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“There is—in the past, there have been some activities related to terrorism by Saddam Hussein. But at this stage, you know, the focus is over here on al-Qaida and the most recent events in New York. Saddam Hussein’s bottled up, at this point, but clearly, we continue to have a fairly tough policy where the Iraqis are concerned.” [Meet the Press, 9/16/2001]
“I think Mr. ElBaradei, frankly, is wrong [about his conclusion that there ‘is no indication of resumed nuclear activities’ ]. And I think if you look at the track record of the International Atomic Energy Agency in this kind of issue, especially where Iraq’s concerned, they have consistently underestimated or missed what it was Saddam Hussein was doing. I don’t have any reason to believe they’re any more valid this time than they’ve been in the past…. We believe [Saddam] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.” [Meet the Press, 9/14/2003; New Republic, 6/30/2003 ]
“What he wants is time, and more time to husband his resources to invest in his ongoing chemical and biological weapons program, and to gain possession of nuclear weapons.” [New York Times, 8/26/2002]
“[B]ased on intelligence that?s becoming available—some of it has been made public [referring to the recent New York Times story—… he has indeed stepped up his capacity to produce and deliver biological weapons,… he has reconstituted his nuclear program to develop a nuclear weapon,… there are efforts under way inside Iraq to significantly expand his capability.… There?s a story in The New York Times this morning… [I]t?s now public that, in fact, he has been seeking to acquire, and we have been able to intercept and prevent him from acquiring through this particular channel, the kinds of tubes that are necessary to build a centrifuge. And the centrifuge is required to take low-grade uranium and enhance it into highly enriched uranium, which is what you have to have in order to build a bomb. This is a technology he was working on back, say, before the Gulf War. And one of the reasons it?s of concern,… is… [that] we know about a particular shipment. We?ve intercepted that. We don?t know what else—what other avenues he may be taking out there, what he may have already acquired. We do know he?s had four years without any inspections at all in Iraq to develop that capability.… [W]e do know, with absolute certainty, that he [Saddam Hussein] is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment [aluminum tubes] he needs in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon.… We are trying very hard not be unilateralist, We are working to build support with the American people, with the Congress, as many have suggested we should. And we are also as many of us suggested we should, going to the United Nations, and the president will address this issue.… We would like to do it with the sanction of the international community. But the point in Iraq is this problem has to be dealt with one way or the other.” [Washington Post, 2/7/2003; Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/27/2003]
“[Saddam Hussein] is pressing forward with weapons of mass destruction—weapons he’s already used in his war against Iran and against his own people…. As we destroy the terrorist networks and hunt down the killers, we must simultaneously confront the regime that is developing weapons for the sole purpose of inflicting death on a massive scale.” [White House, 12/2/2002]
“He’s had years to get good at it and we believe he [Saddam Hussein] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons. I think Mr. ElBaradei [the director of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)] frankly is wrong.” [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 7/13/2003]
“With respect to 9/11, of course, we’ve had the story… the Czechs alleged that Mohamed Atta, the lead attacker, met in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official five months before the attack, but we’ve never been able to develop anymore of that yet, either in terms of confirming it or discrediting it.” [Democracy Now!, 9/16/2003; Washington Post, 9/29/2003]
“In terms of the question what is there now, we know for example that prior to our going in that he had spent time and effort acquiring mobile biological weapons labs, and we’re quite confident he did, in fact, have such a program. We’ve found a couple of semi trailers at this point which we believe were, in fact, part of that program. Now it’s not clear at this stage whether or not he used any of that to produce or whether he was simply getting ready for the next war. That, in my mind, is a serious danger in the hands of a man like Saddam Hussein, and I would deem that conclusive evidence, if you will, that he did, in fact, have programs for weapons of mass destruction.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/23/2004; Washington Post, 1/23/2004]
“Any suggestion that we did not exhaust all alternatives before we got to that point, I think, is inaccurate.” [MSNBC, 6/14/2005]
The General Accounting Office (GAO), the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, declines to appeal a case attempting to force Vice President Cheney to disclose his Energy Task Force documents (see May 16, 2001, February 22, 2002, and December 9, 2002). This ends a potentially historic showdown between the Congressional watchdog agency and the executive branch. (Simon 2/8/2003) It is widely believed that the suit is dropped because of pressure from the Republican Party—the suit was filed when the Democrats controlled the Senate, and this decision comes shortly after the Republicans gained control of it. (Milbank 2/8/2003) The head of the GAO denies the lawsuit is dropped because of Republican threats to cut his office’s budget, but US Comptroller General David Walker, who led the case, says there was one such “thinly veiled threat” last year by a lawmaker he wouldn’t identify. (Cornwell 2/25/2003) Another account has Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) and a number of other congresspeople making the threat to Walker. (Brand and Bolton 2/19/2003) The GAO has previously indicated that accepting defeat in this case would cripple its ability to oversee the executive branch. (Milbank 2/8/2003) A similar suit filed by Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club continues to move forward, but will ultimately be defeated by the Supreme Court (see May 10, 2005). (Milbank 2/8/2003)
Picking Its Battles - Walker explains that to continue the case “would require investment of significant time and resources over several years.” Later, he will say that he decided not to appeal the case for what reporter Charlie Savage will call “damage-control reasons.” Walker does not want to involve the GAO in what he fears will be perceived as a partisan conflict, and he does not want to risk further crippling the GAO’s ability to function by risking another negative ruling from a federal appeals court. “If the GAO was going to fight that legal battle,” Savage will write in explanation of Walker’s reasoning, “it was strategically unwise to use a case that involved records inside the White House itself instead of a less prominent part of the executive branch.” (Savage 2007, pp. 113)
Refusal to Appeal 'Stunning' - In 2004, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write that he finds the GAO’s decision not to appeal the ruling “stunning.” Walker says the GAO isn’t going to challenge the ruling because it does not materially affect the GAO’s ability to function because the “decision did not address the merits” of the GAO’s arguments. The ruling, Walker says, “has no effect on GAO’s statutory audit rights or the obligation of agencies to provide GAO with information.” Dean calls this line of reasoning “wishful thinking at its best.” Dean will ask a high-level GAO official about the reported threats from Congressional Republicans. The official will reply that the threats did not worry Walker and the GAO lawyers nearly as much as the possibility that, if the GAO were to pursue the lawsuit, then, Dean will write, “the Supreme Court could do again what it did in Bush v. Gore and make Walker v. Cheney the landmark ruling ending virtually all Congressional oversight.” But lawyers for the Congressional Research Service (CRS) say that the ruling as it stands places severe restrictions on Congressional oversight. As Dean puts it: “The GAO has lost not only standing to file a lawsuit but the leverage of the threat of filing such a lawsuit, should an executive department or agency stonewall the way Cheney did. The GAO must now simply take what the White House (and its many appendages…) volunteers. This has never before been the case. [The GAO] will see only what Bush and Cheney want it to see.” The CRS notes that the ruling “calls into question the ability of Congress to delegate investigative authority to its agents;” Dean will write that this “may be the true reason for the lawsuit and for Cheney’s actions.” (Dean 2004, pp. 80-81)
'Big Win' for Bush/Cheney - Constitutional scholar Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution will call the ruling a “big win” for the Bush-Cheney administration, saying: “President Bush and Vice President Cheney have an extreme and relentless executive-centered conception of American government, and it plays out every day, and there are dozens of fronts in this effort to strengthen the presidency. Power naturally gravitates to the presidency in times of uncertainty. But people are going to question putting all of our trust in an unfetttered presidency.” Former Justice Department official Bruce Fein is more blunt. “Now they have a precedent that they can hold over Congress’s head,” he will say. “Like a loaded gun. Forever.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 14-15)
The governments of Israel and the United States are in almost-perfect accord on most issues, according to a Washington Post analysis. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has talked repeatedly of the “special closeness” he has to the Bush administration, and of the “deep understanding” that President Bush and his officials have for Israel’s security and foreign policy needs. He has thanked Bush for providing what he calls “the required leeway in our ongoing war on terrorism” and lauded the Bush administration’s efforts to promote a peaceful settlement between Israel and the Palestinian people. Thomas Neumann, who heads the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), agrees. “This is the best administration for Israel since Harry Truman,” says Neumann, equating Bush with the first American president to recognize the independent state of Israel. A senior official in the first Bush administration says that Sharon used the 9/11 attacks to cement the bond between his government and the Bush administration. One senior administration official says: “Sharon played the president like a violin: ‘I’m fighting your war, terrorism is terrorism,’ and so on. Sharon did a masterful job.”
Accord with Likud - But the US is not just in accord with Israel; it is in accord with Likud, the hardline conservative political party currently in charge of the Israeli government. The Post writes: “For the first time, a US administration and a Likud government in Israel are pursuing nearly identical policies. Earlier US administrations, from Jimmy Carter’s through Bill Clinton’s, held Likud and Sharon at arm’s length, distancing the United States from Likud’s traditionally tough approach to the Palestinians. But today, as Neumann noted, Israel and the United States share a common view on terrorism, peace with the Palestinians, war with Iraq and more. Neumann and others said this change was made possible by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and their aftermath.” Bush supporters, particularly evangelical Christians, are “delight[ed]” with the administration’s overt support of Likud policies.
Abandoning Peace Talks between Israel and Palestinians - The downside, the Post notes, is that diplomacy with Israel’s Arab neighbors has come to a virtual standstill, and the Middle East “peace process” praised by Sharon is considered by many past and current US officials as a failure. Clinton administration National Security Adviser Sandy Berger says: “Every president since at least Nixon has seen the Arab-Israeli conflict as the central strategic issue in the Middle East. But this administration sees Iraq as the central challenge, and… has disengaged from any serious effort to confront the Arab-Israeli problem.” Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, the administration’s special envoy to the region, calls the peace process “quiescent,” and adds, “I’ve kind of gone dormant.”
'Likudniks Really in Charge Now' - Bush has appointed neoconservative Elliott Abrams, a vociferous critic of any peace agreement between Israel and Palestine, the head of Mideast affairs for the National Security Council, signaling his administration’s near-total alignment with Israel in the process. Abrams’s hardline views are supported by, among others, Vice President Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle, Abrams’s mentor, who in 1996 recommended to Israel’s then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he abandon the Oslo peace accords and refuse to accede to Palestinian demands of “land for peace” (see September 13, 1993). A senior administration official says wryly, “The Likudniks are really in charge now,” using a Yiddish term for supporters of Sharon’s political party. “It’s a strong lineup,” says Neumann. Fellow neoconservative Meyrav Wurmser of the Hudson Institute says of Abrams: “Elliott’s appointment is a signal that the hard-liners in the administration are playing a more central role in shaping policy.… [T]he hard-liners are a very unique group. The hawks in the administration are in fact people who are the biggest advocates of democracy and freedom in the Middle East.” The Post explains that in Abrams’s and Wurmser’s view, promoting democracy in the Middle East is the best way to assure Israel’s security. Like other neoconservatives, they see the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the establishment of a “democratic Palestine” as necessary for peace in the region. Others who disagree with the neoconservatives call them a “cabal.” The Post writes, “Members of the group do not hide their friendships and connections, or their loyalty to strong positions in support of Israel and Likud.” (Kaiser 2/9/2003)
President Bush gives a speech on the impending invasion of Iraq to a friendly audience at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute. In the audience are, among others, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; the wife of Vice President Cheney, Lynne Cheney; and an assortment of cabinet officers.
Direct Accusations of WMD, Terrorist Ties - Bush accuses Saddam Hussein of “building and hiding weapons that could enable him to dominate the Middle East and intimidate the civilized world,” and promises that “we will not allow it.” He accuses Hussein of having “close ties to terrorist organizations,” and warns that he “could supply them with the terrible means to strike this country—and America will not permit it. The danger posed by Saddam Hussein and his weapons cannot be ignored or wished away. The danger must be confronted. We hope that the Iraqi regime will meet the demands of the United Nations and disarm, fully and peacefully. If it does not, we are prepared to disarm Iraq by force. Either way, this danger will be removed.” Bush states flatly that “[t]he safety of the American people depends on ending this direct and growing threat.”
Securing the Freedom of the World - Moreover, he asserts, “[a]cting against the danger will also contribute greatly to the long-term safety and stability of our world.… A liberated Iraq can show the power of freedom to transform that vital region, by bringing hope and progress into the lives of millions. America’s interests in security, and America’s belief in liberty, both lead in the same direction: to a free and peaceful Iraq.” America will ensure that Iraq’s oil resources will be used to “benefit… the owners—the Iraqi people.” Bush evokes World War II when he says: “After defeating enemies, we did not leave behind occupying armies, we left constitutions and parliaments. We established an atmosphere of safety, in which responsible, reform-minded local leaders could build lasting institutions of freedom.” And a democratic Iraq would have a positive influence on its neighbors, Bush says: “A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region.”
Resolution of Israeli-Palestinian Dispute - The overthrow of Saddam Hussein “could also begin a new stage for Middle Eastern peace, and set in motion progress towards a truly democratic Palestinian state,” Bush states. “Without this outside support for terrorism, Palestinians who are working for reform and long for democracy will be in a better position to choose new leaders. True leaders who strive for peace; true leaders who faithfully serve the people. A Palestinian state must be a reformed and peaceful state that abandons forever the use of terror.” If this comes to pass, Israel must recognize that state “and to work as quickly as possible toward a final status agreement. As progress is made toward peace, settlement activity in the occupied territories must end. And the Arab states will be expected to meet their responsibilities to oppose terrorism, to support the emergence of a peaceful and democratic Palestine, and state clearly they will live in peace with Israel.”
The Road Map for Peace - The occupation of Iraq, and the subsequent creation of a democratic Palestinian state, are the first steps in Bush’s “road map for peace,” he says. “We are setting out the necessary conditions for progress toward the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. It is the commitment of our government—and my personal commitment—to implement the road map and to reach that goal. Old patterns of conflict in the Middle East can be broken, if all concerned will let go of bitterness, hatred, and violence, and get on with the serious work of economic development, and political reform, and reconciliation. America will seize every opportunity in pursuit of peace. And the end of the present regime in Iraq would create such an opportunity.”
Internationalism at Work - “In confronting Iraq, the United States is also showing our commitment to effective international institutions,” Bush says. “We are a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. We helped to create the Security Council. We believe in the Security Council—so much that we want its words to have meaning.… A threat to all must be answered by all. High-minded pronouncements against proliferation mean little unless the strongest nations are willing to stand behind them—and use force if necessary. After all, the United Nations was created, as Winston Churchill said, to ‘make sure that the force of right will, in the ultimate issue, be protected by the right of force.’” Bush calls for the passage of the second UN Security Council resolution supporting a military strike against Iraq (see February 24, 2003), and notes that if the resolution does not pass, “the United Nations will be severely weakened as a source of stability and order. If the members rise to this moment, then the Council will fulfill its founding purpose.” (Bush 2/26/2003; CNN 2/27/2003)
'Presidential Seal of Approval' for War - Former ambassador Joseph Wilson will later observe, “With these words, the presidential seal of approval was stamped on a war to liberate an oppressed people and to redraw the political map of the Middle East.” Wilson goes on to write: “It was hard to disagree with the president that exporting democracy and freeing people from dictatorial regimes are laudable goals. But I also knew that that is not what we’ve structured the US military to do for our country. Notwithstanding administration promises of a cakewalk in Iraq, I was concerned it would be enormously difficult, costly, and time-consuming to impose democracy there at the barrel of a gun, requiring, above all, a grateful and compliant population. If we didn’t succeed, we would be forever blamed for the havoc we wrought in trying.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 319-320)
Point-by-Point Rebuttal - Author and professor of politics Stephen Zunes will write a lengthy, point-by-point rebuttal to Bush’s speech (see March 8, 2003).
Former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY), recovering at home from emergency surgery, takes frequent phone calls from Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to discuss US preparations for war with Iraq. “The war drums were beating as he was going in and out of the hospital,” his daughter Maura will later recall. “But he took phone calls all the time from Cheney and Rumsfeld.” Moynihan is lionized by many neoconservatives, and had, in his time, worked closely with Bush administration neoconservatives such as Elliott Abrams and Abram Shulsky, but Moynihan is also a maverick who is not interested in toeing any ideological lines. He will later tell his daughter: “Don’t worry about the war, my dear. The war will last two weeks. It is the ten-year occupation you have to worry about.” (Unger 2007, pp. 291-292) Moynihan will die shortly after the surgery. (Clymer 3/27/2003)
The CIA intelligence report on former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger to find the reality of the allegation that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from that country (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) is disseminated within the government. In addition, some time around this date Vice President Dick Cheney asks his CIA briefer “for an update on the Niger uranium issue,” according to subsequent reports by the Senate Intelligence Committee. CIA officials ensure that the agency’s Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control bureau (WINPAC) receives a copy of the Wilson report. (Wilson 2007, pp. 189)
A day after former ambassador Joseph Wilson appears on CNN questioning the validity of the administration’s claims about the Iraq-Niger uranium purchase (see March 8, 2003), Vice President Dick Cheney and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley begin a campaign to discredit him. The information comes from senior sources within the State Department, the CIA, and the National Security Council (NSC), all with direct knowledge of the campaign, and from Wilson himself. The sources will say that they and other officials are directed to unearth or “invent” embarrassing information on Wilson that could be used against him in public. Aides in the Office of the Vice President and others, including the sources, prepare a “workup” on Wilson, including memos and classified material on him for Cheney and the NSC. Officials meet regularly in Cheney’s office to discuss the progress of the campaign with Cheney, Hadley, and other officials.
Visit to CIA Headquarters - According to an official in the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division (CPD), Cheney and Hadley visit the CIA the day after Wilson’s interview on CNN. Cheney’s original target for discrediting was not Wilson, but David Albright, the former UN weapons inspector who has also challenged the credibility of the Iraq-Niger claims and the rationale for invading Iraq (see March 8, 2003). Cheney asked several CIA officials to find “dirt” on Albright for use in discrediting him in the media. At the outset, the CIA official will say: “Vice President Cheney was more concerned with Mr. Albright. The international community had been saying that inspectors should have more time, that the US should not set a deadline. The vice president felt Mr. Albright’s remarks would fuel the debate.” The CIA will eventually send a “binder” to Cheney’s office containing information about Albright; it is not clear to what, if any, use that information is put.
Cheney 'Enraged' - But Wilson’s appearance on CNN and his public ridicule of the Iraq-Niger uranium claim enraged Cheney, who saw Wilson’s comments as a personal attack against him. Hadley also took an interest in Wilson’s remarks because he personally allowed the Iraq-Niger claim to remain in Bush’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) even after being informed that the documents the claim was based upon were forgeries. Both Cheney and Hadley view Wilson as a possible impediment to the public’s acceptance of the impending Iraq invasion. Cheney chairs a meeting in his office the day after Wilson’s appearance on CNN, attended by, among others, Hadley, White House political guru Karl Rove, Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s deputy national security adviser John Hannah, and several officials from the CIA and State Department, including the officials who will later discuss the matter with the press. “The way I remember it,” says the CIA official, “is that the vice president was obsessed with Wilson. He called him an ‘_sshole,’ a son-of-a-b_tch. He took his comments very personally. He wanted us to do everything in our power to destroy his reputation and he wanted to be kept up to date about the progress.” Hadley says he will write an editorial about the Iraqi threat that should offset Wilson’s remarks; the State Department will redistribute a February 16, 2003 editorial by Hadley that appeared in the Chicago Tribune to newspaper editors around the country. Cheney will appear on NBC’s Meet the Press to refute the challenges to the Iraq-Niger claims (see March 16, 2003). (Leopold 2/9/2006) In 2004, Wilson will write: “I learned that a meeting right around the time of this particular CNN appearance (see March 8, 2003) led to the decision to produce a ‘workup’ on me for the Office of the Vice President. It was not made clear to me whether Dick Cheney himself attended this meeting, although I was told that senior members of his staff and quite possibly other senior Republicans, including former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, were present and that Gingrich actively participated in a strategy session, the objective of which was to figure out how to discredit me.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 326-327)
False Allegations of 'Womanizing,' Drug Use - Within days, officials in the CIA, NSC, and State Department pass on information to Cheney and Libby that purportedly shows Wilson is a “womanizer” who had occassionally used drugs in his youth; the sources later say that the allegations are entirely false. The sources will say that they are unsure the material was ever used to discredit Wilson, since after the war began on March 19, the media lost interest in Wilson’s warnings. (Leopold 2/9/2006) Wilson later writes that the meeting about him does “not include discussion of how the president and his senior staff might address the indisputable, if inconvenient, fact that the allegation I had made was true. In other words, from the very beginning, the strategy of the White House was to confront the issue as a ‘Wilson’ problem rather than as an issue of the lie that was in the State of the Union address.… The immediate effect of the workup, I am told by a member of the press, citing White House sources, was a long harangue against the two of us within the White House walls. Over a period of several months, Libby evidently seized opportunities to rail openly against me as an ‘assh_le playboy’ who went on a boondoggle ‘arranged by his CIA wife’—and was a Democratic Gore supporter to boot.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 441-442)
New Interest in Wilson - Cheney’s interest in Wilson will be renewed in May 2003 (see May 2003), when Wilson informs New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that he was the special envoy who had gone to Niger in February 2002 to investigate the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002).
In 2007, Newsweek will claim that still-classified portions of a CIA cable reveal that some White House officials wanted to mention an alleged meeting between hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi agent in Prague in a speech President Bush was scheduled to give on March 14, 2003. But after learning of the proposed speech, the CIA station in Prague sent back a cable explaining why the CIA believed the meeting never took place. Accounts differ, but one source familiar with the cable will claim that the cable was “strident” and expressed dismay the White House would try to fit the dubious claim into Bush’s speech only days before the US begins a planned invasion of Iraq. There is no proof that Bush ever saw the cable and he ultimately does not mention the claim in his speech. A senior intelligence official at the time will later claim that the White House proposed on multiple occasions to mention the claim in speeches by Bush and Vice President Cheney. While Bush never mentioned it, Cheney did on several occasions before the Iraq war began. For instance, in December 2001, Cheney claimed, “It’s been pretty well confirmed, that [Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service…” (see December 9, 2001). (Hosenball 9/13/2006)
During an appearance on NBC’s Meet The Press, Vice President Dick Cheney says: “[Saddam Hussein has] had years to get good at [deceiving weapons inspectors] and we know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons. I think Mr. ElBaradei frankly is wrong [about rejecting US claims concerning Iraq’s nuclear weapons program—see March 7, 2003] ]. And I think if you look at the track record of the International Atomic Energy Agency and this kind of issue, especially where Iraq’s concerned, they have consistently underestimated or missed what it was Saddam Hussein was doing. I don’t have any reason to believe they’re any more valid this time than they’ve been in the past.” Cheney also insists that the US invasion force will be welcomed by the Iraqis. “I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators,” he says. “The read we get on the people of Iraq is there is no question but what they want to the get rid of Saddam Hussein and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that.” (Cheney 3/16/2002; Mackay 7/13/2003)
President Bush signs Executive Order 13292 into effect. Innocuously titled “Further Amendment to Executive Order 12958,” and virtually ignored by the press, the order gives the vice president the power to unilaterally classify and declassify intelligence, a power heretofore reserved exclusively for the president. The order is an unprecedented expansion of the power of the vice president. Author Craig Unger will explain: “Since Cheney had scores of loyalists throughout the Pentagon, the State Department, and the National Security Council who reported to him, in operational terms, he was the man in charge of foreign policy. If Cheney wanted to keep something secret, he could classify it. If he wanted to leak information, or disinformation, to the New York Times or Washington Post, he could declassify it.” Moreover, Unger will write, the order grants “a measure of legitimacy to Cheney’s previous machinations with the national security apparatus, and in doing so it consolidate[s] the totality of his victories.” Combine the order with the disabled peer review procedures in the intelligence community, the banning of dissenting voices from critical policy deliberations and intelligence briefings, and the subversion of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002), and the nation has, Unger will write, an effective vice presidential coup over the nation’s intelligence apparatus. Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, and the administration neoconservatives now effectively run that apparatus. (White House 3/25/2003; Unger 2007, pp. 298-299)
President Bush signs an executive order delaying the public release of millions of government documents, citing the need to more thoroughly review them first. The government faced an April 17 deadline for declassifying millions of documents at least 25 years old. (Reuters 3/26/2003) The order countermands a 1995 executive order by then-President Bill Clinton, who mandated that government documents over 25 years old be automatically declassified unless there was “significant doubt” as to whether their release would damage national security. (Clymer 3/21/2003) The order also treats all material sent to American officials from foreign governments, no matter how routine, as subject to classification. It expands the ability of the CIA to shield documents from declassification, giving the director the right to unilaterally block any declassification of agency documents. And for the first time, it gives the vice president the power to classify information. The New York Times says, “Offering that power to Vice President Dick Cheney, who has shown indifference to the public’s right to know what is going on inside the executive branch, seems a particularly worrying development.” (Clymer 3/21/2003; New York Times 3/28/2003) Historian Anna Nelson says of the decision: “This is in context with the way this administration has done the whole bit on secrecy. They have left a skeletal process.” But Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists is less harsh in his assessment, saying, “One might have expected a more aggressive, pro-secrecy policy than this draft.” Tom Blanton of the private National Security Archive says the provision to classify information from foreign governments is far too broad: “Making all foreign government information presumptively classified means we’re lowering our openness standard to the lowest common denominator of our ostensible allies.” (Clymer 3/21/2003)
US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld sends a classified paper to Secretary of State Colin Powell, Vice President Dick Cheney, and CIA Director George Tenet. In the paper, Rumsfeld says that the US should not hand over control of Iraq to the Iraqis too quickly. There should first be a guarantee that any new Iraqi government will be “friendly” to the US, he says. (Gordon and Trainor 3/14/2006, pp. 479)
Praising a judicial ruling against efforts to obtain information about his Energy Task Force, Vice President Dick Cheney says, “I think it restored some of the legitimate authority of the executive branch, the president and the vice president, to be able to conduct their business.” (Koffler 6/29/2007)
Neoconservative Kenneth Adelman, a former director of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency who predicted that the defeat and subsequent occupation of Iraq would be a “cakewalk” (see February 13, 2002), writes in a Washington Post op-ed that it is time for the supporters of the war to celebrate. One aspect of that celebration should be to deride the war’s critics: “Administration critics should feel shock over their bellyaching about the wayward war plan. All of us feel awe over the professionalism and power of the US military. Now we know.” Adelman is quick to pick who he feels is a particularly juicy target: “Taking first prize among the many frightful forecasters was the respected former national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft” (see March 8, 2003). Vice President Cheney is so pleased with Adelman’s column that he invites Adelman to a small celebratory dinner party. The only other guests are Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. When Adelman arrives, he is so overcome with joy that he bursts into tears and hugs Cheney. They reminisce briefly about the 1991 Gulf War until Adelman interrupts: “Hold it! Hold it! Let’s talk about this Gulf War. It’s so wonderful to celebrate.… Paul and Scooter, you give advice inside and the president listens. Dick, your advice is the most important, the Cadillac.” The war is just fabulous, Adelman gushes. “So I just want to make a toast without getting too cheesy. To the president of the United States.” (Adelman 4/10/2003; Unger 2007, pp. 303)
Vice President Dick Cheney’s interest in former ambassador and current Iraq whistleblower Joseph Wilson is renewed when Wilson informs New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that he was the special envoy who went to Niger in February 2002 to investigate the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). When Kristof publishes the information (see May 6, 2003), according to a CIA official, “a request came in from Cheney that was passed to me that said ‘the vice president wants to know whether Joe Wilson went to Niger.’ I’m paraphrasing. But that’s more or less what I was asked to find out.” Cheney, of course, knew Wilson had gone to Niger (see (February 13, 2002)). The campaign to discredit and besmirch Wilson begins again (see March 9, 2003 and After), this time in a much more intensified manner. “Cheney and Libby made it clear that Wilson had to be shut down,” the CIA official will later say. “This wasn’t just about protecting the credibility of the White House. For the vice president, going after Wilson was purely personal, in my opinion.” Cheney is heavily involved in this second phase of the anti-Wilson campaign as well, pushing CIA officials to find out everything they can about Wilson. Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley also pressures State Department officials to send information they have on Wilson to his attention at the NSC. It is also at this time that Cheney and at least some members of his staff learn that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a covert CIA officer. At least one meeting is held in the Office of the Vice President to discuss possible strategies to use against Wilson. According to a State Department official, Cheney is not at this particular meeting: “Libby [Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby] led the meeting. But he was just as upset about Wilson as Cheney was.” (Memmott 4/29/2004; Leopold 2/9/2006) In a 2005 interview, Wilson will tell a reporter that he believes others in the White House’s communications and public relation staffs, including Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, and James Wilkinson, all become aware of Plame Wilson’s secret CIA status, as does Hadley, his boss, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and White House chief of staff Andrew Card. “That would be the natural group because they were constituted to spin the war, so they would be naturally the ones to try to deflect criticism,” Wilson will say. (Alexandrovna 7/13/2005) In 2008, current White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will acknowledge that “Cheney and his staff were leading a White House effort to discredit Joe Wilson himself.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 171)
In the wake of the US-led conquest of Iraq, the government of Iran worries that they will be targeted for US invasion next. Sadegh Kharrazi, Iran’s ambassador to France and the nephew of Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, drafts a bold proposal to negotiate with the US on all the outstanding conflicts between them. (Porter 5/21/2006) Diplomats refer to the proposal as “the grand bargain.” The US sends neoconservative Zalmay Khalilzad, a senior National Security Council official, to talk with Iran’s UN ambassador, Javad Zarif. (Unger 3/2007) The proposal was reviewed and approved by Iran’s top leaders Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Mohammad Khatami, and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. Tim Guldimann, the Swiss ambassador to Iran, is used as an intermediary since the US and Iran do not have formal diplomatic relations. (Kessler 2/14/2007)
According to the language of the proposal, it offers “decisive action against any terrorists (above all, al-Qaeda) in Iranian territory” and “full cooperation and exchange of all relevant information.” In return, Iran wants “pursuit of anti-Iranian terrorists, above all [the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK)],” a dissident Iranian group which the US officially lists as a terrorist organization.
Iran also offers to accept much tighter controls by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in exchange for “full access to peaceful nuclear technology.” It proposes “full transparency for security [assurance] that there are no Iranian endeavors to develop or possess WMD” and “full cooperation with IAEA based on Iranian adoption of all relevant instruments (93+2 and all further IAEA protocols).” That is a references to IAEA protocols that would guarantee the IAEA access to any declared or undeclared facility on short notice.
The proposal also offers a dramatic change in Iranian policy towards Israel. Iran would accept an Arab league declaration approving a land-for-peace principle and a comprehensive peace with Israel in return for Israel’s withdrawal to 1967 lines, a softening of Iran’s usual policy.
The proposal further offers to stop any Iranian support of Palestinian opposition groups such as Hamas and proposes to convert Hezbollah into “a mere political organization within Lebanon.” It further offers “coordination of Iranian influence for activity supporting political stabilization and the establishment of democratic institutions and a nonreligious government” in Iraq.
In return, Iran wants a democratic government in Iran, which would mean its Shiite allies would come to power since the Shiites make up a majority of the Iraqi population. The proposal wants the US to remove Iran from its “axis of evil” and list of terrorism sponsors. (Porter 5/21/2006)
US Rejects Offer - The US flatly rejects the idea. “We’re not interested in any grand bargain,” says Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton. (Unger 3/2007) The American Prospect will later comment that “Iran’s historic proposal for a broad diplomatic agreement should have prompted high-level discussions over the details of an American response.” State Department counterterrorism expert Flynt Leverett will later call it a “respectable effort” to start negotiations with the US. But within days, the US rejects the proposal without even holding an interagency meeting to discuss its possible merits. Guldimann, the Swiss intermediary, is reprimanded for having passed the proposal to the US. (Porter 5/21/2006) Larry Wilkerson, Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff, will later say that it was a significant proposal for beginning “meaningful talks” between the US and Iran but that it “was a non-starter so long as [Dick] Cheney was Vice President and the principal influence on Bush.” (Hirsh 2/8/2007) He will also say that the State Department supported the offer, “[b]ut as soon as it got to the Vice President’s office, the old mantra of ‘We don’t talk to evil‘… reasserted itself” and Cheney’s office turned the offer down. (BBC 1/18/2007) Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage will later claim that, “We couldn’t determine what was the Iranians’ and what was the Swiss ambassador’s,” and says that he though the Iranians “were trying to put too much on the table.” National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will say of the proposal, “Perhaps somebody saw something of the like” but “I just don’t remember ever seeing any such thing.” (Hirsh 2/8/2007) Colin Powell will later say that President Bush simply didn’t want to negotiate with an Iranian government that he believed should not be in power. “My position… was that we ought to find ways to restart talks with Iran… But there was a reluctance on the part of the president to do that.” He also says, “You can’t negotiate when you tell the other side, ‘Give us what a negotiation would produce before the negotiations start.’” (Hirsh and Bahari 2/12/2007) Days later, Iran will propose a more limited exchange of al-Qaeda prisoners for MEK prisoners, but the US will reject that too (see Mid-May 2003). Author Craig Unger will later write, “The grand bargain was dead. Flush with a false sense of victory, Bush, Cheney, and [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld felt no need to negotiate with the enormous oil-rich country that shared a border with the country America had just invaded.” (Unger 2007, pp. 308-309)
Proposal Echoed Four Years Later - In 2007, the BBC will note, “Observers say the Iranian offer as outlined nearly four years ago corresponds pretty closely to what Washington is demanding from Tehran now.” (BBC 1/18/2007)
Senior Bush administration officials say that their private hope for curtailing North Korea’s “rogue” nuclear weapons program (see January 10, 2003 and After, February 4, 2003, and August 2003) is for regime change—for the dictatorship of Kim Jong Il to fall. One official says the best way to deal with North Korea is to, in essence, use economic and diplomatic embargoes to “starve” the Kim regime. Providing Kim’s government with food and oil, even in return for nuclear concessions, is “morally repugnant,” the official says, and he does not believe North Korea will willingly give up its nuclear weapons anyway (see October 27, 2002 and November 2002). “If we could have containment that’s tailored to the conditions of North Korea, and not continue to throw it lifelines like we have in the past, I think it goes away,” the official says. “It’s a bankrupt economy. I can’t imagine that the regime has any popular support. How long it takes, I don’t know. It could take two years.” (Numerous Bush officials such as Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Rumsfeld’s deputy Paul Wolfowitz, and State Department official John Bolton have all said publicly that North Korea’s regime is bound to collapse sooner or later.) When asked what the North Koreans will do during that transition period, the Bush official replies: “I think it’ll crank out, you know, half a dozen weapons a year or more. We lived with a Soviet Union that had tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, including thousands of them pointed at us. We just have to cope.” Asian and American nuclear experts are horrified by the Bush administration view. As New York Times columnist Bill Keller notes, the argument “has some rather serious holes. First, North Korea, unlike the Soviet Union, will sell anything to anybody for the right price. Second, a collapsing North Korea with nukes may not be as pretty a picture as my official informant anticipates. Third, if this collapse means a merger of the peninsula into a single, unified Korea—that is, if South Korea becomes a de facto nuclear power—that will bring little joy to Japan or China.” Another Bush official says that if North Korea shows signs of expanding its nuclear arsenal, a military strike to eliminate that threat would be considered. “The only acceptable end state [is] everything out,” he says. To tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea would send a message to Iran (see February 9, 2003) and other nations: “Get your nuclear weapons quickly, before the Americans do to you what they’ve done to Iraq, because North Korea shows once you get the weapons, you’re immune.” (Keller 5/4/2003; Scoblic 2008, pp. 241)
The Bush administration blames Iran for helping al-Qaeda bomb three foreign worker compounds in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (see May 12, 2003). Though the US has no evidence of Iranian complicity in the bombings, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney insist that Iran must have been involved, and prevail upon President Bush to shut down the informal backchannel discussions between Iranian and US officials (see September 11, 2001). (Scoblic 2008, pp. 249)
Around May 4, 2003, Iran attempted to start negotiations in an attempt to resolve all outstanding issues between Iran and the US. The US completely rejected the offer within days. Iran immediately comes back with a more limited proposal, offering to hand over a group of al-Qaeda leaders being held in Iran in return for the US to hand over leaders of the Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK). The US had already officially listed MEK as a terrorist group. (Porter 5/21/2006) Iran is believed to be holding a number of top al-Qaeda leaders, including military commander Saif al-Adel and Osama bin Laden’s son Saad bin Laden (see Spring 2002). The US had captured about 4,000 members of MEK in Iraq the month before, in bases where they had been staging attacks against Iran. Iran pledges to grant amnesty to most of the MEK prisoners, try only 65 leaders, forgo the death penalty on them, and allow the Red Cross to supervise the transfer. (Ignatius 7/9/2004) Iran proposes to start with an exchange of information, offering to share the list of names of al-Qaeda operatives they are detaining in return for the US to share the list of names of MEK operatives US forces has captured in Iraq. This exchange of names is discussed at a White House meeting. Hardliners in favor of regime change in Iran argue that MEK is different than al-Qaeda. President Bush is said to respond, “But we say there is no such thing as a good terrorist.” (Porter 5/21/2006) And he initially seems in favor of a prisoner exchange, saying about the MEK, “Why not? They’re terrorists.” (Ignatius 7/9/2004) But Bush does not immediately approve the exchange of names, although he does approve the disarming of MEK who have surrendered to US troops and he allows the State Department to continue secret negotiations on the issue of exchanging names and prisoners in Switzerland. But on May 12, 2003, a bombing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia kills a number of US citizens (see May 12, 2003). Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Vice President Cheney, and other neoconservatives argue that the bombing was planned by al-Qaeda leaders being held in Iran. (Porter 5/21/2006) The Washington Post will report in 2007 that, “US intelligence officials said there are suspicions, but no proof, that one of [the al-Qaeda leaders in Iran] may have been involved from afar in planning” the Riyadh bombing. Some of Bush’s top advisers argue in favor of trading the prisoners, suggesting that directly interrogating the al-Qaeda leaders could result in important new intelligence leads. But Cheney and Rumsfeld argue that any deal would legitimize Iran’s government. Bush ultimately offers to accept information about the al-Qaeda leaders without offering anything in return. Not surprisingly, Iran refuses. (Linzer 2/10/2007) A planned meeting between US and Iranian officials on May 21 is canceled and negotiations come to a halt. The American Prospect will later comment, “In a masterstroke, Rumsfeld and Cheney had shut down the only diplomatic avenue available for communicating with Iran and convinced Bush that Iran was on the same side as al-Qaeda.” (Porter 5/21/2006) Flynt Leverett, a State Department official dealing with Middle East policy, will later say, “Why we didn’t cut this deal is beyond me.” (Ignatius 7/9/2004) One anonymous senior US official will later say, “One reason nothing came of it was because we knew that there were parts of the US government who didn’t want to give them the MEK because they had other plans for them… like overthrowing the Iranian government.” (Windrem 6/24/205)
According to the subsequent investigation by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, calls the State Department to ask about the results of former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Libby is particularly interested in learning who the “unnamed ambassador” was, and who sent Wilson to Niger. (Alexandrovna and Leopold 11/2/2005; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 216) According to the New York Times, Libby asks an undersecretary of state, presumably Marc Grossman (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), for the information. (New York Times 2006) Grossman later testifies that Libby did indeed contact him for the information (see January 23-24, 2007). Grossman is allegedly involved in a nuclear smuggling ring (see (1997-2002) and Summer 2001), and knows Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is investigating the ring (see Summer-Autumn 2001).
Libby Contacts Bolton? - However, according to a 2005 report by the news Web site Raw Story, Libby asks Undersecretary of State John Bolton for the information regarding Wilson’s mission to Niger. Bolton refers the query to Grossman, who directs the State Department’s intelligence arm, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), to prepare a report concerning Wilson and his trip (see June 10, 2003). Within days, Grossman informs Libby of Wilson’s identity. The INR memo is written as part of a work-up order orchestrated by the White House Iraq Group (WHIG—see August 2002). (Alexandrovna and Leopold 11/2/2005; Leupp 11/9/2005)
CIA Tells Bolton of Plame Wilson's Identity - Bolton also learns that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a CIA official. He learns this from his chief of staff, Frederick Fleitz, who also serves as a senior CIA Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control official. Bolton tells his aide David Wurmser, who is working concurrently in Cheney’s office. Wurmser passes the information along to another Cheney aide, John Hannah. Around June 11, Fleitz will inform Libby of Plame Wilson’s status (see (June 11, 2003)).
Bolton's Connections to CIA - According to Raw Story, Bolton has “his own connections to agents at the CIA who share… his political philosophy on Iraq.” Greg Thielmann, a former director at the State Department who was assigned to Bolton and entrusted with providing him with intelligence information, will later say of Bolton, “He surrounded himself with a hand-chosen group of loyalists, and found a way to get CIA information directly.” (Alexandrovna and Leopold 11/2/2005)
CIA officials ask for reauthorization of the controversial harsh interrogation methods (see April 2002 and After and August 1, 2002) that had been withdrawn (see December 2003-June 2004) after the revelation of abuse and torture at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison (see November 5, 2003). The CIA has captured a new al-Qaeda suspect in Asia, and top agency officials ask the National Security Council Principals Committee—Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Attorney General John Ashcroft—for permission to use extreme methods of interrogation against the new detainee. Rice, who chairs the Principals Committee, says: “This is your baby. Go do it.” (Greenburg, Rosenberg, and de Vogue 4/9/2008) The name of the new suspect captured in Asia is not mentioned, but Hambali is captured in Thailand in August 2003 (see August 12, 2003), and he is the only prominent al-Qaeda figure arrested that summer. He is considered one of al-Qaeda’s most important leaders. There are some reports that he is one of only about four prisoners directly waterboarded by the US (see Shortly After August 12, 2003).
According to notes later submitted as evidence, Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, discusses an upcoming Washington Post article with Cheney. The article focuses on inquiries made by Post reporter Walter Pincus about the administration’s claims that Iraq has WMD, and a challenge to those claims by former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see Early June 2003). Pincus intends to write about the doubts now being cast on the administration’s WMD claims. (US Department of Justice 2/2007 )
According to notes taken by Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, President Bush expresses an interest in his January State of the Union Address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) and the subsequent article by the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof questioning the Iraq-Niger uranium claim made in that address (see May 6, 2003). Libby later testifies that he is unsure how he came to know of Bush’s interest in the article, and will deny ever discussing it with either Bush or Cheney. Libby will claim that the subject is something he may have wanted to bring to Cheney’s attention, and may have learned from a White House staffer. (US Department of Justice 3/5/2004 )
Vice President Dick Cheney’s National Security Adviser, John Hannah, sends Cheney a copy of an April 3 CIA report (see April 3, 2003). The report summarized the CIA’s knowledge of the supposed Iraq-Niger uranium deal through early April. (US Department of Justice 2/2007 )
According to the investigation by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, the CIA faxes Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, classified documents concerning Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger (see March 4-5, 2002, (March 6, 2002) and March 8, 2002), in response to a recent op-ed by Wilson (see July 6, 2003). Although the documents do not mention Wilson by name, the words “Wilson” and “Joe Wilson,” in Libby’s handwriting, are later found written on one of them. (US District Court for the District of Columbia 10/28/2005 ; Marcy Wheeler 11/1/2005; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 216; Waas 6/14/2006; US District Court for the District of Columbia 9/22/2006 ) Another, unidentified White House official also receives the documents. (New York Times 2006) He is most likely Cheney’s national security adviser, John Hannah. (US District Court for the District of Columbia 10/28/2005 ) Reporter Murray Waas will write, “It is unclear if one of the documents in question, or the one with Wilson’s name handwritten on it by someone in the vice president’s office, was the March 2002 CIA report (see July 12, 2003), but the fact that it did not mention Wilson by name suggests that it possibly was indeed the one with the handwriting.” (Waas 6/14/2006)
John Kiriakou, an executive assistant to the CIA’s Iraq mission manager Robert Grenier, sends out an email asking other CIA officers for information about Ambassador Joe Wilson’s trip to Niger concerning allegations Iraq purchased yellowcake uranium there. The e-mail is sent out in response to a request from Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin for information Vice President Dick Cheney will want at a meeting scheduled for tomorrow, and is sent “on behalf of the vice president.” The questions concern Wilson’s trip, what the CIA knew of it, and President Bush’s State of the Union address that mentioned the allegations. According to journalist Laura Rozen, “The email makes clear that senior CIA officials, including Kiriakou’s boss [Grenier] and the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence [McLaughlin], did not know who Valerie Wilson was at the time.” (Central Intelligence Agency 6/10/2003 ; Rozen 12/21/2007) After resigning from the agency, Kiriakou will come to national attention when he makes a crucial intervention in the US debate on the ethics of waterboarding (see December 10, 2007).
Vice President Dick Cheney, having already asked the CIA for information about former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s 2002 fact-finding mission to Niger (see 4:30 p.m. June 10, 2003), makes personal inquiries about the trip to both CIA Director George Tenet and CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin. According to evidence revealed during the trial of Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby (see January 16-23, 2007), both Tenet and McLaughlin tell Cheney that Wilson’s wife, CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson, played a role in assigning her husband to make the trip to Niger. This may be the first time that Cheney learns of Plame Wilson’s CIA status, though he will also learn the information from his press aide, Cathie Martin (see 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003). (Waas 12/23/2008)
John McLaughlin, deputy director of the CIA, meets with Vice President Dick Cheney. McLaughin is prepared with answers to Cheney’s questions about the Joseph Wilson trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and March 8, 2002). (Marcy Wheeler 6/22/2007)
Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, phones senior CIA official Robert Grenier to ask about a recent trip to Niger by former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Libby has just left a meeting with Cheney and Cheney’s press secretary, Cathie Martin. According to later testimony by Grenier (see January 24, 2007), Libby is “anxious” to learn about the trip, and obviously annoyed by Wilson’s claims that he was sent to Niger at the behest of Cheney. Grenier, the official in charge of the CIA’s actions as relating to Iraq, promises to look into the matter, but before he can speak again to Libby, the chief of staff pulls him out of a meeting with CIA Director George Tenet to ask him about Wilson. (Office of the Vice President 6/11/2003 ; Shane 2/4/2007; MSNBC 2/21/2007; Marcy Wheeler 6/6/2007)
Libby Discusses Feasibility of Leaking Wilson Info - Grenier will later testify that he had never been pulled out of a meeting with Tenet before. Libby had already asked about Wilson, who was, according to Libby, “going around town and speaking to people in the press” about a mission he’d been sent on by the agency to investigate claims that Iraq had sought to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Libby tells Grenier to check out Wilson’s story, and find out if Wilson’s claim that his mission was prompted by the Office of the Vice President is true (see (February 13, 2002)). “He sounded a little bit aggrieved,” Grenier will later testify. “There was a slightly accusatory tone in his voice.” This tone suggests to Grenier that Libby “would need this information sooner than later, so he could potentially get out in front of this story.” Later that day, Grenier receives a call from the CIA’s counterproliferation division—Valerie Plame Wilson’s bureau—confirming that Wilson had been sent to Niger by the agency (see Shortly after February 13, 2002). Grenier calls Libby back and relays that information. The State Department and Pentagon were also interested in the results of Wilson’s investigation, Grenier tells Libby. Grenier also tells Libby that Wilson’s wife works in the same CIA unit as the one that sent Wilson to Niger. The information about Wilson and his wife seems to please Libby, Grenier will later recall. Libby speculates as to the feasibility of leaking that information to the press. Grenier contacts CIA public affairs official Bill Harlow and tells Libby, “We can work something out.” Libby then tells Grenier that Martin will coordinate the effort with Harlow and the CIA public affairs office (see 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003). (Marcy Wheeler 1/24/2007; Thomas and Ryan 1/24/2007; Schulman 1/25/2007)
Grenier Wonders if He Revealed Identity of Agency Official - After hanging up, Grenier will later testify, he feels somewhat guilty, “as if I had said too much.” In particular, he worries that he may have “revealed the identity of an agency officer.” He will testify that such information is something “we normally guard pretty closely. In the CIA our habit is that if we don’t need to say something, we generally don’t.” But, he later says he told himself, “look—this is a senior government official, he probably has every security clearance known to man.” (Marcy Wheeler 1/24/2007; Schulman 1/25/2007)
After CIA official Robert Grenier calls Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, with the news that the agency sent former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger (see Shortly after February 13, 2002), and Wilson’s wife is a CIA official (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), CIA spokesman Bill Harlow calls Cheney’s communications director Cathie Martin. In the course of the conversation, Harlow tells Martin that Wilson’s wife works for the CIA. Martin then tells Cheney and Libby about Wilson and Wilson’s wife. (Office of the Vice President 6/11/2003 ; Marcy Wheeler 1/24/2007; Marcy Wheeler 1/25/2007)
Vice President Cheney informs his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, that Valerie Plame Wilson is a senior official for the CIA’s counterproliferation division. Cheney tells Libby that he has learned that information from CIA Director George Tenet (see June 11 or 12, 2003). Cheney’s conversation with Libby is made public over two years later, when Libby is indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice in regards to the investigation of White House officials leaking Plame Wilson’s identity to the press (see October 28, 2005). According to the indictment: “On or about June 12, 2003, Libby was advised by the vice president of the United States that [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson’s wife worked at the Central Intelligence Agency in the counterproliferation division. Libby understood that the vice president had learned this information from the CIA.” Cheney was within the law to inform Libby of Plame Wilson’s CIA employment, as he could with any government official with the proper security clearance. (Office of the Vice President 6/12/2003 ; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 216; New York Times 2006; Waas 2/2/2006; MSNBC 2/21/2007) Libby has also learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from Marc Grossman of the State Department (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003).
Date of Conversation Unclear - The exact date of the Cheney-Libby conversation is somewhat unclear. Libby’s note on the conversation is dated June 12, but Libby later admits that he wrote the date and the description of the conversation—“telephone VP re ‘Uranium in Iraq’—Kristof NYT article”—after the fact, and then changed the date at an even later time. (Office of the Vice President 6/12/2003 ; Marcy Wheeler 2/3/2007; Marcy Wheeler 6/6/2007) Libby will later testify that the date of the conversation might have been before June 12. (US Department of Justice 3/5/2004 ) He will also testify that Cheney tells him about Plame Wilson “in an off sort of, curiosity sort of, fashion,” according to other court documents later made public. (Waas 2/6/2006) Libby will soon inform a reporter of Plame Wilson’s CIA status (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). He is aware of Plame Wilson’s covert status (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003).
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof contradicts National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice’s recent statement that no one in the White House ever suspected that the documents “proving” Iraq sought to buy uranium from Niger were forged (see May 6, 2003). Rice recently said, “Maybe someone knew down in the bowels of the agency, but no one in our circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions that this might be a forgery” (see June 8, 2003). Kristof also notes that the White House claims Vice President Cheney learned of its own role in using the forged documents as “evidence” of the Iraq-Niger claim from reading Kristof’s May 6 column in the Times. Using information from what he calls “two people directly involved and three others who were briefed on” the story, Kristof writes that the truth is quite different from what Rice and Cheney say. He writes, “while Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet may not have told [President] Bush that the Niger documents were forged, lower CIA officials did tell both the vice president’s office and National Security Council staff members. Moreover, I hear from another source that the CIA’s operations side and its counterterrorism center undertook their own investigations of the documents, poking around in Italy and Africa, and also concluded that they were false—a judgment that filtered to the top of the CIA” (see January 28-29, 2003 and March 23, 2003). Kristof also notes that “the State Department’s intelligence arm, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, independently came to the exact same conclusion about those documents, according to Greg Thielmann, a former official there. Mr. Thielmann said he was ‘quite confident’ that the conclusion had been passed up to the top of the State Department.” Kristof also quotes former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman, who says, “It was well known throughout the intelligence community that it was a forgery.” Kristof adds that Tenet and the US intelligence communities “were under intense pressure to come up with evidence against Iraq.” As a result, “[a]mbiguities were lost, and doubters were discouraged from speaking up.” A former military intelligence officer says: “It was a foregone conclusion that every photo of a trailer truck would be a ‘mobile bioweapons lab’ and every tanker truck would be ‘filled with weaponized anthrax.’ None of the analysts in military uniform had the option to debate the vice president, secretary of defense, and the secretary of state.” Kristof concludes: “I don’t believe that the president deliberately lied to the public in an attempt to scare Americans into supporting his war. But it does look as if ideologues in the administration deceived themselves about Iraq’s nuclear programs—and then deceived the American public as well.” (Kristof 6/13/2003)
An internal CIA memorandum addressed to CIA Director George Tenet states that the agency no longer believes allegations that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger. The highly classified memo, titled “In Response to Your Questions for Our Current Assessment and Additional Details on Iraq’s Alleged Pursuits of Uranium from Abroad,” reads in part, “[S]ince learning that the Iraq-Niger uranium deal was based on false documents earlier this spring we no longer believe that there is sufficient other reporting to conclude that Iraq pursued uranium from abroad.” Tenet asked for the assessment in part because of repeated inquiries from Vice President Dick Cheney and his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, regarding the Iraq-Niger matter and the mission by Joseph Wilson to determine the likelihood of such a purchase (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and May 29, 2003). However, neither Cheney nor Libby asked for the review. In addition, Tenet wanted the assessment because of the media attention being paid to Wilson’s trip to Niger, and his worry that Congress or the press might raise additional questions about the matter. Soon afterwards, Cheney and Libby are briefed on the memo, but both continue to question the veracity and loyalty of Wilson, and continue to insist that Iraq did, indeed, attempt to purchase Nigerien uranium. Libby is adamant that the CIA is trying to “whitewash” the “truth” behind the Iraq-Niger uranium allegations, and insists that the CIA’s WINPAC (Center for Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control) is primarily responsible for the CIA’s “whitewashing.” He mistakenly believes that Valerie Plame Wilson, Wilson’s wife, works in WINPAC, and has already informed a reporter of his belief (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). Cheney and others in the Office of the Vice President also apparently believe that Plame Wilson works for WINPAC, though they have already been informed that she is a senior official for the CIA’s counterproliferation division (see (June 12, 2003)) and a covert agent (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003). (The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (aka 'Robb-Silberman Commission') 3/31/2005; Waas 2/2/2006)
Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, “outs” a covert CIA agent to a reporter. Libby tells New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who has been a reliable outlet for administration leaks and disinformation (see December 20, 2001, August 2002, and May 1, 2003), that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA official. Plame Wilson is a covert CIA officer currently working at CIA headquarters on WMD issues in the Middle East. More importantly for Libby, she is the husband of former US ambassador Joseph Wilson, who went to Niger to verify the administration’s claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium there (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), and who has become an outspoken critic of the administration’s war policies both on television and in print (see July 6, 2003).
Libby Blames CIA for 'Slanted Intell' - Miller meets Libby at the Old Executive Building. Her focus is, as she has written in her notebook, “Was the intell slanted?” meaning the intelligence used to propel the US into war with Iraq. Libby is “displeased,” she notes, by what he calls the “selective leaking” of information to the press by the CIA. He calls it a “hedging strategy,” and Miller quotes him in her notes: “If we find it, fine, if not, we hedged.” Miller feels that Libby is trying to use the interview to set up a conflict between the White House and the CIA. He says that reports suggesting senior administration officials may have selectively used some intelligence reports to bolster their claims about Iraq while ignoring others are “highly distorted.” The thrust of his conversation, Miller will later testify (see September 30, 2005), is to try to blame the CIA for the intelligence failures leading up to the Iraq invasion. The CIA is now trying to “hedge” its earlier assessments, Libby says. He accuses it of waging what he calls a “perverted war” against the White House over the issue, and is clearly angry that it failed to, in his view, share its “doubts about Iraq intelligence.” He tells Miller, “No briefer came in [after the State of the Union address] and said, ‘You got it wrong, Mr. President.’”
Joseph Wilson and 'Valerie Flame' - Libby refers to “a clandestine guy,” meaning Wilson, and tells Miller that Cheney “didn’t know” about him, attempting to disassociate Cheney from any responsibility for Wilson’s trip. In her notes, Miller writes, “wife works in bureau?” and she will later testify that she is sure Libby is referring to the CIA. In her notes, she also writes the words “Valerie Flame,” a misspelled reference to Wilson’s wife. (Miller 10/16/2005; Brenner 4/2006; Unger 2007, pp. 310; MSNBC 2/21/2007)
No Story from Interview - Miller does not write a story based on the conversation with Libby. (Miller 10/16/2005; van Natta, Liptak, and Levy 10/16/2005)
Libby a 'Good-Faith Source' - Miller will later recall Libby as being “a good-faith source who was usually straight with me.” (van Natta, Liptak, and Levy 10/16/2005) She will note that she was not accustomed to interviewing high-level White House officials such as him. For Miller, Libby was “a major figure” and “one of the most senior people I interviewed,” she will say. “I never interviewed the vice president, never met the president, and have met Karl Rove only once. I operated at the wonk level. That is why all of this stuff that came later about my White House spin is such bullsh_t. I did not talk to these people.… Libby was not a social friend, like Richard Perle.” (Brenner 4/2006)
Initial Incorrect Dating by Times - In October, the New York Times will initially, and incorrectly, identify the date of this conversation as June 25. (Johnston 10/8/2005)
Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward speaks with Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, in preparation for an interview he intends to conduct with Cheney for his book Plan of Attack. Woodward sends a list of questions to Libby for Cheney, including a question about “yellowcake” uranium and the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate regarding Iraq’s weapons programs (see October 1, 2002). He will later testify that he does not include a question about CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson in the list of questions, though he did consider asking White House chief of staff Andrew Card about her (see June 20, 2003). (Woodward 11/16/2005; Marcy Wheeler 2/12/2007) Woodward is aware of Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA official (see June 13, 2003).
The CIA briefs Vice President Dick Cheney, Attorney General John Ashcroft, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and National Security Council legal adviser John Bellinger on the use of waterboarding and other methods. According to a 2009 Senate Intelligence Committee report, the officials “reaffirmed that the CIA program was lawful and reflected administration policy.” (Senate Intelligence Committee 4/22/2009 ; Smith and Finn 4/22/2009) In 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)‘s Jameel Jaffer will say: “This was not an abstract discussion. These were very detailed and specific conversations. And it’s further evidence of the role that senior administration officials had.” (Smith and Finn 4/22/2009)
New York Times reporter David Sanger interviews Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, about Secretary of State Colin Powell’s UN presentation in February (see February 5, 2003). As he and Cheney have planned (see August 2002, June 27, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 14 or 15, 2003, and July 18, 2003), Libby discloses classified information from the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate to Sanger (see October 1, 2002). (US District Court for the District of Columbia 3/5/2004 ; US Department of Justice 2/2007 ; Marcy Wheeler 2/12/2007)
Joseph Wilson, the former US ambassador to Gabon and a former diplomatic official in the US embassy in Iraq during the Gulf War (see September 20, 1990), writes an op-ed for the New York Times entitled “What I Didn’t Find in Africa.” Wilson went to Africa over a year ago (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003) to investigate claims that the Iraqi government surreptitiously attempted to buy large amounts of uranium from Niger, purportedly for use in nuclear weapons. The claims have been extensively debunked (see February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). Wilson opens the op-ed by writing: “Did the Bush administration manipulate intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq? Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.” Wilson notes his extensive experience in Africa and the Middle East, and says candidly: “Those news stories about that unnamed former envoy who went to Niger? That’s me” (see May 6, 2003). He makes it very clear that he believes his findings had been “circulated to the appropriate officials within… [the] government.”
Journey to Niger - Wilson confirms that he went to Africa at the behest of the CIA, which was in turn responding to a directive from Vice President Cheney’s office. He confirms that the CIA paid his expenses during the week-long trip, and that, while overseas, “I made it abundantly clear to everyone I met that I was acting on behalf of the United States government.” About Nigerien uranium, Wilson writes: “For reasons that are understandable, the embassy staff has always kept a close eye on Niger’s uranium business. I was not surprised, then, when the ambassador [Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick] told me that she knew about the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq—and that she felt she had already debunked them in her reports to Washington” (see November 20, 2001). Wilson met with “dozens of people: current government officials, former government officials, people associated with the country’s uranium business. It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place.” Wilson notes that Nigerien uranium is handled by two mines, Somair and Cominak, “which are run by French, Spanish, Japanese, German, and Nigerian interests. If the government wanted to remove uranium from a mine, it would have to notify the consortium, which in turn is strictly monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Moreover, because the two mines are closely regulated, quasi-governmental entities, selling uranium would require the approval of the minister of mines, the prime minister, and probably the president. In short, there’s simply too much oversight over too small an industry for a sale to have transpired.” Wilson told Owens-Kirkpatrick that he didn’t believe the story either, flew back to Washington, and shared his findings with CIA and State Department officials. “There was nothing secret or earth-shattering in my report,” he writes, “just as there was nothing secret about my trip.”
State of the Union Reference - Wilson believed that the entire issue was settled until September 2002, when the British government released an intelligence finding that asserted Iraq posed an immediate threat because it had attempted to purchase uranium from Africa (see September 24, 2002). Shortly thereafter, President Bush repeated the charges in his State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Wilson was surprised by the charge, but put it aside after discussing the issue with a friend in the State Department (see January 29, 2003). Wilson now knows that Bush was indeed referring to the Niger claims, and wants to set the record straight.
Posing a Real Nuclear Threat? - Wilson is now concerned that the facts are being manipulated by the administration to paint Iraq as a looming nuclear threat, when in fact Iraq has no nuclear weapons program. “At a minimum,” he writes, “Congress, which authorized the use of military force at the president’s behest, should want to know if the assertions about Iraq were warranted.” He is quite sure that Iraq has some form of chemical and biological weapons, and in light of his own personal experience with “Mr. Hussein and his thugs in the run-up to the Persian Gulf war of 1991, I was only too aware of the dangers he posed.” But, he asks, are “these dangers the same ones the administration told us about? We have to find out. America’s foreign policy depends on the sanctity of its information.… The act of war is the last option of a democracy, taken when there is a grave threat to our national security. More than 200 American soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq already. We have a duty to ensure that their sacrifice came for the right reasons.” (Wilson, 7/6/2003)
'Playing Congress and the Public for Fools' - Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2004 that after Wilson’s editorial appears, he checks out the evidence behind the story himself. It only takes Dean a few hours of online research using source documents that Bush officials themselves had cited, from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Department of Energy, the CIA, and the United Nations. He will write: “I was amazed at the patently misleading use of the material Bush had presented to Congress. Did he believe no one would check? The falsification was not merely self-evident, it was feeble and disturbing. The president was playing Congress and the public for fools.” (Dean 2004, pp. 145-146)
The Washington Post publishes an article about former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s New York Times op-ed questioning the White House’s claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003). Post reporters Richard Leiby and Walter Pincus report that Wilson says he was told that his mission to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) was at the request of Vice President Dick Cheney or his staff, and add that, according to “[a] senior administration official,” Wilson was sent to Niger by the CIA, but not at the behest of Cheney or his office. “It was not orchestrated by the vice president,” the official says. The truth of the matter is somewhat less clear, as Cheney asked his CIA briefer to have the agency send him information about the Iraq-Niger allegations (see (February 13, 2002)). It is not clear that Cheney asked for Wilson or anyone else to be sent to Niger, but Cheney did receive the CIA’s report on Wilson’s mission (see March 5, 2002). (Leiby and Pincus 7/6/2003) The denial is part of a larger effort to distance Cheney from the Wilson mission to Niger and discredit Wilson (see July 6-10, 2003).
According to White House press secretary Ari Fleischer’s deputy and imminent successor Scott McClellan, “Armed with updated talking points from the vice president’s office… Fleischer dispute[s] the notion that Cheney and others in the administration must have known about [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson’s findings” (see March 5, 2002). Fleischer denies that Vice President Dick Cheney asked for someone to go to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had tried to buy enriched uranium from there (see (February 13, 2002)), and denies Cheney’s awareness of the mission until it was reported. However, Fleischer “inadvertently drop[s] a small bombshell,” according to McClellan. He tells reporters, “Now we’ve long acknowledged—and this is old news, we’ve said it repeatedly—that the information on [Nigeran uranium] did, indeed, turn out to be incorrect.” McClellan will later acknowledge that the admission is anything but “old news,” and will write: “But Fleischer now appeared to suggest for the first time that the president’s 16 words in the State of the Union address had been based primarily on the Niger documents (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Up until that point, the White House had maintained that the president’s language had been deliberately broad so as to include African countries other than Niger” (see January 28-29, 2003). Reporters “jump[ed] all over the story,” McClellan will recall. “Admitting that something the president had said was wrong was big news, and it would need to be discussed among senior advisers and approved by the president.” McClellan will note, “Throughout the day, there was much discussion among the president’s advisers on whether or not to acknowledge the obvious.” According to McClellan, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is one of the strongest advocates for making the admission, and “her point of view prevail[s].” (McClellan 2008, pp. 168-169)
After the publication of Joseph Wilson’s op-ed debunking the administration’s claims of an Iraq-Niger uranium connection (see July 6, 2003), White House officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, White House communications director Dan Bartlett, and Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby discuss methods of discrediting Wilson. The four work with CIA Director George Tenet to declassify records that might help them prove their contention that they accurately portrayed intelligence about the Iraq-Niger claim, and put Wilson in a poor light. During Libby’s perjury trial (see January 16-23, 2007), a senior White House official involved in the process will testify: “We were trying to figure out what happened and get the story out. There was nothing nefarious as to what occurred.” In a 2007 interview, that same official will confirm what will be said in federal grand jury testimony and public court filings: that Cheney and Libby often acted without the knowledge or approval of other senior White House staff when it came to their efforts to discredit Wilson, including leaking classified information to the press. (Waas 1/12/2007)
According to court documents filed by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in 2006, Vice President Dick Cheney has a conversation with his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, where he “expressed concerns to [Libby] regarding whether [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson’s trip [to Niger—see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) was legitimate or whether it was a junket set up by Mr. Wilson’s wife,” CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson. Soon after the conversation, Libby discloses Plame Wilson’s CIA identity to a reporter, adding that Plame Wilson sent her husband to Niger (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). White House political strategist Karl Rove gives Time columnist Robert Novak similar information (see July 8, 2003). (Waas 6/14/2006) On a clipped copy of Wilson’s op-ed about his Niger mission (see July 6, 2003), Cheney writes: “Have they [the CIA] done this sort of thing before? Send an Amb. [ambassador] to answer a question? Do we ordinarily send people out pro bono to work for us? Or did his wife send him on a junket?” (Johnston 5/14/2006; National Public Radio 3/7/2007)
Vice President Dick Cheney writes talking points for press secretary Ari Fleischer and other White House officials to use with the press to address the recent New York Times op-ed by former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who revealed that during a 2002 fact-finding mission to Africa, he found nothing to support administration claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase weapons-grade uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003). After Wilson’s op-ed, the White House was forced to back away from its claims about the uranium purchase (see July 6-7, 2003, July 7, 2003, and July 8, 2003), a move that Cheney and other White House officials believed damaged the administration’s credibility over its justifications for the Iraq invasion. Cheney then rewrites the talking points to provide White House officials with more information that can be used to discredit Wilson, and to maximize the chances that reporters will conclude that Wilson’s wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, sent her husband on a “junket” to Niger (see July 7, 2003 or Shortly After). The lead talking point changes from the original version as drafted by Cheney press aide Cathie Martin: “The vice president’s office did not request the mission to Niger,” to Cheney’s: “It is not clear who authorized Joe Wilson’s trip to Niger.” Cheney will admit that in rewriting the talking points to draw attention to Plame Wilson’s putative role in arranging for the Niger mission, reporters might find out that she was a CIA officer. However, he will deny that he did anything on purpose to give reporters that information. FBI investigators will not be convinced by Cheney’s explanation.
Telling Reporters Cheney, Aides Knew Nothing of Wilson Mission - Another reason for revising the talking points is to give the impression that Cheney had little to no role in Wilson’s mission to Niger, and knew nothing of the trip before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq (see March 5, 2002). Cheney will later admit to FBI investigators that he rewrote the talking points to lead reporters to that conclusion—a conclusion that he hopes will paint Wilson’s trip to Niger as a nepotistic jaunt envisioned to discredit the administration. That conclusion is false (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003). Cheney’s subsidiary talking points include: “The vice president’s office did not request the mission to Niger”; the “vice president’s office was not informed of Joe Wilson’s mission”; Cheney’s office was not briefed about the mission until long after it occurred; and Cheney and his aides, including his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, only learned about the mission from reporters a year later. (Froomkin 2/21/2007; Waas 12/23/2008)
Talking Points Revised Just before Libby Outs Plame Wilson to Reporter - Cheney revises the talking points on July 8, hours before Libby reveals Plame Wilson’s CIA identity to reporter Judith Miller and tells Miller that Plame Wilson sent her husband to Niger (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). Both Cheney and Libby will later testify that Libby’s purpose in meeting with Miller is to leak classified intelligence information that the White House hopes will discredit Wilson’s allegations that the White House manipulated intelligence to bolster its justification for the invasion (see July 12, 2003).
Talking Points Used in Morning 'Press Gaggle' - In the July 8 morning briefing for the White House press corps, informally known as the “press gaggle,” Fleischer reiterates the talking points, telling the reporters: “The vice president’s office did not request the mission to Niger. The vice president’s office was not informed of his mission and he was not aware of Mr. Wilson’s mission until recent press accounts… accounted for it. So this was something that the CIA undertook.… They sent him on their own volition.”
'Growing Body of Evidence' that Cheney Directed Libby to Out Plame Wilson - In 2008, reporter Murray Waas will write, “That Cheney, by his own admission, had revised the talking points in an effort to have the reporters examine who sent Wilson on the very same day that his chief of staff was disclosing to Miller Plame [Wilson]‘s identity as a CIA officer may be the most compelling evidence to date that Cheney himself might have directed Libby to disclose Plame [Wilson]‘s identity to Miller and other reporters.” Waas will write that Cheney’s admission adds to the “growing body of evidence that Cheney may have directed Libby to disclose Plame [Wilson]‘s identity to reporters and that Libby acted to protect Cheney by lying to federal investigators and a federal grand jury about the matter.” Cheney’s admission is not, Waas will note, the “smoking gun” that would prove he directed Libby to leak Plame Wilson’s identity. Neither does it prove that Libby outed Plame Wilson on his own by acting “overzealously” to follow Cheney’s “broader mandate” to besmirch and discredit Wilson. Waas will write that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald believes that Libby lied and placed himself in criminal jeopardy in order to protect Cheney, perhaps to conceal the fact that Cheney had told him to leak Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. (Waas 12/23/2008)
Joseph Wilson, whose op-ed in the New York Times debunking the administration’s claim of an Iraq-Niger uranium connection has just appeared (see July 6, 2003), is warned to expect harsh retaliation by former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger. Berger points out that since the Bush White House never backs down, the fact that they had admitted their error so quickly (see March 8, 2003) means that they have something even more important to protect. A Republican acquaintance of Wilson’s says that he and his fellows in the party are pleased with Wilson’s op-ed, as now they might have the ammunition necessary to confront the Bush neoconservatives. Wilson will write that his favorite reaction comes from his former National Security Council colleague John Pendergast, who tells Wilson, “Congratulations, you’re like the baboon who’s thrown the turd that finally hit the target and stuck.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 4) Within minutes of the story being published on the Times Web site, Wilson begins fielding questions from reporters, and accepts an offer to appear on the next morning’s broadcast of “Meet the Press” (see July 6, 2003). (Wilson 2004, pp. 333-334) In response to Wilson’s editorial, then-White House press official Scott McClellan later writes: “Wilson’s performance turned the spotlight squarely on the charge being labeled by [Times columnist Nicholas] Kristof and other critics that the Bush administration had knowingly misled the public” about Iraqi WMD (see May 6, 2003). It further riled the vice president. It also provided the national media with a full-fledged controversy to cover, involving a colorful, outspoken character [Wilson] ready to level explosive charges against high-ranking officials.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 168)
During the morning meeting for senior White House officials, political strategist Karl Rove tells the assemblage that the White House needs to “get the message out” about war critic Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003). Rove emphasizes the need to push the point that Wilson was not sent to Niger by Vice President Dick Cheney (see July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, and July 7-8, 2003). At the meeting are Cheney, President Bush, Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and chief of staff Andrew Card, who will soon take over the administration’s response to the Iraq-Niger controversy (see (July 11, 2003)). (US District Court for the District of Columbia 3/5/2004 ) Libby brings an underlined copy of Wilson’s July 6 New York Times op-ed to the meeting. (Office of the Vice President 7/7/2003)
Just after a morning meeting where White House political strategist Karl Rove emphasized that White House officials need to tell reporters that Vice President Dick Cheney did not send Joseph Wilson to Niger (see 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003), Cheney’s communications director, Cathie Martin, e-mails talking points to White House press secretary Ari Fleischer that state:
“The vice president’s office did not request the mission to Niger.”
“The vice president’s office was not informed of Joe Wilson’s mission.”
“The vice president’s office did not receive briefing about Mr. Wilson’s misson after he returned” (see March 5, 2002).
“The vice president’s office was not aware of Mr. Wilson’s mission until recent press reports accounted for it” (see 4:30 p.m. June 10, 2003). (Office of the Vice President 7/7/2003; US Department of Justice 3/5/2004 )
Minutes later, Fleischer presents these talking points in the morning press briefing. He says of the Wilson op-ed: “Well, there is zero, nada, nothing new here. Ambassador Wilson, other than the fact that now people know his name, has said all this before. But the fact of the matter is in his statements about the vice president—the vice president’s office did not request the mission to Niger. The vice president’s office was not informed of his mission and he was not aware of Mr. Wilson’s mission until recent press accounts—press reports accounted for it. So this was something that the CIA undertook as part of their regular review of events, where they sent him.” (White House 7/7/2003; Marcy Wheeler 10/30/2009) In 2007, Martin will testify that Cheney dictated the talking points to her (see January 25-29, 2007).
Hours after White House press secretary Ari Fleischer reiterates talking points from Vice President Dick Cheney emphasizing the lack of knowledge that Cheney and his office had of the trip taken to Niger by former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see July 7-8, 2003 and 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003), Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby has lunch with Fleischer. Fleischer will later testify during Libby’s perjury trial (see January 16-23, 2007) that Libby speaks extensively of the role of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, in sending her husband to Niger. According to Fleischer’s later testimony (see January 29, 2007), Libby tells him: “Ambassador Wilson was sent by his wife. His wife works for the CIA.” Fleischer will testify that Libby calls her by her maiden name, Valerie Plame. “He added it was ‘hush-hush,’ and ‘on the QT,’ and that most people didn’t know it,” Fleischer will add. (White House 7/7/2003; Grier 11/15/2005; Waas 12/23/2008; Marcy Wheeler 1/29/2009; Marcy Wheeler 10/30/2009) Fleischer will later testify that the conversation is “kind of weird” and note that Libby typically “operated in a very closed-lip fashion.” (US District Court for the District of Columbia 9/27/2004 ; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit 12/8/2004 ) Libby will remember the lunch meeting, and testify that he thanked Fleischer for making a statement about the Niger issue, but will deny discussing Plame Wilson. (US District Court for the District of Columbia 9/27/2004 )
According to NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell, “high-level people at the CIA” say that no senior officials at the agency ever looked at the verbal report made by Joseph Wilson upon returning from Niger (see March 4-5, 2002), nor did they look at the notes from that report (see March 8, 2002). Senior agency officials, Mitchell says, “didn’t even know that it was he who had made this report, because he was sent over by some of the covert operatives in the CIA at a very low level, not, in fact, tasked by the vice president.” If true, Mitchell says, claims that Vice President Dick Cheney asked about the Iraq-Niger uranium claims, and that Wilson was sent to Niger as a result of Cheney’s queries, “may not, in fact, be true. It could very well be that the vice president is correct, that he never asked for Joe Wilson to be sent, that it was a much lower level.” Although Cheney may not have known of the Wilson mission until after its completion, he did in fact ask for an inquiry into the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see (February 13, 2002)). Mitchell is apparently repeating claims from the White House designed to emphasize its contention that neither Cheney nor anyone in his office had anything to do with sending Wilson to Niger (see July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, and July 7-8, 2003). (CNBC 7/8/2003) The same day, Reuters reports a similar claim from another US intelligence official, stating that “Wilson was sent to investigate the Niger reports by mid-level CIA officers, not by top-level Bush administration officials. There is no record of his report being flagged to top level officials, the intelligence official said.” The Reuters report quotes the official as saying about Wilson and his recent New York Times op-ed (see July 6, 2003), “He is placing far greater significance on his visit than anyone in the US government at the time it was made.” Progressive columnist Joshua Micah Marshall responds: “The message here seems pretty clear: Joseph who? Wilson, this ‘intelligence official’ is saying, is some small-time operator who got sent to Niger by some mid-level functionaries at the CIA. All the people who counted had no idea he’d even gone on his trip. And they certainly didn’t know about his vaunted report.… I don’t find this claim particularly credible.… I don’t think dumping on Wilson, which seems to be the White House’s preferred strategy now, is going to cut it.” (Joshua Micah Marshall 7/8/2003)
Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, meets with New York Times reporter Judith Miller, during which time he gives Miller information he wants her to use to discredit administration critic Joseph Wilson (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). Libby tells Miller that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a CIA agent. After meeting with Miller, Libby returns to the White House and immediately consults with Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington. At Miller’s request, Libby had promised her that he would try to find out more about Wilson and his wife, and apparently he goes to Addington for additional information about the two, asking, according to court papers filed as part of Libby’s later indictment (see October 28, 2005), “in sum and substance, what paperwork there would be at the CIA if an employee’s spouse undertook an overseas mission.” Addington assures Libby that the classified information he divulged to Miller (see 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003) was, by default, declassified once President Bush gave his permission to leak it: Addington tells Libby “that presidential authorization to publicly disclose a document amounted to a declassification of the document” (see July 12, 2003). Four days after Libby’s meetings with Miller and Addington, Libby speaks with Miller again, and gives her supplementary information about the Wilsons (see Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). The information comes from court records and documents later made part of the special counsel’s investigation into the Plame Wilson leak. Nothing in those documents and records suggests that Addington broke the law, or had any role in, or knowledge of, leaking Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. However, as reporters Murray Waas and Paul Singer will later write: “Addington was deeply immersed in the White House damage-control campaign to deflect criticism that the Bush administration misrepresented intelligence information to make the case to go to war with Iraq, according to administration and Congressional sources. Moreover, as a pivotal member of the vice president’s office, Addington also attended strategy sessions in 2003 on how to discredit Wilson when the former ambassador publicly charged that the Bush administration misled the country in pushing its case for war, according to attorneys in the CIA leak probe” (see October 1, 2003). (Office of the Vice President 7/8/2003 ; US District Court for the District of Columbia 8/27/2004 ; US District Court for the District of Columbia 10/28/2005 ; Waas and Singer 10/30/2005)
Vice President Dick Cheney either authorizes or gives the green light to his chief of staff Lewis Libby to leak classified information to New York Times reporter Judith Miller (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). Libby understands that the authorization for the leak comes directly from President Bush (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004). (US District Court for the District of Columbia 5/5/2006 ; US Department of Justice 2/2007 ; Marcy Wheeler 2/18/2007)
White House political strategist Karl Rove returns a telephone call from conservative columnist Robert Novak. Rove has prepared for the call, assembling talking points and briefing materials (see July 7-8, 2003), some drawn from classified government personnel files provided by White House political director Matt Schlapp and other staffers. None of the materials directly involve Valerie Plame Wilson, the CIA agent who Novak will “out” in a soon-to-be-published column (see July 14, 2003). Instead, Rove is preparing to discuss Frances Fragos Townsend, the newly appointed deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism. It is unclear whether Rove speaks with Novak on the evening of July 8 or during the day of July 9. (Waas 12/16/2005; Marcy Wheeler 2/12/2007)
Combating 'Rearguard' Effort to Undermine Townsend - President Bush has asked Rove to counter what he believes to be a “rearguard” effort within his own administration—led by senior members of Vice President Dick Cheney’s staff—to discredit Townsend and derail her appointment, perhaps because she was once a senior attorney in the Justice Department under then-President Clinton. Novak has been calling other White House officials about Townsend, and Rove intends to give him the White House slant on her: that President Bush, CIA Director George Tenet, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice all have full confidence in her. Part of the conversation is completely off the record, while other parts are on background, freeing Novak to quote Rove as a “senior administration official.” Novak will write his material on Townsend much as Rove lays it out for him. Reporter Murray Waas will later learn that opposition to Townsend within Cheney’s office is so intense that Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, contemplates leaking damaging material about her to the press in an attempt to disrupt her appointment. Waas will write, “Libby’s tactics against Townsend appear to have paralleled those he took around the same period of time in attempting to blunt [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson’s criticism of the administration’s use of prewar intelligence.” Libby will indeed leak information on Townsend to selected Republicans in Congress, and they in turn will use that information to criticize her appointment. (Waas 12/16/2005)
Novak Broaches Subject of Plame Wilson - It is after they finish discussing Townsend that the submect of Valerie Plame Wilson comes up. Novak and Rove will both tell federal prosecutors that it is Novak who broaches the subject of Plame Wilson, saying he had heard that “Wilson’s wife” had been responsible for sending her husband on a CIA mission to Niger (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003). According to later published accounts, Rove replies, “I heard that too.” Novak’s version of events will be slightly different, with him claiming Rove says, “Oh, you know about it.” Novak has already learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see July 7, 2003) and from Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see July 8, 2003). Novak tells Rove that he is still going to write a negative column on Townsend, but implies that he will also write about Wilson and his wife. “I think that you are going to be unhappy with something that I write,” he tells Rove, “and I think you are very much going to like something that I am about to write.” Novak’s July 10 column will attack Townsend as an “enemy within,” a Democratic partisan who will likely not be loyal to the Bush administration. Four days later, he will write his column exposing Plame Wilson as a CIA agent as part of his attack on Wilson’s credibility as a war critic. Investigators will be unable to independently verify that Novak, not Rove, first brought up the subject of Plame Wilson during their conversation; for his part, Rove will deny leaking Plame Wilson’s name to any reporter, and will deny even knowing who she is. (Johnston and Stevenson 7/15/2005; Stevenson 7/16/2005; Waas 12/16/2005)
Mary Matalin, Vice President Dick Cheney’s communications director, warns Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, about former ambassador Joseph Wilson. Wilson has recently published a column debunking the White House’s claim that Iraq had attempted to purchase enriched uranium from Niger, and accusing the Bush administration of manipulating intelligence to create an overblown case for attacking Iraq (see July 6, 2003). Matalin tells Libby that Wilson is a “snake,” and that his “story has legs.” According to prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg, who will present Matalin’s conversation during Libby’s perjury trial (see October 28, 2005), Matalin says: “We need to address the Wilson motivation. We need to be able to get the cable out. Declassified. The president should wave his wand.” By “the cable,” Matalin is referring to the CIA’s debriefing of Wilson after his trip to Niger (see March 4-5, 2002). Matalin also advises Libby to call NBC bureau chief Tim Russert and complain about MSNBC host Chris Matthews’s coverage of the Niger story. And she advises Libby to get a New York Times reporter such as David Sanger “or someone… to expose [the] Wilson story.” Two days later, Cheney will authorize Libby to declassify portions of the debriefing report (see July 12, 2003), telling him that President Bush has waved his wand, and Libby will again divulge Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity to Times reporter Judith Miller (see Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). (US Department of Justice 3/5/2004 ; US Department of Justice 2/2007 ; Waas 2/15/2007)
When asked about the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002) and whether Bush knew of the dissenting views among US intelligence agencies regarding the now-infamous aluminum tubes supposedly being used by Iraq to produce nuclear weapons, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice says that in preparation for his February 2003 speech to the UN (see February 5, 2003), Secretary of State Colin Powell chose to “caveat,” or mention, the dissents. “The only thing that was there in the NIE was a kind of a standard INR footnote, which is kind of 59 pages away from the bulk of the NIE. That’s the only thing that’s there. And you have footnotes all the time in CIA—I mean, in NIEs. So if there was a concern about the underlying intelligence there, the president was unaware of that concern and as was I.… Now, if there were any doubts about the underlying intelligence to that NIE, those doubts were not communicated to the president, to the vice president, or to me.” Rice is incorrect. The President’s Summary from that NIE (see Early October 2002) specifically told Bush of the dissenting views, and the much lengthier NIE went into far more detail about the dissenting views. Rice, along with Vice President Cheney and other senior White House officials, received a memo months before giving them the same material, including the dissents (see January 10, 2003). (Cheney, as a matter of course, receives essentially the same intelligence information as Bush receives.) And the NIE itself contained the following caveat: “In [the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, or INR]‘s view, Iraq’s efforts to acquire aluminum tubes is central to the argument that Baghdad is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program, but INR is not persuaded that the tubes in question are intended for use as centrifuge rotors. INR accepts the judgment of technical experts at the US Department of Energy (DOE) who have concluded that the tubes Iraq seeks to acquire are poorly suited for use in gas centrifuges to be used for uranium enrichment and finds unpersuasive the arguments advanced by others to make the case that they are intended for that purpose. INR considers it far more likely that the tubes are intended for another purpose, most likely the production of artillery rockets.” This passage, among other sections of the NIE, will be declassified on July 18, one week from Rice’s denials.
A Pattern of Deception - There are numerous examples of Bush and Cheney citing the “imminent threat” of Saddam Hussein against the US and the Middle East. Some of those include: Cheney’s assertion that Hussein “now has weapons of mass destruction [and] is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us” (see August 26, 2002); Bush’s assertion to the UN that Iraq has WMDs and is likely to share them with terrorists (see September 12, 2002); a farrago of assertions from Bush that includes assertions about Iraq’s fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles ready to disperse chemical and biological weapons, perhaps over the US, its consorting with al-Qaeda, and more (see October 7, 2002); a State of the Union address loaded with false, misleading, and incorrect allegations (see October 7, 2002); and a speech on the eve of the Iraq invasion that asserted “[t]he danger is clear” that Iraq will “kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent” Americans (see March 17, 2003). (White House 7/11/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform 3/16/2004; Waas 3/2/2006)
Clifford May, a conservative columnist, writes a column for the National Review that claims “[t]he president’s critics are lying” about the Bush administration’s claims about Iraqi WMDs. May states that President “Bush never claimed that Saddam Hussein had purchased uranium from Niger,” despite Bush’s words to the contrary (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). May writes that Bush’s claim was, precisely, that the British made the claim, not him or the US intelligence apparatus. In his column, May claims that former ambassador Joseph Wilson was indeed sent to Niger to investigate the Iraq-Niger uranium claims by Vice President Dick Cheney, despite repeated efforts by the White House to deny any involvement by Cheney (see July 6, 2003, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003). May writes, “Wilson was sent to Niger by the CIA to verify a US intelligence report about the sale of yellowcake—because Vice President Dick Cheney requested it, because Cheney had doubts about the validity of the intelligence report.” It is not known whether May has inside knowledge of Cheney’s involvement, or if he is merely stating his opinion as fact. May spends the rest of his column attacking Wilson as “a pro-Saudi, leftist partisan with an ax to grind.” (May 7/11/2003)
The CIA’s Deputy Director, John McLaughlin, sends a draft of a written statement by Director George Tenet about the Niger uranium affair to the White House. Tenet’s statement will acknowledge that he is responsible for the false claims by President Bush and other administration officials that Iraq had attempted to purchase enriched uranium from Niger (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). McLaighlin sends the draft to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, but it is marked “Unacceptable” by Vice President Dick Cheney. The draft of Tenet’s statement will be entered into evidence in the 2007 trial of Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby (see January 16-23, 2007). (Central Intelligence Agency 7/11/2003; National Public Radio 3/7/2007) It is unclear why Cheney rejects the draft.
Vice President Dick Cheney’s communications director, Cathie Martin, takes notes on “spin options” available to the White House regarding the administration’s admission that its claims of an Iraq-Niger uranium connection are false. Cheney has already rejected a draft of a statement to be released by CIA Director Tenet, taking responsibility for the false claim (see July 11, 2003). On the second page, Martin takes copious notes documenting the administration’s options. The first in the list is to put Cheney on NBC’s Meet the Press to dodge the claim, with annotations as to the pros and cons of that particular effort. The second option is to leak information from the classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq’s WMD programs (see October 1, 2002) to reporters. Two reporters, the New York Times’s David Sanger and the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus, are mentioned as possible targets of the planned leak. (Office of the Vice President 7/11/2003 ; National Public Radio 3/7/2007) In 2007, Martin, will testify as to the strategies discussed by Mary Matalin (see July 10, 2003) and the communications staff (see January 25-29, 2007). One option is to have Cheney go on “Meet the Press;” notes from the strategy discussion cite the pros of going on that show as “best format, we control the message,” but Martin and others fear having Cheney coming across as defensive. Another option is to approach Sanger, whom the notes say is working on “what he thought was a definitive piece, we could go to Sanger and tell him our version of this.” The discussion also cites the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus as a possible leak recipient. Another option is to have either National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice or Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld hold a press conference. Finally, they can have a sympathetic third party write an “independent” op-ed for a national newspaper such as the Post or the New York Times that would promote their message. Martin also speaks with Time’s Matthew Cooper, and informs him that the administration is backing away from its claims that Iraq was attempting to procure uranium from Niger (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). (Marcy Wheeler 1/25/2007)
White House political adviser Karl Rove, leading the White House’s damage control operation to recoup the losses from Joseph Wilson’s recent op-ed about the fraudulent Iraq-Niger documents (see July 6, 2003), speaks to Time reporter Matthew Cooper. Rove has already discussed Wilson with columnist Robert Novak (see July 8, 2003).
Cooper Digging for White House Smear Details - According to Cooper’s notes, an e-mail from Cooper to his bureau chief, Michael Duffy, and Cooper’s later testimony (see July 13, 2005), Cooper is interested in the White House’s apparent smear attempts against Wilson (see March 9, 2003 and After and May 2003). “I’m writing about Wilson,” Cooper says, and Rove interjects, “Don’t get too far out on Wilson.” Rove insists that their conversation be on “deep background,” wherein Cooper cannot quote him directly, nor can he disclose his identity. Rove tells Cooper that neither CIA Director George Tenet nor Vice President Dick Cheney sent Wilson to Niger, and that, Cooper will later write, “material was going to be declassified in the coming days that would cast doubt on Wilson’s mission and his findings.”
Outing Plame Wilson - Rove says that it is Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame Wilson “who apparently works at the agency [CIA] on wmd issues who authorized the trip… not only [sic] the genesis of the trip is flawed an[d] suspect but so is the report. [Rove] implied strongly there’s still plenty to implicate iraqi interest in acquiring uranium fro[m] Niger.” Rove does not identify Plame Wilson, only calling her “Wilson’s wife,” but Cooper has no trouble learning her name. Rove ends the call with a cryptic teaser, saying, “I’ve already said too much.” Cooper will recall these words two years later when he testifies to the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak (see January 2004). (Cooper 7/11/2003 ; Stevenson 7/16/2005; Cooper 7/17/2005; Unger 2007, pp. 311-312) Later, Cooper will write: “I have a distinct memory of Rove ending the call by saying, ‘I’ve already said too much.’ This could have meant he was worried about being indiscreet, or it could have meant he was late for a meeting or something else. I don’t know, but that sign-off has been in my memory for two years.” (Cooper 7/17/2005) Cooper will later testify that Rove never told him about Plame Wilson’s covert status. (Waas 10/7/2005)
Call Not Logged - Rove asks his personal assistant, Susan Cooper, to ensure that Cooper’s call does not appear on the White House telephone logs. (Leopold 12/9/2005)
Cooper E-mails Editor - After hanging up, Cooper sends an e-mail to his editors at Time about the conversation (see 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003).
Conversation with Deputy National Security Adviser - After the conversation with Cooper, Rove sends an e-mail to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, saying he “didn’t take the bait” when Cooper suggested that Wilson’s criticisms had been damaging to the administration (see After 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003).
White House Getting Message Across - Author Craig Unger later notes that while the conversation is on background, the White House is getting across its message that something about Wilson’s trip is questionable, and it has something to do with his wife. Unger writes, “And a White House press corps that relied heavily on access to high level administration officials was listening intently and was holding its fire.” (Cooper 7/11/2003 ; Stevenson 7/16/2005; Cooper 7/17/2005; Waas 10/7/2005; Unger 2007, pp. 311-312) Rove later testifies that his references to “Niger,” “damaging,” and Bush being “hurt” all referred to the potential political fallout from Wilson’s allegations. As for the statement that “If I were him I wouldn’t get that far out in front of this,” Rove will say he merely wanted to urge Cooper to use caution in relying on Wilson as a potential source. (Waas 10/7/2005)
Time reporter Matthew Cooper, after learning from White House political strategist Karl Rove that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA official, and discussing the conversation with his editors at Time (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), e-mails Vice President Dick Cheney’s communications director, Cathie Martin. Cooper sends Martin a list of questions pertaining to their conversation. He focuses on the White House’s attempt to discredit Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson, and does not ask about Plame Wilson. Martin prints the e-mail and annotates it with brief answers to some of Cooper’s questions. Cooper wants to know:
“Who in the vice president’s office communicated to the CIA their interest in the Niger allegations (see (February 13, 2002) and July 6, 2003)? How and when was that communication performed?”
“Did the VP or a member of his staff discuss the Niger allegation in any of his personal visits to Langley [CIA headquarters]” (see 2002-Early 2003)? Martin writes “No” beside the question.
“Did the VP or a member of his staff play any role in the inclusion of the allegation in the president’s SOTU [State of the Union address]?” Martin writes “No” beside the question (see July 6, 2003, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003).
“In addition to the VP sitting in on the president’s regular intel briefings, what other intel briefings does the VP get? Part of the answer to this, if I recall correctly from newspaper accounts, is that he often or regularly gets his own CIA briefing in the morning as he’s being driven to work.”
“How many persons are employed by the veep’s national security staff?”
“In previous VP stories Time has done (before my time), we’ve been told that the VP has a voracious appetite for ‘raw’ intelligence. Still true?” (White House 7/11/2003)
Referring to President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), CIA Director George Tenet says in a written statement: “I am responsible for the approval process in my agency.… These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the president.” Tenet denies that the White House is responsible for the mistake, putting the blame squarely on himself and his agency. His statement comes hours after Bush blamed the CIA for the words making it into the speech (see July 11, 2003). (CNN 7/11/2003; Central Intelligence Agency 7/11/2003; Sanger and Risen 7/12/2003)
CIA Chose to Send Wilson to Niger - Tenet also confirms that it was the CIA’s choice to send former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), apparently in an effort to rebut claims that Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the mission. Tenet states: “There was fragmentary intelligence gathered in late 2001 and early 2002 on the allegations of Saddam’s efforts to obtain additional raw uranium from Africa, beyond the 550 metric tons already in Iraq. In an effort to inquire about certain reports involving Niger, CIA’s counterproliferation experts, on their own initiative, asked an individual with ties to the region [Wilson] to make a visit to see what he could learn.” Tenet says that Wilson found no evidence to believe that Iraq had attempted to purchase Nigerien uranium, though this did not settle the issue for either the CIA or the White House. (Central Intelligence Agency 7/11/2003)
Coordinated with White House - Tenet’s admission was coordinated by White House advisers for what reporter Murray Waas will call “maximum effect.” Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, White House political strategist Karl Rove, and Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby had reviewed drafts of Tenet’s statement days in advance; Hadley and Rove had suggested changes in the draft. (Waas 3/30/2006) Cheney rejected an earlier draft, marking it “unacceptable” (see July 11, 2003).
White House Joins in Blaming CIA - National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice also blames the CIA. Peppered with questions from reporters about the claim, she continues the White House attempt to pin the blame for the faulty intelligence on the CIA: “We have a higher standard for what we put in presidential speeches” than other governments or other agencies. “We don’t make the president his own fact witness. That’s why we send them out for clearance.” Had the CIA expressed doubts about the Niger claim before the State of the Union? she is asked (see January 26 or 27, 2003, March 8, 2003, March 23, 2003, April 5, 2003, Early June 2003, June 9, 2003, and June 17, 2003). “The CIA cleared the speech in its entirety,” she replies. “If the CIA, the director of central intelligence, had said, ‘Take this out of the speech,’ (see January 27, 2003) it would have been gone without question. If there were doubts about the underlying intelligence, those doubts were not communicated to the president, to the vice president or to me.… What we’ve said subsequently is, knowing what we know now, that some of the Niger documents were apparently forged, we wouldn’t have put this in the president’s speech—but that’s knowing what we know now.” Another senior White House official, defending the president and his advisers, tells ABC News: “We were very careful with what the president said. We vetted the information at the highest levels.” But another intelligence official, also interviewed by ABC, contradicts this statement. (CNN 7/11/2003; White House 7/11/2003; Pincus and Milbank 7/12/2003; Sanger and Risen 7/12/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 99; McClellan 2008, pp. 171-172) Tenet’s mea culpa is apparently enough for Bush; press secretary Ari Fleischer says, “The president has moved on.” (White House 7/11/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 99) White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later claim that at this point Rice is unaware that her National Security Council is far more responsible for the inclusion than the CIA. He will write that the news media reports “not unfairly” that Rice is blaming the CIA for the inclusion. (McClellan 2008, pp. 171-172)
News Reports Reveal Warnings Not to Use Claim - Following Tenet’s statement, a barrage of news reports citing unnamed CIA officials reveal that the White House had in fact been explicitly warned not to include the Africa-uranium claim. These reports indicate that at the time Bush delivered his State of the Union address, it had been widely understood in US intelligence circles that the claim had little evidence supporting it. (Donnelly and Neuffer 3/16/2003; Risen 3/23/2003; Singh 6/12/2003; Landay 6/12/2003; Singh 6/12/2003; Landay 6/13/2003; ABC News 6/16/2003; Newsday 7/12/2003; Priest 7/20/2003) For example, CBS News reports, “CIA officials warned members of the president’s National Security Council staff the intelligence was not good enough to make the flat statement Iraq tried to buy uranium from Africa.” And a Washington Post article cites an unnamed intelligence source who says, “We consulted about the paper [September 2002 British dossier] and recommended against using that material.” (Martin 7/10/2003; CNN 7/10/2003; Pincus 7/11/2003)
Claim 'Technically True' since British, Not US, Actually Made It - White House officials respond that the dossier issued by the British government contained the unequivocal assertion, “Iraq has… sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” and that the officials had argued that as long as the statement was attributed to the British intelligence, it would be technically true. Similarly, ABC News reports: “A CIA official has an idea about how the Niger information got into the president’s speech. He said he is not sure the sentence was ever cleared by the agency, but said he heard speechwriters wanted it included, so they attributed it to the British.” The same version of events is told to the New York Times by a senior administration official, who claims, “The decision to mention uranium came from White House speechwriters, not from senior White House officials.” (ABC News 6/12/2003; Martin 7/10/2003; Kristof 7/14/2003; Stevenson 7/19/2003)
Decision Influenced by Office of Special Plans - But according to a CIA intelligence official and four members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who are investigating the issue, the decision to include the Africa-uranium claim was influenced by the people associated with the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans (see September 2002). (Leopold 7/16/2003)
Reactions - Rice says that the White House will not declassify the October 2002 NIE on Iraq (see October 1, 2002) to allow the public to judge for itself whether the administration exaggerated the Iraq-Niger claim; McClellan will write that Rice is currently “unaware of the fact that President Bush had already agreed to ‘selective declassification’ of parts of the NIE so that Vice President Cheney, or his top aide Scooter Libby, could use them to make the administration’s case with selected reporters” (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). (McClellan 2008, pp. 171-172) Two days later, Rice will join Bush in placing the blame for using the Iraq-Niger claim solely on the CIA (see July 13, 2003). McClellan will later write, “The squabbling would leave the self-protective CIA lying in wait to exact revenge against the White House.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 172)
Former Ambassador Considers Matter Settled - Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who recently wrote an op-ed for the New York Times revealing his failure to find any validity in the claims during his fact-finding trip to Niger (see July 6, 2003 and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), is pleased at Tenet’s admission. According to his wife, CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson, “Joe felt his work was done; he had made his point.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 140)
Vice President Dick Cheney authorizes his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, to leak to the press selected portions of a highly classified CIA report: the debriefing of former ambassador Joseph Wilson upon his return from Niger (see March 4-5, 2002 and March 5, 2002). This will become public in 2006, when material from Libby’s grand jury testimony in the Plame Wilson leak investigation is made known (see March 5, 2004, March 24, 2004 and October 28, 2005). Cheney intends to undermine the credibility of Wilson (see June 2003), a prominent war critic, by using the report to contradict his statements that the Bush administration was manipulating intelligence to bolster its claims that Iraq was in possession of WMD (see July 6, 2003), especially his claims that Iraq had not, as the administration has repeatedly claimed (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), tried to buy uranium from Niger. The CIA debriefing report does not mention Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, a covert CIA agent, nor does it say that Plame Wilson arranged for her husband to go to Niger, as Cheney, Libby, and others will claim. (Waas 6/14/2006; Waas 1/12/2007) After Libby is indicted for perjury (see October 28, 2005), criminal defense lawyer Jeralyn Merritt will write on the progressive blog TalkLeft, “It sure sounds to me like the mechanics of the plan to leak the information about Wilson was cemented, if not formed, on Air Force Two, as a follow up to Ari Fleischer’s press gaggle attack on Wilson from Africa (see 3:20 a.m. July 12, 2003), and that the plan was to call reporters and leak the information about Wilson and his wife as gossip coming from other reporters, while shielding themselves by claiming to the reporters that they couldn’t be certain the information was true.” (Jeralyn Merritt 10/31/2005)
Leaking Plame Wilson's Identity - Hours after Cheney instructs Libby to disclose information from the CIA report, Libby informs reporters Judith Miller (see Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003) and Matthew Cooper (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003) that Plame Wilson is a CIA agent and she was responsible for selecting her husband for the Niger mission (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003).
Denials - Both Libby and Cheney (see May 8, 2004) will testify that Cheney did not encourage or authorize Libby to reveal Plame Wilson’s CIA status. Reporter Murray Waas will write, “But the disclosure that Cheney instructed Libby to leak portions of a classified CIA report on Joseph Wilson adds to a growing body of information showing that at the time Plame [Wilson] was outed as a covert CIA officer the vice president was deeply involved in the White House effort to undermine her husband” (see July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003 and After). The same day, Cheney, Libby, and Cheney’s press spokesperson Cathie Martin discuss ways to rebut and discredit Wilson (see July 12, 2003). President Bush has already authorized Libby to disclose information from a classified intelligence estimate on Iraq in part to discredit Wilson (see March 24, 2004). (Waas 6/14/2006; Waas 1/12/2007) Senior White House officials, including Deputy National Security Director Stephen Hadley and White House communications director Dan Bartlett, who have both worked with Cheney and Libby to formally declassify information in the effort to discredit Wilson (see July 6-10, 2003), will testify that they knew nothing of Cheney’s attempts to declassify the Wilson briefing. (Waas 1/12/2007)
Around the same time that Lewis Libby calls Time reporter Matthew Cooper and reveals the CIA status of Valerie Plame Wilson (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003), Libby also calls Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler. Libby is attempting to discredit claims by former ambassador Joseph Wilson that the Bush administration manipulated intelligence to bolster its case for war with Iraq, and is trying to distance Vice President Dick Cheney from any intimation that he was responsible for sending Wilson to Niger (see July 6, 2003, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003). The stories of the conversation differ between the later statements of the two men. In testimony during the Libby perjury trial, Kessler will deny speaking to Libby about either Wilson or Plame Wilson; Libby will say, however, that he tells Kessler that Wilson’s wife is a CIA official. (Schmidt 6/23/2004; US District Court for the District of Columbia 9/27/2004 ; Marcy Wheeler 2/12/2007)
The same day that Vice President Dick Cheney tells his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, to disclose classified information from a CIA report to discredit war critic Joseph Wilson (see July 12, 2003), Libby and Cheney, along with Cheney’s press spokesperson Cathie Martin, fly to and from Norfolk, Virginia. During the flight, the three discuss how they can rebut Wilson’s criticisms of the administration’s war effort and discredit him. They consider passing information to reporters such as Time correspondent Matthew Cooper (see 12:45 p.m. July 11, 2003) and the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler (see July 12, 2003). (US District Court for the District of Columbia 10/28/2005 ; Gellman 10/30/2005; Waas 6/14/2006) Cheney tells Libby to leak classified information from the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraqi WMD to reporters (see July 12, 2003). Cheney also tells him to steer reporters towards a recent statement by CIA Director George Tenet that asserts Wilson had been sent to Niger by CIA counterproliferation officers “on their own initiative” (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). (Raw Story 10/1/2005; Johnston and Stevenson 10/1/2005; Waas 6/14/2006) He also tells Libby to alert reporters to the morning’s attack on Wilson by White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see 3:20 a.m. July 12, 2003). (Gellman 10/30/2005) And Cheney tells Libby to ask the CIA to back his assertion that the Office of the Vice President knew nothing of the Wilson mission and “didn’t get the report back,” referring to the CIA’s report on Wilson’s debriefing (see March 5, 2002). (Waas 12/23/2008) According to the FBI’s investigation, Cheney and Libby discuss whether to tell reporters that Wilson’s wife works for the CIA. (Froomkin 2/21/2007) Libby will “out” Plame Wilson to Cooper later this afternoon (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003) as well as to New York Times reporter Judith Miller (see Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Cheney may have given Libby direct orders to leak Plame Wilson’s identity to the press, according to classified transcripts of Libby’s later testimony to FBI investigators. According to Libby’s notes of the conversation, Cheney says that the CIA has told him that Wilson was sent to Niger “at our behest,” referring to the agency (see Shortly after February 13, 2002). Libby’s notes also state that Cheney told him Wilson’s “wife works in that division.” Plame Wilson is a senior official for the CIA’s Joint Task Force on Iraq (see April 2001 and After), a bureau within the agency’s counterproliferation division. (Waas 12/23/2008)
In his morning briefing by the CIA, Vice President Dick Cheney, aboard Air Force Two in Virginia, receives a CIA document that refers to Joseph Wilson’s mission to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). The document does not directly name Wilson. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 5/8/2004 ; US District Court for the District of Columbia 9/27/2004 ) In an interview with special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, Cheney will later confirm that he received the report (see May 8, 2004).
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer reveals Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status to Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus. Fleischer, returning from Africa aboard Air Force One, attacked the credibility of Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic Joseph Wilson, just hours before (see 3:20 a.m. July 12, 2003). Since then, Vice President Dick Cheney has coordinated a White House strategy to discredit Wilson (see July 12, 2003). Fleischer tells Pincus that the White House paid no attention to the 2002 mission to Niger by Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) because it was set up as a boondoggle by Wilson’s wife, whom Fleischer incorrectly identifies as an “analyst” with the agency working on WMD issues. Pincus will not reveal the Fleischer leak until October 2003. (Pincus 7/12/2003 ; Pincus 7/6/2005; Marcy Wheeler 2/12/2007) Reporter Murray Waas will later write that Fleischer outed Plame Wilson to Pincus and others “in an effort to undermine Wilson’s credibility.” (Waas 4/22/2005) Fleischer will later testify that he did not inform Pincus of Plame Wilson’s identity (see June 10, 2004 and January 29, 2007). “No sir,” he will say. “I would have remembered it if it happened.” (Marcy Wheeler 1/29/2007)
Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, confirms to Time reporter Matthew Cooper that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA officer. Libby has been in regular communication with senior White House officials, including political strategist Karl Rove, to discuss how to discredit Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic Joseph Wilson. On July 11, the two spoke privately after a staff meeting. According to later testimony from both Rove and Libby, Rove told Libby that he had spoken to columnist Robert Novak on July 9 (see July 8 or 9, 2003), and that Novak would soon write a column about Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). Today, Libby joins Cheney and others flying to and from Norfolk, Virginia, aboard Air Force Two; on the return trip, Libby discusses with the others what he should say in response to media inquiries about Wilson’s recent column (see July 6, 2003 and July 12, 2003). After returning to Washington, Libby calls Cooper, a reporter for Time magazine, who has already learned from Rove that Plame Wilson is a CIA officer (see July 8, 2003 and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). According to Libby’s 2005 indictment (see October 28, 2005), “Libby confirmed to Cooper, without elaboration or qualification, that he had heard this information, too,” that Plame Wilson was CIA. (Waas 3/30/2006) Libby speaks “on the record” to deny that Cheney had anything to do with the CIA’s decision to send Joseph Wilson to Niger (see July 6, 2003, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003). On background, Cooper asks Libby if he knows anything about Wilson’s wife being responsible for sending him to Niger. Libby replies, “Yeah, I’ve heard that too.” (Cooper 7/12/2003 ; Cooper 7/12/2003 ; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit 12/8/2004 ; Cooper 7/17/2005; US District Court for the District of Columbia 10/28/2005 ) Cheney’s communications director Cathie Martin and Libby’s aide Jenny Mayfield are present for Libby’s call to Cooper. (US District Court for the District of Columbia 10/30/2006 ) Later this afternoon, Libby phones New York Times reporter Judith Miller and discusses Plame Wilson’s CIA status (see Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003).
The White House continues to back away from its admission of error concerning President Bush’s claim that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see July 8, 2003 and July 11, 2003). Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice appear on the Sunday morning talk shows to assert that the “16 words” in Bush’s January speech (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) were “technically correct” because British intelligence, not American intelligence, was the original source of the claim as worded by Bush. The British still stand by the claim, though they refuse to provide evidence. In the interviews, Rice tries to call the claim a “mistake” and simultaneously vouch for its “accuracy.” (Milbank and Allen 7/26/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 100) “I believe that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” she says. In particular, Fox News host Tony Snow gives Rice multiple opportunities to state that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program, and that the Iraq-Niger uranium claim is probably true. She says that the related claim of the Iraqis buying aluminum tubes for nuclear centrifuges is also supported by the CIA, even though Snow acknowledges that the tubes theory has been “knocked down.” (Fox News 7/13/2003)
Invoking the British, Blaming Tenet - On CBS’s Face the Nation, Rice again blames CIA Director George Tenet for the error (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), saying: “My only point is that, in retrospect, knowing that some of the documents underneath may have been—were, indeed, forgeries, and knowing that apparently there were concerns swirling around about this, had we known that at the time, we would not have put it in.… And had there been even a peep that the agency did not want that sentence in or that George Tenet did not want that sentence in, that the director of central intelligence did not want it in, it would have been gone.” (Rice 7/13/2003) On Fox News, Rice says: “[T]he statement that [Bush] made was indeed accurate. The British government did say that. Not only was the statement accurate, there were statements of this kind in the National Intelligence Estimate. And the British themselves stand by that statement to this very day, saying that they had sources other than sources that have now been called into question to back up that claim. We have no reason not to believe them.… We have every reason to believe that the British services are quite reliable.” (Fox News 7/13/2003) On CNN, Rice calls the issue “enormously overblown.… This 16 words has been taken out of context. It’s been blown out of proportion.” She emphasizes that Bush’s claim came “from a whole host of sources.… The British, by the way, still stand by their report to this very day in its accuracy, because they tell us that they had sources that were not compromised in any way by later, in March or April, later reports that there were some forgeries.” She adds: “We’re talking about a sentence, a data point, not the president’s case about reconstitution of weapons of mass destruction, or of nuclear weapons in Iraq.… We’re talking about a single sentence, the consequence of which was not to send America to war. The consequence of which was to state in the State of the Union something that, while accurate, did not meet the standard that we use for the president.” (CNN 7/13/2003)
Denies Involvement in Wilson Mission - Rice also denies that anyone at the White House had any involvement in sending former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate the uranium claims (see July 6, 2003). CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer says of the Wilson mission, “Supposedly, it came at the request of the vice president.” Rice replies: “No, this is simply not true, and this is something that’s been perpetuated that we simply have to straighten out. The vice president did not ask that Joe Wilson go to Niger. The vice president did not know. I don’t think he knew who Joe Wilson was, and he certainly didn’t know that he was going. The first that I heard of Joe Wilson mission was when I was doing a Sunday talk show and heard about it (see June 8, 2003 and June 8, 2003)… [T]he Wilson trip was not sent by anyone at a high level. It wasn’t briefed to anyone at high level. And it appears to have been inconclusive in what it found.” Rice is following the White House strategy of denying Vice President Dick Cheney’s involvement in the Wilson mission (see July 6, 2003, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003). (CNN 7/13/2003)
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd writes an op-ed calling on President Bush to stick to his campaign promise of truthfulness and transparency, particularly in regards to the allegations that his administration manipulated intelligence to build a case for war with Iraq (see July 6, 2003 and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). Bush is “presiding over a [White House] where truth is camouflaged by word games and responsibility is obscured by shell games,” she writes, and allowing the CIA to take blame for the fallacious representation of intelligence amounts to little more than “mendacity.” According to Dowd, Bush should have said of the “sixteen words” in his State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003): “The information I gave you in the State of the Union about Iraq seeking nuclear material from Africa has been revealed to be false. I’m deeply angry and I’m going to get to the bottom of this.” But, Dowd writes, he did not. Dowd pins much of the blame on Vice President Dick Cheney and the Office of the Vice President. (Dowd 7/13/2003) Almost four years later, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will enter a clipping of Dowd’s column, annotated by Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby, into evidence in Libby’s perjury trial (see Late January 2007).
Vice President Dick Cheney, with his chief of staff Lewis Libby present, asks CIA briefer Craig Schmall whether he has read Robert Novak’s article outing CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). According to an affidavit filed in the Libby perjury trial, Schmall has not read the article at this time. Some time thereafter, Schmall warns Cheney and Libby about the dangers posed by disclosure of the CIA affiliation of an employee as Novak has done. (CIA 7/14/2003 ; US District Court for the District of Columbia 5/12/2006 )
Vice President Dick Cheney and his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, discuss leaking portions of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (see October 1, 2002) to the Wall Street Journal. Either Cheney and Libby together, or Libby alone, convinces Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to make the leak. (US District Court for the District of Columbia 5/12/2006 ; US Department of Justice 2/2007 ) The Journal will write an article based on the leaked information two or three days later (see July 17, 2003).
An organization called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) writes an open letter to President Bush entitled “Intelligence Unglued,” where they warn that unless Bush takes immediate action, the US intelligence community “will fall apart—with grave consequences for the nation.” They say that it is clear his National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and not CIA Director George Tenet, was responsible for the now-infamous “sixteen words” in his January State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). “But the disingenuousness persists,” they write. “Surely Dr. Rice cannot persist in her insistence that she learned only on June 8, 2003, about former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s mission to Niger in February 2002, when he determined that the Iraq-Niger report was a con-job” (see July 6, 2003). “Rice’s denials are reminiscent of her claim in spring 2002 that there was no reporting suggesting that terrorists were planning to hijack planes and slam them into buildings (see May 16, 2002). In September, the joint Congressional committee on 9/11 came up with a dozen such reports” (see December 24, 1994 and January 6, 1995). It is not only Rice’s credibility that has suffered, they write, but Secretary of State Colin Powell’s as well, “as continued non-discoveries of weapons in Iraq heap doubt on his confident assertions to the UN” (see February 5, 2003). Ultimately, they write, it is Bush’s credibility at stake much more than that of his advisers and cabinet members. They lay the blame for the “disingenuousness” from the various members of the administration at the feet of Vice President Dick Cheney: it was Cheney’s office who sent Wilson to Niger (see (February 13, 2002)), it was Cheney who told the Veterans of Foreign Wars that Saddam Hussein was about to produce a nuclear weapon (see August 26, 2002), all with intelligence he and his staff knew to be either unreliable or outright forgeries—a “deep insult to the integrity of the intelligence process,” they write—it was Cheney and his staff who pressured CIA analysts to produce “cherry-picked” intelligence supporting their desire for war, it was Cheney and his staff who “cooked” the prewar National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002). Bad enough that false intelligence was used to help craft Bush’s State of the Union address, they write, but that “pales in significance in comparison with how it was used to deceive Congress into voting on October 11 to authorize you to make war on Iraq” (see October 10, 2002). VIPS recommends three things for Bush to implement:
Bring an immediate end to White House attempts to exculpate Cheney from what they write is his obvious guilt and ask for his resignation: “His role has been so transparent that such attempts will only erode further your own credibility. Equally pernicious, from our perspective, is the likelihood that intelligence analysts will conclude that the way to success is to acquiesce in the cooking of their judgments, since those above them will not be held accountable. We strongly recommend that you ask for Cheney’s immediate resignation.”
Appoint General Brent Scowcroft, the chair of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, to head “an independent investigation into the use/abuse of intelligence on Iraq.”
Bring UN inspectors back into Iraq. “This would go a long way toward refurbishing your credibility. Equally important, it would help sort out the lessons learned for the intelligence community and be an invaluable help to an investigation of the kind we have suggested you direct Gen. Scowcroft to lead.” (Salon 7/16/2003)
The conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch releases documents recently turned over by the US Commerce Department through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The documents show some of the activities of the secretive energy task force chaired by Vice President Dick Cheney (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). Cheney and the White House successfully blocked Congress from learning even the most basic information about the task force’s activities (see February 22, 2002). The Commerce Department documents include maps of Iraqi oil fields and oil infrastructure, and other charts showing Iraqi oil and gas projects, and a document entitled “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts.” Other maps and documents show detailed information about oil fields and infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. All of the documents are dated March 2001. Judicial Watch has sought these documents under FOIA since April 2001, and only secured them after a federal judge ordered their release in March 2002. (The Judicial Watch lawsuit was consolidated with a similar suit from the Natural Resources Defense Council.) Why the government waited over a year to release the documents, even after a court order compelling them to do so, is unclear. “These documents show the importance of the Energy Task Force and why its operations should be open to the public,” says Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton. “This was not about national security. This was about an undersecretary talking to a lobbyist.” (Judicial Watch 7/17/2003; Judicial Watch 7/17/2003; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 14-15) Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein call the Iraqi oil field documents “stunning,” and ask: “Why were the vice president and a group of oilmen poring over maps of Iraq long before there was any pretext to invade the country? Iraq’s oil was technically embargoed and under UN control—why make plans for divvying up oil reserves?” Dubose and Bernstein believe that Cheney may have been planning for US control of Iraq long before the Bush administration’s public push for war with that nation. Fitton is not so sure, but says worriedly: “We don’t know because we weren’t given the context. We have no way of knowing what they were deliberating.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 14-15) Judicial Watch, with other public interest groups such as the Sierra Club, will continue to seek information about the Cheney task force (see December 15, 2003 and April 27, 2004).
John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, learns of the secret NSA warrantless wiretapping program against US citizens (see Early 2002) in a secret briefing for himself, the chairman of the committee, and the chairman and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. Hours later, Rockefeller sends a handwritten letter to Vice President Cheney expressing his concerns about the potential illegality of the program, concerns he apparently expressed in the briefing as well. Rockefeller will not release the letter publicly until December 19, 2005, four days after the New York Times publishes an article revealing the program’s existence (see December 15, 2005). Disturbed both by the information he was given and the information that was obviously being withheld, Rockefeller writes in part: “Clearly the activities we discussed raise profound oversight issues.… Given the security restrictions associated with this information, and my inability to consult staff or counsel on my own [Cheney had prohibited Rockefeller and the three other lawmakers in the briefing from consulting with their staff experts], I feel unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse these activities. As I reflected on the meeting today, and the future we face, John Poindexter’s TIA [Total Information Awareness (see March 2002)] project sprung to mind, exacerbating my concern regarding the direction the administration is moving with regard to security, technology, and surveillance. Without more information and the ability to draw on any independent legal or technical expertise, I simply cannot satisfy lingering concerns raised by the briefing we received.” (Rockefeller 12/19/2005; Savage 2007, pp. 115) Rockefeller also notes that he is not at liberty to do anything about his concerns, since he is legally bound to obey the secrecy rules the White House has invoked, but he wants his concerns noted. (Savage 2007, pp. 116) It is unclear whether Rockefeller ever receives a reply. Rockefeller is apparently unaware of evidence showing that domestic surveillance may have begun well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, July 2001, and Early 2002).
Time magazine, in an article by Matthew Cooper and two other reporters, asks the question, “Has the Bush administration declared war on a former ambassador who conducted a fact-finding mission to probe possible Iraqi interest in African uranium?” Its answer: “Perhaps.” The ambassador is Joseph Wilson, who flew to Africa in February 2002 to find the truth behind the charges that Iraq had secretly attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Wilson found no evidence to back up those claims (see March 4-5, 2002), and recently wrote a New York Times op-ed blasting the administration’s use of those claims to justify invading Iraq (see July 6, 2003).
White House Says Wilson's Report Bolstered Claims - Cooper reports that since Wilson’s op-ed was published, “administration officials have taken public and private whacks at Wilson, charging that his 2002 report, made at the behest of US intelligence, was faulty and that his mission was a scheme cooked up by mid-level operatives.” CIA Director George Tenet and White House press secretary Ari Fleischer have both criticized Wilson and disputed his conclusion, even stating that his findings in Niger actually strengthened the administration’s claims of an Iraq-Niger connection, saying that he reported a meeting with a former Nigerien government official who discussed being approached by an Iraqi official in June 1999 who wanted to expand commercial relations between the two countries. According to government officials, Wilson interpreted that overture as an attempt to discuss uranium sales. Fleischer said: “This is in Wilson’s report back to the CIA. Wilson’s own report, the very man who was on television saying Niger denies it… reports himself that officials in Niger said that Iraq was seeking to contact officials in Niger about sales” (see February 1999). Wilson disputes the characterization, saying that he never interpreted the discussion in the way the White House claims he did: “That then translates into an Iraqi effort to import a significant quantity of uranium as the president alleged? These guys really need to get serious.”
Wilson and the Forged Documents - Tenet has blasted Wilson for never discussing the forged Iraq-Niger documents (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001); for his part, Wilson said that he did not discuss the documents because he never saw them. And Fleischer says that Wilson erred in taking Nigerien officials at their word: “He spent eight days in Niger and he concluded that Niger denied the allegation. Well, typically nations don’t admit to going around nuclear nonproliferation.”
Claims that Wilson Sent at Behest of Wife - Other unnamed White House officials have insinuated that Wilson was sent to Niger at the behest of his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson (see February 13, 2002, February 13, 2002, Shortly after February 13, 2002, February 20, 2002, and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), whom Cooper identifies as “a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction” (see (June 12, 2003)). Cooper learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from White House political adviser Karl Rove (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), though he does not cite Rove as his source in his article. Cooper writes, “These officials have suggested that she was involved in her husband’s being dispatched [to] Niger” (see February 19, 2002). Wilson, according to Cooper, angrily disputes the contention that his wife sent him to Niger, saying: “That is bullsh_t. That is absolutely not the case. I met with between six and eight analysts and operators from CIA and elsewhere [before the February 2002 trip]. None of the people in that meeting did I know, and they took the decision to send me. This is a smear job.”
Wilson Sent Due to Cheney's Pressure? - A source whom Cooper identifies as “close to the matter” confirms that Wilson was sent to Niger after Vice President Dick Cheney pressured the CIA to find out about the Iraq-Niger allegations (see Shortly after February 12, 2002), though both Tenet and Cheney’s office deny doing so (see (February 13, 2002)). Cooper quotes Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, as saying: “The vice president heard about the possibility of Iraq trying to acquire uranium from Niger in February 2002. As part of his regular intelligence briefing, the vice president asked a question about the implication of the report. During the course of a year, the vice president asked many such questions and the agency responded within a day or two saying that they had reporting suggesting the possibility of such a transaction. But the agency noted that the reporting lacked detail. The agency pointed out that Iraq already had 500 tons of uranium, portions of which came from Niger, according to the International Atomic Energy Administration (IAEA—see 1979-1982). The vice president was unaware of the trip by Ambassador Wilson and didn’t know about it until this year when it became public in the last month or so.” Other administration officials, including National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, claim they, too, heard nothing of Wilson’s report until recently. (Cooper, Calabresi, and Dickerson 7/17/2003)
Cooper to Testify about Sources - Cooper will eventually testify about his contacts with Rove and Libby during the investigation of the Plame Wilson identity leak (see May 21, 2004, August 24, 2004, July 6, 2005, and July 13, 2005).
The Bush administration releases a heavily redacted version of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE—see October 1, 2002). Most of the report is whited out, and most of what remains is selected from the key judgments section; those remnants tend to support the Bush administration’s position that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and therefore posed a threat to the Middle East and perhaps to the US. The redacted version is released days after Vice President Dick Cheney authorized his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, to leak selected portions of the NIE to reporters (see 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 10, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, and July 12, 2003). (National Foreign Intelligence Board 10/2002 ; National Foreign Intelligence Board 7/18/2003; National Security Archive 7/9/2004)
Overall Findings - According to the redacted release, the NIE found “that Iraq has continued its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs in defiance of UN resolutions and restrictions. Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with ranges in excess of UN restrictions; if left unchecked, it probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade.… We judge that we are seeing only a portion of Iraq’s WMD efforts, owing to Baghdad’s vigorous denial and deception efforts. Revelations after the Gulf War starkly demonstrate the extensive efforts undertaken by Iraq to deny information. We lack specific information on many key aspects of Iraq’s WMD programs. Since inspections ended in 1998, Iraq has maintained its chemical weapons effort, energized its missile program, and invested more heavily in biological weapons; in the view of most agencies, Baghdad is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.”
Financing through Oil Sales - The NIE maintained that Iraq used illicit oil sales “to finance WMD programs,” that it “has largely rebuilt missile and biological weapons facilities damaged during Operation Desert Fox, and has expanded its chemical and biological infrastructure under the cover of civilian production.”
Seeking Weapons-Grade Uranium for Nuclear Weapons Program - As for nuclear weapons, “[a]lthough we assess that Saddam [Hussein] does not yet have nuclear weapons or sufficient material to make any, he remains intent on acquiring them.… How quickly Iraq will obtain its first nuclear weapon depends on when it acquires sufficient weapons-grade fissile material. If Baghdad acquires sufficient fissile material from abroad it could make a nuclear weapon within several months to a year. Without such material from abroad, Iraq probably would not be able to make a weapon until 2007 to 2009, owing to inexperience in building and operating centrifuge facilities to produce highly enriched uranium and challenges in procuring the necessary equipment and expertise.” The NIE judgments cited the long-discredited claims that Iraq purchased aluminum tubes as part of its nuclear weapons program (see Late September 2002 and March 7, 2003). In toto, the NIE claimed the existence of “compelling evidence that Saddam is reconstituting a uranium enrichment effort for Baghdad’s nuclear weapons program.”
Large, Covert Chemical Weapons Program - It found that Iraq produced between 100 and 500 metric tons “of mustard, sarin, GF (cyclosarin), and VX,” all deadly chemical agents, and had succeeded in hiding much of its production facilities “within Iraq’s legitimate chemical industry.” And Iraq was capable of filling “a limited number of covertly stored Scud” missiles, “possibly a few with extended ranges,” with chemical weapons.
Significant Biological Weapons Program - The redacted report claimed, “We judge that all key aspects—R&D, production, and weaponization—of Iraq’s offensive BW [biological weapons] program are active and that most elements are larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf War.” Iraq had “some lethal and incapacitating BW agents and is capable of quickly producing and weaponizing a variety of such agents, including anthrax, for delivery by bombs, missiles, aerial sprayers, and covert operatives. Chances are even that smallpox is part of Iraq’s offensive BW program. Baghdad probably has developed genetically engineered BW agents. Baghdad has established a large-scale, redundant, and concealed BW agent production capability. Baghdad has mobile facilities for producing bacterial and toxin BW agents; these facilities can evade detection and are highly survivable.”
Delivery Systems - According to the judgments, Iraq possessed several dozen “Scud-variant” short-range ballistic missiles, and is developing other methods of delivering chemical and biological payloads, including unmanned aerial vehicles “probably intended to deliver biological warfare agent.” It claimed, “Baghdad’s UAVs could threaten Iraq’s neighbors, US forces in the Persian Gulf, and if brought close to, or into, the United States, the US homeland.” Iraq had attempted to procure commercially available software, including a topographic database, that would allow it to target specific areas within the US, the report said.
Not Conducting Terrorist Attacks - The report found that Iraq was not conducting “terrorist attacks with conventional or” chemical or biological weapons against the US for fear it would trigger American reprisals. However, the report claimed that Iraq “probably would attempt clandestine attacks against the US homeland if Baghdad feared an attack that threatened the survival of the regime were imminent or unavoidable, or possibly for revenge. Such attacks—more likely with biological than chemical agents—probably would be carried out by Special Forces or intelligence operatives.” More likely were covert attacks by Iraqi intelligence agents against “US and allied interests in the Middle East in the event the United States takes action against Iraq. The US probably would be the primary means by which Iraq would attempt to conduct any CBW attacks on the US homeland, although we have no specific intelligence information that Saddam’s regime has directed attacks against US territory.” In such a case, Iraq might have allied itself with al-Qaeda to conduct more widespread attacks against American targets within the US itself and/or overseas.
Dissent in a Box - In a small boxed area at the bottom of the redacted report is a summary of some of the dissents filed by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). Called “State/INR Alternative View of Iraq’s Nuclear Program,” the dissents actually reiterate much of the conclusions in the main body of the report, but with the INR backing away from claiming Iraq’s “integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons.” Neither is the INR sure of the findings about the aluminum tubes. (National Foreign Intelligence Board 10/2002 ; National Foreign Intelligence Board 7/18/2003)
White House Briefing - An unnamed “senior administration official” briefs the Washington press corps on the redacted NIE release, walking the reporters through the contents of the report and reiterating Bush administration claims of the imminent danger posed by the Hussein regime, the Iraqi efforts to dodge UN oversight, and the support for the entire NIE throughout the US intelligence community. The official then quotes extensively from the October 2002 speech by President Bush in Cincinnati, where he made a number of specious and belligerent assertions about Iraq (see October 7, 2002). At the end of the briefing, the official concludes that everything Bush has told the public has been sourced from many different intelligence analyses and findings, and every claim Bush and his officials has made has been based in fact. The official blames “changes in style and tone” for the confusion and groundless claims made by Bush and other officials in earlier settings, particularly Bush’s January 2003 State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). “And as we’ve said all along, that information that we know today is different from information we knew then,” he says.
Questions - The official takes questions from the assembled reporters. The first question of substance concerns the CIA’s warnings to remove the Iraq-Niger claims from the Cincinnati speech (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002) before they were included in the State of the Union address. The official explains that the speechwriters merely chose to be less specific in the Cincinnati speech than in the State of the Union address, because at that time the CIA only had “a single source” on which to base the Iraq-Niger assertion. The official denies that the claim was ever “flawed” or erroneous (see July 8, 2003), merely that it lacked adequate sourcing. He also denies that anyone in the White House knew that the Niger documents “proving” the uranium claim were forged until after the address (see March 8, 2003). The official repeatedly notes that the dubious and fallacious claims were “signed off” by the CIA, and by implication the fault of the CIA and not the White House. The official, responding to a question about the fact-finding trip to Niger by Joseph Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) and his later repudiation of the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see July 6, 2003), reiterates that no one at the White House knew of Wilson’s findings (see March 5, 2002 and March 8, 2002), and the report actually bolstered the intelligence community’s suspicions that Iraq was attempting to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. (White House 7/18/2003)
Vice President Dick Cheney, his chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and communications deputy Cathie Martin hold a luncheon with conservative columnists at Cheney’s Blair House residence, according to testimony given in 2007 (see January 25-29, 2007). Martin, who will testify about the meeting, does not name the columnists, nor does she go into specifics about what is discussed. She will say that the prime topic of discussion is the Iraq-Niger allegations (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003) and the White House’s desire for the columnists to “tell the larger story” to their audiences (see (July 11, 2003)). Martin will testify that Libby issued most of the invitations and she issued “a couple.” (Marcy Wheeler 1/25/2007)
In a speech to the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, Vice President Dick Cheney defends the decision to invade Iraq. He poses the rhetorical question, “How could any responsible leader have ignored the Iraqi threat?” In 2004, former ambassador Joseph Wilson will respond in his book The Politics of Truth: “It was of course the wrong question. No one doubted that Saddam [Hussein] had posed a threat. Rather, the question was, and had always been, whether that threat constituted such a grave and gathering danger that the conquest and occupation of Iraq was the only, or even the best, way to achieve the desired goal of disarmament.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 353)
In a briefing to the president and other top officials, Kay says that he has found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction, and says the disputed trailers (see April 19, 2003 and May 9, 2003) were probably not mobile biological factories, as the CIA and White House had claimed (see May 28, 2003 and May 29, 2003). Present at the briefing are Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, George Tenet, Condoleezza Rice, Andrew Card, and other White House aides. Kay’s briefing provokes little response from his audience. Describing the president’s reaction, Kay later says: “I’m not sure I’ve spoken to anyone at that level who seemed less inquisitive. He was interested but not pressing any questions. .. I cannot stress too much that the president was the one in the room who was the least unhappy and the least disappointed about the lack of WMDs. I came out of the Oval Office uncertain as to how to read the president. Here was an individual who was oblivious to the problems created by the failure to find WMDs. Or was this an individual who was completely at peace with himself on the decision to go to war, who didn’t question that, and who was totally focused on the here and now of what was to come?” (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 310)
The US takes part in another round of multilateral negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program (see April 2003). The US has failed to destabilize the North Korean government, and the North Koreans have been unsuccessful in luring the US into bilateral talks. Instead, both sides agree to “six-way” talks that include Japan, China, Russia, and South Korea.
Heavy Restrictions on US Negotiators - US chief negotiator Jim Kelly is finally permitted to meet one-on-one with his North Korean counterpart Li Gun—for only 20 minutes, and only in the presence of the other delegates. This time, Kelly is allowed to chat briefly with Li in a corner. Kelly is also forbidden from making any offers or even suggesting the possibility of direct negotiations. Kelly’s fellow negotiator, Charles Pritchard, will later recall that Kelly was told to start the chat with Li by saying: “This is not a negotiating session. This is not an official meeting.” Foreign affairs journalist Fred Kaplan will later write: “For the previous year-and-a-half, the State Department had favored a diplomatic solution to the Korea crisis while the Pentagon and key players in the [National Security Council] opposed it. The August meeting in Beijing was Bush’s idea of a compromise—a middle path that constituted no path at all. He let Kelly talk, but didn’t let him say anything meaningful; he went to the table but put nothing on it.” But even this level of negotiation is too much for some administration hawks. During the meetings in Beijing, Undersecretary of State John Bolton gives a speech in Washington where he calls North Korea “a hellish nightmare” and Kim Jong Il “a tyrannical dictator.” Kaplan will observe, “True enough, but not the sort of invective that senior officials generally issue on the eve of a diplomatic session.” An exasperated Pritchard resigns in protest from the administration. He will later say: “My position was the State Department’s envoy for North Korean negotiations, yet we were prohibited from having negotiations. I asked myself, ‘What am I doing in government?’” Pritchard had also learned that White House and Pentagon officials did not want him involved in the talks, dismissing him as “the Clinton guy.” (Pritchard had helped successfully negotiate earlier agreements with the North Koreans during the Clinton administration.) (Kaplan 5/2004) A Chinese diplomat says, “The American policy towards DRPK [North Korea]—this is the main problem we are facing.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 241)
Cheney Source of Restrictions - According to Larry Wilkerson, chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, the restrictions on Kelly come directly from Vice President Cheney. “A script would be drafted for Jim, what he could say and what he could not say, with points elucidated in the margins,” Wilkerson will later explain. The process involves President Bush, Cheney, Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers. On at least two occasions, Cheney rewrites the script for Kelly without consulting with the other principals, even Bush. According to Wilkerson, Cheney “put handcuffs on our negotiator, so he could say little more than ‘welcome and good-bye.’” In the words of authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, Cheney’s “negotiating position was that there would be no negotiations.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 185-186)
Joseph Wilson, the former US ambassador to Gabon who has played a key part in discrediting the Bush administration’s attempts to claim that Iraq tried to purchase weapons-grade uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003)), discusses the issue with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. Wilson affirms that he has always believed Iraq had chemical and biological WMD, but not enough to warrant invading it, and adds that he “disagreed with… the other agendas that were in play that led us to invade, conquer, and now occupy Iraq.” He notes that he accepts the assertions that neither Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, nor CIA Director George Tenet were aware of his 2002 mission to Niger at the time he made the trip (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), but adds that he believes Cheney and his staffers, particularly his chief of staff Lewis Libby, “asked essentially that… the agency follow up on the report. So it was a question that went to the CIA briefer from the Office of the Vice President (see (February 13, 2002)). The CIA, at the operational level, made a determination that the best way to answer this serious question was to send somebody out there who knew something about both the uranium business and those Niger officials that were in office at the time these reported documents were executed.” Wilson refuses to comment on his wife Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), particularly her CIA status, but does say that the attacks on both himself and his wife were “clearly designed to keep others from stepping forward. If you recall, there were any number of analysts who were quoted anonymously as saying that the vice president had seemed to pressure them in his many trips out to the CIA (see 2002-Early 2003). I don’t know if that’s true or not, but you can be sure that a GS-14 or 15 with a couple of kids in college, when he sees the allegations that came from senior administration officials about my family are in the public domain, you can be sure that he’s going to be worried about what might happen if he were to step forward.” The people who leaked the information about his wife, Wilson continues, “are libel or vulnerable to investigation under a 1982 law dealing with the identification of American agents.” He is referring to the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (see July 16, 2003). (CNN 8/3/2003)
A Wall Street Journal op-ed claims that President Bush never claimed the Iraqis posed an “imminent threat” with their putative WMD programs, and that former ambassador Joseph Wilson is unfairly “moving the goalposts” by saying that the threat posed by Iraq’s WMD never passed what they call the “imminent threat test.” As far back as September 2001, after the attacks on New York and Washington, the Bush administration began claiming that Iraq posed a serious threat to the US (see September 11, 2001-March 17, 2003, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 14, 2001, August 2002, and September 6, 2002). Bush had apparently characterized Iraq as an “imminent threat” even before becoming president (see May 17, 2000). Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has used the term “imminent threat” (see September 18, 2002), as have other members of the administration, such as press secretary Ari Fleischer, communications chief Dan Bartlett, and Defense Policy Board chief Richard Perle. Vice President Dick Cheney had publicly threatened Iraq with military action as far back as December 2001 (see December 11, 2001). Bush had included Iraq as one of the now-infamous “Axis of Evil” in early 2002 (see January 29, 2002). And Bush, Cheney, and top White House officials had characterized Iraq and Saddam Hussein as a threat since March 2002 (see March 24, 2002, August 15, 2002, August 20, 2002, August 26, 2002, Fall and Winter 2002, September 7, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 13, 2002, September 18, 2002, September 19, 2002, September 24, 2002, September 26, 2002, October 1, 2002, October 1, 2002, October 3, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 7, 2002, January 10, 2003, and March 6, 2003). Wilson will later observe, “While the Journal may have been technically correct that the president had not uttered those exact words, he [and his top officials] walked right up to the phrase.” He will note that Bush’s “staff and administration allies, of course, had been less concerned about splitting hairs as they promoted the invasion.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 367-368)
Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, approaches Cheney’s chief counsel David Addington with two questions. Libby, according to Addington’s testimony at Libby’s perjury and obstruction trial (see January 30, 2007), asks Addington whether the president has the authority to declassify government secrets and whether the CIA keeps paperwork documenting its work. Addington replies yes to both questions. Libby then says, “I just want to tell you, I didn’t do it.” Addington later testifies that he does not ask Libby what “it” is, but he surmises that Libby may be referring to Joseph Wilson’s criticism of the Iraq war. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald later says he believes Libby is denying his involvement in the leak of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to the press (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, and July 10 or 11, 2003). (Goldstein and Leonnig 1/30/2007; Associated Press 1/30/2007)
Showtime broadcasts a “docudrama” about the 9/11 attacks and the White House’s response, entitled DC 9/11: Time of Crisis. According to New York Times author and media critic Frank Rich, the film drastically rewrites history to portray President Bush as “an unironic action-movie superhero.” In the movie, Bush—portrayed by actor Timothy Bottoms, who played Bush in Comedy Central’s satiric That’s My Bush!—is shown overruling his Secret Service detail and ordering Air Force One to return to Washington immediately, an event which never happened (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). “If some tinhorn terrorist wants me, tell him to come and get me!” the movie Bush shouts. “I’ll be at home, waiting for the b_stard!” The movie Bush has other lines that establish his desire to get back to Washington, including, “The American people want to know where their damn president is!” and “People can’t have an AWOL president!” In one scene, a Secret Service agent questions Bush’s demand to return to Washington by saying, “But Mr. President—” only to be cut off by Bush, who snaps, “Try ‘Commander in Chief.’ Whose present command is: Take the president home!” In reality, most of the orders on 9/11 were given by Vice President Dick Cheney and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, but in the movie, Bush is the man in charge. “Hike military alert status to Delta,” he orders Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “That’s the military, the CIA, foreign, domestic, everything,” he explains. “And if you haven’t gone to Defcon 3, you oughtta.” To Cheney, he barks: “Vice? We are at war.” The White House team are, in Rich’s words, “portrayed as the very model of efficiency and derring-do.” (Farhi 6/19/2003; Stanley 9/5/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 25-26) New York Times reviewer Alessandra Stanley notes that Bush is the unquestioned hero of the film, with British Prime Minister Tony Blair portrayed as “not very eloquent” and Cheney depicted as “a kowtowing yes-man.” (Stanley 9/5/2003)
Conservative Pundits Influenced Script - The movie is produced by Lionel Chetwynd, whom Rich calls “the go-to conservative in B-list Hollywood.” For the movie script, Chetwynd was given unprecedently broad access to top White House officials, including Bush. He also received the assistance of conservative Washington pundits Charles Krauthammer, Morton Kondracke, and Fred Barnes, who cover the Bush White House for such media outlets as Fox News, the Weekly Standard, and the Washington Post. Rich later writes that much of the film seems based on Bob Woodward’s “hagiographic [book] Bush at War (see November 25, 2002).” (Farhi 6/19/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 25-26)
Propaganda Effort? - Before the movie airs, Toronto Sun columnist Linda McQuaig called the film an attempt to mythologize Bush in a fashion similar to Hollywood’s re-creation of the Wild West’s Wyatt Earp, and wrote that the film “is sure to help the White House further its two-pronged reelection strategy: Keep Americans terrified of terrorism and make Bush look like the guy best able to defend them.” Texas radio commentator Jim Hightower added that the movie would present Bush as “a combination of Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger.… Instead of the doe-eyed, uncertain, worried figure that he was that day, Bush-on-film is transformed into an infallible, John Wayne-ish, Patton-type leader, barking orders to the Secret Service and demanding that the pilots return him immediately to the White House.” Chetwynd himself has acknowledged that he is a “great admirer” of Bush, and has close ties to the White House. In late 2001, Bush appointed him to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. “This isn’t propaganda,” Chetwynd insisted during the shooting of the movie, adding: “Everything in the movie is [based on] two or three sources. I’m not reinventing the wheel here.… I don’t think it’s possible to do a revision of this particular bit of history. Every scholar who has looked at this has come to the same place that this film does. There’s nothing here that Bob Woodward would disagree with.… It’s a straightforward docudrama. I would hope what’s presented is a fully colored and nuanced picture of a human being in a difficult situation.” (Farhi 6/19/2003) Rich will later write that the film is “unmistakably a propaganda effort on behalf of a sitting administration.” (Rich 2006, pp. 25-26)
Blaming the Clinton Administration - Perhaps most questionably, Stanley writes, the film “rarely misses a chance to suggest that the Clinton administration’s weakness was to blame for the disaster.” Bush, she notes, is portrayed as a more decisive leader than his predecessor: in the film, he tells Blair over the telephone: “I want to inflict pain [on the attackers]. Bring enough damage so they understand there is a new team here, a fundamental change in our policy.” (Stanley 9/5/2003)
9/11 Widow Unhappy with Film - Kristen Breitweiser, who lost her husband in the attack on the World Trade Center, calls the film “a mind-numbingly boring, revisionist, two-hour-long wish list of how 9/11 might have gone if we had real leaders in the current administration.” She adds: “It is understandable that so little time is actually devoted to the president’s true actions on the morning of 9/11. Because to show the entire 23 minutes from 9:03 to 9:25 a.m., when President Bush, in reality, remained seated and listening to ‘second grade story-hour’ while people like my husband were burning alive inside the World Trade Center towers, would run counter to Karl Rove’s art direction and grand vision.” Breitweiser questions numerous aspects of the film: “Miscellaneous things that surprised me included the fact that the film perpetuates the big fat lie that Air Force One was a target. Forgive me, but I thought the White House admitted at the end of September 2001 that Air Force One was never a target, that no code words were spoken and that it was all a lie (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and September 12, 2001-March 2004). So what gives?… Not surprisingly, there is no mention of accountability. Not once does anyone say, ‘How the hell did this happen? Heads will roll!’ I was hoping that, at least behind closed doors, there were words like, ‘Look, we really screwed up! Let’s make sure we find out what went wrong and that it never happens again!’ Nope, no such luck.” (Breitweiser 9/8/2003)
9/11 victim’s relative Ellen Mariani sues the US government, claiming that certain officials had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. “I’m 100 percent sure that they knew,” she says. In doing so, she is ineligible for government compensation from what she calls the “shut-up and go-away fund.” She believes she would have received around $500,000. According to a statement by her lawyer, her lawsuit against President Bush, Vice President Cheney, the CIA, Defense Department, and other administration members “is based upon prior knowledge of 9/11; knowingly failing to act, prevent or warn of 9/11; and the ongoing obstruction of justice by covering up the truth of 9/11; all in violation of the laws of the United States.” As the Toronto Star points out, this interesting story has been “buried” by the mainstream media, at least initially. Coverage has been limited mostly to Philadelphia where the case was filed and New Hampshire where Mariani lives. (Slobodzian 9/23/2003; Zerbisias 11/30/2003; Lin 12/3/2003; Ridgeway 12/3/2003; Smallman 12/9/2003; Associated Press 12/24/2003)
Vice President Dick Cheney brings up the long discredited claim that Mohamed Atta had met with a senior Iraqi intelligence official in April of 2001. He says, “With respect to 9/11, of course, we’ve had the story… the Czechs alleged that Mohamed Atta, the lead attacker, met in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official five months before the attack, but we’ve never been able to develop anymore of that yet, either in terms of confirming it or discrediting it.” (Democracy Now! 9/16/2003; Priest and Kessler 9/29/2003) But at the same time, he cites the meeting to support his contention that Iraq’s support for al-Qaeda was official government policy (see September 14, 2003).
Vice President Dick Cheney appears on Meet the Press and tells host Tim Russert that Iraq’s support for al-Qaeda was “clearly official policy.” As evidence, he cites the alleged meeting between Mohamed Atta and Iraqi diplomat Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani (see April 8, 2001). Cheney also insists that the two trailers found in Baghdad (see April 19, 2003 and May 9, 2003) were mobile biological weapon factories, even though he was told by David Kay, the head of the Iraq Survey Group, that that was probably not the case (see July 29, 2003). (Cheney 9/14/2003; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 313)
Vice President Dick Cheney tells the press that a newly released poll shows “widespread support” for US occupiers among Iraqi civilians. A recently released Zogby poll has “very positive news in it in terms of the numbers it shows with respect to the attitudes to what Americans have done,” Cheney says. “One of the questions it asked is: ‘If you could have any model for the kind of government you’d like to have’—and they were given five choices—‘which would it be?’ The US wins hands down. If you want to ask them, do they want an Islamic government established, by two-to-one margins they say no, including the Shi’a population. If you ask how long they want Americans to stay, over 60 percent of the people polled said they want the US to stay for at least another year.” Cheney is blatantly misrepresenting the poll results. According to the poll, 49 percent of Iraqis want a democracy guided by Islamic law. Twenty-four percent want a clerical-dominated Islamic state. Only 21 percent want a secular democracy. Over 60 percent of respondents want US and British troops out within a year; among Sunnis, the figure is over 70 percent. Half of those polled say the US will damage their country over the next five years; only 36 percent believe the US will help. John Zogby writes in the Los Angeles Times of the poll, “One thing is clear: the predicted euphoria of Iraqis has not materialized.” (Foer and Ackerman 11/20/2003)
Vice President Dick Cheney appears for an entire hour on NBC’s Meet the Press, and is interviewed by host Tim Russert. Cheney reiterates many of the administration’s claims about Iraq, including the necessity for the invasion, Iraqi WMD, the links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, the assertion that “most” Iraqis have greeted the US “as liberators,” and even the alleged connection between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks (which White House officials quickly repudiate—see September 14, 2003-September 17, 2003). Russert broaches the subject of former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from that nation (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Russert asks Cheney, “Were you briefed on his findings in February, March of 2002?” Cheney responds: “No.… He never submitted a report that I ever saw when he came back.” Cheney is lying: he was given a copy of the CIA’s report on Wilson’s trip shortly after Wilson’s return from Niger (see March 5, 2002). He does admit to asking questions about the Iraq-Niger claims (see (February 13, 2002)). “And Joe Wilson—I don’t know who sent Joe Wilson,” he says. Despite this statement, Cheney is aware from the report that the CIA sent Wilson to Niger. Russert says, “The CIA did,” and Cheney responds, “Who in the CIA, I don’t know.” Cheney also states flatly that neither he nor his staff ever pressured the CIA to come up with intelligence that would bolster the administration’s rationale for war with Iraq. “I can’t think of a single instance,” he says. “I’m unaware of any where the community changed a judgment that they made because I asked questions.” Cheney is again lying: he and his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, made repeated trips to CIA headquarters that resulted in CIA analysts feeling heavily pressured to produce acceptable results to the White House (see 2002-Early 2003). (Cheney 9/14/2003) In his testimonies before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004), Libby uses very similar language to Cheney’s in denying his knowledge of Wilson’s trip to Niger (see October 28, 2005). (Jeralyn Merritt 10/31/2005)
Vice President Cheney says on NBC’s Meet the Press, “I think it’s not surprising that people make [the] connection” between Iraq and 9/11. He adds, “If we’re successful in Iraq… then we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of The Base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11.” (Cheney 9/14/2003) However, two days later, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld states that he hasn’t “seen any indication that would lead” him to believe there was an Iraq-9/11 link. (Associated Press 9/16/2003) National Security Adviser Rice says the administration has never accused Hussein of directing the 9/11 attacks. (Mikkelsen 9/16/2003) The next day, Bush also disavows the Cheney statement, stating, “We’ve had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with September the 11th… [but] there’s no question that Saddam Hussein has al-Qaeda ties.” (CBS News 9/17/2003; Milbank 9/18/2003)
The media begins probing as to whether Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, was involved in the Plame Wilson leak. CBS correspondent John Roberts asks White House press secretary Scott McClellan: “You said the other day, emphatically, that you have received assurances from Karl Rove that he had nothing to do with this (see September 16, 2003, September 27, 2003, and September 29, 2003). Have you since received similar assurances from the vice president’s chief of staff?” McClellan attempts to finesse the question, replying, “I’m not going to go down a list of every single member of the staff of the White House.” Roberts retorts, “That’s just one name.” After the gaggle, McClellan runs into Libby, and warns him that his name is beginning to surface in connection with the leak. McClellan reiterates his answer to Roberts, and says: “Now that there’s an investigation under way, I can’t put myself in that position. I want you to know I’m not trying to leave you hanging out there to dry.” Libby says little in response. (McClellan 2008, pp. 216-217)
In the days after the Justice Department begins probing the Plame Wilson identity leak (see September 26, 2003 and September 29, 2003), Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, finds a reference in his notes that indicates he learned from Cheney that Valerie Plame Wilson was a covert CIA agent. According to his later testimony, Libby immediately goes to Cheney with the notes, in defiance of instructions from the FBI and the White House counsel’s office not to discuss the matter with colleagues (see September 29-30, 2003). “It turns out that I have a note that I had heard about” Plame Wilson’s CIA identity “from you,” Libby tells Cheney. Libby will later testify that Cheney “didn’t say much” in response. “You know, he said something about, ‘From me?’ something like that, and tilted his head, something he does commonly, and that was that.” (Waas 2/19/2007; Yost 11/2/2009) Libby tells Cheney that his public story is that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from NBC bureau chief Tim Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003). Cheney knows that the Russert story is untrue, but does nothing to discourage Libby from telling that story to the FBI (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003) and a grand jury (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004). Cheney also encourages White House press secretary Scott McClellan to publicly exonerate and defend Libby (see October 1, 2003, October 4, 2003, October 4, 2003, and October 5, 2003), who complains that the White House is not doing enough to protect him. In 2007, law professor and former federal prosecutor Dan Richman will say that any criminal interpretation of Cheney’s reaction to Libby’s story depends on the exact words the two men exchanged, and exactly what Cheney knew at the time. “Only Cheney and Libby know the import of their conversation, and as is often the case, each could have even come away with a different impression of what was meant” by what the other said, Richman will observe. “If Cheney was merely showing surprise and interest at what Libby [was] indicating to him he was going to tell investigators, then the vice president is innocent in the exchange. But if he had reason to believe, or personal knowledge, that what Libby was planning to say was untrue then there is good reason to view Cheney’s conduct in an entirely different light—an obstruction interpretation.” Libby knew that Plame Wilson was a CIA official a month before his discussion with Russert (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003 and 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), and Cheney confirmed Plame Wilson’s CIA status to Libby around the same time (see (June 12, 2003)). (Waas 2/19/2007)
FBI agents investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak inform Attorney General John Ashcroft that they believe White House political strategist Karl Rove and conservative columnist Robert Novak may be conspiring to hide the truth behind Rove’s involvement in the leak. They also inform Ashcroft that they believe Lewis Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, has lied to FBI investigators about his role in leaking Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. Although it is unclear who provides this briefing to Ashcroft, he is usually briefed on the status of the investigation by John Dion, the head of the FBI investigation, and Christopher Wray, the assistant attorney general in charge of the criminal division. (Waas 5/25/2006; Waas 6/8/2006)
Novak's Attempt to Protect Rove - They inform Ashcroft of a telephone conversation between Rove and Novak, in which Novak promised to protect Rove from the FBI investigation, presumably by either refusing to disclose him as a source of his knowledge of Plame Wilson’s identity (see September 29, 2003) or lying to investigators. Although Ashcroft receives routine briefings on the status of the FBI investigation, the bureau considers this important enough to warrant a special briefing for him on the matter. The FBI believes that after the conversation with Rove, Novak did indeed change his story about the leak, characterizing White House officials’ role in it as entirely passive. A week after Novak publicly outed Plame Wilson, he told reporters that he didn’t “dig out” the Plame Wilson information, but rather “it was given to me.… They thought it was significant. They gave me the name, and I used it” (see July 21, 2003). This account suggests that Rove was actively trying to expose Plame Wilson as a CIA officer, as reporter Murray Waas will later write. But the same day he spoke with Rove, Novak provided a different story, saying no one at the White House gave him the information (see September 29, 2003). Novak’s first story fits more closely with accounts later given by reporters such as Time’s Matthew Cooper (see July 13, 2005) and the New York Times’s Judith Miller (see September 30, 2005). (Waas 5/25/2006)
Libby's Lies to FBI - The FBI also informs Ashcroft that it has acquired evidence—personal notes from Libby—that contradicts Libby’s assertions that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from journalists (see October 14, 2003). Libby also told investigators that he had merely considered the information about Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status “unsubstantiated rumors” when he leaked that information to reporters (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, and 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003), another lie. (Waas 6/8/2006)
Ashcroft Declines to Recuse Himself - Ashcroft will recuse himself from participation in the investigation in December, in part because of the potential of a conflict of interest stemming from his previous relationship with Rove (see December 30, 2003) as well as other White House officials. Some FBI investigators believe that he should have recused himself as soon as he learned that Rove and Libby were possibly involved in the leak; some have also noted privately that many of Ashcroft’s top aides came from the Republican National Committee (RNC), which they suspect has been working closely with the White House to pressure Ashcroft not to name a special prosecutor. In 2006, law professor Stephen Gillers will say: “There is always going to be an interim period during which you decide you will recuse or not recuse. But [Ashcroft] should have had an ‘aha!’ moment when he learned that someone, figuratively, or in this case literally, next door to the president of the United States—who was Ashcroft’s boss—was under suspicion.” Ashcroft’s spokesman Mark Corallo has explained that Ashcroft declined to recuse himself because of his intense interest in the probe. Corallo will later become the spokesman for Rove. Fellow law professor Charles Wolfram, like Gillers a specialist in legal ethics, agrees with Gillers. In 2006, Wolfram says the “most distressing” ethical aspect of the case is that Ashcroft continued overseeing the probe even after Cheney’s name arose. “This should have been a matter of common sense,” Wolfram will note. Ashcroft “should have left it to career prosecutors whether or not to go after politically sensitive targets. You can’t have Ashcroft investigate the people who appointed him or of his own political party.” (Waas 6/8/2006)
Salon columnist and media observer Eric Boehlert notes that while the White House has specifically, and emphatically, denied Karl Rove leaked the CIA identity of Valerie Plame Wilson (see September 29, 2003), it has not yet given such coverage to Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney. Circumstantial evidence that the White House may be leaving Libby to, in Boehlert’s words, “twist in the wind” is mounting. The New York Daily News has reported that “Democratic Congressional sources said they would like to hear from… Lewis Libby.” On MSNBC, an administration critic, former counterterrorism official Larry Johnson, who says he knows who the leaker is, would not deny it was Libby. And Senator Chuck Hagel has implied that the leak originated from the vice president’s office when he said that President Bush needs to sit down with Cheney and “ask… what he knows about it.” A former senior CIA officer says, “Libby is certainly suspect No. 1.” Even Cheney’s own spokeswoman, Cathie Martin, refuses to deny Libby’s involvement, saying only, “This is a serious matter and we shouldn’t be speculating in light of an ongoing investigation.” Boehlert notes that conservative columnist Robert Novak, who outed Plame Wilson in one of his columns (see July 14, 2003), has dropped several hints about his primary source that point (inconclusively) to Libby. Novak’s assertion that his source is “no partisan gunslinger” (see October 1, 2003) is a better characterization of Libby than of Rove. Since Novak has referred to his source as “he,” the source cannot be National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice or any other White House female. Most interestingly, Boehlert notes, Novak was never looking for Plame Wilson’s identity when he spoke with his sources in July 2003. Rather, he wanted to know why former ambassador Joseph Wilson was chosen to go to Niger (see Shortly after February 13, 2002 and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). The logical place for Novak to begin such an inquiry, Boehlert writes, was Cheney’s office. Wilson believed Cheney was primarily, if indirectly, responsible for sending him to Niger (see (February 13, 2002)). Time magazine ran a story that revealed Libby was talking to reporters about Wilson (see July 17, 2003). And Boehlert notes other, less significant clues that add incrementally to the evidence showing that Libby might well have been Novak’s source. Finally, Boehlert comes back to Larry Johnson. Johnson confirmed for PBS that Plame Wilson was an undercover CIA agent and not merely an “analyst,” as Novak has asserted. He recently said flatly on MSNBC, “I know the name of the person that spoke with Bob Novak,” and that person works “at the White House,” and more specifically, “in the Old Executive Office Buildings.” Cheney’s office is located inside the Old Executive Office Building. Johnson was asked by co-host Pat Buchanan: “Scooter Libby. Now, is Scooter Libby the name you heard?” Johnson replied, “I’m not going to comment on that.” (Boehlert 10/3/2003) The day after Boehlert’s column appears, White House press secretary Scott McClellan gives reporters the same assurance about Libby that he gave to Rove (see October 4, 2003).
Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney who is suspected of leaking CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to the press (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), implores Cheney to have press secretary Scott McClellan publicly exonerate him. In a note whose contents will later be made public during the runup to Libby’s perjury trial (see October 28, 2005 and January 16-23, 2007), Libby suggests what McClellan should say to the press:
“People have made too much of the difference in
“How I described Karl and Libby
“I’ve talked to Libby.
“I said it was ridiculous about Karl
“And it is ridiculous about Libby.
“Libby was not the source of the Novak story.
“And he did not leak classified information.” (Legum 4/6/2006; US District Court for the District of Columbia 4/5/2009 )
Cheney will write a note recommending Libby’s public exoneration (see October 4, 2003). McClellan will use much of Libby’s wording in his statement to the press (see October 4, 2003 and October 4, 2003).
At his home, White House press secretary Scott McClellan receives a call from White House chief of staff Andrew Card. Card makes a request that shocks McClellan: “The president and vice president spoke this morning. They want you to give the press the same assurance for Scooter [Lewis Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff] that you gave for [White House deputy chief of staff] Karl [Rove]” (see September 29, 2003). According to McClellan’s 2008 book What Happened, he acquiesces, “not really indicating my instinctive disinclination to do what he was directing me to do.” McClellan doesn’t want to begin absolving one official after another to the press. He has already refused to absolve Libby for the press once (see October 1, 2003), and knows “if other names started to surface… the press would be curious why I’d asked Scooter about his involvement, and why the White House wasn’t asking every staff member the same question.” However, he will write: “this was an order coming from on high. As a result, I was about to cross the line I’d drawn publicly once the investigation had gotten underway earlier in the week.” McClellan will write that he is sure President Bush had no knowledge of Libby, Rove, or anyone else being involved in leaking Plame Wilson’s identity. “I wish I could say the same about the vice president,” he will add. “I simply don’t know for sure.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 217-218) Card makes his request shortly after Vice President Cheney writes a memo demanding Libby’s public exoneration (see October 4, 2003).
Vice President Dick Cheney writes a note, later dubbed the “meat grinder” note, saying that the Bush administration should tell reporters that his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, should be issued a denial of involvement in the Plame Wilson leak, just as White House political strategist Karl Rove has received (see September 29, 2003). The note reads: “Has to happen today. Call out to key press saying same thing about Scooter as Karl. Not going to protect one staffer & sacrifice the guy the Pres [the words “the Pres” are scratched out] that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others—” The rest of the note contains talking points for the denial. It is unclear if the note is for Cheney’s own reference or intended for someone else (Office of the Vice President 10/4/2003; Marcy Wheeler 6/9/2008) , though Cheney has received a request from Libby that he be publicly exonerated (see Before October 4, 2003). The same day, White House chief of staff Andrew Card asks press secretary Scott McClellan to issue a denial on behalf of Libby (see October 4, 2003). McClellan complies (see October 4, 2003).
Through White House spokesmen, two senior Bush officials deny being involved in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see July 14, 2003 and July 17, 2003). Neither Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, nor Elliott Abrams, the director of Middle East affairs for the National Security Council, were involved in the leak, according to spokesmen; the same claim has been made for White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove. According to press secretary Scott McClellan, Libby “neither leaked the classified information, nor would he condone it.” The disclaimers are in response to reporters’ questions. (New York Times 10/5/2003) In 2007, the prosecution in the Libby perjury trial (see January 16-23, 2007) will enter into evidence a page of undated notes taken by Libby around this time. The notes are talking points for McClellan, and indicate that McClellan should use lines such as “I’ve talked to Libby. I’ve said it was ridiculous about Karl and it is ridiculous about Libby. Libby was not the source of the Novak story. And he did not leak classified information.” Libby’s notes also advise McClellan to say something like, “Not going to protect one staffer & sacrifice the guy the Pres that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others.” Cheney has crossed out the words “the Pres,” obviously not wanting McClellan to reference President Bush (see October 4, 2003). (Office of the Vice President 9/2003 ; National Public Radio 3/7/2007)
Jack Goldsmith succeeds Jay Bybee as the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). The OLC essentially performs two functions: advising the executive branch on the legal limits of presidential power, and crafts legal justifications for the actions of the president and the executive branch. Goldsmith, who along with fellow Justice Department counsel and law professor John Yoo, is seen as one of the department’s newest and brightest conservative stars. But instead of aiding the Bush administration in expanding the power of the executive branch, Goldsmith will spend nine tumultuous months battling the White House on issues such as the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program, the administration’s advocacy of torture in the interrogation of terrorism suspects, and the extralegal detention and military tribunals of “enemy combatants.” Goldsmith will find himself at odds with Yoo, the author of two controversial OLC memos that grant the US government wide latitude in torturing terror suspects (see January 9, 2002 and August 1, 2002), with White House counsel and future attorney general Alberto Gonzales, and with the chief aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, David Addington, who along with Cheney is one of the strongest advocates of the so-called “unitary executive” theory of governance, which says the president has virtually unlimited powers, especially in the areas of national security and foreign policy, and is not always subject to Congressional or judicial oversight. Within hours of Goldsmith’s swearing-in, Goldsmith receives a phone call from Gonzales asking if the Fourth Geneva Convention, which protects civilians in war zones such as Iraq, covers terrorists and insurgents as well. Goldsmith, after intensive review with other lawyers in and out of the Justice Department, concludes that the conventions do indeed apply. Ashcroft concurs. The White House does not. Goldsmith’s deputy, Patrick Philbin, says to Goldsmith as they drive to the White House to meet with Gonzales and Addington, “They’re going to be really mad. They’re not going to understand our decision. They’ve never been told no.” Philbin’s prediction is accurate; Addington is, Goldsmith recalls, “livid.” The physically and intellectually imposing Addington thunders, “The president has already decided that terrorists do not receive Geneva Convention protections. You cannot question his decision.” Addington refuses to accept Goldsmith’s explanations. Months later, an unmollified Addington will tell Goldsmith in an argument about another presidential decision, “If you rule that way, the blood of the hundred thousand people who die in the next attack will be on your hands.” These initial encounters set the tone for Goldsmith’s stormy tenure as head of the OLC. Goldsmith will lead a small group of administration lawyers in what New York Times Magazine reporter Jeffrey Rosen calls a “behind-the-scenes revolt against what [Goldsmith] considered the constitutional excesses of the legal policies embraced by his White House superiors in the war on terror,” Goldsmith will resign in June of 2004 (see June 17, 2004). (Rosen 9/9/2007)
Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Cheney, is interviewed by the FBI concerning the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). (Office of the Vice President 10/14/2003 ; US District Court for the District of Columbia 10/28/2005 ; US District Court for the District of Columbia 10/30/2006 ; MSNBC 2/21/2007) Libby tells investigators that in his conversations with reporters Judith Miller (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003) and Matthew Cooper (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003) he was careful to tell them that the information about Plame Wilson was merely “unsubtianted gossip” and not necessarily reliable. He also claims that, before he spoke to either Miller or Cooper, he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from another journalist, NBC’s Tim Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003). Libby is lying in both instances (see August 7, 2004). (US District Court for the District of Columbia 10/28/2005 ; Waas 6/8/2006; US District Court for the District of Columbia 10/30/2006 )
Cher, the celebrity singer and actress, calls in to a morning C-SPAN talk show broadcast. She calls anonymously to discuss her recent visit to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where she visited with soldiers wounded in Iraq. She praises the courage and resilience of the soldiers, many of whom have suffered horrific wounds. After she admits to being an entertainer who has worked with the USO, C-SPAN host Peter Slen realizes who she is, and asks, “Is this Cher?” She replies, “Yeah,” and continues to discuss the troops and their “unbelievable courage.” Shortly thereafter, she says: “I wonder why [Dick] Cheney, [Paul] Wolfowitz, [Paul] Bremer, the president—why aren’t they taking pictures with all these guys?… Talking about the dead and wounded, that’s two different things. But these wounded are so devastatingly wounded.… It’s unbelievable. You know, if you’re going to send these people to war, then don’t hide them.… Have some news coverage where people are sitting and talking to these guys and seeing how they are and seeing their spirit. It’s just—I think it’s a crime.” (Ridgway 11/5/2003; Carter 2004, pp. 65-66) Shortly after the Walter Reed visit, Cher will become heavily involved in working with wounded veterans through organizations such as Operation Helmet and the Intrepid Fund. She will say of her activism: “I don’t have to be for this war to support the troops because these men and women do what they think is right. They do what they’re told to do. They do it with a really good heart. They do the best they can. They don’t ask for anything.… I can’t speak for everyone, but everyone seems to be against the war but not realizing that that’s not good enough. You’ve got to do something besides just be against it. You’ve got to do some helping as well.” (Mraz 7/16/2006)
On NBC’s “Meet the Press”, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld denies that Americans were misinformed about Iraqi nuclear arms. Rumsfeld says that no one in the administration ever claimed Iraq had tried to obtain nuclear weapons. Moderator Tim Russert asks: “But, Mr. Secretary, you acknowledge that there was an argument made by the administration that Saddam Hussein possessed chemical and biological weapons, and could have been well on his way to reconstituting his nuclear program. There doesn’t appear to be significant amounts of evidence to document that presentation that was made by the administration.” Rumsfeld says that this administration as well as preceding administrations “all agreed” that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons, “and that they had programs relating to nuclear weapons that they were reconstituting—not that they had nuclear weapons—no one said that.” The administration made numerous claims of Iraq possessing “reconstituted” nuclear weapons, including claims made by the CIA (see January 30, 2002), Vice President Dick Cheney (see September 8, 2002), and the entire intelligence community (see October 1, 2002). Russert follows up by asking if it was possible “that the inspections in fact did work, that the enforcement of the no-fly zone did work, and that Saddam in fact no longer had a weapons of mass destruction capability?” Rumsfeld replies that it is possible Saddam Hussein “took his weapons, destroyed them, or moved them to some other country.” (US Department of Defense 11/2/2003)
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials announce during an internal meeting of EPA enforcement officials in Seattle and during a conference call the following day that current cases involving violations of the Clean Air Act will be judged according to the agency’s new interpretation of the New Source Review (see August 27, 2003) —to go into effect in December (see December 2003) —instead of the old, more stringent rules that were in use at the time the violations occurred. (Shogren 11/6/2003; Drew and Oppel 11/6/2003; US Congress 2/6/2004) The backroom decision contradicts what EPA air official Jeff Holmstead told a Senate committee in 2002. “It is certainly our intent to make these (rules) prospective only,” he claimed at the time. (Watson 11/6/2003) According to lawyers at the EPA, the agency’s decision will likely result in the EPA dismissing investigations into 50 coal-burning power plants for past violations of the Clean Air Act. According to the lawyers, the changes—based on recommendations from Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force—could save the industry up to $20 billion. However in its official statement on November 5, the EPA says that no formal decision has been made to dismiss all the investigations, claiming that it would review each “on a case-by-case basis to determine whether it will be pursued or set aside.” (Drew and Oppel 11/6/2003)
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