First, the Cheney flight. It was from Washington to Norfolk, VA where he gave the keynote speech at the commissioning of the USS Reagan. On board were press aide Catherine Martin and Scooter Libby.
The night before, July 11, George Tenet had issued his statement on the erroneous 16 word statement in the State of the Union Address.
On July 12, while on his trip to Africa, Bush praised Tenet and Fleischer bashed Wilson in his press gaggle. It was this "complete press gaggle" that was subpoenaed by Fitzgerald. Here is the version now on the White House site.
In fact, in one of the least known parts of this story, which is now, for the first time, public -- and you find this in Director Tenet's statement last night -- the official that -- lower-level official sent from the CIA to Niger to look into whether or not Saddam Hussein had sought yellow cake from Niger, Wilson, he -- and Director Tenet's statement last night states the same former official, Wilson, also said that in June 1999 a businessman approached him and insisted that the former official, Wilson, meet an Iraqi delegation to discuss expanding commercial relations between Iraq and Niger. The former official interpreted the overture as an attempt to discuss uranium sales.
This is in Wilson's report back to the CIA. Wilson's own report, the very man who was on television saying Niger denies it, who never said anything about forged documents, reports himself that officials in Niger said that Iraq was seeking to contact officials in Niger about sales.
So Ari knew of Wilson's report to the CIA. We know from Libby's indictment, that Libby and Fleischer had lunch together on July 7, before the plane left later that night for Africa. On July 7, in the press gaggle, Ari said:
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there is zero, nada, nothing new here. Ambassador Wilson, other than the fact that now people know his name, has said all this before. But the fact of the matter is in his statements about the Vice President -- the Vice President's office did not request the mission to Niger. 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.
So this was something that the CIA undertook as part of their regular review of events, where they sent him. But they sent him on their own volition, and the Vice President's office did not request it. Now, we've long acknowledged -- and this is old news, we've said this repeatedly -- that the information on yellow cake did, indeed, turn out to be incorrect.
Then there is this exchange:
MR. FLEISCHER: But, again, the information on -- the President did not have that information prior to his giving the State of the Union.
Q Which gets to the crux of what Ambassador Wilson is now alleging -- that he provided this information to the State Department and the CIA 11 months before the State of the Union and he is amazed that it, nonetheless, made it into the State of the Union address. He believes that that information was deliberately ignored by the White House. Your response to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: And that's way, again, he's making the statement that -- he is saying that surely the Vice President must have known, or the White House must have known. And that's not the case, prior to the State of the Union.
Q He's saying that surely people at the decision-making level within the NSC would have known the information which he -- passed on to both the State Department and the CIA.
MR. FLEISCHER: And the information about the yellow cake and Niger was not specifically known prior to the State of the Union by the White House.
Then there is Sy Hersh's Stovepiping article in the New Yorker:
“The Vice-President saw a piece of intelligence reporting that Niger was attempting to buy uranium,” Cathie Martin, the spokeswoman for Cheney, told me. Sometime after he first saw it, Cheney brought it up at his regularly scheduled daily briefing from the C.I.A., Martin said. “He asked the briefer a question. The briefer came back a day or two later and said, ‘We do have a report, but there’s a lack of details.’ ” The Vice-President was further told that it was known that Iraq had acquired uranium ore from Niger in the early nineteen-eighties but that that material had been placed in secure storage by the I.A.E.A., which was monitoring it. “End of story,” Martin added. “That’s all we know.” According to a former high-level C.I.A. official, however, Cheney was dissatisfied with the initial response, and asked the agency to review the matter once again. It was the beginning of what turned out to be a year-long tug-of-war between the C.I.A. and the Vice-President’s office.
Hersh moves on to Wilson's trip:
....Wilson returned to Washington and made his report. It was circulated, he said, but “I heard nothing about what the Vice-President’s office thought about it.” (In response, Cathie Martin said, “The Vice-President doesn’t know Joe Wilson and did not know about his trip until he read about it in the press.” The first press accounts appeared fifteen months after Wilson’s trip.)
This June 11, 2003 UPI article states that the report of Wilson's trip did make it to the White House - and that Cheney decided to ignore the findings.
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.
Despite the CIA's misgivings, Bush said in his State of the Union address: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium in Africa." Three senior administration officials said Vice President Dick Cheney and some officials on the National Security Council staff and at the Pentagon ignored the CIA's reservations and argued that the president and others should include the allegation in their case against Saddam.
More from the senior CIA guy:
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.
In the months before Bush's State of the Union speech, the senior CIA official said, agency officials also told the State Department, National Security Council staffers and members of Congress that they doubted that Iraq had been trying to buy uranium from Niger.
One senior administration official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity because the intelligence reports remain classified, said the CIA's doubts were well known and widely shared throughout the government before Bush's speech.
So this CIA official says the White House was alerted in March, 2002. This is just after the January-February time period that Cheney and Libby would go out to CIA headquarters to question desk analysts about the claim. [Also see this article from Presidential Studies Quarterly]Cheney says he found out about Wilson after it appeared in the press, which could have been Wilson's March, 2003 CNN appearance, Kristof's May, 2003 article, Pincus's June 12, 2003 article or Wilson's op-ed. Wilson says the White House began to order a dossier on him in March, 2003, and that Rove knew about it.
The New York Times (quoted here)had yet another version on Libby's conversation with Cheney on July 12, the date of the plane ride to Norfolk:
A lawyer who knows Mr. Libby's account said the administration efforts to limit the damage from Mr. Wilson's criticism extended as high as Mr. Cheney. This lawyer and others who spoke about the case asked that they not be identified because of grand jury secrecy rules.
On July 12, 2003, four days after his initial conversation with Ms. Miller, Mr. Libby consulted with Mr. Cheney about how to handle inquiries from journalists about the vice president's role in sending Mr. Wilson to Africa in early 2002 to investigate reports that Iraq was trying acquire nuclear material there for its weapons program, the person said. In that account, Mr. Cheney told Mr. Libby to direct reporters to a statement released the previous day by George J. Tenet, director of central intelligence. His statement said Mr. Wilson had been sent on the mission by C.I.A. counter-proliferation officers "on their own initiative."
It seems to me that since neither Walter Pincus' or Robert Novak's sources were indicted, that Fitzgerald either has made a deal with them to cooperate against someone higher up - or they are not important to Fitzgerald in the grand scheme of things. Novak said his source was not a "partisan gunslinger" which seems to militate against it being Fleischer. But Novak has been known to give differing accounts of his source to Wilson, so I'm don't take anything he says as fact.
To be continued, as more dots present themselves.