The Truth About Richard Bruce Cheney

(Thanks to our friends’ site: for heads up on this.  Thank you to Steve Clemons for allowing us reprint the full text with Col. Wilkerson’s and Steve Clemons’ express permission from The Washington Note.)This is a guest post exclusive to The Washington Note by Col. Lawrence B. Wilkerson, who is former chief of staff of the Department of State during the term of Secretary of State Colin Powell. Lawrence Wilkerson is also Pamela Harriman Visiting Professor at the College of William & Mary.Last night I was on Rachel Maddow’s show on MSNBC at the top of the hour. But before I came on, through the earpiece I listened to the five minutes that Rachel sketched as a lead-in. Most of it was videotape from the last few days of former Vice President Dick Cheney extolling the virtues of harsh interrogation, torture, and his leadership. I had heard some of it earlier of course but not all of it and not in such a tightly-packed package.

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Truth and Consequences hearing

On Wednesday, March 4, 2009, Patrick Leahy convened a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss the creation of a “Truth and Consequences Commission” to hear the abuses and remedies of the George Bush and Dick Cheney administration. Joining this panel were Thomas Pickering, Ret. Vice Admiral Lee Gunn, John Farmer, F.A.O. Schwarz, David Rivkin and Jeremy Rabkin.

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The Case for Prosecution of Dick Cheney, George Bush and Co.

There is rarely joy to be found in prosecution. This process of holding someone accountable is loaded with frustration from the get go. But without holding people accountable for their actions, we might as well scrap any pretense of justice or rule of law.In the past 8 years we have seen violations of the fundamental standards of American values, whether they were ever real or simply imagined. In the name of national defense the administration and their enablers in the Congress eroded the fundamental constitutional standards that define this democratic experiment. The Bush Administration lobbied to go to war on a country that had never attacked the U.S., authorized torture of detainees, allowed extraordinary rendition of suspects, wasted billions of dollars to hide its crimes and mistakes, wiretapped citizens, journalists, soldiers calling their families, non-profits, politicized the Department of Justice, outed a CIA officer and her colleagues operations, threatened countries who didn’t run lock-step, and continuously lied about these actions when directly asked to own up to them.

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Cheney to magazine: Bush should have pardoned Libby

Cheney to magazine: Bush should have pardoned Libby Posted: 02:32 PM ET

Former Vice President Cheney told a conservative magazine that his aide Scooter Libby, pictured on the right, should have received a pardon from former President George W. Bush.
WASHINGTON (CNN) — George Bush should have pardoned I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Dick Cheney said after stepping down as vice president this week.
“He was the victim of a serious miscarriage of justice, and I strongly believe that he deserved a presidential pardon. Obviously, I disagree with President Bush’s decision,” Cheney told Stephen F. Hayes of the Weekly Standard, a leading conservative Washington magazine.
Libby, Cheney’s former chief of staff, was convicted of obstructing a federal investigation into the revelation that Valerie Plame Wilson was a CIA agent.
He was sentenced to 30 months in prison and fined $250,000. Bush commuted the sentence, which he called “excessive,” so that Libby served no jail time.
But he did not pardon Libby, much to the aggravation of many influential conservatives.

Was She Covert?

Was She Covert?
By Robert D. Novak
Thursday, March 22, 2007; 12:00 AM

Republican Rep. Peter Hoekstra could hardly believe what he heard on television Friday as he watched a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing. Rep. Henry Waxman, the Democratic committee chairman, said his statement had been approved by the CIA director, Michael Hayden. That included the assertion that Valerie Plame Wilson was a covert CIA operative when her identity was revealed.

As House intelligence committee chairman when Republicans controlled Congress, Hoekstra had tried repeatedly to learn Plame’s status from the CIA but got only double talk from Langley. Waxman, 67, the 17-term congressman from Beverly Hills, may be a bully and a partisan. But he is no fool who would misrepresent the director of central intelligence. Waxman was correctly quoting Hayden. But Hayden, in a conference with Hoekstra yesterday, still did not answer whether Plame was covert under the terms of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.

The former CIA employee’s status is critical to the attempted political rehabilitation of former ambassador Joseph Wilson and his wife. The Democratic target always has been Karl Rove, President Bush’s principal adviser. The purpose of last week’s hearing was to blame Rove for “outing” Plame, in preparation for revoking his security clearance.

Claims of a White House plot became so discredited that Wilson was cut out of Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign by the summer of 2004. Last week’s hearing attempted to revive a dormant issue. The glamorous Mrs. Wilson was depicted as the victim of White House machinations that aborted her career in intelligence.

Waxman and Democratic colleagues did not ask these pertinent questions: Had not Plame been outed years ago by a Soviet agent? Was she not on an administrative, not operational, track at Langley? How could she be covert if, in public view, she drove to work each day at Langley? What about comments to me by then CIA spokesman Bill Harlow that Plame never would be given another foreign assignment? What about testimony to the FBI that her CIA employment was common knowledge in Washington?

Instead of posing such questions, Waxman said flatly that Plame was covert and cited Hayden as proof. Hayden’s endorsement of Waxman’s statement astounded Republicans whose queries about her had been rebuffed by the agency. That confirmed Republican suspicions that Hayden is too close to Democrats.

These issues were not explored by the only two Republicans who showed up at last week’s hearing. Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, the committee’s ranking Republican and former chairman, is a skilled legislator but is not prone to roughhouse with Waxman. Unwilling to challenge Plame’s covert status, Davis blamed the CIA instead of the White House for her alleged exposure. The other Republican present — Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, a second-termer from metro Atlanta — seemed awed by the beautiful woman facing him. “If I seem a little nervous,” he began, “I’ve never questioned a spy before.”

Davis had e-mailed the committee’s other Republicans requesting their presence. Where were they? I asked Rep. Christopher Shays, who during nine previous terms in Congress had proved a tenacious questioner at hearings. “We felt the committee is so biased,” he replied, “we would do better to just stay away.”

That decision left the field to such partisan Democrats as Rep. Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Rep. Diane Watson, Waxman’s fellow Californian, mimicked the chairman’s inquisitorial style. She repeatedly interrupted lawyer Victoria Toensing, the lone rebuttal witness granted the Republicans by Waxman.

Toensing testified that Plame was not a covert operative as defined by the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which she had helped draft as a Senate staffer in 1982, if only because she was not stationed overseas for the CIA the past five years. Waxman hectored Toensing, menacingly warning that her sworn testimony would be scrutinized for misstatements.

Waxman relied on his support from Hayden. When Hayden’s role was pointed out to one of the president’s most important aides, there was no response. The White House from the start has treated the Plame leak as a criminal case not to be commented on. The Democrats still consider it a political blunderbuss, aimed at Karl Rove and his boss.

A Libby Pardon for Christmas?

October 5, 2006

A Libby Pardon for Christmas?
by Elizabeth de la Vega and Tom Engelhardt

Sometimes, the proximate cause of an unraveling, even an implosion, may catch everyone by surprise. This week the “tipping point” (to borrow a Bush administration phrase from the Iraq War) for the possible unraveling of Republican control of Congress may be the roiling, boiling Mark Foley affair with its sexually explicit e-mails and instant messages to teenage House pages, which, in the pattern of any such scandal, has surely not yet fully emerged into view. On Tuesday, the editorial page of the right-wing Washington Times called on House Speaker Dennis Hastert to resign “at once,” while the Washington Post reported “intense anger among social conservative activists in Washington yesterday.” Meanwhile, news about how much the Republican leadership (and the FBI) knew about Foley’s activities without taking any action continues to emerge, and the Democrats are clearly about to press their sudden advantage in undoubtedly below-the-belt campaign ads. As Perry Bacon Jr. of Time magazine puts it, a potentially expanding “‘throw the bums’ out mentality … could result in a Democratic win in the House” – and, with that, the power to investigate the Bush administration would fall into far less friendly hands at a moment when the landscape is chock-a-block full of investigative possibilities.

In just the last couple of weeks, it was learned that lobbyist
Jack Abramoff may have practically camped
in Karl Rove’s office; that Henry Kissinger had quietly
returned to the Oval Office to re-fight the Vietnam War; that the
complete American intelligence community agreed, in a National
intelligence Estimate
, that Iraq was a veritable machine for
creating terrorists; that (according to the Washington Post‘s
Bob Woodward, who created laudatory portraits of the president when
things were going so well) George W. Bush (gasp!) actually lied
to the American people about the situation in Iraq; that he was also
determined to make sure American troops remained mired in Iraq even
if only
his wife
and dog supported his policy; that his former national
security adviser and present secretary of state may have shrugged
off a meeting
with the top two people in the CIA in July 2001 warning about an
Osama bin Laden attack; and finally that Congress passed a bill
essentially giving the president and the CIA a get-out-of-jail-free
card for illegal past acts in the thriving field of torture and
illegal detention.

In such a scandal-ridden, edge-of-election moment in Washington,
it’s easy enough to let older scandals slip from sight. Right now,
that’s the case with Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald’s upcoming
prosecution of I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Cheney’s former
right-hand man. As it happens, however, even if we’ve taken our eyes
off the case (and the set of scandals behind it), key administration
figures haven’t for a simple reason that former federal prosecutor
Elizabeth de la Vega explains in striking fashion below. After all,
the Libby case, when laid out in court, would threaten to unravel
the vice president’s command post in full view of the public. So
take a moment off from the scandals of the present to consider a
scandal of the past that, one way or another, is guaranteed to be a
major scandal of the near future. Tom

Pardon Me?

Scooter Libby’s trial strategy
by Elizabeth de la Vega

Maybe you are thinking that Special
Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald’s case against Scooter Libby is
yesterday’s news, or, worse, in its last throes. Think again.

It has recently come to my attention that the title of the
Ukrainian national anthem is “Ukraine Is Not Dead Yet.” (Seriously,
it is.) The same could be said of Special Counsel Patrick
Fitzgerald’s ongoing prosecution of Vice President Cheney’s former
aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby: The case – involving charges of
perjury, false statements, and obstruction of justice in connection
with Fitzgerald’s investigation into the unauthorized disclosure of
the identity of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife, Valerie
Plame, as a CIA operative – is not dead yet, nor is it even ailing.

U.S. v. Libby Is Alive and Well

U.S. v. Libby is not only alive and well; it is also set
to begin on Jan. 16, 2007, just three and a half months from now. In
June, the defense requested a one-month continuance, but U.S.
District Judge Reggie Walton responded by granting a mere one-week
extension and reiterating that pretrial filings had to be submitted
by both parties in mid-November 2006.

Indeed, a review of court documents makes it abundantly clear
that Judge Reggie Walton has no intention of letting this matter
laze around on his docket. Filings in the case make it no less clear
that Libby’s opportunities to make the charges go away by exercising
his rights within the judicial system are dwindling rapidly. Early
on, Walton ruled that any motions to dismiss that the defendant
wished to bring should be filed by Feb. 24, 2006. Libby’s attorneys
filed one such motion and it was denied.

In that motion, Libby’s defense team argued that the case should
be dismissed because it was “obtained, approved, and signed by an
official – Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald – who was appointed
and exercised his powers” in violation of the Constitution. Without
getting too technical, the defense argument was that Fitzgerald was
taking actions that could only be taken by a presidential appointee.
This was essentially a more lawyerly version of accusations the
Republican National Committee (directly tied into the Bush
administration’s political arm, the Office of Strategic Initiatives)
had begun hurling even before Libby’s indictment. In various veiled
– and sometimes not so veiled – attacks,
they argued that Patrick Fitzgerald was “overzealous” and had
exceeded his authority by bringing perjury and false-statements
charges when he was, according to the Libby defense team and the
RNC, only authorized to investigate the possible unauthorized
disclosure of a CIA officer.

Not surprisingly, Judge Walton was unimpressed with Libby’s
motion. He ruled that it was perfectly appropriate and prudent for
the Department of Justice to appoint someone outside the hierarchy
of the Executive Branch when its highest officials were under
investigation. He also said that Fitzgerald’s letters of authority
“unambiguously” authorized him to investigate and prosecute not only
the disclosure of a CIA employee’s identity, but also “any
violations of federal law that arise during the course of that

Hoping That Graymail Will Be a Silver Bullet

Libby does, however, have one other hope for dismissal of the
charges prior to trial: graymail – a defense tactic so named
because it is a subtle form of blackmail that forces a prosecutor to
choose between disclosing highly classified information and
continuing to proceed with a case. Such a tactic can be particularly
effective when, as in this case, White House officials, who guard
the classification system, would be as happy as clams if the whole
case went away.

This is what has happened so far: In March, based on Libby’s
expressed intent to argue that he made false statements during the
investigation because he was preoccupied with national security
matters, Judge Walton ordered the government to produce – for
certain weeks in 2003 and 2004 – a list of topics covered, and
inquiries made by Libby, in his morning intelligence briefings. In
effect, Judge Walton ordered the government to turn over tables of
contents; he did not order it to disclose any substance contained
within a classified document.

On Sept. 28, Judge Walton began conducting closed hearings
required by the Classified Information Procedures Act – called CIPA
– to determine what parts of these topic lists would be admissible
at trial. If Walton rules that certain information is admissible,
and the Special Counsel does not want to disclose it, Fitzgerald may
offer either to provide a statement admitting the facts that the
classified information tends to prove or to substitute a summary.
Then Walton, in turn, would have to decide whether those
alternatives would provide Libby with substantially the same ability
to present his defense as he would have if the actual information
were disclosed.

An order Judge Walton issued on March 10, 2006 provides a giant
clue as to how he might rule on this issue. In footnote 25, he
pointed out that the prosecution does not dispute the defendant’s
work on important national security matters; nor has the defense
attorney appeared to acknowledge that he was intending to present
the substance of the documents to the jury. Then he added:

“It is unlikely that this Court would permit anything other
than the general topic areas of these documents to be introduced at
trial and would be prepared to advise the jury through an
instruction that due to national security concerns the defendant is
prohibited from discussing the details about the matters he was
working on and that it is undisputed that the defendant was
extremely busy during his work day, worked long hours, and worked on
highly sensitive national security and intelligence

If Judge Walton continues to follow this approach – and it’s hard
to imagine why he wouldn’t – graymail will probably not be the
silver bullet that Libby is hoping for.

What, Then, Is a Criminal Defendant With Close Friends in the
White House and the Republican National Committee to Do?

The relentless approach of Scooter Libby’s trial date – and the
diminishing chances that his lawyers can make the case go away
within the confines of the judicial process – really puts a crimp in
his trial strategy.

Why? Because Scooter Libby’s trial strategy is not to have a

Unfortunately for Libby, however, a criminal defendant’s options
for avoiding a trial are limited. It’s not an RSVP-type of thing.
You can’t express regrets and go to some other party; you can’t
cancel your afternoon meetings and hit the golf course; you wouldn’t
be wise to call in sick (unless you’re practically terminal); and
you wouldn’t want to play hooky, unless you have a strong desire to
meet U.S. marshals. The judge sets the trial date and you pretty
much have to show up, at which point the proceedings take on a life
of their own.

The seemingly unstoppable imminence of his trial isn’t just a
problem for Libby; it’s an Excedrin Extra Strength-sized headache
for George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and their entire senior staff, not
to mention the Republican Party. Once the trial begins, the
administration will have little or no control over the proceedings.
Trials are not conducive to spin. Spin requires secrecy; trials, on
the other hand, are decidedly public. Reporters will be there.
Citizens who have the patience to stand in line can watch.
Government officials who testify will actually have to identify
themselves before speaking. Their statements will be transcribed and
made available to the public almost immediately.

Worse yet, as the Bush administration surely knows, people (aka
“voters”) love trials. They may not pay attention to congressional
debate – to the extent that there is any – and they certainly don’t
read proposed legislation (nor, sometimes, do our representatives in
Congress), but they will pay close attention to the trial of I.
“Scooter” Lewis Libby. And the day that a public airing of the
machinations that led to Libby’s indictment begins will be – to
paraphrase Judith Viorst’s beloved children’s book Alexander and
the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
– a terrible,
horrible, no good, very bad day for the White House.

One measure of how concerned the White House and the Republican
National Committee are about the looming trial date – how important
the perjury, false statements, and obstruction charges pending
against Libby truly are – is how assiduously their trusty talking
heads are working to convince the public that those very charges,
and, indeed, the entire investigation into the unauthorized
disclosure of Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA operative
that gave rise to them, are trivial.

How hard is this Republican chorus working? Take a look at the
Web site of the Libby Legal
Defense Trust
, the fundraising group formed by Libby’s powerful
and wealthy Republican supporters – President Bush’s former
Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham, business tycoon Steve Forbes,
and Cheney’s former aide and longtime confidant Mary Matalin, to
name a few. Since late August, more than 35 editorials and articles
favorable to Libby have appeared in right-wing and mainstream media
(all posted right there on the Web site).

Next week – in Pardon Me? Libby’s Trial Strategy (Part II)
– I will address the distinctly piscine (def.: “Of or relating to
fish”) nature of those arguments and their timing, but, for now,
suffice it to say that the White House and RNC propaganda machine is
working overtime to denigrate Patrick Fitzgerald and the charges in
the Libby case, using claims that have been largely rejected as
without factual or legal basis by a federal judge whom President
George W. Bush himself appointed in 2004.

Pardon Me?

Why would the well-educated and powerful members of the Libby
Legal Defense Trust, the many pundits close to the White House, and
spokespersons for the RNC conduct such a campaign when they know
full well that it is entirely irrelevant to the court case pending
against Scooter Libby? Because their strategy for the Libby trial is
precisely the same as Libby’s: not to have a trial. The White House
and the RNC do not want anyone to hear, or hear about, Patrick
Fitzgerald calmly laying out the case against Scooter Libby – which
will inevitably provide an extremely damaging view of the Office of
the Vice President – in a courtroom where they will have no pundit

With the jury selection date fast approaching and the
possibilities of a court dismissal evaporating, the White House
appears to be shifting to Plan B: a PR effort to pave the way for a
presidential pardon of Scooter Libby – before the trial.

Last year, not long after Libby was indicted, Sen. Harry Reid and
others in the Democratic leadership in Congress sent President Bush
a letter
reminding him that the indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney’s
chief of staff marked “the first time in 131 years that a senior
White House official has been charged with a crime while still
serving in the White House.” Given the seriousness of the crimes,
Reid urged, it was important for the president to “make clear in
advance that, if convicted, Mr. Libby will not be able to rely on
his close relationship with you or Vice President Cheney to obtain
the kind of extraordinarily special treatment unavailable to
ordinary Americans.” In short, the Democratic leadership was asking
the president to reassure the public that he would not pardon Libby
or anyone else ultimately convicted of a crime as a result of the
CIA leak investigation.

The president never responded. (Not exactly a shocker.) And Vice
President Cheney, when asked recently by Tim Russert on Meet
the Press
whether the president should pardon Scooter Libby,
refused to answer.

No outsider knows if the president is planning to pardon Libby
soon, but this would be a good time for Reid to resurrect that
letter. He might amend it slightly to call upon the president to
pledge not to pardon I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby before Patrick
Fitzgerald even has a chance to step to the podium in January.
December would be an excellent month for a pardon – it’s the holiday
season after all – and the midterm elections would be over. The best
way to head off this possibility is to call attention to it. Now.

Elizabeth de la Vega is a former federal prosecutor with more
than 20 years of experience. During her tenure, she was a member of
the Organized Crime Strike Force and chief of the San Jose branch of
the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California.
Her pieces have appeared in the
Nation magazine, the Los
Angeles Times, and Salon. She writes regularly for TomDispatch
and is the author of the upcoming book
v. George W. Bush et. al.
, a TomDispatch project to be
published by Seven Stories Press in late November. She may be
contacted at

Copyright 2006 Elizabeth de la Vega

Novak: Real story behind Armitage’s role

Novak: Real story behind Armitage’s role
September 13, 2006

When Richard Armitage finally acknowledged last week he was my source three years ago in revealing Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA employee, the former deputy secretary of state’s interviews obscured what he really did. I want to set the record straight based on firsthand knowledge.

First, Armitage did not, as he now indicates, merely pass on something he had heard and that he ‘‘thought’’ might be so. Rather, he identified to me the CIA division where Mrs. Wilson worked, and said flatly that she recommended the mission to Niger by her husband, former Amb. Joseph Wilson.

Second, Armitage did not slip me this information as idle chitchat, as he now suggests. He made clear he considered it especially suited for my column.

An accurate depiction of what Armitage actually said deepens the irony of him being my source. He was a foremost internal skeptic of the administration’s war policy, and I long had opposed military intervention in Iraq. Zealous foes of George W. Bush transformed me improbably into the president’s lapdog. But they cannot fit Armitage into the left-wing fantasy of a well-crafted White House conspiracy to destroy Joe and Valerie Wilson. The news that he and not Karl Rove was the leaker was devastating news for the left.

A peculiar convergence had joined Armitage and me on the same historical path. During his quarter of a century in Washington, I had no contact with Armitage before our fateful interview. I tried to see him in the first 2 years of the Bush administration, but he rebuffed me — summarily and with disdain, I thought.

Then, without explanation, in June 2003, Armitage’s office said the deputy secretary would see me. This was two weeks before Joe Wilson surfaced himself as author of a 2002 report for the CIA debunking Iraqi interest in buying uranium in Africa.

I sat down with Armitage in his State Department office the afternoon of July 8 with tacit rather than explicit ground rules: deep background with nothing said attributed to Armitage or even an anonymous State Department official. Consequently, I refused to identify Armitage as my leaker until his admission was forced by Hubris, a new book by reporters Michael Isikoff and David Corn that absolutely identified him.

Late in my hourlong interview with Armitage. I asked why the CIA had sent Wilson — lacking intelligence experience, nuclear policy or recent contact with Niger — on the African mission. He told the Washington Post last week that his answer was: ‘‘I don’t know, but I think his wife worked out there.’’

Neither of us took notes, and nobody else was present. But I recalled our conversation that week in writing a column, while Armitage reconstructed it months later for federal prosecutors. He had told me unequivocally that Mrs. Wilson worked in the CIA’s Counter-Proliferation Division and that she had suggested her husband’s mission.

As for his current implications that he never expected this to be published, he noted that the story of Mrs. Wilson’s role fit the style of the old Evans-Novak column — implying to me it continued reporting Washington inside information.

Mrs. Wilson’s name appeared in my column July 14, 2003, but it was not until Oct. 1 that I heard about it from Armitage. Washington lobbyist Kenneth Duberstein, Armitage’s close friend and political adviser, called me to say the deputy secretary feared he had ‘‘inadvertently’’ (the word Armitage used in last week’s interviews) disclosed Mrs. Wilson’s identity to me in July and was considering resignation. (Duberstein’s phone call was disclosed in the Isikoff-Corn book, which used Duberstein as a source. They reported Duberstein was responsible for arranging my unexpected interview with Armitage.)

Duberstein told me Armitage wanted to know whether he was my source. I did not reply because I was sure that Armitage knew he was the source. I believed he contacted me Oct. 1 because of news the weekend of Sept. 27-28 that the Justice Department was investigating the leak. I cannot credit Armitage’s current claim that he realized he was the source only when my Oct. 1 column revealed that the official who gave me the information was ‘‘no partisan gunslinger.’’

Armitage’s silence the next 2œ years caused intense pain for his colleagues in government and enabled partisan Democrats in Congress to falsely accuse Rove of being my primary source. When Armitage now says he was mute because of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s request, that does not explain his silence three months between his claimed first realization that he was the source and Fitzgerald’s appointment on Dec. 30. Armitage’s tardy self-disclosure is tainted because it is deceptive.

Copyright © The Sun-Times Company
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

J-school deans ignored Plame case facts

Doug MacEachern
Jul. 30, 2006 12:00 AM
Just when my team of therapists had convinced me to (intellectually) let go of Valerie Plame . . . more stuff happens.

It billows up in puffs of purple smoke like yet another nerve-rattling appearance from the Wicked Witch of the West.

In one big poof, a group of four journalism school deans wrote in the Washington Post earlier this month that nearly all of the national-security exposés published, mostly, in the New York Times in recent years are justified. All except one.

“There are situations in which that chance should not be taken,” they wrote. “For instance, there was no justification for columnist Robert D. Novak to have unmasked Valerie Plame as a covert CIA officer.”

I have long argued that journalism is like plumbing. You learn it on the job at the elbow of practicing masters. The anointment of fellows like these J-school deans – all from schools duly identified as “prestigious” in every news story that has published their op-ed – are recommended if you wish to rise high in the ranks of editors. But journalists still learn best by shoveling through muck in the trenches.

This isn’t just old-school whimsy. The good professors themselves provide a classic example of the isolating nature of their ivory towers in their preening treatise on the public’s right to know some things but not others.

As if it is accepted gospel, they identify the former Vanity Fair cover-woman as a “covert” CIA officer.

Since the summer of 2003, Plame’s “covert” status has been the keystone that would lead to Karl Rove’s desperately anticipated frog-march out of the White House.

But after more than two years of investigation, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald abandoned that elementary factoid. He gave up altogether determining what Plame’s status was with the CIA. If not covert, was it “classified”? That latter would seem to be the case. But what did that mean? Fitzgerald decided it was not his job to find out.

But while the prosecutor who has lived and breathed “covert” vs. “classified” vs. “cover girl” for three years could not conclude Plame’s status, four university deans blithely conclude that they know. She was “covert,” and therefore should never have been named in the July 14, 2003, column by Novak.

I will grant you that the Plame story is the most convoluted, intractable partisan story of our era. It is far more complex and murky than Watergate ever was, mostly because the latter built upon a set of facts that few people disputed. More important, no one (except, oh, Richard Nixon) ran from Watergate facts because they proved inconvenient to preconceived conclusions.

The Plame story is different because it comes to news readers from a universe that is impervious to the gamma rays of discovery. That is to say, discovery by people other than mind-reading university professors who know facts that Fitzgerald does not.

A few days ago, for example, I happened across a lengthy report from the Financial Times of London, a not-insubstantial news source.

“The FT has now learnt that three European intelligence services were aware of possible illicit trade in uranium from Niger between 1999 and 2001,” FT reporter Mark Huband wrote. The intelligence those agencies gathered implicated Niger in “possible illicit uranium deals with at least five countries, including Iraq.”

Huband’s report was published over two years ago, on June 28, 2004.

Now, the relevance of such a story is anchored not so much in the Plame Affair as much as in the mother lode controversy that produced the Plame nugget. That would be the famous “16 words” spoken by President Bush in his 2003 State of the Union speech about Saddam Hussein’s pursuit of atom bomb-making materials in Africa, which Plame’s husband, Joseph Wilson, claimed to have proved were lies.

Alas, we don’t have sufficient space here to go through the (lengthy) litany of Wilson’s own “misspeaking” and bald-faced lies on this and other subjects. Except one.

Wilson himself told two officials from the CIA’s Directorate of Operations on March 5, 2002, that former Nigerien Prime Minister Ibrahim Mayaki told him of a meeting with an Iraqi delegation in 1999. Wilson told the CIA agents that the former prime minister concluded from the meeting that the Iraqis were seeking “yellowcake” uranium, the only product of value, except goats, produced in Niger. This uncontested fact can be found on Page 43 of the 2004 Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, under the heading “Niger.”

But few journalism school deans appear inclined to look that up. Nor reports in the reputable Financial Times of London that support Wilson’s only honest words about Niger. Not even, for that matter, the honest-if-incomplete conclusions of special prosecutor Fitzgerald.


Cheney’s leaking represents an abuse of power, not freedom of speech.

Cheney’s leaking represents an abuse of power, not freedom of speech.
By Erwin Chemerinsky
Posted Tuesday, July 25, 2006, at 3:06 PM ET
The top government officials who revealed that Valerie Plame Wilson was a secret operative for the Central Intelligence Agency egregiously abused their power and inflicted great harms on Ms. Wilson and her husband, Joseph Wilson. Yet a recent article in Slate suggests that such leaks were not only legal but are in fact protected speech under the First Amendment. To give this speech First Amendment protection would turn the abuser into a victim and undermine basic principles of tort law, espionage law, and the Constitution.

Vice President Richard Cheney, his former Chief of Staff Lewis Libby, and President Bush’s senior policy adviser Karl Rove disclosed highly sensitive information to the media, entirely out of a desire to retaliate against Valerie Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson. Wilson’s crime? Describing in a New York Times op-ed the falsehoods contained in the president’s State of the Union address. This unprecedented action—revealing the identity of a secret operative for partisan gain—effectively ended Valerie Plame Wilson’s career in the CIA and put her, her family, and those who worked with her in danger.

Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame Wilson have filed a civil suit for money damages. (Disclosure: I am co-counsel in that suit.) Their case alleges that Cheney, Libby, Rove, and others violated the Wilson’s constitutional rights, engaged in a conspiracy to violate their civil rights, and committed torts such as invasion of privacy by publicly disclosing private facts.

Recently, Yale Law School’s professor Akhil Amar wrote for Slate that Vice President Cheney’s conduct, and by implication the actions of Libby and Rove as well, are protected by the First Amendment. Professor Amar analogizes Cheney, Libby, and Rove to John Peter Zenger and whistle-blowers in general.

It is hard to imagine a less apt analogy. Zenger was a publisher in the 1730s who was sued for defamation for publishing important criticisms of the government. He raised freedom of the press as a defense. Whistle-blowers expose government wrongdoing and thus perform an important public service, often putting their own careers in jeopardy. But unlike Zenger and government whistle-blowers, Cheney, Libby, and Rove did nothing noble in disclosing Ms. Wilson’s identity as a secret agent. The information they leaked gave the public no information they needed to know. There was no greater good served by this leak. They simply ruined her career and put people in danger out of a partisan desire to embarrass a critic of the administration.

As United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Judge David Tatel observed Feb. 15, 2005: “An alleged covert agent, Plame evidently traveled overseas on clandestine missions beginning nearly two decades ago. Her exposure, therefore, not only may have jeopardized any covert activities of her own, but also may have endangered friends and associates from whom she might have gathered information in the past.” Judge Tatel referred to the leak as a “serious breach of public trust.”

Consider also that the disclosure about Plame would have been unlawful had it been made by an anti-CIA campaigner, and it was just as unlawful when made by the vice president’s men. If the First Amendment protects Cheney’s leak, it would seemingly protect a similar leak by an enemy of the CIA.

The fact that Cheney, Libby, and Rove accomplished all of this by speaking to reporters does not somehow immunize their speech under the First Amendment. Although professor Amar is correct that even government officials enjoy freedom of speech, that freedom is not without limits. The Supreme Court has consistently said that speech by government employees is protected only if it involves a matter of public concern. Ms. Wilson’s status as a secret agent was obviously not of any public concern. Mr. Wilson’s claims about President Bush’s veracity were, on the other hand, a matter of public concern. But if the vice president wanted to criticize Ambassador Wilson, he certainly did not need to disclose Ms. Wilson’s undercover employment to do so.

Moreover, even speech of public concern is not always protected by the First Amendment. The law has long recognized, for example, claims against speech that invades privacy by publicly disclosing private facts. Both the Constitution and tort law allow claims for such invasion of privacy, and the fact that Valerie Plame worked as a secret operative for the government was surely private.

Conduct that ruins a person’s career and puts her in danger for no reason other than partisan gain simply is not protected by the First Amendment. Quite the contrary, the actions of Cheney, Rove, and Libby violated Joseph Wilson’s free-speech rights by
punishing him for speaking out against the administration. The law is clear that government officials act unconstitutionally when they punish people for exercising their right to speak.

Also, the law is clear that arbitrarily discriminating against a person violates the Constitution, even when it takes the form of spoken words. For instance, employers are liable if they sexually harass an employee—even if that harassment comes only via speech. Ms. Wilson was subjected to such arbitrary and discriminatory treatment by Cheney, Rove, and Libby. They cannot cloak such conduct in the First Amendment in order to absolve themselves of wrongdoing.

Finally, professor Amar points to the absence of any criminal charges—except against Lewis Libby—to imply that they have done nothing wrong. But that has no relevance at all in determining whether Mr. and Ms. Wilson have a civil cause of action, or whether the First Amendment protects the speech of Cheney, Libby, and Rove. The complaint filed by Mr. and Ms. Wilson alleges violations of free speech, denial of equal protection, and invasion of privacy. None of these are crimes, but all are a basis for civil liability. The lack of criminal charges hardly makes the civil claims go away.

Professor Amar’s invocation of the vice president’s free-speech rights simply misses the point. The First Amendment does not protect government officials intentionally inflicting great harm on others, regardless of whether the harm arises from the (unlawful) disclosure of confidential information, and even if they do so through their speech. Cheney, Libby, and Rove abused their power and should be held accountable. That is why the Wilsons filed a civil suit, and that is why they should prevail.

Erwin Chemerinsky, Alston & Bird professor of law and political science at Duke University, is co-counsel for Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame Wilson in Wilson v. Cheney.

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No security clearances revoked over Plame

July 24, 2006, 4:14PM
By TONI LOCY Associated Press Writer
© 2006 The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — No one in the Bush administration has been stripped of security clearances over the leak of former CIA officer Valerie Plame’s identity to reporters three years ago.



In a letter to Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., the CIA said it had no record of anyone in the administration who is no longer privy to the nation’s most sensitive secrets because of the Plame leak.

The CIA also revealed it has not yet completed a formal assessment of the damage to national security that may have been caused by Plame’s outing in 2003.

The assessment won’t be completed until a criminal investigation of the leak has been concluded, Christopher J. Walker, the CIA’s director of congressional affairs, said in the July 19 letter to Lautenberg.

For more than a year, Lautenberg and other Democrats have been calling on President Bush to fire presidential adviser Karl Rove and any other aides who discussed Plame’s CIA status with reporters _ or, at the least, to revoke their security clearances.

So far, only I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, has been charged in the investigation. Libby faces trial in January on perjury and obstruction-of-justice charges for lying to the FBI and a federal grand jury about how he learned about Plame’s CIA status and what he later told reporters.

Rove’s lawyer revealed in June that Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald had decided not to seek criminal charges against the senior White House aide, who was the architect of Bush’s presidential election campaigns.

Plame’s identity as a CIA officer was classified information when it was revealed in a July 14, 2003, article by syndicated columnist Robert Novak. The Novak column appeared eight days after Plame’s husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, alleged in an opinion piece in The New York Times that the administration had twisted prewar intelligence on Iraq to justify going to war.

Earlier this month, Plame and Wilson filed a lawsuit accusing Cheney, Rove, Libby and 10 unnamed administration officials of leaking Plame’s identity and wrecking her career to punish Wilson for his criticism of the White House’s motives in Iraq.

Plame left the CIA in January and is writing a book about what happened to her.

“We know that members of the administration were leaking classified information, so it makes no sense that no one has had their security clearances revoked,” Lautenberg said. “President Bush should not allow anyone who has divulged sensitive information to have continued access to national secrets.”

Libby testifies Bush authorized intelligence leak

April 6, 2006, 7:07PM
Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney authorized Cheney’s top aide to launch a counterattack of leaks against administration critics on Iraq by feeding intelligence information to reporters, according to court papers citing the aide’s testimony in the CIA leak case.

In a court filing, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald stopped short of accusing Cheney of authorizing his chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, to leak the CIA identity of Valerie Plame.


But the prosecutor, detailing the evidence he has gathered, raised the possibility that the vice president was trying to use Plame’s CIA employment to discredit her husband, administration critic Joseph Wilson. Cheney, according to an indictment against Libby, knew that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA as early as June 12, 2003, more than a month before that fact turned up in a column by Robert Novak.

Fitzgerald quoted Libby as saying he was authorized to tell New York Times reporter Judith Miller that Iraq was “vigorously trying to procure” uranium. Fitzgerald said Libby told him it “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.”

In 2003, when the public furor erupted over the disclosure of a CIA operative’s status, Bush said he wanted to get to the bottom of the affair. “I want to know the truth,” he said at the time.

Libby’s testimony also puts the president and the vice president in the awkward position of authorizing leaks. Both men have long said they abhor such practices, so much so that the administration has put in motion criminal investigations at their behest to hunt down leakers.

The most recent instance is the administration’s probe into who disclosed to the Times the existence of the warrantless domestic surveillance program.

Today, Democrats criticized the roles of Bush and Cheney.

“President Bush must fully disclose his participation in the selective leaking of classified information,” said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid. “The American people must know the truth.”

“The president and the vice president must be held accountable,” Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said from the Senate floor. “Accountable for misleading the American people, accountable for the disclosure of classified material for political purposes. It is as serious as it gets in this democracy.”

Presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said the White House would have no comment on the investigation. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the president has the “inherent authority to decide who should have classified information.”

Libby faces trial next January on five counts of perjury, obstruction and lying to the FBI about how he learned of the CIA identity of Wilson’s wife and what he told reporters about it. The indictment says Cheney told Libby in June 2003 that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA.

The authorization by Bush and Cheney in July 2003 for disclosing sensitive prewar intelligence assessments came amid a growing public realization that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. The failure to find such weapons undermined the primary rationale Bush and Cheney had used for taking the country to war.

According to Fitzgerald’s court filing, Cheney, in a conversation with Libby, expressed concerns on whether a CIA-sponsored trip to the African nation of Niger by Wilson “was legitimate or whether it was in effect a junket set up by Mr. Wilson’s wife.”

After Wilson’s 2002 trip, the former ambassador said he had concluded that Iraq did not have an agreement to acquire uranium yellowcake from Niger. The subsequent embrace of information that Iraq and Niger did have a deal for uranium was evidence that the administration had twisted prewar intelligence to exaggerate the Iraqi threat, Wilson said.

Wilson’s public criticism on July 6, 2003, “was viewed in the office of 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,” Fitzgerald stated.

In the court filing, drawn in part from Libby’s own grand jury testimony before his indictment, Fitzgerald indicated that:

— A July 8, 2003, Libby conversation with the Times’ Miller occurred “only after the vice president advised defendant that the president specifically had authorized defendant to disclose certain information” from a then-classified intelligence estimate on Iraq. Libby is alleged to have mentioned the CIA status of Wilson’s wife in the conversation.

— Cheney’s chief of staff at first told the vice president that he could not have the July 8, 2003, conversation with Miller because of the classified nature of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq.

— Libby “testified that the vice president later advised him that the president had authorized defendant to disclose the relevant portions” of the NIE.

— The White House aide testified that he also spoke to David Addington, then counsel to the vice president, “whom defendant considered to be an expert in national security law, and Mr. Addington opined that presidential authorization to publicly disclose a document amounted to a declassification of the document.”

— Cheney’s then-chief of staff “understood that the vice president specifically selected him to talk to the press about the NIE and Mr. Wilson on July 12, 2003.” In conversations that day with Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper and again with Miller, Libby referred to the CIA status of Wilson’s wife.

Fitzgerald’s court papers are an effort to limit Libby’s demand that he be given voluminous amounts of classified information to defend himself in his criminal case.

Yellowcake Dossier Not The Work of the CIA

Yellowcake Dossier Not The Work of the CIA
October 26, 2005
by Carlo Bonnini e Giuseppe D’Avanzo of La Repubblica
[translated at the request of by Azzurra Crispino]
Anything found in [ ] are translator’s notes and not originally in the article.

For Nicolò Pollari, director of SISMI [sic Military Intelligence Agency of Italy] the rules of his job are non-negotiable. He tells La Repubblica: “I am the director of intelligence, and the only person I have spoken to in Washington on an institutional level, post September 11th, has been the director of the CIA, George Tenet. Obviously, I speak only to him.” But is it really true that our undercover agents have worked exclusively with the CIA? Or, were they co-opted by the clandestine parallel intelligence efforts headed by Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz over the “White House Iraq Group,” the Office of Special Plans in the Pentagon, the National Security advisor’s office, who all were set out to find the necessary proof to bring about ‘regime change’ in Bagdad?

On the eve of the invasion of Iraq, Pollari, the director of SISMI meets in Washington with the staff of Condoleeza Rice, then White House National Security Advisor. This is done under the supervision of Gianni Castellaneta, currently the Italian ambassador to the US and then diplomatic advisor for Palazzo Chigi [Silvio Berlusconi’s official residence as Prime Minister of Italy]. La Repubblica is able to document the simultaneous travel of the Italian government and intelligence. At least one of the “unofficial” meetings Pollari holds is, as secret agents say, the the creation of a love triangle between policy, intelligence, and information.

A quick summary: the Military Intelligence of Italy under Pollari wants to confirm the Iraqi purchase of unprocessed uranium used to make a nuclear bomb. The game plan is clear. Antonio Nucera, assistant chief of the Center for Military Intelligence in Rome, gives the “authentic papers” regarding an attempted acquisition of uranium in Niger (old Italian “intelligence” from the 80s). These are then bundled with other false papers hatched together from official stationery and seals, recovered during a faked burglary of the Niger embassy. These papers are shown by Pollari’s people to CIA agents stationed in Rome. Meanwhile, a “deliveryman” for the Military Intelligence Agency, none other than Rocco Martino, delivers them to MI6 in London, run by Sir Richard Dearlove.

This is what gets the ball rolling. This will all be useful in understanding the second chapter of the great Italian deception — framing the proof used to justify military intervention in Iraq. Greg Thielmann, former director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research for the State Department, finds “the Italian report on uranium” on his desk. He claims not to recall the exact date, but it is roughly fall of 2001. The exact date may be important. We know three events coincide on the date October 15th, 2001. Nicolò Pollari, nominated on September 27th, becomes the head of SISMI, after having been the number two man at CESIS (the center coordinating intelligence for Palazzo Chigi). Silvio Berlusconi finally meets with George W. Bush at the White House and the first CIA report on the Italian evidence all occur on the same date: October 15th, 2001. One might call this nothing more than coincidence, except that it appears the Italians are desperately trying to get into the action. Berlusconi had difficulty, following an attack of “misunderstanding among civilizations,” getting a meeting with a White House far more preoccupied with meeting with moderate Arab regimes. Pollari is anxious to be on board with the Premier and the new direction. Col. Alberto Manenti, Pollari’s former boss and the newly appointed head of WMD unit at SISMI, also wants to be in tune with the new director. While Bush is showing Berlusconi the Rose Garden, writes Russ Hoyle, the CIA is taking action on the news Italian intelligence has just handed them on a silver platter: “negotiations between Niamey [the capital of Niger] and Bagdad regarding the acquisition of uranium began in the beginning of 1999. culminating in the authorization of the sale by the Nigerien government in 2000.” No additional documentation is cited able to show that the shipment of uranium actually took place. CIA analysts consider this first report “very limited” and “lacking in necessary details.” Analysts in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research of the State Department rate the information “highly suspect.”

Pollari’s first contact with the American intelligence community is not particularly gratifying, but nevertheless useful. The director of SISMI is not a fool, he is quick to reconstruct where the main players fall in the sordid conflict underway in the Administration between those advocating prudence and a pragmatic outlook (State Department and the CIA) versus those who are merely looking for an opportunity to justify a pre-planned war. Gianni Castellaneta advises Pollari to “look in other directions,” while Minister of Defense Antonio Martino invites him to meet “an old friend of Italy.”

This old American friend is Michael A. Ledeen, an old fox of US parallel intelligence who was declared “undesirable” by Italy in the 1980s. Ledeen is in Rome on behalf of the Office of Special Plans, created by the Pentagon by Paul Wolfowitz to gather intelligence that supports military intervention in Iraq. A source from Forte Braschi [SISMI’s headquarters in Rome] tells La Repubblica: “Jeff Castelli, head of the CIA station in Rome, gives a cold reception to Pollari’s uranium story and lets the matter drop. Pollari understands this is merely a prelude to something else and talks to Michael Ledeen….” Some unknown reason moves Michael Ledeen back to Washington, D.C. But, at the beginning of 2002, Paul Wolfowitz convices Dick Cheney to explore in depth the Italian story on the uranium. The Vice President, states the Senate Selected Committee on Intelligence, asks the CIA one more time to know more about a possible acquisition of uranium from Niger. In that meeting, Dick Cheney explicitly states this shred of intelligence was gathered by “a foreign service.”

The Pentagon parallel intelligence then spreads this “new information,” according to which “there exists an agreement between Niger and Iraq for the sale of 500 tons of uranium a year.” The technical analysts smile at this declaration: 500 tons of uranium is an astronomical quantity, and the news is clearly devoid of any accountability. All independent reports, requested following the “Italian document” warn that the two mines in Niger, Arlit and Akouta, are not capable of extracting more than 300 tons a year. But the climate is what it is. George Tenet, hobbled by the holes in intelligence surrounding 9/11, puts on a good face and turns a deaf ear when the State Department (as told to La Repubblica by Greg Thielmann) states in opposition that “the information gathered in Italy is inconsistent; the Niger-uranium story is fake; and that a bunch of things told to us were lies.”

The source in Forte Braschi continues, “Pollari is extremely shrewd. He understands that in order to push the uranium story he cannot rely on the CIA alone. He has to work, as he was advised by Palazzo Chigi and the Defense Department, with the Pentagon and the National Security Advisor, Rice.” This claim could be nothing more than a malicious rumor (as is often the case in the world of spies) but confirmation of “alternate channels” Pollari creates with Washington are within grasp in an image and a meeting.

The image: Pollari is in Washington. He meets George Tenet, as often happens, in a reserved room of a hotel near Langley. Someone who assisted with the meeting tells La Repubblica: “Pollari must not trust his English very much, because he utilizes an interpreter when speaking to the director of the CIA. George, to get the ball rolling, reveals some information on Al Qaeda and Italy that the Agency has gathered amongst the Guantanamo prisoners. Tenet expects at least a smile, if not a thank you. Instead, he gets a face of stone. At first, this upsets him, but then he lets it go. But what strikes everyone most about Pollari is the way he keeps his central boss in Washington completely marginalized from everything.” This estrangement is interesting. In 2002 the head of the SISMI station in Washington is Admiral Giuseppe Grignolo, who has important experience in the proliferation of WMDs, an excellent relationship with the CIA and is very respected by CIA number two Jim Pravitt. The source from Forte Braschi recalls, “in reality, we wanted to keep the CIA out of our work and Pollari didn’t trust Grignolo because he’s too closely connected to Langley. So, he keeps all his moves quiet, leading [Grignolo] down the wrong path, like say having him focus unnecessarily on the criminal record of the new hires to the service who have perhaps spent a few years in the States… his more important meetings happen elsewhere. With Condi Rice, through Gianni Castellaneta and for the Office of Special Plans of Wolfowitz and Dough Feith, through Leeden. Castellaneta is the one who schedules the meeting in the office of the National Security Advisor.” When? What do they discuss? “What do you think they discussed in the summer of 2002? Weapons of mass destruction.” The date of the meeting? “That I’m keeping to myself… besides, all it takes is checking with the CAI [Commitato Aeronautico Italiano, the Italian version of the FAA] logs on planes scheduled to fly Ciampino-Washington.” [Ciampino is the Italian military airport.]

Getting the flightplans in Rome is difficult, but there’s better luck in Washington. An administration official tells La Repubblica, “I can confirm that on Sept. 9th, 2002, General Nicolò Pollari met with Stephen Hadley, at the time Deputy National Security Advisor under Condoleeza Rice. And just like October 15th 2001, September 9th 2002 is a date of coincidences. The issue of Panorama that will hit the stands with the date September 12/19 is going to press. This seems to be the customary in the “yellowcake affair.” Recall that “the deliveryman” for SISMI, Rocco Martino, contacts in October a journalist from the weekly magazine, at the time edited by Carlo Rossella, to sell them the document of this crooked affair. No one seems to remember that, in that September 12/19 2002 issue, coinciding with the secret meeting between Pollari and Hadley, Panorama finds a colossal scoop. The title of the article, “The War? It’s Already Begun,” tells the story of “a load of half a ton of uranium.” Further in the article, “the men of Mukhabarat, the Iraqi Secret Service, acquired it [the uranium] through a Jordan intermediary company in far-off Nigeria, where some merchants were selling it as contraband after having stolen it from a nuclear deposit in one of the republics of the former USSR. Five hundred kilos of uranium landed in Amman [the capital of Jordan]. From there, after seven hours by land, they reached their destination: a plant 20 km north of Bagdad, called Al Radhidiyah, well-known for its production and treatment of fission materials.” Later in the article, “… the alert pertains to Germany, where in previous years Iraq has tried to buy technology and industrial components from the “Leycochem” organization… including the coveted aluminum tubes for the gas centrifuges.”

It is important to note that all the ingredients for the recipe for war are present in this Panorama article, even if in an inexact context (Nigeria is not Niger, a grave lapse) and in some parts far-out (contraband from the former USSR to Africa in a truck): the five hundred tons of uranium that, from Africa, reach Baghdad; aluminum tubes for nuclear centrifuges. A reasonable observation can be made that the schema at work here in Italy seems to overlap completely with the ones sustained in the US CIA/New York Times scandal. Government asks for something; intelligence gives it; the media circulates it; and government confirms it. It’s a disinformation technique as old as the Cold War. Exaggerate the danger from the enemy, thereby terrorizing and convincing public opinion. In our own home, an even worse detail: the Prime Minister owns the magazine spreading this poisonous news. The same PM, who heads intelligence and wants to seem and be George W. Bush’s biggest ally, who is in turn anxious to go to war.

The groundwork now laid out, Pollari can now concentrate on a different but essential aspect of his gameplan, the promotion of SISMI and himself. He cashes in on the dividends from the last year’s obfuscated work, blinding parliament with news cautiously manipulated; revelations that would finally require a believable and documented reconstruction are instead met with a wall of secrecy from the state (that would be opposed by Gianni Letta on July 16th, 2003).

After his secret meeting with Hadley, Pollari has two audiences with the parliamentary committee overseeing secret services. In the first, the director of SISMI states, “we do not have documented proof, but we do have news that a central-African nation has sold pure uranium to Baghdad.” Thirty days later, Pollari states, “we have documented proof of an Iraqi acquisition of pure uranium in a central-African nation. We also know of an Iraqi attempt to purchase centrifuges, to be used to enrich uranium, from companies in Germany and possibly in Italy as well.” Leaving Parliament, Pollari still has the problem of how to get the fake document to Washington without his metaphorical finger prints on them. The “deliveryman” for SISMI, Rocco Martino, who has already gone knocking on MI6’s door, contacts Panorama’s Elisabetta Burba attempting to sell her the dossier. Is it the smokeseller’s own idea, was it suggested to him by Antonio Nucera, or from someone else? Burba, justly, goes to double check the information in Niger. There she invents a cover-up of dinosaurs, from the Tyrannosaurus Nigeriensis to the Velociraptor Abakensis.

In the meantime, she also speaks to some credible sources. Elisabette does her duty with tenacity and rigor, and comes to the conclusion that the story just does not jive, and doesn’t publish a single line of it. But in reality, everything has already happened, because the director of the weekly, Carlo Rossella, enthusiastic to have perhaps found “the smoking gun” (as he tells his staff), has already sent the documents to the American embassy, “as the best source of verification.” Does Pollari then warn the Prime Minister’s weekly that in regards to the uranium scoop, the whole thing is a fraud? It would appear not. Thus, Jeff Castelli and the CIA find they once again have to deal with this half-baked story, which they have been trying to avoid for a year. These documents are so obviously fake that they can only be hidden, if they do not want to be mortified when meeting with Dick Cheney. The arrival of the documents in Washington is hushed. On October 16th, 2002, the documents are given out to the various intelligence agencies by members of the State Department during one of their regular meetings, where four CIA members are also present. None of them recall if they have them or ever did. Mysteriously, in Langley the “Italian documents” are “lost” for three months in the counter-proliferation center’s vaults. First strike for the Italian documents. The uranium hoax will redouble with the addition of the tall-tale of the aluminum tubes. But that’s another story.

What Now, Karl? Rove and Ashcroft face new allegations in the Valerie Plame affair

by Murray Waas
August 13th, 2005 2:39 PM

Justice Department officials made the crucial decision in late 2003 to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the leak of the identity of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame in large part because investigators had begun to specifically question the veracity of accounts provided to them by White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, according to senior law enforcement officials. Several of the federal investigators were also deeply concerned that then attorney general John Ashcroft was personally briefed regarding the details of at least one FBI interview with Rove, despite Ashcroft’s own longstanding personal and political ties to Rove, the Voice has also learned. The same sources said Ashcroft was also told that investigators firmly believed that Rove had withheld important information from them during that FBI interview.

Those concerns by senior career law enforcement officials regarding the propriety of such briefings continuing, as Rove became more central to the investigation, also was instrumental in the naming of special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald.

Up until that point, the investigation had been conducted by a team of career prosecutors and FBI agents, some of whom believed Ashcroft should recuse himself. Democrats on Capitol Hill were calling for him to step down, but he did not. Then on December 30, 2003, Ashcroft unexpectedly recused himself from further overseeing the matter, and James B. Comey, then deputy attorney general, named Patrick J. Fitzgerald as the special prosecutor who would take over the case.

The Justice Department declined to publicly offer any explanation at the time for either the recusal or the naming of a special prosecutor—an appointment that would ultimately place in potential legal jeopardy senior advisers to the president of the United States, and lead to the jailing of a New York Times reporter.

During his initial interview with the FBI, in the fall of 2003, Rove did not disclose that he had ever discussed Plame with Time magazine correspondent Matthew Cooper, according to two legal sources with firsthand knowledge of the matter. Federal investigators were also skeptical of claims by Rove that he had only first learned of Plame’s employment with the CIA from a journalist, even though he also claimed he could not specifically recall the name of the journalist.

As the truthfulness of Rove’s accounts became more of a focus of investigators, career Justice Department employees and senior FBI officials became even more concerned about the continuing role in the investigation of Ashcroft, because of his close relationship with Rove. Rove had earlier served as an adviser to Ashcroft during the course of three political campaigns. And Rove’s onetime political consulting firm had been paid more than $746,000 for those services.

In response to these new allegations, Representative John Conyers of Michigan, the current ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, and former chairman of the committee as well, said in a statement: “There has long been the appearance of impropriety in Ashcroft’s handling of this investigation. The former attorney general had well documented conflicts of interest in this matter, particularly with regard to his personal relationship with Karl Rove. Among other things, Rove was employed by Ashcroft throughout his political career, and Rove reportedly had fiercely advocated for Ashcroft’s appointment as attorney general. Pursuant to standard rules of legal ethics, and explicit rules on conflict of interest, those facts alone should have dictated his immediate recusal.

“The new information, that Ashcroft had not only refused to recuse himself over a period of months, but also was insisting on being personally briefed about a matter implicating his friend, Karl Rove, represents a stunning ethical breach that cries out for an immediate investigation by the Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility and Inspector General.”

A Justice Department spokesman declined on Friday to say what action, if any, might be taken in response to Conyers’ request.

Also of concern to investigators when they sought Ashcroft’s recusal, according to law enforcement sources, was that a number among Ashcroft’s inner circle had partisan backgrounds that included working closely with Rove. Foremost among them was David Isrealite, who served as Ashcroft’s deputy chief of staff. Another, Barbara Comstock, who was the Justice Department’s director of public affairs during much of Ashcroft’s tenure, had previously worked for the Republican National Committee, where she was in charge of the party’s “opposition research” operations.

“It would have been a nightmare scenario if Ashcroft let something slip to an aide or someone else they had in common with Rove . . . and then word got back to Rove or the White House what investigators were saying about him,” says a former senior Justice Department official, familiar with the matter.

Although not reported at the time, when Ashcroft recused himself from the Plame investigation, Deputy Attorney General Comey said in a statement that the A.G.’s personal staff was also being fully recused in the matter.

Indeed, the appointment of Fitzgerald as special prosecutor and the recusal of Ashcroft came just three weeks after Comey, then the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, was named to be deputy attorney general. Comey himself was no stranger to the issue—even before he took office.

During his Senate confirmation hearings, Comey had pledged that he would personally see to it that the independence and integrity of the investigation would not be compromised in any way.

At one point during those hearings, Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) cited the close relationships between Ashcroft and Rove, and also between Ashcroft and others also likely to be questioned during the leak probe. Schumer asked Comey:

“How could there not be an appearance of a conflict given the close nexus of relationships?”

“I agree with you that it’s an extremely important matter,” Comey replied.

Within days of his taking office, several career Justice Department prosecutors took their own longstanding concerns to Comey, telling him that perhaps it would be best for Ashcroft to recuse himself, the same legal sources said. A smaller number also advocated the appointment of an outside prosecutor to take over the matter completely.

The combination of Ashcroft’s close relationship with Rove, the omission of critical information from the FBI by Rove during his initial interview with agents, that Ashcroft had been briefed about that interview in particular, and the-then recent appointment of Comey, all allowed for a forceful case being made by career Justice Department employees be made that the attorney general should step aside and a special prosecutor be named.

But says one government official familiar with the process: “When Ashcroft was briefed on Rove, that ended the argument. He was going to be removed. And there was going to be a special prosecutor named.”

The new disclosures as to why Ashcroft recused himself from the Plame case and why a special prosecutor was named are important for a number of reasons:

First, they show that from the very earliest days of the criminal probe, federal investigators had a strong belief and body of evidence that Rove and perhaps other officials might be misleading them.

Second, the new information underscores that career Justice Department staffers had concerns that the continued role of Ashcroft and other political aides might tarnish the investigation.

Finally, the new information once again highlights the importance of the testimony of journalists in uncovering whether anyone might have broken the law by disclosing classified information regarding Plame. That is because both Rove and I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney—who are at the center of the Plame investigation—have said that they did not learn of Plame’s employment with the CIA from classified government information, but rather journalists; without the testimony of journalists, prosecutors have been unable to get to the bottom of the matter.

Several journalists have testified to Fitzgerald’s grand jury, but New York Times correspondent Judith Miller, who has refused to identify her confidential sources, was ordered to jail by Federal District Court Judge Thomas F. Hogan on July 6, where she remains.

The initial criminal investigation began well before the case was turned over to Fitzgerald in December 2003. It started shortly after conservative columnist Robert Novak first identified Plame as an undercover CIA officer, in a July 14, 2003, column.

The column was written during a time when senior White House officials were attempting to discredit Plame’s husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, who was then asserting that the Bush administration had relied on faulty intelligence to bolster its case to go to war with Iraq. Wilson had only recently led a CIA-sponsored mission to the African nation of Niger to investigate claims that Saddam Hussein was covertly attempting to buy enriched uranium from the African nation to build a nuclear weapon.

Wilson reported back to the CIA that the allegations were most likely the result of a hoax.

When Wilson sought out White House officials, believing they did not know all the facts, he was rebuffed. He then went public with his criticism of the Bush administration. It was then that senior administration officials began their campaign to discredit Wilson as a means of countering his criticisms of them.

Rove and Libby, and to a lesser extent then deputy National Security Council (NSC) adviser Stephen J. Hadley (who is currently Bush’s NSC adviser), directed these efforts. Both Rove and Libby discussed with Novak, Cooper, and other journalists the fact that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA, and that she was responsible for sending him to Niger, in an effort to discredit him.

The manner by which Rove and Libby learned of Plame’s employment at the CIA before they shared that information with journalists is central to whether any federal criminal laws regarding classified information were violated. Rove and Libby have reportedly claimed they learned of the information from journalists. Rove in particular told FBI officials that he first learned of Plame’s employment with the CIA from a journalist, but drew their suspicions when he claimed that he could not recall the journalist’s name.

Plame’s employment with the CIA had been detailed in a highly classified State Department memorandum—circulated to senior Bush administration officials—in the days jut prior to conversations between Rove and Libby and journalists regarding Plame.

Dated June 10, 2003, the memo was written for Marc Grossman, then the undersecretary of state for political affairs. It mentioned Plame, her employment with the CIA, and her possible role in recommending her husband for the Niger mission because he had previously served in the region. The mention of Plame’s CIA employment was classified “Secret” and was contained in the second paragraph of the three-page classified paper.

On July 6, 2003, Wilson published his now famous New York Times op-ed and appeared on “Meet the Press.” The following day, on July 7, the memo was sent to then secretary of state Colin L. Powell and other senior Bush administration officials, who were scrambling to respond to the public criticism. At the time, Powell and other senior administration officials were on their way to Africa aboard Air Force One as members of the presidential entourage for a state visit to Africa.

Rove and Libby apparently were not on that trip, according to press accounts. But a subpoena during the earliest days of the Plame investigation demanded records related to any telephone phone calls to and from Air Force One from July 7 to July 12, during Bush’s African visit.

On July 8, Novak and Rove first spoke about Plame, according to numerous press accounts. That very same day, as the American Prospect recently disclosed, Libby and New York Times reporter Judith Miller also discussed Plame.

On July 9, then CIA director George Tenet ordered aides to draft a statement that the Niger information the president relied on “did not rise to the level of certainty which should be required for the presidential speeches, and the CIA should have ensured that it was removed.” Rove and Libby were reportedly involved in the drafting of that statement’s language.

Two days later, on July 11, Rove spoke about Plame to Time magazine’s Matthew Cooper.

On the following day, July 12, an administration official— apparently not Rove or Libby—told Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus that Wilson was sent to Niger on the recommendation of his wife, who worked at the CIA.

Two days after that, on July 14, Novak published his column disclosing Plame’s employment with the CIA, describing her as an “agency operative” and alleging that she suggested her husband for the Niger mission.

And on July 17, Time magazine posted its own story online, which said: “[S]ome government officials have noted to Time in interviews . . . that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. These officials have suggested that she was involved in her husband’s being dispatched to Niger.” Facing jail time for not disclosing his source, Cooper recently relented, and disclosed that Rove was one of his sources for that information.

But it was Rove’s omission during an initial interview, back in October 2003, with the FBI—that he had ever spoken with Cooper at all—coupled with the fact that Ashcroft was briefed about the interview, that largely precipitated the appointment of Fitzgerald as special prosecutor, according to senior law enforcement officials familiar with the matter.

Comey, then only recently named deputy attorney general, called a press conference and dramatically announced: “Effective today, the attorney general has recused himself . . . from further involvement in these matters.”

He also said he was naming Patrick J. Fitzgerald, who also serves as U.S. attorney in Chicago, as special prosecutor to take over the case. To further assure his independence, Comey also announced that he personally would serve as “acting Attorney General for purposes of this matter.”

Last week, however, Comey announced he was leaving the Justice Department to become the general counsel of the defense contractor Lockheed Martin. In his absence, Associate Attorney General Robert McCallum is the most likely choice to be named as the acting deputy attorney general, and thus the man overseeing Fitzgerald’s work. But McCallum has been a close personal friend of President Bush. Justice Department officials are once more grappling as to how to best assure independence for investigators. And Democrats on Capitol Hill are unlikely not to question any role in the leak probe by McCallum.

[Update: Since this article was originally posted, the Justice Department announced that David Margolis, an associate deputy general, would take the place of outgoing Deputy Attorney General James Comey in supervising Fitzgerald’s investigation.]

(Alberto Gonzalez, who succeeded Ashcroft as attorney general, had also—like Ashcroft—recused himself from the case. Gonzalez had overseen the response of White House officials to requests from investigators working the Plame case while he was White House counsel, and has also been a witness before Fitzgerald’s grand jury.)

In the meantime, Fitzgerald’s investigation appears to be in its final stages.

Nineteen months ago, when Comey appointed him as special prosecutor, reporters pressed Comey during the announcement as to what was behind his dramatic action. All that he would say at the time was: “If you were to speculate in print or in the media about particular people, I think that would be unfair to them.”

Then he added, almost as an afterthought: “We also don’t want people that we might be interested in to know we’re interested in them.”

What I Didn’t Find in Africa

Published on Sunday, July 6, 2003 by the New York Times

What I Didn’t Find in Africa
by Joseph C. Wilson 4th
Did the Bush administration manipulate intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq?
Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.
For 23 years, from 1976 to 1998, I was a career foreign service officer and ambassador. In 1990, as chargé d’affaires in Baghdad, I was the last American diplomat to meet with Saddam Hussein. (I was also a forceful advocate for his removal from Kuwait.) After Iraq, I was President George H. W. Bush’s ambassador to Gabon and São Tomé and Príncipe; under President Bill Clinton, I helped direct Africa policy for the National Security Council.
It was my experience in Africa that led me to play a small role in the effort to verify information about Africa’s suspected link to Iraq’s nonconventional weapons programs. Those news stories about that unnamed former envoy who went to Niger? That’s me.
In February 2002, I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney’s office had questions about a particular intelligence report. While I never saw the report, I was told that it referred to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake — a form of lightly processed ore — by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990’s. The agency officials asked if I would travel to Niger to check out the story so they could provide a response to the vice president’s office.
After consulting with the State Department’s African Affairs Bureau (and through it with Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, the United States ambassador to Niger), I agreed to make the trip. The mission I undertook was discreet but by no means secret. While the C.I.A. paid my expenses (my time was offered pro bono), I made it abundantly clear to everyone I met that I was acting on behalf of the United States government.
In late February 2002, I arrived in Niger’s capital, Niamey, where I had been a diplomat in the mid-70’s and visited as a National Security Council official in the late 90’s. The city was much as I remembered it. Seasonal winds had clogged the air with dust and sand. Through the haze, I could see camel caravans crossing the Niger River (over the John F. Kennedy bridge), the setting sun behind them. Most people had wrapped scarves around their faces to protect against the grit, leaving only their eyes visible.
The next morning, I met with Ambassador Owens-Kirkpatrick at the embassy. For reasons that are understandable, the embassy staff has always kept a close eye on Niger’s uranium business. I was not surprised, then, when the ambassador told me that she knew about the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq — and that she felt she had already debunked them in her reports to Washington. Nevertheless, she and I agreed that my time would be best spent interviewing people who had been in government when the deal supposedly took place, which was before her arrival.
I spent the next eight days drinking sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens of people: current government officials, former government officials, people associated with the country’s uranium business. It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place.
Given the structure of the consortiums that operated the mines, it would be exceedingly difficult for Niger to transfer uranium to Iraq. Niger’s uranium business consists of two mines, Somair and Cominak, which are run by French, Spanish, Japanese, German and Nigerian interests. If the government wanted to remove uranium from a mine, it would have to notify the consortium, which in turn is strictly monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Moreover, because the two mines are closely regulated, quasi-governmental entities, selling uranium would require the approval of the minister of mines, the prime minister and probably the president. In short, there’s simply too much oversight over too small an industry for a sale to have transpired.
(As for the actual memorandum, I never saw it. But news accounts have pointed out that the documents had glaring errors — they were signed, for example, by officials who were no longer in government — and were probably forged. And then there’s the fact that Niger formally denied the charges.)
Before I left Niger, I briefed the ambassador on my findings, which were consistent with her own. I also shared my conclusions with members of her staff. In early March, I arrived in Washington and promptly provided a detailed briefing to the C.I.A. I later shared my conclusions with the State Department African Affairs Bureau. There was nothing secret or earth-shattering in my report, just as there was nothing secret about my trip.
Though I did not file a written report, there should be at least four documents in United States government archives confirming my mission. The documents should include the ambassador’s report of my debriefing in Niamey, a separate report written by the embassy staff, a C.I.A. report summing up my trip, and a specific answer from the agency to the office of the vice president (this may have been delivered orally). While I have not seen any of these reports, I have spent enough time in government to know that this is standard operating procedure.
I thought the Niger matter was settled and went back to my life. (I did take part in the Iraq debate, arguing that a strict containment regime backed by the threat of force was preferable to an invasion.) In September 2002, however, Niger re-emerged. The British government published a “white paper” asserting that Saddam Hussein and his unconventional arms posed an immediate danger. As evidence, the report cited Iraq’s attempts to purchase uranium from an African country.
Then, in January, President Bush, citing the British dossier, repeated the charges about Iraqi efforts to buy uranium from Africa.
The next day, I reminded a friend at the State Department of my trip and suggested that if the president had been referring to Niger, then his conclusion was not borne out by the facts as I understood them. He replied that perhaps the president was speaking about one of the other three African countries that produce uranium: Gabon, South Africa or Namibia. At the time, I accepted the explanation. I didn’t know that in December, a month before the president’s address, the State Department had published a fact sheet that mentioned the Niger case.
Those are the facts surrounding my efforts. The vice president’s office asked a serious question. I was asked to help formulate the answer. I did so, and I have every confidence that the answer I provided was circulated to the appropriate officials within our government.
The question now is how that answer was or was not used by our political leadership. If my information was deemed inaccurate, I understand (though I would be very interested to know why). If, however, the information was ignored because it did not fit certain preconceptions about Iraq, then a legitimate argument can be made that we went to war under false pretenses. (It’s worth remembering that in his March “Meet the Press” appearance, Mr. Cheney said that Saddam Hussein was “trying once again to produce nuclear weapons.”) At a minimum, Congress, which authorized the use of military force at the president’s behest, should want to know if the assertions about Iraq were warranted.
I was convinced before the war that the threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein required a vigorous and sustained international response to disarm him. Iraq possessed and had used chemical weapons; it had an active biological weapons program and quite possibly a nuclear research program — all of which were in violation of United Nations resolutions. Having encountered Mr. Hussein and his thugs in the run-up to the Persian Gulf war of 1991, I was only too aware of the dangers he posed.
But were these dangers the same ones the administration told us about? We have to find out. America’s foreign policy depends on the sanctity of its information. For this reason, questioning the selective use of intelligence to justify the war in Iraq is neither idle sniping nor “revisionist history,” as Mr. Bush has suggested. The act of war is the last option of a democracy, taken when there is a grave threat to our national security. More than 200 American soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq already. We have a duty to ensure that their sacrifice came for the right reasons.
Joseph C. Wilson 4th, United States ambassador to Gabon from 1992 to 1995, is an international business consultant.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company


Envoy: Iraq uranium findings ignored

July 6, 2003, 11:51AM
Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Joseph C. Wilson, the retired United States ambassador whose CIA-directed mission to Niger in early 2002 helped debunk claims that Iraq had tried to obtain uranium there for nuclear weapons, has said for the first time publicly that U.S. and British officials ignored his findings and exaggerated the public case for invading Iraq.

Wilson said the false allegations that Iraq was trying to buy uranium oxide from Niger about three years ago were used by President Bush as a central piece of evidence to support their assertions that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program.

The Niger story — one piece of the administration’s larger argument that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction posed an imminent threat — was not debunked until shortly before the war began, when the United Nations’ chief nuclear inspector told the Security Council the documents were forgeries.

The White House has acknowledged that some documents were bogus, but a spokesman has said there was “a larger body of evidence suggesting Iraq attempted to purchase uranium in Africa,” indicating it might have involved a country other than Niger.

For the past year, Wilson has spoken out against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq but until he was interviewed by the Washington Post and wrote an op-ed article published in Sunday’s New York Times, he had never disclosed his key role in the Niger controversy.

He said Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was not an immediate threat before the war.


Ari Fleischer Resigns

May 19, 2003, 10:40AM

White House spokesman resigning

Associated Press WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, the public face of the Bush administration through two wars and a terrorist attack, said today he will resign in July to enter the private sector.

“I love this job,” Fleischer told reporters at his informal morning briefing. “I believe deeply about President Bush as a man and I believe deeply in his policies, but it’s my time to go.”

He would not speculate on who would take his place, but presidential aides said deputy press secretary Scott McClellan was the likely successor, although there are other possibilities.

Fleischer said he wanted to leave the hard-driving job before Bush’s re-election campaign geared up.

“I want to do something more relaxing — like dismantle live nuclear weapons,” he quipped.

Fleischer clashed at times with the White House press corps and had an uneasy relationship with some senior Bush aides, but he said the departure was his idea. He notified Bush of his decision Friday. The president ended the conversation “by kissing me on the head,” the spokesman said.

“I informed him that after 21 years of nothing in my career other than government and politics, after almost four wonderful years with Gov. Bush/President Bush, my time has come to enter the private sector to pursue more relaxing endeavors and see more of my wife,” he said.

Fleischer, 42, got married six months ago. He said he wanted to go on the speaking circuit and maybe do some writing.

He said he had not talked with anyone outside the White House about a new job.

Bush has not decided who will replace Fleischer, two senior White House officials said. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Texas native McClellan is the likely replacement but there are other candidates. Republican strategist Ed Gillespie and Pentagon spokesman Victoria Clarke have been mentioned by top Republicans as potential prospects.

A cautious and calibrating press secretary, Fleischer has been the public voice of the presidency through the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the war in Afghanistan and the Iraq war, loyally putting the best spin on events. He frustrated reporters by constantly refusing to answer the toughest questions and sometimes irked his White House colleagues by pushing for access behind the scenes — often without success.

His meatless pronouncements on Bush policy are generally in keeping with a White House that keeps a tight lid on information. Though he is not as close to the president as other top aides, Fleischer has earned Bush’s respect by taming what the president considers to be a hostile press corps.

He also has sought to ease tensions between the press at the White House, though he leaves with a mixed record on that score.

“I think he was the right person for the job and for this president,” said Joe Lockhart, former White House spokesman for Democratic President Bill Clinton. “The president wanted somebody who was loyal, who was disciplined, someone who needed to keep a secret. I think he was an articulate spokesman in a difficult situation, working for a president who demanded secrecy beyond what was really called for.”

Like most press secretaries, Fleischer has had his share of fumbles and dodges in the hothouse atmosphere of the White House briefing room. He acknowledged shooting himself in the foot when he snapped that “one bullet” in Saddam Hussein’s head would be cheaper than a war.

In the run-up to war with Iraq, Fleischer denied reports that Bush was meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair abroad. The trip was announced the next day.

He once fumbled on the whereabouts of the vice president. Asked why Dick Cheney did not attend a Sept. 11 anniversary event, Fleischer said the vice president was at a meeting of Bush’s top aides.

When it was pointed out to him that Bush’s top aides were at the anniversary event, Fleischer stammered.

It turned out Cheney had been spirited away to a secret location because of the same potential threats to the country that prompted the government to heighten the public terrorist alert soon after.

Over the months, a pattern of finger-pointing has emerged with every miscue: Fleischer’ supporters would privately accuse superiors of passing on bad information to the press office while the senior staff would quietly point the finger back to Fleischer or his office.Still, senior White House officials said Monday that Fleischer left on his own, and that Bush wanted him to stay through the re-election.

Goofs sometimes gave way to goofy — such as when Fleischer joked about potatoes attacking America.

This year, Fleischer defended Bush’s plan to deny normal collective bargaining and other employee rights to workers at the proposed Homeland Security Department by noting that presidents have long had the authority to suspend such rights in a national emergency.

Senate opponents would stop Bush from using powers he already has in other departments, he contended.

“If he declared that there was an emergency, he could stop collective bargaining at the Department of Agriculture,” Fleischer said. “So under what the Senate is proposing, the president will have more authority to help protect the homeland if potatoes attacked America in the Department of Agriculture than he would if terrorists did.”