Sunday, April 16, 2006

Maestro Cheney: Seven Days in July
Maestro Cheney: Seven Days in July
Jeralyn Merritt

Intrepid reporter Murray Waas has new disclosures in the Valerie Plame investigation. Not only did Cheney authorize Libby to leak details of the NIE report, he also authorized him to leak information in the still classified March, 2002 CIA debriefing of Joseph Wilson conducted after his trip to Niger. Murray writes:

Vice President Dick Cheney directed his then-chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, on July 12, 2003 to leak to the media portions of a then-highly classified CIA report that Cheney hoped would undermine the credibility of former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, a critic of the Bush administration's Iraq policy, according to Libby's grand jury testimony in the CIA leak case and sources who have read the classified report.

The March 2002 intelligence report was a debriefing of Wilson by the CIA's Directorate of Operations after Wilson returned from a CIA-sponsored mission to Niger to investigate claims, later proved to be unfounded, that Saddam Hussein had attempted to procure uranium from the African nation, according to government records.

Murray also picks up on this nugget in Fitzgerald's April 5 filing (pdf) responding to Libby's request for documents:

At some point after the publication of the July 6, 2003 Op Ed by Mr. Wilson, Vice President Cheney, defendant's immediate superior, expressed concerns to defendant regarding whether Mr. Wilson's trip was legitimate or whether it was in effect a junket set up by Mr. Wilson's wife.

Up until now, focus generally has centered on Libby and Cheney's June conversations. Murray writes that the July conversation occurred "within days" of July 6th. The exact date is uncertain, but it could be as early as July 7, one day before Libby and Miller's meeting on July 8 during which Libby reportedly shared with her details of the NIE and CIA reports. According to the Indictment, Libby told the grand jury he did not discuss Valerie Wilson with Miller on July 8 and that he first learned of Valerie Wilson's employment from a reporter, probably on July 10th when he heard it from NBC's Tim Russert. He claims to have forgotten that he learned about it from Cheney in June. But the Indictment charges that Libby did tell Miller about Valerie Wilson that date.

During this discussion, LIBBY advised Miller of his belief that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. (Par. 17.)

Libby told Fitzgerald and the grand jury of his efforts to make sure he had adequate authorization for disclosing portions of the NIE report to Miller on July 8. Fitzgerald wrote in his April 5 filing (corrected version):

Defendant testified that he thought he brought a brief abstract of the NIE's key judgments to the meeting with Miller on July 8. Defendant understood that he was to tell Miller, among other things, some of the key judgments of the NIE and that the NIE stated that Iraq was "vigorously trying to procure" uranium.

Defendant testified that this July 8th meeting was the only time he recalled in his government experience when he disclosed a document to a reporter that was effectively declassified by virtue of the President's authorization that it be disclosed. Defendant testified that one of the reasons why he met with Miller at a hotel was the fact that he was sharing this information with Miller exclusively.

In fact, on July 8, defendant spoke with Miller about Mr. Wilson after requesting that attribution of his remarks be changed to "former Hill staffer." Defendant discussed with Miller the contents of a then classified CIA report which defendant characterized to Miller as having been written by Wilson. Defendant advised Miller that Wilson had reported that he had learned that in 1999 an Iraqi delegation visited Niger and sought to expand commercial relations, which was understood to be a reference to a desire to obtain uranium. Later during the discussion about Wilson and the NIE, defendant advised Miller of his belief that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. Indict., Count One, ¶ 17.

Wilson was not the author of the CIA report, and the report does not mention his wife, Valerie Wilson, but that's not the point. It was a report of Wilson's debriefing after he returned from Africa. Would Libby, who was so careful about checking and rechecking the declassification status of the NIE report, and who had been told by Cheney to reveal the CIA report, really have disclosed information about Joseph Wilson's wife on his own initiative? Jane at Firedoglake has more on this.

If it did not take place on July 7, Cheney and Libby's July conversation could have occurred as late as July 12, when Cheney, Libby and Cathie Martin took their now infamous plane trip to Norfolk on Air Force Two. Again, according to Fitzgerald's April 5 filing, Libby acknowledged being asked by Cheney on July 12 to publicly refute Joseph Wilson's op-ed to the media. Normally this would have been Cathie Martin's job.

....Defendant further testified that on July 12, 2003, he was specifically directed by the Vice President to speak to the press in place of Cathie Martin (then the communications person for the Vice President) regarding the NIE and Wilson. Defendant was instructed to provide what was for him an extremely rare "on the record" statement, and to provide "background" and "deep background" statements, and to provide information contained in a document defendant understood to be the cable authored by Mr. Wilson.

Cheney and Libby were both on the plane. It was after the plane returned to Washington that Libby returned a telephone call to Matthew Cooper and spoke again with Judith Miller, and in both conversations, allegedly discussed not only Joseph Wilson but Valerie Wilson and her role in sending her husband to Niger. Cooper describes his version of the conversation, which occurred at 3:00 pm, in the Nov. 17, 2005 issue of Time. Fitz describes the importance of the conversations with Cooper and Miller in his April 5 filing:

During the conversations that followed on July 12, defendant discussed Ms. Wilson's employment with both Matthew Cooper (for the first time) and Judith Miller (for the third time). Even if someone else in some other agency thought that the controversy about Mr. Wilson and/or his wife was a trifle, that person's state of mind would be irrelevant to the importance and focus defendant placed on the matter and the importance he attached to the surrounding conversations he was directed to engage in by the Vice President.

To sum up, I think there are three points to focus on in Murray's new article. Taken together they suggest to me that between July 6 and July 13, Cheney directed Libby not only to disclose the contents of previously classified documents to selected reporters, but also to leak information about Valerie Plame Wilson, her employment with the CIA and her purported role in the CIA's decision to send her husband to Niger.

* How differently Libby acted before disclosing details of the NIE and the CIA report as compared to leaking details about Joseph and Valerie Wilson. With the first two, he went through great machinations to make sure he had authorization. But he wants us to believe that if he disclosed information on Valerie Wilson, he did so on his own, almost on a whim. This man did nothing on a whim. The inference to be made is that Cheney directed him to leak about Valerie Wilson the same as he did details in the NIE report and CIA reports.

* The coincidental timing of the July 12 plane ride to Norfolk with Libby, Cheney and Martin aboard and the phone calls later that day with Matt Cooper and Judith Miller. On the plane, there is discussion of a media plan to react to Wilson's July 6 New York Times op-ed. Right afterwards, Libby tells Miller and Cooper about Valerie Plame Wilson. Is it realistic that Cheney didn't know about or direct Libby's disclosures to Cooper and Miller that date?

* The news of the second coversation between Libby and Cheney, occurring after July 6 and before July 13. In addition to supporting an inference Cheney directed Libby to disclose details about the Wilsons on July 12, doesn't this undercut Libby's lack of memory defense and his insistence that by July, he had forgotten what Cheney had told him in June? Are we also supposed to believe he forgot what Cheney told him during seven days in July?

(Jeralyn Merritt blogs daily at TalkLeft: The Politics of Crime.)