Did Cheney Tell Libby to Do It?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, June 3, 2008; 1:55 PM

Former vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby told the FBI that it was "possible" that Vice President Cheney instructed him to disseminate information about CIA agent Valerie Plame to the press, according to a redacted FBI report recently examined by Congressional investigators.

In part as a result of that revelation, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee today reiterated its request for more Plame investigation documents -- including reports on the interviews investigators conducted with Cheney and President Bush.

In a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Committee Chairman Henry Waxman also writes that "[n]ew revelations by former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan raise additional questions about the actions of the President and the Vice President. Mr. McClellan has stated that '[t]he President and Vice President directed me to go out there and exonerate Scooter Libby.' He has also asserted that 'the top White House officials who knew the truth -- including [Karl] Rove, Libby, and possibly Vice President Cheney -- allowed me, even encouraged me, to repeat a lie.' It would be a major breach of trust if the Vice President personally directed Mr. McClellan to mislead the public."

Back in December, I wrote about how special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald had agreed to give congressional investigators key documents from his investigation into the leak -- until the White House intervened. Waxman then asked the newly-installed attorney general to show some independence from his White House masters and release the documents. Committee investigators were eventually allowed to read redacted versions of the reports on interviews with senior administration officials, including Libby and Rove, but not Cheney or Bush.

Libby was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice last year after repeatedly denying that he had told reporters about Plame's identity. Prosecutors presented evidence that he had done precisely that, as part of a coordinated White House campaign to discredit Plame's husband Joe Wilson, an administration critic. Fitzgerald even indicated that he had been hot on Cheney's trail until that line of investigation was cut off by Libby's repeated lies.

As I wrote in a February 2007 column, an FBI agent testified at the trial that Libby said he and Cheney may have discussed in July 2003 "whether to report to the press that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA."

That Libby also told the FBI it was possible that Cheney actually instructed him to do so would seem to go beyond what we already knew. It was in phone calls placed immediately after the conversation in question that Libby mentioned Valerie Plame for a third time to Judith Miller, then of the New York Times, and spoke with Matt Cooper, then of Time Magazine. According to Cooper, it was during that phone call that Libby confirmed that Plame had been involved in her husband's trip -- an allegation Cooper had first heard from Karl Rove.

Waxman writes to Mukasey today: "The Committee is conducting an important investigation to answer questions that Mr. Fitzgerald's criminal inquiry did not address."

Waxman also complains about the redactions in the reports that investigators have been allowed to see and requests unredacted versions: "In his FBI interview, Mr. McClellan told the FBI about discussions he had with the President and the Vice President. These passages, however, were redacted from the copies made available to the Committee. Similar passages were also redacted from other interviews.

"There are no sound reasons for you to withhold the interviews with the President and the Vice President from the Committee or to redact passages like Mr. McClellan's discussions with the President and the Vice President. Mr. Fitzgerald's investigation is closed and he has indicated that it would be appropriate to share these records with the Committee. There has been no assertion of executive privilege."

The McClellan Factor

Years of experience in giving absolutely no ground under questioning paid off last night as former White House press secretary Scott McClellan sailed through a 30-minute Fox News interview with a sometimes fulminating Bill O'Reilly.

It's really worth watching. Here is the video, parts one, two and three.

McClellan, whose book adds new insider details to the growing portrait of a White House with a serious truth problem (see yesterday's column) repeatedly stuck to his talking points despite O'Reilly's scolding.

O'Reilly: "You know that every Bush-hater in the country is using you and your book to smash this administration. . . . Every Bush-hater, and you're playing right into their hands, is using this -- "

McClellan: "I'm just speaking the truth, from my perspective."

And again:

O'Reilly: "The hate-Bush press is using you -- using you -- to humiliate the man and to imply to the world that the man is dishonest. Using you. . . . What you write in your book, as you see it, is being used by people who absolutely want the worst for this country, and for the administration, doesn't that give you pause at all?"

McClellan: "But this is the whole thing about the book is, that there are a lot of good people on both sides. We've got to get rid of the venom and hatred on both sides, and find out how we can come together. I'm a centrist. I believe in working together to solve the problems we've got."

O'Reilly was particularly outraged by McClellan's decision to give his first prime-time interview last week to MNSBC's Keith Olbermann. "You sat there while these people on NBC and some on CNN just raped the president verbally -- just killed him -- and you sat there and you did not defend him," O'Reilly said.

"What has happened with your book, whether this was your intention or not, is that the people who hate Bush, who want the world to see America as an oppressive, bad country, have seized upon your book, alright, and used that -- talk about propaganda -- to say see, even Scott McClellan, even his own guy, says he's an incompetent jerk, that he purposely misled us, that's he's immoral -- even though you're not saying that, they're using you. . . .

"Are you angry that you're being used in this way? You don't look angry. . . . "

McClellan: "I'm just don't view it that way, I guess. . . . Here's the question: Did the Bush White House go off course? Badly off course? . . . That's what you've got to explore. . . .

O'Reilly: "That's history."

McClellan: "But look at where he is today. How badly off course he went. You've got to accept that. I accept that."

O'Reilly was at times hostile. "The central theme of your book is wrong," he exclaimed. "You're telling me I didn't do my job, and I'm telling you you're crazy," he protested. "Let me sum this up by saying: You put the worst possible spin on all of this."

To which McClellan responded: "No, if I said it was sinister and that they intentionally did it -- I did not say it was deliberate or conscious. I say that we got caught in this campaign mentality and that's what caused us to overstate the case."

McClellan was unflappable throughout, and even slapped down O'Reilly's clumsy and absurd defense of his now Fox-News colleague Karl Rove.

O'Reilly: "What's your beef on Karl Rove and Plame, Valerie Plame? What's your beef about Rove specifically? Because he works for us."

McClellan: "Well, I spoke with Rove about that very incident, and he told me unequivocally that he was not involved in the leaking of Valerie Plame's identity."

O'Reilly: "Right. That's what he told me. So are you telling me he's a liar?"

McClellan: "Did he reveal Plame's identity to anyone? Yes! Matt Cooper. He revealed her identity to Matt Cooper."

O'Reilly: "He said Cooper called him and said -- "

McClellan: "No, what Cooper wrote was that he was the first one to tell me -- the first time I learned that she worked at the CIA."

O'Reilly: "You believe Cooper and you don't believe Rove? . . . I asked him on this show last week. I asked him, did you tell anyone about Valerie Plame. The guy says no. I didn't. No!"

McClellan: "Her name! He said her name. It's a distinction without a difference, Bill. He revealed her identity. He talked to [Robert] Novak and he talked to Cooper and he revealed her identity."

Later last night, Rove responded on another Fox News show to McClellan's statements. Rove is apparently maintaining his hair-splitting defense that since he didn't use Plame's name, he didn't reveal her identity. And he once again tried to change the focus to State Department official Richard Armitage. Armitage was the first to disclose Plame's identity to journalists, but that doesn't change the fact that Rove and Libby did so too, likely for more nefarious reasons than Armitage, and then lied about it.

Said Rove last night (here's the transcript): "The person who revealed Valerie Wilson Plame's identity is Richard Armitage. I think it is revealing in the book that Scott devotes 34 pages to me on this incident with Wilson and Plame and devotes one and a half sentences to the guy we now know leaked Valerie Plame's identity, not only to Robert Novak, but two weeks before that, also to Bob Woodward. I did not. And I don't remember the conversation to this day with Matt Cooper, but Matt Cooper's own notes show that the conversation I had with him on Friday, several days after Novak has already told me that he's writing this story, and I know that it's going to appear the following week, Matt Cooper's own notes showed that I had an off-the-record conversation with him in response to a phone call to me in which I tried to discourage him about writing anything at all about Wilson."

McClellan and John Stewart

McClellan also appeared on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart last night. Here's the video, parts one and two.

Stewart: "Are they destroying you in the way that they thought they would? Does this miss the McClellan touch? . . . How would you destroy you?"

Stewart rolled tape of former McClellan colleagues saying he "doesn't sound like Scott."

Stewart: "This is amazing. Their argument here is: You're not you."

McClellan: "I'm finally speaking for myself, but I'm not me? If they look at the book and get a chance to read it, they'll see who I am."

Stewart pushed back at McClellan's insistence that the White House's propaganda campaign for the war nevertheless did not amount to willful deception. As one example, they discussed the White House's decision not to talk about the possible financial costs of the war.

Stewart: "Isn't that the definition of deception? . . . If they sat in a room and said: 'When we go to campaign for this war, let's not tell them how much it costs. Let's not mention it.' That's a sin of omission. That's a lie."

McClellan: "Yeah, there's really no difference whether it's deliberate or intentional, or it's ---

Stewart: "No no no no no. There is."

McClellan: "Well, they're both problematic in their own way. . . . "

Stewart: "They're not both problematic. One is homicide. The other is involuntary manslaughter."

McClellan: "They both would be criminal, for instance."

Stewart: "That's what I'm saying! That's my point! But in the book, you make it very clear -- you go out of your way -- to say that you don't think it's intentional."

McClellan: "I don't."

Stewart: "But I haven't seen any evidence that it's not intentional. Because everything was done with aforethought. It may not have been done with malice, so it's not first-degree murder. But it was done with aforethought."

McClellan: "I think these are good people. They just got caught up in this whole --"

Stewart: "It was done with aforethought. . . . They sat in a room with each other and said: 'Don't tell them any of the bad consequences that could come of this war, because we really want to do this.'"

Afterwards, Steven Colbert opened his show this way: "Scott McClellan says the press didn't do its job in the run-up to the war. Why is he complaining? They did his job."

And in his " word of the day" segment, Colbert added: "So, media, if you want to sell the American people a story that you did your job well in the lead-up to the war just use the same techniques that McClellan and the administration used to sell the war to you in the first place."

Cheney's Incest Joke

William Branigin writes in The Washington Post: "Vice President Cheney apologized for saying yesterday that he has 'Cheneys on both sides' of his family tree dating back to the 1600s, 'And we don't even live in West Virginia.'

"The quip drew groans from the audience at the National Press Club, prompting the vice president to add, 'You can say those things when you're not running for reelection.' (The White House transcript of Cheney's comments, released last night, described laughter instead of groans.)

"The remark drew swift denunciations from West Virginians of both parties, with Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) calling it 'disrespectful' and 'certainly not funny,' and Gov. Joe Manchin (D) saying, 'I truly cannot believe that any vice president of the United States . . . would make such a derogatory statement about my state, or any state for that matter.'

"Cheney quickly moved to defuse the matter, with spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride telling the Associated Press: 'On reflection, he concluded that it was an inappropriate attempt at humor that he should not have made. The vice president apologizes to the people of West Virginia for the inappropriate remark.'

"The comment came during a question-and-answer session after the annual Gerald R. Ford Journalism Awards, and was prompted by a question about his distant kinship with Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.)."

Here's a video clip.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Time was taken with Cheney's "lighter side."

"He took a swipe at the former White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, who in a new book accuses President Bush of using propaganda to mislead the nation into the Iraq war.

"'I thought Bob Dole got it about right,' Mr. Cheney said, a reference to the former Senate Republican leader who sent a scathing e-mail message to Mr. McClellan calling him 'a miserable creature.' Mr. Cheney said he had not read the McClellan book, and did not plan to 'any time soon.' . . .

"Historians view Mr. Cheney as perhaps the most consequential vice president in American history. He has greatly expanded the powers of the office, wielding influence over policy matters as varied as terrorism and the economy through his confidential advice to the president. (One 12-year-old questioner Monday asked about the most difficult obstacle in Mr. Cheney's 'reign as vice president,' to which he replied, 'Well, I didn't exactly think of it as a reign.')"

Veto Watch

Deborah Zabarenko writes for Reuters: "Even before debate began on Monday on the first comprehensive climate change bill to reach the Senate floor, the White House said President George W. Bush would veto it in its current form.

"Bush himself slammed the bill, saying it would cost the U.S. economy $6 trillion. His estimate drew quick denials from those who support the legislation, including Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat and longtime environmentalist. . . .

"'I urge the Congress to be very careful about running up enormous costs for future generations of Americans,' Bush said at a White House meeting on the economy and taxes. 'We'll work with the Congress, but the idea of a huge spending bill fueled by tax increases isn't the right way to proceed.'"

Jon Ward writes in the Washington Times: "The White House's top environmental adviser said Monday that under President Bush, the U.S. has already taken most major steps needed to combat global warming in the near term and said that's just part of a positive environmental record that is profoundly misconstrued by environmentalists.

"On the day the Senate voted 74-14 to start a new debate on global warming, James L. Connaughton, chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality, told editors and reporters at The Washington Times that Mr. Bush's tenure has seen decreases in some types of air pollution, historic action on rehabilitating brownfields sites and a decrease in overall greenhouse-gas emissions, compared with an increase of 18 percent from 1990 to 2000. . . .

"Environmental groups challenged his claims, pointing to government statistics that suggest the Bush administration deserves little credit for recent drops in both conventional air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions."

Poll Watch

Susan Page, writing for USA Today, notes Bush's 28 percent job-approval rating in the latest Gallup Poll, matching the low point of his tenure.

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Cartoon Watch

Rob Rogers on Bush and McCain; Lee Judge on weapons of mass seduction; and Justin DeFreitas on What Happened.

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