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Profile: Mel Sembler

Positions that Mel Sembler has held:

  • US ambassador to Italy

Related Entities:

Mel Sembler was a participant or observer in the following events:

The newly-installed US ambassador to Italy, Mel Sembler, learns during the course of a private dinner with Iran-Contra figure Michael Ledeen and Italian defense minister Antonio Martino about the secret backchannel meeting they attended three days before (see December 9, 2001) with US defense officials, former Iran-Contra figures, and Iranian government officials. After the dinner, Sembler immediately contacts Jeff Castelli, the CIA station chief in Rome, to find out if he knows about the meeting. But the station chief says he was also unaware of the meeting. “Soon both Sembler and the Rome station chief were sending anxious queries back to the State Department and CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., respectively, raising alarms on both sides of the Potomac” since all US government contact with foreign government intelligence agencies is supposed to be overseen by the CIA. [Washington Monthly, 9/2004] Old State Department hands are horrified to learn of Ledeen’s involvement with the Iraq-Niger fabrications. Bad enough that Elliott Abrams was brought into the administration (see November 2002-December 2002), they say, but with Ledeen and his associate [Iranian arms dealer Manucher] Ghorbanifar making an appearance, it seems to these State Department veterans that the days of Reagan-era “cowboy diplomacy” are back in full swing. “One of the truly remarkable elements of the neocon story is their addiction to Ghorbanifar,” a State Department official will say in 2007. “It is part of their ‘we are smarter, you are stupid’ attitude.” Author Craig Unger will note, “The key players in Iran-Contra were back in business.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 234-235]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Michael Ledeen, Jeff Castelli, Manucher Ghorbanifar, Antonio Martino, Mel Sembler, Elliott Abrams

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iran-Contra Affair, Neoconservative Influence, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Michael Ledeen contacts Mel Sembler, the US ambassador to Italy, and informs him that he will be traveling to Rome again (see December 9, 2001) to continue “his work” with the Iranians. Sembler passes this on to Washington, and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley sends word to Ledeen reminding him that he is not to deal with the Iranians. [Washington Monthly, 9/2004]

Entity Tags: Mel Sembler, Michael Ledeen, Stephen J. Hadley

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence

After former White House official Lewis Libby’s indictment (see October 28, 2005), he retains the services of three of Washington’s most powerful attorneys: Theodore Wells, William Jeffress, and John Cline. [Boston Globe, 2/26/2006] (Cline will not officially join the defense team until mid-November.) [San Francisco Chronicle, 11/22/2005] Wells, who has successfully defended other government officials from criminal charges, is “an excellent choice,” according to criminal defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt. Jeffress is a partner at Baker Botts, the law firm headed by former Secretary of State James Baker. [Jeralyn Merritt, 11/3/2005] Cline is an expert on classified government documents; according to former CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, he is “presumably hired to help the defense figure out how to ‘graymail’ the government, that is, force the government to choose between prosecuting an employee for serious crimes or preserving national security secrets.” Stanford University criminal law expert Robert Weisberg says of Cline’s addition to the team: “This is about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the government. This suggests they are going to use a very concerted and aggressive strategy.”
Legal Defense Fund Headed by GOP Fundraiser - Shortly after the indictment, Libby’s legal defense fund is created, headed by former GOP finance chief Melvin Sembler, a Florida real estate tycoon. Sembler is a highly successful fundraiser for Republican candidates, and is a close friend of Vice President Dick Cheney. Lobbyist and former Justice Department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock, a close friend of Libby’s, recruited Sembler to head the fund. According to Comstock, Sembler “holds Scooter [Libby] in high esteem as many members of the committee have. We’re confident that Scooter will be exonerated. He has declared he’s innocent.” [Tampa Tribune, 11/24/2005] In her 2007 book Fair Game, Plame Wilson will note, “Sembler, ironically enough, was President George W. Bush’s ambassador to Italy when the embassy in Rome first received the forged yellowcake documents, whose contents precipitated [Joseph Wilson]‘s trip to Niger and Libby’s legal odyssey.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 289-290] The first contribution to the defense fund comes from Richard Carlson, a former US ambassador, the former president of the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, and the father of conservative pundit Tucker Carlson. “He spent years in government service,” Carlson will later say of Libby, whom Carlson calls a friend. He “hasn’t made a lot of dough.” The fund will soon raise over $2 million, in part through a Web site, scooterlibby.com (see February 21, 2006). Comstock and former Cheney communications director Mary Matalin (see July 10, 2003 and January 23, 2004) are deeply involved in the fund. The fund’s board of directors and advisers is studded with prominent Republicans, including former Republican presidential candidates Steve Forbes and Jack Kemp; former senator, lobbyist, and actor Fred Thompson; former senator Alan Simpson; former Education Secretary William Bennett; Princeton professor Bernard Lewis, one of the driving intellectual forces behind the invasion and occupation of Iraq; former UN ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick; former Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham; former Clinton Middle East envoy Dennis Ross; and former CIA Director James Woolsey, another neoconservative ally of Libby’s. [New York Times, 11/18/2005; San Francisco Chronicle, 11/22/2005; Boston Globe, 2/26/2006] Howard Leach and Wayne Berman, two top fundraisers for the 2004 Bush-Cheney presidential campaign, are also part of the defense fund. Comstock tells a New York Times reporter that because both Ross and Woolsey served in the Clinton administration, the Libby defense fund is a bipartisan entity. She adds that the amount of money raised by the fund will not be disclosed: “It’s a private trust fund for a private individual and we haven’t disclosed that.” [New York Times, 11/18/2005; Tampa Tribune, 11/24/2005]
Plame Wilson Disappointed in Woolsey's Involvement - Plame Wilson will write of her disappointment that a former CIA director (Woolsey) could come to the defense of someone accused of outing a covert CIA agent. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 289-290]

Entity Tags: Dennis Ross, Tucker Carlson, Theodore Wells, Steve Forbes, Barbara Comstock, Wayne Berman, William J. Bennett, William Jeffress, Alan Simpson, Baker Botts, Bernard Lewis, Spencer Abraham, Robert Weisberg, Valerie Plame Wilson, Mel Sembler, Fred Thompson, Howard Leach, Jack Kemp, James Woolsey, Jeane Kirkpatrick, James A. Baker, John Cline, Jeralyn Merritt, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Mary Matalin, Richard Carlson, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Web site header graphic for the Libby Legal Defense Trust’s site, reduced in size.Web site header graphic for the Libby Legal Defense Trust’s site, reduced in size. [Source: Libby Legal Defense Trust] (click image to enlarge)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.” [Human Events, 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. [Washington Post, 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).

Entity Tags: Libby Legal Defense Trust, Mel Sembler, Human Events, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, John Dickerson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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