As he drew back the curtain this week on the evidence against Vice President Cheney's former top aide, Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald for the first time described a "concerted action" by "multiple people in the White House" -- using classified information -- to "discredit, punish or seek revenge against" a critic of President Bush's war in Iraq.
Bluntly and repeatedly, Fitzgerald placed Cheney at the center of that campaign. Citing grand jury testimony from the vice president's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Fitzgerald fingered Cheney as the first to voice a line of attack that at least three White House officials would soon deploy against former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV.
Declassified Evidence Cheney and Libby Used To "Discredit Wilson" Had Already Been Disproven
One striking feature of that decision -- unremarked until now, in part because Fitzgerald did not mention it -- is that the evidence Cheney and Libby selected to share with reporters had been disproved months before.
United Nations inspectors had exposed the main evidence for the uranium charge as crude forgeries in March 2003, but the Bush administration and British Prime Minister Tony Blair maintained they had additional, secret evidence they could not disclose. In June, a British parliamentary inquiry concluded otherwise, delivering a scathing critique of Blair's role in promoting the story. With no ally left, the White House debated whether to abandon the uranium claim and became embroiled in bitter finger-pointing about whom to fault for the error. A legal brief filed for Libby last month said that "certain officials at the CIA, the White House, and the State Department each sought to avoid or assign blame for intelligence failures relating to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction."
It was at that moment that Libby, allegedly at Cheney's direction, sought out at least three reporters to bolster the discredited uranium allegation. Libby made careful selections of language from the 2002 estimate, quoting a passage that said Iraq was "vigorously trying to procure uranium" in Africa.
So let's get this straight. Libby, Cheney, and Bush secretly declassify information they know is wrong, so they can convince reporters to use it to discredit Joseph Wilson whom is saying correctly that it's wrong.
But, ironically, this plan has ended up causing unprecedented damage to the to the credibility of Bush, Cheney, Libby, the White House, and the American government.
Now, it becomes clear why neither Bush, Cheney, or Libby informed anyone else in the intelligence community about this selective "declassification," It's ridiculous. Now that we know this information is false, let's declassify it and tell reporters that its true, they can help discredit Joseph Wilson who correctly says it false. And now that the truth about it this comes out, it ends up discrediting the Bush administration.
More Shameful News Of Bob Woodward's Role As GOP Apologist
And in another revelation illustrating how far former heroes can fall, Bob Woodward shows up again in the testimony. During this time, and well after he also denied any knowledge or role and appeared on many news shows denigrating administration critics and assuring the public that the administration would be vindicated. Has he acknowledged and apologized for this yet?
The first of those conversations, according to the evidence made known thus far, came when Libby met with Bob Woodward, an assistant managing editor of The Washington Post, on June 27, 2003. In sworn testimony for Fitzgerald, according to a statement Woodward released on Nov. 14, 2005, Woodward said Libby told him of the intelligence estimate's description of Iraqi efforts to obtain "yellowcake," a processed form of natural uranium ore, in Africa. In an interview Friday, Woodward said his notes showed that Libby described those efforts as "vigorous."
Libby Plants Stories With Judy Miller Of The New York Times
When I read the famous "intertwined Aspen roots" note from Libby to Miller while she was in jail to protect him, I assumed they were loyal fellow teammates. But this next passage shows Libby, Bush, and Cheney lying to Miller and using her to achieve their nefarious goals. They show this repeated pattern of behavior of being willing to lie to anyone at anytime to achieve their goals. I wonder how many of their "friends and allies" trust them now?
Libby's next known meeting with a reporter, according to Fitzgerald's legal filing, was with Judith Miller, then of the New York Times, on July 8, 2003. He spoke again to Miller, and to Time magazine's Matt Cooper, on July 12.
At Cheney's instruction, Libby testified, he told Miller that the uranium story was a "key judgment" of the intelligence estimate, a term of art indicating there was consensus on a question of central importance.
In fact, the alleged effort to buy uranium was not among the estimate's key judgments, which were identified by a headline and bold type and set out in bullet form in the first five pages of the 96-page document.
Unknown to the reporters, the uranium claim lay deeper inside the estimate, where it said a fresh supply of uranium ore would "shorten the time Baghdad needs to produce nuclear weapons." But it also said U.S. intelligence did not know the status of Iraq's procurement efforts, "cannot confirm" any success and had "inconclusive" evidence about Iraq's domestic uranium operations.
I wonder how all these reporters like Judy Miller feel now, that it is clear their close and trusted friend Scooter Libby was lying to them as well and playing them for saps. This is another whole level of this scandal that I hadn't really noticed before.
George Tenet Disputes Niger Uranium Story in September of 2002 Before Secret Senate Session Four Months Before Bush's Uses Them In the 2003 SOTU Speech
This might be one of the most striking passages of this whole article for me. Allegations that Dick Cheney was the real Mr Big behind this, and that this "conspiracy" was conceived, authorized, and managed by him do not really surprise me. It's encouraging to see Fitzgerald get this evidence on the grand jury, and out in public now, but not surprising.
What could be a significant development, however, is further evidence and proof that the top most Bush Administration officials were well aware that the Niger Documents were false. Previously, Fitzgerald revealed that a Stephen Hadley emails exists that describes an October 2002 NIE daily presidential briefing informing President Bush, of these doubts about the Niger Documents.
Which substantially raises the possibility that Representatives Maurice Hinchey, Henry Waxman, and John Conyers can make their questions about President Bush's possible violation of USC 18 Section 1001 and Section 371 during his January 2003 State of the Union address stick.
Section 1001 makes it a felony to knowingly, and intentionally deceive the Congress in the exercise of its oversight function of the Executive Branch. In his September 2005 letter to Prosecutor Fitzgerald asking him to expand his investigation, Hinchey argues that the SOTU is legally governed by these laws, and that the President's deception was material.
The challenge has been to prove Bush and Hadley had foreknowledge and that their representations were to intentionally mislead.
Hinchey and Waxman have filed over 12 motions between the two of them, to subpoena the multiple drafts where Hadley et. al. changed the language of the 16 words back and forth before settling on "the British learned."
Allegedly, because they knew full well our own CIA as well as the British and other intelligence communities had later learned the the first learning were incorrect.
But there was greater plausible deniability in claiming to be unaware that the British intelligence had reversed this learning.
Tap Dancing Around The Truth Is Still Misleading And Still Illegal
But here is where the Bush administration sees to have made a serious blunder. Because Hinchey argues that the intention to mislead still makes this a felony regardless of how they word it. Technically, it might be true that at some time the British falsely learned that about the Niger Uranium claims. This makes no difference.
UPDATE: Zwoof has alerted us to that fact that Fitzgerald makes no mention of what Bush and Cheney represented about their involvement or knowlege of the Plamegate affair. Until I can get some other confirmation that they denied any of either I must retract the following paragraphs.
And curiously, this is the same error both Bush and Cheney appear to have made in their interview with Fitzgerald. I need to double check this, but do I remember correctly, that the Fitzgerald court filings imply that both Cheney and Bush denied having any involvement or knowledge of their staff's involvement in the Plame-Gate leaks?
If so, and these other reports of full knowledge and active participation are true, then it appear they have both committed obstruction of justice felonies. Leveymg has told us that the fact they were not under oath, does not matter. If they had, their crime would instead be called perjury. But both are felonies, and constituted the "high crimes and misdemeanors" threshold for impeachment.
But with this in mind consider the following passages from the Washington Post.
Iraq's alleged uranium shopping had been strongly disputed in the intelligence community from the start. In a closed Senate hearing in late September 2002, shortly before the October NIE was completed, then-director of central intelligence George J. Tenet and his top weapons analyst, Robert Walpole, expressed strong doubts about the uranium story, which had recently been unveiled publicly by the British government.
The State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, likewise, called the claim "highly dubious." For those reasons, the uranium story was relegated to a brief inside passage in the October estimate.
But the White House Iraq Group, formed in August 2002 to foster "public education" about Iraq's "grave and gathering danger" to the United States, repeatedly pitched the uranium story. The alleged procurement was a minor issue for most U.S. analysts -- the hard part for Iraq would be enriching uranium, not obtaining the ore, and Niger's controlled market made it an unlikely seller -- but the Niger story proved irresistible to speechwriters. Most nuclear arguments were highly technical, but the public could easily grasp the link between uranium and a bomb.
Tenet interceded to keep the claim out of a speech Bush gave in Cincinnati on Oct. 7, 2002, but by Dec. 19 it reappeared in a State Department "fact sheet." After that, the Pentagon asked for an authoritative judgment from the National Intelligence Council, the senior coordinating body for the 15 agencies that then constituted the U.S. intelligence community. Did Iraq and Niger discuss a uranium sale, or not? If they had, the Pentagon would need to reconsider its ties with Niger.
The council's reply, drafted in a January 2003 memo by the national intelligence officer for Africa, was unequivocal: The Niger story was baseless and should be laid to rest. Four U.S. officials with firsthand knowledge said in interviews that the memo, which has not been reported before, arrived at the White House as Bush and his highest-ranking advisers made the uranium story a centerpiece of their case for the rapidly approaching war against Iraq.
Bush put his prestige behind the uranium story in his Jan. 28, 2003, State of the Union address. Less than two months later, the International Atomic Energy Agency exposed the principal U.S. evidence as bogus. A Bush-appointed commission later concluded that the evidence, a set of contracts and correspondence sold by an Italian informant, was "transparently forged."
Cheney Saw Joseph Wilson As A Threat To His Credibility
Fitzgerald wrote that Cheney and his aides saw Wilson as a threat to "the credibility of the Vice President (and the President) on a matter of signal importance: the rationale for the war in Iraq." They decided to respond by implying that Wilson got his CIA assignment by "nepotism."
They were not alone. Fitzgerald reported for the first time this week that "multiple officials in the White House"-- not only Libby and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, who have previously been identified -- discussed Plame's CIA employment with reporters before and after publication of her name on July 14, 2003, in a column by Robert D. Novak. Fitzgerald said the grand jury has collected so much testimony and so many documents that "it is hard to conceive of what evidence there could be that would disprove the existence of White House efforts to 'punish' Wilson."
At the same time, top officials such as then-deputy national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley were pressing the CIA to declassify more documents in hopes of defending the president's use of the uranium claim in his State of the Union speech. It was a losing battle. A "senior Bush administration official," speaking on the condition of anonymity as the president departed for Africa on July 7, 2003, told The Post that "the reference to Iraq's attempt to acquire uranium from Africa should not have been included in the State of the Union speech." The comment appeared on the front page of the July 8 paper, the same morning that Libby met Miller at the St. Regis hotel.
Hadley Tries To Claim He Knew Off Tenant's Objections But Forgot Them When Working On State Of The Unions
Libby was still defending the uranium claim as the administration's internal battle burst into the open. White House officials tried to blame Tenet for the debacle, but Tenet made public his intervention to keep uranium out of Bush's speech a few months earlier. Hadley then acknowledged that he had known of Tenet's objections but forgot them as the State of the Union approached.
Hoping to lay the controversy to rest, Hadley claimed responsibility for the Niger remarks.
In a speech two days later, at the American Enterprise Institute, Cheney defended the war by saying that no responsible leader could ignore the evidence in the NIE. Before a roomful of conservative policymakers, Cheney listed four of the "key judgments" on Iraq's alleged weapons capabilities but made no mention of Niger or uranium.
On July 30, 2003, two senior intelligence officials said in an interview that Niger was never an important part of the CIA's analysis, and that the language of Iraq's vigorous pursuit of uranium came verbatim from a Defense Intelligence Agency report that had caught the vice president's attention. The same day, the CIA referred the Plame leak to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution, the fateful step that would eventually lead to Libby's indictment.
Therefore, I support and second HoundDog call for President Bush and Dick Cheney to resign or be impeached. Bush-Gate Scandal Passes Tipping Point: The Emperor Has No Clothes.
I recognize that this does not appear likely now. However, at the beginning of the Watergate scandal few could have imagined how much public opinion would change as a consequence of subsequant evidence and development.
My personal feeling is that even the evidence that has already surfaced is sufficient to warrant at least a House Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee to start a formal collection of the evidence.
If these charges with this evidence is not sufficient what would it take?
But I am convinced what we know so far is only the tip of the iceberg.p> The Congress must demand that both Dick Cheney and President Bush now appear under oath and provide an immediate full explanation of their roles in these affairs as well as disclose all they know about the involvement of others.
And if as they now claim, these were not leaks it should be even more obvioius that such explanation is appropriate.
But remember, the long period of deception now requires that Bush and Cheney explain not only their original involvement and knowledge, but also, what now appears to be an additional coverup.
If these actions were indeed for the public good, then why was it necessary to lie about them.
And if Bush and Cheney have committed felonies in either the original affairs or in the coverup, they should not drag our country through the painful and humiliating impeachment process that Congressmen would be required to follow through with to uphold their own oaths.
We must have an immediate and quick investigation and resolution of this constitutional crisis.
And very soon, any Congressperson who does not fulfill their oaths to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States will have to explain this to voters as well.