Fitzgerald Launches Web Site

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, October 21, 2005; 1:00 PM

Special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald has just launched his own brand-new Web site.

Could it be that he's getting ready to release some new legal documents? Like, maybe, some indictments? It's certainly not the action of an office about to fold up its tents and go home.

Fitzgerald spokesman Randall Samborn minimized the significance of the Web launch in an interview this morning.

"I would strongly caution, Dan, against reading anything into it substantive, one way or the other," he said. "It's really a long overdue effort to get something on the Internet to answer a lot of questions that we get . . . and to put up some of the documents that we have had ongoing and continued interest in having the public be able to access."

OK, OK. But will the Web site be used for future documents as well?

"The possibility exists," Samborn said.

Among the documents currently available on the site:

* The December 30, 2003, memo from then-acting attorney general James B. Comey establishing Fitzgerald as an independent special counsel with "all the authority of the Attorney General with respect to the Department's investigation into the alleged unauthorized disclosure of a CIA employee's identity."

* A Feb. 6, 2004, follow-up confirming that his mandate "includes the authority to investigate and prosecute violations of any federal laws related to the underlying alleged unauthorized disclosure, as well as federal crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with, your investigation."

The Web site is "bare bones" and is "still a work in progress," Samborn said. "We have some document formatting issues that we're still resolving." As a result, the site has not yet been officially announced -- although there is a link from Fitzgerald's home page as the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.

Up until now, the only official repository for documents related to the special counsel's investigation had been a page on the U.S. District Court's Web site. But it only included court motions and rulings.

Incidentally, if you call the number the new Web site lists for Fitzgerald's D.C. office, the phone is somewhat mysteriously answered "counterespionage section."

But as Samborn explained to me, that's because the special prosecutor is borrowing space in the Justice Department's Bond Building from the counterespionage section. "The office of special counsel doesn't really have its own dedicated space," he said.

The Elephant in the White House

Jim VandeHei and Peter Baker write in The Washington Post: "At 7:30 each morning, President Bush's senior staff gathers to discuss the important issues of the day -- Middle East peace, the Harriet Miers nomination, the latest hurricane bearing down on the coast. Everything, that is, except the issue on everyone's mind.

"With special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald driving his CIA leak investigation toward an apparent conclusion, the White House now confronts the looming prospect that no one in the building is eager to address: a Bush presidency without Karl Rove. In a capital consumed by scandal speculation, most White House senior officials are no more privy than outsiders to the prosecutor's intentions. But the surreal silence in the Roosevelt Room each morning belies the nervous discussions racing elsewhere around the West Wing.

"Out of the hushed hallway encounters and one-on-one conversations, several scenarios have begun to emerge if Rove or vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis Libby is indicted and forced out. Senior GOP officials are developing a public relations strategy to defend those accused of crimes and, more importantly, shield Bush from further damage, according to Republicans familiar with the plans."

And with so many things going so badly, discussion of possible upcoming personnel moves don't stop with Rove and Libby.

"In the view of many Republicans, fatigue may be one factor affecting the once smooth-running White House. Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. . . . has been in his pressure-cooker job since Bush was inaugurated, longer than any chief of staff in decades. 'He looks totally burned out,' a Republican strategist said.

"Others, including Rove, [budget director Joshua B.] Bolten, counselor Dan Bartlett, senior adviser Michael J. Gerson and press secretary Scott McClellan, have been running at full tilt since 1999, when the Bush team began gearing up in Austin for the first campaign."

Judy Keen writes in USA Today: "Some Republicans are lamenting President Bush's 'lost year' and wondering if he can salvage his agenda. Vice President Cheney is giving pep talks to White House staffers as supporters brace for the possible indictments of Bush's top adviser and Cheney's chief of staff."

Serious Legal Jeopardy

David Johnston writes in the New York Times: "As he weighs whether to bring criminal charges in the C.I.A. leak case, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special counsel, is focusing on whether Karl Rove, the senior White House adviser, and I. Lewis Libby Jr., chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, sought to conceal their actions and mislead prosecutors, lawyers involved in the case said Thursday.

"Among the charges that Mr. Fitzgerald is considering are perjury, obstruction of justice and false statement -- counts that suggest the prosecutor may believe the evidence presented in a 22-month grand jury inquiry shows that the two White House aides sought to cover up their actions, the lawyers said.

"Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby have been advised that they may be in serious legal jeopardy, the lawyers said."

And, Johnston writes: "Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby may not be the only people at risk. There may be others in the government who could be charged for violations of the disclosure law or of other statutes, like the espionage act, which makes it a crime to transmit classified information to people not authorized to receive it."

In contrast to the Times report, John D. McKinnon, Anne Marie Squeo and Joe Hagan of the Wall Street Journal sees signs that Fitzgerald "may be exploring whether to charge White House officials with leaking garden-variety classified information. . . .

"[L]awyers and others close to the case say he may be piecing together a case that White House officials conspired to leak various types of classified material in conversations with reporters -- including Ms. Plame's identity but also other secrets related to national security."

The Journal reporters also unearth this new allegation: "Yesterday, one former administration official said Karl Rove, the deputy White House chief of staff, had discussed former diplomat Joseph Wilson and the role of his wife, Ms. Plame, with White House staffers in 2003. . . .

"The former official said Mr. Rove had these discussions after Mr. Wilson went public with claims that the Bush administration had twisted intelligence to build support for the Iraq war. Mr. Rove discussed discrediting Mr. Wilson, the former official said, adding that Mr. Rove didn't necessarily name Ms. Plame or make her a key talking point in conversations with other White House officials. Prosecutors have been told of these internal discussions.

"Robert Luskin, an attorney for Mr. Rove, said, 'The allegation is maliciously false.' "

Helping Judith Miller Remember

Murray Waas writes for the National Journal online: "New York Times reporter Judith Miller told the federal grand jury in the CIA leak case that she might have met with I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby on June 23, 2003 only after prosecutors showed her Secret Service logs that indicated she and Libby had indeed met that day in the Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House, according to attorneys familiar with her testimony.

"When a prosecutor first questioned Miller during her initial grand jury appearance on September 30, 2005 sources said, she did not bring up the June 23 meeting in recounting her various contacts with Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Cheney. Pressed by prosecutors who then brought up the specific date of the meeting, Miller testified that she still could not recall the June meeting with Libby, in which they discussed a controversial CIA-sponsored mission to Africa by former Ambassador Joe Wilson, or the fact that his wife, Valerie Plame, worked for the CIA.

"When a prosecutor presented Miller with copies of the White House-complex visitation logs, she said such a meeting was possible.

"Shortly after her September 30 testimony, Miller discovered her notes from the June 23 meeting, and returned on October 12 for a second round of grand jury testimony. In this second appearance, Miller recounted details from her June 23 meeting with Libby, with the assistance of her notes."

Obsessed With Wilson

Peter Wallsten and Tom Hamburger write in the Los Angeles Times: "Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff was so angry about the public statements of former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, a Bush administration critic married to an undercover CIA officer, that he monitored all of Wilson's television appearances and urged the White House to mount an aggressive public campaign against him, former aides say.

"Those efforts by the chief of staff, I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, began shortly after Wilson went public with his criticisms in 2003. But they continued into last year -- well after the Justice Department began an investigation in September 2003, into whether administration officials had illegally disclosed the CIA operative's identity, say former White House aides. . . .

"Libby's anger over Wilson's 2003 charges has been known. But new interviews and documents obtained by The Times provide a more detailed view of the depth and duration of Libby's interest in Wilson. They also show that the vice president's office closely monitored news coverage. . . .

"Staffers were instructed to use Nexis and Google to watch even the most obscure publications."

Coda to Lyman's Tale

Their treasure-trove of documents also allowed Wallsten and Hamburger to write a coda to one of the more ludicrous stories about the press and the Bush campaign, described in New York Times reporter Rick Lyman's first-person story from 2004, headlined "Desperately Seeking Dick Cheney."

"The sensitivity extended in at least one case to the vice president's daughter, Liz Cheney, who worked as a campaign advisor," Wallsten and Hamburger write.

"During a time of tension between the New York Times and the campaign over coverage, aides recommended that a reporter from the paper be allowed to fly aboard Cheney's plane with others in the press corps. Liz Cheney had a different idea.

"Writing from her Blackberry, a mobile e-mail device, she noted that her father was upset with a story that appeared in that morning's newspaper, saying: 'vp has totally had it with nytimes. This is really not the right time to ask him to charm a reporter from that paper.'

"The reporter was excluded from the vice president's plane."

Liz Cheney, by the way, is now a deputy assistant secretary of state.

Defense Looking Shaky

Pete Yost writes for the Associated Press: "Even if White House aides leaked a covert CIA officer's identity, they were simply passing along information they'd already heard from the news media, the administration's supporters maintain in a defense that looks increasing shaky as new evidence accumulates. . . .

"While Libby maintains that he didn't know Plame's name until it was published in the news media, the now-public evidence suggests Libby at least was aware that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and that he spread the information."

The Loss of Control Story Line

Over the past few days, several journalists have put forth a similar storyline: That most of the bad things happening to the White House, dragging down Bush's approval ratings, are now beyond his control: The leak investigation; Hurricane Katrina; the Iraq war; high gas prices.

I beg to differ. There are things that Bush could do to dramatically affect public opinion on all four of these counts without violating his principles.

Before any indictments come down, the president could proactively tell the public what he knows about the Plame case and if need be rid himself of staffers whose conduct, criminal or not, is beneath his moral standards.

Much of the damage Katrina did to the administration was self-inflicted, and the White House could easily reassert a leadership position in making things right, rather than sitting back and waiting for local officials to make up their minds -- precisely the same mistake they made last time. As USA Today reports today, former Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich thinks Bush should call a joint session of Congress, admit failures after Katrina and lay out "11 things we're going to do right now."

The whole tenor of the Iraq war effort could shift dramatically if the White House would establish clear, measurable benchmarks for withdrawal and present a frank analysis of where we stand relative to those benchmarks.

And even gas prices, some experts say, are more malleable than the administration would have the press believe. Unprecedented oil company profits and rampant speculation on the unregulated energy markets are both within the White House and Congress's purview to affect.

Miers Watch

Charles Babington writes in The Washington Post: "Two months after engineering a nearly flawless confirmation process for Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the Bush administration's bid to add Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court has been so riddled with errors, stumbles and embarrassing revelations that some lawmakers and other observers find it hard to believe it emanates from the same White House."

Janet Hook and Maura Reynolds write in the Los Angeles Times: "Republicans are mostly withholding public judgment until she testifies at confirmation hearings that are scheduled to begin Nov. 7. But privately, some expressed surprise and unease at how poorly prepared the White House was for the skepticism Miers encountered. And they lamented that Bush had failed to find a nominee who would help unite and energize a party demoralized by troubles in Iraq, high gas prices and criticism of Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina. . . .

" 'You're seeing evidence of a profoundly disorganized and demoralized White House,' said Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University who has also spent time working on the Senate staff. 'If you are looking for evidence of a rudderless White House, the slipshod manner in which Harriet Miers' papers were prepared is really Exhibit A.'

"But White House officials insist all is business as usual, and Bush on Thursday again defended his selection of a 'competent, strong, capable woman who shares the same judicial philosophy that I share.' "

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "Ms. Miers, whose confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee are scheduled to begin Nov. 7, has so far practiced in three mock hearings of three to five hours each, most recently on Tuesday."

Time to Go?

John Dickerson writes in Slate: "At some point, Bush's refusal to scuttle Miers' nomination may turn into an act of cruelty. Forcing Miers to go forward increases the chances that her admirable career as a private lawyer, trusted friend, and able public servant will be eclipsed by the repeated calamities associated with trying to ram through her nomination."

Charles Krauthammer writes in his Washington Post column with a potential exit strategy. He notes that even Republican senators are now demanding privileged documents from Miers's White House tenure.

"Hence the perfectly honorable way to solve the conundrum: Miers withdraws out of respect for both the Senate and the executive's prerogatives, the Senate expresses appreciation for this gracious acknowledgment of its needs and responsibilities, and the White House accepts her decision with the deepest regret and with gratitude for Miers's putting preservation of executive prerogative above personal ambition."

My question is about timing. Would a Friday night be best? Or a really big news day?

What Would Motivate the Cabal?

There's virtually no follow-up whatsoever in today's papers to the assertion by Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, that a secret cabal led by the vice president has hijacked U.S. foreign policy, inveigled the president, condoned torture and crippled the ability of the government to respond to emergencies. (See yesterday's column.)

Several readers wrote me to ask: What would motivate Cheney et al. to do such a thing?

Here's a sort of primer: The Project for the New American Century's Statement of Principles, and its pre-2000 writings about Iraq.

Today in California

Edwin Chen writes in the Los Angeles Times: "When President Bush attends the ribbon-cutting ceremony this morning for a new exhibit at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, he will bask in the legacy of the most revered icon in contemporary Republican circles.

"But many Reagan loyalists are rejecting Bush's claim as Reagan's political heir."

The Abbas Visit

Agence France Presse writes: "Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas basked in the White House limelight again but made little progress in whipping up additional US support in his standoff with Israel, analysts said."

Glenn Kessler writes in The Washington Post that Bush "appeared to pull back from a goal he set shortly after his reelection to create a Palestinian state by 2009. He had earlier said he would 'use the next four years to spend the capital of the United States' on creating a state. But yesterday he denied setting such a goal -- 'Not true' -- and added, 'I can't tell you when it's going to happen.' "

Here is the text of their remarks in the Rose Garden.

Ace in the Hole

Blogger and Yale Law Professor Jack M. Balkin writes: "Rumors are buzzing about who will be indicted in the Plamegate scandal, and what further revelations will develop. Some people have even speculated that the Vice-President may be indicted or named as an unindicted co-conspirator.

"But just remember that the President always has the means to stop judicial proceedings of his closest political associates from going any further. He can simply pardon persons indicted for a crime, or even those who have not yet been indicted. . . .

"If sufficiently high level officials are indicted, his son, President George W. Bush, may also be vulnerable to be called as a witness and placed under oath. The most obvious way to avoid that unhappy scenario is to make sure that no criminal trial ever occurs. The pardon power takes care of that."

Brownie, You're a Heckuva Ring Tone

John Borland writes for CNET News.com: "In a quiet cafe in Washington, D.C., a cell phone rings. But instead of the commonplace digital bleeping or buzzing, it plays a recording of President Bush's voice.

" 'Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job,' he says, and Arlo Guthrie's 'City of New Orleans' starts playing under the looped quote. The remark is a snippet from a speech Bush made in the flooded southern city, in which he praised Federal Emergency Management Agency head Michael Brown shortly before Brown resigned.

"The homemade ring tone, a pointed political statement, is the creation of Eric Gundersen, a Washington-area Web developer for nonprofits. It's an early take on the genre of protest ring tones, a grassroots practice now picking up steam in the United States after emerging in the Philippines a few months ago."

Here's the Brownie ring tone from Gunderson's blog post on the developmentseed.org Web site.

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