-Cheney’s key role in leak case detailed.

Posted: September 6, 2008 in 2007, Articles
Tags: , , ,
A former aide testifies in Libby’s trial that the vice president directed the effort to discredit a CIA agent’s husband.
WASHINGTON — In the first such account from Vice President Dick Cheney’s inner circle, a former aide testified Thursday that Cheney personally directed the effort to discredit an administration critic by having calls made to reporters in 2003.

Cheney dictated detailed “talking points” for his chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and others on how they could impugn the critic’s credibility, said Catherine J. Martin, who was the vice president’s top press aide at the time.

Libby is on trial on charges of obstructing an investigation into how the name of a CIA operative, Valerie Plame, became public. The government says her identity emerged in conversations Libby had with several reporters. It is illegal to knowingly divulge the name of a CIA employee.

Plame’s name came up in the conversations because she is the wife of former envoy Joseph C. Wilson IV, the critic whom the administration was trying to attack after he publicly raised questions about the intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Martin, who is now deputy White House director of communications for policy and planning, testified as a prosecution witness on the third day of Libby’s trial. She became the third witness to testify that they had told Libby of Plame’s identity well before Libby spoke with the reporters.

That contradicts Libby’s statement that he learned of Plame’s identity from one of the reporters, Tim Russert of NBC News. Libby is charged with lying to federal agents looking into the leak of Plame’s name.

The events unfolded after a New York Times columnist reported in May 2003 that an unnamed diplomat had been sent to Niger the previous year to investigate reports that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy uranium from Africa, and found that the reports were wrong. President Bush’s State of the Union speech in January 2003 contained the uranium assertion.

Libby learned that the unnamed diplomat was Wilson, a former ambassador.

Cheney’s active role in the campaign to undermine Wilson has been known, but Martin’s testimony was the first inside account of the administration’s attempts to manage the affair.

Martin said she learned that Plame worked for the CIA after Libby directed her to call the agency to get more information about Wilson’s trip to Niger. Martin said she quickly reported the information about Plame to Libby and Cheney.

She described details of a White House media strategy, designed at the highest levels, that sought to rebut charges that Bush had misled the public in his January 2003 speech.

Martin said Cheney’s talking points disputed Wilson’s allegation that Cheney had authorized the trip to Niger. They also included information from a secret National Intelligence Estimate.

The vice president ordered press aides to start tracking press coverage closely, while Libby was directed to contact reporters. At one point, the vice president gave a note card to Libby with information to give to a Time magazine reporter covering the case, while Cheney and Libby were returning on Air Force Two from the christening of an aircraft carrier.

Martin also described how she discussed with Libby media “options” to rebut Wilson that included a strategic “leak” to a handful of reporters.

But Martin said that neither Cheney nor Libby had suggested that the identity of Plame be divulged as part of the game plan. She said that she had no knowledge of either actually doing so.

“I recall the vice president telling me to keep track of this story, and keep track of the commentators who were continuing to write on this story and talk about us,” Martin testified. “We were paying attention to ‘Hardball With Chris Matthews’ because he had been talking about it a lot.”

She described the reaction inside the administration as questions began to be raised, starting in May 2003. The New York Times column said the administration had engaged in a “campaign of wholesale deceit” and suggested that Cheney was directly involved.

Martin said Libby asked her to call the then-chief public affairs officer at the CIA, William Harlow, to find out about the trip by Wilson.

“So I was saying, ‘Who sent him? Who is this guy?’ ” Martin testified. “I remember Bill Harlow saying his name was Joe Wilson, he was a charge in Baghdad, and his wife works over here.”

Martin said she promptly went to see Cheney and Libby with the news.

Wilson published an op-ed column in the New York Times on July 6, 2003, describing his trip. The same day, he aired his concerns on the NBC program “Meet the Press.” Almost immediately, Martin said she was huddling again with Cheney about how to respond to a surge in press inquires.

“He dictated to me what he wanted to say,” Martin said.

The detailed response covered eight points, including a reference to a sensitive intelligence-community assessment. Martin testified that she was “not sure if I could use that point” because she believed at the time that the report was classified.

Later, she said, she discussed with Cheney and Libby how she had learned from Harlow that two network reporters were writing stories about the case, and how Cheney ordered Libby to call them personally, including one call that Libby made from his private anteroom outside of Cheney’s office.

“I was aggravated that Scooter was calling the reporters and that I wasn’t,” Martin said.

The trial is expected to resume Monday with testimony from former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.


rick.schmitt@latimes.com

*

Leak case timeline

I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, is being tried on five counts related to the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s name in 2003. Some important events in the case:

2003:

•  Jan. 28: President Bush says in his State of the Union address: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

•  May 6: New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof reports that a former ambassador, whom he does not name, had been sent to Niger in 2002 to investigate the uranium report. The column says the former envoy reported to the CIA and State Department well before Bush’s speech that the uranium story was unequivocally wrong and was based on forged documents.

•  May 29: Libby asks Marc Grossman, an undersecretary of State, for information about the ambassador’s travel to Niger. Grossman later tells Libby that Joseph C. Wilson IV is the former ambassador.

•  June 11 or 12: Grossman tells Libby that Wilson’s wife works at the CIA and that State Department personnel are saying Wilson’s wife was involved in planning the trip. A senior CIA officer gives him similar information.

•  June 12: Cheney advises Libby that Wilson’s wife works at the CIA.

•  June 14: Libby meets with a CIA briefer and discusses “Joe Wilson” and his wife, “Valerie Wilson.”

•  June 23: Libby meets with New York Times reporter Judith Miller. He tells Miller that Wilson’s wife might work at a bureau of the CIA.

•  July 6: The New York Times publishes an opinion piece by Wilson titled “What I Didn’t Find in Africa,” and he appears on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Wilson said he doubted Iraq had obtained uranium from Niger recently and thought Cheney’s office was told of the results of his trip.

•  July 7: Libby meets with then-White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. Libby notes that Wilson’s wife works at the CIA and that the information is not widely known.

•  July 8: Libby meets with Miller again and tells her that he believes Wilson’s wife works for the CIA.

•  July 12: Libby speaks to Time magazine’s Matthew Cooper and confirms to him that he has heard that Wilson’s wife was involved in sending Wilson on the trip. Libby also speaks to Miller and discusses Wilson’s wife and says that she works at the CIA.

•  July 14: Syndicated columnist Robert Novak reports that Wilson’s wife is a CIA operative on weapons of mass destruction and that two senior administration officials, whom Novak does not name, said she suggested sending her husband to Niger to investigate the uranium story.

•  Sept. 26: A criminal investigation is authorized to determine who leaked Plame’s identity to reporters. Disclosing the identity of CIA operatives is illegal.

•  Oct. 14 and Nov. 26: Libby is interviewed by FBI agents.

•  Dec. 30: U.S. Atty. Patrick J. Fitzgerald in Chicago is named to head the leak investigation.

2004:

•  January: A grand jury begins investigating possible violations of federal criminal laws.

•  March 5 and March 24: Libby testifies before the grand jury.

2005:

•  Oct. 28: Libby is indicted on five counts: obstruction of justice and two counts each of false statement and perjury.

2006:

•  Sept. 7: Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage admits he leaked Plame’s identity to Novak and to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post. Armitage says he did not realize Plame’s job was covert. Woodward taped his June 13, 2003, interview with Armitage.

Source: Associated Press

Libby Found Guilty in CIA Leak Case

Amy Goldstein and Carol D. Leonnig | The Washington Post | March 6, 2007

A federal jury today convicted I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby of lying about his role in the leak of an undercover CIA officer’s identity, finding the vice president’s former chief of staff guilty of two counts of perjury, one count of making false statements and one count of obstruction of justice, while acquitting him of a single count of lying to the FBI.

The verdict, reached by the 11 jurors on the 10th day of deliberations, culminated the seven-week trial of the highest-ranking White House official to be indicted on criminal charges in modern times.

Under federal sentencing guidlines, Libby faces a probable prison term of 1 1/2 to three years when he is sentenced by U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton June 5.

As the jury forewoman read each guilty count in a clear, solemn voice, Libby was impassive, remaining seated at the defense table, gazing straight ahead and displaying no visible emotion. His wife, Harriet Grant, sat in the front row with tears in her eyes and was was embraced by friends. Later she hugged each of Libby’s lawyers.

A few minutes after the jury was dismissed, Libby appeared coatless outside the federal courthouse with his two main lawyers, Theodore V. Wells Jr. and William Jeffress Jr. Wells issued a brief statement to the crush of reporters and television crews.


“We intend to file a motion for a new trial,” Wells said. “If that is denied, we will file an appeal. We believe Mr. Libby eventually will be vindicated.”

” We intend to keep fighting for his innocence,” he added.

Libby and his lawyers then briskly turned away and returned to the courthouse without taking questions. The trial’s outcome may have been a repudiation of the strategy that Libby’s attorneys chose by not calling either Libby or Vice President Cheney, his former boss, as a witness.

Libby, 56, was the only person charged in a three-year federal investigation that reached the highest echelons of the Bush White House. The central question in the probe was whether anyone in the administration illegally disclosed classified information during the late spring and early summer of 2003, when they told several journalists that an early critic of the Iraq war was married to undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame.

No one was ever charged with the leak, but the results of the investigation, led by Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald, ultimately tarnished both the administration and the Washington press corps.

The trial revolved around whether Libby deliberately lied about–or simply was too busy toremember correctly–several conversations he had about Plame with colleagues and reporters whenhe was questioned months later by FBI agents and a federal grand jury investigating the leak.

Plame’s husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, was sent by the CIA on a mission to Niger in 2002 to assess reports that Iraq had sought to buy nuclear materials there. He concluded the reports were false. In early July, 2003, Wilson published a rebuke of the White House, accusing the administration of distorting his findings to exaggerate the danger posed by Iraq and justify the war to the American people.

Prosecutors contended that Libby tracked down and told reporters about Plame’s CIA job as part of an administration strategy to discredit her husband by insinuating that the agency had dispatched Wilson to Niger because of nepotism. The prosecution alleged that Libby realized afterwards that he might have relayed classified information and lied to FBI agents and grand jurors to cover that up.

Defense attorneys countered that Libby had a notoriously bad memory and, consumed by his work on sensitive national security matters, did not recall accurately what he knew and said about Plame. The defense also asserted that Libby did not have a motive to lie because he did not know Plame’s job was classified.

The weeks of testimony and evidence placed a microscope on Libby’s actions during a tumultuous period inside the White House shortly after the Iraq war began, casting a harsh light on the way power and information flows in Washington.

The trial highlighted the nation’s divisions over the war, the Bush White House’s intolerance of critics and the uneasy symbiosis between an elite tier of Washington journalists and their confidential sources inside the government.

It also exposed rifts between the White House and the CIA and laid bare rivalries within the White House itself. Relying on testimony from current and former White House officials and hand-written notes by Cheney, Libby and their co-workers, the prosecution showed resentments among the vice president’s office; Karl Rove, the president’s top political adviser; and White House press secretaries.

It also portrayed Cheney as more intimately involved in orchestrating the campaign to disparage Wilson than was previously known. Cheney was motivated in part by Wilson’s erroneous allegation that the CIA had undertaken the mission to Africa solely at the vice president’s request.

Testimony and evidence revealed that the vice president dictated precise talking points he wanted Libby and other aides to use to rebut Wilson’s accusations against the White House, helped select which journalists would be contacted and worked with Bush to declassify secret intelligence reports on Iraqi weapons that he believed would contradict Wilson’s claims.

“There is a cloud over what the vice president did,” Fitzgerald told jurors in the prosecution’s closing arguments. “That’s not something we put there. That cloud is not something you can pretend is not there.”

The case also broke controversial new ground when prosecutors forced journalists to cooperate in a criminal probe. After a long history of leak investigations that had foundered out of reluctance to subpoena reporters in order to get to their sources, Fitzgerald compelled prominent reporters to abandon promises of confidentiality they had made to high-ranking administration officials.

Several news organizations, including The Washington Post, negotiated limits that allowed Fitzgerald to question reporters on specific matters once their sources had waived confidentiality. But one journalist, former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, went to jail for 85 days in an attempt to avoid disclosing the identities of Libby and other sources to investigators. Her protest went to the Supreme Court, which declined to hear her case. Miller ultimately appeared before the grand jury and at the trial.

By the trial’s end, journalists, all but one of whom testified about once-confidential interviews, accounted for 10 of the 19 witnesses to appear at the trial. . Seven of the nine defense witnesses were journalists, including Bob Woodward, an assistant managing editor at The Washington Post, and Robert D. Novak, the syndicated columnist who was the first journalist to disclose Plame’s identity in print. Three of the government’s 10 witnesses were reporters.

For all the journalistic star power and political intrigue on display in recent weeks in Courtroom 16 of the federal courthouse in downtown Washington, the case Fitzgerald presented to the jury was methodical and, at time, dry.

The prosecution’s case hinged on establishing that Libby had lied deliberately to investigators–in part by showing that the memory lapses alleged by the defense were implausible. In particular, the prosecution chipped away at Libby’s statement to investigators that he thought he heard about Plame for the first time on July 10, 2003 from Tim Russert, NBC News’ Washington bureau chief. Only later, Libby told investigators, did he remember that Cheney actually had told him about Plame nearly a month earlier.

“This is not a case about bad memory,” Fitzgerald told the jury during opening statements last month “It was important. . .He made time to deal with the Wilson matter day after day after day.”

Fitzgerald and fellow prosecutors showed notes hand-written by Cheney and Libby indicating that the vice president was deeply disturbed by Wilson’s explosive accusations that the White House had used bogus intelligence to justify the war. Witnesses and evidence showed Cheney orchestrating a point-by-point response to Wilson’s claims–some of it misleading–that the administration gave to hand-picked reporters.

Prosecutors called current and former administration officials who testified to a series of steps Libby took to learn about Wilson and Plame. Two of them told jurors that Libby had called them during the spring of 2003, sounding agitated and demanding information about why Wilson was chosen by the CIA for the Niger mission.

Prosecutors then took the jury through Libby’s disclosures about Plame. Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer testified that, on July 7, 2003, Libby took him to lunch in the White House mess. After discussing the Miami dolphins and Fleischer’s pending move to a private-sector job, Fleischer said, Libby told him, “hush-hush,” that Wilson’s wife worked in the CIA’s counterproliferation division and had sent her husband to Niger.

Miller, the former New York Times reporter, testified that Libby became the first person to tell her about Plame, during a meeting in his office that June 23. Matthew Cooper, a former Time magazine White House reporter, testified that Libby confirmed to him off-the-record that Plame worked at the CIA, shortly after Cooper had been told of her by Rove.

Finally, the prosecution highlighted discrepancies between the accounts of the government witnesses and Libby’s statements to investigators. The jury listened to eight hours of audiotapes of Libby’s testimony during two appearances before the grand jury in March, 2004.

The government’s final witness, Russert, was the most pivotal. A well-known face from television, Russert firmly contradicted Libby’s statements to investigators that Russert had told him about Plame. Russert testified that Libby had called him on July 10, 2003 to complain about comments that Chris Matthews, host of the MSNBC show, “Hardball,” made about Cheney and Libby. Russert testified he did not mention Plame during that conversation.

“That would be impossible,” he said, “because I didn’t know who that person was until several days later.”

The defense put on a case that lasted less than three days.

Libby’s lead attorney, Theodore V. Wells Jr., did not explain why he and other defense attorneys decided not to call Libby and Cheney as witnesses. But by keeping them off the stand, the defense spared the two men cross-examination by Fitzgerald.

Instead, the defense relied on a surrogate, John Hannah, to convey to the jury some of the points the defendant and the vice president probably would have made. Hannah, one of Libby’s deputies for national security affairs and now Cheney’s national security adviser, recounted for jurors crises in Iraq, Iran, the Middle East, North Korea and elsewhere in the world that preoccupied Libby about the time of the leak and during the months afterwards.

Hannah testified that “on certain things, Scooter just had an awful memory.” Hannah said that, “times too many to count,” he gave Libby policy recommendations in the morning and, by evening, Libby forgot that Hannah had been the source of the advice.

Libby’s lawyers also suggested the prosecution overstated Libby’s zeal to tell journalists about Plame. A half-dozen journalists, including three from The Washington Post, testified that they had spoken with Libby about the time of the leak–but that he did not mention her to them.

In large part, Libby’s defense consisted of trying to erode the credibility of prosecution witnesses, often by pointing up the fallibility of their own memories.

The defense case did not, however, address the most dramatic assertion Wells made when the trial began. In his opening statement, Libby’s attorney said Cheney had complained that his chief of staff was “put through the meatgrinder” by other White House officials, who were willing to make Libby a scapegoat when the leak investigation began in order to insulate Rove. The defense did not present witnesses or evidence to corroborate that point.

In his closing argument, Wells said the trial turned the courtroom into “a laboratory on recollection,” contending that it was “madness” for prosecutors to argue that Libby’s faulty recollections amounted to criminal conduct. Libby’s conversations about Wilson and Plame, his attorneys insisted, were tangential compared with what was happening inside the White House early the summer of 2003.

“The country was saying, “Hey, you lied to the American public.’ I mean, you talk about a stressful period,” Wells said. “The wheels are falling off the Bush administration. . .It’s a crazy period.”

Months later, when Libby spoke to investigators, Wells told the jury, “if what he said turned out to be incorrect or a mistake, that doesn’t mean he’s a liar.”

Libbygate: Now to the Real Story

Tuesday, 06 March 2007
by Dave Lindorff

So Scooter Libby has taken the fall.

Three and a half years and a long bloody war after he and a gang of war-mongers in the White House and Blair House, including President Bush and Vice President Cheney, set out to undermine and trash the reputation of an Iraq war critic, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, Libby has been found guilty of perjury, lying to the FBI and obstruction of justice by a Washington jury.

Now maybe special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald and what passes for journalists in the mainstream media can get down to the real business of finding out just why the entire White House smear operation was unleashed upon a minor state department official and why they went so far as to violate federal law and expose his CIA-operative wife, Valerie Plame, in the process destroying her entire network of contacts for monitoring the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

Because that’s what this whole Libby story is really about.

The whole focus of the media in this case has been on the narrow, inside-the-Beltway question of who leaked information about Plame to the media.

Entirely forgotten or ignored has been what this leak was all about to begin with.

For that, you have to go back and look at what Wilson did in the first place that so enraged or frightened the Vice President and the President.

And that was to go to Niger, one of the poorest nations in Africa, to prove conclusively that there was no truth to a set of forged notes on the letterhead of the Niger embassy in Rome, purporting to be receipts for 400 tons of Niger uranium ore allegedly being sought by Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.

Wilson knew those documents were cheap forgeries–the name of the mines official on the papers was someone who hadn’t been in office for years–but he went to Niger anyhow, just to make doubly certain that no such purchase attempt had been made.

None had.

So the real question then is, who is behind those forged documents?

There is an interesting story here–and an important mystery to be solved.

As it happens, way back in early 2001 there was a pair of burglaries at the Niger Embassy in Rome and at the home of the Niger ambassador. Police investigating the crimes found that the only things stolen were official stationary and some official stamps, used to make documents official. A cleaning lady and a former member of Italy’s intelligence service were arrested for the crimes. They were odd burglaries to be sure, since there is precious little one could use, or sell, such documents for, given the country involved. I mean, it might make sense to steal official stationary from the French Embassy in Rome, which a thief might use to finagle a pass to the Cannes Festival. But Niger?

Jump to October 2001. A few weeks after the 9-11 attacks, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, accompanied by his ministers of defense and intelligence, made a visit to the White House. There he reportedly handed over the forged Niger documents (they were on Niger government stationary, and had Niger government stamps!), which appeared to be receipts for uranium ore, made out to Saddam Hussein. Now forget the matter of why either Hussein or Niger’s government would want paper receipts for such an illegal transaction, and forget the matter of how Hussein would have transported 400 tons of yellow dust across the Sahara to his country without somebody noticing. The simple fact is that Bush’s own intelligence experts at the CIA and State Department promptly spotted the forgeries, and they were dumped.

We know this because we know, from the likes of onetime National Security Council counterterrorism head Richard Clarke and former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, that Bush was pushing for war with Iran almost as soon as he finished reading My Pet Goat following the attack on the Twin Towers. Surely if the White House had even thought those Niger documents might be legit, they would have leaked or broadcast them all over creation.

They didn’t. The documents were deep-sixed, and mentioned to no one.

But according to some dedicated investigative reporters at the respected Italian newspaper La Repubblica, they resurfaced before long at a very suspicious meeting. This meeting occurred in December 2001 in Rome, and included Michael Ledeen, an associate of Defense Department Undersecretary for Policy Douglas Feith and a key figure in the White House’s war-propaganda program, Larry Franklin, a top Defense Intelligence Agency Middle East analyst who later pleaded guilty to passing classified information to two employees of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), convicted Iraqi bank swindler Ahmed Chalabi, then head of the CIA-created Iraqi National Congress, and Harold Rhode of the sinister Defense Department Office of Special Plans, that office set up by the White House and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld under Feith’s direction to manufacture “evidence” to justify a war on Iraq. Also at this peculiar meeting were the heads of the Italian Defense Department and of SISMI, the Italian intelligence agency.

According to La Repubblica, it was at that meeting that a plan was hatched to resurrect the forged Niger documents, and to give them credibility by recycling them through British intelligence.

And that is what Bush was referring to when, in his 2003 State of the Union address, he famously frightened a nation by declaring, “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

Bush lyingly implied that this was new information, when in fact he knew–had to know–that the “evidence” in British hands was the same set of documents he had been offered by Berlusconi almost a year and a half earlier, which had been declared to be bogus.

No mainstream American media organization has pursued this story, or even published the details as reported in Italy. Most Americans, consequently, don’t even know what a grand lie Bush and the White House perpetrated upon them and the Congress in order to win approval for an attack on Iraq.

Perhaps now that Libby has gone down for his part in this grotesque crime, some editor will ask the obvious question: Why did the White House and the Office of Vice President go to such extraordinary lengths to attack Wilson and his wife? And more importantly, who was behind those Niger embassy burglaries and the forged uranium ore sale documents? And what was OSP doing meeting in Rome in December 2001 with the head of Italian intelligence?

Make no mistake: this whole story has the odor of a “black op” designed to target the American people.

If so it was an act of high treason.

It is not just Libby who should go to jail for this crime. It is the president and vice president.

At this point, whether or not the mainstream media decide to do their job, one has to hope that Fitzgerald, with Libby in the bag, will take the next step and hold the prospect of a lengthy prison sentence recommendation over the convict’s head in order to try and win from him a promise of cooperation with the prosecution.

Because Libby knows who was behind all of this.

And that’s the real story that needs to be told. So Scooter Libby has taken the fall.

Three and a half years and a long bloody war after he and a gang of war-mongers in the White House and Blair House, including President Bush and Vice President Cheney, set out to undermine and trash the reputation of an Iraq war critic, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, Libby has been found guilty of perjury, lying to the FBI and obstruction of justice by a Washington jury.

Now maybe special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald and what passes for journalists in the mainstream media can get down to the real business of finding out just why the entire White House smear operation was unleashed upon a minor state department official and why they went so far as to violate federal law and expose his CIA-operative wife, Valerie Plame, in the process destroying her entire network of contacts for monitoring the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

Because that’s what this whole Libby story is really about.

The whole focus of the media in this case has been on the narrow, inside-the-Beltway question of who leaked information about Plame to the media.

Entirely forgotten or ignored has been what this leak was all about to begin with.

For that, you have to go back and look at what Wilson did in the first place that so enraged or frightened the Vice President and the President.

And that was to go to Niger, one of the poorest nations in Africa, to prove conclusively that there was no truth to a set of forged notes on the letterhead of the Niger embassy in Rome, purporting to be receipts for 400 tons of Niger uranium ore allegedly being sought by Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.

Wilson knew those documents were cheap forgeries–the name of the mines official on the papers was someone who hadn’t been in office for years–but he went to Niger anyhow, just to make doubly certain that no such purchase attempt had been made.

None had.

So the real question then is, who is behind those forged documents?

There is an interesting story here–and an important mystery to be solved.

As it happens, way back in early 2001 there was a pair of burglaries at the Niger Embassy in Rome and at the home of the Niger ambassador. Police investigating the crimes found that the only things stolen were official stationary and some official stamps, used to make documents official. A cleaning lady and a former member of Italy’s intelligence service were arrested for the crimes. They were odd burglaries to be sure, since there is precious little one could use, or sell, such documents for, given the country involved. I mean, it might make sense to steal official stationary from the French Embassy in Rome, which a thief might use to finagle a pass to the Cannes Festival. But Niger?

Jump to October 2001. A few weeks after the 9-11 attacks, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, accompanied by his ministers of defense and intelligence, made a visit to the White House. There he reportedly handed over the forged Niger documents (they were on Niger government stationary, and had Niger government stamps!), which appeared to be receipts for uranium ore, made out to Saddam Hussein. Now forget the matter of why either Hussein or Niger’s government would want paper receipts for such an illegal transaction, and forget the matter of how Hussein would have transported 400 tons of yellow dust across the Sahara to his country without somebody noticing. The simple fact is that Bush’s own intelligence experts at the CIA and State Department promptly spotted the forgeries, and they were dumped.

We know this because we know, from the likes of onetime National Security Council counterterrorism head Richard Clarke and former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, that Bush was pushing for war with Iran almost as soon as he finished reading My Pet Goat following the attack on the Twin Towers. Surely if the White House had even thought those Niger documents might be legit, they would have leaked or broadcast them all over creation.

They didn’t. The documents were deep-sixed, and mentioned to no one.

But according to some dedicated investigative reporters at the respected Italian newspaper La Repubblica, they resurfaced before long at a very suspicious meeting. This meeting occurred in December 2001 in Rome, and included Michael Ledeen, an associate of Defense Department Undersecretary for Policy Douglas Feith and a key figure in the White House’s war-propaganda program, Larry Franklin, a top Defense Intelligence Agency Middle East analyst who later pleaded guilty to passing classified information to two employees of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), convicted Iraqi bank swindler Ahmed Chalabi, then head of the CIA-created Iraqi National Congress, and Harold Rhode of the sinister Defense Department Office of Special Plans, that office set up by the White House and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld under Feith’s direction to manufacture “evidence” to justify a war on Iraq. Also at this peculiar meeting were the heads of the Italian Defense Department and of SISMI, the Italian intelligence agency.

According to La Repubblica, it was at that meeting that a plan was hatched to resurrect the forged Niger documents, and to give them credibility by recycling them through British intelligence.

And that is what Bush was referring to when, in his 2003 State of the Union address, he famously frightened a nation by declaring, “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

Bush lyingly implied that this was new information, when in fact he knew–had to know–that the “evidence” in British hands was the same set of documents he had been offered by Berlusconi almost a year and a half earlier, which had been declared to be bogus.

No mainstream American media organization has pursued this story, or even published the details as reported in Italy. Most Americans, consequently, don’t even know what a grand lie Bush and the White House perpetrated upon them and the Congress in order to win approval for an attack on Iraq.

Perhaps now that Libby has gone down for his part in this grotesque crime, some editor will ask the obvious question: Why did the White House and the Office of Vice President go to such extraordinary lengths to attack Wilson and his wife? And more importantly, who was behind those Niger embassy burglaries and the forged uranium ore sale documents? And what was OSP doing meeting in Rome in December 2001 with the head of Italian intelligence?

Make no mistake: this whole story has the odor of a “black op” designed to target the American people.

If so it was an act of high treason.

It is not just Libby who should go to jail for this crime. It is the president and vice president.

At this point, whether or not the mainstream media decide to do their job, one has to hope that Fitzgerald, with Libby in the bag, will take the next step and hold the prospect of a lengthy prison sentence recommendation over the convict’s head in order to try and win from him a promise of cooperation with the prosecution.

Because Libby knows who was behind all of this.

And that’s the real story that needs to be told.

Bush Commutes Libby’s Prison Term in CIA Leak Case

July 2 (Bloomberg) — President George W. Bush spared Lewis “Scooter” Libby from prison in the CIA leak case, saying his 2 1/2-year term was “excessive.”

Bush acted after a U.S. appellate court today refused to let Libby, 56, stay free during his appeal. Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was convicted of lying to investigators probing the 2003 leak of Central Intelligence Agency official Valerie Plame‘s identity. Libby’s backers had argued for a pardon.

“My decision to commute his prison sentence leaves in place a harsh punishment for Mr. Libby,” Bush said in a statement. “The consequences of his felony conviction on his former life as a lawyer, public servant and private citizen will be long-lasting.”

The president’s action means that even though Libby avoids prison, his conviction stands, and he is still required to pay the $250,000 fine ordered by a federal judge. He can continue to appeal his conviction and fine.

Bush’s decision was denounced by Democrats. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, who had demanded that Bush promise not to pardon Libby, called the commutation “disgraceful” and said, “History will judge him harshly for using that power to benefit his own vice president’s chief of staff.”

Obama, Clinton

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama of Illinois said Bush’s action cements his legacy as one of “cynicism and division” that “placed itself and its ideology above the law.” Senator Hillary Clinton of New York said the commutation “sends the clear signal that in this administration, cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice.”

Republicans approved of Bush’s decision.

“I am very happy for Scooter Libby,” said former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson, a potential Republican presidential candidate who had urged a pardon. “This will allow a good American, who has done a lot for his country, to resume his life.” Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said that Bush “came to a reasonable decision and I believe the decision was correct.”

William Jeffress, one of Libby’s lawyers, said in an e- mailed statement that Libby would have no comment on the commutation.

`Unjust’

“As for the defense lawyers, we continue to believe the conviction itself was unjust but are grateful for the president’s action commuting the prison sentence,” Jeffress said.

Republicans who opposed the prosecution of Libby will be pleased, said H. Christopher Bartolomucci, a lawyer at Hogan & Hartson in Washington who worked on pardons in the White House from 2001 to 2003.

“This is a president who is not cowed by public opinion,” said Bartolomucci. “This was a truly unique case, a case involving a member of his administration, a highly charged prosecution, so the normal rules go out the window.”

Melanie Sloan, a lawyer who represents Plame and her husband, Joseph Wilson, in a civil suit against Libby and Cheney over the leak, said Bush’s administration “believes leaking classified information for political ends is justified and that the law is what applies to other people.”

Bush’s statement said that, with “incarceration imminent, I believe it is now important to react” to the appeals court’s refusal to let Libby remain free.

Until now, Bush had stayed out of the case, with his aides saying he would let the appeal go forward.

Special Prosecutor

Libby’s supporters argued that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was over-zealous in prosecuting Libby for lying to investigators when no one was charged over the actual leak of Plame’s status as a CIA official. Fitzgerald, in a statement, said that the sentence imposed on Libby was “consistent with the applicable laws.”

Libby was convicted of obstructing justice, perjury and making false statements. He resigned as Cheney’s chief of staff upon being indicted in 2005.

Libby was found guilty of lying to Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and a grand jury probing whether the Bush administration deliberately leaked Plame’s identity to retaliate against her husband. In a New York Times column on July 6, 2003, Wilson accused the government of twisting intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq earlier that year.

Plame’s status as a CIA official was disclosed eight days later in an article by syndicated columnist Robert Novak. Novak testified during the trial that Plame’s identity was provided to him by then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and confirmed by White House political adviser Karl Rove.

Fitzgerald argued that Libby lied about his knowledge of the leak to protect his job. It’s a federal crime to knowingly reveal the identity of a covert CIA agent, and the White House had announced that anyone who leaked Plame’s identity would be fired. No one was charged with a crime or fired for the leak.

Libby’s lawyers said national security matters kept him too preoccupied to remember details about the leak.

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