Another Thunderbolt from Wilkerson

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, November 4, 2005; 12:45 PM

Another shocking accusation by former administration insider Lawrence Wilkerson appears to be going under the media radar today.

On NPR yesterday, the former chief of staff to the secretary of state said that he had uncovered a "visible audit trail" tracing the practice of prisoner abuse by U.S. soldiers directly back to Vice President Cheney's office.

Here's the audio of Wilkerson's interview with Steve Inskeep. The transcript is not publicly available, but here are the relevant excerpts:

"INSKEEP: While in the government, he says he was assigned to gather documents. He traced just how Americans came to be accused of abusing prisoners. In 2002, a presidential memo had ordered that detainees be treated in a manner consistent with the Geneva Conventions that forbid torture. Wilkerson says the vice president's office pushed for a more expansive policy.

"Mr. WILKERSON: What happened was that the secretary of Defense, under the cover of the vice president's office, began to create an environment -- and this started from the very beginning when David Addington, the vice president's lawyer, was a staunch advocate of allowing the president in his capacity as commander in chief to deviate from the Geneva Conventions. Regardless of the president having put out this memo, they began to authorize procedures within the armed forces that led to, in my view, what we've seen.

"INSKEEP: We have to get more detail about that because the military will say, the Pentagon will say they've investigated this repeatedly and that all the investigations have found that the abuses were committed by a relatively small number of people at relatively low levels. What hard evidence takes those abuses up the chain of command and lands them in the vice president's office, which is where you're placing it?

"Mr. WILKERSON: I'm privy to the paperwork, both classified and unclassified, that the secretary of State asked me to assemble on how this all got started, what the audit trail was, and when I began to assemble this paperwork, which I no longer have access to, it was clear to me that there was a visible audit trail from the vice president's office through the secretary of Defense down to the commanders in the field that in carefully couched terms -- I'll give you that -- that to a soldier in the field meant two things: We're not getting enough good intelligence and you need to get that evidence, and, oh, by the way, here's some ways you probably can get it. And even some of the ways that they detailed were not in accordance with the spirit of the Geneva Conventions and the law of war.

"You just -- if you're a military man, you know that you just don't do these sorts of things because once you give just the slightest bit of leeway, there are those in the armed forces who will take advantage of that. There are those in the leadership who will feel so pressured that they have to produce intelligence that it doesn't matter whether it's actionable or not as long as they can get the volume in. They have to do what they have to do to get it, and so you've just given in essence, though you may not know it, carte blanche for a lot of problems to occur."

Addington, incidentally, was promoted this week to the position of vice presidential chief of staff, replacing his indicted former boss, Scooter Libby. (For more on Addington, read my columns from Tuesday and Wednesday .)

The only news service I have found that covered Wilkerson's comments on NPR was Agence France Presse .

But if past is prologue, it will get picked up by more people soon.

In my October 20 column , I expressed surprise that Wilkerson's last thunderbolt hadn't made the front pages.

The previous day, he had given a speech in which he declared that a secret cabal led by the vice president has hijacked U.S. foreign policy and crippled the ability of the government to respond to emergencies.

But it's gotten a lot more attention since.

Poll Watch

Richard Morin and Dan Balz write in The Washington Post: "For the first time in his presidency a majority of Americans question the integrity of President Bush, and growing doubts about his leadership have left him with record negative ratings on the economy, Iraq and even the war on terrorism, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows.

"On almost every key measure of presidential character and performance, the survey found that Bush has never been less popular with the American people. Currently 39 percent approve of the job he is doing as president, while 60 percent disapprove of his performance in office -- the highest level of disapproval ever recorded for Bush in Post-ABC polls. . . .

"The indictment Friday of I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, in the CIA leak case added to the burden of an administration already reeling from a failed Supreme Court nomination, public dissatisfaction with the economy and continued bloodshed in Iraq. According to the survey, 52 percent say the charges against Libby signal the presence of deeper ethical wrongdoing in the administration. Half believe White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, the president's top political hand, also did something wrong in the case -- about 6 in 10 say Rove should resign."

Here are the complete results .

Gary Langer writes for ABC News: "A striking feature of the president's predicament is the intensity of sentiment against him. Just 20 percent of Americans 'strongly' approve of his work in office, the fewest of his career; more than twice as many, 47 percent, strongly disapprove, the most yet seen.

"Even in his own party, just under half of Republicans, 49 percent, now strongly approve of Bush's job performance; it was 71 percent at the start of the year -- a huge 22-point fall in home-crowd intensity. And it's a similar story among conservatives, another core Bush group: Their strong approval has fallen 14 points this year, to 38 percent.

"In another measure of intensity, 25 percent of Americans say they're 'angry' with the Bush administration, three times as many as are 'pleased' with it.

"Intensity follows through on views of the Iraq war: In still another first, nearly twice as many Americans now feel strongly that the war not worth fighting as those who feel strongly it was, 48 percent versus 25 percent."

Tom Raum writes for the Associated Press about their new poll: "President Bush's job approval has fallen to the lowest level of his presidency amid worries over the Iraq war, a fumbled Supreme Court nomination, the indictment of one White House aide and uncertainty about another. . . .

"A new AP-Ipsos poll found Bush's approval rating was at 37 percent, compared with 39 percent a month ago. About 59 percent of those surveyed said they disapproved.

"The intensity of disapproval is the strongest to date, with 42 percent now saying they 'strongly disapprove' of how Bush is handling his job -- twice as many as the 20 percent who said they 'strongly approve.'"

Blogger Jonathan Schwarz charts Gallup poll results for Bush and Nixon and asks: "Who Will Win the Title of Least-Loved President?"

Rove Watch

David Johnston and Richard W. Stevenson write in the New York Times: "The prosecutor in the C.I.A. leak case has narrowed his investigation of Karl Rove, the senior White House adviser, to whether he tried to conceal from the grand jury a conversation with a Time magazine reporter in the week before an intelligence officer's identity was made public more than two years ago, lawyers in the case said Thursday.

"The special counsel, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, has centered on what are believed to be his final inquiries in the matter as to whether Mr. Rove was fully forthcoming about the belated discovery of an internal e-mail message that confirmed his conversation with the Time reporter, Matthew Cooper, to whom Mr. Rove had mentioned the C.I.A. officer.

"Mr. Fitzgerald no longer seems to be actively examining some of the more incendiary questions involving Mr. Rove. At one point, he explored whether Mr. Rove misrepresented his role in the leak case to President Bush - an issue that led to discussions between Mr. Fitzgerald and James E. Sharp, a lawyer for Mr. Bush, an associate of Mr. Rove said."

Does that mean Bush was, in essence, re-interviewed? I sure would like to know more about that.

Johnston and Stevenson also report that their sources insist that "there had been no discussion about Mr. Rove stepping down if he is not indicted. They said that any serious consideration of how Mr. Rove should address his role in the case had been put off until after Mr. Fitzgerald completes his inquiry into Mr. Rove.

"They were responding to an article on Thursday in The Washington Post , which reported that top White House aides were discussing Mr. Rove's future and that some of them doubted that Mr. Bush could put the leak case behind him as long as Mr. Rove remained in the administration."

Mark Silva writes in the Chicago Tribune: "Friends of Rove and the White House, too, are busy squelching rumors that the administration is debating internally whether Rove can remain effective regardless of what comes of the inquiry.

" 'This is palace intrigue,' said one senior Republican official.

" 'There are always people in the palace who think it's in their self-interest to damage the king's closest adviser,' he said. 'There are people in the White House who think they'd be better off without Karl, but these are people who don't have the talent and ability to do the job.' "

Conservative commentator John Podhoretz , writing on National Review's blog, sees press secretary Scott McClellan's fingerprints all over The Post story: "This is the first time ever that a sympathetic word has been published about Scott McClellan, which is tipoff #1 that the story derives from him or his friends. Tipoff #2 is the idea that what's affecting the White House is less the whole leak affair than its effect on Scott McClellan. Yes, I'm sure people are wandering the halls of the Old Executive Office Building, murmuring to each other, 'I just can't get any work done because of what's happened to Scott!' "

In yesterday's gaggle aboard Air Force One, McClellan said "there's a lot of speculation going around at this time that relates to an ongoing investigation and an ongoing legal proceeding, and I'm not going to get into speculating about anything relating to that. You know, I will reiterate what I said the other day: there is no discussion of staff changes, beyond the usual vacancies that occur and beyond the ones we just announced relating to the vacancy that occurred in the Vice President's Office."

Is McClellan on His Way Out?

Don Gonyea writes for NPR that something has to give in the briefing room. "The legal proceedings McClellan refers to could last a year or longer. Surely he can't expect to hold off commenting on false statements he has made until then.

"If he intends to do so, he'll have a hard time standing at the podium as a credible spokesman for the administration. He can no longer count on the assumption of trust that makes it possible for a spokesman to do his job.

"Most reporters at the White House believe that Rove and Libby told McClellan they were not involved in the Valerie Plame matter, and that McClellan simply passed this along.

"This puts him McClellan in a difficult position, but whether he has discussed that fact with either Libby or Rove is not known. Neither man has apologized so far for talking to reporters on background about Plame. Nor has either come forward to let McClellan off the hook by admitting publicly that he told him a lie. It may not be possible for either to do so without complicating his own legal situation. That's why, some speculate, McClellan's only way out of the vise is to step down."

Libby Watch

Carol D. Leonnig writes in The Washington Post: "Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff pleaded not guilty yesterday to charges of lying to the FBI and a grand jury about his conversations with reporters in the CIA leak investigation, and his lawyer promised to fight the accusations in a trial that could bring government secrets into open court. . . .

"Libby, 55, entered the courthouse on crutches because of a foot injury but came with a show of legal strength: Theodore V. Wells Jr. and William Jeffress Jr., two nationally prominent white-collar criminal defense litigators he had recently hired for his defense. . . .

"Jeffress said that there could be numerous First Amendment 'issues' that may produce 'protracted litigation' and delay the case. Libby's lawyers are expected to seek to review the notes, records and source information of several reporters who may be called as witnesses, several defense lawyers said, and the likely resistance from reporters and their news organizations could provide delays that help the defense. . . .

"Libby's next court date was set for Feb. 3, by which time Walton said he hopes the defense would have obtained the proper security clearances and been able to review the government's evidence."

Eric Lichtblau writes in the New York Times that "legal analysts said the defense might be planning to seek access to reporters' notes regarding the leaking of a C.I.A. officer's identity. That would set the stage for another round of confrontations with journalists who have proved central to the investigation. . . .

"The prospect that the case will progress slowly means that the White House may be forced to buffet extended criticism of Mr. Libby's conduct - and by implication, of the administration's polices on Iraq - through 2006, even as it seeks to regain its footing for the Congressional midterm elections."

Mark Memmott writes for USA Today: " 'This is a trial the White House would rather not see happen,' says Randall Eliason, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia. 'It's going to be next spring, not too long before the midterm elections, and it could tell a pretty unflattering story about what went on in the vice president's office. . . . For the White House, it could be a circus.' "

Here's Washington Post national political editor John Harris 's take, from his Live Online discussion yesterday: "To be honest, I'd be pretty surprised if this case goes to trial. My colleagues covering the case expect a plea deal."

The Judge

Eric Lichtblau in the New York Times profiles the judge in the case: Reggie B. Walton.

"Some critics of the administration say they want to see the case against Mr. Libby turned into a trial of the White House's use of intelligence before the Iraqi war, but those who know Judge Walton say they doubt that he will let that happen."

Lichtblau's story reminded me of the article Carol D. Leonnig wrote in The Washington Post in August about Walton's heroic conduct stopping an assault -- and wrestling another man's attacker to the ground -- in the middle of a D.C. traffic circle.

Walton, incidentally, worked in the White House from 1989 to 1991, serving as the first President Bush's associate director for the Office of National Drug Control Policy. His immediate boss was William J. Bennett. Walton was also a senior White House adviser on crime.

Edelman Watch

Douglas Jehl writes in the New York Times that Eric S. Edelman, an under secretary of defense and former deputy national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, denied any involvement in any governmental investigation in a written statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"But Mr. Edelman is identified by his former job title in the indictment of I. Lewis Libby Jr., who resigned last Friday as Vice President Cheney's chief of staff and national security adviser. The office of Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special counsel in the case, has confirmed that Mr. Edelman was the 'then principal deputy' to Mr. Libby in the indictment. . . .

"President Bush installed Mr. Edelman in the post this summer, using a recess appointment to bypass the Senate confirmation process."

Cheney Asked to Testify

The Associated Press reports: "Three Democratic congressmen Thursday asked Vice President Dick Cheney to testify on Capitol Hill about the disclosure of a covert CIA officer's identity, saying 'there are many wide-ranging questions about your involvement.'

"The congressmen asked why Cheney's office was gathering information about Valerie Plame, the wife of Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson in 2003; whether the vice president directed his top aide, the now-indicted I. Lewis Libby, to speak to the news media about Plame; and whether Cheney was aware Libby was doing so."

Medals of Freedom

Here's the White House announcement of this year's Medal of Freedom winners. They include Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, boxing legend Muhammad Ali, former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Richard Myers, actors Carol Burnett and Andy Grifith, and Paul Rusesabagina, who sheltered people at the hotel he managed during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

New Blood

President Bush announced yesterday the hiring of seven new White House staffers. These are all second and third-tier staffers -- "assistant to the president" is the top tier.

Stephen S. McMillin will be deputy assistant to the president and advisor to the chief of staff; Douglas B. Baker will be special assistant to the president and director of border and transportation security; Rudy Fernandez will be special assistant to the president for intergovernmental affairs; Daniel W. Fisk will be special assistant to the president and senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs; Meghan L. O'Sullivan will be special assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan; Matthew Scott Robinson will be special assistant to the president for speechwriting; and Stephen B. Slick will be special assistant to the president and senior director for intelligence programs and reform.

Wage Law Reversal

As expected, President Bush yesterday signed a proclamation which revoked this proclamation from September 8, which had suspended these wage law provisions in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Rove Cleared -- in Texas

The Associated Press reports: "A Texas county official said Thursday he would not prosecute presidential adviser Karl Rove after investigating whether he voted illegally in the state."

South America Hijinks

Michael A. Fletcher writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush arrived in this seaside resort Thursday night for a summit with other leaders from the Western Hemisphere, during which he hopes to promote lower trade barriers as a tonic for poverty and joblessness throughout the region."

Elisabeth Bumiller and Larry Rohter write in the New York Times that he arrived there "after one of the worst weeks of his presidency, only to be greeted by strong anti-American sentiment and taunts from Venezuela's populist president, Hugo Chvez."

The Associated Press reports: "Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, emboldened by thousands of anti-American protesters, is getting a rare chance to stand up to his adversary, George Bush, with promises to keep the president from reviving talks on a free trade area stretching from Alaska to Argentina. . . .

"With tensions rising between the two nations, Chavez and Bush will likely see each other Friday at the summit's inauguration -- after Chavez addresses a rally of mostly anti-Bush protesters. The two leaders are not scheduled to meet one-on-one, but they will both be taking part in the same summit sessions.

"Chavez has joked about whether Bush is afraid of him, saying he might sneak up and scare Bush at the summit."

© 2005 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive