Quantcast

The Nation

Pelosi, Planes and Partisan Propaganda

Republican apologists for the Bush administration's failed fight in Iraq and their amen corner in the media have been looking for something, anything, to distract the American public from a necessary discussion about the need to end the U.S. occupation of that country. They finally settled last week on the "scandal" involving House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's mode of transporation.

Pelosi, a California Democrat, was informed as she prepared to assume the speakership -- a position that places her third in the line of succession to the presidency -- that she could no longer travel as she previously had: on commercial airlines. She would, she was informed, have to fly as former Speaker Dennis Hastert had on a secure Air Force plane. So it was that, upon becoming speaker, Pelosi accepted her new circumstance and agreed to use a military plane with a fuel capacity that would allow for cross-country travel without stops.

That's not exactly the stuff of scandal. But, after an apparent "leak" from the Bush administration's Department of Defense to the White House-friendly Washington Times newspaper, the Times last week ran a story headlined: "Pelosi's Power Trip -- Non-stop Nancy Seeks Flight of Fancy."

Fox News jumped on the story, followed by other cable networks. The Republican National Committee stoked it with emails to reporters and briefing papers supposedly exposing Pelosi's imperial style -- and ambitions. The predictable Sean Hannity declared that Pelosi "thinks she's the president" -- seemingly unaware that by referencing the presidency he was acknowledging his own dear leader's regal pretensions.

Republican members of the House actually brought the issue up on the floor of a chamber that should have been focused on the question of how and when to end a war that began as Dick Cheney's "power trip" and George Bush's flight of fancy" but has since turned into an international disaster.

House Republican Conference chair Adam Putnam, of Florida accused Pelosi of displaying "an arrogance of office that just defies common sense."

House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, of Missouri, referred to the plane Pelosi would likely use as a "flying Lincoln Bedroom."

North Carolina Congressman Patrick T. McHenry, arguably the most consistently hysterical member of an increasingly hysterical caucus, described the speaker's plane as "Pelosi One," and declared that, "This is a bullet point to a larger value -- Pelosi's abuse of power continues.

McHenry accused the speaker of "exploiting America's armed forces and taxpayers for her own personal convenience."

Yikes! This was the Republican spin machine churning at full throttle.

There was only, er, one problem.

The charge that Pelosi was abusing her position was a complete fabrication.

The speaker did not request a bigger or better plane.

It was the man in charge of making security arrangements for members of the Congress who made the request.

House Sergeant at Arms Bill Livingood has confirmed that, for security reasons, he asked that Pelosi be provided with an Air Force plane that could make the trip from Washington to San Francisco without stopping to refuel.

"The fact that Speaker Pelosi lives in California compelled me to request an aircraft that is capable of making non-stop flights for security purposes, unless such an aircraft is unavailable," Livingood explained in a written statement. "I regret that an issue that is exclusively considered and decided in a security context has evolved into a political issue."

Livingood, who has served as sergeant at arms for 11 years, made similar arrangements for past speakers.

That was something the Republican National Committee and its media echo chamber could have discovered simply by contacting the Office of the Sergeant at Arms.

It is something that Republican Representatives Putnam, Blunt and McHenry should have known.

In fact, if this Congress had nothing else on its agenda, it might well be appropriate to inquire into whether Putnam, Blunt and McHenry used their positions to engage in a deliberate conspiracy to deceive the American people for partisan purposes.

But Congress has a higher calling. It is time to put aside the distractions and get focused on the discussion about war and peace that the administration and its acolytes on Capitol Hill are so determined to avoid.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Rich Get Greedier

Most Nation readers couldn't have missed ExxonMobil's recent announcement that in 2006 it reaped the largest annual profits of any corporation in history--39.5 billion dollars.

But what may be missed beneath the headlines is that unlike most of its competitors, ExxonMobil is avidly opposed to renewable energy and is actively working to undermine action on climate change. That means that at a time when the oil industry is starting to invest in alternatives to fossil fuel, CEO Rex Tillerson is poised to pump his profits right back into polluting oil and gas projects, lobbying against solutions to global warming, and funding front groups and junk science to confuse the public.

At the recent Davos meetings Tillerson told the business crowd that "even if renewable energy production grows at double digit rates, it will remain less than two percent of world energy supplies." (Well, yes, if companies don't invest in its development. Moreover, current calculations by the Renewable Energy Policy Network show that renewable energy already supplies roughly four percent of world power.)

Meanwhile, ten corporate giants, including Duke Energy, GE, Alcoa, PG&E and oil giant BP, have announced their broad support for mandatory reductions of global warming pollution. ExxonMobil, which typically outspends its competitors in the industry on lobbyists, reiterated its intentions to continue lobbying against such solutions.

What to do? Take your cues from ExposeExxon. The coalition has launched an innovative campaign to highlight the broad and deep opposition to ExxonMobile's adamant refusal to invest in or support solutions to global warming. Take a whiteboard or white piece of paper and using BIG letters, write a personal message to CEO Tillerson, then upload it to the ExposeExxon site. Check out photos people have already put up for an idea of what to do. There are already more than two hundred pictures.

If you're camera-shy you can still click here to tell your members of Congress to eliminate billions of dollars in tax breaks for Exxon and support bills that ensure reductions in global warming pollution; click here to join your name to a petition to Tillerson, and click here to support the campaign. Finally, read this report to see why so many public interest groups are joining together to target what they see as Exxon's particularly irresponsible behavior.

Ethnomusicologists Against Torture

Professional associations can be unaccountable, self-interested and reactionary. (It was the American Medical Association that almost single-handedly killed national health insurance during the Truman years.) But at a time when so many independent sources of civic power have been weakened, many have acquitted themselves quite well, and proven to be indispensable counter points to Bushism. The American Medical Association banned doctors from participating in the interrogations at Guantanamo, and the American Bar Association has been outspoken in asserting the detainees' legal rights. Now, the latest professional association to chime in: ethnomusicologists condemn using music for torture. Don't laugh. Blasting music non-stop, like sleep deprivation is sadistic. Kudos to the ethnomusicologists.

Libby Trial: Prosecution Rests--Strongly

It was Hail Mary time for Ted Wells, an attorney for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, as the prosecution moved toward resting its case in the perjury trial of Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff. On Thursday, Meet the Press anchor Tim Russert was back on the stand to be cross-examined by Wells. The previous day, Russert had kicked Libby's cover story in the groin. He had disputed Libby's claim that in the days before the leak that outed Valerie Wilson as a CIA officer he (Libby) had learned about her CIA connection not from official sources but from Russert. No way, the newsman said. The Russert call is critical for Libby, who has maintained he never shared official (that is, classified) information about Valerie Wilson with other reporters and only passed along gossip he had picked up from Russert. But on the stand Russert stuck to his version: he didn't say anything to Libby about Wilson's wife during a phone call on July 10 or 11, 2003, because he knew nothing about Wilson's wife until the leak appeared in a July 14 Robert Novak column.

So what was Wells to do? He started off Wednesday by taking shots at Russert's memory. (See here.) He made little progress. On Thursday, he tried to undermine Russert's credibility on other fronts. Wells attempted to make an issue of the fact that until Russert appeared as a witness in this trial he had never divulged publicly that he had talked to the FBI about the CIA leak investigation in November 2003. Wasn't Russert's call with the FBI a "newsworthy event?" Wells inquired, hinting that Russert had for years hid part of his involvement in the CIA leak case. Russert explained that he had not reported the conversation because the FBI agent had asked him to keep it confidential.

Wells then tossed far-fetched theories at the jury. On the stand, Russert had said that none of his NBC colleagues had told him anything about Wilson's wife. What about David Gregory and Andrea Mitchell? Wells asked. None meant none, Russert noted. But Wells still was holding out the possibility that Gregory received leaked information on Wilson's wife from then-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer and then quickly relayed it to Russert, who shared it with Libby. It's a thin theory--especially because neither Russert nor Gregory reported any news about Wilson's wife at the time. And the timing of real-world events may undermine the theory. But Wells keeps hammering at this possibility.

To buttress this part of his case, Wells tried to play for the jurors a video clip of Andrea Mitchell saying on CNBC in early October 2003 that she had known about Valerie Wilson's CIA employment prior to the Novak leak. But Mitchell, in two later interviews on Don Imus's radio show (which also aired on MSNBC), said she had misspoken and she retracted the comment. Wells suggested that Russert and Mitchell had conspired to undo Mitchell's remark so Russert's statements related to the leak case would not be undermined. He asked permission to show all these tapes to the jury. "This is nitpicky at best," Judge Reggie Walton complained. He ruled the tapes could not be played.

Next Wells took another shot at Russert's credibility. He pointed out that during Russert's appearance the previous day he had testified that Libby used the words "hell" and "damn" when he had called Russert in July 2003 to complain about Hardball host Chris Matthews' on-air criticisms of Cheney and Libby. Yet, Wells said, when Russert gave a deposition to special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald in August 2004 about this conversation with Libby he had not referred to these curse words--as if Russert had somehow suspiciously changed his account. Russert explained that during his deposition he had said that Libby had been "venting" and that word covered the cursing.

Such small stuff did not seem to impress the jurors; many appeared to be unriveted by Wells' questioning of Russert. Finally, Wells played his last card. Was there, he dramatically asked the witness, "bad blood" between Russert (and all of NBC News) and Libby? "No, sir," Russert replied in the quiet tone he had used throughout his testimony. But Wells had evidence to suggest otherwise.

It was another Imus clip. On the morning of October 28, 2005, hours before Fitzgerald was to announce indictments in the CIA leak case, Russert was on the show (via telephone) telling Imus about the mood of anticipation within the Washington press corps and his own NBC News bureau: "It was like Christmas Eve last night. Santa Claus is coming tomorrow. Surprises. What's under the tree?" Citing this comment, Wells contended that Russert was "elated" that Libby was about to be indicted. No, Russert said, he was referring to the fact that a "big news day" was coming and that no one knew for sure what Fitzgerald would announce. Was Russert equating an indictment of Libby with Christmas "presents under the tree?" Wells asked. No, the television host said. "You looked very happy" in the Imus clip, Wells countered. That was a "still picture," Russert noted. The cross examination was over

One more swing and a miss for Wells. In the first three weeks of the case, Wells and co-counsel Bill Jeffrey have suggested there have been a Variety Pak of plots against their client: a CIA conspiracy against Libby, a State Department conspiracy against Libby, a White House conspiracy against Libby, and, now, an NBC News conspiracy against Libby. But they have introduced no evidence to back up any of this. Wells' attempt to transform Russert's Christmas comment into proof that Russert and NBC News were bent on ruining Libby was typical. It was silly. But Wells is merely acting as a defense attorney should. Pull on any thread you can. Raise any matter that might sow confusion or doubt among the jurors. Nevertheless, he failed to undercut Russert, Fitzgerald's final witness.

The prosecution ended strongly. Fitzgerald has presented a parade of witnesses who have contradicted Libby on the key points: what he had known about Valerie Wilson and what he had told journalists. The defense is expected to call its first witnesses on Monday. The lineup will probably include several reporters who spoke to Libby before the CIA leak happened and who will testify that he said nothing to them about Valerie Wilson's wife. But Wells might need more than that--and more than word games and hints of plots--to beat back Fitzgerald.

******

DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

Not Your Father’s Antiwar Activist

Vote Vets, a coalition that includes 1,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, produced some of the most gripping ads of the 2006 cycle, denouncing the war in Iraq and Republicans who refused to provide US soldiers with proper body armor. Recently, their spot opposing an escalation of troops was the only notable part of the ad blitz during the Super Bowl.

Today, the Washington Post gave long overdue credit to the group and its 28-year-old co-founder, Iraq War vet Jon Soltz. He calls Bush and Cheney "draft dodgers," says Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is "aiding the enemy" by ignoring the war in Afghanistan and labels those who don't want to debate the war "cowards." Finally, some straight talk in the nation's capitol!

If politics were fantasy football, Soltz blogs, he'd trade Joe Lieberman for Chuck Hagel.

"I don't think 20,000 more troops is Democratic, I don't think 20,000 troops is Republican," says Soltz. "I think it's stupid."

Well said.

Got Vote? (continued)

Last week the Democratic National Committee, in an effort led by the DNC Voting Rights Institute Chairwoman Donna Brazile, voted unanimously to support legislation that would finally give the nearly 600,000 disenfranchised residents of the District of Columbia voting representation in Congress.

The DNC's support couldn't come at a more critical moment. Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton and Republican Representative Thomas Davis III have reintroduced the DC Fair and Equal House Voting Rights Act (H.R. 328) which had wide bipartisan support in the last Congress but was never scheduled for a floor vote by Republican House leaders. The bill would add a seat for heavily Republican Utah (which missed an additional seat by 1,000 residents due to an erroneous Census report that failed to count 14,000 Mormon missionaries temporarily living abroad) and the historically Democratic nation's capital.

It seemed like a done deal with Democrats who have long championed DC voting rights now in the Majority. But internal party disagreements have threatened the legislation. Notably, Representative Henry Waxman and others have voiced concerns that the bill adds an electoral vote for Utah but not the District, and he fears it could cost Democrats the presidency. Others worry that Utah redistricting might jeopardize the sole Democratic Congressman in the state's Congressional delegation, Rep. Jim Matheson.

But this isn't about partisanship, the presidency, or protecting seats. It's about doing the right thing to promote democracy. Which is why Brazile and the DNC's 50-state campaign to garner support for the bill is so important. For those who live in the DC area there will be a Lobby Congress Day on February 15. If you can't be there in person, take a moment to contact your representative and urge support for H.R. 328.

The Secret Air War Over Iraq

Just last week, in a typical air strike of the Iraq War, two missiles were fired at targets somewhere in the city of Ramadi, capital of al-Anbar province in the heartland of the Sunni insurgency, in the course of a battle with American forces stationed there. According to newspaper accounts, "18 insurgents" were killed.

Air power has, since World War II, been the American way of war. The invasion of Iraq began, after all, with a dominating show of air power that was meant to "shock and awe"--that is, cow--not just Saddam Hussein's regime, but the whole "axis of evil" and other countries the Bush administration had in its mental gun sights. Among the largest of America's "permanent" megabases in Iraq is Balad Air Base with the sorts of daily air-traffic pile-ups that you would normally see over Chicago's O'Hare Airport. And yet, as Tomdispatch.com has pointed out numerous times over these last years, reporters in Iraq almost determinedly refuse to look up or report on the regular, if intermittent, application of American air power especially to heavily populated neighborhoods in Iraq's cities.

Now, the Bush "surge" is officially beginning. Little about it is strikingly new or untried--except possibly the unspoken urge to ratchet up the use of air power in Iraq, the only thing a Pentagon with desperately overstretched ground forces really has to throw into the escalation breach (as in recent months it has drastically escalated the use of air power in Afghanistan). Pepe Escobar, the superb globe-trotting correspondent for Asia Times, has recently warned that the new Bush administration "plan" signals "the dire prospect... of a devastating air war over Baghdad" in which "Iraqification-cum-surge" will prove "a disaster mostly for every Baghdadi caught in the crossfire."

Just last week, Julian E. Barnes of the Los Angeles Times reported that the U.S. Air Force has the Iraqi itch and is getting ready to scratch it. Air Force commanders are preparing for a "heightened role in the volatile region." They are, he reported, already "gearing up for just such a role in Iraq as part of Bush's planned troop increase" -- an expansion of air power that "could include aggressive new tactics designed to deter Iranian assistance to Iraqi militants… [and] more forceful patrols by Air Force and Navy fighter planes along the Iran-Iraq border to counter the smuggling of bomb supplies from Iran."

In preparation for all this the Air Force has signaled, according to InsideDefense.com, that it too is "surging" its forces--bulking up both personnel and fighter planes in preparation for the President's new offensive in Iraq. "We have increased our force posture in Iraq in anticipation of the surge," comments Air Force spokesperson Lt. Col. Clint Hinote. "We've brought over more fighters to better provide overwatch for the ground units in Iraq… We're also preparing to deploy more [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] assets to provide more information to ground ops."

Until now, U.S. air power in Iraq has been a non-story--if you weren't an Iraqi. In the coming months, however, it may force its way onto the front pages of our papers and onto the nightly TV news--but not if the Pentagon has anything to say about it. Doing some journalistic sleuthing, Nick Turse has discovered just how secretive the Pentagon has been about offering any significant information on the size, scope, and damage involved in its air operations over Iraq. For the first time at Tomdispatch.com, he tells what can be known about the history of the Pentagon's secret air war often over Iraq's heavily populated urban areas.

In the last weeks, there are hints that the air war in Iraq–at least the helicopter war–is becoming decidedly two-sided. Five American helicopters have gone down, at least four of them due to enemy fire, in less than three weeks. As Noah Shachtman at the Defensetech.org website pointed out recently, there is speculation among Air Force personnel that Sunni insurgents "have gotten their hands on a new, more deadly strain of surface-to-air-missiles (SAMs)." Whether a change of weaponry or of tactics is responsible for these downings, we don't know at this point; but given the reliance of the American military in Iraq on helicopters for transport and air support, this is no small thing. When Russian helicopters began going down in Afghanistan in the 1980s (due, in part, to the Stinger missiles the CIA was supplying to the Mujahedeen), it was a signal that their occupation was in real trouble. Could the same be true in American Iraq?

Libby Trial: Russert Ruins the Cover Story

After jurors in the I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby perjury trial on Wednesday heard the defendant--on tape--cite Meet the Press host Tim Russert as his alibi, the alibi, using crutches, hobbled into the Washington courtroom and shot a hole in Libby's cover story.

For three days, the jury had been listening to audio tapes of Libby's two appearances before a grand jury in March 2004, when Libby repeatedly claimed that in July 2003, before the leak appeared that outed Valerie Wilson as a CIA officer, he knew nothing about her until Russert told him that "all the reporters knew" she worked at the CIA. Libby acknowledged to the grand jurors that weeks earlier Vice President Dick Cheney had told him that Valerie Wilson was a CIA employee, but he said that he had completely forgotten this and had learned about her "anew" when Russert passed him this gossip during a phone call. It's an essential part of Libby's tale. When the FBI and a grand jury were looking for administration officials who had leaked information on Wilson to reporters--and Libby was a potential target--Libby told the Bureau and the grand jury that he had not disclosed any information gathered from official sources; he had only shared with a few reporters a rumor he had picked up from Russert. And you can't prosecute a guy for spreading gossip. Again and again, during his grand jury testimony, Libby pointed to Russert: he told me, and, boy, was I surprised.

But on the stand, Russert told the trial jurors the opposite. Questioned by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald for less than fifteen minutes, Russert said he had uttered no such thing to Libby. Russert also noted that it would have been "impossible" for him to have done so because at the time of the call--July 10 or 11, 2003, and days before Valerie Wilson's cover was blown in a Robert Novak column--he knew nothing about her. Wilson's wife never came up in the conversation with Libby, Russert testified. Libby had called him to complain that Chris Matthews, the host of Hardball was being too hard on Cheney's office (and on Libby) as Hardball covered the controversy sparked by former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's charge that the Bush administration had twisted the prewar intelligence.

Once Russert, with little elaboration, had punctured a main element of Libby's story, Fitzgerald was done with the witness. Then came Ted Wells, a Libby attorney. His mission was clear: destroy the credibility of the fellow whom earlier in the day Libby had described (on the grand jury tape) as "one of the best newsmen, one of the most substantive of the news people."

Wells took his shots. He grilled Russert about an episode in which the anchor in a 2004 interview had failed to recall a phone call he had made to a Buffalo News columnist who had criticized how Russert had moderated a debate during the New York Senate race in 2000. Wells noted that Russert has often described himself as driven to get the story first. If so, Wells wondered, how could Russert not have taken the opportunity to talk to Libby about the Wilson imbroglio (and possibly about Wilson's wife) when the vice president's chief of staff rang him up? Had he forgotten this part of the call? "Frankly, [Libby] wasn't in the mood to talk," Russert replied, noting that the Cheney aide was rather agitated about Matthews. Wells pointed out that Russert had no notes on the call and that he had told the FBI that while he believed there had been only one call perhaps there had been two. Wells was doing all he could to question Russert's powers of recall.

Wells tried a few other attacks as well. He cited an NBC News press release that was issued when Russert had challenged a subpoena from Fitzgerald. (Russert lost that fight.) The release noted that Russert had not said anything to Libby about Valerie Wilson's "role" at the CIA. Why the word "role"? Wells asked. Was it carefully chosen because Russert actually had told Libby that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA but had not said what position (or "role") she had at the agency? This word-game was a sign of desperation on Wells' part. "As I read [the press release]," Russert answered, "it includes the fact I did not know that she worked at the CIA."

Wells also suggested Russert had lied to a federal judge when Russert had filed a motion to quash Fitzgerald's subpoena of him. In a declaration to the court, Russert had said that it was crucial that he be able to maintain the confidentiality of his sources. Yet, Wells noted, Russert had already told the FBI about his conversation with Libby. In other words, so much for protecting sources. Russert explained that in his earlier conversation with an FBI agent he had responded to an allegation that Libby had made about him (when Libby had spoken to the FBI) and that he had resisted the subpoena because he did not want to be in the position of appearing before a grand jury and being asked a wide range of questions about various sources.

Russert was unflappable during Wells' cross-examination. His voice remained steady. He took his time answering the questions. He was hardly animated--not his usual Sunday morning self. (Remember, he used to be a lawyer.) He noted that after Novak disclosed Valerie Wilson's CIA identity, the NBC News Washington bureau--which he presides over--waited several days before reporting the story. "We worked diligently to vet it," he said, recalling "long and extended conversations" about the national security implications of the disclosure. That is, NBC News acted more responsibly than the Bush administration leakers.

As the court recessed for the day, Wells said he might have another two hours of questions for Russert. Does he have better stuff to throw at Russert? He had not made much of a dent. Nor had Wells done much to advance his contention (presented earlier in the trial) that Russert might have heard about Wilson's wife from an NBC News colleague--most notably, David Gregory, who may have received leaked information on her from then-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer. (See herefor details of that confusing subplot.)

Wells needs to score more points in his Meet the Libby Lawyer show. Libby had based so much of his grand jury testimony on his conversation with Russert. Yet Russert pulled the rug out. His testimony was a simple conclusion to the prosecution's simple case.

Before Russert came to court, the jury finished listening to the audio tape of Libby's March 24, 2004 testimony to the grand jury. And there were passages that might cause a listener to think of Tony Soprano.

During that session, Fitzgerald asked Libby about several interactions he had with Cheney in the fall of 2003, when the leak scandal was red-hot. The news had just broken that the Justice Department was investigating the White House to determine who in the administration had leaked to Novak and other journalists about Valerie Wilson. The Washington Post had reported--perhaps not accurately--that two senior White House officials had called six reporters to leak this information as part of an orchestrated campaign to discredit Joseph Wilson after he had published an op-ed claiming he had inside information proving the White House had manipulated the prewar intelligence. Senior White House aide Karl Rove was a suspect in the investigation. So was Libby.

With a full-force firestorm under way, Libby, according to his grand jury testimony, went to Cheney and "offered to tell him everything I knew." Libby had not been a source for the Novak column. But at the time of that leak, he had talked to reporters about Wilson's wife and her CIA connection. (What he said is at issue in the trial.) He told the grand jury that he thought he ought to let Cheney know what he had done in the days before the leak. Yet Cheney, Libby recalled, "didn't want to hear." When Libby offered to disclose all to the vice president, Cheney said, "You don't have to. I know you didn't do it."

Cheney's incuriosity went further. When Libby told the vice president that he had discovered a note in his files indicating that in early June 2003, Cheney had told him that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA's Counterproliferation Division (a unit in the agency's clandestine operations directorate), the vice president barely reacted. The note was a big deal. Libby was claiming he had known nothing about Wilson's wife until his conversation with Russert. But here was indisputable documentation that Cheney had informed Libby weeks before that--and proof that Cheney had been gathering his own information on the Wilsons and the trip Joseph Wilson took to Niger for the CIA to check out the allegation that Iraq had sought uranium there.

What did Cheney say when told about the existence of this note? Fitzgerald asked. "He didn't say much," Libby replied, adding that Cheney "titled his head...and that was that." Tilted his head? What did that mean? Libby had no more of an explanation. He also testified that in the days before the leak occurred he and Cheney had discussed many aspects of Wilson's trip to Niger but that the "only part" of the controversy they had not talked about was Wilson's wife and her CIA employment. (When journalists in the media room heard Libby make this claim, several laughed.)

Libby's grand jury testimony contained other intriguing nuggets. At one point, he noted that then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz had leaked portions of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's WMDs to the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. This happened after Cheney had asked Libby to get this information to the Journal. (The NIE selections may or may not have been classified at the time: it's complicated.) Libby, in turn, talked to Wolfowitz about doing so because he didn't "have as good a relationship with the Wall Street Journal as Secretary Wolfowitz did." (When the Journal ran an editorial quoting the NIE and insisting that Bush had been right to cite Iraq's alleged attempt to buy uranium in Africa, the paper's editorialists asserted "this information...does not come from the White House.")

And in his grand jury testimony, Libby noted that both he and Cheney believed that Joe Wilson had been "qualified" for his mission to Africa. White House allies have long derided Wilson as an absurd choice for the trip. Will they retract that criticism? Or do they believe Libby was not telling the truth before the grand jury?

There also was an interesting absence in Libby's grand jury testimony. At the start of the trial, Wells suggested that Libby had somehow been set up by a White House cabal that was attempting to protect Rove at Libby's expense. Wells has yet to explain how this conspiracy worked. But during both of his grand jury appearances, Libby said nothing that hinted at the existence of a plot against him.

Perhaps Wells will get to this when he starts calling defense witnesses on Thursday or Monday. With Fitzgerald wrapping up his case, it's time for Wells to put up or shut up. He's tossed a lot of theories and notions at the jury over the past three weeks. It's easy for a defense attorney to cook up alternative explanations and dangle them in front of jurors. But if Wells calls certain witnesses to the stand--say, Rove or Cheney--jurors may well expect him to make good on his previous claims that the White House, the CIA and the State Department were each out to get Libby.

Wells has signaled that he intends first to put on the stand reporters who will testify that Libby didn't say anything to them about Valerie Wilson during the period he discussed her with Matt Cooper, then of Time, and Judith Miller, then of The New York Times. That's a modest defense. Will Wells and his colleague Bill Jeffress venture further? Fitzgerald appears to have put Libby in a hole. The grand jury tapes were quite damning. One conservative columnist emailed me to say that he/she now believes Libby is probably guilty, and a conservative-leaning reporter told me that after hearing the tapes she/he had come to the conclusion that Libby was screwed. If folks sympathetic to Libby believe this, one has to wonder what the jurors think.

******

DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

Mistrial Declared in Lt. Watada Court Martial

U.S. Army First Lieutenant Ehren Watada finally had an opportunity to speak in his own defense Wednesday and in short order raised meaningful concerns about the prospect that he was being railroaded by prosecutors who had effectively limited his range of defense options. On a surprise motion from the prosecution, the judge then declared a mistrial in the high-profile court martial of the Army officer who refused to deploy to Iraq because he had come to the conclusion that U.S. invasion and occupation of that country was illegal.

The ruling by the military judge, Lt. Col. John Head, does not mean that Lt. Watada is off the hook. After moving for the mistrial, the prosecution asked for a new trial and the judge tentatively scheduled a one for mid-March. But it does mean that a new trial could offer Watada's defense team more flexibility in arguing that the officer had a legitimate reason for refusing to fight in Iraq.

This is significant because, as Richard Swain, a retired military officer who now teaches ethics at West Point, testified this week: Officers do not have to follow orders that they determine to be illegal. Of course, Swain explained, "if they make that determination, they have to be right. And if they're not right, they will be held accountable."

There is no guarantee that Watada's defense will succeed in convincing a military jury that the war in Iraq is illegal -- in fact, there is every reason to believe the officer and his lawyers will have a very hard time doing so -- but the prospect that they might be afforded more of an opportunity to mount such a defense could change the dynamic of a second trial.

Because of what is at stake -- not just for Watada but for the Army and for the Bush administration -- the trial has drawn international attention. And the scene in the courtroom on Wednesday was remarkable.

Under questioning from Head, Watada said that he did not believe the a pretrial stipulation he had signed -- in which he acknowledged that he had chosen not to follow orders and deploy with his unit to Iraq -- was an admission of guilt. Indeed, Watada explained, he felt he had a right to argue in his defense that the war is illegal and that serving in it would cause him to participate in war crimes.

Throughout the court martial proceeding, the prosecution had built its case against Watada around the argument that what was being determined was a simple question: Did Watada refuse to follow orders. The prosecution made the case that officers are not free to choose whether to serve in a particular war, and that they cannot question the actions and motivations of their commander-in-chief. "He bought shame and disgrace upon himself," Capt. Jeff Van Sweringen, the Army prosecutor, said of Watada.

According to Hal Bernton's detailed coverage in the Seattle Times -- the trial has taken place at Fort Lewis in Washington state -- Sweringen told the court: "The underlying facts to these grave charges are... unassailable."

That line of argument was complicated by the question of whether Watada had believed he was admitting guilt when he signed the statement acknowledging that he did not deploy with his unit to Iraq.

Under questioning by the judge, it became evident that the officer was not of the belief that he had signed away his right to defend himself.

"I'm not seeing we have a meeting of the minds, here," the judge finally said. "And if there is not a meeting of the minds, there's not a contract. Tell me where I'm missing something?"

The Army prosecutors made a last-ditch attempt to suggest that they were not arguing that the agreement represented an admission of guilt by Watada. But Head wasn't buying it. The judge told the courtroom that, because there was now a debate about the agreement's meaning, the prosecutors would have to move to reopen their case -- which they had finished Tuesday. That would have forced the prosecution to proceed in front of a jury that had been made aware of concerns about the meaning of the pretrial agreement.

That's when the request for the mistrial was made, and accepted.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"