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Congress Says Prepared to Act in Plame Affair

Congress Says Prepared to Act in Plame Affair

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

Wednesday 07 March 2007

Aides to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Congressman John Conyers, D-Mich., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said they were engaged in discussions Tuesday about the possibility of holding immediate hearings and subpoenaing Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to provide details of his nearly four-year-old investigation, and the evidence he obtained regarding the role Vice President Dick Cheney and other White House officials played in the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson. The aides requested anonymity because they were not yet permitted to discuss Congress's course of action in the matter publicly.

The news came on the heels of a verdict Tuesday in which a jury found former vice presidential staffer I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby guilty on four counts of obstruction of justice, perjury and lying to federal investigators for his role in the Plame leak. Plame is married to former ambassador Joseph Wilson, a fierce critic of the Iraq war who accused the administration of "twisting" pre-war intelligence. The verdict against Libby was rendered nearly four years to the day that the US invaded Iraq.

An aide to Senator Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday that the senator is still determined to investigate the flawed intelligence that the administration used to convince Congress and the public to back the Iraq war. The Levin aide said the senator will likely seek testimony from Libby, Cheney, and senior members of the White House who played a role in the Plame leak, and that it "makes sense" to fold the issues surrounding the CIA leak case into the hearings about pre-war intelligence since they overlap with the leak case.

Fitzgerald said if new information materializes he will "take action." However, at this point, he plans on returning to his "day job."

In the meantime, if Congress decides to hold hearings or further investigate the roles of other administration officials who were involved in the leak, such as White House political consultant Karl Rove and Vice President Dick Cheney, Fitzgerald said he may be inclined to share the evidence he collected over the course of three years with lawmakers if they ask for his documents.

At least one member of Congress has indicated that he will likely take Fitzgerald up on his offer. Congressman Maurice Hinchey, D-NY, who has led the effort among Democrats in Congress to expand the CIA leak probe, said the guilty verdict returned against Libby does not go far enough in settling questions surrounding Cheney's role in the case, and that he intends to call for a criminal probe to pursue charges against the vice president.

Jeff Lieberson, a spokesman for Hinchey, said Hinchey will likely make a determination in the next couple of days on the course of action the congressman will pursue in his attempts to reenergize the investigation.

Congressman Hinchey "is definitely taking this very seriously," Lieberson said. "We're seriously looking into what steps can be taken to continue this investigation and dig deeper into the vice president's role."

Hinchey said Tuesday that "other administration officials, starting with Vice President Cheney, must be held accountable for their role in this case."

"This case doesn't end with Mr. Libby's conviction. Testimony in the Libby trial made it even clearer that Vice President Cheney played a major role in the outing of [covert CIA operative Valerie Plame] Wilson's identity. It is time to remove the cloud hanging over Vice President Cheney and the White House that Special Counsel Fitzgerald so aptly described in his closing remarks, and expose all of the lies that led to the outing of Mrs. Wilson's identity."

The aides to Pelosi and Conyers said they have already had brief discussions with staffers in the office of Congressman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the Government Oversight Committee, about his intention of calling for hearings into the leak case and possibly getting answers to lingering questions about Cheney's hands-on role in the leak, and the role White House political adviser Karl Rove played as well.

Two years ago, Waxman called for Congressional hearings to determine if there was a White House conspiracy to unmask Plame's covert status in retaliation for the criticism Wilson leveled against the administration's Iraq policy. A spokeswoman for Waxman, Karen Lightfoot, was unavailable for comment.

"I think that the Congress must hold hearings, bring Karl Rove in, put him under oath and let him explain the situation from his point of view," Waxman said during an interview with Democracy Now in July 2005. "Let him tell us what happened. It's ridiculous that Congress should stay out of all of this and not hold hearings."

At the time of Waxman's comments, it was unknown how involved Cheney was in the matter. But two weeks ago, during closing arguments, Cheney was implicated in the leak. It was the first time Fitzgerald acknowledged that Cheney was intimately involved in the scandal, and that his investigation into the true nature of the vice president's involvement was impeded because Libby obstructed justice.

Libby's attorney, Theodore Wells, told jurors during closing arguments that Fitzgerald and his deputy have been attempting to build a case of conspiracy against the vice president and Libby, and that the prosecution believes Libby may have lied to federal investigators and a grand jury to protect Cheney.

At issue were a set of talking points Cheney dictated in July 2003 that the vice president's former chief of staff was instructed to discuss with the media, included information about Plame. The discussions with the media were supposed to be centered around Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, and the fact that he accused the White House of misrepresenting intelligence related to Iraq's attempts to acquire uranium from Niger, according to testimony by Cathie Martin, Cheney's former communications director.

During the trial, Martin testified that she was present when Cheney dictated talking points about Wilson, but Wells said in his closing arguments that there was a clear implication by the prosecution that Martin may not have been privy to some of the private conversations that took place between Cheney and Libby regarding Plame.

"Now, I think the government, through its questions, really tried to put a cloud over Vice President Cheney," Libby's attorney Theodore Wells told jurors Tuesday, according to a transcript of the closing arguments obtained by Truthout. "The prosecutors questioned Ms. Martin: 'Well, you weren't with Mr. Libby and the vice president all the time. Some things could have happened when you weren't there.' And the clear suggestion by the questions were, well, maybe there was some kind of skullduggery, some kind of scheme between Libby and the vice president going on in private, but that's unfair."

Rebutting the defense's assertion that Cheney was not behind the leak, Fitzgerald told jurors, "You know what? [Wells] said something here that we're trying to put a cloud on the vice president. We'll talk straight. There is a cloud over the vice president. He sent Libby off to [meet with former New York Times reporter] Judith Miller at the St. Regis Hotel. At that meeting - the two hour meeting - the defendant talked about the wife [Plame]. We didn't put that cloud there. That cloud remains because the defendant obstructed justice and lied about what happened."

"If you think that the vice president and the defendant 'Scooter' Libby weren't talking about [Plame] during the week where the vice president writes that [Plame] sent [Wilson] on a junket - in [Wilson's] July 6 column, the vice president moves the number one talking point, 'not clear who authorized [Wilson's Niger trip] - if you think that's a coincidence, well, that makes no sense."

On Tuesday, Fitzgerald reiterated his belief that there was a cloud hanging over the vice president because Libby obstructed justice and lied.

The revelation during closing arguments led to widespread speculation that Fitzgerald had Cheney in his crosshairs. During a news conference Tuesday, Fitzgerald said he would further investigate others if he receives additional information.

Senator Charles Schumer, D-NY, who led the push for the appointment of a special prosecutor in 2003 to investigate the leak, said the Libby trial demonstrated to him that Libby was indeed the "fall guy" and was covering up for other officials who "remain unpunished."

"That is the real tragedy of this," Schumer said.

Juror Denis Collins, a former Washington Post reporter who at one time worked alongside Post reporter Bob Woodward, agreed.

"It was said a number of times, what are we doing with this guy here? Where's Rove? Where are these other guys? I'm not saying we didn't think Mr. Libby was guilty of the things we found him guilty of. It seemed like he was, as Mr. Wells put it, he was the fall guy," Collins said during a news conference Tuesday.


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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