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While aboard Air Force One (see July 11, 2003), White House communications director Dan Bartlett and press secretary Ari Fleischer urge reporters, including Time correspondent John Dickerson, to write about the origins of Joseph Wilson’s CIA-backed mission to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Dickerson will later write that when he subsequently learns Wilson’s wife is a CIA official (see July 14, 2003), he then understands what he calls “the wink-wink nudge-nudge I was getting about who sent Wilson.” (Office of Special Counsel 10/3/2005 ; Dickerson 2/7/2006)
While in Uganda for a presidential trip to various sites in Africa, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer tells two reporters that Joseph Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA official, according to Fleischer. He also tells the two men, NBC’s David Gregory and Time’s John Dickerson, that Plame Wilson is responsible for sending her husband to Niger to investigate claims of an Iraqi attempt to buy Nigerien uranium (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Fleischer says, “If you want to know who sent Ambassador Wilson to Niger, it was his wife, she works there.” Reporter Tamara Lippert of Newsweek is present for parts of the conversation. Fleischer will recount the story as part of his testimony in the Lewis Libby perjury trial (see July 11, 2003). (Marcy Wheeler 1/29/2007) Later, Dickerson will say that Fleischer does not talk about Plame Wilson in his hearing, but merely prods him to investigate the origins of Wilson’s Niger mission (see July 11, 2003). Dickerson will write: “I have a different memory. My recollection is that during a presidential trip to Africa in July 2003, Ari and another senior administration official had given me only hints. They told me to go inquire about who sent Wilson to Niger. As far as I can remember—and I am pretty sure I would remember it—neither of them ever told me that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA.” (Dickerson 1/29/2007)
Time reporter John Dickerson speaks with his colleague Matthew Cooper about Cooper’s recent conversation with White House political strategist Karl Rove (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Rove told Cooper that war critic Joseph Wilson’s wife is the CIA official who sent Wilson on his mission to Niger (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003). Cooper sent an e-mail to his editors at Time about the conversation (see 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003). Dickerson has just recently learned that Wilson’s wife is a CIA official from another White House source (see 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). The two reporters agree that Cooper should pursue the story. As Dickerson will later write: “Matt and I agreed to point out in our files to the cover story that White House officials were going so directly after Wilson. We also agreed that I wouldn’t go back to my sources about the wife business. The universe of people who knew this information was undoubtedly small. Mentioning it to other officials would potentially out Rove as Time’s source to his colleagues. Plus, it was Matt’s scoop and his arrangement with Rove. He had a better sense of how to get the information confirmed without violating their agreement.” (Dickerson 2/7/2006) Six days later, Time will print a story co-authored by Cooper and Dickerson that uses Rove’s disclosure as a central element (see July 17, 2003).
Time magazine carries an article suggesting that White House official Karl Rove is no longer under suspicion for leaking the identity of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson. However, at least three reporters involved in the writing and editing of the article know that Rove leaked the name, according to an analysis by the Media Matters website. The article prominently features White House press secretary Scott McClellan’s denial that Rove had any involvement in the leak (see September 29, 2003). Reporter Matthew Cooper, who himself had Plame Wilson’s identity leaked to him by Rove (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), and editors Michael Duffy and John Dickerson all know of Rove’s involvement in the leak. Duffy learned of the Rove leak from an e-mail Cooper sent him. Dickerson will later acknowledge that he, too, is aware of Rove’s leak to Cooper at the same time (see February 7, 2006). Although both Cooper and Dickerson are credited with writing the article, and Duffy edits it, none reveal their knowledge that McClellan’s denial is false and that Rove had, indeed, leaked Plame Wilson’s identity. Indeed, Media Matters will note, the article gives implicit credence to the notion that Rove is no longer under suspicion for the leak. Media Matters will also note that Dickerson will go on to co-write a January 2004 Time article with another reporter, Viveca Novak, which will say in part, “If there are culprits in the White House who leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame, they may now be dependent on reporters to protect their identities.” Media Matters will note that Dickerson was well aware that there were indeed “culprits” in the White House who outed Plame Wilson: “He knew there was at least one, and he knew who it was. Yet he told readers it was an open question and that no charges were likely.” Media Matters will also note that Novak knew at some point that Rove was Cooper’s source, though it is unclear if she knows it when she co-writes the January 2004 article with Dickerson. (Novak and Dickerson 1/12/2004; Media Matters 2/6/2006) In 2005, the Los Angeles Times will report that Time magazine justified its reporting by saying it was “concerned about becoming part of such an explosive story in an election year.” (Hamburger and Efron 8/25/2005)
President Bush flounders in answering a question about what his “biggest mistake” after 9/11 might have been. During a White House press conference, Time reporter John Dickerson asks Bush: “In the last campaign, you were asked a question about the biggest mistake you’d made in your life, and you used to like to joke that it was trading Sammy Sosa. You’ve looked back before 9/11 for what mistakes might have been made. After 9/11, what would your biggest mistake be, would you say, and what lessons have you learned from it?” Bush’s press secretary, Scott McClellan, is horrified by what he later calls Bush’s “tortured response to a straightforward question.” Bush attempts to buy a moment with a quip—“I wish you would have given me this written question ahead of time, so I could plan for it”—but continues to fumble, saying: “John, I’m sure historians will look back and say, gosh, he could have done it better this way, or that way. You know, I just—I’m sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer, but it hadn’t yet.”
'A Terrible Silence' - After what McClellan will recall as “an agonizingly long pause… a terrible silence [that] hung embarrassingly in the air,” Bush continues: “I would have gone into Afghanistan the way we went into Afghanistan. Even knowing what I know today about the stockpiles of weapons, I still would have called upon the world to deal with Saddam Hussein. See, I happen to believe that we’ll find out the truth on the weapons. That’s why we’ve sent up the independent commission. I look forward to hearing the truth, exactly where they are. They could still be there. They could be hidden, like the 50 tons of mustard gas in a turkey farm. One of the things that [weapons inspector] Charlie Duelfer talked about was that he was surprised at the level of intimidation he found amongst people who should know about weapons, and their fear of talking about them because they don’t want to be killed. There’s a terror still in the soul of some of the people in Iraq; they’re worried about getting killed, and, therefore, they’re not going to talk. But it will all settle out, John. We’ll find out the truth about the weapons at some point in time. However, the fact that he had the capacity to make them bothers me today, just like it would have bothered me then. He’s a dangerous man. He’s a man who actually—not only had weapons of mass destruction—the reason I can say that with certainty is because he used them. And I have no doubt in my mind that he would like to have inflicted harm, or paid people to inflict harm, or trained people to inflict harm on America, because he hated us.” After justifying his military actions, Bush concludes: “I hope I—I don’t want to sound like I’ve made no mistakes. I’m confident I have. I just haven’t—you just put me under the spot here, and maybe I’m not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one.” McClellan will write that he remains “stone-faced and motionless” as Bush manages to flounder through the question without actually admitting any mistakes. (US President 4/19/2004; McClellan 2008, pp. 204-208)
'Why Can't He Pull Up Some of Those Talking Points?' - McClellan’s first response is to blame himself for Bush’s inability to answer the question, then he has what he later calls a “counterreaction,” thinking: “Wait a second! We’re talking about the president of the United States here! He didn’t get to be president without being able to bat down a simple question. We’ve talked about mistakes. We’ve talked about 9/11. We’ve talked about the invasion of Iraq. Why can’t he pull up some of those talking points?” McClellan calls Bush’s answer “rambling, rather incoherent, and ultimately unsatisfying.”
A 'Cocksure' President - After the press conference, McClellan and White House communications director Dan Bartlett carefully approach the president. They agree among themselves that the Dickerson question had gone poorly, but know better than to broach the subject to Bush straight out. They begin, McClellan later recalls, by complimenting Bush on “hitting the right tone and getting his message across” on the government’s fight against terrorism. Then, McClellan will write: “Dan tactfully broached the awkward response of the Dickerson question. We had to bring it up in the little time we knew we could hold the president’s attention.” Bush says: “I kept thinking about what they wanted me to say—that it was a mistake to go into Iraq. And I’m not going to. It was the right decision.” McClellan will recall Bush’s tone as “cocksure and matter-of-fact, not testy.”
McClellan: Bush Unwilling to Admit Mistakes for Fear of Appearing Weak - McClellan will later reflect: “There were many other times, in private and in public, when the president defended the most fateful decision of his administration. But few will be remembered as vividly as the one he made that night. It became symbolic of a leader unable to acknowledge that he got it wrong, and unwilling to grow in office by learning from his mistake—too stubborn to change and grow.” McClellan believes Bush is afraid to admit a mistake for “fear of appearing weak,” and will write: “A more self-confident executive would be willing to acknowledge failure, to trust people’s ability to forgive those who seek redemption for mistakes and show a readiness for change.” McClellan will add that Bush was unwilling to risk “the personal pain he would have suffered if he’d had to acknowledge that the war against [Iraq] may have been unnecessary.” But, McClellan will conclude: “Bush was not one to look back once a decision was made. Rather than suffer any sense of guilt and anguish, Bush chose not to go down the road of self-doubt or take on the difficult task of honest evaluation and reassessment.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 204-208)
Defending Bush - Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, defends Bush’s refusal to admit any mistakes by saying Bush struck the proper tone with his questioners. “He was giving us a leadership statement on Iraq,” Hunter says, and adds, “That is not the right time for reporters to try to throw the president down on the analyst’s couch and have him try to tell them about all of his failings. He has to spend his time giving a vision of the future for the country.” (Reynolds 4/14/2004)
Slate reporter John Dickerson, who formerly worked for Time magazine during the initial Plame Wilson identity leak investigation coverage, writes of his knowledge of, and participation in, the investigation, including his knowledge that White House official Karl Rove leaked Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity to Dickerson’s colleague, Matthew Cooper (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Dickerson co-wrote a July 2003 Time article with Cooper (see July 17, 2003) that led to Cooper’s subpoena from the Patrick Fitzgerald investigation (see August 9, 2004 and September 13, 2004), his being held in contempt of court (see October 13, 2004), and his eventual testimony (see July 13, 2005). However, Dickerson was never subpoenaed to testify before the Fitzgerald grand jury. He writes that he accompanied the gaggle of reporters with President Bush on his trip to Africa in July 2003, and of the extensive time spent by two “senior administration official[s]” telling him how partisan and unreliable Plame Wilson’s husband Joseph Wilson is, and how he should investigate what “low-level” CIA official sent Wilson to Niger (see July 11, 2003). “I thought I got the point,” Dickerson writes. “He’d been sent by someone around the rank of deputy assistant undersecretary or janitor.” Dickerson goes on to observe, “What struck me was how hard both officials were working to knock down Wilson” (see October 1, 2003). After returning from the trip, Cooper told Dickerson that Rove had informed him of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity. “So, that explained the wink-wink nudge-nudge I was getting about who sent Wilson,” Dickerson writes. Cooper and Dickerson were careful, Dickerson writes, to ensure that other reporters would not learn of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity from either of them. And Dickerson did not want to encroach on Cooper’s arrangement with Rove. Dickerson writes: “At this point the information about Valerie Plame was not the radioactive material it is today. No one knew she might have been a protected agent—and for whatever reason, the possibility didn’t occur to us or anyone else at the time. But it was still newsworthy that the White House was using her to make its case. That Scooter Libby and Karl Rove mentioned Plame to Matt was an example of how they were attempting to undermine Wilson. They were trying to make his trip look like a special family side deal not officially sanctioned by the agency.” (Dickerson 2/7/2006; Dickerson 2/7/2006) In 2007, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer will testify that he informed Dickerson of Plame Wilson’s identity (see 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), a statement that Dickerson will dispute. (Dickerson 1/29/2007)
Conservative media outlets such as the Web site Human Events announce the launch of scooterlibby.com, a Web site that coordinates and markets the fundraising efforts of the Lewis Libby defense fund (see After October 28, 2005). (The site also operates under the URL scooterlibby.org.) The chairman of the Libby Legal Defense Trust, Republican fundraiser and former ambassador Mel Sembler, writes on the front page of the site: “Since September 11, 2001, Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby has been one of the unsung heroes in fighting the war on terror, working diligently and making countless contributions on some of the most critical life and death issues that our country has faced. For the past five years, Scooter Libby served selflessly as an assistant to President Bush and as the chief of staff and national security adviser to Vice President Cheney. But Scooter’s great service to our country has now been cut short, and his good name attacked. A distinguished group of friends, business leaders, and former government officials have joined the Libby Legal Defense Trust to help Scooter defray his legal costs from the recent charges. We hope you will join us in supporting this effort.” The site features an endorsement from Dick Cheney calling Libby “one of the most capable and talented individuals I have ever known.” (Sellers 2/21/2006; Jeralyn Merritt 2/21/2006; Libby Legal Defense Trust 2/21/2006) Sembler says the group wants to raise $5 million for Libby’s defense. The group, staffed with veteran fundraisers who worked for the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign and other high-profile Republican campaigns, is believed to have raised almost half of that amount already. (Leonnig 2/22/2006) In upcoming days, Slate editor John Dickerson will publish an analysis of the site’s efforts, calling it an attempt to “humanize” Libby and portray him as a selfless, innocent victim of government persecution (see February 27, 2006).
Slate editor John Dickerson, who played a small role in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see February 7, 2006), writes about the recently launched Lewis Libby defense fund’s Web site created to help raise money for Libby’s defense (see After October 28, 2005 and February 21, 2006). Far from looking like the Web site of an indicted criminal, Dickerson writes, the site’s design makes it seem as if Libby is running for elected office. He is shown with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, while “[o]ther snapshots portray him in soft focus and at oblique angles, the kinds of images candidates use to make themselves look more huggable. Fortunately, Libby’s Web designers didn’t stoop to showing him with dogs and children.”
The 'Soft Sell' - Dickerson says the site is attempting to portray Libby to the American people as a likeable, honest person whose years of public service have left him open to unfair and unwarranted criminal charges. The site claims that Libby has virtually no money with which to fight those charges, and is basically relying on the generosity of the public to help him fight the government. The site does not focus as strongly on the array of powerful Washington Republicans lined up to help Libby raise money, particularly the large number of star fundraisers who raised large amounts of money for the Bush-Cheney presidential campaigns. However, the site notes, the Libby defense fund will not publicly release the names of donors to the fund. The site does focus on what Dickerson calls “the soft Scooter sell.” It intends to “clean… up his image for the public, the press, and potential jurors. The Web site offers a page titled ‘What You Aren’t Hearing,’ with testimonials lined up like movie blurbs.”
Possible Defense Strategy - And, Dickerson writes, the site offers hints as to what Libby’s defense strategy might be.
If the site is accurate, the defense team intends to portray Libby as “a good guy” who, as former Republican congressman Vin Weber says in a testimonial, “is a tough, honorable, honest guy.” He has spent his adult life in “selfless,” and apparently almost penniless, service to his country, fighting for the American people and battling terrorism and other national security threats with every waking breath. He is a “perfectionist,” says former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.
Libby just forgot about his knowledge of Plame Wilson’s CIA status, the site emphasizes, because he was too busy serving his country (see January 31, 2006). Former Bush Legislative Affairs Director Nick Calio is quoted as saying: “There are a lot of things that I don’t remember. I go through notes sometimes now and say I don’t even remember being in the meeting, let alone, you know, having said what I said.” Former Bush Solicitor General Theodore Olson adds, “From personal experience as a former public official who has been investigated by a special prosecutor, I know how easy it is not to be able to remember details of seemingly insignificant conversations.”
Dickerson notes that the two arguments are somewhat contradictory. He writes, “Libby’s site has a hard time, because it simultaneously is trying to argue that a) he was likely to forget the Plame episodes and b) he was hypercompetent.”
The site also spends a large amount of time and bandwidth attacking special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald. Seven of the 19 perspectives on Libby are criticisms of Fitzgerald, such as a statement by former Deputy Attorney General Victoria Toensing (see November 3, 2005) that the special counsel “has been investigating a very simple factual scenario and he’s missed this crucial fact.” (Dickerson 2/27/2006) Toensing will engage in further criticism of Fitzgerald and the criminal case against Libby in op-eds (see February 18, 2007, February 18, 2007, and March 16, 2007).
Slate reporter John Dickerson, who, as a member of the White House press corps, was cozened by the White House to join in its smear campaign against war critic Joseph Wilson (see July 11, 2003), tells his readers to donate to the Lewis Libby legal defense fund. Libby is facing perjury and obstruction charges over his participation in the White House-orchestrated exposure of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson. Dickerson claims that his solicitation for donations for Libby is motivated by a desire for the truth to come out about the White House’s involvement in the Wilson smear campaign and the Plame Wilson exposure, writing: “Usually the public has to wait for the tell-all books published after a president leaves office for juicy depictions of the infighting, back-stabbing, and pettiness. But Libby’s trial, which starts in January, will offer a sneak preview. There will be memos and meeting notes about the most secret administration activities. And since the testimony from current and former Bush officials will be under oath, it’s likely to be closer to the truth than anything we’d ultimately find at the bookstore. The Bush administration has been so opaque and has dissembled so often that we should embrace anything that forces candor about the past or encourages it in the present.” Moreover, Dickerson writes, “Libby might need a hefty defense fund if the administration decides to throw him under the bus,” and notes, “If things had not gone a certain way for John Dickerson, he could have needed a fund, too” (see February 7, 2006). Dickerson writes that special counsel and government prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is not, as yet, being particularly forthcoming about the evidence he is collecting as part of his upcoming prosecution of Libby. To adequately mount his defense, Libby needs more access to Fitzgerald’s documents than he has previously been granted, and is battling in court to convince Judge Reggie Walton to force the disclosure of a wide array of government documents, many of which are classified. Dickerson writes: “I hope Libby wins this battle. The more we know about what went on before and after the invasion of Iraq, the better. And we want to see it now, while everyone’s memory is fresh and people can be put under oath.… The better job Libby’s defense team does compelling Fitzgerald to open his files, the better we’ll understand what went wrong.” (Dickerson 4/17/2006)
Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer testifies in the trial of Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see January 16-23, 2007), and tells the court that he learned of Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status from Libby three days before Libby has said he first learned of it. If Fleischer is telling the truth, then Libby cannot have been truthful in his claims. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has told the court that in 2004 he offered Fleischer blanket immunity in return for his testimony (see February 13, 2004), without being sure what Fleischer would say in court. The defense team calls the arrangement highly unusual, and days before attempted to bar Fleischer’s testimony (see January 25-27, 2007). (MSNBC 2/21/2007; BBC 7/3/2007; Marcy Wheeler 1/29/2009) The prosecution quickly elicits Fleischer’s admission that if he lies under oath, his immunity agreement becomes void and he, too, can be prosecuted. (Marcy Wheeler 1/29/2009)
Libby Told Fleischer of Plame Wilson's Identity - Testifying under oath, Fleischer tells prosecuting attorney Peter Zeidenberg (handling the examination for Fitzgerald) that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from Libby during a lunch with him on July 7, the day after Plame Wilson’s husband’s controversial op-ed appeared in the New York Times (see July 6, 2003). Libby has told reporters he first learned about Plame Wilson’s identity on either July 10 or July 11 from NBC reporter Tim Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003, March 5, 2004, and March 24, 2004). According to Fleischer, Libby told him: “Ambassador [Joseph] Wilson was sent by his wife. His wife works for the CIA.” Fleischer testifies that Libby referred to Wilson’s wife by her maiden name, Valerie Plame. Fleischer says, “He added it was hush-hush, on the Q.T., and that most people didn’t know it.” Fleischer also notes that Libby told him Plame Wilson worked in the Counterproliferation Division, where almost everyone is covert, though he testifies that he knows little about the CIA’s internal structure. Four days later, Fleischer heard of Plame Wilson’s CIA status again, that time from White House communications director Dan Bartlett (see July 6-10, 2003). Fleischer informed conservative columnist Robert Novak of Plame Wilson’s CIA status the same day he learned of it from Libby (see July 7, 2003), and told reporters David Gregory and John Dickerson the same information a week later in what he calls a casual conversation (see 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Fleischer insists he believed the information about Plame Wilson was not classified, saying, “[N]ever in my wildest dreams [did I think] this information would be classified.” (CBS News 1/25/2007; Marcy Wheeler 1/29/2007; Goldstein and Leonnig 1/30/2007; Waas 2/19/2007; Marcy Wheeler 1/29/2009)
Defense Cross - The defense notes that Fleischer originally mispronounced Plame Wilson’s maiden name as “plah-MAY,” indicating that he may have read about her instead of being told of her identity. Fleischer says under cross-examination that he did not reveal Plame Wilson’s identity to reporters until he heard about the CIA official from a second White House aide, Bartlett (see July 7, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, and July 15, 2005). It was after Bartlett’s “vent” about Wilson that Fleischer says he decided to inform two reporters, NBC’s David Gregory and Time’s John Dickerson, of Plame Wilson’s CIA status. (Dickerson has said Fleischer did not tell him Plame Wilson was a CIA official—see February 7, 2006.) Fleischer testifies that neither Libby nor Bartlett invoked a White House protocol under which colleagues warned him when they were providing classified information that could not be discussed with reporters. (Marcy Wheeler 1/29/2007; Marcy Wheeler 1/29/2007; Goldstein and Leonnig 1/30/2007; Shane 2/4/2007)
Post: Fleischer Impugns Libby 'Memory Defense' - The Washington Post calls Fleischer “the most important prosecution witness to date,” and continues: “Though a series of government officials have told the jury that Libby eagerly sought information about [Wilson], Fleischer was the first witness to say Libby then passed on what he learned: that Wilson’s wife was a CIA officer who had sent him on a trip to Africa.… Fleischer also reinforced the prosecution’s central argument: that Libby had been so determined to learn and spread information about Wilson and Plame that he could not have forgotten his efforts” (see January 31, 2006). (Goldstein and Leonnig 1/30/2007) In 2004, Libby testified that he could not remember if he discussed Plame Wilson with Fleischer, though he admitted that he may have. (US Department of Justice 3/5/2004 )
Author and media observer Eric Boehlert, writing for the progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters, criticizes the majority of mainstream news reporters and publications for failing to report aggressively and even accurately on the Plame Wilson leak investigation. Boehlert writes that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald “has consistently shown more interest—and determination—in uncovering the facts of the Plame scandal than most Beltway journalists, including the often somnambulant DC newsroom of the New York Times. Indeed, for long stretches, the special counsel easily supplanted the timid DC press corps and become the fact-finder of record for the Plame story. It was Fitzgerald and his team of G-men—not journalists—who were running down leads, asking tough questions, and, in the end, helping inform the American people about possible criminal activity inside the White House.” While Fitzgerald had subpoena power, Boehlert admits, reporters often had inside information that they consistently failed to reveal, instead “dutifully keeping their heads down and doing their best to make sure the details never got out about the White House’s obsession with discrediting former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV by outing his undercover CIA wife, Valerie Plame” Wilson. Boehlert writes that if not for Fitzgerald’s dogged investigation, the entire leak story would have “simply faded into oblivion like so many other disturbing suggestions of Bush administration misdeeds. And it would have faded away because lots of high-profile journalists at the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, and NBC wanted it to.”
'Watergate in Reverse' - “In a sense, it was Watergate in reverse,” Boehlert writes. “Instead of digging for the truth, lots of journalists tried to bury it. The sad fact remains the press was deeply involved in the cover-up, as journalists reported White House denials regarding the Plame leak despite the fact scores of them received the leak and knew the White House was spreading rampant misinformation about an unfolding criminal case.”
Going Along to Avoid Angering White House - Boehlert believes that in the early days of the investigation, most Washington reporters agreed with President Bush, who said that it was unlikely the leaker’s identity would ever be unearthed (see October 7, 2003). Historically, leak investigations rarely produced the leaker. “So if the leakers weren’t going to be found out, what was the point of reporters going public with their information and angering a then-popular White House that had already established a habit for making life professionally unpleasant for reporters who pressed too hard?” Boehlert asks. Now, of course, the press is pursuing the Libby trial for all it’s worth.
Early Instances of Misleading - Boehlert notes a number of instances where media figures either deliberately concealed information they had about who leaked Plame Wilson’s name, or were transparently disingenuous about speculating on the leaker’s identity. ABC reported in July 2005 that “it’s been unknown who told reporters the identity of Valerie Plame” for two years, an assertion Boehlert calls “silly” (see October 3, 2003). The following Washington journalists all had inside information to one extent or another about the case long before the summer of 2005: Robert Novak (see July 8, 2003), Tim Russert (see August 7, 2004), Andrea Mitchell (see July 20, 2003 and July 21, 2003), David Gregory (see 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), Chris Matthews (see July 21, 2003), Matthew Cooper (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), Michael Duffy (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), John Dickerson (see February 7, 2006), Viveca Novak (see March 1, 2004), Judith Miller (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), and Bob Woodward (see June 13, 2003). Had they come forward with the information they had, the identity of the various White House leakers would have been revealed much sooner. “[B]ut none of them did,” Boehlert writes. “Instead, at times there was an unspoken race away from the Bush scandal, a collective retreat that’s likely unprecedented in modern-day Beltway journalism.”
Cheerleading for Bush - Many journalists without inside information were openly cheering for the Bush administration and against the investigation, Boehlert contends. They included the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof (see October 1, 2003 and October 25, 2005), Newsweek’s Evan Thomas (see October 1, 2003 and November 7, 2005), Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen (see October 13, 2005 and January 30, 2007), fellow Post columnist Michael Kinsley (see October 28, 2005 and January 31, 2007), Slate editor Jacob Weisberg (see October 18, 2005), and Post columnist David Broder (see July 10, 2005 and September 7, 2006). Author and liberal blogger Marcy Wheeler, in her book on the Plame affair entitled Anatomy of Deceit, wrote that in her view, the media was attempting to “mak[e] the case that the press should retain exclusive judgment on the behavior of politicians, with no role for the courts.”
Fighting to Stay Quiet during the Election Campaign - Many journalists tried, and succeeded, to keep the story quiet during the 2004 presidential election campaign. Matthew Cooper refused to testify before Fitzgerald’s grand jury until mid-2005, when he asked for and was granted a waiver from Karl Rove to reveal him as the source of his information that Plame Wilson was a CIA agent (see July 13, 2005). Boehlert notes that Cooper’s bosses at Time decided to fight the subpoena in part because they “were concerned about becoming part of such an explosive story in an election year” (see July 6, 2005).
Russert, NBC Withheld Information from Public - Russert also withheld information from Fitzgerald, and the American public, until well after the November 2004 election. Boehlert notes that Russert “enjoyed a very close working relationship with Libby’s boss, Cheney,” and “chose to remain silent regarding central facts.” Russert could have revealed that in the summer of 2004, he had told Fitzgerald of his conversation with Libby during the summer of 2003 (see August 7, 2004). Libby had perjured himself by telling Fitzgerald that Russert had told him of Plame Wilson’s CIA status, when in reality, the reverse was true (see March 24, 2004). Instead, Russert testified that he and Libby never discussed Plame Wilson’s identity during that conversation, or at any other time. But neither Russert nor his employer, NBC News, admitted that to the public, instead merely saying that Libby did not reveal Plame Wilson’s identity to Russert (see August 7, 2004). Boehlert writes, “But why, in the name of transparency, didn’t the network issue a statement that made clear Russert and Libby never even discussed Plame?”
Woodward's Involvement - Washington Post editor Bob Woodward, an icon of investigative reporting (see June 15, 1974), told various television audiences that Fitzgerald’s investigation was “disgraceful” and called Fitzgerald a “junkyard prosecutor” (see October 27, 2005), and said the leak had not harmed the CIA (see July 14, 2003, July 21, 2003, September 27, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, and October 23-24, 2003). Woodward predicted that when “all of the facts come out in this case, it’s going to be laughable because the consequences are not that great” (see July 7, 2005). While Woodward was disparaging the investigation (see July 11, 2005, July 17, 2005, and October 28, 2005), he was failing to reveal that he himself had been the recipient of a leak about Plame Wilson’s identity years before (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, and June 27, 2003), which, Boehlert notes, “meant Woodward, the former sleuth, had been sitting been sitting on a sizeable scoop for more than two years.” Boehlert continues: “If at any point prior to the Libby indictments Woodward had come forward with his information, it would have been politically devastating for the White House. Instead, Woodward remained mum about the facts while publicly mocking Fitzgerald’s investigation.”
Conclusion - Boehlert concludes: “Regardless of the outcome from the Libby perjury case, the trial itself will be remembered for pulling back the curtain on the Bush White House as it frantically tried to cover up its intentional effort to mislead the nation to war. Sadly, the trial will also serve as a touchstone for how the Beltway press corps completely lost its way during the Bush years and became afraid of the facts—and the consequences of reporting them.” (Boehlert 2/6/2007)
Victoria Toensing, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Reagan administration, writes an op-ed for the Washington Post structured to imitate a legal indictment. Toensing asks if anyone can explain “why Scooter Libby is the only person on trial in the Valerie Plame [Wilson] leak investigation?” (The Washington Post, which publishes the op-ed, does not disclose Toensing’s own ties to Libby’s defense—see March 23, 2005. (Toensing 2/18/2007) Neither does it disclose the longtime personal relationship between Toensing, her husband Joseph DiGenova, and columnist Robert Novak, who outed Plame Wilson—see July 14, 2003. (Wilson 2007, pp. 292) Neither does it disclose Toensing’s frequent criticisms of the investigation, including her position that the CIA and/or Joseph Wilson is responsible for outing Plame Wilson, and her belief that the entire trial is invalid (see November 2-9, 2005, November 3, 2005, November 7, 2005, and September 15, 2006).) Toensing dismisses the arguments laid out by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, lied to grand jurors (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004) in order to keep secret a White House conspiracy to besmirch the reputation of White House critic Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003). Toensing calls the Libby indictment a “he said, she said” case based on conflicting testimony from other people. She proceeds to lay out her own “indictments”:
Patrick Fitzgerald - for “ignoring the fact that there was no basis for a criminal investigation from the day he was appointed,” for “handling some witnesses with kid gloves and banging on others with a mallet,” for “engaging in past contretemps with certain individuals that might have influenced his pursuit of their liberty, and with misleading the public in a news conference because… well, just because.” Toensing argues that Fitzgerald should have known from the outset that Plame Wilson was never a covert agent, and if he didn’t, he could have merely asked the CIA. Toensing writes, “The law prohibiting disclosure of a covert agent’s identity requires that the person have a foreign assignment at the time or have had one within five years of the disclosure, that the government be taking affirmative steps to conceal the government relationship, and for the discloser to have actual knowledge of the covert status.” Toensing is grossly in error about Plame Wilson’s covert status (see Fall 1992 - 1996, Late 1990s-2001 and Possibly After, April 22, 1999, (July 11, 2003), Before July 14, 2003, July 22, 2003, July 30, 2003, September 30, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, January 9, 2006, February 13, 2006, and September 6, 2006). She also insinuates that Fitzgerald has two conflicts of interest: one in prosecuting Libby, as Fitzgerald investigated the Clinton-era pardon of financier Marc Rich, who was represented by Libby, and another in moving to jail reporter Judith Miller for refusing to provide evidence (see July 6, 2005) because Fitzgerald had subpoenaed Miller’s phone records for another, unrelated prosecution. Toensing questions Fitzgerald’s grant of immunity to former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see January 29, 2007), and complains that Fitzgerald allowed NBC News bureau chief Tim Russert to be interviewed with his lawyer present (see August 7, 2004), while columnist Robert Novak “was forced to testify before the grand jury without counsel present.” She concludes by accusing Fitzgerald of “violating prosecutorial ethics by discussing facts outside the indictment during his Oct. 28, 2005, news conference” (see October 28, 2005).
The CIA - “for making a boilerplate criminal referral to cover its derriere.” The Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA), which Toensing helped negotiate in 1982, was never violated, she asserts, because Plame Wilson was never a covert agent. Instead of handling the issue internally, Toensing writes, the CIA passed the responsibility to the Justice Department by sending “a boiler-plate referral regarding a classified leak and not one addressing the elements of a covert officer’s disclosure.”
Joseph Wilson - for “misleading the public about how he was sent to Niger, about the thrust of his March 2003 oral report of that trip, and about his wife’s CIA status, perhaps for the purpose of getting book and movie contracts.” Toensing writes that Wilson appeared on Meet the Press the same day as his op-ed was published in the New York Times, and told host Andrea Mitchell, “The Office of the Vice President, I am absolutely convinced, received a very specific response to the question it asked and that response was based upon my trip there.” Toensing accepts Cheney’s denial of any involvement in Wilson’s trip and his denial that he was ever briefed on Wilson’s findings. Toensing argues that Wilson lied when he told other reporters that he was sent to Niger because of his “specific skill set” and his connections in the region (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), and not because his wife sent him (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005). Toensing uses portions of the Senate Intelligence Committee report to bolster her claim (see June 11, 2003 and July 9, 2004). She also challenges Wilson’s assertions that his oral report on his trip was not classified (see March 4-5, 2002, (March 6, 2002), March 8, 2002, and March 5, 2002). And she accuses Wilson of “play[ing] coy” about his wife’s CIA status.
The Media - for “hypocrisy in asserting that criminal law was applicable to this ‘leak’ and with misreporting facts to wage a political attack on an increasingly unpopular White House.” Major newspapers have “highfalutin’, well-paid” lawyers who should have known better than to let their clients call for special investigations into the Plame Wilson leak. The media has consistently “display[ed] their prejudice in this case.”
Ari Fleischer - “because his testimony about conversations differs from reporters’ testimony, just as Libby’s does.” Fleischer testified under oath that he revealed Plame Wilson’s identity to two reporters, Time’s John Dickerson and NBC’s David Gregory (see 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Dickerson denies it and Gregory refuses to comment. Fleischer testified he did not tell the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus about Plame Wilson’s identity, contradicting Pincus’s own testimony that Fleischer did, indeed, ask repeatedly about the Wilsons (see January 29, 2007 and February 12, 2007). Because Fleischer “contradicted Pincus as materially as Libby contradicted Russert or Time’s Matthew Cooper,” he should be indicted as well. Instead, Fitzgerald gave Fleischer immunity in return for his testimony (see February 13, 2004). In that case, Toensing argues, Fitzgerald should indict Pincus insamuch as his testimony differs from Fleischer’s.
Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage - for not publicly revealing that he was perhaps the first to leak Plame Wilson’s name to the press (see June 13, 2003 and July 8, 2003). Armitage also discussed his FBI interview with his then-subordinate, Marc Grossman, the night before Grossman was due to meet with FBI investigators (see June 10, 2003).
The US Justice Department - for “abdicating its legal and professional responsibility by passing the investigation off to a special counsel out of personal pique and reasons of ambition.” Both then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and his deputy, James Comey, could have asked the CIA to confirm Plame Wilson’s covert status, Toensing writes. She also insinuates that Comey acted improperly in giving the investigation to Fitzgerald, “a former colleague and one of his best friends.” (Toensing 2/18/2007)
Refutation - Toensing’s arguments are refuted by former CIA agent Larry Johnson, who accuses Toensing of attempted jury tampering (see February 18, 2007).
The Obama campaign reverses its previous policy and begins asking major contributors to donate to a super PAC, Priorities USA, that supports President Obama’s re-election. Previously, the Obama campaign, and Obama himself, had been reluctant to ask for donations for the PAC. Since 2010, Democrats have been worried about the effect of the Republican super PACs on the presidential campaign as well as Congressional and even state and local races, but have been divided on how to respond to the flood of money in support of their Republican opponents (see August 2, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 24, 2010, October 18, 2010, Around October 27, 2010, Mid-November 2010, August 4, 2011, October 27, 2011, December 1, 2011, January 3, 2012, and January 6, 2012). Obama campaign spokesman Jim Messina says that Republican-supporting super PACs are collectively expected to spend “half a billion dollars, above and beyond what the Republican nominee and party are expected to commit to try to defeat the president. With so much at stake, we can’t allow for two sets of rules in this election whereby the Republican nominee is the beneficiary of unlimited spending and Democrats unilaterally disarm.… We’re not going to fight this fight with one hand tied behind our back.” Messina also says that Obama is strongly against such campaign finance practices, and supports strong action “by constitutional amendment, if necessary” to once again restrict campaign donations from the wealthy. (In January 2012, Politico reported that Obama was completely opposed to the idea of super PACs, including his own—see January 18, 2012.) Joe Pounder of the Republican National Committee issues a statement harshly critical of the decision, which reads in part, “Yet again, Barack Obama has proven he will literally do anything to win an election, including changing positions on the type of campaign spending he called nothing short of ‘a threat to our democracy.’” So far, super PACs supporting Republican candidates have raised over $50 million, putting the Obama campaign at a distinct disadvantage. New York Democratic fundraiser Robert Zimmerman observes: “It’s hard to pass the plate for super PAC money while Democratic leaders have been preaching about the sins of it. But the reality is, it is essential in 2012.” Campaign and White House officials will appear at fundraisers for Priorities USA, though neither the president nor the first lady will make such appearances. Super PACs, created by the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) and a lower court decision in the wake of that ruling (see March 26, 2010), have come to dominate US election activities, particularly in the area of television, radio, and print advertising. Shortly after the Citizens United decision, Obama criticized it during his State of the Union address, saying: “I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests or, worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and I’d urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps correct some of these problems” (see January 27-29, 2010). However, Congress has been unable to rein in the super PACs, with the most visible effort, Congressional Democrats’ DISCLOSE Act, being successfully filibustered by Senate Republicans (see July 26-27, 2010). CBS News political expert John Dickerson says the Obama campaign has no choice but to emulate the Republicans: “What the Obama camp saw is these fundraising numbers from last year. The Republicans were able to raise so much money. They also saw what Romney was able to do to Newt Gingrich in Florida, just absolutely bury him under ads, and they started to worry about what this was going to mean for the president in the general election.” Dickerson says that with the public perception of Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA) being so negative, the ads in support of Romney will undoubtedly be quite negative against Obama. Dickerson expects the Obama campaign to retaliate in kind, saying: “Some of the things that Romney had to do to combat those [primary] attacks, he had to get a little bit more negative, seem a little bit more unpleasant as a candidate.… That’s another reason why [Obama] had to make this decision on super PACs: that this is going to be ugly, it’s going to be on the airwaves, and they need to be able to compete.” (Zeleny and Rutenberg 2/6/2012; CBS News 2/7/2012) The Obama campaign’s announcement comes on the same day as news that the Romney campaign has benefited from $1.22 million in funding from oil, gas, and coal corporations (see February 6, 2012).
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