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Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this column incorrectly stated that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was convicted in February. He was convicted in March.
Fitzgerald Again Points to Cheney

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, May 29, 2007; 1:14 PM

Special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald has made it clearer than ever that he was hot on the trail of a coordinated campaign to out CIA agent Valerie Plame until that line of investigation was cut off by the repeated lies from Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Libby was convicted in March of perjury and obstruction of justice. Fitzgerald filed a memo on Friday asking U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, who will sentence Libby next week, to put him in prison for at least two and a half years.

Despite all the public interest in the case, Fitzgerald has repeatedly asserted that grand-jury secrecy rules prohibit him from being more forthcoming about either the course of his investigation or any findings beyond those he disclosed to make the case against Libby. But when his motives have been attacked during court proceedings, Fitzgerald has occasionally shown flashes of anger -- and has hinted that he and his investigative team suspected more malfeasance at higher levels of government than they were able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

In Friday's eminently readable court filing, Fitzgerald quotes the Libby defense calling his prosecution "unwarranted, unjust, and motivated by politics." In responding to that charge, the special counsel evidently felt obliged to put Libby's crime in context. And that context is Dick Cheney.

Libby's lies, Fitzgerald wrote, "made impossible an accurate evaluation of the role that Mr. Libby and those with whom he worked played in the disclosure of information regarding Ms. Wilson's CIA employment and about the motivations for their actions."

It was established at trial that it was Cheney himself who first told Libby about Plame's identity as a CIA agent, in the course of complaining about criticisms of the administration's run-up to war leveled by her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson. And, as Fitzgerald notes: "The evidence at trial further established that when the investigation began, Mr. Libby kept the Vice President apprised of his shifting accounts of how he claimed to have learned about Ms. Wilson's CIA employment."

The investigation, Fitzgerald writes, "was necessary to determine whether there was concerted action by any combination of the officials known to have disclosed the information about Ms. Plame to the media as anonymous sources, and also whether any of those who were involved acted at the direction of others. This was particularly important in light of Mr. Libby's statement to the FBI that he may have discussed Ms. Wilson's employment with reporters at the specific direction of the Vice President." (My italics.)

Not clear on the concept yet? Fitzgerald adds: "To accept the argument that Mr. Libby's prosecution is the inappropriate product of an investigation that should have been closed at an early stage, one must accept the proposition that the investigation should have been closed after at least three high-ranking government officials were identified as having disclosed to reporters classified information about covert agent Valerie Wilson, where the account of one of them was directly contradicted by other witnesses, where there was reason to believe that some of the relevant activity may have been coordinated, and where there was an indication from Mr. Libby himself that his disclosures to the press may have been personally sanctioned by the Vice President." (My italics.)

Up until now, Fitzgerald's most singeing attack on Cheney came during closing arguments at the Libby trial in February. Libby's lawyers had complained that Fitzgerald was trying to put a "cloud" over Cheney without evidence to back it up -- and that set Fitzgerald off. As I wrote in my Feb. 21 column, the special counsel responded with fire: "There is a cloud over what the Vice President did that week. . . . He had those meetings. He sent Libby off to [meet then-New York Times reporter] Judith Miller at the St. Regis Hotel. At that meeting, the two-hour meeting, the defendant talked about the wife. We didn't put that cloud there. That cloud remains because the defendant has obstructed justice and lied about what happened. . . .

"That's not something that we put there. That cloud is something that we just can't pretend isn't there."

To those of us watching the investigation and trial unfold, Cheney's presence behind the scenes has emerged in glimpses and hints. (The defense's decision not to call Cheney to the stand remains a massive bummer.) But I suspect that people looking back on this story will see it with greater clarity: As a blatant -- and thus far successful -- cover-up for the vice president.

The Coverage

What little traditional media coverage there was of Fitzgerald's filing focused on sentencing issues.

Michael A. Fletcher writes in The Washington Post: "Former top Bush administration aide I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby should spend 30 to 37 months in prison for obstructing the CIA leak investigation, Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald contended in court documents filed yesterday.

"Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, has shown no remorse for lying to investigators and 'about virtually everything that mattered' in the probe of who disclosed the identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame to the media in 2003, Fitzgerald wrote."

Matt Apuzzo writes for the Associated Press: "In court documents, Fitzgerald rejected criticism from Libby's supporters who said the leak investigation had spun out of control. Fitzgerald denied the prosecution was politically motivated and said Libby brought his fate upon himself."

"'The judicial system has not corruptly mistreated Mr. Libby,' Fitzgerald wrote. 'Mr. Libby has been found by a jury of his peers to have corrupted the judicial system.'"

Apuzzo does, however, note a key issue at next week's hearing: "Walton, who has a reputation for handing down tough sentences, . . . faces two important questions: whether to send Libby to prison and, if so, whether to delay the sentence until his appeals have run out."

As Josh Gerstein wrote in the New York Sun on Friday: "[T]he real cliffhanger at the sentencing hearing, set for June 5, is not what punishment Judge Reggie Walton imposes, but whether he allows Libby to remain free while pursuing his appeal. . . .

"Bail for Libby would amount to a reprieve for President Bush, who would then have until next year to make the politically sensitive decision about a pardon for the former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney. However, if the judge orders Libby jailed forthwith, Mr. Bush will face intense and immediate pressure from many of his supporters to commute the sentence or grant a pardon."

Gerstein also provides some important background: "Federal law dictates that bail pending appeal be denied unless the appeal raises 'a substantial question of law or fact' that could reverse the conviction or have a significant affect on Libby's sentence. . . .

"During the trial, Judge Walton expressed little concern that the appeals court would disagree with his rulings. 'If I get reversed on that one, maybe I need to hang up my spurs,' he said after deciding a dispute stemming from Libby's decision not to testify in his own defense."

The Mockery of Bloggers

Nexthurrah blogger Marcy Wheeler blogs at the Guardian about how Libby's "defense team solicited his friends and associates to write letters to the judge arguing that Libby deserves a reduced sentence. Last Friday, Libby's lawyer Bill Jeffress submitted a filing opposing the release of those letters to the public. In it, he writes: 'Given the extraordinary media scrutiny here, if any case presents the possibility that these letters, once released, would be published on the internet and their authors discussed, even mocked, by bloggers, it is this case.' "

Concludes Wheeler: "Jeffress' invocation of bloggers is a cheap attempt to dismiss precisely what bloggers bring: an appropriate scrutiny of the motivations and actions of those who lied us into war and outed Valerie Plame."

Plan B?

There are conflicting reports out of the White House about plans for Iraq. Among the possibilities: Officials are planning for the aftermath of the surge's success; officials are planning for the aftermath of the surge's failure; both; or neither. Yet another possibility: Officials are just trying to muddy the debate.

David E. Sanger and David S. Cloud wrote Saturday in the New York Times: "The Bush administration is developing what are described as concepts for reducing American combat forces in Iraq by as much as half next year, according to senior administration officials in the midst of the internal debate.

"It is the first indication that growing political pressure is forcing the White House to turn its attention to what happens after the current troop increase runs its course.

"The concepts call for a reduction in forces that could lower troop levels by the midst of the 2008 presidential election to roughly 100,000, from about 146,000, the latest available figure, which the military reported on May 1. They would also greatly scale back the mission that President Bush set for the American military when he ordered it in January to win back control of Baghdad and Anbar Province. . . .

"Officials say proponents of reducing the troops and scaling back their mission next year appear to include Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. They have been joined by generals at the Pentagon and elsewhere who have long been skeptical that the Iraqi government would use the opportunity created by the troop increase to reach genuine political accommodations."

But Michael Abramowitz and Peter Baker wrote Sunday in The Washington Post that the White House disputed the Times report. They write: "The administration is trying to make judgments about where it will be in the months ahead, and officials are discussing possibilities accordingly. The scenarios for troop withdrawal are based on the premise of a successful 'surge.' There is also discussion about what to do if the buildup plan fails, but officials are unwilling to discuss it with outsiders even privately."

On Benchmarks

Julian E. Barnes writes in the Los Angeles Times: "U.S. military leaders in Iraq are increasingly convinced that most of the broad political goals President Bush laid out early this year in his announcement of a troop buildup will not be met this summer and are seeking ways to redefine success.

"In September, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, is scheduled to present Congress with an assessment of progress in Iraq. Military officers in Baghdad and outside advisors working with Petraeus doubt that the three major goals set by U.S. officials for the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki will be achieved by then."

Memorial Day

Deb Riechmann writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush paid tribute Monday to America's fighting men and women -- 'a new generation of fallen leaders' - in a solemn Memorial Day visit to the national burial ground for war heroes. . . .

"At least 3,452 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the war in Iraq in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count."

Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the New York Times: "President Bush used his traditional Memorial Day address at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday to speak directly, in deeply personal terms, to the families of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, assuring them that Americans 'will never forget the terrible loss you have suffered.' . . .

"The speech stood in stark contrast to one delivered on Saturday by Vice President Dick Cheney at another military venue: the United States Military Academy at West Point. Speaking to 978 academy graduates, Mr. Cheney delivered a sharp and at times bellicose defense of the administration's policies.

"'We're fighting a war on terror because the enemy attacked us first, and hit us hard,' he said, adding, 'Nobody can guarantee that we won't be hit again.'"

Another choice bit from Cheney's speech: "As Army officers on duty in the war on terror, you will now face enemies who oppose and despise everything you know to be right, every notion of upright conduct and character, and every belief you consider worth fighting for and living for. Capture one of these killers, and he'll be quick to demand the protections of the Geneva Convention and the Constitution of the United States. Yet when they wage attacks or take captives, their delicate sensibilities seem to fall away."

As blogger Digby put it: "He's explicitly saying that only a bunch of girly-men with 'delicate sensibilities' need the protections of the Geneva Conventions or the Constitution of the United States. He isn't proud of them. He thinks they make the US weak and it's obvious that he'd be thrilled to take a match to both the treaty and the constitution."

Bush's Opinion

I often wonder why more news stories don't start: "President Bush yesterday again denied reality. . . . "

And then along comes this delightful surprise from Jennifer Loven of the Associated Press: "Confronted with strong opposition to his Iraq policies, President Bush decides to interpret public opinion his own way. Actually, he says, people agree with him.

"Democrats view the November elections that gave them control of Congress as a mandate to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq. They're backed by evidence; election exit poll surveys by The Associated Press and television networks found 55 percent saying the U.S. should withdraw some or all of its troops from Iraq.

"The president says Democrats have it all wrong: the public doesn't want the troops pulled out -- they want to give the military more support in its mission.

"'Last November, the American people said they were frustrated and wanted a change in our strategy in Iraq,' he said April 24, ahead of a veto showdown with congressional Democrats over their desire to legislation a troop withdrawal timeline. 'I listened. Today, General David Petraeus is carrying out a strategy that is dramatically different from our previous course.'

"Increasingly isolated on a war that is going badly, Bush has presented his alternative reality in other ways, too. He expresses understanding for the public's dismay over the unrelenting sectarian violence and American losses that have passed 3,400, but then asserts that the public's solution matches his.

"'A lot of Americans want to know, you know, when?' he said at a Rose Garden news conference Thursday. 'When are you going to win?'

"Also in that session, Bush said: 'I recognize there are a handful there, or some, who just say, "Get out, you know, it's just not worth it. Let's just leave." I strongly disagree with that attitude. Most Americans do as well.'

"In fact, polls show Americans do not disagree, and that leaving -- not winning -- is their main goal. . . .

"Bush aides say poll questions are asked so many ways, and often so imprecisely, that it is impossible to conclude that most Americans really want to get out. Failure, Bush says, is not what the public wants -- they just don't fully understand that that is just what they will get if troops are pulled out before the Iraqi government is capable of keeping the country stable on its own. . . .

"Independent pollster Andrew Kohut said of the White House view: 'I don't see what they're talking about.'"

Senate Intel Redux

Walter Pincus and Karen DeYoung write in The Washington Post on Saturday: "Months before the invasion of Iraq, U.S. intelligence agencies predicted that it would be likely to spark violent sectarian divides and provide al-Qaeda with new opportunities in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a report released yesterday by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Analysts warned that war in Iraq also could provoke Iran to assert its regional influence and 'probably would result in a surge of political Islam and increased funding for terrorist groups' in the Muslim world."

James Gerstenzang writes in the Los Angeles Times: "In early 2003, even as their deputies were receiving the intelligence community papers, top administration officials -- among them Vice President Dick Cheney and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld -- publicly speculated that U.S. troops would be greeted warmly as liberators and gave no hint that some analysts were raising red flags about difficulties to come."

Here's the full report.

Darfur Watch

Michael Abramowitz and Debbi Wilgoren write for The Washington Post: "President Bush is increasing pressure on Sudan's government to cooperate with international efforts to halt violence in its troubled Darfur region, where the White House said almost three years ago that genocide was taking place.

"In a brief address that included sharp criticism of Sudanese president Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan al-Bashir, Bush said the Treasury Department will step up efforts to squeeze the Sudanese economy by targeting government-run ventures involved with its booming oil business, which does many of its transactions in U.S. dollars. Bush also announced sanctions against individuals, which aides said would target two senior Sudanese officials and a rebel leader who are all suspected of being involved in the violence in Darfur."

Rove and the GOP Implosion

Jeffrey Goldberg writes in the New Yorker: "The West Wing of the White House tends to have a funereal stillness, even in the best of times, which these are not. The President's aides walk the narrow corridors with pensive expressions and vigilantly modulated voices. By contrast, Karl Rove's office has an almost party atmosphere. Rove, the President's chief political adviser -- the 'architect,' Bush has called him, of his 2004 victory over John Kerry -- has been a man of constant troubles: Valerie Plame troubles, U.S. Attorney-firing troubles, and, most of all, collapse-of-the-Republican Party troubles. Yet his voice is suffused with bonhomie, his jokes are bad and frequent, his enthusiasm is communicable; he resembles an oversized leprechaun, although one with unconcealed resentments and a receding hairline."

But now Rove, "the man Bush has called his 'boy genius,' is among those being blamed by conservatives for the Party's problems -- blame that he shares with others who have attempted to transform the party."

Among the blamers is Newt Gingrich, who criticizes "Rove's 'maniacally dumb' strategy in 2004, which left Bush with no political capital. 'All he proved was that the anti-Kerry vote was bigger than the anti-Bush vote,' Gingrich said. He continued, 'The Bush people deliberately could not bring themselves to wage a campaign of choice' -- of ideology, of suggesting that Kerry was 'to the left of Ted Kennedy' -- and chose instead to attack Kerry's war record."

Exit Sara Taylor

Michael A. Fletcher writes in The Washington Post: "Sara M. Taylor, the White House political director and microtargeting guru who has been with George W. Bush from the outset of his first presidential campaign, is the latest staff member to leave the president's employ. . . .

"Taylor's departure leaves a big hole in the White House's political operation, as the administration works with an often hostile Congress to push for policy changes including immigration reform, energy initiatives and renewal of the president's signature education accountability law. 'She did a very superb job in every role she has been called on,' said Rove, Bush's chief political strategist. 'It is a big loss for us.'"

Fletcher writes about Taylor's expertise in data-mining and microtargeting, but fails to mention her role in the ever-unfolding scandal over last year's U.S. attorney firing.

In a May 16 letter to White House Counsel Fred Fielding, for instance, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy wrote: "According to documents and testimony, [Sara] Taylor, the head of the White House political operation and deputy of Mr. Rove's, and [Scott] Jennings, another aide to Mr. Rove, were involved in the discussions and planning that led to the removal of Bud Cummins and bypassing the Senate confirmation process to install Tim Griffin, another former aide to Mr. Rove, as U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Arkansas. They were part of a group that discussed using the Attorney General's expanded authority under the Patriot Act reauthorization to avoid the opposition of the Arkansas Senators by appointing Mr. Griffin as interim indefinitely. . . .

"Mr. Sampson testified that Ms. Taylor was upset when the Attorney General finally 'rejected' this use of the interim authority -- a month after telling Senator Pryor he was committed to finding a Senate-confirmed U.S. Attorney."

And Karen Tumulty blogged for Time last week: "In private testimony that is being released this afternoon by the committee, Alberto Gonzales's former Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson told investigators that Gonzales himself initially resisted the idea of bypassing the Senators from Arkansas to install Karl Rove protege Tim Griffin as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Pressure to do it, he suggested, was coming from officials at the White House -- specifically, White House political director Sara Taylor, her deputy Scott Jennings and Chris Oprison, the associate White House counsel."

RNC E-Mail Watch

John D. McKinnon blogs for the Wall Street Journal: "Senators peeked under yet another rock in the investigation of the U.S. attorney firings, asking White House political chieftain Karl Rove for several batches of personal emails. But they'll have to dig harder: Rove's lawyer said he's not complying with the request."

Here's the request from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Helen Thomas Watch

From Friday's gaggle with White House spokesman Scott Stanzel.

"Q Since no Justice Department official has been forthcoming, who drew up the list of the attorneys -- the prosecutors to be fired?

"MR. STANZEL: Well, I think, Helen, that's a subject that's been covered exhaustively on hearings on the Hill --

"Q Okay. Tell me, I'm sorry, I have not read who --

"MR. STANZEL: I will allow the Justice Department to help you out with that question because --

"Q But I'm telling you they're not saying.

"MR. STANZEL: They've testified hours and hours and hours about this very issue.

"Q Did they say who drew up the list?

"MR. STANZEL: Well, I think it's been testified to the fact that Kyle Sampson was working on the process, and I think they testified to that fact.

"Q Did he think of the names, himself?

"MR. STANZEL: I think he's spoken at length about the review process that was underway.

"Q Don't stall, just tell me. Who drew up --

"MR. STANZEL: I will refer you to the Department of Justice, Helen.

"Q Well, that's another dodge.

"Q They won't tell her.

"MR. STANZEL: I got that. Thank you. Any other questions?"

Card Booed

The Associated Press reports: "President Bush's former chief of staff Andrew Card was loudly booed by hundreds of students and faculty members as he rose to accept an honorary degree at the University of Massachusetts on Friday.

"The boos and catcalls -- including those from faculty members who stood onstage with Card -- drowned out Provost Charlena Seymour's remarks as she awarded the honorary doctorate in public service. Protesters claim Card lied to the American people in the early days of the Iraq war and should not have been honored at the graduate student commencement."

Firedoglake has video.

Cartoon Watch

Tom Toles on Bush and Gonzales; Mike Luckovich on Memorial Day; Dwane Powell on political theatrics.

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