The NY Times delivers a shocker in the Plame case - per notes taken by Lewis Libby, George Tenet, former director of the CIA, told Dick Cheney that Ms. Wilson was involved in Joe Wilson's trip to Niger. Dick Cheney then relayed this information to Libby on June 12, 2003, the day of the oft-cited Walter Pincus article.
Why is this
big huge? As the Times recounts, up to now various leaks have suggested that Libby is relying on a "Blame the media" strategy: Libby has reportedly testified that he first learned about the "Wilson and wife" story from reporters in conversations that took place in July.
Of course, if these earlier leaks are to be believed, then if Libby *actually* learned about Wilson's wife on June 12, Libby lied! And maybe Cheney did too! Among the left-leaning blogs, there is a parade that lacks only a marching band: Jane Hamsher thinks Cheney lied; Jeralyn Merritt thinks Libby lied to protect Cheney, as do Mark Kleiman and Steve Clemons; and the emptywheel thinks the Tenet connection is a misdirection (we score that as interesting, but...).
Fascinating. A few of these fine bloggers take a stab at a very obvious question - where did these notes come from? Libby is cooperating and has finally turned them over seems to be the consensus among those who hazard any guess at all; put the Anon Lib in that group. [And the WaPo deflates that idea a day later, telling us that Fitzgerald seems to have had these notes for a long time; see UPDATE.]
We score this a "Maybe". Maybe Libby has hidden these notes all along, and has hoped that (a) Cheney lied or forgot his talk with Libby when interviewed as part of the investigation; (b) Tenet lied or forgot his talk with Cheney; or, (c) to fit the emptywheel notion, Cheney was foresighted enough to lie to Libby about his source when Libby was taking notes back in June 2003; and (d) neither White House nor CIA phone logs and sign in sheets would put Cheney and Tenet in a meeting where Wilson might have been discussed and about which they might have been questioned.
All possible in the Grand Conspiracy and cover-up! But let's take a few steps back, and conjure a conspiracy of our own.
First, the NY Times reported in Feb 2004 that Fitzgerald's investigation was relying on Libby's "copious notes" which were delivered (we guessed) in response to a Sept 2003 document request when this Plame leak investigation started.
Now, the high priced legal talent is paid to review everything submitted to the prosecutor. What are the odds they overlooked this morsel that Cheney told Libby about Wilson's wife?
So let's guess that Libby's counsel, and Libby, knew all about the Cheney connection more or less at the outset of the investigation. Libby would have been advised to be forthcoming with the grand jury - after all, as the Times notes, "It would not be illegal for either Mr. Cheney or Mr. Libby, both of whom are presumably cleared to know the government's deepest secrets, to discuss a C.I.A. officer or her link to a critic of the administration."
And on to the conspiracy! Why do the Commentariat think Libby testified to a "Blame the media" strategy? Is this conventional wisdom based on leaks from Fitzgerald? No.
As many have noted, most of these leaks are coming from lawyers whose clients work for the Administration (a few reporter's attorneys have been swept up as well, of course).
So, suppose Libby's attorneys have been whiling away the summer months, and on into autumn, feeding the press a partially true cover story that Libby was blaming the Plame leaks on Tim Russert, and encouraging speculation about Judy Miller. Clinton's team made the mistake of attacking the prosecutor and drawing return fire; this time, the White House was crafty enough to attack the press.
Right wing running dogs (my hand is held high!) are always ready to denounce the media; the left was hopelessly distracted by Judy Miller; and Dick Cheney was kept out of the story until the final week. If that was an objective, Mission Accomplished.
In this theory, Fitzgerald (if he reads the papers) is laughing out loud - Libby testified to Cheney's role almost two years ago, and Fitzgerald doesn't care about Cheney. The Times certainly gives that impression, noting that Cheney is not being reinterviewed by Fitzgerald.
As to Libby's "Blame the media" pose - his actual testimony may only be a bit different from the staged leaks. For example, perhaps Libby testified that he only talked with reporters about Wilson's wife after hearing about it from other reporters, and in leaks to the press that conveniently morphed into "Libby only knew about it after talking with reporters". Blame the media, shield Cheney, disclose the near-truth - a trifecta!
And why did Fitzgerald pursue the media so intently? Because he still needs to know who leaked, and Libby's "blame the media" strategy" is relevant to that line of inquiry even if Cheney's role has been fully disclosed. As to the current gloomy atmospherics at the White House - well, they aren't staging that. Libby may well have other problems with his Judy Miller/Tim Russert testimony that have nothing to do with Cheney.
Here we are. Even some aficionados are growing weary of this speculation and leak-parsing (but not me!). Since Fitzgerald is expected to announce something (anything!) this week, this debate has the feel of ruminating about which team has the best chance to win the World Series with two outs in the ninth inning of the seventh game.
Put another way - Time will tell, shortly. But don't rule out the possibility that all of those leaks about Libby's testimony have been a misdirection play. That seems at least as plausible as a grand conspiracy involving eerily prescient missing notes, tampered records and false statements from Cheney and Tenet.
MORE: Now, if we can just come up with a scenario in which Fitzgerald indicts Harriet Miers...
TIMES SELECT SPECIAL ALERT: Neither Kristof nor Tierney see big things coming from this investigation. Kristof is worried about equivocal evidence and overzealous prosecutors, mentions "Inspector Javert, and reprises his Oct 11 2003 column telling us that Ms. Plame was outed to the Russkies in 1994.
Tierney is also worried about perjury and obstruction charges for a non-crime. Best line:
The special prosecutor was assigned to look for serious crimes, not to uncover evidence that bureaucrats blame other bureaucrats when things go wrong.
UPDATE: The Wednesday WaPo deflates the idea that Fitzgerald received these notes recently:
Two lawyers involved in the case said that, based on Fitzgerald's earlier questions, the prosecutor has been aware of Libby's June 12 conversation with Cheney since the early days of his investigation. The lawyers said Libby recorded in his notes that Cheney relayed to him that Wilson's wife may have had a role in Wilson taking the CIA-sponsored mission to Niger. According to a source familiar with Libby's testimony, Libby told the grand jury he believed he heard of Wilson's wife first from reporters.
We still have a troublesome "source familiar" recycling Libby's "Blame the media" defense. However, this WaPo reporting can not be squared with the idea that a newly cooperative Libby has turned over new notes.
Ahh, but maybe it is a leak designed to conceal Libby's cooperation? Very conspiratorial...
AFTER-ACTION: The transcript of Fitzgerald's press conference announcing the indictment of Lewis Libby provides a very solid indication that Libby testified about a conversation with Cheney to the grand jury in March 2004, which strongly suggests he was aware of his notes (or had an independent recollection) at that time. However, this belated admission (which corrected false statements he made to investigators in October 2003) was apparently incomplete, since Libby had had conversations both with Cheney and with other people. From the transcript:
That brings us to the fall of 2003. When it was clear that Valerie Wilson's cover had been blown, investigation began. And in October 2003, the FBI interviewed Mr. Libby. Mr. Libby is the vice president's chief of staff. He's also an assistant to the president and an assistant to the vice president for national security affairs.
The focus of the interview was what it that he had known about Wilson's wife, Valerie Wilson, what he knew about Ms. Wilson, what he said to people, why he said it, and how he learned it.
And to be frank, Mr. Libby gave the FBI a compelling story.
What he told the FBI is that essentially he was at the end of a long chain of phone calls. He spoke to reporter Tim Russert, and during the conversation Mr. Russert told him that, Hey, do you know that all the reporters know that Mr. Wilson's wife works at the CIA?
And he told the FBI that he learned that information as if it were new, and it struck him. So he took this information from Mr. Russert and later on he passed it on to other reporters, including reporter Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, reporter Judith Miller of the New York Times.
And he told the FBI that when he passed the information on on July 12th, 2003, two days before Mr. Novak's column, that he passed it on understanding that this was information he had gotten from a reporter; that he didn't even know if it was true.
And he told the FBI that when he passed the information on to the reporters he made clear that he did know if this were true. This was something that all the reporters were saying and, in fact, he just didn't know and he wanted to be clear about it.
Later, Mr. Libby went before the grand jury on two occasions in March of 2004. He took and oath and he testified. And he essentially said the same thing.
He said that, in fact, he had learned from the vice president earlier in June 2003 information about Wilson's wife, but he had forgotten it, and that when he learned the information from Mr. Russert during this phone call he learned it as if it were new.
When he passed the information on to reporters Cooper and Miller late in the week, he passed it on thinking it was just information he received from reporters; that he told reporters that, in fact, he didn't even know if it were true. He was just passing gossip from one reporter to another at the long end of a chain of phone calls.
It would be a compelling story that will lead the FBI to go away if only it were true. It is not true, according to the indictment.
In fact, Mr. Libby discussed the information about Valerie Wilson at least half a dozen times before this conversation with Mr. Russert ever took place, not to mention that when he spoke to Mr. Russert, Mr. Russert and he never discussed Valerie Wilson or Wilson's wife.
He didn't learn it from Mr. Russert. But if he had, it would not have been new at the time.
Let me talk you through what the indictment alleges.
The indictment alleges that Mr. Libby learned the information about Valerie Wilson at least three times in June of 2003 from government officials.
Let me make clear there was nothing wrong with government officials discussing Valerie Wilson or Mr. Wilson or his wife and imparting the information to Mr. Libby.
But in early June, Mr. Libby learned about Valerie Wilson and the role she was believed to play in having sent Mr. Wilson on a trip overseas from a senior CIA officer on or around June 11th, from an undersecretary of state on or around June 11th, and from the vice president on or about June 12th.