Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Twisted Scooter Trail

David Corn is the Washington editor of The Nation and the co-author, along with Michael Isikoff, of Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War. He is covering the I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby trial for The Nation.

Here’s a primer for those of you who have not obsessively followed the CIA leak case of Scooter Libby now underway.

Who is I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby?

He is the former chief of staff and national security adviser for Vice President Dick Cheney. A neocon in fine standing, he was a leading advocate for the invasion of Iraq. He helped assemble the first draft of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s U.N. speech laying out the case for war. That draft contained allegations about Saddam Hussein’s WMDs that were so flimsy that Larry Wilkerson, Powell’s chief of staff, tossed it aside. Before serving as Cheney’s top aide, Libby was a corporate lawyer. His most prominent client was fugitive financier Marc Rich (who was pardoned by outgoing President Clinton). Libby has written one novel, which contains graphic scenes of sexual bestiality. He is married to a former Democratic congressional aide.

What is he charged with?

One count of obstruction of justice, two counts of perjury and two counts of making false statements. Essentially, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald accused Libby of having lied to FBI agents and a grand jury investigating whether a crime had been committed when Bush administration officials in the summer of 2003 leaked to journalists—mainly, rightwing columnist Robert Novak—the CIA identity of Valerie (Plame) Wilson, the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, a critic of the administration’s Iraq policy.

What was the lie?

If there was one, that is. Libby told the FBI and the grand jury a convoluted story. He acknowledged that Cheney in mid-June 2003 had told him about Valerie Wilson’s job at the CIA (before the leak occurred) but that he totally forgot that information. Then, his story went, a few weeks later—after Wilson had triggered a firestorm with an op-ed claiming he had inside information demonstrating the White House had twisted the prewar intelligence—Libby learned about Wilson’s wife and her CIA connection from journalists. After that, Libby claimed, he shared this scuttlebutt (not the official and classified information he had received from Cheney) with other reporters.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Plenty. Libby says he heard about Valerie Wilson from Tim Russert, the host of NBC’s "Meet the Press." Russert has denied he discussed her with Libby, noting he did not know anything about Valerie Wilson at the time of his conversation with Libby. Matt Cooper of Time says Libby confirmed Valerie Wilson’s CIA status for him. And the notes of Judith Miller of The New York Times indicate Libby also passed information to her about Wilson’s wife. This suggests that Libby was telling reporters about Valerie Wilson, not receiving information from them.

Moreover, Fitzgerald has presented evidence and testimony indicating that Libby actively sought from the CIA and the State Department information on Joseph Wilson and that these requests produced information regarding his wife’s employment at the CIA. And as Michael Isikoff and I revealed in Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War , Libby was quite obsessed with the Wilson imbroglio—so much so that he was monitoring cable news coverage of it and complaining to his aides about Chris Matthews’ allegation that Libby was connected to the administration’s use of misleading intelligence. Given all this, could Libby really have quickly forgotten all that he had known about Valerie Wilson before his supposed call with Russert?

People forget all sorts of things, don’t they?

Yes, they do. But Libby told the investigators that when Russert told him about Valerie Wilson’s CIA employment he was "taken aback." Given that his boss had told him the same thing weeks earlier, could he truly have been surprised? If he had actually forgotten, wouldn’t the Russert phone call have reminded him rather than stunned him? His story to the FBI and grand jury was not merely that he had forgotten about Valerie Wilson but he had failed to remember what he had known yet had forgotten.

Sounds complicated.

I told you it was convoluted.

What does Fitzgerald have to do to win a conviction?

He needs to present witnesses and evidence showing that (a) Libby did seek and obtain information on the Wilsons to such an extent that it is implausible that he had forgotten about this in a few weeks’ time and that (b) the reporters who spoke to Libby contradict his account. Fitzgerald must prove that Libby concocted a cover story—sloppy as it was—to mask his involvement in the leak scandal.

But Libby’s defenders say he had no motive to lie, that no crime was committed, and that the outing of Valerie Wilson was no big deal.

It’s true that Fitzgerald ultimately decided not to charge Libby or anyone else (most notably, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and White House strategist Karl Rove, who were Novak’s sources for the Plame leak) with violating the poorly-written law prohibiting government officials from disclosing information about undercover CIA officers. (And Valerie Wilson was indeed a covert employee; she was operations chief of the Counterproliferation Division’s Joint Task Force on Iraq.) But when Libby was first questioned by the FBI, no one knew that no such charges would be filed. If he had passed along any information on Valerie Wilson, he had reason to fear being snared in a prosecution. And he also had an interest in protecting Cheney—and keeping the vice president as much out of the picture as possible. His notes reflected that Cheney had spoken to him about Valerie Wilson and her CIA job. But his statements to the FBI and grand jury replaced Cheney as the source of the information Libby provided to reporters with Russert.

There’s more. Libby’s CIA briefer, Craig Schmall, testified on Wednesday that he told Libby and Cheney that the Plame leak could lead to the harassment, torture and death of people overseas who had contact with Valerie Wilson when she served abroad as a clandestine CIA officer. Libby certainly would not want himself or Cheney to be associated with a leak that led to such events. And the White House had declared that anyone involved with the leak would be dismissed. That gave Libby—who allegedly leaked information on Valerie Wilson to two reporters—further incentive to hide his role.

Yeah, what about that White House vow? Is it still operative?

Where have you been? It was proven that Rove leaked Valerie Wilson’s CIA relationship to Cooper (when Isikoff revealed a Cooper email in Newsweek in 2005). Rove also confirmed Armitage’s leak to Novak. But has he been pink-slipped at 1600 Pennsylvania? And during the opening arguments at the Libby trial, it was disclosed that Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary when the Wilson affair began, had leaked information about Valerie Wilson and her CIA employment to NBC News’ David Gregory and that White House communications director Dan Bartlett (in addition to Libby) had told Fleischer about Valerie Wilson’s CIA tie. Fleischer left the White House in the middle of the leak scandal. But Bartlett is still punching the clock at the White House.

So what’s Libby’s legal strategy?

As I’ve noted elsewhere, "To get a graphic representation of [Libby’s legal team’s] argument, take a large pot of spaghetti—with plenty of sauce—and hurl it against the wall. Then look at the wall." On the mundane level, Libby’s attorneys will do all they can to raise questions about the memories and motives of the prosecution’s witness. That’s what any defense attorney tries to do, and they’ve already scored a few points. But Libby’s lawyers are also attempting to place the case within a swirl of complicated narratives and conspiracies: Karl Rove set him up. A CYAing CIA was out to blame the White House for the faulty prewar intelligence—and targeted Libby. Libby was sent into the "meat grinder" (as a newly revealed Cheney note put it) to rebut inaccurate charges leveled against the White House, and he’s now being punished for that. The State Department was to blame for the leak. The prosecutors have cut improper deals with media witnesses to do in Libby. It doesn’t all make sense. It doesn’t have to. If Libby’s attorneys cannot discredit the prosecution’s witnesses, they want to bewilder the jurors. They just need one who will say this is all such a tangled mess I cannot be sure enough of the facts to convict this man. Confusion is their friend.

Is this case about the war?

Yes—and no. Fitzgerald and Libby’s lawyers have both told the jury that this case is neither about the Iraq war nor the controversy regarding the Bush administration’s prewar justification of the invasion of Iraq. But the case is about lying. And if Libby lied, he prevaricated to cover up wrongdoing that occurred as he and other administration officials mounted a fierce campaign to protect the case for war. A conviction would have symbolic value: Cheney’s Cheney would be proven a liar. He would be a stand-in for the entire White House. An acquittal would be cheered by conservatives and Libby’s partisans, but it wouldn’t do the White House much good. Bush will still be stuck in Iraq.

What will be the final verdict?

Sorry, we’re out of time.


capt said...

Mr. David Corn,

Excellent piece! Every point covered and with quite a good balance.

Only one item:

"Bush will still be stuck in Iraq."

His maladministration will be burdened by his poor choices and such but it is Spanky and 150,000 of our brave abd best that are actually stuck in Iraq.

Add the 100,000 "contractors" and we have a quarter of a million stuck in Iraq.

Still the best primer on the case I have read!

Thanks for all of your work!


capt said...

The Forgotten American Dead

Rural America Pays the President's Price in Iraq

When we hear about the American dead in Iraq, we normally learn about the circumstances in which they died. Last Saturday, for instance, was, for American troops, the third bloodiest day since the Bush administration launched its invasion in March 2003 -- 27 of them died. Twelve went down in a Blackhawk helicopter over Diyala Province, probably hit by a shoulder-fired missile. Five died under somewhat surprising and mysterious circumstances. They were attacked in a supposedly secure facility in the Shiite city of Karbala by gunmen who, despite their telltale beards, were dressed to imitate American soldiers and managed to drive through city checkpoints in exceedingly official-looking armored SUVs. They could, of course, have been members of Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, but were probably Sunni insurgents from a neighboring province. The rest of the Americans in that total died as a result of roadside bombs (IEDs) around Baghdad or fighting with Sunni insurgents, mainly in al-Anbar Province. The Pentagon announcements on which such news is based are usually terse in the extreme. The totals, 29 dead for the weekend (as well as hundreds of Iraqis), did, however, become major TV and front-page news around the country.

These deaths are presented another way in the little, black-edged boxes you see in many newspapers. (My hometown ledger, the New York Times, has one of these almost every day, placed wherever the humdrum bad news from Iraq happens to fall inside the paper and labeled, "Names of the Dead.") These, too, are taken from the Pentagon death announcements, which offer the barest of bare bones about those who just died. But they do tell you something that should be better noted in this country.


*****end of clip*****

It is our troops that are stuck and dying in Iraq.

Enough already, bring the troops home.


David B. Benson said...

Earlier this week, the nearby merican flag was at half-mast and at sunset, taps were played as the flag was slowly lowered and carefully folded.

Captain X had died of his wounds. He was an officer in a Civil Affairs Battalion in Iraq.

Civil Affairs...

David B. Benson said...

Err, 'American' flag. No disrespect intended.

David B. Benson said...

Captain Brian S. Freeman is survived by his wife, Charlotte; his 2-year-old son, Gunnar; and 1-year-old daughter, Ingrid, of Tmecula, Calif., where he had moved a year before deploying to Iraq in late 2005.

Gerald said...

Bush is a deity in Nazi America. He authorized the LEAK and so the verdict will be NOT GUILTY.

A Below Average Joe

Dear Posters:

Let me explain why I consider myself a below average Joe. The Internet has humbled me with so much information that I had to learn. And, more information comes in each day.

I will share with you one particular area that has been an eye opener. The area or issue is Israel. I have been pro-Israel for most of my 67 years on earth. Israel is this small country with a small population in the Middle East. She is surrounded by larger Muslim and Arab countries with larger populations.

What made me change my belief about Israel is that Israel has nuclear weapons; Israel seeks to genocide the Lebanese and the Palestinians; Israel with Nazi America’s help pursue death and destruction for these Muslim and Arab populations; and Israel has broken treaties and peace accords in the Middle East.

What makes Israel so special that she can be the only nation in the Middle East to possess nuclear weapons? Why should she have the only power in the Middle east to carry out a nuclear holocaust?

Both Nazi Israel and Nazi America want a Muslim and an Arab population that looks for survival and not to develop a culture that would be second to none, like it had some 1400 or 1500 years ago.

Nazi America, Nazi England, and Nazi Israel have evil intentions that are second to other nation. These axis of evil nations have a monopoly on death and destruction against the Earth’s human population.



David B. Benson said...

Today's TNYT has an article about catching weapons-grade uranium smugglers in the country of Georgia. Seems the Georgian govenment has a policman whose main duty it is to track down and arrest such smugglers.

Now this time it was 100 grams. Last time it was 170 grams. Both times being smuggled out of Russia.

It will take about 20 such sized loads to have enough to (attempt to) build a uranium fission device, i.e., a bomb...

Who is buying?

Saladin said...

Mr. Benson, I wonder if those reports are really true? There is so much propaganda and so many lies that with the psycho neocons seeking to turn Iran into another Nazi Germany I wouldn't be a bit surprised if this was all leading to the ultimate setup, ala nuclear 9/11. I can no longer trust most of the media.
Gerald, it is never too late to see truth, that you have come to realize the tricks employed by the neocon Israeli govt. thru the decades in your older age proves that you are indeed above average! So many are set in their ways by the time they reach 50 it is hard to reason with them, I know, I run across that all the time!

Gerald said...

Martyrs of the Republic

David B. Benson said...

Saladin --- I credit this article. The state of Georgia has been a smuggling route across the Caucasus Mts. for time out of mind. Lots of stuff gets smuggled, in both directions. Gold, diamonds, whatever people on one side have and people on the other side are willing to pay for...

And there is no particular reason to suppose the Iranian govenment is buying the weapons-grade uranium. Could be the UAE? Could be the Sultan of PoohBah? Dunno...

Gerald said...

Our judicial system for justice is a joke!

In an age where a 21st century Caesar claims divine right to wage preemptive and imperial war – audaciously rejecting the vast majority of American serfdom as well as the country’s elected law-makers – it is nice to know that these few men do frighten the state, as men like them have done in earlier times. Now, as then, the state will arrest them, hold them, intimidate them, punish them and eliminate them. We the people will not act until it is too late, but these men will indeed become our martyrs, and our inspiration, in years to come.

Gerald said...

“Bush, the great failure, is no longer the president that fantasizes about an 'Axis of evil' or flights to Mars. This is a president who can no longer use deceit to conceal disaster.” This is a sentence from a German newspaper.

Gerald said...

Can one-third of the American public be so stupid?

Gerald said...

Bush is not one of us!!!

"I really am troubled about a lot of things that are going on with Bush and his presidency. But damned if I'm going to tell some pollster about my concerns. However bad Bush may be, he is one of us, he has the same enemies I do. Like the liberal press, those elite media outfits with their pollsters and such. I'll keep my reservations about Bush to myself rather than add them to the poll and help encourage my enemies. Maybe I'll say something about them, but only in private with other guys like me who know where the real battle lines are drawn. We've got to stick together-- subordinating the present problems with this incompetent president to a longer view of the long-term problem of us-against-them. So I'll stay loyal to President Bush as part of staying loyal to the larger cause --the culture war, including an idea of patriotism-- that made me support him in the first place."

Words, like these words, make me barf!!!

David B. Benson said...

Oops, an arithmetical error. It would take 40--50 such smuggled loads. That is alot!

Also, I meant the Sultan of Brunei, one of the three or four richest men in the world. He is fairly young and rather foolish. Maybe he fancies himself as another nuk-u-lar power...

capt said...

New thread