Jason Leopold: Bush at Center of Intelligence Leak
Bush at Center of Intelligence Leak
By Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t | Report
Thursday 06 April 2006
Attorneys and current and former White House officials close to the investigation into the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson said Thursday that President Bush gave Vice President Dick Cheney the authorization in mid-June 2003 to disclose a portion of the highly sensitive National Intelligence Estimate to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward and former New York Times reporter Judith Miller.
These current and former White House officials are among the 36 witnesses who have testified before a grand jury and have been cooperating with the special counsel's probe since its inception.
The officials, some of whom are attorneys close to the case, added that more than two dozen emails that the vice president's office said it recently discovered and handed over to leak investigators in February show that President Bush was kept up to date about the circumstances surrounding the effort to discredit former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.
The sources indicated that the leak probe is now winding down, and that soon, new information will emerge from the special counsel's office that will prove President Bush had prior knowledge of the White House campaign to discredit Plame Wilson's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who accused the administration of "twisting" intelligence on the Iraqi threat in order to win public support for the war.
The new information that surfaced late Wednesday places President Bush at the center of the probe for the first time since the investigation into the leak began more than two years ago and raises new questions as to whether Bush knew in advance the lengths to which senior White House officials went to discredit Wilson.
In the court filing, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald wrote that Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, "testified that he was specifically authorized in advance of the meeting to disclose the key judgments of the classified NIE to [former New York Times reporter Judith] Miller on that occasion because it was thought that the NIE was 'pretty definitive' against what Ambassador Wilson had said and that the Vice President thought that it was 'very important' for the key judgments of the NIE to come out."
"Defendant further testified that he at first advised the Vice President that he could not have this conversation with reporter Miller because of the classified nature of the NIE. Defendant testified that the Vice President later advised him that the President had authorized defendant to disclose the relevant portions of the NIE," the filing further states. "Defendant testified that he also spoke to David Addington, then Counsel to the Vice President, whom defendant considered to be an expert in national security law, and Mr. Addington opined that Presidential authorization to publicly disclose a document amounted to a declassification of the document. Defendant testified that he thought he brought a brief abstract of the NIE's key judgments to the meeting with Miller on July 8. Defendant understood that he was to tell Miller, among other things, that a key judgment of the NIE held that Iraq was 'vigorously trying to procure' uranium. Defendant testified that this July 8th meeting was the only time he recalled in his government experience when he disclosed a document to a reporter that was effectively declassified by virtue of the President's authorization that it be disclosed. Defendant testified that one of the reasons why he met with Miller at a hotel was the fact that he was sharing this information with Miller exclusively."
In October 2003, three months after Plame Wilson's CIA status and identity were unmasked in print by columnist Robert Novak, President Bush said publicly that it was unlikely that the individual who leaked her name would ever be found.
"I mean this is a town full of people who like to leak information," Bush said during a press conference on Oct. 7, 2003. "And I don't know if we're going to find out the senior administration official. Now, this is a large administration, and there's lots of senior officials. I don't have any idea."
Details of President Bush's involvement in the effort to counter the former ambassador's claims came in a court document filed late Wednesday evening in US District Court in Washington by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, which was first reported by the New York Sun newspaper.
President Bush retained a private attorney when he was interviewed in the leak probe two years ago, specifically about whether he knew about it or had authorized it.
According to four attorneys who over the past two days have read a transcript of the President Bush's interview with investigators, Bush did not disclose to either investigators or the special counsel that he had authorized Cheney or any other administration official to leak portions of the NIE to Woodward and Miller or any other reporter. Rather, these people said the president said he frowned upon "selective leaks."
Bush also said during the interview two years ago that he had no prior knowledge that anyone on his staff had been involved in a campaign to discredit Wilson or that individuals retaliated against the former ambassador by leaking his wife's undercover identity to reporters.
The 39-page court document Fitzgerald filed late Wednesday included previously unreported testimony given to a grand jury by Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Libby was indicted in October on five-counts of perjury, obstruction of justice, and lying to investigators about how he discovered Plame Wilson's identity.
Libby testified that Cheney had received explicit instruction from President Bush to declassify a portion of the October 2002 NIE that said Iraq tried to purchase 500 tons of yellowcake uranium ore from Niger and share that information with reporters like Miller and Woodward, whose previous work proved to be sympathetic to the administration and would help to discredit Wilson, according to the court document and attorneys and current and former administration officials close to the investigation.
Libby's "participation in a critical conversation with Judith Miller on July 8 (discussed further below) occurred only after the Vice President advised defendant that the President specifically had authorized defendant to disclose certain information in the NIE," the Fitzgerald's filing states. "Defendant testified that the circumstances of his conversation with reporter Miller - getting approval from the President through the Vice President to discuss material that would be classified but for that approval - were unique in his recollection."
"Defendant further testified that on July 12, 2003, he was specifically directed by the Vice President to speak to the press in place of Cathie Martin (then the communications person for the Vice President) regarding the NIE and Wilson," the court filing states. "Defendant was instructed to provide what was for him an extremely rare "on the record" statement, and to provide "background" and "deep background" statements, and to provide information contained in a document defendant understood to be the cable authored by Mr. Wilson."
On June 27, 2003, two weeks before Libby's meeting with Miller and disclosing to her portions of the NIE, Libby met with Woodward, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, and leaked the portion of the NIE that dealt with Iraq's attempt to acquire uranium from Niger, which was first reported by this reporter in March.
A week or so earlier, Woodward met with two other government officials, one of whom told him in a "casual" and off-handed manner that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.
Woodward said the meeting with Libby and the other government officials had been set up simply as "confidential background interviews for my 2004 book 'Plan of Attack' about the lead-up to the Iraq war, ongoing reporting for the Washington Post and research for a book on Bush's second term to be published in 2006."
Woodward wrote a first-person account for the Washington Post after he gave a sworn deposition to Fitzgerald about information he had learned about Valerie Plame Wilson. It was a shocking revelation at the time. Woodward had publicly discounted the importance of the Plame Wilson leak and had referred to Fitzgerald as a "junkyard dog" prosecutor. He then revealed in November that he had been told about Plame Wilson's CIA employment in June 2003 - before any other journalist.
The Watergate-era journalist wrote that when he met with Libby on June 27, 2003, "Libby discussed the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, mentioned "yellowcake" and said there was an effort by the Iraqis to get it from Africa. It goes back to February '02. This was the time of Wilson's trip to Niger."
The information in the NIE about Niger was still considered highly classified and extremely sensitive, and although Woodward had been the recipient of classified information on other occasions during the course of gathering material for his books, the data he was provided with concerning the NIE had been authorized by Cheney in order to rebut Wilson. Woodward never wrote a story for the Post about the intelligence information he was given.
President Bush signed an executive order in March 2003 authorizing Cheney to declassify certain intelligence documents. The executive order was signed on March 23, 2003, four days after the start of the Iraq war, and two weeks after Wilson first appeared on the administration's radar.
Jason Leopold spent two years covering California's electricity crisis as Los Angeles bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires. Jason has spent the last year cultivating sources close to the CIA leak investigation, and is a regular contributer to t r u t h o u t.