News Intelligence Analysis
From the Washington Post
Former Cheney Aide: Bush Authorized Iraq Intelligence Leak
By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 6, 2006; 4:54 PM
A former top aide to Vice President Cheney told a federal grand jury investigating the leak of a CIA agent's identity that President Bush authorized him to disclose classified intelligence information about Iraq as a way of rebutting criticism from the agent's husband, according to court papers filed by prosecutors.
However, the former top aide, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, testified that although he gave a reporter sensitive information from a secret National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) in a July 2003 conversation with the president's approval, he did not disclose the CIA employment of Valerie Plame.
The references to Bush's alleged role in the case came in a 39-page document in which Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald sought to persuade the judge in Libby's case to rule against the defendant's request for a vast array of "discovery" documentation. Libby, formerly Cheney's chief of staff, was indicted in October last year on five federal felony counts of obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements to federal investigators in connection with a probe into who leaked Plame's identity. Fitzgerald's document was submitted to U.S. District Court in Washington yesterday and made public today.
Under a March 2003 executive order issued by Bush, the president has the authority to declassify -- and thus disclose -- intelligence information, and Cheney has also asserted that authority. But both men have repeatedly criticized the leaking of sensitive intelligence to the news media, and the administration has ordered investigations of leaks concerning a National Security Agency eavesdropping program and the existence of secret overseas CIA prisons for terrorist suspects.
Leading Democrats immediately seized on the disclosures today to accuse Bush of hypocrisy and demand that he explain his role in the Plame leak case.
"In light of today's shocking revelation, President Bush must fully disclose his participation in the selective leaking of classified information," Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said in a statement. "The American people must know the truth."
Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said, "The fact that the president was willing to reveal classified information for political gain and put the interests of his political party ahead of America's security shows that he can no longer be trusted to keep America safe."
Fitzgerald's filing notes that some discovery documents already provided to Libby "could be characterized as reflecting a plan to discredit, punish, or seek revenge against" Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former diplomat -- and Plame's husband -- who accused the Bush administration of exaggerating the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq to justify the March 2003 U.S. invasion.
Wilson had undertaken a mission to Niger in February 2002 on behalf of the CIA to check reports that Hussein had tried to buy uranium "yellowcake" for use in a nuclear weapons program. Wilson concluded that the reports were unfounded, but Bush nevertheless cited the alleged Iraqi effort in making the case for removing Hussein.
Wilson went public in July 2003, writing an opinion piece in which he criticized Bush's assertion in his January 2003 State of the Union speech that Hussein had sought uranium from Africa.
In the court filing, Fitzgerald says Libby met with New York Times reporter Judith Miller on July 8, 2003, "only after the Vice President advised defendant that the President specifically had authorized defendant to disclose certain information in the NIE." The prosecutor adds that Libby testified to the grand jury "that the circumstances of his conversation with reporter Miller -- getting approval from the President through the Vice President to discuss material that would be classified but for that approval -- were unique in his recollection."
The document says Libby "testified that he was specifically authorized in advance of the meeting to disclose the key judgments of the classified NIE to Miller on that occasion because it was thought that the NIE was 'pretty definitive' against what Ambassador Wilson had said and that the Vice President thought that it was 'very important' for the key judgments of the NIE to come out. Defendant further testified that he at first advised the Vice President that he could not have this conversation with reporter Miller because of the classified nature of the NIE. Defendant testified that the Vice President later advised him that the President had authorized defendant to disclose the relevant portions of the NIE."
Libby told the grand jury that he was advised by Cheney's counsel that "presidential authorization to publicly disclose a document amounted to a declassification of the document," the document says.
Libby said he understood that "he was to tell Miller, among other things, that a key judgment of the NIE held that Iraq was 'vigorously trying to procure' uranium," Fitzgerald wrote.
According to the document, "The central issue at trial will be whether defendant lied when he testified that he was not aware that Mr. Wilson's wife worked at the CIA prior to his purported conversation with Tim Russert about Mr. Wilson's wife on or about July 10, 2003." The reference is to a conversation in which Libby says he learned from Russert, host of NBC's "Meet the Press" program, that Plame worked for the CIA. Russert has denied that account, saying he did not discuss Plame with Libby in that conversation.
The filing does not give any indication that either Bush or Cheney authorized Libby to reveal Plame's CIA employment.
However, in the view of prosecutors, Bush's authorization -- through Cheney -- for Libby to disclose classified information about Iraq set the context for his subsequent conversations with reporters in an effort to discredit Wilson.
At the same time that Libby was conveying information on Plame's CIA employment, the prosecution alleges, he was under orders from the president and vice president to provide classified information that would defend the administration. That background is relevant to understanding what Libby did and why he did it, in the prosecution's view.
Bush's purported decision to authorize the disclosure came at a time when he faced criticism for U.S. failure to find weapons of mass destruction or evidence of a nuclear program in Iraq, discoveries that would have buttressed Bush's main argument for invading.
The criticism intensified as a result of Wilson's charges that the Bush administration manipulated intelligence to justify the invasion. The administration's response was to try to discredit Wilson's statements by dismissing his trip to Niger as something of a junket arranged by his wife.
"In June 2003, when discussing Ambassador Wilson's trip to Niger, the Vice President advised defendant that Ambassador Wilson's wife worked at the CIA in the Counterproliferation Division," Fitzgerald's court filing says. It says the prosecution has evidence that Wilson's July 6, 2003, opinion piece in the New York Times was viewed in Cheney's office "as a direct attack on the credibility of the Vice President (and the President) on a matter of signal importance: the rationale for the war in Iraq."
In response, the document says, Libby "undertook vigorous efforts to rebut this attack during the week following July 7, 2003." After Wilson's op-ed piece appeared, it says, "Vice President Cheney, defendant's immediate superior, expressed concerns to defendant regarding whether Mr. Wilson's trip was legitimate or whether it was in effect a junket set up by Mr. Wilson's wife."
Plame was first publicly identified as a CIA operative in a July 14, 2003, newspaper column by Robert D. Novak, a conservative columnist, who cited "two senior administration officials" as sources. Novak has refused to identify the sources publicly. Libby has denied that he provided the information to Novak.
According to the court filing, Libby indicated that he believes the "primary source for Mr. Novak's article" was Richard L. Armitage, formerly the deputy secretary of state, "or another State Department official."
The document also reveals that the prosecution does not intend "at this time" to call Karl Rove, Bush's top political strategist, or Stephen J. Hadley, the president's national security adviser, as witnesses in Libby's trial. But it notes that Libby wants to present testimony from both men.
"Defendant claims that Karl Rove will be a 'key witness' in the trial, in that he will testify concerning a conversation with defendant on July 10 or 11, 2003 regarding Robert Novak's intent to print a story regarding Ms. Wilson's employment at the CIA," the filing says.
Fitzgerald adds, "The trial in this case necessarily will focus on whether or not defendant committed perjury. While defendant may prefer to put the conduct of others on trial, he is not entitled to do so."
In a statement today, Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, said it was time for Bush "to come clean about his involvement in the leak case."
He pointed to previous statements in which Bush denied knowledge of the leak.
"I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information," Bush said on Sept. 30, 2003, two months after Libby made what he says was a presidentially authorized disclosure of such information.
"If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it, and we'll take the appropriate action," Bush said.
Staff writer R. Jeffrey Smith contributed to this report.
© 2006 The Washington Post Company
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