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

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Cheney disclosure may be a defense for indicted aide | �

WASHINGTON — Vice President Dick Cheney disclosed Wednesday that he has the power to declassify sensitive government information, authority that could set up a criminal defense for his former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
Cheney's disclosure comes a week after reports that Libby testified under oath he was authorized by superiors in 2003 to disclose highly sensitive prewar information to reporters. The information, about Iraq and alleged weapons of mass destruction, was used by the Bush administration to bolster its case for invading Iraq.
At the time of Libby's contacts with reporters in June and July 2003, the administration including Cheney, who was among the war's most ardent proponents, faced growing criticism. No weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq, and Bush supporters were anxious to show that the White House had relied on prewar intelligence projecting a strong threat from such weapons.
When Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald revealed Libby's assertions to a grand jury that he had been authorized by his superiors to spread sensitive information, the prosecutor did not specify which superiors.
But in an interview on Fox News Channel, Cheney said there is an executive order that gives the vice president, along with the president, the authority to declassify information.
"I have certainly advocated declassification. I have participated in declassification decisions," Cheney said. Asked for details, he said, "I don't want to get into that. There's an executive order that specifies who has classification authority, and obviously it focuses first and foremost on the president, but also includes the vice president."
Cheney added a ringing endorsement of Libby.
"Scooter is entitled to the presumption of innocence," said Cheney. "He is a great guy. I worked with him for a long time. I have tremendous regard for him. I may well be called as a witness at some point in the case, and it is therefore inappropriate for me to comment on any facet of the case."
Libby is not charged with leaking classified information, and Libby's lawyers said last week there was no truth to a published report that Libby's lawyers had advised the court or prosecutors that he will raise a defense based on authorization by superiors.
Former Whitewater independent counsel Robert Ray said Libby could point to authorization from his superiors as part of his strategy at trial.
"If it turns out that Cheney was actively involved in decisions related to the disclosure of a CIA officer's identity and if the truth of it is that he was orchestrating the disclosure of information to the media, it seems to me that's a fundamentally different case than one centered around the activities of Libby," said Ray.


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