Cheney, The White House and Wilson: Part One

Fitzgerald is examining discrepancies between what Cheney, his staff (including Libby) and other White House Officals (including Karl Rove and even Ari Fleischer) told investigators and the grand jury about the leak of Valerie Plame's identity. Undoubtedly, he will also consider what Joseph Wilson has said.

Yesterday, I recapped previously reported information on the White House Iraq Group. Today I'm going back to the beginning, with background relevant to the discrepancies, dating from Cheney and Libby's involvement with CIA analysts in 2002, through the President's Africa trip in 2003 and ending with a statement by Cheney in September, 2003. The links are to the actual sources, not prior TalkLeft posts, although all have been mentioned before on TalkLeft.

The two main discrepancies that I see as still being very important are:

  • Cheney and the White House deny knowing about Wilson's trip before he published his op-ed in the New York Times on July 6, 2003. They deny asking for or receiving a report on Wilson's trip. Wilson, on the other hand, tells Meet the Press that Cheney's office did ask for and receive the report on his trip. He tells Vanity Fair and writes in his book that in March, 2003, the White House began a campaign to discredit him, a plan that culminated with the disclosure of his wife's identity and CIA employment in Robert Novak's July 14, 2003 column.

  • Rove and Libby have told the grand jury they learned of Valerie Plame's identity from reporters, not from the White House or from the June, 2003 State Department classified memo. In fact, this may be their defense to any charges that are brought alleging they conspired from March, 2003 on to discredit Wilson by outing his wife's role.

Here's the background:

Jan - Feb 2002: According to the testimony of Vince Cannistraro, the Former Chief of Operations and Analysis, CIA Counterterrorism Center at a Democratic Policy Committee Hearing, Cheney and Libby went to CIA headquarters on at least two occasions to pressure CIA desk analysts to come up with information supporting the Administration's theory that Iraq had or was seeking WMDs. Shortly afterwards, the CIA decided to send Joseph Wilson, husband of CIA operative Valerie Plame, to Niger to investigate.

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.

Cannistraro told the committee Cheney and Libby's visits were most unusual:

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.

Cannistraro's testimony is similar to to this article in Presidential Studies Quarterly.

Feb. 2002: Wilson goes to Niger in February, 2002, returns and is debriefed.

After Wilson returned to America, a C.I.A. reports officer visited him at home and later debriefed him. Since Wilson's trip had been made because of Cheney's office's request, he assumed that the vice president had received at least a phone call about his findings. "There would have been a very specific answer provided ... to the very specific question that he asked," Wilson says. (The vice president's office denies that Cheney heard back from the C.I.A. or knew about Wilson's trip until he read about it in the newspaper many months later. Tenet confirmed the trip was made on the C.I.A.'s "own initiative." )

June, 2003: The State Department Memo. This is when, according to Time Magazine, Under Secretary of State Marc Grossman asked for and received a memo on the Wilson trip from Carl Ford, head of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

The previously undisclosed fact gathering began in the first week of June 2003 at the CIA, when its public-affairs office received an inquiry about Wilson's trip to Africa from veteran Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus. That office then contacted Plame's unit, which had sent Wilson to Niger, but stopped short of drafting an internal report. The same week, Under Secretary of State Marc Grossman asked for and received a memo on the Wilson trip from Carl Ford, head of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Sources familiar with the memo, which disclosed Plame's relationship to Wilson, say Secretary of State Colin Powell read it in mid-June. Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage may have received a copy then too.

When Pincus' article ran on June 12, the circle of senior officials who knew about the identity of Wilson's wife expanded. "After Pincus," a former intelligence officer says, "there was general discussion with the National Security Council and the White House and State Department and others" about Wilson's trip and its origins. A source familiar with the memo says neither Powell nor Armitage spoke to the White House about it until after July 6. John McLaughlin, then deputy head of the CIA, confirms that the White House asked about the Wilson trip, but can't remember exactly when. One thing he's sure of, says McLaughlin, who has been interviewed by prosecutors, is that "we looked into it and found the facts of it, and passed it on."

Details of the memo also appear in the Washington Post article, which also reports:

Karl Rove, President Bush's deputy chief of staff, has testified that he learned Plame's name from Novak a few days before telling another reporter she worked at the CIA and played a role in her husband's mission, according to a lawyer familiar with Rove's account. Rove has also testified that the first time he saw the State Department memo was when "people in the special prosecutor's office" showed it to him, said Robert Luskin, his attorney.

...The material in the memo about Wilson's wife was based on notes taken by an INR analyst who attended a Feb. 19, 2002, meeting at the CIA where Wilson's intelligence-gathering trip to Niger was discussed. The memo was drafted June 10, 2003, for Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman, who asked to be brought up to date on INR's opposition to the White House view that Hussein was trying to buy uranium in Africa.

...It records that the INR analyst at the meeting opposed Wilson's trip to Niger because the State Department, through other inquiries, already had disproved the allegation that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger. Attached to the INR memo were the notes taken by the senior INR analyst who attended the 2002 meeting at the CIA.

On July 6, 2003, shortly after Wilson went public on NBC's "Meet the Press" and in The Post and the New York Times discussing his trip to Niger, the INR director at the time, Carl W. Ford Jr., was asked to explain Wilson's statements for Powell, according to sources familiar with the events. He went back and reprinted the June 10 memo but changed the addressee from Grossman to Powell. Ford last year appeared before the federal grand jury investigating the leak and described the details surrounding the INR memo, the sources said.

July, 2003: The Trip to Africa

Ari Fleischer backs Cheney's version in his press gaggle of July 7, when the President, Colin Powell, Condi Rice, Fleischer, Andy Card, Dan Bartlett and others left on Air Force One to Africa.

The Vice President's office was not informed of his mission and he was not aware of Mr. Wilson's mission until recent press accounts -- press reports accounted for it.

But, Bloomberg News reported:

On the flight to Africa, Fleischer was seen perusing the State Department memo on Wilson and his wife, according to a former administration official who was also on the trip.

Also, Novak tried to call Fleischer on July 7, and it is not known whether they connected.

On July 8, Condi Rice gave a briefing in which she says she didn't know that Wilson went to Niger until she heard him on television, and said:

I will tell you that, for instance, on Ambassador Wilson's going out to Niger, I learned of that when I was sitting on whatever TV show it was, because that mission was not known to anybody in the White House.

July 11, 2003, then CIA Director George Tenet issued a press statement, taking the blame for the false 16 words in the State of the Union Address in which Bush referred to Iraq seeking uranium from Niger. Tenet said that Wilson's findings had been widely distributed, although he could not be certain that Bush or Cheney or other high officials had been directly informed.

Joseph Wilson's Account: Wilson said he believed that his concerns with the Iraq-uranium claim were circulated not only at the CIA, but also at the State Department and the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. He told Meet the Press in July, 2003,that Cheney's office requested and received a report on Wilson's mission from the CIA.

In actual fact, in my judgment, I have not seen the estimate either, but there were reports based upon my trip that were submitted to the appropriate officials. The question was asked of the CIA by the office of the vice president. The office of the vice president, I am absolutely convinced, received a very specific response to the question it asked and that response was based upon my trip out there.

Later, he said he couldn't be sure of that. In his book, he writes:

The man attacking my integrity and reputation -- and, I believe, quite possibly the person who exposed my wife's identity -- was the same Scooter Libby .... He is one of a handful of senior officials in the administration with both the means and the motive to conduct the covert inquiry that allowed some in the White House to learn my wife's name and status, and then disclose that information to the press.

...According to my sources, between March 2003 and the appearance of my article in July, the workup on me that turned up the information on Valerie was shared with Karl Rove, who then circulated it in administration and neoconservative circles.

....Apparently, according to two journalist sources of mine, when Rove learned that he might have violated the law, he turned on Cheney and Libby and made it clear that he held them responsible for the problem they had created for the administration.

Joseph Wilson on Meet the Press in May, 2004:

"After my appearance on CNN in early March 2003, when I first asserted that the U.S. government knew more about the Niger uranium matter than it was letting on, I am told by a source close to the House Judiciary Committee that the Office of the Vice President--either the vice president himself or, more likely, his chief of staff, Lewis (`Scooter') Libby, chaired a meeting at which a decision was made to a `workup' on me. As I understand it, this meant they were going to take a closer look at who I was and what my agenda might be. The immediate effect of the workup, I am told by a member of the press, citing White House sources, was a long harangue against the two of us within the White House walls. Over a period of several months, Libby evidently seized opportunities to rail openly against me as an `[expletive] playboy' who went on a boondoggle `arranged by his CIA wife'--and was a Democratic Gore supporter to boot."

You're saying that in March the White House started talking about you and your "CIA wife"?

AMB. WILSON: That's my understanding from not just that one particular source but corroborated by other sources and offered actually by other sources from different walks of life, that after I appeared on CNN and said I thought the government knew more about this Niger business than was letting on, there was this meeting at which it was decided to run an intelligence collection operation against me, which led to the learning of my wife's identity and her employment.

....RUSSERT: "According to my sources, between March 2003 and the appearance of my article in July"in The Times"the workup on me that turned up the information on Valerie was shared with Karl Rove, who then circulated it in administration and neoconservative circles."

So you're saying as early as March the information about your wife being a CIA operative was being distributed by the White House?

AMB. JOSEPH WILSON: That's the information I have. That also would explain how Mr. Novak got information so quickly, how to--a decision was made for two people to call six journalists and leak the information within a couple of days. And it also explains how Cliff May, who wrote for the National Review online, suggested in a matter of days after my article appeared and a leak appeared, that it was widely known in Washington that my wife worked for the CIA. It was not widely known. None of my friends, for example, knew it. So it's hard to believe that it was widely known unless somebody else put that story out.

MR. RUSSERT: You mentioned Mr. Rove's name. You also say this on page 442, "The man attacking my integrity and reputation - and, I believe, quite possibly the person who exposed my wife's identity - was the same Scooter Libby"--in Vice President Cheney's office. Then you go on to say, "The other name that has most often been repeated to me in connection with the inquiry and disclosure into my background and Valerie's is that of Elliott Abrams, who gained infamy in the Iran-Contra scandal during the first Bush administration."

But then you say this: "In fact, seniors advisers close to the president may well have been clever enough to have used others to do the actual leading, in order to keep their fingerprints off the crime."

September, 2003: Dick Cheney on Meet the Press:

I don’t know Joe Wilson. I’ve never met Joe Wilson. A question had arisen. I’d heard a report that the Iraqis had been trying to acquire uranium in Africa, Niger in particular. I get a daily brief on my own each day before I meet with the president to go through the intel. And I ask lots of questions. One of the questions I asked at that particular time about this, I said, “What do we know about this?” They take the question. He came back within a day or two and said, “This is all we know. There’s a lot we don’t know,” end of statement. And Joe Wilson—I don’t who sent Joe Wilson. He never submitted a report that I ever saw when he came back.

To be continued next week, with a recap of reporters' statements and those of White House officials.

Update: I just found this Knights-Ridder article about a CIA Memo that went to the White House, Justice, Defense Department and FBI in March, 2002 that mentioned the trip to Niger, over at Just One Minute, where Tom is also is writing about Joe Wilson today. From the article:

A senior CIA official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the intelligence agency informed the White House on March 9, 2002 - 10 months before Bush's nationally televised speech - that an agency source who had traveled to Niger couldn't confirm European intelligence reports that Iraq was attempting to buy uranium from the West African country....The CIA's March 2002 warning about Iraq's alleged uranium-shopping expedition in Niger was sent to the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Justice Department and the FBI the same day it went to the White House, the senior CIA official said.

While it probably didn't mention Wilson's name, it backs Wilson's claim up that the White House was informed of the trip...and casts more doubt on Cheney's and Rice's version. Rice, you remember, said at the time it must have gotten lost in the bowels of the CIA.

On last Sunday's television talk shows, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said the White House was unaware of the CIA's doubts. "Maybe someone knew in the bowels of the agency, but no one in our circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions that this might be a forgery," she said on NBC.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Re: Cheney, The White House and Wilson: Part One (none / 0) (#1)
    by joejoejoe on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:04:56 PM EST
    Cheney: "He never submitted a report that I ever saw when he came back." Is Cheney parsing his words to cover for the fact that he was briefed verbally on the report? Wilson himself said that he gave a verbal briefing to the CIA when he returned. So Cheney may have been briefed but not seen a report, a highly misleading construction to say the least, but technically correct. He didn't see a report, he heard a briefing.

    Re: Cheney, The White House and Wilson: Part One (none / 0) (#2)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:04:57 PM EST
    Don't forget that Cheney was Secretary of Defense during the first Gulf War, while Wilson was Acting Ambassador in Baghdad -- the one directly negotiating with Saddam Hussein on behalf of the Administration in the run-up to the war. So while he says he didn't know Joe Wilson, and never met him, what's the likelihood that Cheney didn't know very well who Wilson was, and probably even spoke with him? Disingenious, at best. Also, does Fitzgerald have a copy of the memo that was circulated on that trip to Africa? Is it possible that, given the pressure on the analysts to support the Administration's stance on the war, they spun Wilson's trip to make it sound less negative for the Adminstration than it was? After all, while Wilson firmly believes that there was no evidence to support that Hussein obtained or even negotiated the purchase of yellowcake from Niger, he did say that a senior Niger official suspected that was what the Iraqi officials were after when they requested a meeting, and so the Niger official avoided meeting with them. Hence, Hussein "sought" yellowcake. While I believe that they should all be locked up for outing Plame, and Bush should be impeached for taking this country to war on manufactured pretexts, it's possible they might try to fall back on the old "it depends on what the definition of "is" is."

    Re: Cheney, The White House and Wilson: Part One (none / 0) (#3)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:04:57 PM EST
    Mary Matalin formerly of the VP's staff is currently making the rounds spouting the attack Joe Wilson line. She undoubtly was in the thick of it since she was the media advisor to the VP The current Republican talking points call for them to send out the ugliest most hateful Republican women to attack Joe Wilson personally -

    Re: Cheney, The White House and Wilson: Part One (none / 0) (#4)
    by Molly Bloom on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:04:57 PM EST
    Adding to Rebmarks, Cheney also claimed not to ever have met John Edwards in the VP debate. Bald face lying is a Cheney forte. Pure speculation here, but Mary Matalin strikes me as the likeliest flip. She will be through with GOP politics, but staying out of jail might be more important to a mother of young children. Also she has a couple of years of law school and is married to a lawyer, so I could see her waking up with a "John Dean" momemnt, and saying "oh my god, what I have I gotten into here?" And like Dean, going to the prosecutor to work out the best deal possible. In any event, she, Powell and Tenet strike me as the weakest links in the chain.

    Re: Cheney, The White House and Wilson: Part One (none / 0) (#5)
    by theologicus on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:04:57 PM EST
    Okay. But who's on first? And is it going to rain?

    Re: Cheney, The White House and Wilson: Part One (none / 0) (#6)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:04:57 PM EST
    question: Do you think Mary Matalin's return to the talk shows makes it less likely that she's flipped?