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What Bush Told Fitzgerald

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, July 5, 2006; 12:56 PM

The National Journal's Murray Waas on Monday served up another sizzling exclusive, describing previously secret elements of President Bush's interview in June 2004 with CIA leak investigation special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald.

According to Waas's sources, Bush told Fitzgerald that he had directed Vice President Cheney in the summer of 2003 to counter damaging allegations being made by former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, and gave Cheney permission to disclose highly classified intelligence information to do so.

Bush did not admit any connection to the act at the center of the criminal investigation. "Bush also said during his interview with prosecutors that he had never directed anyone to disclose the identity of then-covert CIA officer Valerie Plame, Wilson's wife," Waas writes. "Bush said he had no information that Cheney had disclosed Plame's identity or directed anyone else to do so."

Publicly, Bush has consistently portrayed himself as not only uninvolved with the leak of Plame's identity, but utterly in the dark about it -- and determined to punish any wrongdoers.

But Waas's story suggests that Bush was directly responsible for the sequence of events that resulted in that leak.

As it turns out, there were two major byproducts of Bush's charge to Cheney to counter Wilson's ultimately substantiated charge that the White House had misrepresented intelligence in the runup to war in Iraq: Cheney's top aide, Scooter Libby, distributed highly classified but nevertheless disproved and inaccurate information to reporters; and Libby and White House political guru Karl Rove outed Plame in a specious attempt to suggest that Wilson's trip was a junket arranged by his wife.

Fitzgerald's grand jury has charged Libby with perjury and obstruction of justice in the Plame case. Among other things, Libby told investigators he had first heard of Plame's CIA job from reporters when his own notes showed he had learned about it from Cheney.

Waas has previously reported that prosecutors suspect Libby may have lied to cover up for Cheney. This new report raises the possibility that Libby lied to cover up for Bush, too.

But even if that's not the case, it certainly seems clear by now that Bush knows a lot more about this case -- and his White House's enthusiasm for discrediting its opponents -- than he's let on in public.

Isn't it about time Bush stopped pretending ignorance about this story -- and came clean on his own role? Why should that information only be shared with criminal prosecutors?

Is it approved White House procedure to distribute misinformation? Is it okay to out a covert CIA operative? If it's not okay was he disappointed in how top deputies like Cheney and Rove -- both still very much at work at the White House -- carried out his orders?

More from Waas's Monday story :

"One senior government official familiar with the discussions between Bush and Cheney -- but who does not have firsthand knowledge of Bush's interview with prosecutors -- said that Bush told the vice president to 'Get it out,' or 'Let's get this out,' regarding information that administration officials believed would rebut Wilson's allegations and would discredit him.

"A person with direct knowledge of Bush's interview refused to confirm that Bush used those words, but said that the first official's account was generally consistent with what Bush had told Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.

"Libby, in language strikingly similar to Bush's words, testified to the federal grand jury in the leak case that Cheney had told him to 'get all the facts out' that would defend the administration and discredit Wilson."

Waas also writes: "A senior government official who has spoken to the president about the matter said that although Bush encouraged Cheney to get information out to rebut Wilson's charges, Bush was unaware that Cheney had directed Libby to leak classified information. The White House has pointed out that the president and vice president have broad executive powers to declassify whatever information they believe to be in the public interest."

Some Background

You may recall, as Waas reported on April 6, that Libby told a grand jury he had Bush's permission, via Cheney, to divulge sensitive information to journalists.

Warren P. Strobel and Ron Hutcheson wrote for Knight Ridder Newspapers on April 7: "The revelation that President Bush authorized former White House aide I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby to divulge classified information about Iraq fits a pattern of selective leaks of secret intelligence to further the administration's political agenda. . . .

"Much of the information that the administration leaked or declassified, however, has proved to be incomplete, exaggerated, incorrect or fabricated."

Barton Gellman and Dafna Linzer wrote in The Washington Post on April 9 that "the evidence Cheney and Libby selected to share with reporters had been disproved months before."

Had you even forgotten that Bush was ever interviewed by Fitzgerald? Neither Bush nor any of his aides have ever discussed it in public. As Susan Schmidt wrote in The Washington Post on June 25, 2004: "Special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald and several assistants questioned the president for about 70 minutes in the Oval Office yesterday morning. A White House spokesman declined to comment on the substance of the interview but said Bush, who was accompanied by a private lawyer, was not placed under oath."

Rove's Role

Actually this isn't the first we've heard about what Bush told Fitzgerald during that interview.

Waas wrote in the National Journal on Oct. 7, 2005: "White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove personally assured President Bush in the early fall of 2003 that he had not disclosed to anyone in the press that Valerie Plame, the wife of an administration critic, was a CIA employee, according to legal sources with firsthand knowledge of the accounts that both Rove and Bush independently provided to federal prosecutors. . . .

"In his own interview with prosecutors on June 24, 2004, Bush testified that Rove assured him he had not disclosed Plame as a CIA employee and had said nothing to the press to discredit Wilson, according to sources familiar with the president's interview."

But a few days after that story, Thomas M. DeFrank in the New York Daily News described a significantly different timeline -- one in which, among other things, Bush knew about Rove's role in the Plame leak before he was interviewed by Fitzgerald.

"Bush was initially furious with Rove in 2003 when his deputy chief of staff conceded he had talked to the press about the Plame leak," DeFrank wrote.

"Bush has always known that Rove often talks with reporters anonymously and he generally approved of such contacts, one source said.

"But the President felt Rove and other members of the White House damage-control team did a clumsy job in their campaign to discredit Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, the ex-diplomat who criticized Bush's claim that Saddam Hussen tried to buy weapons-grade uranium in Niger."

In my June 13 column , I reviewed some of the unanswered questions left in the wake of Rove's apparently successful avoidance of criminal charges in the investigation.

North Korea Watch

Here's the White House statement , issued late last night, about the North Korean missile firings: "While the United States remains committed to a peaceful diplomatic solution and to implementation of the agreed upon Joint Statement, the North Korean regime's actions and unwillingness to return to the talks appears to indicate that the North has not yet made the strategic decision to give up their nuclear programs as pledged to the other five parties. Accordingly, we will continue to take all necessary measures to protect ourselves and our allies."

Here's the transcript of a conference call with press secretary Tony Snow and national security adviser Steve Hadley yesterday evening, which started off attributed to two "senior administration officials" -- until Associated Press reporter Deb Riechmann asked if there was any reason for that. It turned out there wasn't.

Even as reporters spoke, more information was coming in:

"MR. SNOW: All right, we have two additional pieces of information. We actually do have confirmations now of a fourth and fifth launch.

"Q Fifth, did you say, Tony . . .

"OPERATOR: Mr. Hadley is on the phone.

"MR. SNOW: Steve, did all five fall in the Sea of Japan?

"MR. HADLEY: I have one piece of news. There has been a sixth."

Hadley said the missile firings didn't come as a surprise: "So, you know, we've been doing a lot of preparations for this, and the President, I think -- so it wasn't that he was surprised, because we've seen this coming for a while."

Just last Thursday, in a joint appearance with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Bush declared sternly that "launching the missile is unacceptable."

Koizumi said that "should they ever launch the missile, that will cause various pressures -- we would apply various pressures. And we discussed that. I believe it is best that I do not discuss what specific pressures we were talking about."

Live Online

I'm Live Online today at 1 p.m. ET. I look forward to responding to your comments, questions and observations .

Bush's Fourth

Here's the text of Bush's July Fourth speech at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Matt Spetalnick writes for Reuters: "President George W. Bush, trying to tap into Independence Day patriotism to revive domestic support for an unpopular war, vowed on Tuesday that U.S. troops would not leave Iraq until their mission was complete."

Peter Baker writes for The Washington Post: "Bush flew to this Army base to spend part of the holiday with U.S. troops and to rhetorically link the nation's current conflicts with its storied origin -- 'from Bunker Hill to Baghdad, from Concord to Kabul,' as he put it. Surrounding himself with uniformed men and women, he again vowed to resist calls to withdraw from Iraq.

" 'I'm going to make you this promise: I'm not going to allow the sacrifice of 2,527 troops who have died in Iraq to be in vain by pulling out before the job is done,' he told 3,500 troops and relatives. . . .

"The picture this time was carefully drawn. Appearing in an olive shirt drenched with sweat, Bush spoke in front of scores of troops in camouflage uniforms and red berets, a massive U.S. flag and a 27-foot sculpture of a World War II airborne trooper known by the nickname 'Iron Mike.' "

Here's a Reuters photo .

Sheryl Gay Stolberg notes in the New York Times that Bush "took the rare step of mentioning the precise number of war dead."

It's the clearest indication yet that Bush is no longer seeing the war -- and its dead -- as a political liability.

Paul Woolverton writes in the Fayetteville Observer: "The crowd at Iron Mike repeatedly and loudly cheered and applauded the president. But at one point the throng stood silent for a few seconds. It was near the beginning, when Bush said, 'It's good to be with the men and women of the 8th Airborne Corps and the quiet professionals of the Army Special Operations Command.' Fort Bragg is home to the 18th Airborne Corps."

Exclusive Interview

Jeff Schogol of Stars and Stripes, the official newspaper of the armed forces, had an exclusive July Fourth interview with Bush aboard Air Force One.

The questions were solicited from troops in the field. And there were some tough ones.

Schogol writes: "President Bush has met hundreds of families of fallen soldiers, but he has yet to attend a servicemember's funeral, he said Tuesday.

" 'Because which funeral do you go to? In my judgment, I think if I go to one I should go to all. How do you honor one person but not another?' he said.

"The appropriate way to express his appreciation to the family members of fallen troops is to meet with them in private, he said."

Among the other questions:

"One soldier now serving in Iraq asked how many times he would have to return to the war zone in the next five years. Bush said he did not have an answer. . . .

"Another soldier asked if Army rotations in Iraq could be shortened from one year to six months. . . .

"Bush was asked if a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would be acceptable in return for a cease-fire by insurgents.

"Bush called the question hypothetical and deferred comment to Gen. George Casey, commander of Multinational Force-Iraq."

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

Peter Baker also wrote in The Post about Bush's birthday celebrations. Bush turns 60 tomorrow, but Baker writes that Laura Bush threw him a party last night: "a relatively low-key event with about 150 old friends, relatives, close advisers and Yale University schoolmates in the executive mansion. Four of them traveled with Bush earlier on Tuesday: Bradford M. Freeman, Joe O'Neill, Mike Weiss and Charles Younger. . . .

"Bush showed up in the East Room in a red-and-white short-sleeved Hawaiian shirt and slacks. Guests ate fried chicken, Cajun shrimp, biscuits, salad and a three-tier chocolate cake covered with a variety of decorations, including a replica of the White House and topped with the number 60, according to a White House official.

"Guests toasted the president and gave him gifts, but officials provided no details and released only a handout photograph ."

Johanna Neuman writes in the Los Angeles Times: "For his presidency, the Big Six-O signals another milestone likely to draw the attention of friends and foes alike. . . .

"Already, the comic strip Doonesbury has raised the president's age, with Bush asking political guru Karl Rove why the White House is not getting more of a bounce out of the flag-burning amendment and Rove explaining that the only graphic display of flag-burning is grainy footage of protesters now as old as 60.

"The Republican National Committee is using the occasion as a fundraiser -- inviting supporters to sign an online birthday e-card and 'consider celebrating President Bush's 60th birthday with a gift our entire party can share . . . $60 or whatever you can afford.' . . .

"Back at the White House, Bush himself has resisted all interviews on the topic -- with the exception of appearing with his wife on CNN's 'Larry King Live,' which will be taped on Thursday for broadcast that night."

The Financial Times notes: "Pulte Homes, the largest US house builder, marked the event by surveying owners of its retirement communities to provide advice for Dubbya. 'Don't go hunting with the vice-president,' was the most popular refrain amid the homilies."

Immigration Flip-Flop?

Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the New York Times: "On the eve of nationwide hearings that could determine the fate of his immigration bill, President Bush is signaling a new willingness to negotiate with House Republicans in an effort to revise the stalled legislation before Election Day.

"Republicans both inside and outside the White House say Mr. Bush, who has long insisted on comprehensive reform, is now open to a so-called enforcement-first approach that would put new border security programs in place before creating a guest worker program or path to citizenship for people living in the United States illegally. . . .

"In a sign of that willingness, the White House last week invited a leading conservative proponent of an enforcement-first bill, Representative Mike Pence, Republican of Indiana, to present his ideas to Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney in the Oval Office. . . .

"Mr. Pence said that the meeting was scheduled to last 10 or 20 minutes but went on for 40, and that the president 'was quite adamant throughout the meeting to make the point that he hoped I would be encouraged.' "

Still unclear, Stolberg reports, is whether Bush would give up on the "path to citizenship" that House Republicans deride as amnesty -- but that the Senate considers imperative.

Bush made an unannounced visit to an immigrant-owned Dunkin' Donuts store in Alexandria this morning to talk about immigration. Here's the transcript . He restated his publicly-held views; no talk of triggers.

Cheney's Heart

Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the New York Times: "Vice President Dick Cheney, who has a long history of heart disease and underwent surgery last year to repair aneurysms in arteries behind his knees, was pronounced in stable cardiac health after a routine annual physical examination on Saturday."

Cheney the Driven

Jeff Zeleny blogs for the Chicago Tribune: "It's been nearly seven years since he's been behind the wheel.

"Vice President Dick Cheney was visiting a NASCAR race over the weekend, where he lamented the fact he hasn't driven a car since the day George W. Bush called him - back in the summer of 2000 - and asked him to join the Republican ticket."

The Press Bashes Back

David Ignatius writes in his Washington Post opinion column: "The Bush administration's press-bashing campaign may be good election-year politics, but it is adding a poisonous new element to the national security debate at the very time the administration ought to be trying to rebuild a bipartisan consensus. . . .

" 'Trust us' is not a winning argument in America -- either with newspaper editors or the public at large. Trust in government is earned by a pattern of trustworthy action, not by secrecy, evasion and partisan division. And the best way to rebuild lost trust is informed public debate."

Richard Stengel , managing editor of Time, writes in his magazine: "When the press runs a story the White House claims is harmful to security, the word disloyalty inevitably creeps into the conversation. The line between dissent and disloyalty, between harmful revelations and vital ones, is murky. Often we never really know. But I would argue that the judicious questioning of the conduct and morality of war is the furthest thing from disloyalty: it is an expression of deep patriotism and the essence of responsible citizenship."

David Remnick writes in the New Yorker: "More than any other White House in history, Bush's has tried to starve, mock, weaken, bypass, devalue, intimidate, and deceive the press. . . .

"In the wake of the Administration's record of dishonesty and incompetence in Iraq and the consequent decline in the President's domestic polling numbers, it is not hard to discern why the White House might find a convenient enemy in the editors of the Times: this is an election year. The assault on the Times is a no-lose situation for the White House. The banking story itself showed the Administration to be doing what it had declared it was doing from the start: concertedly monitoring the financial transactions of potential terrorists. At the same time, by smearing the Times for the delectation of the Republican 'base,' the Administration could direct attention away from its failures, including, last week, the Supreme Court's decision to block its plans to try Guant?namo detainees before military commissions."

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