Barton Gellman and Dafna Linzer of the WaPo tell us that Dick Cheney was the real star of the most recent Fitzgerald filing (39 page .pdf), review the 16 Word debacle (breaking news in the process, I think), and repeat a misrepresentation of the Fitzgerald filing that the WaPo hyped before. Let's dig in:
A 'Concerted Effort' to Discredit Bush Critic
Prosecutor Describes Cheney, Libby as Key Voices Pitching Iraq-Niger Story
As he drew back the curtain this week on the evidence against Vice President Cheney's former top aide, Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald for the first time described a "concerted action" by "multiple people in the White House" -- using classified information -- to "discredit, punish or seek revenge against" a critic of President Bush's war in Iraq.
Bluntly and repeatedly, Fitzgerald placed Cheney at the center of that campaign. Citing grand jury testimony from the vice president's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Fitzgerald fingered Cheney as the first to voice a line of attack that at least three White House officials would soon deploy against former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV.
Yes he did, as I noted in my first pass through the filing in the "Get Dick!" section. However, I also noted that it was what Fitzgerald did not tell us that was important - it is obvious from this filing that Libby did *not* testify that Cheney instructed him to leak information about Ms. Plame.
And Murray Waas reported that, although Cheney claims to have learned about Ms. Plame from then-DCI George Tenet, Tenet does not remember the conversation (although I bet he remembers getting a Medal of Freedom!)
So - Libby hasn't said that Cheney ordered him to out Plame; Tenet hasn't said that he warned Cheney that Plame was covert - this is quite a compelling case that is coming together against Cheney. Well, I covered that in "The Loosening Noose".
Let me take up another point - in describing a possible White House conspiracy the WaPo misrepresents, for the second time (April 7, R. Jeffrey Smith), an interesting part of the Fitzgerald filing. Here we go:
Fitzgerald reported for the first time this week that "multiple officials in the White House"-- not only Libby and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, who have previously been identified -- discussed Plame's CIA employment with reporters before and after publication of her name on July 14, 2003, in a column by Robert D. Novak. Fitzgerald said the grand jury has collected so much testimony and so many documents that "it is hard to conceive of what evidence there could be that would disprove the existence of White House efforts to 'punish' Wilson."
Wow! Fitzgerald has so much evidence that he can't conceive of evidence that would let the White House could dig itself out of this hole! Stunning! But not true - the WaPo has taken a reasonable statement from Fitzgerald out of context and twisted its meaning 180 degrees.
The filing relates to the Libby defense request for various documents under discovery. Fitzgerald makes the point that, although he could provide documents that suggested a conspiracy, trying to provide documents proving the non-existence of a conspiracy involves the challenge of proving a negative - just how many documents that don't suggest a conspiracy, Fitzgerald wondered, would be needed to prove there was no conspiracy? And just what would those documents say - "No conspiracy here"?
That line of argumentation led Fitzgerald to the comment excerpted opportunistically but inappropriately by the WaPo:
"...it is hard to conceive of what evidence there could be that would disprove the existence of White House efforts to 'punish' Wilson."
C'mon, get an editor to look at what Fitzgerald wrote, and save this nonsense for the lefty blogs.
That said, and for the benefit of the WaPo editors, here is a more complete excerpt, starting on p. 29 of the .pdf. Emphasis on the part they selectively excerpted:
Defendant also asserts without elaboration that “documents that help establish that no White House-driven plot to punish Mr. Wilson caused the disclosure of Ms. Wilson’s identity also constitute Brady material.” Once again, defendant ignores the fact that he is not charged with participating in any conspiracy, much less one defined as a “White House-driven plot to punish Mr. Wilson.” Thus, putative evidence that such a conspiracy did not exist is not Brady material. Moreover, given that there is evidence that other White House officials with whom defendant spoke prior to July14, 2003 discussed Wilson’s wife’s employment with the press both prior to, and after, July 14, 2003 – which evidence has been shared with defendant – it is hard to conceive of what evidence there could be that would disprove the existence of White House efforts to “punish” Wilson. Surely, defendant cannot claim that any document on its face that does not reflect a plot is exculpatory.
I happen to think that is crystal clear and makes a very different point from that chosen by the creative excerpters at the WaPo. But just to gild the lily, here is Fitzgerald addressing a similar discovery issue on p. 26:
Defendant is not charged with knowingly disclosing classified information, nor is he charged with any conspiracy offense. Moreover, as a practical matter, there are no documents showing an absence of a plot, and it is unclear how any document custodian would set out to find documents showing an “absence of a plot.” Indeed, there exist documents, some of which have been provided to defendant, and there were conversations in which defendant participated, that reveal a strong desire by many, including multiple people in the White House, to repudiate Mr. Wilson before and
after July 14, 2003.
Fortunately it is not illegal to devise a communications strategy to repudiate one's critics. But unlike the passage so eagerly hyped on two occasions by the WaPo, Fitzgerald does not assert that he has a plethora of documents indicating a White House plot to "punish" Wilson. However, the word "punish" was chosen by Libby's lawyers and gleefully seized upon by Fitzgerald and the WaPo, so they ought to adjust their bill.
ERRATA: Here is the Friday hype of that passage:
Libby, who was indicted last year for allegedly lying to the FBI and a grand jury about what he said to reporters about his contacts with the media, wants the materials because he thinks they will show that his misstatements were innocent and did not stem from an orchestrated administration campaign to discredit Wilson, according to his court filings.
Fitzgerald's brief uses unusually strong language to rebut this claim. In light of the grand jury testimony, the prosecutor said, "it is hard to conceive of what evidence there could be that would disprove the existence of White House efforts to 'punish' Wilson."
MORE TO FOLLOW: This looks like the breaking news on the 16 Words, with emphasis added:
Tenet interceded to keep the claim out of a speech Bush gave in Cincinnati on Oct. 7, 2002, but by Dec. 19 it reappeared in a State Department "fact sheet." After that, the Pentagon asked for an authoritative judgment from the National Intelligence Council, the senior coordinating body for the 15 agencies that then constituted the U.S. intelligence community. Did Iraq and Niger discuss a uranium sale, or not? If they had, the Pentagon would need to reconsider its ties with Niger.
The council's reply, drafted in a January 2003 memo by the national intelligence officer for Africa, was unequivocal: The Niger story was baseless and should be laid to rest. Four U.S. officials with firsthand knowledge said in interviews that the memo, which has not been reported before, arrived at the White House as Bush and his highest-ranking advisers made the uranium story a centerpiece of their case for the rapidly approaching war against Iraq.