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Squeezing Bush on his Prewar WMD Hype

When Senator Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the intelligence committee, promised in 2004 that his committee would investigate how Bush had used (or abused) the prewar intelligence on Iraq's WMDs--an unkept promise that led to the Democratic shutdown of the Senate this week--he made that promise to me.

Actually, what the Democrats did was not bring the Senate to a halt; much of the media mistakenly reported their action was a shutdown. Instead, the Senate Democrats, deploying the rarely used Rule 21, forced the Senate into a closed session--no TV cameras, no visitors, no reporters--in order to discuss (that is, complain about) Roberts' failure to produce the so-called Phase II report, which was supposed to examine whether Bush administration officials had misrepresented the prewar intelligence to whip up public support for the invasion of Iraq. With this maneuver, the Democrats cast attention on the GOP attempt to duck this issue, and pushed the Republicans to establish a bipartisan panel that would review the progress (or lack thereof) of the Phase II inquiry. This panel--which is investigating the investigation--is to report back to the rest of the Senate by mid-November.

But back to me. On July 9, 2004, Roberts' committee released a report on the prewar intelligence. It concluded that the intelligence had been botched and noted that the major conclusions of the intelligence community were "either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence report." The failure of the intelligence community was obvious in the weeks after the invasion. But what Roberts report did not investigate was whether Bush and his aides had hyped problematic intelligence. For instance, the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which was produced in October 2002, reported--errantly--that Iraq had an active biological weapons R&D program. Yet Bush in a speech declared that Iraq had "stockpiles" of biological weapons. Having an R&D program is not the same as possessing loads of ready-to-use weapons.

Roberts' investigation had ignored such exaggerations of the Bush administration. At that press conference, Senator Jay Rockefeller, the senior Democrat on the intelligence committee, pointed this out:

I have to say, that there is a real frustration over what is not in this report, and I don't think was mentioned in Chairman Roberts' statement, and that is about the--after the analysts and the intelligence community produced an intelligence product, how is it then shaped or used or misused by the policy-makers?

Roberts indicated that his committee would get to this in a second phase of the investigation, one that would not likely be finished until after the upcoming presidential election. Was that a coincidence? One intelligence committee staffer told me that such an inquiry could be completed within a month or two.

During the Q&A, Roberts called on me, and I asked:

Given that 800 American G.I.s have lost their lives so far, thousands have had serious injuries, lost limbs, all on the basis of false claims, and that American taxpayers have had to kick in almost $200 billion, don't the American public and the relatives of people who lost their lives have a right to know before the next election whether this administration handled intelligence matters adequately and made statements that were justified--before the election, not after the election?

No, Roberts essentially said. His actual response was this:

We simply couldn't get that done with the work product that we put out. And he has pointed out that that has a top priority. It is one of my top priorities. It's his top priority, along with the reform effort....It involves probably three things -- or at least three. One is the prewar intelligence on Iraq, which is what you're talking about. Secondly is the situation with the assistant secretary of defense, Douglas Feith, and his activity in regards to material that he provided with a so-called intelligence planning cell to the Department of Defense and to the CIA. And then the left one -- what is the last one? What's the third one? Help me with it....There is a third one, and I don't know why I can't come up with it right now. But, anyway, it is a priority. And, hey, I have told Jay, I have told everybody on the other side of the aisle, everybody on our side of the aisle, "We'll proceed with phase two. It is a priority." I made my commitment, and it will be done.

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Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on the Rove/Libby scandal, Samuel Alito and other in-the-news matters.

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Roberts has a rather elastic idea of what makes a commitment. After the election, his committee did little, if any, work on the Phase II project, as I reported last spring. Moreover, in March, Roberts declared that further investigation was pointless. He said that if his investigators asked Bush officials whether they had overstated or mischaracterized prewar intelligence, they'd simply claim their statements had been based on "bum intelligence." And he huffed, "To go though that exercise, it seems to me, in a postelection environment--we didn't see how we could do that and achieve any possible progress. I think everybody pretty well gets it." So after making a promise in July to get it done, he then decided to drop the ball. Democrats, including Rockefeller, protested. But they didn't make too much noise about this.

Then came Rule 21. The Democrats had considered calling on Rule 21 to initiate a closed session in 2004 to highlight the inaction on Phase II, according to a senior Democratic staffer. The staff of Senator Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader at the time (who would be defeated in the November election), had researched how to pull off such a maneuver. Daschle wanted to give Republican Senate majority leader Bill Frist advance notice of the move, but he never pulled the trigger.

This year, with Senator Harry Reid now leading the Democrats, the Democratic leadership decided not to be so polite and to invoke Rule 21 as a surprise. "The Democratic leadership had finally gotten to the point where--after sending letters to Roberts and holding meetings on this--they figured the only way to draw attention to the Phase II cop-out was to do this," the Democratic staffer says. "It also had the ancillary benefit of changing the subject from Alito to what Bush said to justify the war, and it served as a bridge between the Libby indictment and arraignment. It also made the point that Fitzgerald's investigation was a criminal investigation and was not designed to get into the question of whether Bush had misrepresented the intelligence. That's the job of Congress--or should be."

There's still no guarantee that Roberts and the Republicans will efficiently and vigorously tackle the Phase II assignment. According to a statement released by Rockefeller, the intelligence committee in February 2004 decided that Phase II would focus on five subjects. As he put it,

1. Whether public statements, reports, and testimony regarding Iraq by U.S. Government officials made between the Gulf war period and the commencement of Operation Iraqi Freedom were substantiated by intelligence information;

2. Pre-war intelligence assessments about post-war Iraq;

3. Any intelligence activities relating to Iraq within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, headed by Douglas Feith;

4. The use by the Intelligence Community of information provided by the Iraqi National Congress; and

5. The post-war findings about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and weapons programs and links to terrorism and how they compare with pre-war assessments.

This past spring, Roberts told me that the report would not only look at what Bush administration officials said about WMDs in Iraq before the war; it would also examine statements made by leading Democrats about Iraq prior to the war--presumably people like Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Bill Clinton, and John Edwards. Roberts' intent is obvious: to make it seem that everyone was wrong. Thus, Bush would deserve no blame. But Bush had ready access to all the intelligence, and it was his job to review it carefully and to represent it accurately to the American public before taking the country to war. Nevertheless, the Phase II report could become a spin job geared more toward distraction than disclosure.

With the Libby indictment as the backdrop, the Senate Democrats, thanks to Rule 21, did remind the public and the media that Bush's use of misinformation (or disinformation) to sell the war remains an open question. But this battle over the run-up to the war is far from over, and Phase II will likely not be the end of it.

John Conyers and Rosa Parks

The death last week of Rosa Parks at age 92 has inspired a predictableoutpouring of tributes from politicians of every partisan andideological bent. Even President Bush, a man who inspired the ire ofParks as far back as the mid-1990s, when she was campaigning againstcapital punishment in Texas, hailed the mother of the civil rightsmovement as "one of the most inspiring women of the 20th century" anddeclared that she had "transformed America for the better."

In their self-serving rush to praise Parks prior to her funderal today,a number of politicians displayed their complete ignorance of thewoman's history and her legacy. The worst of them was Senate MajorityLeader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, who said of the protest that sparkedthe Montogomery bus boycott of the 1950s and gave rise to thehigh-profile civil rights movement of the 1960s: "Rosa Parks' bold andprincipled refusal to give up her seat was not an intentional attemptto change a nation, but a singular act aimed at restoring the dignityof the individual."

Frist was, of course, wrong. Parks' refusal to give up her seat on thatbus was an intentional attempt to change a nation. At a time when theNational Association for the Advancement of Colored People was underattack in the segregated south, Parks was an elected official of herlocal NAACP branch from the 1940s on and an activist with Voters'League, a pioneering voting rights group in Alabama. Employed byClifford and Virginia Durr, who were among the most outspoken whitesupporters of civil rights in the south, Parks was trained at theHighlander Folk School and acted as an informed and intentionalactivist.

Parks would remain an activist across the years that followed herrefusal to give up that seat on the bus, as one of the electedofficials who paid tribute to her well knew.

U.S. Rep. John Conyers, the Detroit Democrat who is the senior memberof the House Judiciary Committee, was elected to Congress in 1964, theyear the Civil Rights Act was passed. He immediately hired Rosa Parksas a member of his staff.

Parks, whose political views mirrored those of the outspoken Conyers,would remain on the congressman's staff until her retirement in 1988.

Parks would remain close to Conyers, who recalled the other day that,when Nelson Mandela visited Detroit in 1990, the pair joined the SouthAfrican leader on stage.

Mandela got the crowd to join him in chanting "Rosa Parks!"

Conyers said that day with Mandela caused him to recognize a simpletruth: "Rosa Parks is worldwide."

Yet the icon was also a warm and generous human being. Thus, when RosaParks died, Conyers explained, "America lost a living legend; and I,along with countless others, lost a friend."

As a token of his respect for his former aide's accomplishments,Conyers always referred to her as "Mrs. Parks." But there was nothingformal about their friendship. She regarded him as the most importantpolitical leader in the many struggles that she waged--not just forcivil rights but for peace, economic justice and, in particular, an endto the death penalty.

The congressman regarded "Mrs. Parks" as something akin to a secularsaint, as his warm reflection on her passing makes abundantly clear:

We all knew that Mrs. Parks was frail. We always feared this moment,and now it is here. The extent to which she will be missed cannot bedignified with words.

She and her husband moved to Detroit in 1957, and I think it is fair tosay we bonded right away. Mrs. Parks was there with me at the beginningof my career as a Congressman in 1965 and worked for me as myadministrative assistant for next 20 years until her retirment in 1988.I am therefore one of the lucky few who have had the privilege of beingable to call her my colleague, as well as my friend.

As the mother of the new civil rights movement, she left an impact notjust on the nation, but on the world. And while she was an apostle ofthe nonviolence movement, Mrs. Parks never saw her self that way. Shenever sought the limelight and was never really a political figure atall. It was important to her that people understand the government andto understand their rights and the Constitution that people are stilltrying to perfect today.

Mrs. Parks will endure in my memory as an almost saint-like person. AndI use that term with care. She was very humble and soft-spoken, butinside she had a determination that was quite fierce. You treated herwith deference because she was so quiet, so serene.

There will only ever be one Rosa Parks..."

And there will only ever be one John Conyers.

Cronyism and Secrecy at the CPB

Scroll down for an update from Jeff Chester, one of America's leading media reform experts, re Kenneth Tomlinson's departure from the CPB board.

Early last month in this space, I wrote about the release of the CPB's Inspector General's report on on former CPB chair (and Bush crony) Kenneth Tomlinson's payments to a conservative consultant to rate the political leanings (and loyalties) of PBS guests.

Well, it seems that the IG is expected to present his findings--which reportedly include ethical and procedural violations as well as misuse of funds--Tuesday afternoon to a closed-door meeting of the CPB board of directors, of which Tomlinson remains a member. But, there are currently no plans to make this report public until November 15--after the CPB board has had the chance to vet and potentially alter the report.

In a letter delivered to CPB Chairwoman Cheryl Halpern and President Patricia de Stacy Harrison, a coalition of groups, including Free Press, the Center for Digital Democracy and Common Cause, called for the Inspector General's report to be made public immediately and criticized the board for further compounding its problems with transparency and accountability by reviewing the report in secret. Click here for more info and click here to read my earlier piece about how the CPB can begin providing the balance that its charter mandates.

Update, November 3

"It was time that Mr. Tomlinson stepped down. He has engaged in unethical, if not illegal, behavior. Tomlinson's departure however is unlikely to stop the behind the scenes programming pressure on PBS and perhaps NPR. Board chair Halpern and vice chair Gaines will continue Tomlinson's legacy to reshape public broadcasting more to the liking of conservatives.

Blame must be also shared by Ms. Halpern, Ms. Gaines and the other board members who condoned or supported Tomlinson's past actions. Did Ms. Halpern, for example, know and approve the Mann contract or the hiring of the Hill lobbyist? If so, they should resign as well. Mr. Tomlinson hand-picked choice for CPB Patricia Harrison will help them carry it out. CPB needs a thorough house cleaning. We await the IG report's release.

Mr. Tomlinson still remains head of the powerful Broadcasting Board of Governors. It is likely he resigned to help remain in that position."--Jeff Chester, Exec. Director, Center for Digital Democracy

Cheney, Libby and the Mess They Made

Much of official Washington remains focused on the issues -- legal and political -- that have arisen from the indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney who was a principal architect of the administration's approach to Iraq before and after the invasion and occupation of that distant land. This is as it should be: Libby and his former boss need to be held accountable for leading this country's military forces into a quagmire that has cost more than 2,000 American lives and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives.

The only problem with this otherwise healthy obsession with the investigation is that it draws attention away from the disaster that Cheney, Libby and their crew of neoconservative nutcases have created.

In addition to the rapidly mounting death toll -- 93 U.S. troops were killed in October, the highest casualty rate since January -- the insurgency's Tet offensive-level attacks within the capital city of Baghdad, and the degeneration of the trial of Saddam Hussein into a legal farce, there is the tragedy of the country's bumbled attempt to craft and implement a constitution.

Were any U.S. officials paying serious attention to the process -- as opposed to trying to spin it into something it is not -- they would acknowledge that Iraq is in a state of constitutional crisis. Even if the October 15 vote on the new Iraqi constitution were technically legitimate -- under the undemocratic rules adopted by its framers in order to guarantee a particular result -- it would have been hard to spin as a meaningful signal of progress toward democracy.

The details of the document were literally up for grabs until just days before the voting began, and not even the most over-the-top apologists for the process would dare suggest that the people of Iraq knew what they were voting on. More significantly, the vote took place while the country was occupied by a foreign force that deposed the previous government, that faces an open insurrection and that, by all accounts, shaped the character of the constitution more than did the Iraqis themselves.

But, of course, all this is beside the point, since the vote does not appear to have met the base standards of legitimacy.

Iraq's election commission was for the better part of a week forced to delay the release of the results as it investigated serious irregularities in the voting. The commission had to examine evidence of vote totals that did not appear to be credible -- including "unusually high" numbers of yes votes in provinces where there was widespread opposition to the constitution. Also of concern to the commission were reports that Iraqi police removed ballot boxes from districts where there was significant opposition to the constitution and that districts where there was more support for the document had recorded more votes than there were registered voters.

It is true that, after all the irregularities that were documented in the 2000 and 2004 U.S. presidential elections, the U.S. government lacks the authority that it once had in discussions of democracy. But the Bush administration and members of Congress should have been much more concerned about the evidence of fraud and corruption in what was supposed to be a definitional vote regarding Iraq's future.

As of now, questions about the legitimacy of the Iraq vote remain, especially after the release of "results" suggesting that the constitution was rejected by a majority of voters in three Iraqi provinces. That was the standard that was set for rejection of the plan, but because the constitution was not rejected by a supermajority in one of the provinces, it was determined to have been "approved."

The state of affairs is so troubling that claims by American supporters of the war that Iraq has passed another "milestone" lack even the bare minimum of credibility. The only way the new constitution can ever be considered a viable document, by the Iraqis or by honest observers from the rest of the world, is if all questions about the legitimacy of the process in general and the October 15 vote in particular are removed.

That has not happened. Concerns about stolen and stuffed ballot boxes remain. So, too, do equally serious questions about whether Iraqis were fully aware of the contents of a document that was in flux up until the eve of the vote, and about whether a country can or should try to define its future while under occupation.

Before U.S. officials can make grand claims about "progress" in Iraq, these are the issues that must be addressed.

If Iraq is every to become the stable, functioning democracy that not only President Bush but the vast majority of his critics would like to see emerge, the process must begin with the absolute assurance that elections are conducted in a manner that is transparent, fair and fully legitimate. In light of the scandalous manner in which the vote on the new constitution was conducted -- and the scandals that have arisen as a result -- no such assurance can be found.

An expanded paperback edition of John Nichols' biography of Vice President Dick Cheney, The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press: 2005), is available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com. The book features an exclusive interview with Joe Wilson and a chapter on the vice president's use and misuse of intelligence. Publisher's Weekly describes the book as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says it "reveals the inner Cheney."

A Grave Indictment, but Grave Questions Remain

If a senior White House official leaks classified information that identifies an undercover CIA officer to reporters in order to undermine a critic of the administration, he is not entitled to lie about it to FBI agents and a grand jury charged with the task of determining if such a leak violated the law. That was special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's message, as he held a dramatic press conference at the Justice Department to explain the five-count indictment his grand jury issued against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. "This is a very serious matter," he insisted.

The indictment charged Libby with two counts of making false statements to the FBI, two counts of committing perjury (by lying twice to the grand jury) and one count of obstruction of justice. All these charges referred to Libby's account of how he came to learn of Valerie Wilson, the undercover CIA official who was married to former ambassador Joseph Wilson, a White House critic, and who was outed in a July 14, 2003 Bob Novak column. During interviews with FBI agents and in his testimony before the grand jury, Libby--who, before the Novak column was published, told Judith Miller of The New York Times and Matt Cooper of Time that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA--repeatedly claimed that he was merely passing along information he had heard from other reporters. For instance, on March 5, 2004, Libby, answering questions about a July 12, 2003 conversation with Cooper, told the grand jury,

All I had was this information that was coming in from the reporters....I said, reporters are telling us that [about Valerie Wilson's employment at the CIA]. I don't know if it's true. I was careful about that because among other things, I wanted to be clear I didn't know Mr. Wilson. I don't know--I think I said, I don't know if he has a wife, but this is what we're hearing.

On March 24, 2004, Libby, in another appearance before the grand jury, said,

All I had was that reporters are telling us that, and by that I wanted them to understand it wasn't coming from me and that it might not be true....So I wanted to be clear they [the reporters to whom he spoke] didn't, they didn't think it was me saying it. I didn't know if it [the information about Valerie Wilson] was true, and I wanted them to understand that.

But, according to the indictment, Libby had actively gathered information on Joseph Wilson and his wife after newspaper stories appeared about a trip that Joseph Wilson had taken to Niger for the CIA in February 2002, during which he had concluded that the allegation that Iraq had been shopping there for weapon-grade uranium was highly dubious. In May 2003, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, using Wilson as a source, wrote about this trip without naming Wilson. The Washington Post did the same the following month. And on July 6, 2003, Wilson published an op-ed piece in the Times describing his mission to Niger and his findings, which undercut the Bush administration's use of the Niger allegation in making a case for war.

In late May 2003--after the first Kristof column and before Wilson went public with his op-ed--Libby asked Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman for information on the unnamed ambassador's trip to Niger. Grossman ordered the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research to prepare a report on the ambassador and the trip and subsequently told Libby that Wilson had been the ambassador. On June 9, 2003, according to the indictment, classified CIA documents that covered Wilson and the Niger trip (without mentioning Wilson by name) were faxed from the CIA to Libby. Two or three days later, Grossman told Libby, the indictment says, that "Wilson's wife worked at the CIA." About that time, Libby spoke with a senior CIA officer, who also informed Libby that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. Also about the time, the indictment states, Cheney told Libby that Wilson's wife was employed at the CIA in the counterproliferation division. This is an intriguing fact. Usually in Washington, principles ask their subordinates to dig up information for them. Apparently, Cheney was doing his own fact-finding on the Wilson front. The indictment does not explain what Cheney was up to or why. It notes that "Libby understood that the Vice President had learned this information from the CIA." Cheney had a back-channel behind his back-channel (Libby).

Libby was not done gathering information on Joseph and Valerie Wilson. On or about June 14, 2003--still weeks before Wilson's op-ed article appeared--Libby, according to the indictment, met with a CIA briefer and "discussed with the briefer, among other things, 'Joseph Wilson' and his wife 'Valerie Wilson' in the context of Wilson's trip to Niger." (Fitzgerald's use of quotation marks in this passage of the indictment suggests he has notes from this meeting.)

Libby, as depicted in the indictment, was aware of the sensitive nature of the material he had collected on the Wilsons. When an assistant asked if information on Wilson's trip could be shared with the press to rebut the charge that Cheney had sent Wilson to Niger (an allegation never made by Wilson, who had said that his trip was a response to a request that had come to the CIA from Cheney's office), Libby told his aide that he could not talk about this topic on a nonsecure telephone line.

Yet days later--on June 23, 2003--Libby met with Judy Miller and told her that Wilson's wife might work at the CIA. And the day after Joseph Wilson's op-ed piece appeared, Libby had lunch with White House press secretary Ari Fleischer and informed him that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA, adding that this was not widely known. That week, Libby twice more discussed Valerie Wilson with Miller. And on July 10 or 11, 2003, Libby, according to the indictment, spoke to a senior White House official--identified as "Official A" and possibly White House aide Karl Rove--who told Libby that earlier in the week he (Official A) had discussed Wilson's wife and her CIA employment with Novak, who would be writing a column about her.

If the indictment is correct, Libby was not only in the loop regarding Valerie Wilson and her connection to the CIA; he had helped to create it. Yet Fitzgerald's indictment quotes Libby declaring over and over he only had heard--and passed along--scuttlebutt received from other reporters. To prop up this cover story, Libby told the FBI agents that it had been NBC News' Tim Russert who had said to him that Valerie Wilson worked at the CIA and that "all the reporters knew it." Russert told the grand jury that he had not discussed Wilson's wife with Libby and that in this particular conversation Libby had complained to him about an MSNBC reporter (who goes unnamed in the indictment).

Libby appears to have concocted a rather clumsy cover story, especially in that he pointed to a specific reporter as his source--Russert--for the information on Valerie Wilson that he shared with Miller and Cooper. A reasonable assumption is that even if Libby was not a source for the Novak column that identified Valerie Wilson, he was attempting to distance himself--and perhaps Cheney--from the administration's effort to find and leak information on Wilson and his wife (even if it might be classified) to undercut Wilson's criticism. During the press conference, Fitzgerald noted that Libby was the first official who talked to a reporter about Valerie Wilson when he discussed her with Miller on June 23, 2003.

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Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on the CIA leak affair and other in-the-news matters.

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Fitzgerald's indictment of Libby seems rather tight. Libby said he knew nothing about Wilson's wife except what he had heard from reporters. Fitzgerald has compiled what looks like solid evidence that Libby was actively collecting information on Joseph Wilson and his wife. And if this case goes to trial, possible witnesses for the prosecution include Russert, Fleischer, Grossman, Libby's principle deputy, a CIA briefer, Official A, and Cheney. Libby could be sentenced up to 30 years if found guilty of all counts. Libby, the first senior White House official to be indicted since the Ulysses Grant administration, is in serious legal trouble.

Is anyone else? Fitzgerald's grand jury expired on Friday. But he has asked the presiding judge to keep a grand jury available for him because he has not completed his investigation. His probe, he said at the press conference, is "not quite done." Then he quickly added, "But I don't want to add to a feverish pitch. It's very, very routine that you keep a grand jury available for what you might need." He noted that the "substantial bulk of the work" has been completed. But he said, "Let's let the process take place."

How to read this? Not over, but mostly finished. Fitzgerald seemed a man who was rather close to the end of a long and tough endeavor, and he yielded no hint of any indictments to come. He certainly did not signal or say, "Stay tuned."

Does that mean this leak investigation could end only with Libby indicted--not for participating in the leak but for lying about his pre-leak actions? That's possible. And Fitzgerald, sticking to the rules of grand jury investigations, refused to reveal any information about the case that was not included in the indictment. Who were Novak's sources for the leak? Fitzgerald wouldn't say. Is Official A a new name for Mr. X--the term used by reporters to refer to Novak's original source? Fitzgerald didn't say. Might Rove be Official A? Fitzgerald didn't say. Why did the leak refer to Valerie Wilson by her maiden name of Plame? Fitzgerald didn't say. What sort of cooperation did Fitzgerald receive from Novak (who presumably spilled all to Fitzgerald, otherwise he would have landed in the slammer like Miller)? Fitzgerald didn't say. Was Cheney in cahoots with Libby regarding the latter's false testimony? Fitzgerald didn't say. How much damage was done to the CIA and its operations by the leak? Fitzgerald didn't say. What about George W. Bush? What did he know about Rove's involvement in the leak and when did he know it? No reporter at the press conference even asked about this.

Fitzgerald did not share much beyond the information he had to disclose in order to indict Libby. He did declare that "the fact that Valerie Wilson was a CIA officer was classified...but it was not widely known outside the intelligence community" and that "her cover was blown" by the Novak column. (So much for the goofy rightwing conspiracy theory that I colluded with Joseph Wilson after the Novak column to out Valerie Wilson as an undercover CIA operative. If you don't know about that, don't ask.) And he passionately countered the pre-indictment criticism from Republicans and others who argued that bringing perjury and obstruction of justice charges--rather than accusing anyone of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act or other laws that apply to leaking classified information--would be a cheap shot or an act of prosecutorial overreaching. He explained that he and his investigators were assigned the job of investigating the unauthorized disclosure of classified information and determining if any laws--not one particular statute, such as the Intelligence Identities Protection Act--were violated. In such an inquiry, he said, "fine distinctions" are critical, and consequently, it is "important that the witnesses who come before a grand jury, especially the witnesses who come before a grand jury who may be under investigation, tell the complete truth." In this probe, that included Libby.

Fitzgerald indicated he had considered the possibility of charging leakers with violating the Espionage Act, which makes it a crime for government officials to disseminate classified information--to unauthorized individuals. Using the Espionage Act in this manner, some media and legal experts have claimed, would lead to an Official Secrets Act, but Fitzgerald said he didn't accept that analysis. Still, he called this act "a difficult statue to interpret." And he chose not to indict anyone--yet--for violating it. He also defended his choice to pursue Miller and Cooper and to seek Miller's imprisonment, citing a special need for their testimony. ("I do not think that a reporter should be subpoenaed anything close to routinely," he said.) When asked about detractors who have accused him of being partisan, he replied, "for which party?"

Fitzgerald knows far more than what is in the Libby indictment. But the American public may never learn what he has uncovered. There might be no further indictments, and Fitzgerald dismissed the idea of writing a final report. He said that he does not have the authority to issue such a document--and that he does not believe a special counsel should have that authority. Independent counsels used to have the obligation to craft a final report that detailed their investigation and findings and explained decisions to prosecute and not prosecute. But the independent counsel law expired, and Fitzgerald is operating as a special counsel pursuant to Justice Department rules that do not provide for the production of a final report and that do compel prosecutors to keep grand jury material that is not used for an indictment or trial confidential. Feeling the reporter's pain, Fitzgerald remarked, "I know that people want to know whatever it is we know....We just can't do that....We either charge someone or we don't talk about them."

Which means that after the government has paid for a two-year investigation, the public may be left in the dark about much of what happened in the leak case. The leakers may never be held accountable. Rove's role, Bush's knowledge, Cheney's potential involvement--all of that could remain a secret, even though Fitzgerald has apparently dug deep and unearthed much of the tale. When a reporter asked Fitzgerald if he had learned how Washington works, he replied, "Yes," and said no more.

The Libby indictment does stand as a significant development. Libby was an influential aide for an influential veep in an administration that has often been accused of lying to get its way--such as during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. And he has been charged with putting himself above the law and undermining an investigation initiated by his administration's Justice Department. On January 22, 2001, Bush, while swearing in the new White House staff, said, "We must remember the high standards that come with high office. This begins with careful adherence to the rules. I expect every member of this administration to stay well within the boundaries that define legal and ethical conduct. This means avoiding even the appearance of problems. This means checking and, if need be, double-checking that the rules have been obeyed. This means never compromising those rules....We are all accountable to one another. And above all, we are all accountable to the law and to the American people."

Libby, who quickly resigned after the indictment was released, has fallen. But Rove, who also leaked classified information by passing information on Wilson's wife to Cooper and Novak, has violated White House rules and Bush's self-proclaimed standards, if not the law itself. He has not been held accountable yet, and that task may be beyond Fitzgerald's reach. Nor have Bush and Rove explained why the White House misled the public when it denied Rove and Libby were involved in the leak. Neither have accepted responsibility for that. As for Libby, Bush, in a brief statement, said he was "saddened" by the news of his indictment. He said nothing about the ethical standards of his White House.

In politics and policy, lying is not always illegal. And it's easy to see why officials in this White House might think they can escape being held accountable for prevaricating. But Libby seems to have lied to the wrong guy in the wrong forum. "Truth is the engine of our judicial system," Fitzgerald declared while explaining the gravity of the Libby indictment. And this is a grave indictment. It just doesn't answer many grave questions that still remain in the CIA leak affair.

Dear Scooter, From Dick

October 28, 2005

MR. I. LEWIS LIBBY
c/o MR. JOSEPH A. TATE, ESQ.
DECHERT LLP

Dear Scooter,

Your counsel, and you, are missed. Like many White House officials implicated in this case, I admire your principled stand. But, like many of your co-conspirators, I wish you were back among the rest of us, doing what you do best--trashing critics of this administration.

A few days ago, your counsel, Mr. Tate, asked that I repeat for you the waiver of omerta that I specifically gave to your counsel over a year ago. His request surprised me, because I thought we had an understanding that I dare not mention except on a secure line. But since this is an official letter, let me reassure you that you are absolutely free to repeat any discussions we may have had related to the Wilson-Plame matter. Absolutely. Free. Absolutely.

In the spirit of your counsel's and the Special Counsel's request, I would like to dispel any remaining concerns you may have that circumstances forced this waiver upon me. As noted in our previous correspondence, my lawyer confirmed my waiver to other White House staffers in just the way he did with your lawyer. Why? Because, as I am sure this will not be news to you, the public report of every other staffer's testimony makes clear that they did not discuss Ms. Plame's name or identity with me, or knew about her before you blabbed. I waived the privilege voluntarily to cooperate with the Special Prosecutor, but also because the smart staffers' testimony served my best interests. Call it the Rove Corollary. I believed a year ago, as now, that similar testimony by all will be in the best interest of all.

I admire your principled fight against the five indictments. But for my part, this is the rare case where this "principal" would be better off if you plead guilty. That's one reason why I let George accept your resignation. If you find a way to testify about the discussion we had relating to the Wilson-Plame matter, if any, I would be very interested in who your cellmate will be.

You were indicted in the fall. It is still fall. You fell down the stairs and broke your foot. Now you don't walk so good. It would be terrible if you fell down the stairs again and broke your skull. Others can cover up our stories--Iraqi WMD and the energy task force, Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning. They turn in clusters, because their unbroken roots connect them. Do the thirty years. At least you still have your health.

Until then, you will remain in my prayers and under surveillance.

With admiration,
DICK CHENEY

Patrick Fitzgerald: It's Not Over

The most intriguing news with regard to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation of the apparent effort by the Bush-Cheney administration to punish former Ambassador Joe Wilson for revealing how the White House deceived the American people about the threat posed by Iraq is not the indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff.

Make no mistake, it is exceptionally significant that Cheney's closest aide and political confidante over the past two decades, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, has been charged with two counts of making false statements to federal agents, two counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice for misleading and deceiving the grand jury about how he learned that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a Central Intelligence Agency operative.

Of course, it matters that Fitzgerald's office says Libby lied "about how and when in 2003 he learned and subsequently disclosed to reporters then-classified information concerning the employment of Valerie (Plame) by the Central Intelligence Agency." Of course it matters that, in response to these indictments, one of the most powerful players in Washington -- the right-hand man of the vice president, a pioneering champion of the neo-conservative worldview and a principal architect of the war with Iraq -- has resigned from his positions with the administration.

But what matters most are the questions that the Libby indictment has raised with regard to Cheney's actions?

Let's be clear: If the Libby indictment and resignation is all that comes of Fitzgerald's two-year-long investigation into a case that touches on fundamental questions of government accountability, abuse of power and the dubious "case" that was made for going to war in Iraq, then this whole matter will be no more that a footnote to the sorry history of the Bush-Cheney era.

But Libby indictment is not necessarily all that will come of this investigation.

As Fitzgerald said during his press conference Friday, "It's not over."

Fitzgerald was extremely cautious about what he meant by that statement. But he did confirm that he will be keeping the "(grand)jury open to consider other matters."

But, while Fitzgerald made the predictable announcement that that the "substantial work" of the investigation was done, the fact that the grand jury remains empaneled makes it reasonable to suggest, or at the very least to hope, that we have reached the Churchillian moment when it can be said: "This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

There will be those who are excited by the prospect that an extended investigation might actually "get" White House political czar Karl Rove, who has long been a subject of the inquiry but was spared indictment Friday. That's very possible, as Fitzgerald has reportedly informed Rove's lawyers that he is still under investigation.

But this will never be the inquiry that it can and should be if it merely tags Libby and Rove for wrongdoing.

The fundamental responsibility of the special prosecutor, and the one that he now has an opportunity to pursue, is to determine whether the Bush-Cheney administration set out to punish Wilson for exposing the fact that the president and the vice president had deliberately and dramatically inflated claims regarding Iraqi programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. Even David Gergen, the former adviser to presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton who is as cautious as the come in these matters, says that the indictments that have now been obtained in the case "raise questions about whether criminal acts were perpetrated to help get the country into war."

The Congress and the media, which should have served as watchdogs on the administration before and after the start of the war, failed in their duty. And, while it is now commonly accepted that the president and the vice president stretched the truth to the breaking point in their feverish campaign to win support for action against Iraq, the specific details of the administration's abuse of intelligence materials have yet to be adequately established. It is in the establishment of those details, and the facts surrounding them, that it becomes possible to understand why so many powerful people were so determined to destroy Wilson's reputation and that of his wife. It is, as well, where questions about the precise roles of the president and the vice president in this whole sordid affair can, and must, be clarified.

Some details with regard to the vice president's role have been revealed. The indictment indicates that Cheney was one of the first federal official who spoke with Libby about the identity of Joe Wilson's wife. "On or about June 12, 2003, Libby was advised by the Vice President of the United States that Wilson's wife worked at the Central Intelligence Agency in the Counterproliferation Division," it explains. "Libby understood that the Vice President had learned this information from the CIA."

The document goes on to point out that several of Libby's most controversial calls to reporters appear to have taken place following conversations with Cheney. "On or about July 12, 2003," the indictment says, "Libby flew with the Vice President and others to and from Norfolk, Virginia, on Air Force Two. On his return trip, Libby discussed with other officials aboard the plane what Libby should say in response to certain pending media inquiries, including questions from Time reporter Matthew Cooper."

The indictment does not detail what was discussed in those conversations, and it does not get into who said exactly what. But it does note that Libby called both Cooper and Judith Miller of the New York Times, and that the Wilson's wife was discussed during both those conversations.

Fitzgerald is careful to say, "We make no allegation that the vice president committed any criminal act." But, as he explained, that is the "standard" response to questions regarding individuals who have not been indicted.

A review of the documents surrounding the Libby indictment leaves little doubt that there are still many questions to be answered, and that at least some of those questions should relate to the actions of the highest-ranking officials in the administration.

This is why 40 members of the U.S. House have urged Fitzgerald to expand the inquiry to examine whether Bush, Cheney and members of the White House's Iraq War Group conspired to deceive Congress into authorizing the war – thus committing the federal crime of lying to Congress. Of course, there will be those who argue that such an investigation would be too broad an extension of the special prosecutor's brief. But that's just the latest line from those who have always wanted to close down this inquiry.

The simple fact is that, if Patrick Fitzgerald wants to get to the truth about who was behind the attempt to discredit Wilson and Plame, he has to examine the reason why the White House cared so very much about what was said regarding the use and misuse of intelligence. That is the examination that Fitzgerald can and should now begin.

John Nichols' biography of Vice President Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President (The New Press, 2004) is currently available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com. An expanded paperback version of the book, which Publisher's Weekly describes as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says "reveals the inner Cheney," will be available this fall under the title, The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press).

CIA Leak Scandal: Indictments

Five counts against Scooter Libby. Making false statements to federal agents (twice). Perjury (twice). And obstruction of justice for misleading and deceiving the grand jury about how he had learned about Valerie Wilson. I'm off to the press conference being held by Patrick Fitgerald. I'll be back soon.

The High Cost of Low Price

(I'm heading off to the Green Festival in San Francisco today (Nov. 4), so ActNow will take a breather until Tuesday, November 8. In the meantime, please take the time to read the archives, watch for new Nation online commentary on Wal-Mart coming soon and use the comments field to let me know about other campaigns/issues you think I should be highlighting.)

"Is Wal-Mart going wobbly?"

In his Washington Post column yesterday, Harold Meyerson tried to make sense of some unexpected recent moves by America's largest and most reviled company.

First, Wal-Mart announced plans to soon start offering more affordable health insurance to its employees. Then the company pledged to shift to more environmentally responsible policies and to start monitoring the health and safety practices of its foreign suppliers. Finally, advocates of raising the minimum-wage--stagnant since 1997--received a powerful and unexpected new ally in Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott, who called on Congress to act now to raise wages nationwide.

It seems to me that these initiatives ought to be applauded. Wal-Mart is feeling the heat and reacting accordingly. (The company's share price is down 13 percent.) And this is largely a result of determined organizing dedicated to detailing Wal-Mart's role as the linchpin of the low-wage, no-benefit economy. Activist groups like Wake-Up Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart Watch should take a bow.

Also at play, as Meyerson points out, is Scott's correct assessment of his own self-interest. "Wal-Mart is bumping up against a serious problem at least partly of its own making: Because it pitches its products to a disproportionately low-income clientele, its revenue rises and falls with the fortunes of the lower end of the American working class."

So when the working class is getting royally screwed, Wal-Mart will eventually feel the pain too. (Scott could, of course, raise his own workers' wages, but he dismissed that out-of-hand, saying that he's operating "in a very competitive business climate.")

So the goal for activists now is to keep up the pressure. Scott is smartly showing that he's not immune to public pressure. And that pressure is about to get worse as award-winning filmmaker Robert Greenwald's new documentary, The High Cost of Low Price, on Wal-Mart is now out and available. The film is a powerful, emotional and entertaining way to help trigger change in the way America's largest company conducts business in the US and across the globe. It has the potential to raise much more awareness about what's wrong with Wal-Mart and why--which is the reason that The Nation is part of a national network supporting and promoting the release of the documentary. (It's also a really good movie!)

This film will educate, inspire and motivate viewers and with your assistance, it will be an important part of the campaign to make Wal-Mart a better company. Here's how you can help:

Pre-order the DVD.

Sign up today to host a screening.

RSVP to attend a screening in your neighborhood.

Download and distribute promo material about the film.

Watch and circulate the film's trailer.

And, if you're in the New York City area, check out the film this Tuesday, November 1, at a special premiere, co-sponsored by The Nation, featuring talks by Greenwald and SEIU President Andy Stern. All proceeds go to benefit the Fight to Keep New York Wal-Mart Free. Click here for special pricing information.

Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price will debut in a limited theatrical run in NY and LA theaters on November 4th and will expand wide on November 13th to over 3,000 screenings nationwide in theaters, churches, colleges, community centers and living rooms in the largest grassroots mobilization in movie history. Click here for info.