Progress Report - April 7, 2006
Yesterday, a court filing disclosed that President Bush specifically authorized Vice President Cheney's chief of staff Scooter Libby to disclose classified information in an effort to discredit Joseph Wilson, a former CIA adviser whose criticisms undermined the administration's case for war. According to the 39-page document submitted by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald on late Wednesday night, Libby testified that Cheney "advised him that the President had authorized [Libby] to disclose relevant portions" of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (N.I.E.), the key CIA document that the administration used to persuade Congress and the American public into war. The court filing "for the first time places Bush and Vice President Cheney at the heart of what Libby testified was an exceptional and deliberate leak of material designed to buttress the administration's claim that Iraq was trying to obtain nuclear weapons." While the document does not address the issue of whether Bush was personally involved in specifically leaking Valerie Plame's identity, it is clear from the timing of the leak authorization by President Bush that he was personally involved in the administration-wide effort to smear Joseph Wilson by any means necessary.
BUSH AUTHORIZED LEAKING DESPITE REPEATED ASSURANCES TO THE CONTRARY: Throughout the past two and half years, while the investigation into the leak of Valerie Plame's identity has been ongoing, Bush has made numerous public statements indicating his desire to crack down on leakers. For instance, on September 30, 2003, Bush said, "There's just too many leaks, and if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is." He added, "I want to tell you something -- leaks of classified information are a bad thing." And on October 28, 2003, the president said, "I'd like to know if somebody in my White House did leak sensitive information." Bush never indicated that he was engaged in leaks, instead casting "himself as a disinterested observer, eager to resolve the case and hold those responsible accountable." The new revelations by Fitzgerald, however, demonstrate Bush was personally authorizing highly-sensitive intelligence leaks and has therefore been engaged in a cover-up about the extent of his own involvement in the leak case. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, "The president has always stood so strong against leaks. If he leaked himself, he should explain why this is different than every other leak."
BUSH WAS INVOLVED IN THE CAMPAIGN TO SMEAR WILSON: "The White House did not challenge the prosecutor's account of Bush's and Cheney's role in orchestrating the effort to discredit Wilson yesterday." Previously, the administration claimed it had not engaged in a smear campaign against Wilson. Robert Luskin, Karl Rove's attorney, previously claimed that the facts were being spun "in an ugly fashion to make it seem like people in the White House were affirmatively reaching out to try to get them to report negative information about Plame." But Fitzgerald made clear that Libby's disclosure took place as the result of "a strong desire by many, including multiple people in the White House, to repudiate" Wilson's claims, adding, "it is hard to conceive of what evidence there could be that would disprove the existence of White House efforts to 'punish' Wilson." Bush has now been placed at the center of those efforts. (The Progress Report has previously documented why Wilson was smeared -- simply put, because his public criticisms of the administration set into motion a series of events that were not only politically damaging but began to expose how the nation was misled into war. See our timeline.) "If the disclosure is true, it's breathtaking. The president is revealed as the leaker-in-chief," said Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA). While it is clear that Bush was engaged in the campaign to "punish" Wilson, it is unclear what knowledge he had of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame. At the very least, Bush should now be asked when he personally learned of Plame and whether he authorized the leak of her covert identity.
N.I.E. BOLSTERED WILSON'S ARGUMENT: Libby testified that he was given specific authority by the president to "disclose certain information in the N.I.E." to former New York Times reporter Judith Miller and others. The administration decided to disclose only "relevant portions" for a very obvious reason -- disclosure of the full N.I.E. would have undermined the administration's argument and bolstered Joseph Wilson's. Recall, Wilson attacked Bush's 2003 State of the Union claim that Iraq was acquiring uranium from Niger to build a nuclear weapon. Wilson wrote in July 2003, "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," specifically stating he saw no evidence of a uranium transaction. The N.I.E. bolstered Wilson's claim. The CIA gave "low confidence" to the uranium claim and said "we cannot confirm whether Iraq succeeded in acquiring uranium ore." The estimate further said the intelligence on Iraq's uranium acquisition was "inconclusive."
BUSH ADMINISTRATION'S DEFENSE FULL OF LEAKY HOLES: At the heart of the White House and Libby's defense of their actions is the claim that a March 2003 executive order allows both the president and vice president to unilaterally declassify intelligence documents. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales stated yesterday that Bush has "inherent authority to decide who should have classified information." The White House maintains Bush's decision to disclose classified information means he declassified it. But it was unclear if that was the President's intention in this case. First, the action to leak the October 2002 N.I.E. was apparently done "without notifying Cabinet officials or others in the administration, including the CIA authors of the National Intelligence Estimate," raising questions about whether a real declassification ever occurred. Moreover, as Fitzgerald writes in the court filing, then-deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley was engaged in a process to get the N.I.E. officially declassified at the same time Libby was leaking classified portions of the N.I.E. to reporters. On July 18, 2003, the administration decided to officially disclose the contents of the full N.I.E. at a White House press briefing, "suggesting the information had not been declassified until that time." Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, argued on National Public Radio yesterday, "At a minimum, it is grossly improper for the president to order a subordinate to disclose a highly classified document to an uncleared reporter and then have that document treated as continuing to be classified."
CASE AGAINST LIBBY NOT AFFECTED: The new disclosures do not affect the legal case against Scooter Libby. Libby is on trial for having allegedly lied to FBI investigators and the federal grand jury about how he learned of Plame's identity. As special prosecutor Fitzgerald said at his October 2005 press conference announcing the indictments against Libby, "At the end of the day what appears is that Mr. Libby's story that he was at the tail end of a chain of phone calls, passing on from one reporter what he heard from another, was not true. It was false." The court filing reasserts that the "central issue at trial will be whether defendant lied when he testified that he was not aware that Mr. Wilson's wife worked at the CIA prior to his purported conversation with Tim Russert about Mr. Wilson's wife on or about July 10, 2003."
Dumbya, Dick, & Don -- deranged, disconnected and dangerous!