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Attorney - "Libby Sacrificed to Protect Rove"

Attorney: "Libby Sacrificed to Protect Rove"

By Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t | Report

Thursday 25 January 2007

Karl Rove's criminal exposure in the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson was so extensive that the White House feared it could cost Republicans the presidential election in 2004. So administration officials sacrificed one of their senior cabinet members and set him up to be the fall guy for the leak in order to protect Rove, "the lifeblood of the Republican party" and the White House's senior political adviser.

That was how defense attorney Theodore Wells characterized the dramatic turn of events inside the White House in the days and months following the Plame leak, and it is the primary reason, he claims, that his client, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, was indicted for perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI about how he discovered Plame was employed by the CIA and whether he shared that information with reporters.

Wells did not offer a detailed explanation about why Libby told a federal grand jury he found out about Valerie Plame from Tim Russert, host of "Meet the Press," in July 2003, when evidence has shown that Libby was told about Plame by Vice President Cheney and other officials on numerous occasions in June 2003, and then disseminated the information to more than one reporter that same month. Instead, Wells explained to jurors that Rove was the official most responsible for leaking Plame's identity to reporters, time and again, and that Libby "was concerned about being the scapegoat for this entire Valerie Wilson controversy."

"You will learn from the evidence that the person ... who was to be protected was Karl Rove," Wells said in opening statements Tuesday, the first day of Libby's federal criminal trial. "Karl Rove was President Bush's right-hand person in term of political strategy. Karl Rove was the person most responsible for making sure the Republican Party stayed in office. He was viewed as a political genius. His fate was important to the Republican Party if they were going to stay in office. He had to be protected. Scooter Libby was to be sacrificed. Karl Rove was to be protected. Protect Karl Rove. Sacrifice Scooter Libby."

"Mr. Libby, you will learn, went to the vice president of the United States and met with the vice president in private. Mr. Libby said to the vice president, 'I think the White House ... is trying to set me up. People in the White House want me to be a scapegoat,'" said Wells, continuing, "People in the White House are trying to protect a man named Karl Rove."

Wells's two-hour presentation to jurors on the first day of Libby's trial was stunning, to say the least. What had once been thought of as an administration so loyal to one another was nothing more than a facade. Behind the scenes, the most powerful political operatives in the country guarded their personal interests at all costs.

Still, the intriguing stories of fierce infighting between officials in President Bush's office, Vice President Cheney's office, the CIA, and the State Department over pre-war intelligence, all of which is aimed at confusing the jury, will likely unravel, said Elizabeth de la Vega, a former federal prosecutor and author of the New York Times bestselling book United States v. George W. Bush et al.

"It would not be uncommon for evidence to be mentioned in a defense opening statement and then never actually admitted in the trial," de la Vega said. "The conversation Wells has alluded to between Libby and Cheney, for example, could well be found to be inadmissible under the rules of evidence."

In other words, the accusations against Rove that Wells cited in his opening statements have nothing to do with the perjury, obstruction of justice, and lying to investigators Libby was charged with, which is exactly the point Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had made in his opening statements to jurors hours earlier.

Fitzgerald described in startling detail the lengths to which Libby and other White House officials went in order to attack a single critic of the Iraq war, Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, whose stinging rebukes of the administration's use of pre-war Iraq intelligence enraged Cheney and set in motion a chain of events that led Libby, and many other senior cabinet members, to leak Wilson's wife's identity to some of the most well-known reporters in Washington, DC, in an attempt to silence him.

Fitzgerald provided jurors with a visual timeline of the events that led up to May 2003, when Cheney first found out about Wilson and Plame, and the unusual obsession the vice president, Libby, and many other officials had, in the ensuing days, with beating back the criticism that Wilson piled on the administration during the month of June and July 2003.

In a July 6, 2003, column published in the New York Times, "Mr. Wilson claimed that he had personal knowledge that would indicate to him that the Bush administration may have twisted the intelligence used to justify the war in Iraq," Fitzgerald said in his opening statements to jurors. "Mr. Wilson leveled a direct attack on White House credibility, an attack on the Office of the Vice President in particular. These claims came in the fourth month of the war in Iraq, the fourth month when weapons of mass destruction had not been found."

Wilson disclosed in his column that he had been the special envoy chosen by the CIA for a fact-finding mission in February 2002 to determine whether Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from Niger. Wilson reported back to the CIA that the allegations were unfounded. But President Bush cited the intelligence, which later turned out to be based on crude forgeries, in his January 28, 2003, State of the Union address.

Fitzgerald made a point of singling out Cheney's office, saying some people who worked for the vice president, such as Libby, "pushed back" against Wilson's criticism "in a different way."

"They said things about Wilson to the newspapers on the understanding that the newspapers wouldn't print their names," Fitzgerald said. "And in the shooting back and forth between Wilson and the White House, at one point Wilson's wife got dragged into it. Some officials told some reporters that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA, and some reporters printed that in the paper. The FBI and the grand jury had an important but tough job. To make it simple, they had to find the truth."

"This case is [about] how the defendant, Scooter Libby, obstructed that search for truth," Fitzgerald continued. "The evidence in this case will show that the defendant lied repeatedly to both the FBI and the grand jury. In short, what the evidence will show is that the defendant learned that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA directly from the vice president himself, and that the defendant discussed the fact that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA with multiple government officials in June and July 2003, and he also talked to more than one reporter on more than one occasion about Wilson's wife working at the CIA, and also gave the information to the White House press secretary, whose job it was to talk to the press."

One of the more astonishing revelations during the first day of the trial was the revelation by Wells that as many as six government witnesses, including Ari Fleischer, who at the time of the Plame leak was White House press secretary, received an immunity deal in exchange for testimony. It was not disclosed whether Fleischer received "transactional" or "blanket" immunity, or "use" immunity, which would allow the government to prosecute a witness using evidence obtained independently of a witness's immunized testimony. It is rare for the government to provide a witness with transactional immunity.

"When the FBI asked to speak to Mr. Fleischer, Mr. Fleischer asserted the Fifth Amendment," Wells said, referring to the law protecting a witness against self-incrimination. "Mr. Fleischer refused to testify. He said, I plead the Fifth. I will not testify about anything unless I am immunized. I want complete protection from anything."

Fleischer, who is a crucial witness for the government, is expected to testify in the weeks ahead that during a July 2003 lunch meeting he had with Libby, Libby told him about Plame, her employment with the CIA, and that she was married to Wilson. Fleischer testified before a grand jury that Libby said the information was "hush hush" and "on the QT." But in revealing that Fleischer had entered into an immunity deal with the government, Wells was trying to demonstrate that Fleischer has a credibility problem.

Indeed Fleischer, Wells said, told NBC News reporter David Gregory and possibly other reporters that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA, that her name was Valerie Plame, and that she was responsible for sending Wilson to Niger. Fleischer testified before a grand jury that in addition to Libby, his boss, White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett also told him Plame worked for the CIA and was married to Wilson. After Bartlett discussed the Plame matter with Fleischer, the press secretary leaked it to reporters.

Gregory never reported what Fleischer had told him, but his involvement in the leak case, which has not been previously reported, along with that of numerous other journalists, underscores the often cooperative relationship between the Washington press corps and officials in the White House.


Jason Leopold is a former Los Angeles bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswire. He has written over 2,000 stories on the California energy crisis and received the Dow Jones Journalist of the Year Award in 2001 for his coverage on the issue as well as a Project Censored award in 2004. Leopold also reported extensively on Enron's downfall and was the first journalist to land an interview with former Enron president Jeffrey Skilling following Enron's bankruptcy filing in December 2001. Leopold has appeared on CNBC and National Public Radio as an expert on energy policy and has also been the keynote speaker at more than two dozen energy industry conferences around the country.

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