As Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald methodically goes about the business of deciding whether to indict one or more White House officials in L’Affaire d’Plame, it is becoming increasingly clear that no one is going to jail for telling reporters that Ambassador Joe Wilson’s wife convinced the CIA to send him on a mission to Niger to give his consulting business a boost. Rather, it appears that in what can only be described as the cruelest of ironies, Scooter Libby and perhaps (although not very likely) Karl Rove will be charged with crimes related to the investigation of the leak.
Libby especially is in jeopardy thanks to his too cozy relationship with New York Times reporter Judith Miller. It appears that Libby is a typical Washingtonienne, a gossip extraordiaire who cultivates his relationship with reporters by passing along juicy personal tidbits about players in both politics and the bureaucracy. The cozy breakfasts, the intimate lunches, perhaps even the late night cocktails at the Mayflower Hotel bar or some other quiet corner of Washington are the standard venues for the purveyors of this gossip. For people like Libby, it gives them a special thrill when they see the tidbits published in important papers like the Washington Post or New York Times – almost as if their names were in the paper. At the very least, they know that the gossip mongers will then be speculating about who let that particular cat out of the bag and the cycle repeats itself.
Only this time, Libby has apparently not been able to keep the timeline regarding his gossip mongering straight. Or, just as likely, he fudged that timeline a bit to protect his boss, the Vice President, from being dragged into the leak investigation in the first place. Either way, it appears that Mr. Libby is toast. This article in today’s New York Times reports that Vice President Cheney knew about Joe Wilson’s wife almost a month before Wilson went public with his tantrum against the administration for not recognizing his brilliance in cracking the Niger-Iraq uranium caper:
. Lewis Libby Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, first learned about the C.I.A. officer at the heart of the leak investigation in a conversation with Mr. Cheney weeks before her identity became public in 2003, lawyers involved in the case said Monday.
Notes of the previously undisclosed conversation between Mr. Libby and Mr. Cheney on June 12, 2003, appear to differ from Mr. Libby’s testimony to a federal grand jury that he initially learned about the C.I.A. officer, Valerie Wilson, from journalists, the lawyers said.
The notes, taken by Mr. Libby during the conversation, for the first time place Mr. Cheney in the middle of an effort by the White House to learn about Ms. Wilson’s husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, who was questioning the administration’s handling of intelligence about Iraq’s nuclear program to justify the war.
Lawyers involved in the case, who described the notes to The New York Times, said they showed that Mr. Cheney knew that Ms. Wilson worked at the C.I.A. more than a month before her identity was made public and her undercover status was disclosed in a syndicated column by Robert D. Novak on July 14, 2003.
Mr. Libby’s notes indicate that Mr. Cheney had gotten his information about Ms. Wilson from George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, in response to questions from the vice president about Mr. Wilson. But they contain no suggestion that either Mr. Cheney or Mr. Libby knew at the time of Ms. Wilson’s undercover status or that her identity was classified. Disclosing a covert agent’s identity can be a crime, but only if the person who discloses it knows the agent’s undercover status.
A couple of things to note from this article. The fact that Cheney probably asked Tenet about Plame makes perfect sense when one considers the circumstances surrounding Joe Wilson’s curious campaign for recognition and self-aggrandizement in the months following his trip to Niger.
By Wilson’s own admission, he had been shopping the story of his Niger trip to reporters for months before his OpEd in the Times:
I was determined that the story was going to have to get out. I did not particularly want the story to have my name on it. I wanted the U.S. government to say what they said on July 7, that the 16 words should never have been in the State of the Union address. So I began responding to reportersâ€™ inquiries, but always on background. I didnâ€™t want the publicity, but more to the point, there is a nasty habit in Washington of attempting to destroy or discredit the message by discrediting the messenger, and it was important to me that the message have legs before those who would want to discredit the messenger found out who the messenger was. So I spoke to a number of reporters over the ensuing months. Each time they asked the White House or the State Department about it, they would feign ignorance. I became even more convinced that I was going to have to tell the story myself.
Now, put yourself in the White House’s shoes. Here you have this loose cannon running around town 1) blabbing about a classified matter, and 2) spreading falsehoods about what actually happened. As early as May, Wilson had succeeded in getting Administration critic Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times to write a column about his “secret” trip to Niger in search evidence that Iraq tried to buy yellow cake uranium to restart their nuclear program. Kristoff, with his ties to several current and former CIA employees – many of whom have turned out to be partisan Democrats – had been getting selective, cherry picked leaks for months regarding the CIA’s innocence in telling the Administration of Iraq’s WMD capability. This fit in perfectly with Kristoff’s invented narrative that the Administration had “twisted” intelligence to make the case for war with Iraq.
As if to confirm what I have been writing about for months regarding this bureaucratic war between the White House and the CIA, the Washington Post, on the eve of the probable indictments of Administration officials in the Plame case, have finally come out and given context to the entire matter by showing that the Administration push-back against the CIA and not any personal motive of revenge against Wilson was the reason officials tried to discredit him:
The alleged leaking of a CIA operative’s name had its roots in a clash over Iraq policy between White House insiders and their rivals in the permanent bureaucracy of Washington, especially in the State Department and the CIA.
As the investigation into the leak reaches its expected climax this week with the expiration of the grand jury’s term, the internal disputes have been further amplified by a recent string of speeches and interviews criticizing the administration’s handling of Iraq, including by former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and State Department diplomats, and other officials involved in the early efforts to stabilize Iraq.
The article glosses over the election power play made by a group of CIA partisans – probably centered in Valerie Plame’s WINPAC division at the CIA - who sought to interfere in the election of an American President by selectively leaking information about the Iraq WMD to friendly reporters. All along, we’ve gotten hints that have led to speculation that the real reason for Wilson’s trip (besides his wife’s attempt to help get his fledgling consulting business get off the ground) could have been an attempt to embarrass the President. My friend AJ at Strato-Sphere, who has been on top of this case from the outset, has a link to a UPI report that show Fitzgerald was investigating the source of the so-called Niger forgeries; documents that purported to show Iraqi attempts to buy Niger yellow cake.
What makes this effort by Fitzgerald significant is Joe Wilson’s public claim that he knew they were forgeries because “the dates and names” were wrong. Only one problem there: Wilson never saw the Niger forgeries:
Wilson has also armed his critics by misstating some aspects of the Niger affair. For example, Wilson told The Washington Post anonymously in June 2003 that he had concluded that the intelligence about the Niger uranium was based on forged documents because “the dates were wrong and the names were wrong.” The Senate intelligence committee, which examined pre-Iraq war intelligence, reported that Wilson “had never seen the CIA reports and had no knowledge of what names and dates were in the reports.” Wilson had to admit he had misspoken.
“Misspoken” may be the understatement of the week. Wilson out and out lied. What is curious is where he would have gotten that information because indeed, the documents list as Prime Minister of Niger someone who had been out of office for years. In other words, Wilson did not “misspeak” anything; he was simply repeating what he had been told by someone with access to the secret documents. The fact that he falls asleep every night next to someone with access to that classified information should tell you all you need to know about Wilson’s role in this entire affair.
In short, Wilson has been acting like the classic CIA errand boy – a conduit to the outside world who can leak to reporters all sorts of classified information while shielding his masters at the CIA from charges that they violated their oaths not to reveal the nation’s secrets. He has perhaps proved himself a little more flamboyant than his friends at the agency would have preferred with a photo spread in Vanity Fair not to mention a book deal and appearances on every political talk show in Christendom. But he has served his purpose well.
How far Fitzgerald will go in his indictments remain to be seen. He could only charge Libby with making false statements and obstruction. Or, if the Special Prosecutor is going to cast a wider net, he may simply drag 5 or 6 Administration officials before a judge on conspiracy charges. Even though no crime was committed in outing Plame, Fitzgerald may try to make a case that there was a conspiracy to keep him from finding out who said what to whom. If that is the case, expect the worst if you’re a Republican and euphoria if you’re a Democrat.