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

Thursday, April 06, 2006

NATIONAL JOURNAL: Libby Says Bush Authorized Leaks (04/06/2006)

By Murray Waas, National Journal
© National Journal Group Inc.
Thursday, April 6, 2006

Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff has testified that President Bush authorized him to disclose the contents of a highly classified intelligence assessment to the media to defend the Bush administration's decision to go to war with Iraq, according to papers filed in federal court on Wednesday by Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the CIA leak case.

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby testified to a federal grand jury that he had received "approval from the President through the Vice President" to divulge portions of a National Intelligence Estimate regarding Saddam Hussein's purported efforts to develop nuclear weapons, according to the court papers. Libby was said to have testified that such presidential authorization to disclose classified information was "unique in his recollection," the court papers further said.

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.

The White House had no immediate reaction to the court filing.

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.

Bush and Cheney authorized the release of the information regarding the NIE in the summer of 2003, according to court documents, as part of a damage-control effort undertaken only days after former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV alleged in an op-ed in The New York Times that claims by Bush that Saddam Hussein had attempted to procure uranium from the African nation of Niger were most likely a hoax.

According to the court papers, "At some point after the publication of the July 6 Op Ed by Mr. Wilson, Vice President Cheney, [Libby's] immediate supervisor, expressed concerns to [Libby] regarding whether Mr. Wilson's trip was legitimate or whether it was in effect a junket set up by Mr. Wilson's wife."

Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a covert CIA officer at the time, and Cheney, Libby, and other Bush administration officials believed that Wilson's allegations could be discredited if it could be shown that Plame had suggested that her husband be sent on the CIA-sponsored mission to Niger.

Two days after Wilson's op-ed, Libby met with then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller and not only disclosed portions of the NIE, but also Plame's CIA employment and potential role in her husband's trip.

Regarding that meeting, Libby "testified that he was specifically authorized in advance... to disclose the key judgments of the classified NIE to Miller" because Vice President Cheney believed it to be "very important" to do so, the court papers filed Wednesday said. The New York Sun reported the court filing on its Web site early Thursday.

Libby "further testified that he at first advised the Vice President that he could not have this conversation with reporter Miller because of the classified nature of the NIE," the court papers said. Libby "testified that the Vice President had advised [Libby] that the President had authorized [Libby] to disclose relevant portions of the NIE."

Additionally, Libby "testified that he also spoke to David Addington, then counsel to the Vice President, whom [Libby] considered to be an expert in national security law, and Mr. Addington opined that Presidential authorization to publicly disclose a document amounted to a declassification of the document."

Addington succeeded Libby as Cheney's chief of staff after Libby was indicted by a federal grand jury on Oct. 28, 2005 on five counts of making false statements, perjury, and obstruction of justice in attempting to conceal his role in outing Plame as an undercover CIA operative.

Four days after the meeting with Miller, on July 12, 2003, Libby spoke again to Miller, and also for the first time with Time magazine correspondent Matthew Cooper, during which Libby spoke to both journalists about Plame's CIA employment and her possible role in sending her husband to Niger.

Regarding those conversations, Libby understood that the Vice President specifically selected him to "speak to the press in place of Cathie Martin (then the communications person for the Vice President) regarding the NIE and Wilson," the court papers said. Libby also testified, Fitzgerald asserted in the court papers, that "at the time of his conversations with Miller and Cooper, he understood that only three people -- the President, the Vice President and [Libby] -- knew that the key judgments of the NIE had been declassified.

"[Libby] testified in the grand jury that he understood that even in the days following his conversation with Ms. Miller, other key officials-including Cabinet level officials-were not made aware of the earlier declassification even as those officials were pressed to carry out a declassification of the NIE, the report about Wilson's trip and another classified document dated January 24, 2003." It is unclear from the court papers what the January 24, 2003 document might be.

During those very same conversations with the press that day Libby "discussed Ms. Wilson's CIA employment with both Matthew Cooper (for the first time) and Judith Miller (for the third time)," the court papers further said.

Although the special prosecutor's grand jury investigation has not uncovered any evidence that the Vice President encouraged Libby to release information about Plame's covert CIA status, the court papers said that Cheney had "expressed concerns to [Libby] regarding whether Mr. Wilson's trip was legitimate or whether it was in effect a junket set up by Mr. Wilson's wife."

Cheney told investigators that he had learned of Plame's employment by the CIA and her potential role in her husband being sent to Niger by then-CIA director George Tenet, according to people familiar with Cheney's interviews with the special prosecutor.

Tenet has told investigators that he had no specific recollection of discussing Plame or her role in her husband's trip with Cheney, according to people with familiar with his statement to investigators.

Two senior government officials said that Tenet did recall, however, that he made inquiries regarding the veracity of the Niger intelligence information as a result of inquires from both Cheney and Libby. As a result of those inquiries, Tenet then had the CIA conduct a new review of its Niger intelligence, and concluded that there was no evidence that Saddam Hussein had in fact attempted to purchase uranium from Niger or other African nations. Tenet and other CIA officials then informed Cheney, other administration officials, and the congressional intelligence committees of the new findings, the sources said.

Six days after Libby's conversation with Cooper and Miller regarding Plame, on July 18, 2003, the Bush administration formally declassified portions of the NIE on Iraqi weapons programs in an effort to further blunt the damage of Wilson's allegations that the Bush administration misused the faulty Niger intelligence information to make the case to go to war. It is unclear whether the information that Bush and Cheney were said to authorize Libby to disclose was the same information that was formally declassified.

One former senior government official said that both the president and Cheney, in directing Libby to disclose classified information to defend the administration's case to go to war with Iraq and in formally declassifying portions of the NIE later, were misusing the classification process for political reasons.

The official said that while the administration declassified portions of the NIE that would appear exculpatory to the White House, it insisted that a one-page summary of the NIE which would have suggested that the President mischaracterized other intelligence information to go to war remain classified.

As National Journal recently disclosed, the one-page summary of the NIE told Bush that although "most agencies judge" that an Iraqi procurement of aluminum tubes was "related to a uranium enrichment effort", the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the Energy Department's branch "believe that the tubes more likely are intended for conventional weapons."

Despite receiving that assessment, the president stated without qualification in his January 28, 2003, State of the Union address: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production."

The former senior official said in an interview that he believed that the attempt to conceal the contents of the one-page summary were intertwined with the efforts to declassify portions of the NIE and to leak information to the media regarding Plame: "It was part and parcel of the same effort, but people don't see it in that context yet."

Although the court papers filed Wednesday revealed that Libby had testified that Bush and Cheney had authorized him to disclose details of the NIE, two other senior government officials said in interviews that Libby had asserted that Cheney had more broadly authorized him to leak classified information to a number of journalists during the run-up to war with Iraq as part of an administration effort to make the case to go to war.

In another instance, Libby had claimed that Bush authorized Libby to speak to and provide classified information to Washington Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward for "Plan of Attack."

Other former senior government officials said that Bush directed people to assist Woodward in the book's preparation: "There were people on the Seventh Floor [of the CIA] who were told by Tenet to cooperate because the President wanted it done. There were calls to people to by [White House communication director] Dan Bartlett that the President wanted it done, if you were not co-operating. And sometimes the President himself told people that they should co-operate," said one former government official.

It is unclear whether Libby will argue during his upcoming trial that these other authorizations by both the President and Vice President show that he did not engage in misconduct by disclosing Plame's CIA status to reporters, or that he considered these other authorizations giving him broad authority to make other disclosures.

Fitzgerald has apparently avoided questioning Libby, other government officials, and journalists about other potential leaks of classified information to the media, according to attorneys who have represented witnesses to the special prosecutor's probe. Outside legal experts said this might be due to the fact that other authorized leaks might aid Libby's defense, and because Fitzgerald did not want to question reporters about other contacts with Libby because of First Amendment concerns.

In a Feb. 17, 2006 letter to John D. Negroponte, the Director of National Intelligence, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., wrote that he believed that disclosures in Woodward's book damaged national security. "According to [Woodward's} account, he was provided information related to sources and methods, extremely sensitive covert actions, and foreign intelligence liaison services."

Woodward's book contains, for example, a detailed account of a January 25, 2003 briefing that Libby provided to senior White House staff to make the case that Saddam Hussein had aggressive programs underway to develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.

Two former government officials said in interviews that the account provided sensitive intelligence information that had not been cleared for release. The book referred to intercepts by the National Security Agency of Iraqi officials that purportedly showed that Iraq was engaging in weapons of mass destruction program.

Much of the information presented by Libby at the senior White House staff meeting was later discarded by then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and then-CIA Director George Tenet as unreliable, and would not have either otherwise been made public.

One former senior official said: "They [the leakers] might have tipped people to our eavesdropping capacities, and other serious sources and methods issues. But to what end? The information was never presented to the public because it was bunk in the first place."

In the letter to Negroponte, Sen. Rockefeller complained: "I [previously] wrote both former Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) George Tenet and Acting DCI John McLaughlin seeking to determine what steps were being taken to address the appalling disclosures in [Woodward's book]. The only response that I received was to indicate that the leaks had been authorized by the Administration."

Bush Authorized Leak to Times, Libby Told Grand Jury - April 6, 2006 - The New York Sun - NY News

New York Sun Web Exclusive

By JOSH GERSTEIN - Staff Reporter of the Sun
April 6, 2006 updated 9:02 am EDT

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.

The court papers from the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, do not suggest that Mr. Bush violated any law or rule. However, the new disclosure could be awkward for the president because it places him, for the first time, directly in a chain of events that led to a meeting where prosecutors contend the identity of a CIA employee, Valerie Plame, was provided to a reporter.

Mr. Fitzgerald's inquiry initially focused on the alleged leak, which occurred after a former ambassador who is Ms. Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times questioning the accuracy of statements Mr. Bush made about Iraq's nuclear procurement efforts in Africa.

No criminal charges have been brought for the leak itself, but Mr. Libby, a former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, was indicted in October on charges that he obstructed the investigation, perjured himself in front of the grand jury, and lied to FBI agents who interviewed him. Mr. Libby, who resigned from the White House and pleaded not guilty, is scheduled to go on trial in January 2007.

In a court filing late Wednesday responding to requests from Mr. Libby's attorneys for government records that might aid his defense, Mr. Fitzgerald shed new light on Mr. Libby's claims that he was authorized to provide sensitive information to the Times reporter, Judith Miller, at a meeting on July 8, 2003.

"Defendant testified that he was specifically authorized in advance of the meeting to disclose the key judgments of the classified NIE to Miller on that occasion because it was thought that the NIE was Ôpretty definitive' against what Ambassador Wilson had said and that the vice president thought that it was Ôvery important' for the key judgments of the NIE to come out," Mr. Fitzgerald wrote.

Mr. Libby is said to have testified that "at first" he rebuffed Mr. Cheney's suggestion to release the information because the estimate was classified. However, according to the vice presidential aide, Mr. Cheney subsequently said he got permission for the release directly from Mr. Bush. "Defendant testified that the vice president later advised him that the president had authorized defendant to disclose the relevant portions of the NIE," the prosecution filing said.

Mr. Libby told the grand jury that he also sought the advice of the legal counsel to the vice president, David Addington, who indicated that Mr. Bush's permission to disclose the estimate "amounted to a declassification of the document," according to the new court papers.

One of the facts Mr. Libby said he planned to disclose to Ms. Miller was that the estimate, produced in October 2002, concluded that Iraq was "vigorously trying to procure uranium." This contention was sharply at odds with Mr. Wilson's op-ed piece which argued there was no evidence of such a procurement effort, at least on a trip he took to Africa at the CIA's request.

Mr. Bush's alleged instruction to release the conclusions of the intelligence estimate appears to have been squarely within his authority and Mr. Fitzgerald makes no argument that it was illegal. While Mr. Libby said he gave that information "exclusively" to the Times reporter at their breakfast meeting at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, many of the findings of the estimate were formally declassified and discussed at a White House press briefing ten days later, on July 18, 2003.

The court papers filed by Mr. Fitzgerald do not make clear whether Mr. Bush knew the disclosure was destined for Ms. Miller, though they indicate Mr. Cheney knew that fact. Mr. Libby is also said to have testified that five days late Mr. Cheney authorized the release to the press of information about a cable about Mr. Wilson's strip.

Messrs. Bush and Cheney have been interviewed by Mr. Fitzgerald and his staff, but it is not known how their accounts of the events compared to that of Mr. Libby.

In an interview with Fox News in February, Mr. Cheney, who has a reputation for secrecy, acknowledged that he has sometimes pressed for the official release of classified records.

"I've certainly advocated declassification and participated in declassification decisions," he said.

Asked if he had ever "unilaterally" declassified material, Mr. Cheney replied, "I don't want to get into that. There is an executive order that specifies who has classification authority, and obviously focuses first and foremost on the president, but also includes the vice president."

While prosecutors initially said Mr. Libby was the first government official to disclose Ms. Plame's identity, it subsequently emerged that a Washington Post reporter, Bob Woodward, learned earlier about her CIA employment from another government official. Neither Mr. Woodward nor Ms. Miller wrote about Ms. Plame at the time. Another journalist, Robert Novak, first disclosed the employment of Mr. Wilson's wife in a syndicated column released on July 14, 2003. The columnist based his story on interviews with Mr. Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, and another official who has not been officially identified.

Prosecutors argued that Mr. Libby covered up his role in the disclosures because "he knew the White House had publicly staked its credibility on there being no White House involvement in the leaking of information about Ms. Wilson." They also noted that Mr. Bush publicly declared he would fire anyone found to have leaked classified information.

The new court filing quotes from handwritten suggestions Mr. Libby gave to the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, urging the spokesman to proclaim the vice presidential aide's innocence with the same vigor that the press secretary previously denounced as "ridiculous" suggestions that Mr. Rove might have had a hand in leaking Ms. Plame's identity.

Mr. Libby's note, as typed up by the prosecution, reads like a stanza of verse:

"People have made too much of the difference in
How I described Karl and Libby
I've talked to Libby.
I said it was ridiculous about Karl
And it is ridiculous about Libby.
Libby was not the source of the Novak story.
And he did not leak classified information."

Mr. McClellan did not adopt the talking points verbatim, but did tell reporters later that Messrs. Rove and Libby "assured me that they were not involved in this."

Mr. Rove has not been charged with a crime, but remains under investigation by Mr. Fitzgerald's office.