Archive for Sunday, October 30, 2005

Anatomy of the CIA leak investigation

October 30, 2005


— The prosecution's conclusion: Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff zealously pursued information about a critic who said the Bush administration manipulated intelligence to make the case for war.

The view of the president and vice president: I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby is a dedicated public servant who has worked tirelessly on behalf of his country.

Is Libby an influential White House adviser who lied? Or is he a man with a hectic schedule who happens to remember events differently from the reporters and administration figures who will eventually be called to testify against him?

"As lawyers, we recognize that a person's recollection and memory of events will not always match those of other people, particularly when they are asked to testify months after the events occurred," Libby's attorney, Joseph Tate, said in a statement.

Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald drew his detailed portrait of Libby based on a two-year investigation that pulled dozens of witnesses in for questioning, including President Bush and Cheney.

The indictment

Libby, the indictment against him concludes, received information from Cheney, the State Department and the CIA about covert CIA officer Valerie Plame, whose husband was attacking an administration unable to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Libby then spread the information to reporters and later concocted a story that his information had come from reporters, the indictment says.

President Bush leaves the White House on Friday for Camp David. Bush says he&squot;s saddened by the indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter"  Libby, who resigned as Vice Presi-dent Dick Cheney&squot;s chief of staff.

President Bush leaves the White House on Friday for Camp David. Bush says he's saddened by the indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who resigned as Vice Presi-dent Dick Cheney's chief of staff.

The other portrait of Libby, the favorable version, shows a deeply committed conservative who has been a player on the Washington scene since the early days of the Reagan administration.

Libby left the White House for the last time Friday, departing after seeing some of the ideas he and others championed become administration policy.

In 1992, Libby and former Pentagon deputy Paul Wolfowitz wrote a paper favoring the use of pre-emptive force to prevent countries from developing weapons of mass destruction.

Notwithstanding Fitzgerald's insistence Friday that the criminal case is not about Iraq, he probably will seek to cast Libby as an architect of the U.S.-led invasion, said Scott Fredericksen, a former prosecutor who now represents white-collar defendants.

The prosecution will call Libby "a very bright guy at the highest levels of government with motivation to prevent Fitzgerald and the grand jury from learning the true source" of Libby's information about administration critic Joseph Wilson.

Cheney's praises

After the indictment, Cheney issued words of praise in Washington but made no mention of his departing chief of staff on a trip later in the day to Robins Air Force Base in Georgia. Cheney's speech to base personnel was on terrorism, the topic that, along with Iraq, has consumed his and Libby's time and energy.

"This is nothing new for a White House having to counter its critics, particularly when the administration believes the criticism to be false," said Washington lawyer Michael Madigan, a former Republican counsel in the Senate investigation of Clinton-era campaign fundraising abuses. "The trouble the White House encountered in this case is that some of the information was classified."

Fitzgerald's probe initially sought to determine whether anyone in the administration violated the law by knowingly disclosing the identity of a covert CIA employee.

Fitzgerald spent 22 months on the investigation at a cost of more than $1 million. In the end, Libby was charged with five felonies alleging obstruction of justice, perjury to a grand jury and making false statements to FBI agents. If convicted, he could face a maximum of 30 years in prison and $1.25 million in fines.

How it started

The starting point was Bush's claim in his State of the Union address in January 2003 that Saddam Hussein had tried to acquire uranium from the African nation of Niger as part of an effort to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Bush took the country to war with Iraq in March 2003, saying Saddam's banned weapons program threatened the U.S. When no such weapons turned up, the administration was put on the defensive.

Wilson, a former ambassador, had gone to Niger in 2002 for the CIA to investigate the uranium claim. He found no evidence to back it up. His wife, Plame, was the covert CIA officer whose name was leaked in July 2003 as the debate heated up.

The indictment alleges Libby had information from at least seven government officials, including the vice president, about Plame and her CIA status. Libby said he heard it first from reporters. The indictment said Libby spread information to the media.

Fitzgerald summed up the charges:

"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. He was at the beginning of the chain of phone calls, the first official to disclose this information outside the government to a reporter. And then he lied about it afterward, under oath and repeatedly."


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