not to mention St. Swithin’s and Groundhog’s Days, with their traditional over-reading of omens).

Most of us celebrate the shallow Fitzmas, a fireworks-and-mincemeat festival of over-indulgence. Sweet revenge, fat targets, overcooked intelligence. Eat, drink and be merry, tomorrow we diet.

But I beg your indulgence for a note of perspective, a look at the deeper meanings of Fitzmas. Sure, the Big Day looms big … until you look at the monumental developments that surround it. Fitzmas is not the beginning nor the end, just one spike in a sawtooth chain of events that lashed back and wrapped around the ankles of reckless vandals who came to DC to tear the town a new one. (They’ll wish they’d stuck with ordinary hatchets.)

For starters, balance your expectations. Anticipation can bring disappointment, especially if you write too much detail into your Fitzmas Wish List.

  • You don’t know who Fitzgerald will indict. I don’t know. He may not know … yet. A target-rich environment means immense discretion, not just in intensity (what to charge, to what degree, for what penalty) but tactical and even stylistic. Who will he turn against whom, and in what sequence? Public ambush, or slow, crushing constriction? Let them plead out and leave in disgrace, or lay out the whole record in formal court?
  • First-round indictments will not be the last. Fitzmas is the first scouring breach of a system of levees that protected a regime sunk below ethical sea level. The first break leads to more breaks in quick succession, followed by slow, desperate struggles for survival … and for status among the ruins.
  • Things take time. The first trophy kills strike fear into the unindicted, who become more malleable. Rats eagerly spill their guts, taking the story in unexpected directions. Whole new scandals may surface. Defensive facades will crumble as reliable retainers desert their posts, and a new generation of prosecutors, journalists and politicians gets the hang of the enterprise.
  • Remember, too, the Joys of Fitzmas could be followed by the agonies of a Saturday Night Massacre or a Parade of Presidential Pardons.

Again, balance. Let’s not obsess on the Plame outing. They nailed Al Capone for tax evasion, but there are bigger crimes afoot. Burning a CIA NOC is only the tip of just one iceberg in a sea of troubles. America has been done real and enduring harm, on monumental scale, and the Plame Affair is a flyspeck in a shitstorm.

Fair enough.

Connecting The Dots

Let’s take two pieces of information, as reported by different people at different times.  Even if you haven’t followed the Plamegate story closely, you can follow this logic:

(1)  Murray Waas in his October 7 article: "In his own interview with prosecutors on June 24, 2004, Bush testified that Rove assured him he had not disclosed Plame as a CIA employee and had said nothing to the press to discredit Wilson, according to sources familiar with the president’s interview."

(2)  Today’s New York Daily News story:  "Bush was initially furious with Rove in 2003 when his deputy chief of staff conceded he had talked to the press about the Plame leak."

Now, either or both assertions (in bold above) could be true . . . or false. 

But here’s the thing.  If they are BOTH TRUE  — that is:

(1) if Rove told Bush "I did it"

AND

(2) if Bush testified that Rove denied doing it…

…then Bush deceived the prosecutors and Grand Jury. 

And that’s what we call "obstruction of justice", my friends.

Granted, there is a lot of wiggle room in both these admittedly threadbare accounts, and both are based on unnamed "inside" sources.  But, nevertheless, it should give the White House pause. 

So if I were Bush — even if I believed I was innocent — I would be talking to my personal lawyer right about now.

Too bad she’s busy cramming for her confirmation hearings.  Heh.

Plamegate: Bush Knew All Along

Remember when the Plame leak scandal broke and Bush reassured the nation that he was going to get to the bottom of it?  Here’s what he said on September 30, 2002:

"I don’t know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I’d like to know it, and we’ll take the appropriate action."

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan explained that "appropriate action" meant "[i]f anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration," adding that Karl Rove had specifically assured McClellan that he was not involved, and that "the President expects his administration to adhere to the highest standards of conduct and the highest ethics."

So Bush didn’t know?  Well, that looks like bullshit.  Bush knew as far back as two years ago about Rove’s involvement, the NY Daily News reveals:

An angry President Bush rebuked chief political guru Karl Rove two years ago for his role in the Valerie Plame affair, sources told the Daily News.

"He made his displeasure known to Karl," a presidential counselor told The News. "He made his life miserable about this."

Bush has nevertheless remained doggedly loyal to Rove, who friends and even political adversaries acknowledge is the architect of the President’s rise from baseball owner to leader of the free world.

So here’s the political math:

"I don’t know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information" = "I did not have sex with that woman".

But here’s the REAL lede.  The President wasn’t angry about the leak; he was angry because they got caught.

Bush has always known that Rove often talks with reporters anonymously and he generally approved of such contacts, one source said.

But the President felt Rove and other members of the White House damage-control team did a clumsy job in their campaign to discredit Plame’s husband, Joseph Wilson, the ex-diplomat who criticized Bush’s claim that Saddam Hussen tried to buy weapons-grade uranium in Niger.

A second well-placed source said some recently published reports implying Rove had deceived Bush about his involvement in the Wilson counterattack were incorrect and were leaked by White House aides trying to protect the President.

"Bush did not feel misled so much by Karl and others as believing that they handled it in a ham-handed and bush-league way," the source said.

But here’s the REAL heavy-duty implication, from Josh Marshall:

Patrick Fitzgerald interviewed President Bush (at least, he was interviewed by his team; I don’t remember whether it was Fitzgerald specifically who conducted it, though I would assume it was. …Still, though, an interview took place and at the top of the list of questions must have been just what happened and what the president knew.

Did President Bush say that he knew Rove was involved? Did he deny it?

Obviously, we have many more questions than answers here. But if President Bush knew about Rove’s role from the beginning, then all of these interviews and grand jury appearances and the almost inevitable contradictions between them become real trouble for the White House.

So could Bush be facing perjury?  Sadly, no.  When Bush was interviewed as part of Fitzgerald’s probe, he was not under oath.  But that does not mean he will avoid legal troubles.  Here’s an arguably relevant statute:

TITLE 18 > PART I > CHAPTER 47 > § 1001

§ 1001. Statements or entries generally

(a) Except as otherwise provided in this section, whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully—
(1) falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact;
(2) makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or
(3) makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry;
shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.
(b) Subsection (a) does not apply to a party to a judicial proceeding, or that party’s counsel, for statements, representations, writings or documents submitted by such party or counsel to a judge or magistrate in that proceeding.
(c) With respect to any matter within the jurisdiction of the legislative branch, subsection (a) shall apply only to—
(1) administrative matters, including a claim for payment, a matter related to the procurement of property or services, personnel or employment practices, or support services, or a document required by law, rule, or regulation to be submitted to the Congress or any office or officer within the legislative branch; or
(2) any investigation or review, conducted pursuant to the authority of any committee, subcommittee, commission or office of the Congress, consistent with applicable rules of the House or Senate.

UPDATE:  Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) writes a letter to Bush, asking him for an explanation.

Plamegate Update: Indictments Really Close?

The latest on the investigation from the New York Times:

The special counsel in the C.I.A. leak case has told associates he has no plans to issue a final report about the results of the investigation, heightening the expectation that he intends to bring indictments, lawyers in the case and law enforcement officials said yesterday.

….By signaling that he had no plans to issue the grand jury’s findings in such detail, Mr. Fitzgerald appeared to narrow his options either to indictments or closing his investigation with no public disclosure of his findings, a choice that would set off a political firestorm.

I have a funny feeling Fitzgerald isn’t about to close up shop.

More from Larry Johnson (ex-CIA) and his blog No Quarter:

Had lunch today with a person who has a direct tie to one of the folks facing indictment in the Plame affair. There are 22 files that Fitzgerald is looking at for potential indictment . These include Stephen Hadley, Karl Rove, Lewis Libby, Dick Cheney, and Mary Matalin (there are others of course). Hadley has told friends he expects to be indicted. No wonder folks are nervous at the White House.

And Rove is clearing his calendar:

Juggling appearances before a grand jury and conservative admirers didn’t seem to make sense, so presidential adviser Karl Rove has canceled three such outings as he waits to hear whether he or anyone else will be indicted in the leak of a CIA officer’s identity.

Rove canceled plans to attend two Republican fund-raisers, the national party confirmed Tuesday. And he did not give his scheduled speech to the conservative Hudson Institute think tank on Oct. 11.

It’s Coming

Tn_storm_clouds2_7180Plamegate is about to bust wide open.  The storm clouds are gathering.

First, there’s this Financial Times story informing that Fitzgerald’s probe has widened.  He’s apparently looking at pre-war intelligence handling, including a majority of the WHIG membership. So the political use of intelligence information has now become a matter of interest for Fitzgerald — especially given that it may have been used as a weapon against the critics of the Administration.

Then, there is the NY Daily News reporting that a "senior cooperating witness" within the WH has flipped and has been helping Fitzgerald. And that all eyes are absolutely on Dick Cheney.

UPDATE:  The Bush turncoat?  It’s John Hannah says the grapevine.  He’s a Cheney aide.

ANOTHER UPDATE:  It really looks like John Hannah.

A CLARIFICATION:  No, not John Hannah, the actor.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE:  WaPo reports that Fitzgerald has “assembled evidence that suggests Cheney’s long-standing tensions with the CIA contributed to the unmasking of operative Valerie Plame,” and reiterates that Cheney was the ringleader of the White House campaign to “convince Congress and the American public that invading Iraq was central to defeating terrorists worldwide. Cheney, a longtime proponent of toppling Saddam Hussein, led the White House effort to build the case that Iraq was an imminent threat because it possessed a dangerous arsenal of weapons.”

AND STILL YET ANOTHER UPDATE:  Rumors of Cheney resignation reach fever pitch

Plamegate – The Latest

Lot of buzz and reaction to Judy Miller and the fact that the name "Valerie Flame" appears in her handwritten notes for a date in which she had a conversation with Scooter Libby.

Most of the invective against Miller is centered around the inescapable fact that she was merely a White House secretary, rather than being an independent reporter.  Well, no duh.

But I’m not going to dwell on this.  Kevin Drum has three interesting posts on the subject. 

In one post he reminds of John Bolton’s man Fred Fleitz as a very probable background player in the drama. And he rightly points to the significance of Miller’s having been told by someone — just who is almost a secondary matter — the name ‘Plame’ rather than simply told that Joe Wilson’s wife worked as a clandestine operative at CIA.

In the second he doubts the now-popular notion that Miller’s attorney Bob Bennett hoodwinked Fitzgerald by getting him to agree to limit his questions to her conversations with Libby.

This last one explains why Miller’s claim not to remember who identified Wilson’s wife as "Plame" is obviously false.

So you can read him, or many others.  I’m staying clear for the time.  Especially since the scuttlebutt is that indictments may be handed down as early as Wednesday.  So speculation about who will be indicted (Rove and Libby?) will finally end.

Plamegate Update

Looks like Fitzgerald is casting a pretty wide net.  That’s the rumors anyway.  And in the wake of it all, there seems to be a power play in the White House — Andrew Card angling to fill Rove’s shoes.  Josh Marshall sums it up:

There are certainly a lot of hints, allegations and murmurs out there tonight, particularly on the bloggier part of the web, about what might be coming down the pike from Patrick Fitzgerald.  My favorite is this snippet from Hardballcaught and excerped on John Aravosis’ AmericaBlog — which has Howard Fineman describing an alleged pre-indictment (political) death struggle pitting Karl Rove against Andy Card.

Gotta love that. Whether it’s true or not, who knows?

In any case, an article (sub.req.) in tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal contains this pleasant sounding sentence: "Mr. Fitzgerald’s pursuit now suggests he might be investigating not a narrow case on the leaking of the agent’s name, but perhaps a broader conspiracy."

And then further down there’s this: "Lawyers familiar with the investigation believe that at least part of the outcome likely hangs on the inner workings of what has been dubbed the White House Iraq Group. Formed in August 2002, the group, which included Messrs. Rove and Libby, worked on setting strategy for selling the war in Iraq to the public in the months leading up to the March 2003 invasion. The group likely would have played a significant role in responding to Mr. Wilson’s claims."

First of all, it did play a big role. That’s where the push back came from.

If this description is accurate, it must have many folks at the White House in cold sweats.

If Karl Rove goes down in this investigation it’ll be a disaster for the president, both in terms of the damage occasioned by such a high-level White House indictment and, frankly, because he needs the guy like most of us need legs.

But this WHIG thing is a whole ‘nother level of hurt.

This group was the organizational team, the core group behind all the shameless crap that went down in the lead up to the Iraq war — the lies about the cooked up Niger story, everything. If Fitzgerald has lassoed this operation into a criminal conspiracy, the veil of protective secrecy in which the whole operation is still shrouded will be pulled back. Depositions and sworn statements in on-going investigations have a way of doing that. Ask Bill Clinton. Every key person in the White House will be touched by it. And all sorts of ugly tales could spill out.

Then, of course, there is the news about Judy Miller’s recently-discovered notes, which make trouble for Scooter Libby:

In two appearances before the federal grand jury investigating the leak of a covert CIA operative’s name, Lewis (Scooter) Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, did not disclose a crucial conversation that he had with New York Times reporter Judith Miller in June 2003 about the operative, Valerie Plame, according to sources with firsthand knowledge of his sworn testimony.

Cheney Days

Sure, the value of Cheney’s Halliburton stock options have increased 3281% in the past year (from $241,498 to over $8,000,000), but it won’t do him much good if this is true:

The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg are working on stories that point to Vice President Dick Cheney as the target of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation into the leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s name. Developing…

UPDATE:  Cheney a no-show at dinner festivities

UPDATE:  Okay, maybe Cheney isn’t in trouble after all…., but it looks like the conspiracy net is still pretty wide.