News and events revolving around the ousting of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Libby Wasn't Ordered to Leak Name, Papers Say

In grand jury testimony two years ago, former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby did not assert that President Bush or Vice President Cheney instructed him to disclose the name of CIA officer Valerie Plame to reporters as part of an effort to rebut criticism of the Iraq war, Libby's lawyers said in a court filing late yesterday.

A court filing last week by the special federal prosecutor investigating the disclosure of Plame's identity had highlighted the fact that Bush and Cheney ordered Libby to disclose details of a previously classified intelligence report as part of an effort to rebut criticism by her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV. This disclosure provoked speculation that Bush or Cheney had instructed Libby to disclose Plame's identity.

But the lawyers asserted that White House documents outlining what Libby was to say in conversations with reporters did not mention Plame's name. They said this supports Libby's contention that he did not participate in a campaign to damage Wilson by disclosing Plame's CIA employment or in a coverup of the episode.

The statement that Libby did not link Bush and Cheney to the disclosure of Plame's name during his 2004 grand jury testimony is meant to bolster Libby's contention that no conspiracy existed to make selective disclosures to undermine a key administration critic, as some in Washington have charged.

Libby, Cheney's former chief of staff, was indicted last year for allegedly lying to the FBI and a grand jury when he said he had not known, that the CIA employed Plame and had not told reporters that. Wilson had traveled to Niger at the CIA's behest to look into allegations that Iraq was trying to obtain nuclear weapons materials there.

After Wilson's return, he wrote a newspaper article in July 2003 disputing those claims and accusing the administration of twisting intelligence "to exaggerate the Iraqi threat."

The article set off an intense effort by the Bush administration to rebut the criticism by documenting its anxieties about Iraqi intentions, partly by leaking -- at the instruction of Bush and Cheney -- details from a classified, October 2002 intelligence estimate about Iraq.

Libby was a key player in the effort, and met privately with a few reporters who later were subpoenaed by Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald, who was assigned in December 2003 with finding out who leaked Plame's name. Several of the reporters told Fitzgerald that Libby not only discussed the intelligence estimate but also mentioned Plame's employment.

According to the indictment, Libby told several reporters that Wilson's trip was requested by Plame. Fitzgerald, in his court filing last week, said the motive for leaking this information was to undermine Wilson's credibility by making it seem as if he "received the assignment [to visit Niger] on account of nepotism."

Libby's court filing yesterday was the latest salvo in his battle to gain access to a wide range of information held by the administration and by government investigators about Wilson's trip to Niger, and about other officials' statements to reporters regarding Wilson and Plame.

Libby has said he needs these documents partly to prepare for expected testimony at his trial by current and former senior administration officials, who Libby says were also aware of Plame's employment. Yesterday's filing also noted Libby's suspicion that one of those, former CIA director George J. Tenet -- who directed the agency when it lodged a formal complaint to the Justice Department over the leak of Plame's name -- had a "bias against Mr. Libby." The suspicion appears to stem in part from past disagreements between the CIA and Cheney's office over the credibility of the White House's alarm about Iraq.

Libby has said the documents will show that Plame's employment was a peripheral matter in his conversations with others, and that thus he had good reason to forget precisely what he said to reporters about it. "He testified to the grand jury unequivocally that he did not understand Ms. Wilson's employment by the CIA to be classified information," the new court filing states.

Libby's legal team complained that he had received less than 10 percent of Fitzgerald's investigative file, a document production it called "exceptionally meager." It also said the case is complex and described as "a fairy tale" the government's assertion that it involves only false statements by Libby.

In his April 5 filing, Fitzgerald urged the court to dismiss Libby's demand for information about leaks to reporters by other government officials, on the grounds that what really counts in the case against Libby are the actions taken by him and "the discrete number of persons with and for whom he worked." Anything occurring outside those White House offices, Fitzgerald said, is "a irrelevant distraction from the issues of the case."

Although he pointedly said he was not accusing Libby of involvement in a White House conspiracy against Wilson and Plame, Fitzgerald said the evidence he had accumulated demonstrated that "multiple people" there wanted to repudiate Wilson's criticisms.

In light of the grand jury testimony, Fitzgerald said, "it is hard to conceive of what evidence there could be that would disprove the existence of White House efforts to 'punish' Wilson."

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Prosecutor in CIA Leak Case Corrects Part of Court Filing

The federal prosecutor overseeing the indictment of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, yesterday corrected an assertion in an earlier court filing that Libby had misrepresented the significance placed by the CIA on allegations that Iraq attempted to buy uranium from Niger.

Last week, Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald wrote that, in conversation with former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, Libby described the uranium story as a "key judgment" of the CIA's 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, a term of art indicating there was consensus within the intelligence community on that issue. In fact, the alleged effort to buy uranium was not among the estimate's key judgments and was listed further back in the 96-page, classified document.

In a letter to U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, Fitzgerald wrote yesterday that he wanted to "correct" the sentence that dealt with the issue in a filing he submitted last Wednesday. That sentence said Libby "was to tell Miller, among other things, that a key judgment of the NIE held that Iraq was 'vigorously trying to procure' uranium."

Instead, the sentence should have conveyed that Libby was to tell Miller some of the key judgments of the NIE "and that the NIE stated that Iraq was 'vigorously trying to procure' uranium."

Libby is not charged with misportraying or leaking classified information. He was indicted last year for allegedly lying to the FBI and a grand jury about what he said to reporters. The indictment came as part of Fitzgerald's investigation into who leaked to the media the name of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame, whose husband became a public critic of the Bush administration's case for the Iraq war

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

With One Filing, Prosecutor Puts Bush in Spotlight - New York Times

WASHINGTON, April 10 — From the early days of the C.I.A. leak investigation in 2003, the Bush White House has insisted there was no effort to discredit Joseph C. Wilson IV, the man who emerged as the most damaging critic of the administration's case that Saddam Hussein was seeking to build nuclear weapons.

But now White House officials, and specifically President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, have been pitched back into the center of the nearly three-year controversy, this time because of a prosecutor's court filing in the case that asserts there was "a strong desire by many, including multiple people in the White House," to undermine Mr. Wilson.

The new assertions by the special prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, have put administration officials on the spot in a way they have not been for months, as attention in the leak case seems to be shifting away from the White House to the pretrial procedural skirmishing in the perjury and obstruction charges against Mr. Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby Jr.

Mr. Fitzgerald's filing talks not of an effort to level with Americans but of "a plan to discredit, punish or seek revenge against Mr. Wilson." It concludes, "It is hard to conceive of what evidence there could be that would disprove the existence of White House efforts to 'punish Wilson.' "

With more filings expected from Mr. Fitzgerald, the prosecutor's work has the potential to keep the focus on Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney at a time when the president is struggling with his lowest approval ratings since he took office.

Even on Monday, Mr. Bush found himself in an uncomfortable spot during an appearance at a Johns Hopkins University campus in Washington, when a student asked him to address Mr. Fitzgerald's assertion that the White House was seeking to retaliate against Mr. Wilson.

Mr. Bush stumbled as he began his response before settling on an answer that sidestepped the question. He said he had ordered the formal declassification of the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq in July 2003 because "it was important for people to get a better sense for why I was saying what I was saying in my speeches" about Iraq's efforts to reconstitute its weapons program.

Mr. Bush said nothing about the earlier, informal authorization that Mr. Fitzgerald's court filing revealed. The prosecutor described testimony from Mr. Libby, who said Mr. Bush had told Mr. Cheney that it was permissible to reveal some information from the intelligence estimate, which described Mr. Hussein's efforts to acquire uranium.

But on Monday, Mr. Bush was not talking about that. "You're just going to have to let Mr. Fitzgerald complete his case, and I hope you understand that," Mr. Bush said. "It's a serious legal matter that we've got to be careful in making public statements about it."

Every prosecutor strives not just to prove a case, but also to tell a compelling story. It is now clear that Mr. Fitzgerald's account of what was happening in the White House in the summer of 2003 is very different from the Bush administration's narrative, which suggested that Mr. Wilson was seen as a minor figure whose criticisms could be answered by disclosing the underlying intelligence upon which Mr. Bush relied.

It turned out that much of the information about Mr. Hussein's search for uranium was questionable at best, and that it became the subject of dispute almost as soon as it was included in the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq.

The answer to the question of whose recounting of events is correct — Mr. Bush's or Mr. Fitzgerald's — may not be known for months or years, if ever. But it seems there will be more clues, including some about the conversations between Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney.

Mr. Fitzgerald said he was preparing to turn over to Mr. Libby 1,400 pages of handwritten notes — some presumably in Mr. Libby's own hand — that could shed light on two very different efforts at getting out the White House story.

One effort — the July 18 declassification of the major conclusions of the intelligence estimate — was taking place in public, while another, Mr. Fitzgerald argues, was happening in secret, with only Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney and Mr. Libby involved.

Last week's court filing has already led the White House to acknowledge, over the weekend, that Mr. Bush ordered the selective disclosure of parts of the intelligence estimate sometime in late June or early July. But administration officials insist that Mr. Bush played a somewhat passive role and did so without selecting Mr. Libby, or anyone else, to tell the story piecemeal to a small number of reporters.

But in one of those odd twists in the unpredictable world of news leaks, neither of the reporters Mr. Libby met, Bob Woodward of The Washington Post or Judith Miller, then of The New York Times, reported a word of it under their own bylines. In fact, other reporters working on the story were talking to senior officials who were warning that the uranium information in the intelligence estimate was dubious at best.

Mr. Fitzgerald did not identify who took part in the White House effort to argue otherwise, but the evidence he has cited so far shows that Mr. Cheney's office was the epicenter of concern about Mr. Wilson, the former ambassador sent to Niger by the C.I.A. to determine what deal, if any, Mr. Hussein had struck there.

Throughout the spring and early summer of 2003, Mr. Fitzgerald concluded, the former ambassador had become an irritant to the administration, raising doubts about the truthfulness of assertions — made publicly by Mr. Bush in his State of the Union address in January of that year — that Iraq might have sought uranium in Africa to further its nuclear ambitions.

Mr. Wilson's criticisms culminated in a July 6, 2003, Op-Ed article in The Times in which he voiced the same doubts for the first time on the record. He cited as his evidence his 2002 trip to Niger, instigated, he said, because of questions raised by Mr. Cheney's office.

Mr. Wilson's article, Mr. Fitzgerald said in the filing, "was viewed in the Office of the Vice President as a direct attack on the credibility of the vice president (and the president) on a matter of signal importance: the rationale for the war in Iraq."

Mr. Fitzgerald suggested that the White House effort was a "plan" to undermine Mr. Wilson.

"Disclosing the belief that Mr. Wilson's wife sent him on the Niger trip was one way for defendant to contradict the assertion that the vice president had done so, while at the same time undercutting Mr. Wilson's credibility if Mr. Wilson were perceived to have received the assignment on account of nepotism," Mr. Fitzgerald's filing said.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Libby case damages Bush administration

By Caroline Danielin Washington
Published: April 10 2006 03:00 | Last updated: April 10 2006 03:00

Usually historians wait decades to get the inside accounts of what happens at the heart of the US government, but the legal skirmishes between lawyers representing Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the vice-president's former chief-of-staff, and Patrick Fitzgerald, special prosecutor, are proving unusually revealing and damaging to the administration.

Last week, attention focused on a claim in one of the legal filings that President George W. Bush had authorised Mr Libby to leak parts of the national intelligence estimates (NIE), to build the case for war in Iraq. Although Mr Bush has the legal power to declassify documents, the revelation made his own assault on leaks look like hypocrisy.

The issue shows no sign of going away, with one prominent Republican, Senator Arlen Specter, yesterday calling on Mr Bush and Dick Cheney, vice-president, to "tell the American people exactly what happened".

Mr Fitzgerald's legal response on Thursday to Mr Libby's effort to obtain thousands of government documents also provided further evidence of the internecine battles within the administration and confirmed there was a wider White House effort to discredit Joe Wilson, the diplomat who investigated whether Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger.

Mr Libby has been charged with obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements to federal investigators in connection with the inquiry into the leaking of information about Valerie Plame, a CIA agent and Mr Wilson's wife. Mr Libby's lawyers have sought to broaden the case to suggest that the leaking of Ms Plame's name was a "peripheral issue" in the context of the broader debate about the Iraq war.

On several occasions the filing confirms that other administration officials remain under scrutiny. Although Mr Fitzgerald said he did not intend to call Karl Rove, Mr Bush's chief political strategist, to give testimony in Mr Libby's trial, he remains under investigation alongside other aides.

Combating Mr Libby's demand for documents that he claimed prove he was not part of a wider White House effort, Mr Fitzgerald notes: "As a practical matter, there are no documents showing the absence of a plot, and it is unclear how any document custodian would set out to find documents showing an 'absence of a plot'."

The filing also exposes the secretive world inside the administration, with the vice-president's office keeping secrets from Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser.

One surreal appendix refers to Mr Libby's leaking of the pre-war intelligence on Iraq. "[The] defendant fails to mention that he consciously decided not to make Mr Hadley aware of the fact that the defendant himself had already been disseminating the NIE by leaking it to reporters while Mr Hadley sought to get it formally declassified."

Disagreements between the vice-president's office and the State Department are also echoed in the filing. Mr Libby's lawyers suggest that testimony from Marc Grossman, former undersecretary, may be biased by "his concern for the institutional interests of the State Department".

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Senator Asks Bush, Cheney for Explanation -

President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney should speak publicly about their involvement in the CIA leak case so people can understand what happened, a leading Republican senator said Sunday.

"We ought to get to the bottom of it so it can be evaluated by the American people," said Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In a federal court filing last week, the prosecutor in the case said Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, testified before a grand jury that he was authorized by Bush, through Cheney, to leak information from a classified document that detailed intelligence agencies' conclusions about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

A lawyer knowledgeable about the case said Saturday that Bush declassified sensitive intelligence in 2003 and authorized its public disclosure to rebut Iraq war critics, but he did not specifically direct that Libby be the one to disseminate the information.

"I think it is necessary for the president and vice president to tell the American people exactly what happened," Specter told "Fox News Sunday."

"There's been enough of a showing that the president of the United States owes a specific explanation to the American people ... about exactly what he did," Specter said.

Libby faces trial, likely in January, on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice for allegedly lying to the grand jury and investigators about what he told reporters about CIA officer Valerie Plame.

Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald did not say in the filing that Cheney authorized Libby to leak Plame's identity, and Bush is not accused of doing anything illegal.

The investigation is looking into whether Plame's identify was disclosed to discredit her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, an Iraq war critic. Wilson had accused the administration of twisting prewar intelligence to exaggerate the threat from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Wilson said Sunday that Bush and Cheney should release transcripts of their interviews with Fitzgerald.

"It seems to me that first and foremost, the White House needs to come clean on this matter," Wilson said on ABC's "This Week." "My own view of this is that the White House owes the American people and particularly our service people who have been sent into war, an apology for having misrepresented the facts."

The lawyer knowledgeable about the case said Bush instructed Cheney to "get it out" and left the details about disseminating the intelligence to him. The lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case for the White House, said Cheney chose Libby and communicated the president's wishes to his then-top aide.

It is not known when the conversation between Bush and Cheney took place. The White House has declined to provide the date when the president used his authority to declassify the portions of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate.

"There has to be a detailed explanation as to precisely what Vice President Cheney did, what the president said to him and an explanation by the president as to what he said," Specter said.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Disclosures Are Called Unrelated To Plame Case

The revelation of former White House official I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's involvement in authorized disclosures of sensitive intelligence information does not undermine Libby's contention that he innocently forgot about conversations he may have had with reporters regarding covert CIA operative Valerie Plame, Libby's attorney said yesterday.

The lawyer, William Jeffress, was responding to allegations by Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald in a court filing Wednesday that President Bush authorized Libby to disclose classified intelligence information on Iraq to a reporter. That was done, Fitzgerald alleged, because an angry White House was seeking to discredit Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, who claimed in a July 2003 newspaper article that the administration had deliberately distorted intelligence about Iraq.

Libby, Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, was indicted last October on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice for allegedly lying to a grand jury and investigators about his conversations with reporters that mentioned Plame's name. Jeffress argued that the information in Fitzgerald's filing is irrelevant to Libby's defense: that he forgot about those conversations as he dealt with crucial national security issues.

Jeffress said Fitzgerald's revelation about Libby's disclosure of information from a CIA National Intelligence Estimate "is a complete sidelight" to his accusation that Libby deliberately lied. "It's got nothing to do with Wilson's wife," Jeffress said in a brief interview, adding that Libby continues to expect to be exonerated at trial.

Fitzgerald said in Wednesday's court papers that Libby secretly divulged sensitive information to reporters drawn from the previously classified NIE about Iraq -- and that Cheney told him Bush had declassified the information and authorized the effort.

Fitzgerald's filing was meant specifically to undermine Libby's claim that the issue of the CIA's employment of Plame was of "peripheral" interest to Libby at the time. He said in the filing that leaks regarding Plame were meant to embarrass Wilson by suggesting his wife had organized a CIA-sponsored trip by Wilson to probe Iraq's alleged purchase of nuclear material -- in short, to suggest his trip resulted from nepotism.

Fitzgerald argued, in essence, that the White House effort to rebut Wilson's criticism was so intense, and so preoccupying, that Libby could not have forgotten what he said about Plame. Fitzgerald also noted that Plame's employment was specifically raised as a relevant matter by Cheney, who had directed Libby to disclose information from the NIE.

Lawyers who have been closely following the case offered contrasting views of the impact Fitzgerald's allegations would have on Libby's defense.

Republican lawyer and former federal prosecutor Joseph E. diGenova said "it is not material in any way to what he charged, which is perjury." But Richard A. Sauber, a lawyer who represents Time magazine's Matthew Cooper, one of the reporters who wrote about Plame after talking to Libby, said "the whole thing undercuts Libby's defense that he was too busy on other things" to recall the Plame matter.

"You cannot say that it is unimportant and something you forgot" when the president and vice president were directly involved in a related issue, Sauber said.

The filing also posed challenges yesterday for White House spokesman Scott McClellan, who struggled to reconcile conflicting statements he made about whether and when the government had declassified the sensitive intelligence information at issue.

According to Fitzgerald, Libby testified before a grand jury that President Bush and Cheney authorized the release of that information shortly before Libby's meeting with New York Times reporter Judith Miller on July 8, 2003. The information was drawn from the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate prepared by the CIA about Iraq's interest in weapons of mass destruction.

But 10 days later, McClellan told reporters at the White House that the estimate had been "officially declassified today" -- July 18, 2003 -- making no mention of the earlier declassification that Libby described in his sworn testimony. If that statement was correct, reporters pointed out, then the material was still classified at the time Libby disclosed it.

McClellan yesterday declined to give a detailed explanation for the contradiction, explaining that the White House never comments on pending investigations. But he also tried to clarify his 2003 remarks to reporters, stating that what he meant on July 18 of that year when he said the material had been declassified that day was that it was "officially released" that day.

"I think that's what I was referring to at the time," he said.

McClellan said he would not comment directly on the report that Bush declassified intelligence data to rebut a war critic, but he insisted the president has the constitutional right to do so. He also said the White House draws a distinction between leaking classified information that jeopardizes U.S. sources, methods and lives and disclosing sensitive information "when it is in the public interest."

One former administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing political strategy, said rebutting Wilson and other critics was an obsession of Cheney, Libby and many others then inside the Bush White House. Other officials said there were frequent discussions about declassifying information to buttress the Bush argument for war. In several cases, this resulted in release of such information, but only after it went through the usual declassification process.

The declassification divulged by Fitzgerald was unusual, the prosecutor said. Libby testified that he understood that only three officials -- Bush, Cheney and Libby -- knew about it. No one outside the White House was consulted.

Libby also leaked information from the National Intelligence Estimate to Bob Woodward of The Washington Post prior to the date that the White House said it was officially declassified. In sworn testimony, Woodward told Fitzgerald that on June 27, 2003 -- 11 days before the Libby-Miller conversation -- Libby told him about the CIA estimate and an Iraqi effort to obtain "yellowcake" uranium in Africa, according to a statement Woodward released on Nov. 14, 2005.

In an interview, Woodward said his notes, which were not released publicly but were shown to Fitzgerald, included Libby using the word "vigorous" to describe the Iraqi effort. Libby used similar language when he provided the NIE information Bush declassified to Miller at their July 8, 2003, meeting, according to Fitzgerald's filing.

The precise status of the information at the time Libby provided it to Woodward is unclear because of conflicting accounts of the declassification process provided by Libby and McClellan. Fitzgerald's court filing does not provide the date when Bush and Cheney -- who have both been interviewed by the special prosecutor -- said they authorized Libby's disclosures.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Experts: Tactic Would Be Legal but Unusual

By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 7, 2006; A08

Legal experts say that President Bush had the unquestionable authority to approve the disclosure of secret CIA information to reporters, but they add that the leak was highly unusual and amounted to using sensitive intelligence data for political gain.

"It is a question of whether the classified National Intelligence Estimate was used for domestic political purposes," said Jeffrey H. Smith, a Washington lawyer who formerly served as general counsel for the CIA.

In court papers filed Wednesday, Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald said I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, has testified that Cheney told him that Bush had authorized the leak of secret information from the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq in the summer of 2003. Fitzgerald's court filing portrays the leak as part of an effort to discredit former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, who contended in a newspaper column that intelligence about Iraq's nuclear weapons program was distorted in the run-up to the U.S. invasion.

The court filing says that Libby, who is fighting perjury and obstruction-of-justice charges in connection with the leak investigation, was concerned about the legality of sharing classified information with reporters. But he was assured by David S. Addington, who then served as counsel to Cheney, that presidential authorization to disclose the information amounted to declassification.

Experts said the power to classify and declassify documents in the federal government flows from the president and is often delegated down the chain of command. In March 2003, Bush signed an executive order delegating declassification authority to Cheney.

Libby understood that only he, Bush and Cheney knew of the declassification when Libby held his first conversation with a reporter in July 2003, the court papers show.

In one telling footnote in the filing, Fitzgerald notes that even after Bush authorized the dissemination of the intelligence data, then-White House deputy national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley was "active in discussions about the need to declassify and disseminate" the information.

"There is an institutional interest and ultimately a public interest in having these decisions documented," said Ronald D. Lee, a Washington lawyer and former general counsel to the super-secret National Security Agency. "You can't have a government where everything is sort of done in people's heads."