With One Filing, Prosecutor Puts Bush in Spotlight

April 11, 2006

From The New York Times:

From the early days of the C.I.A. leak investigation in 2003, the Bush White House has insisted there was no effort to discredit Joseph C. Wilson IV, the man who emerged as the most damaging critic of the administration's case that Saddam Hussein was seeking to build nuclear weapons.

But now White House officials, and specifically President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, have been pitched back into the center of the nearly three-year controversy, this time because of a prosecutor's court filing in the case that asserts there was "a strong desire by many, including multiple people in the White House," to undermine Mr. Wilson.

The new assertions by the special prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, have put administration officials on the spot in a way they have not been for months, as attention in the leak case seems to be shifting away from the White House to the pretrial procedural skirmishing in the perjury and obstruction charges against Mr. Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby Jr.

Mr. Fitzgerald's filing talks not of an effort to level with Americans but of "a plan to discredit, punish or seek revenge against Mr. Wilson." It concludes, "It is hard to conceive of what evidence there could be that would disprove the existence of White House efforts to 'punish Wilson.' "

With more filings expected from Mr. Fitzgerald, the prosecutor's work has the potential to keep the focus on Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney at a time when the president is struggling with his lowest approval ratings since he took office.

Even on Monday, Mr. Bush found himself in an uncomfortable spot during an appearance at a Johns Hopkins University campus in Washington, when a student asked him to address Mr. Fitzgerald's assertion that the White House was seeking to retaliate against Mr. Wilson.

Mr. Bush stumbled as he began his response before settling on an answer that sidestepped the question. He said he had ordered the formal declassification of the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq in July 2003 because "it was important for people to get a better sense for why I was saying what I was saying in my speeches" about Iraq's efforts to reconstitute its weapons program.

Mr. Bush said nothing about the earlier, informal authorization that Mr. Fitzgerald's court filing revealed. The prosecutor described testimony from Mr. Libby, who said Mr. Bush had told Mr. Cheney that it was permissible to reveal some information from the intelligence estimate, which described Mr. Hussein's efforts to acquire uranium.

But on Monday, Mr. Bush was not talking about that. "You're just going to have to let Mr. Fitzgerald complete his case, and I hope you understand that," Mr. Bush said. "It's a serious legal matter that we've got to be careful in making public statements about it."

Every prosecutor strives not just to prove a case, but also to tell a compelling story. It is now clear that Mr. Fitzgerald's account of what was happening in the White House in the summer of 2003 is very different from the Bush administration's narrative, which suggested that Mr. Wilson was seen as a minor figure whose criticisms could be answered by disclosing the underlying intelligence upon which Mr. Bush relied.

It turned out that much of the information about Mr. Hussein's search for uranium was questionable at best, and that it became the subject of dispute almost as soon as it was included in the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq.

The answer to the question of whose recounting of events is correct — Mr. Bush's or Mr. Fitzgerald's — may not be known for months or years, if ever. But it seems there will be more clues, including some about the conversations between Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney.

Mr. Fitzgerald said he was preparing to turn over to Mr. Libby 1,400 pages of handwritten notes — some presumably in Mr. Libby's own hand — that could shed light on two very different efforts at getting out the White House story.

One effort — the July 18 declassification of the major conclusions of the intelligence estimate — was taking place in public, while another, Mr. Fitzgerald argues, was happening in secret, with only Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney and Mr. Libby involved.

Last week's court filing has already led the White House to acknowledge, over the weekend, that Mr. Bush ordered the selective disclosure of parts of the intelligence estimate sometime in late June or early July. But administration officials insist that Mr. Bush played a somewhat passive role and did so without selecting Mr. Libby, or anyone else, to tell the story piecemeal to a small number of reporters.

But in one of those odd twists in the unpredictable world of news leaks, neither of the reporters Mr. Libby met, Bob Woodward of The Washington Post or Judith Miller, then of The New York Times, reported a word of it under their own bylines. In fact, other reporters working on the story were talking to senior officials who were warning that the uranium information in the intelligence estimate was dubious at best.

Mr. Fitzgerald did not identify who took part in the White House effort to argue otherwise, but the evidence he has cited so far shows that Mr. Cheney's office was the epicenter of concern about Mr. Wilson, the former ambassador sent to Niger by the C.I.A. to determine what deal, if any, Mr. Hussein had struck there.

Throughout the spring and early summer of 2003, Mr. Fitzgerald concluded, the former ambassador had become an irritant to the administration, raising doubts about the truthfulness of assertions — made publicly by Mr. Bush in his State of the Union address in January of that year — that Iraq might have sought uranium in Africa to further its nuclear ambitions.

Mr. Wilson's criticisms culminated in a July 6, 2003, Op-Ed article in The Times in which he voiced the same doubts for the first time on the record. He cited as his evidence his 2002 trip to Niger, instigated, he said, because of questions raised by Mr. Cheney's office.

Mr. Wilson's article, Mr. Fitzgerald said in the filing, "was viewed in the Office of the Vice President as a direct attack on the credibility of the vice president (and the president) on a matter of signal importance: the rationale for the war in Iraq."

Mr. Fitzgerald suggested that the White House effort was a "plan" to undermine Mr. Wilson.

"Disclosing the belief that Mr. Wilson's wife sent him on the Niger trip was one way for defendant to contradict the assertion that the vice president had done so, while at the same time undercutting Mr. Wilson's credibility if Mr. Wilson were perceived to have received the assignment on account of nepotism," Mr. Fitzgerald's filing said.

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Bush Ordered Declassification, Official Says

April 10, 2006

From The New York Times:

A senior administration official confirmed for the first time on Sunday that President Bush had ordered the declassification of parts of a prewar intelligence report on Iraq in an effort to rebut critics who said the administration had exaggerated the nuclear threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

But the official said that Mr. Bush did not designate Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby Jr., or anyone else, to release the information to reporters.

The statement by the official came after the White House had declined to confirm, for three days, Mr. Libby's grand jury testimony that he had been told by Mr. Cheney that Mr. Bush had authorized the disclosure. The official declined to be named, because of an administration policy of not commenting on issues now in court. Confirmation that Mr. Bush ordered the declassification was published late Saturday by The Associated Press, which quoted "an attorney knowledgeable about the case." Once it appeared, the administration official was willing to confirm its details.

The official responded briefly via e-mail on Sunday to questions from The New York Times.

Before the invasion of Iraq, the information from an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate was used by both Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney to bolster their argument that Mr. Hussein posed a threat, and was trying to reconstitute a nuclear program that was dismantled after the 1991 Gulf War.

The disclosure on Sunday appeared intended to bolster the White House argument that Mr. Bush was acting well within his legal authority when he ordered that key conclusions of the classified intelligence estimate should be revealed to make clear that intelligence agencies believed Mr. Hussein was seeking uranium in Africa.

Moreover, the disclosure seemed intended to suggest that Mr. Bush might have played only a peripheral role in the release of the classified material and was uninformed about the specifics — like the effort to dispatch Mr. Libby to discuss the estimate with reporters.

The explanation offered Sunday left open several questions, including when Mr. Bush acted and whether he did so on the advice or at the request of Mr. Cheney. Still unclear is the nature of the communication between Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. Also unknown is whether Mr. Bush fully realized what information Mr. Cheney planned to disclose through Mr. Libby or was aware of the precise use that Mr. Cheney intended to make of the material.

It has been known that Mr. Cheney and Mr. Libby were focused on the uranium issue in June 2003, well before Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former ambassador, wrote an Op-Ed article in The New York Times on July 6, 2003, saying that nothing he had seen on a mission to Niger for the C.I.A. confirmed that Mr. Hussein was seeking uranium.

If Mr. Bush acted that early, it would suggest that the administration was growing concerned as evidence emerged that the intelligence was flawed. But the White House account also appears to separate Mr. Bush from the involvement in the selective release of the information to a few reporters, first Bob Woodward of The Washington Post, then Judith Miller of The New York Times. Both say they met Mr. Libby; neither authored articles about the disclosure after their meetings.

A separate effort was occurring simultaneously at the White House to declassify a significant part of the estimate by July 18, 2003. It is unclear why that process was necessary if Mr. Bush had already authorized the release of the information.

The disclosure that Mr. Bush had spoken with Mr. Cheney about the release of material from the intelligence report on Iraq was made in a legal brief filed last Wednesday by Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special counsel in the C.I.A. leak case.

Mr. Fitzgerald's brief indicates that Mr. Cheney spoke twice with Mr. Libby about the leak of information from the intelligence estimate. Their first conversation took place sometime at the end of June, according to lawyers with clients in the case. The Washington Post reported Saturday that Mr. Libby provided information from the estimate to Mr. Woodward on June, 27, 2003.

Mr. Fitzgerald divulged the White House leak effort as part of his legal maneuvering to restrict Mr. Libby's access to classified documents for use in his trial on perjury and obstruction charges. Mr. Libby has sought the material in an apparent effort to show that he was primarily focused on the intelligence estimate and might have misspoken when he was asked during the inquiry about his conversations with journalists relating to the identity of Mr. Wilson's wife, Valerie Wilson, a C.I.A. officer.


Will Bush Fire Himself?

April 7, 2006

February 11, 2004 George W. Bush:

"If there's a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is…If the person has violated law, that person will be taken care of. I welcome the investigation. I am absolutely confident the Justice Department will do a good job. I want to know the truth…Leaks of classified information are bad things."

July 18, 2005 George W. Bush:

"I would like this to end as quickly as possible so we know the facts and if someone committed a crime they will no longer work in my administration"

April 7, 2006

White House Declines to Counter Leak Claim

The White House on Friday declined to challenge assertions that President Bush authorized the leaks of intelligence information to counter administration critics on Iraq.

But Bush's spokesman, Scott McClellan, appeared to draw a distinction about Bush's oft-stated opposition to leaks. "The president would never authorize disclosure of information that could compromise our nation's security," Bush's spokesman said.

Court papers filed by the prosecutor in the CIA leak case against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby said Bush authorized Libby to disclose information from a classified prewar intelligence report. The court papers say Libby's boss, advised him that the president had authorized Libby to leak the information to the press in striking back at administration critic Joseph Wilson.

McClellan volunteered that the administration declassified information from the intelligence report — the National Intelligence Estimate — and released it to the public on July 18, 2003. But he refused to say when the information was actually declassified. The date could be significant because Libby discussed the information with a reporter on July 8 of that year.

On Thursday, disclosure of official authorization for Libby's leaks to reporters brought strong criticism from administration political foes, but little likelihood that their demands for explanations will be met.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., citing Bush's call two years ago to find the person who leaked the CIA identity of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, said the latest disclosures means the president needs to go no further than a mirror.

In his court filing, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald asserted that "the president was unaware of the role" that Libby "had in fact played in disclosing" Plame's CIA status. The prosecutor gave no such assurance, though, regarding Cheney.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said that "in light of today's shocking revelation, President Bush must fully disclose his participation in the selective leaking of classified information. The American people must know the truth."

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the president has the "inherent authority to decide who should have classified information." The White House declined to comment, citing the ongoing criminal probe into the leak of Plame's identity.

In July 2003, Wilson's accusation that the Bush administration had twisted prewar intelligence to exaggerate the Iraqi threat "was viewed in the office of vice president as a direct attack on the credibility of the vice president, and the president," Fitzgerald's court papers stated.

Part of the counterattack was a July 8, 2003, meeting with New York Times reporter Judith Miller at which Libby discussed the contents of a then-classified CIA report that seemed to undercut what Wilson was saying in public.

Separately, Libby said he understood he also was to tell Miller that prewar intelligence assessments had been that Iraq was "vigorously trying to procure" uranium, the prosecutor stated. In the run-up to the war, Cheney had insisted Iraq was trying to build a nuclear bomb.

The conclusion on uranium was contained in a National Intelligence Estimate, a consensus document of the U.S. intelligence community. Libby's statements came in grand jury testimony before he was charged with five counts of perjury, obstruction and lying to the FBI in the Plame probe.

Libby 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, Fitzgerald said. Libby testified to the grand jury "that the vice president later advised him that the president had authorized defendant to disclose the relevant portions" of the NIE.

Libby 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."

Libby testified that he was specifically authorized to disclose the key judgments of the classified intelligence document because it was thought that its conclusions were "fairly definitive" against what Wilson had said and the vice president thought that it was "very important" for those key judgments to come out, the court papers stated.

After Wilson began attacking the administration, Cheney had a conversation with Libby, expressing 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," Fitzgerald wrote. The suggestion that Plame sent her husband on the Africa trip has gotten widespread circulation among White House loyalists.

Wilson said he had concluded on his trip that it was highly doubtful Niger had sold uranium yellowcake to Iraq.

The prosecutor's court papers offer a glimpse inside the White House when the Justice Department launched a criminal investigation of the Plame leak in September 2003. Libby "implored White House officials" to issue a statement saying he had not been involved in revealing Plame's identity, and that when his initial efforts met with no success, he "sought the assistance of the vice president in having his name cleared," the prosecutor stated.

The White House eventually said neither Libby nor Karl Rove had been involved in the leak. Rove remains under criminal investigation.