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Libby's Lawyers' Smokescreen

Lewis Libby's lawyers are crowing mightily about how Bob Woodward's disclosures help their case. In doing so, they misinterpret Patrick Fitzgerald's comments.

At the news conference the day of the Indictment, Fitzgerald did not say that Libby was the first Administration official to disclose Valerie Plame Wilson's identity to a reporter. He said Libby was the first person known to the Government to have disclosed her identity. There's a sea of difference between the two.

In fact, Mr. Libby was the first official known to have told a reporter when he talked to Judith Miller in June of 2003 about Valerie Wilson.

Now, later in the press conference, he does say:

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 afterwards, under oath and repeatedly.

I think it's perfectly clear what Fitzgerald meant in light of his statement at the beginning of the conference - Libby was the first person the investigation uncovered who disclosed the information to a reporter.

I see nothing in Woodward's revelations that affect the charges against Libby. He's not charged with leaking Plame Wilson's identity or with engaging in a vendetta against Wilson, although some have said he did both.

He's charged with lying to Fitzgerald's investigators and the grand jury about what he told reporters and when and what reporters told him - and obstructing justice.

So, nice try, no cigar. If I were Libby's lawyers, I would be more concerned with David Wurmser's disclosures than Bob Woodward's. Raw Story reported a while back:

David Wurmser, has agreed to provide the prosecution with evidence that the leak was a coordinated effort by Cheney’s office to discredit the agent's husband.

Wurmser, Cheney’s Middle East advisor and an assistant to then-Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs John Bolton, likely cooperated because he faced criminal charges for his role in leaking Wilson's name on the orders of higher-ups, the sources said.....The sources say that Hannah and Wurmser were given orders by senior officials in Cheney’s office in June 2003 to leak Plame’s covert status and identity in an attempt to muzzle Wilson. The former ambassador had been a thorn in administration’s side since May 2003, when he began questioning claims that Iraq was an imminent threat to the U.S. and its neighbors in the Middle East.

I have doubts that the word "covert" belongs in the above paragraph, but if Wurmser and/or Hannah are going to testify they received orders from higher-ups in Cheney's office to leak the information about Wilson's wife and her employment, Libby has big problems. The fact that Woodward says Libby didn't tell him means about as much as the fact that Adam Levine acknowledged Karl Rove didn't mention Plame Wilson to him. In other words, it means very little.

Let's review more of Fitzgerald at the news conference:

What he told the FBI is that essentially he was at the end of a long chain of phone calls. He spoke to reporter Tim Russert, and during the conversation Mr. Russert told him that, Hey, do you know that all the reporters know that Mr. Wilson's wife works at the CIA?

And he told the FBI that he learned that information as if it were new, and it struck him. So he took this information from Mr. Russert and later on he passed it on to other reporters, including reporter Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, reporter Judith Miller of the New York Times.

And he told the FBI that when he passed the information on on July 12th, 2003, two days before Mr. Novak's column, that he passed it on understanding that this was information he had gotten from a reporter; that he didn't even know if it was true. And he told the FBI that when he passed the information on to the reporters he made clear that he did know if this were true. This was something that all the reporters were saying and, in fact, he just didn't know and he wanted to be clear about it.

Later, Mr. Libby went before the grand jury on two occasions in March of 2004. He took and oath and he testified. And he essentially said the same thing. He said that, in fact, he had learned from the vice president earlier in June 2003 information about Wilson's wife, but he had forgotten it, and that when he learned the information from Mr. Russert during this phone call he learned it as if it were new.

When he passed the information on to reporters Cooper and Miller late in the week, he passed it on thinking it was just information he received from reporters; that he told reporters that, in fact, he didn't even know if it were true. He was just passing gossip from one reporter to another at the long end of a chain of phone calls.

It would be a compelling story that will lead the FBI to go away if only it were true. It is not true, according to the indictment. In fact, Mr. Libby discussed the information about Valerie Wilson at least half a dozen times before this conversation with Mr. Russert ever took place, not to mention that when he spoke to Mr. Russert, Mr. Russert and he never discussed Valerie Wilson or Wilson's wife.

He didn't learn it from Mr. Russert. But if he had, it would not have been new at the time. Let me talk you through what the indictment alleges. The indictment alleges that Mr. Libby learned the information about Valerie Wilson at least three times in June of 2003 from government officials. Let me make clear there was nothing wrong with government officials discussing Valerie Wilson or Mr. Wilson or his wife and imparting the information to Mr. Libby.

But in early June, Mr. Libby learned about Valerie Wilson and the role she was believed to play in having sent Mr. Wilson on a trip overseas from a senior CIA officer on or around June 11th, from an undersecretary of state on or around June 11th, and from the vice president on or about June 12th.

It's also clear, as set forth in the indictment, that some time prior to July 8th he also learned it from somebody else working in the Vice President's Office. So at least four people within the government told Mr. Libby about Valerie Wilson, often referred to as Wilson's wife, working at the CIA and believed to be responsible for helping organize a trip that Mr. Wilson took overseas. In addition to hearing it from government officials, it's also alleged in the indictment that at least three times Mr. Libby discussed this information with other government officials.

It's alleged in the indictment that on June 14th of 2003, a full month before Mr. Novak's column, Mr. Libby discussed it in a conversation with a CIA briefer in which he was complaining to the CIA briefer his belief that the CIA was leaking information about something or making critical comments, and he brought up Joe Wilson and Valerie Wilson.It's also alleged in the indictment that Mr. Libby discussed it with the White House press secretary on July 7th, 2003, over lunch. What's important about that is that Mr. Libby, the indictment alleges, was telling Mr. Fleischer something on Monday that he claims to have learned on Thursday.

In addition to discussing it with the press secretary on July 7th, there was also a discussion on or about July 8th in which counsel for the vice president was asked a question by Mr. Libby as to what paperwork the Central Intelligence Agency would have if an employee had a spouse go on a trip. So that at least seven discussions involving government officials prior to the day when Mr. Libby claims he learned this information as if it were new from Mr. Russert. And, in fact, when he spoke to Mr. Russert, they never discussed it.

But in addition to focusing on how it is that Mr. Libby learned this information and what he thought about it, it's important to focus on what it is that Mr. Libby said to the reporters. In the account he gave to the FBI and to the grand jury was that he told reporters Cooper and Miller at the end of the week, on July 12th. And that what he told them was he gave them information that he got from other reporters; other reporters were saying this, and Mr. Libby did not know if it were true. And in fact, Mr. Libby testified that he told the reporters he did not even know if Mr. Wilson had a wife.

And, in fact, we now know that Mr. Libby discussed this information about Valerie Wilson at least four times prior to July 14th, 2003: on three occasions with Judith Miller of the New York Times and on one occasion with Matthew Cooper of Time magazine.

The first occasion in which Mr. Libby discussed it with Judith Miller was back in June 23rd of 2003, just days after an article appeared online in the New Republic which quoted some critical commentary from Mr. Wilson. After that discussion with Judith Miller on June 23rd, 2003, Mr. Libby also discussed Valerie Wilson on July 8th of 2003. During that discussion, Mr. Libby talked about Mr. Wilson in a conversation that was on background as a senior administration official. And when Mr. Libby talked about Wilson, he changed the attribution to a former Hill staffer.

During that discussion, which was to be attributed to a former Hill staffer, Mr. Libby also discussed Wilson's wife, Valerie Wilson, working at the CIA -- and then, finally, again, on July 12th. In short -- and in those conversations, Mr. Libby never said, This is something that other reporters are saying; Mr. Libby never said, This is something that I don't know if it's true; Mr. Libby never said, I don't even know if he had a wife.

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 afterwards, under oath and repeatedly.

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  • Re: Libby's Lawyers' Smokescreen (none / 0) (#1)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:13 PM EST
    "So, nice try, no cigar. If I were Libby's lawyers, I would be more concerned with David Wurmser's disclosures than Bob Woodward's." The 'concern' with Woodward's disclosure is purely one of SPIN. As you deftly point out (thank you), the indictment is not affected by it. What is affected is the public concept of his guilt. Really, it's obfuscation. It's a more sophisticated putoff than 'we can't discuss an ongoing investigation.' The equivalent of saying that Libby CAN'T be guilty, because the Man in the Moon said so. 'Swift Boat' support from Hannity on the way, toote suite. "Well, clearly, Jeralyn, this Woodward disclosure completey indemnifies Lewis Libby. He didn't remember, and that's not a crime. After the break, we'll hear from someone else who also met the Man in the Moon." 'Final Word' fodder.

    Re: Libby's Lawyers' Smokescreen (none / 0) (#2)
    by DonS on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:13 PM EST
    Libby, spinning the public like there's no tomorrow. He's got nothing to lose.

    Re: Libby's Lawyers' Smokescreen (none / 0) (#3)
    by Molly Bloom on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:13 PM EST
    The real issue is whether or not the media will mindlessly repeat the spin. So far, other than Olberman, I don't have much hope they won't

    Re: Libby's Lawyers' Smokescreen (none / 0) (#4)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:13 PM EST
    It might take the heat off Libby and prove Cheney outed Plame but it doesn't chance the Libby as a Liar charge. All it really does is prove Woodward is nothing but a liar for Bushco. Remember his recent claim on CNN that the CIA ahad done a damage assessment on PLame and there was none..a statement that is false. Woodward over on Atrios he called him the stenographer for the Bush administration....pretty sad

    Re: Libby's Lawyers' Smokescreen (none / 0) (#5)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:13 PM EST
    I think it is pertinent to point out Fitzgerald's emphasis on phone calls is important. The fact is he has the phone logs to confirm his charges. Woodward is making a claim with no Hard evidence to back up his memory. That is the difference between a Prosecutor and an Administration shill like Woodward!

    Re: Libby's Lawyers' Smokescreen (none / 0) (#6)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:13 PM EST
    All this talk of exculpatory evidence misses the larger point of Woodward's revelation: it is now even clearer that there was a broad administration effort to discredit Wilson by using his wife. We have Libby, Rove, Pincus's source, Novak's source, and now Woodward's source leaking and confirming this story -- often more than once -- to Miller, Cooper, Pincus, Novak, and Woodward (and possibly others). Media strategy regarding Wilson was widely discussed at the highest levels of the administration, involving not only Libby and Rove, but also Cheney, Fleischer, Martin, Edelson, Addington, and others. All of this occurred within a month's time after reports of Wilson's trip first started appearing in the press. These officials may have made it sound like they were "casually" mentioning Wilson's wife in the context of a broader interview, but the coincidence is too great: there was nothing casual about this campaign.

    Re: Libby's Lawyers' Smokescreen (none / 0) (#7)
    by profmarcus on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:13 PM EST
    juan and josh comment... juan cole, once again, keeps us grounded...
    The defense lawyers for Libby immediately claimed that the new information helped their client. The trick about this sort of thing is that you have to understand that for attorneys, any proposition may be put forward as long as it has not been explicitly rejected by the relevant court. That is, lawyers would be perfectly happy to argue that water is dry, and has not been ruled wet by any court of law, and that moreover anyone who criticizes them for so alleging is guilty of libel and very possibly also of sodomy, until that allegation is ruled on in court.
    [remainder of text deleted.] josh weighs in with a strikingly similar comment...
    Virtually all of the arguments the White House is now advancing are transparently ridiculous on their face to anyone who has closely followed this evolving debate over the last three years. But that doesn't matter. The White House doesn't need to win any debates. What they need is for their core supporters to have something to say. Anything. And to be able to say it loudly. The one thing that would be fatal for the White House from its defenders would be silence.
    i'm with josh on this... the talking points circus has to have new material... And, yes, I DO take it personally

    Re: Libby's Lawyers' Smokescreen (none / 0) (#8)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:14 PM EST
    Fitzgerald said:
    FITZGERALD: 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 afterwards, under oath and repeatedly."
    Woodward says he knew about Plame beforehand, subsequently talked to Libby, but "does not recall" talking about Plame. Fitzgerald's statement does indeed start to fall apart. Libby definitely was not the first government official to disclose Plame. And it is not out of the question that Woodward did mention Plame to Libby. All of a sudden, Fitzgerald apparently has his facts wrong; no matter how you look at it, he is missing information. And Libby's claim that he was merely passing along information from one reporter to another reporter -- what Fitzgerald claims is a lie -- is totally plausible. Libby will never be convicted on this. There is already way too much reasonable doubt.

    Re: Libby's Lawyers' Smokescreen (none / 0) (#9)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:14 PM EST
    "Libby will never be convicted on this. There is already way too much reasonable doubt." What are you talking about? He is charged with crimes against the Grand Jury. That doesn't go away regardless of something Woodward says. Telling two stories under oath is still perjury any way you slice it. Bush Must Resign.

    Re: Libby's Lawyers' Smokescreen (none / 0) (#10)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:18 PM EST
    George I guess you don't read other posted comments. If you read Fitzgerald's entire text you cannot ignore the words "first known' as well as the additional words "phone calls". Please, take a hour or two, read real slowly use a Dictionary or get help from a third grade teacher and you will understand why your statement is ridiculous!