Friday, April 07, 2006

Another Watergate In the Making?

Libby Testimony Fingers Bush -- Putting President Front and Center in CIA Leak Scandal

By Richard B. Schmidt and Peter Wallstein
Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — President Bush personally authorized leaking classified information to deflect Iraq war critics at a time when declining public support for the invasion threatened his reelection campaign, according to testimony from a former senior White House aide.

The assertion, which came in a filing late Wednesday by federal prosecutors in the perjury case against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, connects the president for the first time to a case that until now publicly focused on the activities of senior aides and the office of Vice President Dick Cheney.

Libby, Cheney's former chief of staff, is facing charges related to the disclosure of a CIA operative's identity.

Testimony Paints Bush as Being Behind White House Effort to Discredit Iraq War Critics

Bush repeatedly has deplored leaks and has maintained an appearance of distance throughout the CIA leak investigation, telling reporters in 2003: "I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it, and we'll take the appropriate action."

But Libby's testimony, if true, places Bush in the middle of his administration's effort to undermine its critics at a time that the White House was preparing to make Iraq a central theme of the 2004 presidential campaign.

According to the new court filing, Libby testified to a grand jury that Cheney told him Bush had approved the release of information from the CIA's classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's Continuing Programs for Weapons of mass Destruction.

The CIA document, citing various intelligence reports, argued that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had sought nuclear weapons materials in Niger — a claim that Bush and others used to justify the March 2003 invasion of Iraq but that ultimately proved to be untrue.

Leak Came Just Days After Wilson Column Debunking White House Claims on Iraqi Nuke Program

The leak from the ClA report was authorized, according to Libby's testimony cited in the court documents, within days of a July 6, 2003, New York Times op-ed piece written by former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, who traveled to Africa in 2002 to investigate the administration claims that Iraq tried to buy nuclear materials. In the commentary, he debunked the claim and accused the White House of manipulating intelligence.

The court papers provide new details about the active role that Cheney reportedly played in using Libby as a secret administration envoy to rebut concerns about prewar intelligence in conversations with reporters.

Moreover, the court filings suggest that Bush and Cheney were intimately involved in the decision to selectively leak classified information to reporters, without the knowledge of even then-national security advisor Condoleezza Rice or her deputy, Stephen J. Hadley.

The National Intelligence Estimate was officially declassified almost two weeks later and released to the media.

Did Bush "Out" Valerie Plame as CIA Operative? Libby Doesn't Say

The court filing makes no allegation that Bush — who has vowed to fire anyone in his administration who was involved in revealing the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame — encouraged or authorized the disclosure of her identity. Plame is married to Wilson.

White House officials declined to comment on the latest revelations Thursday, directing questions to the office of Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald, who is pressing the case against Libby. Bush Counselor Dan Bartlett did not return repeated telephone calls.

One former White House official said he found Libby's allegation that the president authorized such a leak hard to believe. "It defies logic and all my experience with this president," said the former official, who asked not to be identified because his comments concerned an ongoing criminal case.

The topic of Libby's testimony did not come up when Bush took several questions from the audience after delivering a speech in Charlotte, N.C., defending the war. Upon boarding Air Force One to depart Charlotte, Bush ignored a reporter's question on the testimony.

A White House Double-Standard on Leaks, Democrats Say

As commander in chief, Bush has the authority to declassify information when he thinks it is in the national interest. But Democratic members of Congress and others said Thursday that the alleged action by the president — surfacing at a time when his administration has launched investigations into leaks of controversial counter-terrorism policies — showed a White House double standard on guarding the nation's secrets.

Libby's testimony also raises questions about presidential statements early in the Plame scandal. He declared at the time that he was unaware of anyone in his administration who had leaked classified information in connection with the case.

"After the CIA leak controversy broke three years ago, President Bush said, 'I'd like to know if somebody in my White House did leak sensitive information.' Now we find out that the president himself was ordering leaks of classified information," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey). "It's time for the president to come clean with the American people."

Two other Democrats, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York and Rep. Henry Waxman of California, fired off letters to Bush on Thursday demanding answers. Waxman asked whether the president had politicized intelligence.

"Two recent revelations raise grave new questions about whether you, the vice president and your top advisors have engaged in a systematic abuse of the national security classification process for political purposes," Waxman wrote.>

Unanswered Question: Who Told Columnist Novak About Plame?

Eight days after the Wilson commentary appeared, Plame was identified in a column by syndicated columnist Robert Novak. It is illegal to knowingly disclose the identity of a covert CIA operative.

Wilson's piece was viewed as an attack on White House credibility. Fitzgerald has alleged that Libby helped lead an administration effort to rebut the attack with the support of Libby's boss, the vice president. Fitzgerald's Wednesday filing cited testimony from Libby that the effort also had the support of the president.

Cheney, Fitzgerald said in the court papers, encouraged Libby to talk to reporters about the Wilson trip, and a plan developed for Libby to leak information to then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller. She had written several stories about prewar intelligence that supported administration assumptions about the threat that Hussein was building a nuclear arsenal.

Libby: Cheney Told Me To Pass On Info to Discredit Wilson

According to the filing, Libby — before his indictment in October — told a federal grand jury investigating the Plame leak that Cheney had told him to pass on key portions of the National Intelligence Estimate to the media that refuted Wilson's findings.

The aide testified that he first told Cheney he could not leak classified information, but that later the vice president assured him Bush had approved the disclosure.

Libby said he also cleared the leak with the vice president's then-counselor, David Addington, who said that presidential authorization to publicly disclose a document amounted to declassification of the document.

So, Libby testified, he met Miller on July 8, 2003, at the St. Regis Hotel a few blocks from the White House; Libby testified he chose to meet at a hotel partly because he was sharing the information with Miller "exclusively."

Fitzgerald's filing was unclear on precisely what information Libby was allegedly authorized to share with Miller. It quoted Libby as saying that he understood that he was to tell the reporter that a key judgment of the National Intelligence Estimate was that Iraq was "vigorously trying to procure" uranium. The judgment eventually proved flawed.

Libby "testified 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," Fitzgerald's filing said.

The filing also said Libby disclosed to Miller a "classified" summary of the Wilson trip in which the former envoy acknowledged earlier Iraqi interest in obtaining uranium from Africa. It was unclear from the papers whether Cheney or Bush had authorized the dissemination of that information.

Despite the leak and possible scoop, Miller did not write a story. She later served 85 days in jail for refusing to divulge her conversations with Libby to the grand jury. She was released and testified.

Libby testified that a few days after his meeting with Miller, Cheney authorized him to discuss Wilson and the National Intelligence Estimate with other reporters, standing in for his usual spokeswoman.

Fitzgerald: Bush and Cheney at Heart of "Plamegate"

The meeting with Miller is considered crucial to the prosecution of Libby. Fitzgerald has alleged that Libby also gave Miller information that identified Plame at the meeting, and that he later lied to investigators about doing so, a charge central to his perjury case.

Fitzgerald suggests that if not for the president and vice president, the meeting with Miller might never have taken place and, by implication, Libby might not have been indicted.

The "critical conversation," Fitzgerald said in the filing, "occurred only after the vice president advised defendant that the president specifically had authorized defendant to disclose certain information" in the National Intelligence Estimate.

The estimate eventually was released to other reporters. The court filing notes that other administration figures, including Hadley, separately were working to formally declassify the estimate and other documents, in an effort to promote the administration rationale for war. The filing says Hadley was unaware Libby had been authorized by Bush to release the document.

Even as he was leaking the intelligence information to reporters, Libby was working behind the scenes to have White House officials issue a public statement exonerating him in the summer and fall of 2003, according to the court papers.

What was Karl Rove's Role?

According to Fitzgerald, Libby prepared a handwritten statement for White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan to tell reporters that Libby "did not leak classified information." He also urged McClellan to say that Libby was not the source for the Novak story that disclosed the identity of Plame and launched the investigation.

Fitzgerald noted that Libby knew then that White House political director Karl Rove — who remains a focus of the Fitzgerald investigation — had spoken to Novak.

McClellan subsequently issued a statement saying that Libby and Rove had "assured me that they were not involved in this."

Fitzgerald's filing is part of a battle over access to documents Libby says he needs to prepare for his trial, scheduled for January. Libby is seeking what Fitzgerald described as "nearly every document generated by four large executive-branch entities" relating to Wilson's Niger trip.

Fitzgerald is opposing the request as irrelevant to the question of whether Libby obstructed justice. He said in the filing Wednesday that some documents unearthed during his investigation and turned over to Libby "could be characterized as reflecting a plan to discredit, punish or seek revenge" against Wilson.

The filing also notes that Fitzgerald intends to call, in addition to two CIA officials, just one White House official to testify in the trial: former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, who will be asked to discuss his conversations with Libby in summer 2003 regarding Plame.weight: bold;">


NOTE TO READERS: With today's blockbuster "Friday News Extra," no new commentary by me will be posted this Sunday. My next blog article will be posted next Sunday, April 16.


Volume I, Number 20
Friday News Extra Copyright 2006, Los Angeles Times.
"'Skeeter Bites" Copyright 2006, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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Sunday, April 02, 2006

Cowardice and Denial on Capitol Hill Over Bush's Illegal Spying Program

Despite Warnings From a Key Watergate Figure, Democrats Turn Tail and Refuse to Back Feingold's Resolution to Censure Bush, While Republicans Remain in Deep Denial of His Abuse of Presidential Power

By Skeeter Sanders

It was a disgusting spectacle.

The Senate Judiciary Committee was hearing testimony last Friday from former White House counsel John Dean, who declared that President Bush's warrantless domestic spying program raised more concerns about abuse of Executive Branch power than the Watergate scandal that toppled his former boss, Richard Nixon, more than 30 years ago.

Dean was testifying on behalf of a seemingly futile bid by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) to censure Bush for his program of electronic eavesdropping without court approval that is part of his war on terrorism.

Dean declared that Bush's assertions of expansive executive power in waging it represented an "even more serious" threat to the Constitution than the misdeeds by Nixon and his aides."Had a censure resolution been issued about some of Nixon's conduct long before it erupted to the degree … that came, it would have been a godsend," he said.

Dean ought to know. He served time in prison for his role in Watergate. "I recall a morning -- March 21, 1973, to be precise -- that I tried to warn a president of the consequences of staying his course. I failed to convince President Nixon that morning and the rest, as they say, is history," he said.

Yet despite Dean's dead-on-target comparisons of abuses of presidential power by Nixon and Bush, his testimony was about as welcome as a 30-inch blizzard in the middle of July -- and not just among Republicans, who remain adamant in their refusal to recognize the fact that the warrantless eavesdropping is unconstitutional.

"I can only hope that this constitutionally suspect and, I believe, inflammatory attempt [by Feingold] to punish the president for leading this war on terror will not weaken his ability to do so," said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania), the Judiciary Committee's chairman, said he saw "no merit" to the resolution.

Today's Republicans Are a Disgrace to The GOPers Who Put Country Ahead of Party Over Nixon's Abuses. . .

Excuse me, Sen. Hatch, but since when is it "constitutionally suspect" to call a president into account for openly flouting a unanimous 1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that domestic electronic eavesdropping by the government without prior court approval is a violation of the Fourth Amendment?

Since when it is "constitutionally suspect" to call a president to account for violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act -- passed by Congress in 1978 in direct response to the outrageous abuses by the intelligence community during the Nixon era -- that explicitly requires prior court approval for domestic national security wiretaps and other eavesdropping?

And since when is it "constitutionally suspect" to rein in a president who is seeking to amass greater and greater power for the Executive Branch beyond what the Constitution allows -- and, I hasten to add, at the expense of the power and authority of the other two branches of government?

I accuse you -- Sen. Hatch, and your Republican colleagues -- of aiding and abetting illegal and unconstitutional activity by the Bush administration. Make no mistake: You are deliberately committing malfeasance by your refusal to force this president to obey the law and the Constitution that you are all bound by your oath of office to uphold and support -- and in the president's case, "preserve, protect and defend."

For this, you and your colleagues deserve nothing less than your removal from office by the voters in next November's election for your deliberate malfeasance. You are a disgrace to the legacy of the late Sen. Howard Baker, a moderately conservative Republican from Tennesee who, as the ranking GOP member of the Senate committee that investigated Watergate, is perhaps best remembered for asking, "what did the president know, and when did he know it?"

And you are a disgrace to the courage of the Republicans who served on the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate crisis, who -- when confronted with the overwhelming evidence of Nixon's abuses of power-- put the interests of the nation ahead of the interests of their party and voted in favor of three articles of impeachment against him.

. . . And Today's Democrats Are More Spineless Than the Cowardly Lion in 'The Wizard of Oz'

But don't think for a New York minute that I'm going to let Senate Democrats -- particularly Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada -- off the hook, either. Even more outrageous than the Republicans' denial of the Bush administration's illegal and unconstitutional actions is the Democrats' cowardly -- yes, I said cowardly -- refusal to support Feingold's censure resolution.

Yes, I dare say it: You, Sen. Reid and your Democratic colleagues are a bunch of spineless, gutless cowards!

Where, among the Judiciary Committee's Democrats, were Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California, Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Joe Biden of Delaware? Why have they refused to back Feingold's resolution? Why were they not even present at last Friday's hearing to listen to Dean's testimony?

To date, only two of Feingold's Democratic colleagues in the Senate support his censure resolution -- Patrick Leahy of Vermont (the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee) and Herb Kohl of Wisconsin. "I … have no hesitation in condemning the president for secretly and systematically violating the laws of the United States of America," Leahy said.

Yet even Kohl left the hearing room without so much as delivering an opening statement -- let alone questioning any of the witnesses. Where are your guts, Sen. Kohl? Did you leave them at home? You say you support Feingold's resolution, yet you don't stay at the hearing. What are you, a man or a mouse?

You Democrats sicken me to no end for your refusal to once and for all stand up to and tell the bully-boys of the GOP to go to hell. You don't have a dollop of courage whatsoever. You are more cowardly than the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. Even the Lion eventually found his courage. But you? In all likelihood, Tom Cruise will come out of the closet before you cowards finally stand up to Bush and the GOP.

So what if you're in the minority and don't have the votes to pass the Feingold resolution? The Republicans were in the minority in Congress when Nixon was president, yet they steeled up the courage to stand up for the Constitution and the rule of law -- and put the nation ahead of their party by supporting the impeachment resolutions aginst him.

Indeed, it was the near-total collapse of Republican support in Congress that prompted Nixon to resign after weeks of vowing that he would stay and fight it out to the bitter end.

If you Democrats haven't got the cojones to, at the very least, go on record demanding that Bush be held accountable for his illegal and unconstitutional domestic spying program, then you're worse than cowards. You're a bunch of castrated eunuchs and you need to step aside for new blood who do have the cojones to hold Bush accountable!

You milqetoasts are a disgrace to the legacy of the late Sen. Sam Ervin, a southern conservative Democrat from South Carolina who, as chairman of the Senate Watergate Committee, was doggedly relentless in his pursuit of the truth.

You're also a disgrace to the dozens -- if not hundreds -- of law-abiding Americans inside and outside the Nixon administration who put their careers -- and in some cases, their very lives -- on the line to expose the truth about Nixon's abuses of power.

There Will Be Hell to Pay Come November

Those GOP die-hards who stuck with Nixon to the bitter end paid the price in the 1974 election and got voted out of office. And I need not remind both parties in Congress that 2006 is a Capitol Hill election year.

As for today's Republicans, they've been drinking too much of Bush's electric Kool-Aid; they're disgustingly besotted with denial. To say that they're displaying a "see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil" attitude toward the administration's illegal eavesdropping is the understatement of this still-young century.

And for the Democrats, their cowardice in not standing up for the law and the Constitution and holding Bush accountable for his abuse of power will cost them dearly in Democratic primaries from coast to coast. As I wrote on this blog several weeks ago, the Democratic Party must reassert itself as a progressive party that is a fierce defender of the law and the Constitution that makes this country what it is.

But after this display of cowardice by the Democrats on Capitol Hill, it has become painfully obvious to this blogger that progressives must take back control of the Democratic Party, just as conservatives took control of the Republican Party more than two decades ago.

Progressives Must Take Back the Democratic Party

And that means progressives challenging Democratic incumbents in primaries who have refused to stand up for the law, the Constitution and the progressive principles that the majority of the party's constituent base believes in.

At the top of the list: Sen. Joe Leiberman of Connecticut, who is facing a serious primary challenger for the first time in his 24 years in the Senate. Leiberman can claim to be a loyal Democrat, but insofar as Bush's illegal domestic spying program is concerned -- not to mention several other hot-button social issues -- Leiberman is a closet Republican. I say throw the bum out and replace him with a real Democrat, a progressive Democrat -- one who's not afraid to stand up for progressive principles.

Another is Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who is seeking to unseat GOP incumbent Mike DeWine. The Democratic Party bigwigs greased the wheels for Brown by royally screwing progressive Paul Hackett -- an ex-Marine and Iraq War veteran. Progressives need to send the Democratic Party bigwigs a message by telling Brown to get lost -- even if it means that DeWine wins another six years in the Senate. I have more respect for a proven adversary than a dishonest, cowardly "ally."

It's time for progressives to show the Democratic Party bigwigs who the real Democrats are. I've said it before and I'll say it again: The Democrats cannot and will not win elections by copying the conservative ideology of the Republicans -- nor by failing to openly challenge it. They cannot and will not win elections by alienating their progressive base. Like it or not, progressives are the future of the Democratic Party; without them, the Democrats have no future.

If the Democrats don't have the testicular fortitude to force Bush to account for his illegal spying, then it's time for progressives to tell the Democratic Party to get lost. They've already done it here in my home state of Vermont by forming the Progressive Party in the mid-1990s. Now, the (capital-P) Progressives are Vermont's third major political party and a growing force to be reckoned with in state politics.

Perhaps it is time for the Progressive Party to seriously consider going national. There's nothing like the threat of serious competition from another party on its left flank to force the Democrats to return to their progressive principles. After all, it was the serious threat of conservatives in the 1980s to form a party to the right of the Republicans that forced the GOP to move rightward.

There is no center anymore. America is a permanently polarized, 50-50, left-right nation. It's time for the Democrats to accept this reality and adjust accordingly. The Republicans already did that years ago.


Volume I, Number 19
Copyright 2006, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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