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Profile: Sidney Blumenthal

Sidney Blumenthal was a participant or observer in the following events:

A map showing the various groups controlling portions of Baghdad in late 2006.A map showing the various groups controlling portions of Baghdad in late 2006. [Source: Representational Pictures]A plan, later approved by President George Bush, to “surge” 21,500 US combat troops into Iraq (see January 10, 2007) is created, largely by Frederick Kagan of the main neoconservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), with the help of retired Army general and deputy chief of staff Jack Keane. Kagan and Keane want to send seven more Army brigades and Marine regiments to Iraq.
Opposed by Joint Chiefs - The AEI plan, however, has been rebuffed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who do not believe that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki can effectively confront the Shi’ite militias, especially those of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. [Washington Post, 1/10/2007] However, al-Maliki reportedly told Bush in recent days, “I swear to God, I’m not going to let Sadr run this country.” [ABC News, 1/10/2007]
Plan Created by Neoconservatives at AEI - Kagan is a neoconservative who, in his new book Finding the Target, has scorned Bush’s military policies as “simplistic,” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as “fatuous,” and Rumsfeld’s former deputy and architect of the Iraq invasion, Paul Wolfowitz, as “self-serving.” Along with Kagan and Keane, a number of lesser-known AEI neoconservatives contributed to the plans for the surge, including Danielle Pletka, a former aide to retired Republican senator Jesse Helms, and former Coalition Provisional Authority aide Michael Rubin. Commentator and former Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal calls the collection a “rump group of neocons” hanging on to influence primarily in the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, battered and demoralized by the failures of the past five years but, Blumenthal writes, “not so crushed that they cannot summon one last ragged Team B to provide a manifesto for a cornered president.” The AEI plan, entitled “Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq,” calls for a huge escalation to fight a tide-turning battle for Baghdad which, it predicts, will lead to the dissolution of Iraq’s Shi’ite militias, deliver a crushing defeat to the Sunni insurgency, and spread security and democracy from Baghdad throughout the country. Unfortunately, it ignores the realities of limited troop availability, Blumenthal observes, and perhaps worse, dismisses any notion of diplomacy, particularly the diplomatic initiatives advanced by the Iraq Study Group. The only solution to the Iraq problem, the plan asserts, is “victory.” The plan claims, “America, a country of 300 million people with a GDP of $12 trillion, and more than 1 million soldiers and marines can regain control of Iraq, a state the size of California with a population of 25 million and a GDP under $100 billion.” [Salon, 12/20/2006]
Marketing Slogan with Inaccurate Implications - In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “Recall that the surge strategy promoted by the American Enterprise Institute was titled ‘Choosing Victory,’ implying both that the only possible outcomes in Iraq were victory or defeat and that it was entirely within our power to decide which happened.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 272]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Sidney Blumenthal, Paul Wolfowitz, J. Peter Scoblic, Nouri al-Maliki, Moqtada al-Sadr, Frederick Kagan, Danielle Pletka, American Enterprise Institute, Michael Rubin, Donald Rumsfeld, Jack Keane, Mahdi Army, George W. Bush, Jesse Helms

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Neoconservative Influence

The defense for accused perjurer Lewis “Scooter” Libby questions Vice President Dick Cheney’s national security adviser, John Hannah, who says he worked very closely with Libby while Libby served as Cheney’s chief of staff. Hannah testifies that Libby has a poor memory (see January 31, 2006), telling defense lawyer John Cline, “On certain things Scooter had an awful memory.” Hannah also says that part of Libby’s job as chief of staff to Cheney was to “push back” on any criticism of the vice president such as that leveled by war critic Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003). [New York Times, 2/13/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/13/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] Hannah says of Libby’s memory, “It would often be the case where he was quite good at remembering ideas and concepts and very bad at figuring out how those ideas came to him.” Hannah portrays Libby’s typical workday as, in the words of the Associated Press, “breakneck,” with CIA briefings beginning a long and often hectic workday peppered with top-level meetings. “He was the key person talking about and helping advise the vice president on issues of homeland security,” Hannah testifies. Hannah’s testimony is key to the defense strategy, helping paint Libby as a man consumed with the duties of an intensely stressful job and therefore prone to make mistakes in recollection, especially about issues such as the identity of a CIA official whose husband is publicly criticizing the government. Hannah is also able to introduce some specifics about the national threats Libby worked to prevent, including terrorism and the problems posed by Iran and Pakistan, without subjecting Libby to cross-examination (see February 12, 2007). When Libby tried to remember things during his hectic workday, Hannah testifies, he often was unable to do so completely. [Associated Press, 2/13/2007; New York Times, 2/13/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/13/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/13/2007] Hannah’s attempt to paint Libby as overworked and mnemonically challenged is short-lived, as prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald pins Hannah down in cross-examination. Fitzgerald asks Hannah if it would be accurate to say that because of Libby’s crushing work schedule during the week of July 6, 2003, the former chief of staff would have only spent time on things he considered important. “If he gave something an hour or two that week,” Fitzgerald asks, “it would be something Mr. Libby thought was important, right?” Hannah agrees. The jury is well aware that Libby spent two hours with New York Times reporter Judith Miller on July 8 of that week (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). Both outed CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson and FireDogLake blogger Jane Hamsher will observe, “It was a Perry Mason moment.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 290-291; Associated Press, 2/13/2007; New York Times, 2/13/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/13/2007; Jane Hamsher, 2/13/2007] Former Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal, the author of a recent book critical of the Bush administration, calls Hannah “Cheney’s stand-in, but without Cheney’s enormous potential liabilities that might be explored through cross-examination. Hannah’s role was to be the first-person witness to buttress Libby’s memory defense.” [Salon, 2/15/2007]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, John Cline, John Hannah, Valerie Plame Wilson, Sidney Blumenthal, Jane Hamsher, Reggie B. Walton, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Judith Miller, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Author and former Clinton administration adviser Sidney Blumenthal writes that months before the start of the Lewis Libby trial (see January 16-23, 2007), “one of Scooter Libby’s old mentors, a prominent Washington attorney and Republican with experience going back to the Watergate scandal and with intimate ties to neoconservatives, implored him repeatedly to stop covering up for Vice President Cheney and to cut a deal with the special prosecutor [Patrick Fitzgerald]. Yet another distinguished Washington lawyer and personal friend of Libby’s, privy to the mentor’s counsel, reinforced his urgent advice and offered to provide Libby with introductions to former prosecutors who might help guide him. But Libby rebuffed them. He refused to listen. He insisted on the trial.” Blumenthal does not name the two attorneys who allegedly urged Libby to make a deal with the prosecution. [Salon, 2/15/2007]

Entity Tags: Sidney Blumenthal, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Media responses to the closing arguments in the Libby trial (see 9:00 a.m. February 20, 2007, 11:00 a.m. February 20, 2007, and 3:00 p.m. February 20, 2007) are strong and varied.
'Strongest Arguments Yet' of Cheney's Complicity - New York Sun reporter Josh Gerstein writes that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s “explosive” statements were his “strongest arguments yet” that Vice President Dick Cheney directed former chief of staff Lewis Libby to out CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson. Libby was “not supposed to be talking to other people,” Fitzgerald said. “The only person he told is the vice president.… Think about that.” [New York Sun, 2/21/2007]
Fitzgerald Put 'Vice President on Trial' - Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff writes, “Fitzgerald pretty much made it clear to the jury that Libby, in the prosecution’s mind, was protecting the vice president of the United States.” Tom DeFrank of the New York Daily News adds: “I think Fitzgerald and his fellow prosecutors put the vice president on trial, even though he was not charged with anything. But he was very much front and center in this trial from start to finish.” [Washington Post, 2/21/2007]
Fitzgerald 'Sinister,' 'Overcaffeinated'; Wells 'Erratic' - Conservative columnist Byron York is somewhat taken aback at Fitzgerald’s focus on Cheney, calling Fitzgerald “quite sinister” in his statements about Cheney’s apparent complicity in the leak. York sums up the two sides’ arguments and presentational styles. He calls both sides “uneven,” and says that defense attorney Theodore Wells’s performance “was erratic, sometimes appearing to defend his own honor more than his client’s, and sometimes brilliantly dismantling the credibility of key prosecution witnesses.” York writes that Fitzgerald “seemed overcaffeinated and overreaching, perhaps overwhelming the jury with the minutiae of the case.” He concludes, “How their closing summations will play with jurors is anybody’s guess.” [National Review, 2/21/2007]
Praise for Wells - The Washington Post’s Linton Weeks is more complimentary of Well’s closing statement. Weeks’s analysis of Wells’s close is similar to the glowing profile published by the New York Times earlier in the trial (see February 10, 2007). He portrays Wells as “tall, athletic, mustachioed—like a fighter imaging the bout to come,” and possessed of “an inner toughness of someone who will use any combination of punches to win big.” He notes that Wells paused during the proceedings to check on his elderly mother, watching her son from a wheelchair in the courtroom aisle. Though Weeks writes that Wells had “moments [that] seemed out of sync,” hurrying through a PowerPoint slide presentation, “[a]t other times, he was impressive, trying to convince the jury that the prosecution was attempting to ruin Libby based on a few conversations with reporters.” Weeks quotes one of Wells’s colleagues, Washington lawyer Stanley Brand, as saying Wells “has a wonderful demeanor… a master tactician… a bulldog, but in a gentle way.” Brand calls Wells “one of the five best trial lawyers in the country.” Weeks then spins an admiring biography of the “tough defense attorney who has mastered the balance between easygoing and hard-charging,” and uses Wells’s high school and college football career upon which to hang his final metaphor: “There in the middle of the courtroom, Wells was playing center again, helping call the plays and protecting the guy with the ball. Laughing in the beginning, crying in the end.” [Washington Post, 2/21/2007]
Sincere and Insincere Emotions - Author Marcy Wheeler, writing for the blog FireDogLake (see February 15, 2007), says that assistant prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg baited Wells into going into a sincere rage at the beginning of his argument. In the first portion of the prosecution’s close, Zeidenberg told the jury that Wells had not proven the White House conspiracy he alleged, and, Wheeler writes, Wells spent the first 20 minutes of his closing argument defending his trial strategy. “This was real rage,” she writes, “but it was rage in the service of Ted Wells, not rage in the service of Scooter Libby.” By goading Wells into losing his composure and defending his own actions, Wheeler writes, Wells was forced to rush his climactic argument. Wheeler says that Wells “really does have a schtick, one that the journalists who have seen him before all recognize. He finishes the rational part of his case. Then he spends the last 20 minutes or so summoning rage for his client. He brings all the emotion summoned for his client to a crescendo. And then he weeps, demonstrating clearly to the jury how deeply he believes that his client has been wronged.” But because Wells wasted the first 20 minutes defending his own actions, he “had no time to get into character, and he went immediately from a rushed but rational argument about memory into his emotional appeal.… [C]ompared to the real rage Wells had shown earlier in the day, it looked fake. Utterly, completely fake. Because Wells reacted to Zeidenberg’s barbs, he showed the jury true emotion that made all his elaborate schtick—the thing that Wells does best, normally—look like an act.” Moreover, Fitzgerald was able to mock the outrage that Wheeler believes to be “schtick” (see 3:00 p.m. February 20, 2007) all the more effectively because he almost never raised his voice or displayed any passion throughout the trial. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/21/2007]
Facts vs. Emotion - Sidney Blumenthal, a former Clinton administration adviser who has written a book critical of the Bush administration, writes that the prosecution depended largely on a structure of facts and evidence, while the defense relied much more on emotional appeals to the jury. He writes, “[T]he final argument on behalf of Scooter Libby was Libby’s last disinformation campaign.” Of the defense’s attacks on the credibility of news reports and the journalists who make them, Blumenthal writes: “This extraordinary defense—that nothing in any newspaper can be considered true—was the reductio ad absurdum of the Bush administration’s use and abuse of the press corps. Having manipulated it to plant stories on weapons of mass destruction to legitimize the Iraq war, Libby, who was centrally involved in those disinformation efforts, was reduced to defending himself on the basis that newspapers cannot be trusted to publish the truth.” Of Fitzgerald’s pronouncement of a “cloud” over Cheney, Blumenthal writes that “Fitzgerald made clear that he believed that Cheney was the one behind the crime for which he was prosecuting Libby. It was Cheney who was the boss, Cheney who gave the orders, and Cheney to whom Libby was the loyal soldier, and it is Cheney for whom Libby is covering up.” [Salon, 2/22/2007]

Entity Tags: Marcy Wheeler, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Linton Weeks, Josh Gerstein, Byron York, Thomas DeFrank, Theodore Wells, Valerie Plame Wilson, Sidney Blumenthal, Reggie B. Walton, Stanley Brand, Michael Isikoff, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Peter Zeidenberg

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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