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 Saturday, April 08, 2006

Making Sense of the CIA Leak Case


Mark Memmott

Read here original article by Mark Memmott in USA Today

Here's what the media think is important about the latest news in the "CIA leak" case:

If true, it links President Bush to a White House effort to discredit former diplomat Joseph Wilson - though there's no evidence Bush knew the chain of events would lead to the unmasking of CIA officer Valerie Plame.
The mainstream media have also decided the evidence in newly released court documents signals Vice President Cheney's intense interest in Wilson.

Some of the key lines from today's stories about court documents detailing grand jury testimony by I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, formerly Cheney's chief of staff include:

• "President Bush authorized White House official I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby to disclose highly sensitive intelligence information to the news media in an attempt to discredit a CIA adviser whose views undermined the rationale for the invasion of Iraq, according to a federal prosecutor's account of Libby's testimony to a grand jury." The Washington Post.

• "The leak was intended, the court papers suggested, as a rebuttal to an Op-Ed article in The New York Times on July 6, 2003, by Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former United States ambassador and the husband of Ms. Wilson. Mr. Wilson wrote that he traveled to Africa in 2002 after Mr. Cheney raised questions about possible nuclear purchases by Iraq. Mr. Wilson wrote that he concluded it was "highly doubtful" Iraq had sought nuclear fuel from Niger." The New York Times.

• "The documents also point to Mr. Cheney's interest in Mr. Wilson. 'At some point after the publication of the July 6 (2003) op-ed by Mr. Wilson, Vice President Cheney, (Mr. Libby's) immediate supervisor, expressed concerns to (Mr. Libby) regarding whether Mr. Wilson's trip was legitimate or whether it was in effect a junket set up by Mr. Wilson's wife,' the documents say." The Washington Times.

• "We have a missing link. No, I don't mean the post-fish. I mean the Bush connection in the Plame leak. It turns out that, according to Libby, it was the president who first sanctioned the leak of the NIE data to discredit Joseph Wilson." Andrew Sullivan, at his Time blog The Daily Dish.

• "The documents do hint at more problems for the administration since some may show a plan to punish one of its critics, Plame's husband, Amb. Joe Wilson." Fox News.

• "Libby's testimony, if true, places Bush in the middle of his administration's effort to undermine its critics at a time that the White House was preparing to make Iraq a central theme of the 2004 presidential campaign." The Los Angeles Times.

• The court filing "makes no connection between Bush and the leak of Plame's name, but it draws Bush into a small circle that released selected national intelligence to counter the claims of an outspoken critic of the war." Chicago Tribune.

What are the media basing those conclusions on?

Key lines from the court documents, which were filed by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, including these:

• "The evidence will show that the July 6, 2003, Op Ed by Mr. Wilson was viewed in the Office of the Vice President as a direct attack on the credibility of the Vice President (and the President) on a matter of signal importance: the rationale for the war in Iraq." (Page 18)

• "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 fact a junket set up by Mr. Wilson's wife." (Page 19)

• "(The) Vice President advised defendant that the President specifically had authorized defendant to disclose certain information in the (National Intelligence Estimate). (Page 20)

• "Defendant understood that the Vice President specifically selected him to talk to the press about the NIE and Mr. Wilson on July 12, 2003, in place of then-Assistant to the President for Public Affairs, Cathie Martin, the usual press contact person from (the vice president's office). This is relevant to show the importance that defendant and his boss placed on the conversation." (Page 24)

• "According to (Libby), at the time of his conversations with (New York Times reporter Judith) Miller and (Time magazine reporter Matthew) Cooper, he understood that only three people - the President, the Vice President and defendant - knew that the key judgments of the NIE had been declassified." (Page 24)

• "During this time (Sept. 2003), while the President was unaware of the role that the Vice President's Chief of Staff and National Security Adviser (Libby) had in fact played in disclosing Ms. Wilson's CIA employment, defendant implored White House officials to have a public statement issued exonerating him." (Page 27)
There is, of course, much additional information in the court documents.

Two other interesting nuggets:

• Fitzgerald states that he does NOT intend to call White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove as a witness. (Page 15) That could be a sign that the prosecutor is still probing whether Rove played a role in disclosing Plame's identity.
It is known that Rove spoke to at least two journalists about her before the disclosure of her identity, though he has testified he only confirmed what he heard from other reporters.
• Fitzgerald lays out what he may argue was Libby's reason for allegedly lying to a grand jury and to investigators about his conversations with reporters.
Libby knew, Fitzgerald writes, that the President had vowed to fire anyone responsible for leaking Plame's name. "In that context, defendant proceeded to tell the FBI that he had merely passed information from one reporter (NBC's Tim Russert) to other reporters. ... Once that die was cast, defendant repeated the story in a subsequent interview and during two grand jury appearances." (Page 28)
Libby, you may remember, has been charged with lying to Fitzgerald and the grand jury - not with illegally disclosing Plame's identity.

He has pleaded innocent.

His trial isn't due to begin until next January.

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