John Hannah and Lewis Libby: Still Key in Plame Probe

[I wrote this on July 16 and just found it in "draft" status, meaning I didn't hit the "publish" button. For the Rove Gate obsessed, it may have another dot or two.]

I think this UPI article by Richard Sale from February 5, 2004 is right on the money.

Federal law enforcement officials said that they have developed hard evidence of possible criminal misconduct by two employees of Vice President Dick Cheney's office related to the unlawful exposure of a CIA officer's identity last year. The investigation, which is continuing, could lead to indictments, a Justice Department official said.

According to these sources, John Hannah and Cheney's chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby were the two Cheney employees. "We believe that Hannah was the major player in this," one federal law enforcement officer said. Calls to the vice president's office were not returned. Hannah and Libby did not return calls.

The strategy of the FBI is to make clear to Hannah "that he faces a real possibility of doing jail time," as a way to pressure him to name superiors, one federal law enforcement official said.
....On June 12, Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus revealed that an unnamed diplomat had "given a negative report" on the claim and then on July 6, as the Bush administration was widely accused of manipulating intelligence to get American public opinion behind a war with Iraq, Wilson published an Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post, in which he accused the Bush administration of "misrepresenting the facts," asking, "What else are they lying about?"

According to one administration official, "The White House was really pissed, and began to contact six journalists in order to plant stories to discredit Wilson," according to New York Times and other accounts.

As Pincus said in a Sept. 29 radio broadcast, "The reason for putting out the story about Wilson's wife working for the CIA was to undermine the credibility of (Wilson's) mission for the agency in Niger. Wilson, as the last top diplomat in Iraq at the time of the Gulf War, had credibility beyond his knowledge of Africa, which was his specialty. So his going to Niger to check the allegation that Iraq had sought uranium there and returning to say he had no confirmation was considered very credible."

One more news article: USA Today, April 29, 2004

Wilson connects Cheney to the events involving his wife through a meeting he said occurred in March 2003. He charged that Cheney's staff — with at least the "implicit" involvement of the vice president — met and decided to investigate his background. The investigation, he said, uncovered his wife's role at the CIA.

"The office of the vice president, either the vice president himself or more likely his chief of staff, chaired a meeting at which a decision was made to do a 'work-up' on me," Wilson wrote in The Politics of Truth. Vanity Fair magazine reported in January that Cheney's office denied that any such meeting occurred.

There was a meeting on February 19, 200 at CIA headquarters. Did Cheney or Libby attend it? Remember this hearing (pdf) of the Democratic Policy Committee I've been harping on at which Vincent Cannistraro, Former Chief of Operations and Analysis, CIA Counterterrorism Center, testified?

These are the money quotes from the hearing transcripts:

CANNISTRARO: Thank you, Senators, for inviting me here today. I'll make my comments as brief as possible. I think it's very important to understand the context in which this leak occurred. We had a pattern of pressure directed at CIA analysts for a long period of time beginning almost immediately after September 11th in those disastrous events. The pressure was directed at providing supporting information data for the belief that Saddam Hussein was, one, linked to global terrorism and, two, was a clear danger not only to his neighbors but to the United States of America.

And in support of that argument assertions were made that he was about to renew a nuclear program and was attempting to acquire uranium ore in Africa for which he was going to be exploiting it for an enriched weapons program.

Toward December of 2001, intelligence report was received in Washington that alleged that Saddam Hussein had been attempting to acquire yellow cake uranium ore in Niger and two other African countries. The vice president of the United States and other senior officials in the administration seized on this information as a proof that Saddam was that clear and present danger and needed to be addressed immediately in order to eliminate that danger.

The vice president and his chief of staff went out to CIA headquarters on a number of occasions -- at least on two occasions -- specifically to address the questions of weapons of mass destruction and the attempt to acquire a nuclear capability. (my emphasis)These meetings, I'm told secondhand, were contentious, but the vice president insisted that there must be some support for this reporting of the yellow cake acquisition attempt. CIA analysts, I'm told, didn't have any independent data to verify that, but as a result of the insistent pressure being applied to the analysts and particularly to the nonproliferation center, the CIA did send, as they've said publicly, Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson on a fact-finding mission to Niger.

In other words, it was at Cheney's insistance that someone be sent to Niger to check the claim, and the CIA chose Wilson.

The second money quote is of Sen. Harkin's questions to Mr. Cannistraro:

Sen. Harkin: The last point I wanted to make was, again, Mr. Cannistraro, I want to be perfectly clear on this as much as I can. I read your testimony and I heard you say it again that the vice president and his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, visited the CIA headquarters to engage the CIA analysts directly on this issue of uranium acquisition in Africa.

You call it, "an unprecedented act for the vice president to engage desk-level analysts resulted in a contentious give-and-take. Vice president insisted that CIA analysts were not looking hard enough for the evidence."

HARKIN: Again, in all of your years you've never seen a vice president or his chief of staff come down and engage in that kind of activity?

CANNISTRARO: No, I haven't, Senator. The vice president gets the president's daily brief every morning and he's briefed by a senior-level CIA official who goes out to the White House and does the briefing. So he has no need in going out and debating with desk-level analysts.

Courtesy of of The New York Times, we have the June 9, 2003 State Department Memo:

The memorandum was prepared at the State Department, relying on notes by an analyst who was involved in meetings in early 2002 to discuss whether to send someone to Africa to investigate allegations that Iraq was pursuing uranium purchases. The C.I.A. was asked by Mr. Cheney's office and the State and Defense Departments to look into the reports.

According to a July 9, 2004, Senate Intelligence Committee report, the notes described a Feb. 19, 2002, meeting at C.I.A. headquarters on whether Mr. Wilson should go to Niger.

Related TalkLeft posts:

All of TalkLeft's Valerie Plame posts are accessible here.

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