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PlameGate - Now That's News!

The New York Times throws some fresh fuel on the Plame investigation.

WASHINGTON, Oct. 24 - I. 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.

The article goes on to identify areas of difficulty Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald may face if he brings indictments against Libby or Rove (or even Cheney). The Tenet connection is intriguing - especially for any defense attorney - because if the CIA was the source and the original complainant that could put them in a pretty awkward position.

The more interesting question is where the information The Times reported came from? Fitzgerald's office has, commendably, been tight as a drum, so the likely providers of the information are lawyers for one or more of the prime targets. The question is which one? Rove, The White House, Cheney, Libby...? The information would seem to favor Rove by shifting additional focus to Libby, so it's not inconceivable that Libby is being (proverbially) thrown under the bus.

At this point, given the limited set of information available, the most likely outcome for Fitzgerald's investigation is that a single set of indictments will be issued against Libby for obstruction of justice (with perhaps a few other sundry charges added for good measure). Of course there also could be mountains of indictments, or none at all - only Fitzgerald knows what the evidence he's collected indicates.

By all accounts Fitzgerald wouldn't exactly be indicting a ham sandwich but, if previous history (See former Clinton Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros from earlier this week) of indictments of government officials is any indication, getting a conviction isn't going to be easy. That's probably the best explanation for why Fitzgerald was quoted nearly a year ago as indicating that the investigation was essentially over. My bet is that at that time he would have wrapped up the investigation without issuing an indictment.

In that time Fitzgerald has presumably gathered more evidence from grand jury testimony, but his case(s) most likely revolve around whether he can prove perjury or obstruction related to that testimony - not to the actual outing of Plame.


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Comments (27)

Come on Kevin! If Tent tol... (Below threshold)
Swoop:

Come on Kevin! If Tent told Cheney about Wilson's wife that's fine, after all he's the Veep,he's got all the security clearance he needs. No, the problem is with what he and/or Libby did with that info.

Another interesting question to ask is, why would Cheney ask for info on wilson? I doubt very much that Tenet would just offer this info up without being asked specifally about it, and this apparently ame up when Tenet visited the Veep's office to talk about Joe Wilson's role in this whole thing. Presumably this meeting took place at Cheney's behest - and we should probably note here, that a one-on-one meeting between these two is not for just run-of-the-mill intel stuff too. So where is all this leading? Who knows, but maybe it's time to think about Condi for Veep?

And finally for all the "Joe Wilson is a lying B@$t@rd!" crowd, remember that Cheney talked DIREECTLY to Tenet about joe WIlson in June of 2003. Now how about this howler from Meet the Press in Septemeber 2003.

MR. RUSSERT: Now, Ambassador Joe Wilson, a year before that, was sent over by the CIA because you raised the question about uranium from Africa. He says he came back from Niger and said that, in fact, he could not find any documentation that, in fact, Niger had sent uranium to Iraq or engaged in that activity and reported it back to the proper channels. Were you briefed on his findings in February, March of 2002?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: No. I don’t know Joe Wilson. I’ve never met Joe Wilson. A question had arisen. I’d heard a report that the Iraqis had been trying to acquire uranium in Africa, Niger in particular. I get a daily brief on my own each day before I meet with the president to go through the intel. And I ask lots of question. One of the questions I asked at that particular time about this, I said, “What do we know about this?” They take the question. He came back within a day or two and said, “This is all we know. There’s a lot we don’t know,” end of statement. And Joe Wilson—I don’t who sent Joe Wilson. He never submitted a report that I ever saw when he came back.


I think the memo is much ad... (Below threshold)

I think the memo is much ado about nothing... and my thinking is based on Libby reportedly wanting Miller to testify. Why would he do so if he didn't think she would corroborate his testimony?

More here, for anyone interested.

"after all he's the Veep,he... (Below threshold)

"after all he's the Veep,he's got all the security clearance he needs."

Exactly. Tenet telling Big Time wouldn't be a crime and neither would BT telling Libby. The crime occurs 1) When it is leaked to the press and 2) When it is lied about in front of the Grand Jury.

My bet is this came out of Libby's corner. They would be the most knowledgeable about his notes. Can't imagine why though.

Actually I think the only o... (Below threshold)
John S.:

Actually I think the only one who should be indicted is Independent Counsel David Barrett, for fraud, in the Cisneros "investigation." I assume he's been pulling a high six figure salary at our expense for the past decade.

I've been seeing reporting ... (Below threshold)
Craig:

I've been seeing reporting of damaging conversations from a 'former administration official'.

I read that as likely Colin Powell.

Good for him. It's too hard to get the truth out from corrupt administrations...

Why does everyone keep talk... (Below threshold)
Dave Bridge:

Why does everyone keep talking about Plame's "undercover" status when in fact she was not undercover at the time any of this happened and had not been within the prescribed 5-year period specified by the law. There is no crime here. Any charges that come out of this will have been generated by the investigation itself and that is nothing less than outrageous.

Another interesting ques... (Below threshold)
kbiel:

Another interesting question to ask is, why would Cheney ask for info on wilson? I doubt very much that Tenet would just offer this info up without being asked specifally about it, and this apparently ame up when Tenet visited the Veep's office to talk about Joe Wilson's role in this whole thing. Presumably this meeting took place at Cheney's behest

Well, let's see, the man publishes an article claiming to have been sent to Niger at Dick Cheney's request and you can't understand why Cheney would be interested in him?

Dave.If she... (Below threshold)
Swoop:

Dave.


If she wasn't undercover, then perhaps you could explain why there was an investigation in the first place? Surely you agree that the CIA knows the status of it's operatives better than you or I? Why would they hand this off to the DoJ for investigation if they didn't think there had been some malfeasance?

Please read
this letter
confirming the authority granted to Fitzgerald's investigation. You'll see quite clearly that he was granted authority "to investigate and prosecute violations of any federal criminal laws related to the underlying alleged unauthorized disclosure, as well as federal crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with, your investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses"


If someone lied to investigators or tried to cover-up their role in this, don't you think that might be a little hint that they did something wrong? I mean, if they didn't, why not tell the truth? Or maybe you think that's outrageous.

Get with the program kbiel,... (Below threshold)
Swoop:

Get with the program kbiel, Cheney talked to Libby about Wison weeks BEFORE Wilson went public.

Cheney asked the CIA to investigate the Niger yellow cake story, the CIA did -and they sent Joe Wilson.
Now, before the NY Times article above, Cheney could plausably say that he didn't know that his request to the CIA to follow up on the (later found to be forged) Niger documents resulted in Wilson's trip to investigate the intel. However, in the light of the above article, I'd say he'd have a harder time suggesting that he didn't know that the CIA followed up on his request, or who did the actual leg work.

Kbiel, you said"Well... (Below threshold)
houston:

Kbiel, you said
"Well, let's see, the man publishes an article claiming to have been sent to Niger at Dick Cheney's request and you can't understand why Cheney would be interested in him?"

Don't forget first of all that Cheney was snooping around about Wilson weeks before his article. Secondly, doesn't it bother you that your Vice President would be so adament in attempting to silence someone who was bringing the truth about WMD threat?

Where's is the outrage from the Bush supporters that your administration would be so aggressive against truth? At minimum, you would expect him to consider and desire ALL information about something so important as war and the death war causes. I think the outrage from left leaning moderates like myself is the belief that this administration didn't value life as they should. War is a terrible thing and should ONLY be sought out in necessity. Do you see through these actions that mentality? I sure don't.

Kbiel, you said"Well... (Below threshold)
houston:

Kbiel, you said
"Well, let's see, the man publishes an article claiming to have been sent to Niger at Dick Cheney's request and you can't understand why Cheney would be interested in him?"

Don't forget first of all that Cheney was snooping around about Wilson weeks before his article. Secondly, doesn't it bother you that your Vice President would be so adament in attempting to silence someone who was bringing the truth about WMD threat?

Where's is the outrage from the Bush supporters that your administration would be so aggressive against truth? At minimum, you would expect him to consider and desire ALL information about something so important as war and the death war causes. I think the outrage from left leaning moderates like myself is the belief that this administration didn't value life as they should. War is a terrible thing and should ONLY be sought out in necessity. Do you see through these actions that mentality? I sure don't.

To Dave Bridge: The reason... (Below threshold)
robert lewis:

To Dave Bridge: The reason people keep talking about Plame's undercover status is that, according to the Central Intelligence Agency, her employer, who spent quite literally millions of dollars in establishing the Brewster Jennings front company for her, she WAS a covert agent at the time she was outed. It doesn't really matter what neocon dittoheads like you think, or how many times you may say it; according to the U.S. government, Plame WAS a covert agent. And it was the CIA who signed the criminal complaint that triggered the investigation. Some sources say that the CIA has provided Fitzgerald with a list of CIA agents/assets who were killed as a result of Cheney/Libby/Rove's criminal conspiracy [the 8 sealed pages in the Court of Appeal's opinion]. If so, under the Espionage Act of 1917, the death penalty applies.

Some sources say...<... (Below threshold)
joe:

Some sources say...

"Sources" say lots of things.

Quite true. Some sources, ... (Below threshold)
robert lewis:

Quite true. Some sources, Scott McClellan, for example, say "the idea that Rove or Libby leaked is ridiculous, and they had nothing to do with it."

"Well, let's see, the ma... (Below threshold)
Mr. F.:

"Well, let's see, the man publishes an article claiming to have been sent to Niger at Dick Cheney's request and you can't understand why Cheney would be interested in him?"

No, Wilson was not sent to Niger at Cheney's request. Valerie Plame is recommended Wilson for the job. Or, as the WaPost summarized it on July 15, 2005:

"Reporters were told that Ms. Plame recommended Mr. Wilson for the Niger trip -- a fact denied by Mr. Wilson but subsequently confirmed by the Senate (intelligence committee) investigation."

Let's go a step further and see what else Mr. Wilson kind, well, didn't lie but the ommission from his op-ed was glaring at best. Again, from the same WaPost editorial:

One year after that, reports by two official investigations -- Britain's Butler Commission and the Senate intelligence committee -- demonstrated that Mr. Wilson's portrayal of himself as a whistle-blower was unwarranted. It turned out his report to the CIA had not altered, and may even have strengthened, the agency's conclusion that Iraq had explored uranium purchases from Niger. Moreover, his account had not reached Vice President Cheney or any other senior official. According to the Butler Commission, led by an independent jurist, the assertion about African uranium included in Mr. Bush's State of the Union speech was "well-founded."

Oops.

Only 2 laywers could have h... (Below threshold)
Jeff:

Only 2 laywers could have had access to both the notes and Libby's testimony before the GJ ...

Libby's laywer and the Special Prosecutors office ...

Does the NYT want us to believe that one of those 2 leaked this story ?

There are no notes ... its a guess by the anonymous lawyer "close to the case" ...

Mr. F. The butler ... (Below threshold)
Swoop:

Mr. F. T

he butler report was a whitewash, just ask, well anyone in Britain. The closest the butler report came to any facts on the matter was mentioning that Hussein's government had tried to procure Uranium ore from Niger in the 80's, but this is hardly 'news'.

The sentate committee report you refer to does not say anything like what you suggest. A wholly partisan addendum, that the full committee refused to sing off on, does make these allusions to the Niger/wilson affair. This was clearly a fudge.

It is true that Wilson's trip did not definitively confirm/disconfirm that Iraq tried to obtain yellowcake from Niger. There was a follow-up trip later and the whole boondoggle was finally and completely debunked.

This whole story is based on ONE set of documents that have been inrefutalby confirmed as FAKE. They were forged by someone in or close to the Italian secret service, SISMI. In 2001 and 2002 the British and the American Intel services were approached (independently) by Italian itelligence people peddling the (poorly) forged Niger documents. The CIA (quite rightly) turned them down TWICE. That would have been that. Unfortunately the Italians tried a third time and this time The Whitehoue intel group set up by Cheney et al, commonly referred to as the Iraq group, got involved. Then deputy National security adivisor Stephen Hadley had a meeting with the head of SISMI in sept. 2002, and presumably intorduced the documents to the Iaq group at the Whitehouse. The knock-down drag-out fight between CIA and the WH over useing the info in a speech in cincinatti (which the CIA won) was about three weeks later. The state of the union speech with those oh-so famous 16 words was 3 months later.

This gives a good summary of all of the above.

Swoop,That's a fam... (Below threshold)
Mr. F.:

Swoop,

That's a familiar tactic: Dismissing the Butler and SIC reports as being a "whitewash" or "partisan" or "clearly a fudge" are tired and baseless missives when one can't point to any evidence that suggests as such. That is pure conjecture and opinion. (By the way, most committees are bipartisan, and the SIC was no exception. And the Butler Report was an indepedent panel as well.)

And what "follow-up trip" to Niger? When? Just after Wilson's first trip? Who went and when? After Baghadad fell? Personally, I've never heard of a second Wilson or another person's trip to Niger. If you can, I'd love to see it.

I absolutely agree that SISMI was feeding the US intelligence on Niger, no question about it. Funny thing, though, is that Wilson was sent anyway before all of this forgery business was learned. And as it turns out, well, again, more WaPost reporting:

The (SIC) panel found that Wilson's report, rather than debunking intelligence about purported uranium sales to Iraq, as he has said, bolstered the case for most intelligence analysts. And contrary to Wilson's assertions and even the government's previous statements, the CIA did not tell the White House it had qualms about the reliability of the Africa intelligence that made its way into 16 fateful words in President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address. Italics mine.

To summarily and blithly dismiss the SIC and Butler reports, however, is really being disengenuous.

There was at least one arti... (Below threshold)
chad:

There was at least one article prior to Joseph Wilson's op-ed piece referencing Ambassodrs Wilsons trip to Niger. It was Nicholas Kristof's May 6, 2003 piece in the NYT.

"Consider the now-disproved claims by President Bush and Colin Powell that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger so it could build nuclear weapons. As Seymour Hersh noted in The New Yorker, the claims were based on documents that had been forged so amateurishly that they should never have been taken seriously. I'm told by a person involved in the Niger caper that more than a year ago the vice president's office asked for an investigation of the uranium deal, so a former U.S. ambassador to Africa was dispatched to Niger. In February 2002, according to someone present at the meetings, that envoy reported to the C.I.A. and State Department that the information was unequivocally wrong and that the documents had been forged.

The envoy reported, for example, that a Niger minister whose signature was on one of the documents had in fact been out of office for more than a decade. In addition, the Niger mining program was structured so that the uranium diversion had been impossible. The envoy's debunking of the forgery was passed around the administration and seemed to be accepted — except that President Bush and the State Department kept citing it anyway. "It's disingenuous for the State Department people to say they were bamboozled because they knew about this for a year," one insider said."

Now when this is printed in the NYT I think it is reasonable that the Vice President asks, who is this guy we / I sent to Niger? Especially if he had never seen a report. [Ambassador Wilson has stated he did not write a report, Cheney has said he did not receive a report. No conflict there.]

If I was the VP i would be on the phone in about 3 seconds telling DCI Tenet to get his butt over to my office and be prepared to explain who this guy is. So far we still have no conflict with published reports of what Libby or the VP has said in their testimony. Now a month later this guy's name pops up again. Libby is doing a little more checking and trying to do some a reporter says hey I heard this guys wife Valerie works at the CIA. Libby says I heard that too and presto we have Libby learning her identity from a reporter while at the same time learning it from the Vice President. No perjury.

I can't find the exact quote but the one I have ssen thrown around a lot today as a basis for charges against the VP is on the order of "I don't know Joe Wilson, I have never seen a report from Joe Wilson" both of those could still be true. and all of the published reports could also be true. Isn't the world a wonderful place.

[Just for the record- There is a conflict outlined in the bold type above though. Ambassador Wilson couldn't have told them about the fault in the documents because he hadn't seen them at that time. ]

Jeb Babbin has a theory tha... (Below threshold)
wilky:

Jeb Babbin has a theory that if there are indictments, they are going to be aimed at someone in the CIA. Can't say I believe it, OTOH, seems like the CIA has been doing a whole lotta leaking on thier own, and undercutting Bush at every turn. If true, its going to be fun to sit back and watch the media blow a gasket.

We can only hope someone at... (Below threshold)
chad:

We can only hope someone at the CIA is indicted. I am curious was Joe Wilson sworn or his wife?

Cahd - you can't seriously ... (Below threshold)
robert lewis:

Cahd - you can't seriously think anyone at CIA is going to be indicted for what Cheney, Libby and ROve did, can you? If so - seek counseling. Meanwhile, bad news for Cheney - Scott McClellan says the charges against him are "ridiculous" - and the last time Scott did that, both Scooter and Rove would up in the barrel.

Mr. FWhether or no... (Below threshold)
Randy:

Mr. F

Whether or not Plame recommended her husband for the truth finding mission is not relevant to the case. Your speculation is a smokescreen. The issue at hand is not whether the Wilsons are good or honorable people (I believe they are), but whether Cheney and Rove outed a CIA agent and ruined an anti-WMD proliferation operation. By the way, Wilson was emminently qualified for the mission and did his job well, no matter who sent him.

Randy:Like hell Wi... (Below threshold)
Mr. F.:

Randy:

Like hell Wilson outing his wife is a 'smokescreen'! WTF kind of nonsense is that? If Wilson outed her BEFORE Rove or Libby allegedly/reported/speculatively (at least these two can obey the rules of a GJ, unlike Miller, Cooper and assorted others), it matters not if Rove or Libby 'outed' Plame. Hell, even more importantly, it's an even more moot point if she was outed by the CIA years ago, which is undeniably possible.

Joe Wilson may have been qualified, but he turned out to be a liar. A repeated liar, in fact.

Dear Mr. F: If the CIA out... (Below threshold)
robert lewis:

Dear Mr. F: If the CIA outed Valerie Plame years ago, why was the CIA the agency of the US. government that signed the criminal complaint that lead to Fitzgerald's investigation. It is the CIA, who as her employer ought to know, that makes the claim that she was a covert agent. The CIA spent literally millions of dollars establishing Brewster Jennings, her front company. Furthermore, it is unlawful for ANY government employee to retaliate against a US citizen who criticizes government. See, 42 USC 1983, and RIve, Libby and Cheney clearly did just that.

robert lewis:Why d... (Below threshold)
Mr. F.:

robert lewis:

Why did the CIA sign the complaint? The September 2003 complaint to the Justice Department that was illgeally leaked to MSNBC's Andra Mitchell? That was the original complaint filed. Now why sign, I can do nothing more than speculate on and that has no real place in any conversation regarding the facts as they stand.

If Plame was a "non-official over operative" (NOC) which is, according to Wiki, "...an agent or operative who assumes a covert role in an organization without ties to the government he or she is working for." Not exactly employed by the government, but kinda. Talk about gray areas! So she's not exactly a covert agent employed by the government, but she's not not working for them either.

And so what if the CIA spent millions (where you get that figure from I don't know) on Brewster Jennings? The CIA sets up and breaks down false company fronts all the time in covert operations. So it wasn't herfront company, it was the CIA's front company. Was that front company still active in June 2003? I don't know, I can't find the answer but I'd be willing to bet it is before June '03.

And why the flip would anyone in the Bush Admin "out" such an obvious character as Plame to attack Wilson? It's an obvious and overt play that would be immediately picked up by reporters. Seems to me Rove is as smart as I think he is, and as crafty and devious as many lefties believe he is, than there are more subtle ways of discrediting Wilson that an obvious outing. Hell, start with Wilson's Niger reports and you've already caught him in a lie...the SIC and Butler reports have proven as such.

It probably coming from Rov... (Below threshold)
Andy:

It probably coming from Rove ... time for Libby to fall on his sword for the greater good (i.e. the continued functioning & freedom of Karl Rove).




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