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'I Didn't Do It'

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, January 31, 2007; 1:02 PM

It's a memorable scene.

The time: September 2003, just as the Department of Justice is launching its investigation of who leaked Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA agent to the media.

The characters: Scooter Libby, the singularly important chief of staff to an enormously powerful vice president, and David S. Addington, the vice president's preeminent legal brain and architect of the White House's expansion of executive power.

The place: Libby's spacious office in the gothic Old Executive Office Building, right next door to the White House.

"I just want to tell you, I didn't do it," Libby tells Addington, according to the latter's testimony yesterday at the former's federal trial for perjury and obstruction of justice.

And how does Addington respond? No one has ever suggested he is stupid. He did not respond at all.

"I didn't ask what the 'it' was," Addington testified yesterday.

That was a wise move on Addington's part.

In the fall of 2003, the White House was publicly issuing carefully parsed denials related to the Plame case -- all of which later turned out to have one central aspect in common: They were utterly and completely deceptive.

The truth, of course, was that several White House officials had spoken to a number of reporters about Plame. It's just that no one wanted to say so.

For the press, getting a straight answer out of a senior official was a hopeless cause. But for a colleague, someone like Addington, it was entirely undesirable. It could make you a part of the cover-up.

Dispatches From the Libby Trial

Carol D. Leonnig and Amy Goldstein write in The Washington Post: "Former New York Times reporter Judith Miller yesterday helped the prosecutor who landed her in jail and forced her into the witness chair, providing potentially damaging information about the confidential administration source she tried to shield, I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby.

"Deliberately and sometimes defensively offering her account in Libby's perjury trial, Miller told the jury that 'a very irritated and angry' Libby told her in a confidential conversation on June 23, 2003, that the wife of a prominent critic of the Iraq war worked at the CIA. Libby had told investigators he believed he first learned that information from another journalist nearly three weeks later -- the assertion at the core of the charges against him."

Neil A. Lewis and Scott Shane write in the New York Times that Libby defense attorney William H. Jeffress Jr. "attacked her memory and credibility. . . .

"The main line of attack by Mr. Jeffress concerned the fact that Ms. Miller did not describe the June 23, 2003, meeting with Mr. Libby when she first appeared before a grand jury on Sept. 30, 2005, the day after she got out of jail.

"He noted with a large measure of sarcasm that she had just finished testifying in detail about Mr. Libby's comments and even his mood during the June 23 meeting. How was it possible that she forgot entirely about the same meeting before the grand jury? he asked."

When it comes to impugning Miller's credibility, I'm surprised no one has brought up Murray Waas's October 2005 National Journal story, in which he reported: "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."

According to Waas, it was only after that that Miller "discovered" her notes from that meeting.

John Dickerson writes for Slate: "Jeffress' thinly veiled condescension was enough to create sympathy for Miller. In Washington, that's like creating cold fusion."

The Associated Press has trial exhibits. The Firedoglake blog continues to shame the traditional media with its liveblogging, making it the only place where you can find out what's going on in real time, and in any detail.

Fitzgerald, Fitzpatrick, What's the Difference?

From the Lewis and Shane story in today's Times: "In her more than two hours on the stand, Ms. Miller became the focal point for an intense drama involving three people in the room: herself, Mr. Fitzpatrick and Mr. Libby. As she provided the testimony that was most damaging to Mr. Libby, he sat almost motionless in his chair about 20 feet away and stared at her."

War Powers

Laurie Kellman writes for the Associated Press: "A Senate Republican on Tuesday directly challenged President Bush's declaration that 'I am the decision-maker' on issues of war.

"'I would suggest respectfully to the president that he is not the sole decider,' Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said during a hearing on Congress' war powers amid an increasingly harsh debate over Iraq war policy. 'The decider is a shared and joint responsibility,' Specter said."

Specter later spoke to Wolf Blitzer on CNN.

"BLITZER: You did it respectfully, but you gave him a little slap, the president of the United States. What made you decide that this was the time to speak up on this sensitive issue, the war powers between the legislative and the executive branch.

"SPECTER: Well, I didn't give him a slap. What I did was articulate the principle of the Constitution, very basic, and that is separation of power and checks and balances, and the way the Constitution is written, the president is not the sole decider. The Congress has a very loud voice. And I made the statements today in a Judiciary Committee hearing where we're examining the constitutional issues."

Aamer Madhani writes in the Chicago Tribune: "In an intensifying debate on the war in Iraq, Democratic senators began probing Tuesday how Congress could halt President Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq or even use its powers to halt the war altogether. . . .

"In the Senate panel's hearing on war powers, four of five constitutional law experts agreed that Congress effectively has the right to end the war, particularly by cutting off funding. The president, as commander in chief, is solely responsible for strategy and tactics, the experts concluded.

"Bradford Berenson, a White House lawyer from 2001 to 2003 who advised on executive authority, said, 'In my judgment, a statute that says as of six months of the date of enactment, the U.S. shall no longer be engaged in hostilities in Iraq is presumptively constitutional. That would be if it could be passed presumably over the president's veto, it would be a constitutional statute and proper exercise of Congress' broad authority.'"

And yes, that's the same Bradford Berenson who, according to Jane Mayer of the New Yorker, worked closely with Addington on such projects as the executive order creating the military commissions that were later found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Fred Barbash writes in a Washington Post op-ed: "The equilibrium of government, in the view of the Constitution's Framers, rested on a stated assumption that each branch would fight fiercely to expand its authority but just as fiercely resist encroachment from another branch.

"That Congress would refuse to fight seemed unimaginable."

Legal blogger Glenn Greenwald chronicles how enthusiastic Republicans have been about exercising congressional war power -- when a Democrat is president.

The GOP and Iraq

Carl Hulse and Thom Shanker write in the New York Times: "The Bush administration's allies in the Senate began a major effort on Tuesday to prevent a potentially embarrassing rejection of the president's plan to push 20,000 more troops into Iraq.

"With the Senate expected to reach votes on possible resolutions sometime next week, the signs of the new campaign seeped out after a weekly closed-door lunch in which Republican senators engaged in what participants described as a heated debate over how to approach the issue."

Hulse and Shanker also note that at a Senate hearing yesterday, "the leaders of the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan panel that reported to Mr. Bush and Congress last month, disputed the White House's contention that most of their recommendations had been incorporated into Mr. Bush's troop increase plan."

Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray write in The Washington Post: "Republican misgivings over President Bush's new war strategy are increasingly dividing the GOP as the Senate moves toward a showdown over the deployment of 21,500 additional troops to Iraq.

"Republican strategy had envisioned a single resolution that would allow the party's senators to express doubts about the plan without stating their outright opposition. Instead, Republicans appear to be balkanizing, with at least five GOP drafts now in play and more Republicans stating their reservations. . . .

"Vice President Cheney and senior military officials attended a Republican policy lunch yesterday, which turned into a raucous debate about the various resolutions, according to a party leadership aide. Bush will meet with GOP senators on Friday as the White House continues to try to tamp down opposition.

"But Republican misgivings are not subsiding."

Marc Sandalow writes in the San Francisco Chronicle: "The bloodshed in Iraq already has cost the Republicans control of Congress, devastated the Bush presidency and made Democrats the favorites heading into the 2008 presidential campaign.

"With no end in sight to the nearly 4-year-old war, there is widening concern among Republicans that losing what was described widely in 2003 as 'the biggest gamble of the modern presidency'' could hurt their party's electoral prospects for a generation to come."

A Bipartisan Panel

Zachary A. Goldfarb writes in The Washington Post: "Democratic leaders agreed yesterday to President Bush's idea for a new bipartisan panel to advise him on the fight against terrorism and the Iraq war, days after rejecting such a commission. . . .

"A senior Democratic leadership aide said yesterday that Bush had wanted to dictate the terms of the panel and even select its Democratic members.

"Yesterday, Bush spoke with Pelosi and Reid, and they agreed to create a panel to which Democrats could appoint their own members."

Bush first announced his intentions in his January 10 address to the nation: "Acting on the good advice of Senator Joe Lieberman and other key members of Congress, we will form a new, bipartisan working group that will help us come together across party lines to win the war on terror. This group will meet regularly with me and my administration; it will help strengthen our relationship with Congress."

It's a safe bet Bush wanted Lieberman on the panel, as a Democratic member -- and a reasonable bet that it won't happen.

Bush on ABC

ABC News business reporter Betsy Stark got to tag along with Bush yesterday on a trip to Peoria, Ill.

Given her focus on business, you wouldn't necessarily expect her to grill the president mercilessly on, say, foreign policy. But did she really have to start off with such a softball?

Here are excerpts from her interview:

Stark: "You've . . . been frustrated. You haven't gotten more credit for this good economy. Can that be summed up in one word? Can that be summed up as Iraq?"

Bush: "I think so, yes. Look, it's a -- people are working and -- and they're -- and wages are up. But we're in a time of war. And its -- war is unsettling. War is negative."

Missed follow-up opportunity: Isn't it also possible it's because under your stewardship, economic growth is disproportionately benefiting the wealthy and super-wealthy?

Stark: "I know you don't love polls. But I'm going to tell you one we did recently that showed that 67 percent say you don't understand the problems of average Americans. Why do you think so many people feel that way?"

Bush: "You know, I don't know. It's an interesting question. I think it's because of the war, again, I think because people are feeling pretty down about, you know, things because of the war. On the other hand, I know if the government took their money in terms of higher taxes, they would feel even worse."

Stark asked Bush about his new health care plan.

Stark: "Something's not resonating about it. I mean, almost instantly, the betting was 'This won't pass this Congress.'"

Bush: "Well, if people all of a sudden say, if their attitude is, 'George Bush is for it, I'm against it,' if that's what you're saying, that's the kind of attitude the American people don't really want to see."

Missed follow-up opportunity: Actually, I wasn't saying that. I was saying a lot of people think it's a stinker.

Stark: "There's been a lot of tough talk by you recently on Iran's involvement in Iraq. If the evidence is there that they are, indeed, harming American troops, how will you deal with it?"

Bush: "We'll deal with it by finding their supply chains and their agents and bringing them -- you know, arresting them. Getting them out of harm's way. We're going to protect our troops. It's not tough talk to say that the commander in chief expects our troops to be protected. That's commonsensical talk, it seems like to me. Some are trying to take my words and say, 'Well, what he's really trying to do is go invade Iran.' Nobody's talking about that. I am, however -- "

Stark: "You have ruled out military action in Iran?"

Bush: "No, All options are on the table, of course, in anything. But to say that defending ourselves in Iraq means that 'He has some greater goal' is simply not the case."

Missed follow-up question: Are you also willing to say that nobody's talking about air strikes on Iran? Or are you limiting this almost-denial to a ground invasion?

Stark concludes her report: "The president continues to have an ambitious economic agenda for his last two years, including taxes, health care, energy, and immigration. I asked him if he still has the political capital to move that agenda. And he said, 'the president has always got a pretty loud microphone.'"

Cutting Off His Microphone

As I write this, CNN has just cut away from Bush's major economic speech (after about 10 minutes.) I'm not sure Fox or MSNBC showed any at all -- they sure aren't now.

The Economic Push

Peter Baker writes for The Washington Post from Peoria: "So it's come to this. As President Bush tries to win back public support and sell his new domestic program, he came here Tuesday to see whether it would play in, well, you know the rest.

"Bush flew here to have breakfast with small-business leaders at a diner in perhaps the nation's most famous place for testing the marketability of ideas, then headed over to the Caterpillar plant across the Illinois River in East Peoria to climb aboard a massive D10 tractor and take a presidential spin."

But Peter S. Goodman writes in The Washington Post: "As President Bush was out in Peoria touting the virtues of foreign trade and asking for fresh authority to promote it, newly ascendant Democrats on Capitol Hill signaled just how tough it's going to be for the president to get what he wants."

Here is the transcript of Bush's remarks.

Someone Feeling a Little Hostile?

Holly Bailey blogs for Newsweek: "Does President Bush have it in for the press corps? Touring a Caterpillar factory in Peoria, Ill., the Commander in Chief got behind the wheel of a giant tractor and played chicken with a few wayward reporters. Wearing a pair of stylish safety glasses--at least more stylish than most safety glasses--Bush got a mini-tour of the factory before delivering remarks on the economy. 'I would suggest moving back,' Bush said as he climbed into the cab of a massive D-10 tractor. 'I'm about to crank this sucker up.' As the engine roared to life, White House staffers tried to steer the press corps to safety, but when the tractor lurched forward, they too were forced to scramble for safety.' Get out of the way!' a news photographer yelled. 'I think he might run us over!' said another. . . .

"Watching the chaos below, Bush looked out the tractor's window and laughed, steering the massive machine into the spot where most of the press corps had been positioned."

Here's a Reuters photo of Bush looking positively gleeful.

Signing Statement Watch

Bush's unprecedented use of " signing statements" to quietly assert his right to ignore legislation passed by Congress have gotten scant attention in the news pages -- although, as I've frequently noted, editorial boards across the country remain deeply offended.

Now the Democratic Congress and academe are weighing in.

The House Judiciary Committee this morning is holding an oversight hearing: "Presidential Signing Statements under the Bush Administration: A Threat to Checks and Balances and the Rule of Law?"

Witnesses include Professor Charles Ogletree of Harvard Law School and John Elwood, deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel of the Justice Department.

And on Saturday, the William and Mary School of Law is holding a symposium titled "The Last Word? The Constitutional Implications of Presidential Signing Statements."

Here's more information and the full schedule. Video will be available online shortly after the event here.

Participants include Phillip Cooper of Portland State University, Louis Fisher of the Library of Congress, Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe; and lots and lots of law professors.


Josh Gerstein writes in the New York Sun: "The Washington Post has quietly retreated from a legal battle with Vice President Cheney by dropping a lawsuit demanding Secret Service logs of visitors to his office and residence. . . .

"'We have decided not to pursue litigation further, though we believe we would have prevailed in the court of appeals as we did in the trial court,' a Post attorney, Eric Lieberman, said in an e-mail yesterday. He said the paper had 'a fundamental goal' of getting the records to inform voters before the election and failed in that regard. 'We also considered the fact that there are several other well positioned FOIA lawsuits seeking these same types of records, and we are confident that the public's right of access will ultimately be vindicated in them,' Mr. Lieberman said.

"Before the Post abruptly backed down, its case was shaping up as a high-profile clash between Mr. Cheney's broad notions of executive privilege and the newspaper's insistence that the public has the right to know about lobbying and influence peddling at the highest levels of government.

"The Post withdrew its lawsuit in a one-page notice filed with Judge Urbina on January 8. An official at the newspaper said concerns about the cost of the litigation and about angering the White House did not play a role in the paper's decision."

Climate Change Censorship

Cornelia Dean writes in the New York Times: "Under its new Democratic chairman, Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform took on the Bush administration's handling of climate change science yesterday, and even the Republicans on the panel had little good to say about the administration's actions."

Dean notes that the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Government Accountability Project yesterday issued a report that "says it is common for scientists to be pressured to eliminate references to climate change, for their work to be changed to misrepresent their findings, and for climate-related materials to disappear from Web sites."

Richard Simon writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Following through on the Democratic Party's pledge to conduct aggressive oversight, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) headed toward a possible confrontation Tuesday with the White House over his demands for documents that could show whether the Bush administration interfered with the work of government climate scientists to downplay the dangers of global warming."

NSA Watch

Henry Weinstein writes in the Los Angeles Times: "One of the Bush administration's most controversial initiatives in the war on terrorism is set for its first hearing in a federal appeals court in Cincinnati today, but if government lawyers have their way, the case will quickly be dismissed.

"Justice Department attorneys contend that the challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union to the government's warrantless domestic surveillance program is moot because the program is now being monitored by a special court. They are asking that the ruling saying the program is unconstitutional be thrown out."

James Bamford writes in a New York Times op-ed: "Last August, a federal judge found that the president of the United States broke the law, committed a serious felony and violated the Constitution. Had the president been an ordinary citizen -- someone charged with bank robbery or income tax evasion -- the wheels of justice would have immediately begun to turn. The F.B.I. would have conducted an investigation, a United States attorney's office would have impaneled a grand jury and charges would have been brought.

"But under the Bush Justice Department, no F.B.I. agents were ever dispatched to padlock White House files or knock on doors and no federal prosecutors ever opened a case. . . .

"To allow a president to break the law and commit a felony for more than five years without even a formal independent investigation would be the ultimate subversion of the Constitution and the rule of law."

Olbermann's Fact Check

Here's the text and video of Keith Olbermann's "Special Comment" yesterday on MSNBC.

Olbermann cast his skeptical eye on this passage from Bush's State of the Union address: "Our success in this war is often measured by the things that did not happen. We cannot know the full extent of the attacks that we and our allies have prevented, but here is some of what we do know: We stopped an al Qaeda plot to fly a hijacked airplane into the tallest building on the West Coast. We broke up a Southeast Asian terror cell grooming operatives for attacks inside the United States. We uncovered an al Qaeda cell developing anthrax to be used in attacks against America. And just last August, British authorities uncovered a plot to blow up passenger planes bound for America over the Atlantic Ocean."

Olbermann called it a "passage that was almost lost amid all the talk about Iraq and health care and bipartisanship and the fellow who saved the stranger from an oncoming subway train in New York City.

"But a passage ludicrous and deceitful. Frightening in its hollow conviction."

Each of those four alleged plots has been considerably debunked, Olbermann explained.

"What you gave us a week ago tonight, sir, was not intelligence, but rather a walk-through of how speculation and innuendo, guesswork and paranoia, daydreaming and fear-mongering, combine in your mind and the minds of your government, into proof of your derring-do and your success against the terrorists."

See, for instance, Sara Kehaulani Goo in The Washington Post in October 2005.

Bush on the Couch

New York Magazine tries to get inside Bush's head.

John Heilemann writes: "Whatever else one thinks of Bush and his lieutenants, their political acumen has always been estimable -- last year's rout notwithstanding. But now they seem to be pursuing their aims in a manner clueless, reckless, and hopeless. Has Bush simply lost touch with political reality? Or has he actually lost his mind?"

Among the 16 accompanying views:

Slate's Dahlia Lithwick writes: "It sounds counterintuitive, but I think the president is thinking that he may have lost the battle but he's won the war. The battle being the short-term fight in Iraq and maybe some political capital. The war being the endgame: enshrining a radical new vision of the scope of executive power."

Spiritual guru Deepak Chopra writes: "One of the most unnerving things about George Bush is his smile. As the situation in Iraq has grown more calamitous, the smile hasn't disappeared. It's become markedly patronizing, saying, 'I'm right on this. The rest of you just don't understand.' A pitying smile. . . .

"Bush has to remind himself to put on a sad face when he talks about his war. The black dog, as Churchill called his depression, doesn't nip at this president's heels. Have we seen a more inappropriate smile from any politician since Nixon? I doubt it."

Author Andrew Solomon writes: "One reads in Lincoln's diaries of how his heart bled for every soldier who died in the war he felt obliged to wage; one reads in Bush's face and in his speeches an inability to conceive of other people as fully human, including the soldiers who die at his behest, a quality that renders him less than fully human himself."

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