From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]

http://news.nationaljournal.com/articles/0112nj1.htm

CIA Leak Probe: Inside The Grand Jury

By Murray Waas, National Journal
Friday, Jan. 12, 2007

On the flight back to Washington, Cheney huddled with two of his top
aides — I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, his then-chief of staff, and
Catherine Martin, then assistant to the vice president for pubic
affairs. According to federal court records, the three discussed how to
counter and discredit the allegations made by a former U.S. ambassador,
Joseph C. Wilson IV, that the Bush administration had manipulated and
distorted intelligence information to make the case to go to war with
Iraq.

On January 16, Libby will go on trial in the federal courthouse in
Washington D.C. on five counts of lying to federal investigators,
perjury, and obstruction of justice. He is accused of attempting to
conceal his role, and possibly that of others, in leaking to the media
that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA officer, and that she
might have played a role in sending her husband on a CIA-sponsored
mission to Niger in 2002 to determine whether Saddam Hussein had
attempted to procure uranium from Niger to build a nuclear weapon.

In attempting to determine Libby’s motives for allegedly lying to the
FBI and a federal grand jury about his leaking of Plame’s CIA identity
to journalists, federal investigators theorized from the very earliest
stages of the case that Libby may have been trying to hide Cheney’s own
role in encouraging Libby to discredit Wilson, according to attorneys
involved in the case.

Cheney is scheduled to be a defense witness in the Libby trial.
Regarding this, a spokesperson for the Vice President says: “We’ve
cooperated fully in this matter and will continue to do so in fairness
to the parties involved.”

Both Cheney and Libby have repeatedly denied — both publicly and to
federal investigators — that Cheney ever encouraged Libby specifically
to leak information to the press about Plame. But since the early days
of the leak probe in fall 2003, even before it was taken over by
Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, investigators have maintained
that Libby devised an elaborate cover story even though he must have
known that contemporaneous records and the testimony of others was very
likely to show that he was lying. Other than the motive to protect
himself, the only other driving force behind Libby’s actions, federal
investigators have theorized, was to protect Cheney or other superiors,
according to attorneys who have been involved in the CIA leak probe.

On July 6, six days before Cheney’s trip to Norfolk, Wilson had charged
in an op-ed piece in The New York Times that during a March 2002
CIA-sponsored trip to Niger he found no evidence to substantiate Bush
administration claims that Saddam had attempted to purchase uranium
from that African country. Despite Wilson’s report, and other warnings
to administration officials that the Niger information might have been
untrue, it was cited in President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union speech
as evidence of an Iraqi program to build an atomic weapon, a major
argument in the case to go to war.

Cheney was incensed as Wilson’s allegations gained public currency in
the days following the op-ed, his top aides would recall later.

The vice president had apparently first learned in June 2003, according
to the indictment, that Wilson’s wife was a CIA officer, and that she
might have been responsible for her husband being sent to Niger. He
scribbled in the margins of Wilson’s New York Times op-ed: “Have they
done this sort of thing before? Send an Amb. [sic] to answer a
question? Do we ordinarily send people out pro bono to work for us? Or
did his wife send him on a junket?”

During testimony before the federal grand jury in the CIA leak case, a
federal prosecutor approached Libby with a copy of the marked-up column
and asked if he recalled the Vice President expressly raising the same
issues with him. A small amount of grand jury testimony has been made
public in court filings by the special prosecutor. Additional accounts
of what occurred in the grand jury were provided by sources with
first-hand knowledge of the testimony.

“Do you recall ever discussing those issues with Vice President
Cheney?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And tell us what you recall about those conversations,” the prosecutor
pressed Libby.

“I recall that along the way he asked, ‘Is this normal for them to just
send somebody out like this uncompensated, as it says?’ He was
interested in how did that person come to be selected for this mission.
And at some point, his wife worked at the Agency, you know, that was
part of the question.”

The extraordinary amount of time and energy that Cheney personally
devoted to the issue, as well as his intensity of emotion regarding it
is underscored by this exchange between a federal prosecutor and Libby
when Libby testified before the grand jury:

“Was it a topic that was discussed on a daily basis?” a federal
prosecutor asked.

“Yes, sir,” answered Libby.

“And it was discussed on multiple occasions each day in fact?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And during that time did the vice president indicate that he was upset
that this article was out there which falsely in his view attacked his
own credibility?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And do you recall what it is the vice-president said?”

“I recall that he was very keen to get the truth out. He wanted to get
all the facts out about what he [Cheney] had or hadn’t done–what the
facts were or were not. He was very keen on that and said it
repeatedly. ‘Let’s get everything out.'”

On the plane ride back to Washington from Norfolk on July 12, Cheney
strategized once again with Libby and Martin as to how to discredit
Wilson’s allegations, according to people familiar with the federal
grand jury testimony of both Libby and Martin.

Cheney, then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, White
House counselor Dan Bartlett, and Libby had over the course of the
previous several days taken to reviewing classified records to
reconstruct what occurred regarding Wilson’s mission and to see what if
anything in them might undercut his credibility. Working with then
CIA-director George Tenet, they undertook a formal declassification
process that would enable them to make public intelligence records that
they thought would help them make the case.

“We were trying to figure out what happened and get the story out,”
said a senior official, involved in the process, “There was nothing
nefarious as to what occurred.”

But the same official confirmed in an interview what has also been said
in federal grand jury testimony and public court filings: that Cheney
and Libby often acted without the knowledge or approval and of other
senior White House staff when it came to their efforts to discredit
Wilson — including leaking classified information to the press.

Aboard Air Force Two, Cheney, Libby, and Martin discussed a then-still
highly classified CIA document that they believed had information in it
that would undercut Wilson’s credibility. The document was a March 8,
2002 debriefing of Wilson by the CIA’s Directorate of Operations after
his trip to Niger. The report did not name Wilson or even describe him
as a former U.S. ambassador who had served time in the region, but
rather as a “contact with excellent access who does not have an
established reporting record.” The report made no mention of the fact
that his wife was Valerie Plame, or that she may have played a role in
having her husband sent to Niger.

Cheney told Libby that he wanted him to leak the report to the press,
according to people with first-hand knowledge of federal grand jury
testimony in the CIA leak case, and federal court records.

Cheney believed that this particular CIA debriefing report might
undermine Wilson’s claims because it showed that Wilson’s Niger probe
was far more inconclusive on the issues as to whether Saddam attempted
to buy uranium from Niger. The report said that Wilson was restricted
from interviewing any number of officials in Niger during the mission,
and he was denied some intelligence information before undertaking the
trip.

But other senior White House aides — including Hadley and Bartlett —
later told federal investigators that they were unaware that Cheney had
authorized the disclosure of the CIA report on Wilson’s Niger mission.

According to a court filing by the special prosecutor, Patrick
Fitzgerald, Libby also testified to the federal grand jury “that on
July 12, 2003, he was specifically directed by the Vice President to
speak to the press in the place of Cathie Martin (then the
communications person for the Vice President) regarding the National
Intelligence Estimate [on Iraq] and Wilson. [Libby] was instructed…
to [also] provide information contained in a document [he] understood
to be the cable authored by Mr. Wilson.”

Four other people — including a senior White House official involving
in the effort to declassify Wilson’s debriefing, a former senior CIA
official, and two private attorneys involved in the CIA leak case —
had previously told National Journal the document in question was not a
cable regarding the trip but rather the March 8, 2002 CIA debriefing
report.

Almost immediately after disembarking Air Force Two, once back in
Washington, D.C., Libby made three telephone calls to two journalists:
Matthew Cooper, then of Time magazine, and Judith Miller, then of The
New York Times.

During both of those conversations, according to the federal grand jury
testimony of both Cooper and Miller, Libby said absolutely nothing at
all about the March 8, 2002 CIA debriefing report regarding Wilson.

Instead, both testified that Libby discussed the fact that Valerie
Plame was a CIA officer, and that she had been responsible for sending
her husband on his mission to Niger. The discussion between Libby and
Cooper was the first that the then-vice presidential chief of staff and
the Time correspondent spoke of Plame.

But Libby and Miller enjoyed a long professional relationship and also
shared a personal friendship. Before the two telephone calls that Libby
placed to Miller that day, both had spoken about Plame on two earlier
occasions, on June 23, 2003 and July 8, 2003.

Telephone records presented to Miller during her grand jury appearance
indicated that she twice spoke with Libby also on July 12.

The first phone call lasted three minutes, the phone records indicate.
Miller testified that she believed she might have taken the call on her
cell phone in a cab, and told Libby she would soon talk to him after
she arrived home, although she was unsure of this, according to the
sources familiar with her grand jury testimony.

The second telephone conversation between Libby and Miller lasted for
37 minutes, according to telephone records examined by attorneys
familiar with her grand jury testimony. Miller told the grand jury that
she believed that telephone conversation took place after she had
arrived at her home in Sag Harbor, N.Y., although she was not entirely
sure.

By the end of those two additional conversations, Miller testified that
she felt confident that she could write a story saying Plame was a
former CIA officer and that Plame had played a role in her husband
being selected to go to Niger. During an earlier conversation with
Libby, she had also agreed to identify Libby, not as a White House
source, but as a former Capitol Hill staffer. By doing so, readers
would be left in the dark that Libby or anyone in the White House was
behind the effort to disclose Plame’s covert status as a CIA officer.

What Miller herself did not know during her grand jury testimony was
that a key issue for federal investigators was whether she would
testify as to whether Libby had attempted to leak her anything about
the CIA debriefing report of Wilson after his Niger trip. Prosecutors
believed that Miller was perhaps attempting to protect Libby in her
testimony.

As National Journal first reported, during her first grand jury
appearance Miller did not even tell prosecutors about a June 23, 2003
meeting with Libby about Plame and prewar intelligence about Iraq that
took place at Libby’s office at the Old Executive Office Building which
adjoins the White House.

Prosecutors did not want to tip Miller as to why it was so crucial to
them to learn whether Libby had ever mentioned the March 2002 Wilson
debriefing report to her or Cooper shortly after he disembarked Air
Force Two.

The reason was that Libby’s failure to mention the March 2002
debriefing was one more piece of an ever increasing body of
circumstantial evidence that led prosecutors to believe that Libby had
devised a cover story to protect himself, and perhaps even the Vice
President, to conceal the fact that his agenda was to leak information
about Plame from the very start.

During one of his initial interviews with the FBI, Libby was shown
copies of his own notes showing that as early as June 11 or June 12,
2003, Vice President Cheney was either the first or second person to
tell him that Plame was a CIA officer and might have also played a role
in sending her husband to Niger. At the time, Wilson had not yet
written his New York Times op-ed or put a public face to his
allegations, but press reports had already aired Wilson’s account of
his trip to Niger without naming him.

Cheney, Libby, Martin, and a score of other White House officials
worked together from that point on to discredit Wilson’s allegations,
although Cheney and Libby frequently did things without the knowledge
of other White House officials, according to the federal grand jury
testimony of several of those officials. Those efforts intensified
after Wilson’s July 6, 2003 op-ed. The indictment of Libby charges that
he lied to the FBI and a federal grand jury to conceal that he had
leaked information to journalists that Plame was a CIA officer.

The federal grand jury indictment of Libby states: “A major focus of
the Grand Jury Investigation was to determine which government
officials had disclosed to the media… information concerning the
affiliation of Valerie Wilson to the CIA, and the nature, timing,
extent, and the purpose of such disclosures, as well as whether any
official making such a disclosure did so knowing that the employment of
Valerie Wilson by the CIA was classified information.”

In his interviews by the FBI and testimony before the federal grand
jury, Libby testified that it was the reporters who told him, and not
the other way around, that Plame was a CIA officer. Prosecutors are
expected to argue during the trial next week that Libby lied because to
tell the truth Libby would have to admit that he leaked classified
information and might politically embarrass the White House. But the
prosecution may very well subtly make the case that another motive was
for Libby to protect his then-boss, Cheney. In private, some federal
investigators have asserted that Libby might have lied from the
beginning to protect Cheney.

Two days after Wilson’s July 6 column, on July 8, 2003, Libby had
breakfast with Miller at the St. Regis hotel in Washington, D.C. Miller
has testified, and the grand jury has alleged, that Libby provided
Miller with information that Plame was a CIA officer and had played a
role in sending Wilson to Niger.

On July 12, 2003, after returning from Norfolk, according to testimony
by Miller and Time’s former correspondent, Cooper, Libby told Cooper
for the first time and Miller for the third time that Plame worked for
the CIA.

Libby told the FBI and testified to the federal grand jury that when
talking to Miller and Cooper he was not providing them with information
that he learned from Cheney or other government officials, but merely
repeating rumors about Plame’s CIA employment that he heard from other
journalists.

Libby claimed that he had heard from NBC Washington Bureau Chief Tim
Russert on July 10, 2003 that Plame might have worked for the CIA, and
that in talking to Cooper and Miller, he was simply repeating the
gossip. Russert has testified that he and Libby never discussed Plame
at all, and the indictment charges that Libby lied to investigators
when he claimed that Russert and he had talked.

Russert is expected to be a crucial prosecution witness against Libby.
Miller and Cooper are also likely to testify that Libby never said that
he was merely passing along rumors heard from Russert and other
journalists when he told them that Plame was a CIA officer, if their
trial testimony is consistent to what they have already testified to
the federal grand jury.

Libby also testified that when he told reporters that Plame was a CIA
officer he had totally forgotten by then that that he might have been
originally told that information by Cheney. Investigators are still
attempting to determine whether he made the claim to protect Cheney.

In a further possible attempt to protect Cheney, Libby also testified
to the grand jury that he did not believe he had discussed that Plame
worked for the CIA with Cheney during the critical period that Libby
was leaking such information to the press — and didn’t discuss it with
the vice president until after syndicated columnist Robert Novak first
disclosed on July 14 that Plame was a CIA “operative.”

It would be significant that Cheney and Libby only discussed Plame’s
CIA employment after the July 14 Novak column because instead of
discussing a highly classified secret, the information would then have
been considered public information, and not illegal, because Novak had
disclosed it in his column.

While questioning Libby during grand jury testimony, prosecutors were
incredulous regarding Libby’s claims that he and Cheney had not
discussed Plame’s CIA employment during the critical July 6 to July 14
period. They also expressed skepticism that Libby had supposedly
forgotten — even though Libby’s own written notes indicated otherwise
— that Cheney had told him that Plame worked for the CIA much earlier,
on either June 11 or June 12. They were also disbelieving of Libby’s
claims that even though Libby and Cheney met several times every day
after Wilson’s July 6 column appeared, the two men did not discuss
Plame during the subsequent eight days, not until Novak’s column
appeared. And finally, prosecutors were disbelieving when Libby claimed
that he was simply passing on a rumor to Cheney that he had purportedly
learned from Tim Russert that Plame was a CIA officer.

Libby even mused before the grand jury that Cheney may have scribbled
his comments about Plame working for the CIA and having been involved
in selecting her husband for his “pro bono” mission to Niger only after
Novak’s column appeared on July 14, eight days after Wilson’s own
column appeared in the New York Times.

Exasperated prosecutors indicated during more than one of Libby’s grand
jury appearances that these claims by Libby seemed implausible.

On March 5, 2004, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald himself
questioned Libby before the grand jury.

Asked by Fitzgerald if he recalled a conversation with Cheney during
which they discussed Plame and that she sent her “husband on a junket,”
Libby replied:

“I don’t recall the conversation until after the Novak piece. I don’t
recall it during the week of July 6. I recall it after the
Novak…after the Novak article appeared…”

Fitzgerald then bore down on the witness: “And are you telling us under
oath that from July 6th to July 14th you never discussed with Vice
President Cheney whether Mr. Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA?”

Libby replied: “No, no, I’m not saying that. On July 10 or 11 I
learned, I thought anew, that the wife-that the reporters were
telling us that the wife worked at the CIA. And I may have had a
conversation with the Vice President either late on the 11th or on the
12th in which I relayed that reporters were saying that.” As Libby
further told it, if he discussed with Cheney that Plame was a CIA
officer, he had only done so in the context of saying that the
information was only an unsubstantiated rumor that he had heard from
Tim Russert.

In a subsequent grand jury appearance, a skeptical prosecutor indicated
that he found it hard to believe that Cheney would have written the
notations he did in the margins of former Ambassador Wilson’s July 6,
2003 New York Times op-ed only after Robert Novak’s July 14, 2003
column appeared saying that Valerie Plame was a CIA “operative.”

“OK,” the prosecutor said, before asking, “And can you tell us why it
would be that the Vice President read the Novak column and had
questions, some of which apparently seem to be answered by the Novak
column, would go back and pull out an original July 6th op-ed piece and
write on that?”

“I’m not sure…,” Libby answered, “He often kept these columns for
awhile and keeps columns and will think on them. And I think what may
have happened here is what he may have — I don’t know if he wrote, he
wrote the points down. He might have pulled out the column to think
about the problem and written on it, but I don’t know.”

Libby then added: “You’ll have to ask him.”