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In the wake of President Bush commuting the sentence of “Scooter” Libby, the airwaves have been just filled with misinformation, and people lacking just enough familiarity with the facts of the case that they find themselves ill-equipped to respond when confronted by some Right-wing hack spouting Republican talking points. Rather than refute every Talking Point point-by-point, I thought it was time someone laid out the case in a straight-forward chronological manner so everyone can understand just who is guilty of what, and why they did what they did. Once you understand all the facts of the case, you’ll be better armed when going into battle with a brainless Neocon that only knows what Fox “News” and Rush Limbaugh told them:

Divining the most appropriate starting point is a matter of debate. One could start with George W. Bush’s 1999 autobiography “A Charge to Keep” where he threatened to “take out” Saddam Hussein if he found him to be developing “weapons of mass destruction”, a comment he repeated in a February 2000 interview on PBS’s News Hour at the very beginning of his campaign for President, 19 Months before 9/11.

Or you could start after the election, where the Bush Administration refused to even meet on the subject of al Qaeda until just one week before 9/11 because he was so obsessed with Iraq and Saddam Hussein.

No matter where you start, the events to follow happened this way:

A. One month after 9/11, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, eager to get in good with the newly elected American President with whom he agreed with in implicating Saddam Hussein in 9/11, had his newly appointed Director of Military Intelligence, Nicolo Pollari produce a report on the Iraqi President attempting to purchase raw uranium (“yellowcake”) from the government of Niger. The report was based upon third-hand rumors, shaky evidence, suspect sources, and in some cases, 20-year old intel, that Saddam sent one of his Generals to the African country to inquire about making such a purchase. The report was then simultaneously turned over to both the CIA and the British equivalent: MI-6 (source).

B. Vice President Cheney reviewed the Italian report and directed the CIA to find out if it were true or not. Undercover agent on Iraq/Iran’s WMD Activities, Valerie Plame, was called in to consult on the matter. When the subject of sending someone to Niger to investigate the claim came up, Ms. Plame noted that her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joe Wilson, would be good for the job. Her husband, former Ambassador to the Niger/Gabon region of Africa specializing in mining, was probably the most qualified person in the country for the job. Ms. Plame had no other influence on the decision to send her husband to Niger. The decision to send him was made by the CIA themselves.

C. Ambassador Wilson flew to Niger and quickly concluded that there was absolutely no way Saddam could have purchased the “500 tons of yellowcake” that he was accused of having sought in the Italian report. The IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) strictly monitors Niger’s two mines, and any sale would have to be approved by the Nigerian government. His conclusion: there was just too much oversight (both foreign and domestic) for the sale to have ever taken place. Niger is the third leading producer of Uranium in the world, producing roughly “1.5 Metric tons” of raw uranium ore a year… a FAR cry from the “500 tonnes” the Italian report accused Iraq of seeking.

D. Wilson returned from Niger and reported to the CIA that he found the accusation not to be credible, which was then relayed to the office of the Vice President. I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s Chief of Staff, contacted British Intelligence and asked them if they had the same intel that “Saddam tried to purchase 500 tons of yellowcake uranium from Niger”. MI-6 confirmed, but did not reveal its source (as is standard practice). Little did anyone know that MI-6’s source was the same bogus Italian report given to the CIA. President Bush and other members of his administration, viewing MI-6 as having “confirmed” the Italian report, then repeatedly attempted to insert the claim into several speeches that same year when making the case for war with Iraq, most notably, President Bush’s October 6, 2002 “smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud” speech. That would be the third and final time the claim would be scuttled by the CIA.

E. Three months later, the claim was inserted into President Bush’s 2003 “State of the Union” Address (the infamous “16 words”) in an attempt to drum up support for the invasion of Iraq amongst the American people. But this time, for reasons unknown, CIA Director George Tenet never got around to reviewing the speech (as was standard practice) and the claim stayed in.

The 16 words in question: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

Note here that President Bush specifically cites “the British“. This is because our own intelligence refused to sign off on the intel as genuine, while MI-6 continued to insist it was accurate.

F. One week later, Secretary of Defense Colin Powell made his infamous presentation to the U.N. Security Council making the case for war against Iraq to destroy their WMD stockpiles and weapons violations. Interestingly, the “Iraq/Niger/Yellowcake” claim was not included in his presentation. Powell’s explanation: “I didn’t think that was sufficiently strong as evidence to present before the world.” Six days earlier, it was “sufficiently strong enough” for President Bush to use it to scare the bejeezus out of the American public to coax them into supporting his war, but not worthy of repeating to the UN.

G. On March 19, 2003, we went to war. As the days turned into weeks, people began to ask “where are the WMD’s?” According to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld less than two weeks into the war, “We know where they [the WMD’s] are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and East, West, South and North somewhat.” (link).

President Bush declared “Mission Accomplished” on May 1st despite Saddam Hussein nor his Weapons of Mass Destruction having been found. Several teams of “Weapons inspectors” were dispatched along with thousands of U.S. soldiers to find the weapons the Bush Administration was so certain were there when making the case for war. Before the invasion, the White House consensus was that there was absolutely NO doubt that Saddam had amassed enormous stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, as well as a nuclear weapons program that was dangerously far along. But as time passed, the arguments came under greater and greater scrutiny. The White House was in desperate need of a distraction.

H. Then on July 6th, after repeated attempts to find out why the Niger claim he debunked 18 months earlier was still being used to justify the invasion of Iraq, Ambassador Wilson wrote an Op/Ed for the New York Times entitled “What I DIDN’T find in Africa”. According to reports, Cheney, furious, scribbled some notes above a copy of the Times article and sent it to his CIA briefer, Libby, with the implication of discrediting Wilson:


Cheney's notes.
(click to enlarge)

Cheney’s comments are a bit difficult to read even at full size, but they read:

Have they [the CIA] done this sort of thing before?
Send an Ambi [Ambassador] 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?

While it is rarely mentioned, I find it fascinating that Cheney appears to ALREADY KNOW who Wilson’s wife is. He obviously is aware of the fact that the Ambassador’s wife is someone who might be in the position to dispatch her husband on a task for the CIA when he asks that final question (it must be inferred at this point that someone at the CIA must have contacted the VP’s Office on his/her own and volunteered the fact that Wilson’s wife was an agent at the CIA and involved in his being recommended for the job). Who at the CIA contacted Cheney and why? Assumedly because, like Cheney, they believed Ms. Plame sent her own husband with the explicit purpose of discrediting the President because they believed the Wilson’s disapproved of the war (Wilson has stated that he was “a registered Republican that voted for Bush in 2000.”)

I. In order to discredit Wilson, it had to be shown that he went to Niger with a preconceived bias and an agenda to discredit President Bush. To do this, they suggested that “the only reason he got the job was because his wife sent him”, not because he was actually qualified. But the next question from reporters would be, “just who is his wife to be in the position to send him?” To explain that, they had to reveal that she worked for the CIA, a fact that was NOT publicly known by even members of her own family.

While (neo)Conservatives insist that Plame’s identity was “not” covert and therefore could legally be revealed, then why would Cheney need to “declassify her status” before they exposed her? It is clear that THEY KNEW Valerie Plame was COVERT at the time they sought to discredit her husband, yet exposed her anyway (a crime that Bush Sr. described as that of “the most insidious of traitors.“)

J. Libby could not be the *first* person to leak the story to the press because it was too direct a link to the Vice President, and instead revealed the information to Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage with the instruction to leak the information to the press. It is highly unlikely that Libby told Armitage that Plame was covert if he was to be sure Armitage would go to the Press. And since VP Cheney had just declassified her status, there was no point in telling him anyway (both Libby and Armitage have Top Secret Security Clearance, so Libby’s telling Armitage, and Cheney’s telling Libby were not illegal).

K. Armitage contacted stalwart neocon reporter Robert Novak and told him the story of why Wilson’s report should be suspect. Novak then contacted his inside-man in the White House, Karl Rove to confirm the story (Novak says he relied on three WH sources for confirmation of the Plame/Wilson story… the other two of which he has yet to reveal) who confirmed for him that the information was true. Novak then blew Plame’s cover in a July 14, 2003 Op/Ed entitled “Mission to Niger“, followed up a week later with a second article that also revealed her CIA cover operation… “Brewster/Jennings”… because it had donated $1,000 to the Al Gore campaign in 2000. Revealing that B/J was a “CIA front” endangered not only the lives of every agent that ever claimed to work for them, but any foreign contact that might of done business with them. It is a near certainty that people DIED as a result of this information being revealed.

L. The CIA, in response to the outing of one of its agents, instructed the Department of Justice to find out who leaked the name of one of their covert agents. Recognizing the need for a “Special Prosecutor” outside of the Bush Administration to investigate the matter, AG John Ashcroft’s temporary replacement Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey appointed former Illinois Attorney General turned Federal Prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, to the investigation.

M. The first step was obvious: call Robert Novak to testify before a Grand Jury to reveal who told him Ms. Plame’s identity. Novak revealed that it was Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage that told him about Plame (revealing only later that it was Rove he called to confirm.)

N. Armitage was then called in to testify, and while his testimony is still sealed, it is assumed that either President Bush’s political adviser Karl Rove or Cheney’s Chief of Staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby told him about Plame. When asked if he knew at the time that Ms. Plame’s identity was actively being kept a secret by the CIA, he said No (this is important, for to convict someone under the “Intelligence Identities Act”, they must be aware the person they exposed was covert, which he didn’t. So Armitage had committed no crime.)

O. The next obvious step was to contact Rove and Libby to ask them who told them Plame’s identity and why. This is where Libby first lied to the Grand Jury and deliberately tried to misdirect them so as not to implicate his boss, Vice President Cheney. Libby would be called four more times after other witnesses contradicted his testimony and his lying and obstructionism became clear. Charges were eventually filed against Libby as the investigation could proceed no further because of his refusal to cooperate.
—————

As described in my last column (below), some key Republican Talking Points dismissing the Plame/Wilson matter are put to bed:

TP1. Libby was not the first person to leak Valerie Plame’s identity to the press. It was Richard Armitage.
As I’ve clearly pointed out, the fact that Libby was not the first to leak Plame’s identity to the press is irrelevant. He was charged with obstruction of justice for refusing to reveal who told him about Plame, who instructed him to reveal that information to Armitage, and why.

TP2. Fitzgerald already knew this when he called Libby to testify.
It was BECAUSE he knew this that he even called Libby to testify, for the express purpose of finding out why he told Armitage and to reveal who it was that told him.

TP3. Fitzgerald unnecessarily forced Libby to testify under oath over something he already knew the answer to. Had he of never been forced to testify, said crime would never of occurred.
The only thing Fitzgerald knew was “who told Novak”, not “who told Armitage” or “who told Libby”.

And now we have something new to consider: Had Libby of been given a full pardon, Libby could of been forced to testify against his old bosses without the veil of “the 5th Amendment” to hide behind after already being given immunity from prosecution by his pardon. By “commuting” Libby’s sentence rather than give him a full pardon, Libby can continue to refuse to testify on the grounds of there being a “pending case” as he files his appeal. By ensuring that Libby can continue to avoid implicating the White House, President Bush has just ensured that Libby will be able to continue to obstruct justice… and by extension, President Bush is therefore obstructing justice himself!

(UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that I did not address Libby’s contacts with NY Times reporter Judith Miller, or Karl Rove’s role in disseminating Plame’s identity to reporters like Matt Cooper of Time Magazine. While Libby’s contacts with Miller do directly implicate Libby (and indirectly, Cheney’s office), it parallels the events given in the timeline and do not alter the facts of the case. Regarding Rove’s involvement, Armitage’s testimony is still sealed, but the fact Rove testified yet was not prosecuted like Libby suggests he stuck to “I can’t remember” responses. Had he of revealed that Bush or Cheney instructed him to tell Armitage, investigations would of immediately been launched against them. They haven’t. None of which exonerates Libby for the crimes with which he was convicted. The case against Rove is a separate investigation reserved for a separate column at a later date. Too many unanswered questions at this time to do an in depth analysis.)

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