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Cheney's Fingerprint?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, February 2, 2007; 12:58 PM

The revelation yesterday that Scooter Libby acknowledged in November 2003 that he and Vice President Cheney may have talked in July about whether to tell reporters that Valerie Plame worked at the CIA further bolsters the theory that Cheney may be the prime force behind this whole sordid tale.

The conversation in question took place on July 12, 2003, as Cheney and his then-chief of staff were flying back from an event in Norfolk on Air Force Two.

According to multiple reports, Cheney was talking about how to discredit Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, who was making trouble with his suggestion that the administration manipulated intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq. Wilson felt the administration had intentionally disregarded the findings of a trip to Niger he had undertaken for the CIA.

A few days earlier, Cheney had scrawled in the margin of an offending op-ed piece by Wilson: "[D]id his wife send him on a junket?"

Yesterday, an FBI agent testified that Libby raised the possibility in a November 2003 interview that "there was a discussion whether to report to the press that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA," during that July 12 flight. "Mr. Libby told us he believed they may have talked about it but he wasn't sure."

The timing is key. Because according to special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's indictment and reporting by the National Journal's Murray Waas, it was immediately after disembarking from Air Force Two that Libby started working the phones.

Libby promptly called Judith Miller. He had already met with the then-New York Times reporter twice by that point. But in his phone conversation that afternoon, according to Miller, he mentioned Valerie Plame for a third time and pushed that angle sufficiently that she felt obliged to tell him that the Times wasn't interested in writing a story about it.

And Libby promptly called Matt Cooper, then of Time Magazine. According to Cooper, it was during that phone call that Libby confirmed to Cooper that Plame had been involved in her husband's trip -- an allegation Cooper had first heard from Karl Rove.

What Libby Said

Michael J. Sniffen has the details from the Associated Press: "Former vice presidential aide I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby acknowledged he may have discussed with Vice President Dick Cheney whether to tell reporters that a prominent war critic's wife worked at the CIA, an FBI agent testified Thursday.

"Agent Deborah Bond . . . said that during Libby's second FBI interview in his office on Nov. 23, 2003, Libby described flying back from Norfolk, Va., with Cheney on July 12, 2003, at the height of public controversy over allegations made by Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson.

"Libby told the FBI he went to the front of the plane to get a statement Cheney wanted released to the press. . . .

"Bond testified Libby told the FBI 'there was a discussion whether to report to the press that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.' She added that Libby expressed some doubt.

"'Mr. Libby told us he believed they may have talked about it but he wasn't sure,' she said."

Michael Isikoff reports in a Newsweek audio: "This is significant, because it bring Cheney himself far more directly into the case, and for the first time suggests that it was the vice president who wanted the news about Wilson's wife to be circulated to the news media."

Neil A. Lewis of the New York Times calls Bond's statement "intriguing but unexplored" and leaves it at that.

In Other Libby News

Richard B. Schmitt writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Former vice presidential aide I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby's defense in his perjury trial relies on his contention that he was made a scapegoat to protect White House political strategist Karl Rove from charges of leaking the name of a CIA officer.

"But that assertion was dealt a blow Thursday, when jurors were shown videotapes from 2003 of White House spokesman Scott McClellan telling reporters that Libby was not the source of the leak.

"'There's no evidence of an effort to throw him under the bus,' prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald told U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, arguing -- in the absence of the jury -- that the tapes should be played. . . .

"McClellan ardently defended the White House during a series of briefings in early October 2003. At the time, the Justice Department was just beginning a criminal investigation into the leak, and questions were swirling about the possible involvement of administration insiders. McClellan initially told reporters that Rove had engaged in no misconduct, but the spokesman declined to be drawn into a discussion of the possible roles of others.

"Libby, his lawyers have said, saw that initial reluctance as a sign that unnamed officials were conspiring to have him take the fall so Rove would emerge unscathed. Libby complained to Cheney, the lawyers have said, and a few days later McClellan changed his message, exonerating Libby and a third White House official as well as Rove.

"'I spoke with those individuals . . . and those individuals assured me they were not involved in this,' McClellan told reporters Oct. 10. When asked what 'this' was, he replied: 'The leaking of classified information.'"

David Corn blogs for The Nation: "On Thursday, the prosecution and the defense in the trial of I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby spent much of the day clashing over evidentiary matters, but, as they battled, each side laid out its core theory. . . .

"The McClellan statements, Fitzgerald argued, were important because they provided Libby a motive to lie. Libby, Fitzgerald contended, had 'put down a marker.' He went to Cheney and had the White House issue a statement that he had not leaked classified information. Days later, he was interviewed by the FBI. He couldn't contradict what he had just forced McClellan to say. So, Fitzgerald maintained, Libby lied. . . .

"Thus, he cooked up a false account: Russert had been his source and at the time of the leak he possessed no certain and official (a.k.a. classified) information about Wilson's wife. . . .

"No, its just the opposite, declared [defense attorney Theodore] Wells, who opposed showing the jurors these McClellan clips. Libby, he claimed, was not concerned about losing his job: 'he was concerned they were scapegoating him.' They? Wells meant the White House. Who in the White House? Wells hasn't said, but he's hinted that Rove was at the center of a get-Libby conspiracy that was trying to turn Libby into Washington-scandal roadkill. 'The government,' Wells argued, 'says what motivated him to lie was that he thought he would be fired. . . . My response is that he didn't care [about losing his job] . . . He acted like an innocent person. . . . Only an innocent person would go to the vice president and say what they're doing is unfair,' regarding clearing Rove but not Libby."

Matt Apuzzo writes for the Associated Press: "In a case that hinges on credibility, FBI agent Deborah Bond is making it clear from the witness stand just how believable she finds former White House aide I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby to be: not very.

"Bond testified Thursday about interviewing Libby in 2003 about the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity and the 19-year FBI veteran refused to even use the word 'said' to describe Libby's statements.

"Libby told the FBI that he learned about Plame from Vice President

Dick Cheney, then forgot about it and was surprised to hear it again from a reporter weeks later.

"'He said that?' defense attorney Theodore Wells asked.

"'That's what he claimed,' Bond replied."

David Ignatius writes in his Washington Post opinion column: "Why was the White House so nervous in the summer of 2003 about the CIA's reporting on alleged Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Niger to build a nuclear bomb? That's the big question that runs through the many little details that have emerged in the perjury trial of Vice President Cheney's former top aide, Lewis 'Scooter' Libby.

"The trial record suggests a simple answer: The White House was worried that the CIA would reveal that it had been pressured in 2002 and early 2003 to support administration claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and that in the Niger case, the CIA had tried hard to resist this pressure. The machinations of Cheney, Libby and others were an attempt to weave an alternative narrative that blamed the CIA. . . .

"This trial is about a cover-up that failed."

The trial is in recess today. Here are the trial exhibits and an Associated Press summary of the testimony so far.

Snow at His Most Disingenuous

Is there any doubt what press secretary Tony Snow is really trying to say here?

From yesterday's briefing, on the topic of possible Senate resolutions opposing Bush's escalation plan:

Snow: "As you know, and I've said many times, Osama bin Laden thought the lack of American resolve was a key reason why he could inspire people to come after us on September 11th. I am not accusing members of the Senate of inviting carnage on the United States of America. I'm simply saying, you think about what impact it may have.

"Q It seems as though you're suggesting that the Senate should not pass this kind of resolution because in fact it would somehow embolden the enemy.

"MR. SNOW: I just don't know. I don't -- I'm saying that that is something that they'll have to consider. And I'm sure they are."

Super Surge It

Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray write in The Washington Post: "The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported that Bush's plan to deploy roughly 20,000 additional U.S. combat troops to Iraq is likely to require at least 15,000 support personnel, and possibly as many as 28,000.

"That could mean the plan would involve up to 48,000 troops and contractors, at a cost of between $9 billion and $13 billion for the first four months and up to $27 billion for the first year. . . .

"'The CBO report only confirms what we already know: The president has continually tried to hide the true costs of this war,' said Rep. Martin T. Meehan (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on oversight and investigations."

Here's the CBO report.

With Support Like This . . .

Tom Vanden Brook writes for USA Today: "Curbing insurgent-led violence in Baghdad can be done with fewer troops than the 17,500 extra proposed by President Bush, Gen. George Casey told a Senate panel Thursday during a confirmation hearing on his nomination as Army chief of staff."

Casey's statement resulted in this exchange at yesterday's press briefing:

"Q Can I just go back to the question about General Casey and the brigade, saying he felt fewer than half of what the President has planned were needed. You say he supports the plan now. He says he does, but it seems like a very diplomatic way to say, not really, and I don't have to be there to carry it out. So who did the President rely on heavily when he made these decisions? The commander on the ground did not, it appears, agree with the President's bigger, larger plan for more brigades. The commander of Central Command apparently did not. So the President relied mostly on outside people, or the people who he was trying to get to go in --

"MR. SNOW: I've often been asked about internal deliberations, and I've always given the same answer, which is, I'm not going to characterize them. It is worth noting that General Abizaid and General Casey, both of whom you've described as being in opposition to the plan, publicly have supported it. And so I'll let you --

"Q But what he said today didn't quite fit that, Tony.

"MR. SNOW: I'd refer the questions back to him and I let him clarify."

Increasingly Perilous Situation in Iraq

Karen DeYoung and Walter Pincus write in The Washington Post: "A long-awaited National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, presented to President Bush by the intelligence community yesterday, outlines an increasingly perilous situation in which the United States has little control and there is a strong possibility of further deterioration, according to sources familiar with the document. . . .

"The document emphasizes that although al-Qaeda activities in Iraq remain a problem, they have been surpassed by Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence as the primary source of conflict and the most immediate threat to U.S. goals. Iran, which the administration has charged with supplying and directing Iraqi extremists, is mentioned but is not a focus. . . .

"One senior congressional aide said the NIE had been described to him as 'unpleasant but very detailed.' A source familiar with its language said it contained several dissents that are prominently displayed so that policymakers understand any disagreements within the intelligence community -- a significant change from the 2002 document, which listed most key dissents in small-type footnotes. . . .

"The outgoing director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, briefed the president on the Iraq NIE yesterday, and the document will be made available to Congress early today. A two-page declassified version of its key judgments will then be posted on the DNI Web site."

Iran Watch

David E. Sanger and Mark Mazzetti write in the New York Times: "President Bush's national security advisers have ordered a delay in publication of evidence intended to support Washington's contention that Iran supplies lethal technology and other aid to militias in Iraq, senior administration officials said Thursday. . . .

"Some administration officials said there was a continuing debate about how well the information proved the Bush administration's case.

"One official who has reviewed elements of the briefing said the decision to delay it -- made by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser -- was also motivated by concern about potentially disclosing the sources of the intelligence, and by a debate over what might be the most politically opportune moment to press the case that Iran is the source of some of the most deadly attacks on American and Iraqi forces. . . .

"Some administration officials admit they are in a bind: on one hand, the longer the White House issues heated statements aimed at Iran without backing them up with facts, the more the administration's case is called into question.

"At the same time, rushing to produce a flimsy case that is ultimately discredited could be more damaging in the long run, as was the case with Colin L. Powell's speech to the United Nations Security Council in February 2003, when he was secretary of state, outlining what he portrayed as irrefutable evidence that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons."

Who's Arming Who?

But who's really arming the militias and the insurgents? Iran -- or the United States?

Tom Lasseter writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "The U.S. military drive to train and equip Iraq's security forces has unwittingly strengthened anti-American Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia, which has been battling to take over much of the capital city as American forces are trying to secure it.

"U.S. Army commanders and enlisted men who are patrolling east Baghdad, which is home to more than half the city's population and the front line of al-Sadr's campaign to drive rival Sunni Muslims from their homes and neighborhoods, said al-Sadr's militias had heavily infiltrated the Iraqi police and army units that they've trained and armed. . . .

"'Half of them are JAM. They'll wave at us during the day and shoot at us during the night,' said 1st Lt. Dan Quinn, a platoon leader in the Army's 1st Infantry Division, using the initials of the militia's Arabic name, Jaish al Mahdi. 'People (in America) think it's bad, but that we control the city. That's not the way it is. They control it, and they let us drive around. It's hostile territory.'"

Deja Vu?

Craig Unger writes in Vanity Fair: "By now, the story of how neoconservatives hijacked American foreign policy is a familiar one. With Vice President Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld leading the way, neocons working out of the office of the vice president and the Department of Defense orchestrated a spectacular disinformation operation, asserting that Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction posed a grave and immediate threat to the U.S. Veteran analysts who disagreed were circumvented. Dubious information from known fabricators was hyped. Forged documents showing phony yellowcake-uranium sales to Iraq were promoted.

"What's less understood is that the same tactics have been in play with Iran. Once again, neocon ideologues have been flogging questionable intelligence about W.M.D. Once again, dubious Middle East exile groups are making the rounds in Washington--this time urging regime change in Syria and Iran. Once again, heroic new exile leaders are promising freedom.

"Meanwhile, a series of recent moves by the military have lent credence to widespread reports that the U.S. is secretly preparing for a massive air attack against Iran. (No one is suggesting a ground invasion.)"

Here's Keith Olbermann on MSNBC: "Consider the similarities between the phrases Mr. Bush uses now about Iran and the ones he used in 2002 about Iraq.

A video montage then shows Bush saying the following:

Then: "The Iraqi people cannot flourish under a dictator that oppresses them--threatens them."

Now: "Our struggle is not with the Iranian people. As a matter of fact, we want them to flourish."

Then: "Iraq is land rich in culture and resources and talent."

Now: "And the Iranian people are proud people, and they've got a great history and a great tradition."

Then: "If we fail to act in the face of danger, the people of Iraq will continue to live in brutal submission. The regime will remain unstable. The region will remain unstable, with little hope of freedom and isolated from the progress of our times."

Now: "One of the things that the Iranian government is doing is they've begun to isolate their nation, to the harm of the Iranian people."

Then: "Hopefully this can be done peacefully."

Now: "I believe we can solve our problems peacefully."

Then: "All options are on the table."

Now: "All options are on the table."

Crooks and Liars has the video.

Rendition Watch

Paul Koring and Jeff Sallot write in Toronto's Globe and Mail: "A top-secret briefing yesterday failed to convince two senior U.S. senators that the Bush administration was right to send Maher Arar to Syria.

"Both Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy and Republican Senator Arlen Specter, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate judiciary committee, said the briefing resulted in more questions than answers.

"Neither would say whether they had been convinced of the merits of the U.S. government's position that Mr. Arar should remain on a no-fly list -- effectively banned from entering the United States -- despite being exonerated in Canada and paid $11.5-million in compensation by Ottawa."

Budget Watch

Robert Pear writes in the New York Times: "President Bush will ask Congress in his budget next week to squeeze more than $70 billion of savings from Medicare and Medicaid over the next five years, administration officials and health care lobbyists said Thursday.

"The proposals, part of a White House plan to balance the budget by 2012, set the stage for a battle with Congress over entitlement spending. Even some administration officials say they cannot imagine approval of such large cutbacks in a Congress now controlled by Democrats....

"Representative Charles B. Rangel, the New York Democrat who heads the House Ways and Means Committee, said Thursday: 'There is a large area for potential compromise and agreement, but with these latest Medicare proposals, the president is just asking for controversy. He still acts as if Republicans were in complete control and Democrats had lost the election.'"

White House Welcomes Oversight?

I do not think the word means what he thinks it means.

Ben Feller writes for the Associated Press: "A White House management official said Thursday there is 'very little real accountability' in the federal government, and he welcomed the tougher oversight the Democrats have promised now that they control Congress.

"'There cannot be enough accountability in the federal government,' said Clay Johnson, deputy director of the Office and Management and Budget, which supervises executive branch agencies. 'There is very little today. Very little real accountability.'

"Yet Johnson challenged Democratic lawmakers to help solve problems -- not just hold hearings about them."

Fat Chance

Michael Abramowitz writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush yesterday added his voice to the growing debate over childhood obesity, as he met at the White House with representatives of some of the companies considered responsible for aggravating the problem and urged them to stress the importance of healthful eating and physical fitness in their marketing campaigns. . . .

"As described by those present, the meeting was cordial and the president signaled no intent to pursue more aggressive policies favored by some consumer groups, such as banning the marketing of junk food to children or requiring more detailed nutritional labeling. Bush told the executives that it is an individual's responsibility to maintain a healthful diet, not the government's."

Late Night Humor

Jon Stewart tries valiantly to find some way to express concerns about the war that doesn't embolden the enemy.

Cartoon Watch

John Sherffius on Cheney's monster.

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