October 30, 2005

The Air Force II Chronicles...

Gellman:

Air Force Two arrived in Norfolk on Saturday morning, July 12, 2003, with Vice President Cheney and his chief of staff aboard. They had come "to send forth a great American ship bearing a great American name," as Cheney said from the flag-draped flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.

As Cheney returned to Washington with I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the two men spoke of the news on Iraq -- the most ambitious use of the war machine Reagan built two decades before. A troublesome critic was undermining a principal rationale for the war: the depiction of Baghdad, most urgently by Cheney, as a nuclear threat to the United States.

Defending the war became the animating priority aboard Air Force Two that day. According to his indictment on Friday, Libby "discussed with other officials aboard the plane" how he should respond to "pending media inquiries" about the critic, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV. Apart from Libby, only press aide Catherine Martin is known to have accompanied Cheney on that flight.

Recall these items from Page 8 of the Libby indictment:

22. On or about July 12, 2003, LIBBY flew with the Vice President and others to and from Norfolk, Virginia, on Air Force Two. On his return trip, LIBBY discused with other officials aboard the plane what Libby should say in response to certain pending media inquiries, including questions from Time reporter Matthew Cooper.

23. On or about July 12, 2003, in the afternoon, LIBBY spoke by telephone to Cooper, who asked whether LIBBY had heard that Wilson's wife was involved in sending Wilson on the trip to Niger. LIBBY confirmed to Cooper, without elaboration or qualification, that he had heard this information too.

24. On or about July 12, 2003, in the late afternoon, LIBBY spoke by telephone with Judith Miller of the New York Times and discussed Wilson's wife, and that she worked at the CIA.

If Barton Gellman is right, and the plural construct ("other officials") is correct, Libby must have discussed how to handle "pending media inquiries" with Catherine Martin and Dick Cheney. And, given that Martin graduated college only in 1990, whose advice do you think carried more weight, you know, just in case the issue arose whether Libby should mention to journalists that Wilson's wife worked at the Agency? Anyway, the plane touches down, and Libby has two phone calls later in the day. One, with Cooper, where he confirms to Cooper, "without elaboration or qualification, that he had heard this information too [that Plame was involved in decision to send hubbie to Niger]." Two, with Judy, where Libby "discussed Wilson's wife, and that she worked at the CIA."

P.S. Recall Item 9 from the Libby indictment:

"On or about June 12, 2003, LIBBY was advised by the Vice President of the United States that Wilson’s wife worked at the Central Intelligence Agency in the Counterproliferation Division. LIBBY understood that the Vice President had learned this information from the CIA."

The Counterproliferation Division ("CPD") is within the Directorate of Operations, ie. its agents are deemed to have covert status. And now the Intelligence Identities Protection Act:

Whoever, having or having had authorized access to classified information that identifies a covert agent, intentionally discloses any information identifying such covert agent to any individual not authorized to receive classified information, knowing that the information disclosed so identifies such covert agent and that the United States is taking affirmative measures to conceal such covert agent’s intelligence relationship to the United States, shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both. [emphasis added]

So Libby calls Miller about a month after he heard Plame works at CPD from Cheney (among other people). Could he make a showing that Libby intentionally disclosed info identifying a covert agent? Probably. But I think it's the bolded part that made Fitz's job harder. Could he also prove that Libby knew that "affirmative measures" were being used to conceal Plame's identity? Maybe not. And regardless, it's not Cheney who went to the press direct either, but Libby. Still, however, there are two tracks to this scandal: legal and political. And Cheney is looking worse and worse on the latter prong, if not in any jeopardy on the former. More on this soon, and why I think it's so important.

P.P.S: Recall too, that on September 29th, 2003 White House spokesman Scott McClellan said: "[i]f anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration." The next day, Bush decided to inject a legal standard, however: "And if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of." Fast forward to July 18th 2005. Bush again: "[i]f someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration".

Cheney, very likely, was "involved in it", at least tangentially (I guess it depends on what the meaning of "it" is? Is, if it occurred on the plane on the way back from Norfolk, explicitly authorizing an underling to mention that Plame worked at the CIA to Judy Miller constitutive of "it", for example?). By the September 29th '03 McClellan standard, at least an expansive read of it, Bush would likely have to let his Veep go. Thus the pull-back. Question: Who, if anyone, may have told Bush what on September 29th or 30th that led him to walk back McClellan's remarks and clarify on September 30th that a legal violation was needed for punitive action to result? I've got a guess or two...

Posted by Gregory at October 30, 2005 02:05 PM | TrackBack (0)
Comments

The next clarification from the White House will make it plain as day that anyone involved in this matter who is convicted and sentenced to more than ten years in prison is absolutely no longer going to be working in the White House. Unless there is a national emergency or something.

Greg's take looks pretty sound to me. Libby was indicted because Fitzgerald wasn't dead sure he could prove that Rove was involved in blowing Plame's cover, and knew he couldn't convict Cheney if his aides covered for him.

Posted by: JEB at October 30, 2005 09:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think that the only reason that Libby was not indicted on IIPA grounds was that he testified under oath that he had "forgotten" the conversation with Cheney.

So, while there is an extraordinary amount of evidence that makes it clear that Libby was fully aware, before he spoke to Russert, that Plame worked for the CIA and was Wilson's wife, there is only the one conversation with Cheney (that we know of) where Plame's "covert" status is mentioned. And there is "supporting evidence" that Libby forgot that particular conversation --- according to Judy Miller, Libby said Plame worked with WINPAC.

So, while there was probable cause to indict Libby on IIPA, its not a "slam dunk" case like the perjury and obstruction charges are. As a tactical matter, Fitz made the right move --- an IIPA violation would simply add 10 years to the 30 year max imprisonment under the obstruction/perjury charges. Fitz didn't need the IIPA indictment -- he's got Libby by the short hairs without it, so why bother risking an acquittal on the most attention-getting charge he could make.

I think that Fitz will accept a plea from Libby, but only if

1) Libby provides valuable new (or co-oborating) information about a conspiracy to obstruct justice, AND

) Libby pleads guilty to violation of the IIPA (or perhaps the espionage act.) Fitz doesn't want to put someone on the stand who had plead guilty to perjury and obstruction --- so those charges will be dropped once Libby starts co-operating...but something has to take their place....

PS WELCOME BACK GREG! (and its good to see that you aren't spouting GOP talking points on this issue!)

Posted by: p.lukasiak at October 30, 2005 10:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Disagree on covert status. If this were accurate, Fitzgerald would have included the charge in the indictment. He did not. So there must be a problem with the covert status issue.

Fitzgerald will charge any crime he thinks he can get beyond a directed verdict, and for which he has a reasonable chance of getting a conviction. He is not a pushover. A lot of prosecutors would have serious second thoughts about relying on a reporters one on one conversations with a defendant as the sole proof of a crime, but Fitzgerald did this -- three times.

Posted by: rich at October 31, 2005 12:30 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Disagree on covert status. If this were accurate, Fitzgerald would have included the charge in the indictment. He did not. So there must be a problem with the covert status issue.

Fitzgerald will charge any crime he thinks he can get beyond a directed verdict, and for which he has a reasonable chance of getting a conviction. He is not a pushover. A lot of prosecutors would have serious second thoughts about relying on a reporters one on one conversations with a defendant as the sole proof of a crime, but Fitzgerald did this -- three times.

Posted by: rich at October 31, 2005 12:31 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Move On get a life it is over .Lets try to act like we care about our country and stop all the bullshit .We are at war .

Posted by: frank bellomo at October 31, 2005 02:47 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Disagree on covert status. If this were accurate, Fitzgerald would have included the charge in the indictment. He did not. So there must be a problem with the covert status issue.

her employment status with the CIA was classified. By definition, that means she was "covert."

And Fitzgerald made it abundantly clear that "the sand in the eyes of the umpire" prevented him from determining if a prosecutable crime had been committed regarding the outing of Plame.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at October 31, 2005 05:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"her employment status with the CIA was classified. By definition, that means she was "covert."

That isn't true. Beauracracies have classified NYT pages and many other major before news publications before. "Classified" doesn't mean $%^&.

If you look at this case objectively you will ask questions like:

Is nepotism common at the CIA?

Is everyone at the CIA this stupid?

If this was so "covert" why was Wilson broadcasting it on the Op-Ed page of the NYT himself? And lying in the process?

Why did Wilson list his own wife's name and that she worked for hte CIA on his own biography a month before?

What do you think will happen when you select your husband to go on a trip and he lies about it saying he was sent by the VP? And leaking this to NYT journalists? (I could just imagine what Cheney said when he read Kristof's column that said the VP's office appointed a diplomat to find out this information that undermined the administration.)

If some ass like Wilson starts lying about the basis and results of such a trip as he did, and the truth is that operatives of the CIA were behind such deception, I think the American people should know who is trying to destabilize the democratically elected government of our country. Particularly when a Senate Investigative Committee finds out that everything Wilson has said on this subject has been a lie in an attempt to cover the CIA beauracrats that organized this.

Posted by: Collin at October 31, 2005 10:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Classified" doesn't mean $%^&.

classified, when used in the context of the CIA, means secret.

If you look at this case objectively you will ask questions like: Is nepotism common at the CIA?

You need to look up the definition of "nepotism" while looking up "covert" as well. Going to Niger was not a "reward" for Wilson, he wasn't paid a penny for the trip beyond expenses, and Niger is not exactly a tropical paradise. And lest we forget, the Wilsons had very young twins at home at that time --- its obvious that you don't know anyone with children, let alone twins, because no mother would ever volunteer her spouse for a mission that would leave her alone with two babies for a week. The Niger trip represesnted a sacrifice for the Wilson -- that's not nepotism, that's patriotism.

If this was so "covert" why was Wilson broadcasting it on the Op-Ed page of the NYT himself? And lying in the process?

Wilson made no mention of his wife in the NY Times Op-Ed. Nor did he lie in that column -- which you have obviously never bothered to read.

Why did Wilson list his own wife's name and that she worked for hte CIA on his own biography a month before?

because her existence was not a secret, nor was her status as his wife a secret. The secret was that she worked for the CIA.

As of July 2003, Valerie Plame was someone who had worked for a company called Brewster-Jennings as an energy consultant for a number of years. In 1998, she met a famous and highly respected diplomat named Joe Wilson. They married and had children, and in order to raise the family in a stable and friendly environment, they both changed careers.

We know very little about Plames activities either before or after her marriage. We do know that she continued to be employed by the Operations (i.e. covert) division of the CIA (specifically, the Counter-proliferation division) until her cover was blown. Its entirely likely that Plame continued to exploit the connections she had made as an "energy consultant for Brewster-Jennings" --- the "cover story" of a married woman with small children at home doing some "part-time consulting" made perfect sense. Additionally, given Joe Wilson's status as a respected diplomat, there was a lot of potential to exploit Plame's status as a "State Department spouse" --- she could travel with her husband and continue her work as a covert agent with a State Department passport.

What do you think will happen when you select your husband to go on a trip and he lies about it saying he was sent by the VP?

Please stop getting your "news" from Rush and Hannity. That is not what happened, and everyone with a clue knows it.


Posted by: p.lukasiak at November 1, 2005 12:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Would this copy of the United States Code change anyone's mind?

TITLE 50 > CHAPTER 15 > SUBCHAPTER IV > § 426

§ 426. Definitions

. . .

(4) The term “covert agent” means—

(A) a present or retired officer or employee of an intelligence agency or a present or retired member of the Armed Forces assigned to duty with an intelligence agency—

(i) whose identity as such an officer, employee, or member is classified information, and

(ii) who is serving outside the United States or has within the last five years served outside the United States; or

(B) a United States citizen whose intelligence relationship to the United States is classified information, and—

(i) who resides and acts outside the United States as an agent of, or informant or source of operational assistance to, an intelligence agency, or

(ii) who is at the time of the disclosure acting as an agent of, or informant to, the foreign counterintelligence or foreign counterterrorism components of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; or

(C) an individual, other than a United States citizen, whose past or present intelligence relationship to the United States is classified information and who is a present or former agent of, or a present or former informant or source of operational assistance to, an intelligence agency.

Posted by: rich at November 1, 2005 10:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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