Leopold: Why Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame Filed
Why Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame Filed
By Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t | Report
Friday 14 July 2006
Syndicated columnist Bob Novak and officials speaking on behalf of White House political adviser Karl Rove have attempted to convince the American people that there wasn't a White House campaign to smear and discredit former Ambassador Joseph Wilson three years ago for speaking out publicly against the Bush administration's use of pre-war Iraq intelligence.
In a stunning interview Wednesday on Fox News, which came across as yet another orchestrated Rovian crusade against the former ambassador, Novak claimed he did not see any evidence of a White House smear campaign against Wilson in the days prior to a column he wrote that disclosed Wilson's wife's covert CIA status and identity.
Novak's July 14, 2003, column took Ambassador Wilson to task for accusing the administration, in a New York Times op-ed the week before, of twisting the intelligence during the lead-up to the Iraq war.
Novak wrote that Plame was responsible for sending her husband on a fact-finding trip to Niger to determine if Iraq was trying to acquire yellowcake uranium from the African country. The trip, Novak was trying to impress upon his readers, was the result of nepotism and as such Wilson's findings should not be trusted.
Novak, in his interview on Fox News, where he now works as a consultant, called the disclosure of Valerie Plame Wilson's CIA status an accidental slip by one of his sources during the course of an hour-long background interview on foreign and domestic policy issues.
An all too willing Brit Hume, and for that matter the rest of the Washington press corps, lapped up Novak's version of the truth, and have treated the Wilson story as a non-issue, without so much as disclosing the documentary proof that has surfaced during the course of a three year federal investigation that would prove Novak and others in the media have been peddling lies in hopes of manipulating public perception about the truth regarding White House officials' roles in the Plame leak.
A month ago, Robert Luskin, the attorney defending Rove in the CIA leak case, claimed he received a faxed correspondence from Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald indicating that Rove would likely not be charged with crimes - barring any additional evidence - related to his role in the leak.
Fitzgerald's office would not confirm that the prosecutor sent such a letter nor would his office confirm that Rove is truly free from the burden of a criminal indictment. But that has not stopped the media and even some naïve bloggers from taking Luskin at his word and printing news stories with sentences like "Fitzgerald said Rove won't be charged" when in fact Fitzgerald said no such thing.
In helping to carry the message Rove and Novak are disseminating, the mainstream media and a slew of extreme right-wing bloggers have helped shield this administration from accepting responsibility for one of the most egregious crimes that has taken place since the presidency of Richard Nixon.
Earlier Thursday, the Wilsons filed a civil suit against Rove, Vice President Dick Cheney, and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's former chief of staff, who is the only White House official who has been indicted in the leak case.
The civil suit may help vindicate the Wilsons and hold these officials accountable for their actions three years ago, but it's worth revisiting some of the evidentiary findings that Fitzgerald's probe has turned up since he was appointed Special Prosecutor in December 2003 that prove the White House's culpability in the leak.
In April, Fitzgerald stated in a court filing related to a discovery motion in the Libby case that his investigators have obtained evidence that proves "multiple" White House officials conspired to discredit Wilson.
Libby's attorneys said, according to the filing, that they were entitled to the government's evidence in order to prove Libby was not engaged in a "plot" to discredit Wilson.
However, Fitzgerald says in the filing that long before Wilson published his July 6, 2003, op-ed in the New York Times there were pieces of evidence "some of which have been provided to defendant and there were conversations in which defendant participated, that reveal a strong desire by many, including multiple people in the White House, to repudiate Mr. Wilson before and after July 14, 2003."
Although he made it abundantly clear that Libby is not charged with conspiracy, Fitzgerald argues that Libby's suggestion that there was no White House plot to discredit Wilson is ludicrous, given the amount of evidence he has in his possession that suggests otherwise.
"Given that there is evidence that other White House officials with whom defendant spoke prior to July 14, 2003, discussed Wilson's wife's employment with the press both prior to, and after, July 14, 2003 ... it is hard to conceive of what evidence there could be that would disprove the existence of White House efforts to 'punish' Wilson," Fitzgerald wrote in the court filing.
Moreover, this court filing describes in detail how White House press secretary Scott McClellan came to publicly exonerate Libby and Rove during a press briefing in October 2003, three months after Plame Wilson's identity was unmasked.
The filing clearly states that Libby lied about his role in the leak when McClellan asked him about it in October 2003. Libby, with Vice President Cheney's backing, persuaded the press secretary to clear his name during one of his morning press briefings, and prepared notes for him to use. "Though defendant knew that another White House official had spoken to Novak in advance of Novak's column and that official had learned in advance that Novak would be publishing information about Wilson's wife, defendant did not disclose that fact to other White House officials (including the Vice President) but instead prepared a handwritten statement of what he wished White House Press Secretary McClellan would say to exonerate him:
People have made too much of the difference in
How I described Karl and Libby
I've talked to Libby.
I said it was ridiculous about Karl.
And it is ridiculous about Libby.
Libby was not the source of the Novak story.
And he did not leak classified information."
"As a result of defendant's request, on October 4, 2003, White House Press Secretary McClellan stated that he had spoken to Mr. Libby (as well as Mr. Rove and Elliot Abrams) and "those individuals assured me that they were not involved in this."
McClellan's public statement and the fact that President Bush vowed to fire anyone in his office involved in the leak were motivating factors that led Libby to lie during an interview with FBI investigators in November 2003, Fitzgerald states in the court filing:
"Thus, as defendant approached his first FBI interview he knew that the White House had publicly staked its credibility on there being no White House involvement in the leaking of information about Ms. Wilson and that, at defendant's specific request through the Vice President, the White House had publicly proclaimed that defendant was 'not involved in this.'"
On September 14, 2003, during an interview with Tim Russert of NBC's "Meet the Press," Cheney maintained that he didn't know Wilson or have any knowledge about his Niger trip or who was responsible for leaking his wife's name to the media.
"I don't know Joe Wilson," Cheney said, in response to Russert, who quoted Wilson as saying there was no truth to the Niger uranium claims. "I've never met Joe Wilson. And Joe Wilson - I don't who sent Joe Wilson. He never submitted a report that I ever saw when he came back ... I don't know Mr. Wilson. I probably shouldn't judge him. I have no idea who hired him."
That was a lie. Cheney knew Wilson well. He spent months obsessing about him.
Cheney and then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley led a campaign beginning in March 2003 to discredit former ambassador Joseph Wilson for publicly criticizing the Bush administration's intelligence on Iraq, according to current and former administration officials.
In interviews over the past year, sources close to the case said their roles included digging up or "inventing" embarrassing information on the former ambassador that could be used against him, preparing memos and classified material on Wilson for Cheney and the National Security Council, and attending meetings in Cheney's office to discuss with Cheney, Hadley, and others the efforts that would be taken to discredit Wilson.
A former CIA official who has worked in the counter-proliferation division, and who is familiar with the undercover work Wilson's wife did for the agency, said Cheney and Hadley visited CIA headquarters a day or two after Joseph Wilson was interviewed on CNN.
In the interview, which took place two and a half weeks before the start of the Iraq war, Wilson said the administration was more interested in redrawing the map of the Middle East to pursue its own foreign policy objectives than in dealing with the so-called terrorist threat.
"The underlying objective, as I see it, the more I look at this, is less and less disarmament, and it really has little to do with terrorism, because everybody knows that a war to invade and conquer and occupy Iraq is going to spawn a new generation of terrorists," Wilson said in a March 2, 2003, interview with CNN.
"So you look at what's underpinning this, and you go back and you take a look at who's been influencing the process. And it's been those who really believe that our objective must be far grander, and that is to redraw the political map of the Middle East," Wilson added.
But it wasn't Wilson at first who Cheney was so upset about when he visited the CIA in March 2003.
During the same CNN segment in which Wilson was interviewed, former United Nations weapons inspector David Albright made similar comments about the rationale for the Iraq war and added that he believed UN weapons inspectors should be given more time to search the country for weapons of mass destruction.
The National Security Council and CIA officials said Cheney had visited CIA headquarters and asked several CIA officials to dig up dirt on Albright, and to put together a dossier that would discredit his work that could be distributed to the media.
"Vice President Cheney was more concerned with Mr. Albright," the CIA official said. "The international community had been saying that inspectors should have more time, that the US should not set a deadline. The Vice President felt Mr. Albright's remarks would fuel the debate."
A week later, Wilson was interviewed on CNN again. This was the first time Wilson ridiculed the Bush administration's claim that Iraq had tried to purchase yellowcake uranium from Niger. "Well, this particular case is outrageous. We know a lot about the uranium business in Niger, and for something like this to go unchallenged by US - the US government - is just simply stupid. It would have taken a couple of phone calls. We have had an embassy there since the early '60s. All this stuff is open. It's a restricted market of buyers and sellers," Wilson said in the March 8, 2003, CNN interview. "For this to have gotten to the IAEA is on the face of it dumb, but more to the point, it taints the whole rest of the case that the government is trying to build against Iraq."
What Wilson wasn't at liberty to disclose during that interview, because the information was still classified, was that he had personally traveled to Niger a year earlier on behalf of the CIA to investigate whether Iraq had in fact tried to purchase uranium from the African country. Cheney had asked the CIA in 2002 to look into the allegation, which turned out to be based on forged documents but was included in President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address nonetheless.
Wilson's comments enraged Cheney, all of the officials said, because they were seen as a personal attack against the Vice President, who was instrumental in getting the intelligence community to cite the Niger claims in government reports to build a case for war against Iraq.
The former ambassador's stinging rebuke also caught the attention of Stephen Hadley, who had played an even bigger role in the Niger controversy, having been responsible for allowing President Bush to cite the allegations in his State of the Union address.
At this time, the international community, various media outlets, and the International Atomic Energy Agency had called into question the veracity of the Niger documents. Mohammed ElBaradei, head of IAEA, told the UN Security Council on March 7, 2003, that the Niger documents were forgeries and could not be used to prove Iraq was a nuclear threat.
Wilson's comments in addition to ElBaradei's UN report were seen as a threat to the administration's planned attack against Iraq, the officials said, which would take place 11 days later.
Hadley had avoided making public comments about the veracity of the Niger documents, going as far as ignoring a written request by IAEA head Mohammed ElBaradei to share the intelligence with his agency so his inspectors could verify the claims. Hadley is said to have known the Niger documents were crude forgeries, but pushed the administration to cite them as evidence that Iraq was a nuclear threat, according to the State Department officials, who said they personally told Hadley in a written report that the documents were bogus.
CIA and State Department officials said that a day after Wilson's March 8, 2003, CNN appearance, they attended a meeting at the Vice President's office with Cheney, Hadley and others who worked in the Office of the Vice President and it was there that a decision was made to discredit Wilson.
"The way I remember it," the CIA official said about that first meeting he attended in Cheney's office, "is that the vice president was obsessed with Wilson. He called him an 'asshole,' a son-of-a-bitch. He took his comments very personally. He wanted us to do everything in our power to destroy his reputation and he wanted to be kept up to date about the progress."
The CIA, State Department and National Security Council officials said that early on they had passed on information about Wilson to Cheney and Libby that purportedly showed Wilson as being a "womanizer" and that he had dabbled in drugs during his youth, allegations that are apparently false, they said.
The officials said that during the meeting, Hadley said he would respond to Wilson's comments by writing an editorial about the Iraqi threat, which it was hoped would be a first step in overshadowing Wilson's CNN appearance.
A column written by Hadley that appeared in the Chicago Tribune on February 16, 2003, was redistributed to newspaper editors by the State Department on March 10, 2003, two days after Wilson was interviewed on CNN. The column, "Two Potent Iraqi Weapons: Denial and Deception" once again raised the issue that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger.
Cheney appeared on Meet the Press on March 16, 2003, to respond to ElBaradei's assertion that the Niger documents were forgeries.
"I think Mr. ElBaradei frankly is wrong," Cheney said during the interview. "[The IAEA] has consistently underestimated or missed what it was Saddam Hussein was doing. I don't have any reason to believe they're any more valid this time than they've been in the past."
Behind the scenes, Wilson had been speaking to various members of Congress about the administration's use of the Niger documents and had said the intelligence the White House relied upon was flawed, said one of the State Department officials who had a conversation with Wilson. Wilson's criticism of the administration's intelligence eventually leaked out to reporters, but with the Iraq war just a week away, the story was never covered.
Wilson said he had attempted to contact the White House through various channels after the State of the Union address to get the administration to correct the public record.
"I had direct discussions with the State Department, Senate committees," Wilson said in April in a speech to college students and faculty at California State University Northridge. "I had numerous conversations to change what they were saying publicly. I had a civic duty to hold my government to account for what it had said and done."
Wilson said he was rebuffed at every instance and that he received word, through then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that he could state his case in writing in a public forum. And that's exactly what he did. Wilson decided to write an op-ed in the New York Times and expose the administration for knowingly "twisting" the intelligence on the Iraqi nuclear threat to make a case for war. Wilson wrote that had he personally traveled to Niger to check out the Niger intelligence and had determined it was bogus.
"Nothing more, nothing less than challenging the government to come clean on this matter," Wilson said. "That's all I did."
With no sign of weapons of mass destruction to be found in Iraq, news accounts started to call into question the credibility of the administration's pre-war intelligence. In May 2003, Wilson re-emerged at a political conference in Washington sponsored by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee.
There he told the New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff that he was the special envoy who had traveled to Niger in February 2002 to check out allegations that Iraq tried to purchase uranium from the country. He told Kristoff he had briefed a CIA analyst that the claims were untrue. Wilson said he believed the administration had ignored his report and had been dishonest with Congress and the American people.
When Kristoff's column was published in the Times, the CIA official said, "a request came in from Cheney that was passed to me that said 'the vice president wants to know whether Joe Wilson went to Niger.' I'm paraphrasing. But that's more or less what I was asked to find out."
In his column, Kristoff Had accused Cheney of allowing the truth about the Niger documents the administration used to build a case for war to go "missing in action." The failure of US armed forces to find any WMDs in Iraq in two months following the start of the war had been blamed on Cheney.
What in the previous months had been a request to gather information that could be used to discredit Wilson turned into a full-scale effort involving the Office of the Vice President, the National Security Council, and the State Department to find out how Wilson came to be chosen to investigate the uranium allegations involving Iraq and Niger.
"Cheney and Libby made it clear that Wilson had to be shut down," the CIA official said. "This wasn't just about protecting the credibility of the White House. For the vice president, going after Wilson was purely personal, in my opinion."
Cheney was personally involved in this aspect of the information gathering process as well, visiting CIA headquarters to inquire about Wilson, the CIA official said. Hadley had also raised questions about Wilson during this month with the State Department officials and asked that information regarding Wilson's trip to Niger be sent to his attention at the National Security Council.
That's when Valerie Plame Wilson's name popped up showing that she was a covert CIA operative.
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
will be a regular contributer to t r u t h o u t. He is the
author of the new book NEWS JUNKIE. Visit www.newsjunkiebook.com for a preview.