Sunday, May 14, 2006

Cheney's handiwork

Would Libby ever flip on Cheney? John Dean of Watergate fame didn't seem to think so. After Mary Cheney's glowing remarks on Larry King Live about what a close and great friend of the family Scooter was, an indirect communique that I'm sure wasn't missed by Libby or his lawyers, Scooter must figure he has a pardon or (*cough*) gobs of money to compensate him handsomely if he's convicted next year. That potential outcome appears more and more inevitable. Since Fitzgerald has insisted on jail time--no plea deal--and based on the May 12 filing by the Special Counsel, the government's case thus far makes Scooter look guilty as sin. But Libby isn't alone.

The Fitzgerald filing places Cheney once again at the center of the CIA leak scandal, the Veep Creep having hand-printed notes across a copy of Joe Wilson's op/ed, a column that criticized the Bush Administration's rationale for war and disputed its Iraq-Niger uranium connection. After reading the news story on the Newsweek website, I scanned several recent reports for differences. The NYTimes, the newspaper that printed Wilson's July 6, 2003, column, "What I Didn't Find in Africa," provided these intriguing nuances:

In neat writing above the text of the column, prosecutors say, Mr. Cheney wrote: "Have they done this sort of thing before? Send an Amb. 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?"
The legal papers do not address how prosecutors know it is Mr. Cheney's handwriting or when the notes were written. A spokesman for the vice president could not be reached for comment Saturday night.
Mr. Fitzgerald wants to use the notations to support the prosecution's contention that Mr. Libby lied to investigators and a grand jury when he testified that he had learned of Ms. Wilson's existence from reporters. Prosecutors have said that Mr. Libby, who has been charged with perjury, learned about Ms. Wilson's role from several people, including Mr. Cheney.
The notes, included in a brief filed late Friday and first reported on Saturday by Newsweek magazine on its Web site, add new detail to what is already known about Mr. Cheney's interest in rebutting the assertions in Mr. Wilson's column.
In addition, the notes add to evidence in the case showing that Mr. Cheney and his aides viewed Mr. Wilson's article with deep concern and looked for ways to counter its impact. Previous prosecution filings have said the article was viewed as a direct assault on the administration's policy and provoked efforts to discredit Mr. Wilson.
The neatness of Cheney's handwriting fascinates me as if the notes were carefully penned for a reason. Emptywheel presents a compelling argument that the annotation was disingenuously contrived to communicate a GOP talking point that Wilson's wife sent him on the "junket" or "boondoggle," an implication that was politically convenient and incidentally spread by Libby, Rove, faithful red-staters, and news media to discredit Wilson. With Fitz' addition of Cheney's "Exhibit A" in his filing, as Emptywheel wrote:
...Fitzgerald is clearly communicating to Dick that he has evidence Dick conceived of the terms of the smear, ordered Libby to implement it, and possibly extended it after receiving warning of the repercussions of it.
Of the news accounts on Cheney's handwritten notes, NYTimes is the only one I've read that contains the neatness detail, according to "prosecutors," and raises the question of "how prosecutors know it is Mr. Cheney's handwriting or when the notes were written." Nowhere in the 10 pages of the May 12 Fitzgerald filing can I find a single reference to the "neat" handwriting of Dick Cheney, how prosecutors know Dick wrote those notes other than assuming they have handwriting examples for comparison, or when Dick actually wrote them. Does the filing statement, "the article reflects the contemporaneous reaction of the Vice President to Mr. Wilson's Op Ed article," mean on the day of, within 24 hours, a week, or shortly thereafter? Curious. Clever Fitz wouldn't tip his hand. He said as much in the footnote on page one. However, I agree with Emptywheel's conclusion that Fitz is telegraphing he has evidence on Cheney. Perhaps the prosecutor is also planting doubt in Cheney's mind about Libby's loyalty while signaling to Rove to flip on Cheney if he knows anything before it's too late.

Today's WaPo reports:
The filing by special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald is the second that names Cheney as a key White House official who questioned the legitimacy of Wilson's examination of Iraqi nuclear ambitions. It further suggests that Cheney helped originate the idea in his office that Wilson's credibility was undermined by his link to Plame.
Fitzgerald's filing states that Cheney passed the annotated article by Wilson to his chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who Fitzgerald says subsequently discussed Wilson's marriage to Plame in conversations with two reporters, despite the fact that Plame was a covert CIA officer and her name was not supposed to be revealed....
Fitzgerald does not allege in his filing that Cheney ordered Libby to disclose Plame's identity. But he states that Cheney's note to Libby helps "explain the context of, and provide a motive for" many of the later statements and actions by Libby....
Wilson's credibility became a key issue for the White House because the results of his probe into Iraq's nuclear program surfaced when the administration had already been hit by charges it had distorted intelligence before invading Iraq. Wilson had concluded after taking a CIA-sponsored trip to Niger two years earlier that evidence of Iraqi attempts to acquire nuclear weapons materials there was dubious.
Libby has not said in grand jury testimony that Cheney instructed him to leak Plame's name, according to a court filing by Libby's attorneys last month. His attorneys have also said that Plame's role in the matter was of peripheral interest to the White House, a circumstance that explains why he may have forgotten exactly what he said to reporters about Plame. Libby's attorneys have also said they will attempt to demonstrate at trial that Plame's identity was known by many officials in Washington and that Libby had no special reason to believe her identity was protected information.
Fitzgerald, in contrast, spelled out in his new filing that it was an article about Wilson's trip in the New Republic that prompted Libby to discuss the matter with a former colleague, Eric Edelman. During that conversation, Libby said he could not talk about the trip because of "complications" at the CIA that could not be discussed on the telephone, Fitzgerald states -- evidently based on Edelman's statements.
Fitzgerald also says in the filing that after columnist Robert D. Novak published the first newspaper article mentioning Plame's name on July 14, 2003 -- the disclosure that sparked Fitzgerald's investigation -- a CIA official discussed in Libby's presence "the dangers posed by disclosure of the CIA affiliation of one of its employees."
This conversation, Fitzgerald said, directly undermines Libby's claims that he had no reason to believe he or others had done anything wrong and had no reason to lie to the FBI. It also helps explain, Fitzgerald said, why Libby told a grand jury he thought Wilson was fully qualified to go on the trip and he was unsure if Wilson was even married.
The new filing also expands on Fitzgerald's revelation last month that Libby had disclosed portions of a previously classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq by describing portions of it to a Times reporter. It states that Libby also provided -- "through another government official" -- a copy of portions of the NIE to the Wall Street Journal before it published a July 17, 2003, editorial on that subject.
Libby's authorization to reveal the classified NIE came from Cheney according to Scooter's GJ testimony. And "only hours after Cheney reportedly instructed Libby to disclose information from the CIA report," Scooter leaked Valerie Plame's CIA identity to Judith Miller at the NYTimes and Matt Cooper at Time Magazine explaining that "she [had] been involved in selecting her husband for the Niger mission."
Both Libby and Cheney have repeatedly insisted that the vice president never encouraged, directed, or authorized Libby to disclose Plame's identity. In a court filing on April 12, Libby's attorneys reiterated: "Consistent with his grand jury testimony, Mr. Libby does not contend that he was instructed to make any disclosures concerning Ms. Wilson [Plame] by President Bush, Vice President Cheney, or anyone else."
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 was outed as a covert CIA officer the vice president was deeply involved in the White House effort to undermine her husband.
If Libby won't flip, holding out for a Cheney quid pro quo, there's Karl Rove whose self-delusional invincibility, I believe, will be shattered by indictments. Bush's wimpy approval ratings and the unpopularity of Dick Cheney might prompt Bush's Brain, especially under the threat of prosecution, to plea bargain, flip on Dick discreetly and perhaps spin the machination with stars and stripes--the veep was defending the preznit against Wilson's attempt to stunt momentum on the WoT, blah, blah, blah. Rove could rid the WH of its Veep Creep liability by forcing Cheney to resign and bring in fresh veep meat for 2008. Ha! Take that Hillary. All trussed up with presidential pardons for the felons.

Yeah, I'm speculating as others have, Jeralyn at TalkLeft and Emptywheel, plus countless other bloggers. But it's oh, so fun to do. Like constructing a Tom Clancy plot.