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Capital Games

 Washington: a city of denials, spin, and political calculations. The Nation's former DC editor David Corn spent 2002-2007 blogging on the policies, personalities and lies that spew out of the nation's capital. The complete archive appears below. Corn is now the DC editor at Mother Jones.

Rove's Newest Investigator Is Under Investigation

Karl Rove is under investigation by the executive branch. So, too, is his investigator.

On Tuesday, The Los Angeles Times reported that the Office of Special Counsel, an obscure federal investigative and prosecutorial agency that is supposed to protect federal employees from prohibited personnel practices, is

preparing to jump into one of the most sensitive and potentially explosive issues in Washington, launching a broad investigation into key elements of the White House political operations that for more than six years have been headed by chief strategist Karl Rove.

The new investigation, which will examine the firing of at least one U.S. attorney, missing White House emails, and White House efforts to keep presidential appointees attuned to Republican political priorities, could create a substantial new problem for the Bush White House.

Rove is tied to all three elements of the OSC investigation. "We will take the evidence where it leads us," Scott Bloch, head of the Office of Special Counsel, told The Los Angeles Times. "We will not leave any stone unturned."

But who is Scott Bloch, and should his vow be taken at face value? The Times story did not provide background on the fellow who will be examining whether Rove and other administration officials may have violated the law by using political email accounts for White House business, by explicitly encouraging government actions for direct partisan gains, and by dismissing David Iglesias, a US attorney in New Mexico. Bloch is a George W. Bush appointee, and his recent record is not one of a relentless pursuer of government corruption and wrongdoing. Here's an overview:

* In February, The Washington Post reported Bloch himself was under investigation:

The Office of Personnel Management's inspector general has been investigating allegations by current and former OSC employees that Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch retaliated against underlings who disagreed with his policies--by, among other means, transferring them out of state--and tossed out legitimate whistle-blower cases to reduce the office backlog. Bloch denies the accusations, saying that under his leadership the agency has grown more efficient and receptive to whistle-blowers.

The 16-month investigation has been beset by delays, accusations and counter-accusations. The latest problem began two weeks ago, when Bloch's deputy sent staffers a memo asking them to inform OSC higher-ups when investigators contact them. Further, the memo read, employees should meet with investigators in the office, in a special conference room. Some employees cried foul, saying the recommendations made them afraid to be interviewed in the probe.

The OSC's memo, the group said, "was only the latest in a series of actions by Bloch to obstruct" the investigation. "Other actions have included suggestions that all witnesses interviewed...provide Bloch with affidavits describing what they had been asked and how they responded."

* Two years earlier, the paper reported that Bloch had declined to enforce a discrimination ban:

Since taking office in January 2004, the Bush appointee has been accused of failing to enforce a long-standing policy against bias in the federal workplace based on sexual orientation, unnecessarily reorganizing the OSC to try to run off internal critics, and arbitrarily dismissing some personnel complaints and whistle-blower disclosures in an effort to claim reductions in backlogs.

He has denied such allegations and argued that he has made the agency more efficient at processing cases and, at the same time, more receptive to whistle-blowers and federal workers who have suffered unfair treatment.

* That same year, public interest groups and employees at the OSC accused Bloch of running an overly partisan shop. As Govexec.com reported:

Amendments to a complaint filed against Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch in early March allege that OSC took no action on a complaint regarding then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice's use of government funds to travel in the weeks before the 2004 presidential election, but vigorously pursued allegations against Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry's visit to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Three nonprofit whistleblower protection groups--the Government Accountability Project, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Project on Government Oversight--and anonymous career OSC employees filed the initial complaint March 3, listing a series of prohibited personnel practices and violations of civil service laws by Bloch.

The politicization allegations stem from Bloch's decision to have a group of lawyers report to a political deputy rather than a career senior executive. The complaint states that OSC has pursued trivial matters without regard to political affiliation...but has not evenly handled higher profile cases.

At the OSC, Bloch is supposed to protect whistleblowers. But he's been charged with reprising against those who challenge his agency and others. Before Bloch was appointed by Bush to take over the OSC, he was a deputy director and counsel at the Justice Department's Task Force for Faith-based and Community Initiatives.

"By most measures, his tenure has been an absolute failure," says Adam Miles, legislative representative at the Government Accountability Project. "He's been under pressure to start doing something." Miles notes that GAP did not initially expect the complaint it filed against Bloch in 2005 to go anywhere. "It was referred to a federal entity called the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency," Miles recalls, "and we thought it would just rot there." But the case was handed to Pat McFarland, the inspector general for the Office of Personnel Management. McFarland is a former St. Louis detective who spent 22 years as a Secret Service agent before becoming IG at OPM in 1990.

McFarland's investigation of Bloch, Miles says, "hasn't been a totally transparent process but we're hearing it's reaching a conclusion--which could be motivation for Bloch to start this investigation into the White House. If OPM does turn up any adverse information on Bloch, it would be more difficult for the White House to get rid of him while he was actively investigating them." But this could cut the other way. If Bloch is the subject of an investigation, he might be inclined to treat the White House favorably to protect his own position. In either case, there seems to be a conflict of interest. Bloch, Miles says, "may not be the appropriate person to be conducting the investigation" of Rove and the White House.

It is a dizzying situation. The investigator investigating officials who oversee the agency that is investigating the investigator. Forget firewalls. This looks more like a basement flooded with backed-up sewage--with the water rising.

With reporting by Stephanie Condon.

******

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.

Bush Gets Something Right

President Bush finally got something right.

On Saturday night, he was--as usual--at the annual White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. This is official Washington's version of a prom. Be-tuxed and be-gowned journalists and government officials wine, dine, and schmooze--and stargaze at real and faux Hollywood celebs who are imported for the evening. One ritual of the night is for the president to deliver a self-deprecating comedy routine before the glammed-out crowd of 3000. At a similar event, three years ago, Bush joked about the missing WMDs in Iraq. Two years ago at the correspondents' bash, Laura Bush ribbed her husband, cracking jokes that (by presidential standards) were off-color. Last year, Bush appeared with a Bush impersonator and performed a masterful bit before Stephen Colbert took the stage and hilariously but harshly spoofed the administration and the Washington press corps.

This year the pre-event buzz was about Rich Little, the has-been (but still appearing 30 weeks a year in Vegas) comic impersonator. He had been selected as the evening's funny-man--and widely perceived as a white-flag choice by the correspondents' association. (Knowing a little about the internal process that led to the Little pick, I do not share that perception. Several edgier comics were approached first and said no.) In the run-up to the dinner, there was not much talk about what Bush would do.

When the president took his turn at the podium, he surprised. Referring to the tragic shooting spree at Virginia Tech, he said, "I've decided not to be funny." He spoke for a few brief moments about the massacre and sat down. That certainly did not tee up the crowd for Little, who immediately followed Bush and essentially bombed with a routine based on his 70s-style impersonations of presidents and Johnny Carson. (Far funnier was a short film showing a Top Ten list of "George W. Bush moments" that David Letterman created for the dinner.)

By invoking the Virginia Tech massacre to opt out of the usual yuks, Bush was able to dodge a task that he supposedly does not enjoy. But he did send a message: reality sometimes trumps frivolity. Of course, he should have followed such advice in past years when he kidded about the absent WMDs he had used as the primary justification for his invasion of Iraq and when he and Laura laughed it up without saying a word about the US soldiers stationed (and dying) in Iraq. Well, better late than never.

I attend these events and have fun, but I also feel uneasy at them, as journalists and officials laugh away political and policy differences that have tremendous life-and-death consequences outside the Washington Hilton ballroom. (Thankfully, there's plenty of free booze.) This year it was odd to see big-name reporters and government officials drool over losers from American Idol, such as Sanjaya Malakar. (No one at Washington black-tie parties ever pushes through a crowd to have a picture taken with Michael Dukakis.) And when Dan Glickman, the former Democratic congressman who now heads the Motion Picture Association of America, reminded the crowd of the line from Inherit the Wind that "it is the duty of a newspaper to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable," I nearly choked on my dinner roll. There were few people in the grand room who adhere to this principle. In fact, a key mission of the night for many news organizations was to fete the brand-name administration officials they had managed to snag as guests--that is, to make sure the comfortable were comfortable.

With such a contradiction swirling about, Bush's downbeat message (even if it saved him from an assignment he does not relish) was appropriate. And it did--via gentle implication--call into question the fundamental dynamics of the evening, though probably unintentionally. If only he had shown such sensitivity earlier in his presidency.

With my sermon thus concluded, here are a few tidbits from the evening:

* I overheard a not-for-attribution conversation between a big-name journalist and a senior administration official, in which the official noted that a problem with the nuclear negotiations between North Korea and Washington is that neocon diehard John Bolton still has his hands in the soup. The ex-UN ambassador is no longer part of the administration. But Bolton allies within the State Department, the Pentagon, and the White House, this official explained, are trying to undermine the deal struck by the administration with North Korea to freeze its nuclear weapons program. These aides, this official said, do not fancy any nonproliferation negotiations with North Korea, believing such talks only legitimize the North Korean regime. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the official reported, is holding back the neocons. But, the official added, Bolton is in there fighting.

* World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz, besieged due to the revelation he hooked up his girlfriend, a World Bank official, with a hefty raise, looked downcast at the dinner. But he managed to make it to Vanity Fair's post-dinner party at Christopher Hitchens' apartment. Also there was Justice Antonin Scalia, who was challenged by Ana Marie Cox (a.k.a. the original Wonkette) on the Supreme Court's recent decision upholding the ban on a late-term abortion procedure. States' rights, the justice argued, overlooking the point that his court had okayed a national ban on this procedure.

* Senator Fred Thompson told Republican/conservative analyst David Bass that he has to "keep Corn in check." This was a reference to a weekly video I do on the presidential race for PajamasMedia.com. Usually my partner is conservative writer Richard Miniter. But Bass has been filling in for Miniter these past few weeks, while Miniter has been in Iraq. So Thompson is paying attention to what's being said about him on the Internet. Does this indicate he will run for president? Maybe he has too much time on his hands. Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and John McCain were also at the dinner. But the leading Democratic presidential candidates were not. "Obama's in a Super 8 in Iowa tonight," one of his aides said, with a laugh. And when Romney had a chance to say hello to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he took a pass. The entry into the Republican presidential contest of another rich GOPer who could self-finance a campaign would certainly not be good for Romney.

* Actress Morgan Fairchild knows more about terrorism than 99.9 percent Americans--and most members of Congress. At a pre-dinner party, she engaged in a detailed conversation with Mark Hosenball, one of Newsweek's terrorism experts (who writes a column with Michael Isikoff, who co-authored Hubris with me). Fairchild and Hosenball discussed specific terrorist suspects by name. Not many people can keep up with Hosenball on the specifics of global terrorism. Fairchild did.

* Attorney General Alberto Gonzales left the dinner as soon as it finished.

******

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.

Hillary and the Antiwar Congressman

When Philip Johnston, the chairman of the Democratic Party in Massachusetts, first heard the news, he was stunned. Representative Jim McGovern, the six-term Democrat who represents the state's Third Congressional District, had endorsed Senator Hillary Clinton for president. On March 29, the Clinton campaign had issued a press release announcing that McGovern was backing the former First Lady in the Democratic presidential contest. The notice proclaimed that McGovern considered her the "best candidate to end war in Iraq." To Johnston, who's backing Democratic Senator Barack Obama's presidential bid, and other political observers, this Clinton-McGovern meet-up appeared curious: a fierce critic of the war backing a politician who has been accused (rightly or wrongly) of being hawkish.

McGovern is renowned as a liberal legislator. In the 1970s and early 1980s, he worked for Senator George McGovern (no relation), managing the senator's second-time-around 1984 presidential campaign in Massachusetts. Since before the Iraq invasion, Jim McGovern has been an outspoken opponent of the Iraq war. In November 2005, he introduced legislation that would end the war by prohibiting the president from using any taxpayer dollars for the deployment of US troops in Iraq (except for the "safe and orderly withdrawal" of troops).

Hillary Clinton has been slammed by anti-war activists for voting to grant George W. Bush the authority to invade Iraq and for not apologizing for that vote. Her anti-war detractors have hounded her, protesting at her office and campaign events. Though she recently proposed cutting off money for Bush's so-called surge in Iraq and voted with her party to tie troop withdrawals to ongoing funding for the war, she had previously been critical only of the execution of the war, not of the idea of the war. She had seemed more supportive of the endeavor than her two key Democratic rivals: Obama, who spoke against the war before its start, and former Senator John Edwards, who (like Clinton) voted for the war but later apologized for having done so. On the campaign trail, Clinton now declares she will end the war should she return to the White House. Still, her past stance suggests she and McGovern might be odd foxhole-fellows.

Not so, says McGovern. Asked to explain why he partnered up with Clinton, he notes,

"I just decided to do it. I called her office. I talked to a number of people close to her over a period of weeks. They suggested it would be more useful if the endorsement came sooner than later. I've known her for a lot of years, and I respect her and admire a lot of what she did as First Lady. Even though HillaryCare did not fly, she was on the right track. She's out front as someone committed to universal health care and to early childhood development. She held conferences on childhood development at the White House that I attended. We need to get serious that education begins at age 0 and that we need universal preschool."

McGovern also offers an up-close-and-personal reason for the endorsement:

"I picked up my daughter from kindergarten the day after Hillary announced her presidential campaign, and all these five-year-old girls were talking about Hillary. I found it amazing. They were excited about Hillary's candidacy. I realized if she's elected, she breaks an important glass ceiling. These little girls learn about presidents who are only men. For me this is a very powerful moment. A lot of people portray her candidacy as a cautious and establishment candidacy, as if she's the Walter Mondale of this campaign. I see this as a bold, history-making campaign."

But what about the Iraq war?

"I believe her when she says that if it's not over when she takes office, she will end this war. If this war is still going on then, you're going to need somebody with skill and experience to bring everyone together here in the United States and within an international coalition. On the war, there's not a dime's worth of difference among the leading Democratic candidates. They're all voting for or supporting timetables and withdrawals. It's not as quickly as I want. My bill would start a safe and immediate withdrawal. If I were president, this war would be over now. But I can't get 218 people [in the House] to agree with me....People say, 'How could you do this when Hillary voted for the war.' John Kerry, John Edwards, Chris Dodd, Joe Biden voted for the war. I can't change the past. I can only try to shape the future."

Hillary Clinton has refused to apologize for her vote to hand Bush the authority to invade Iraq. Does that bother McGovern?

"Jesus Christ," he exclaims, "I'm not interested in an apology. I'm interested in the strategy. People are saying she has to get down on her knees and beg for forgiveness. This war is such a tragedy. Insisting upon an apology is an issue that trivializes the war. The war is the biggest moral, political, diplomatic, and military catastrophe in our history. I hate this war. I want to end it before the next presidency. And every Democratic candidate wants to end this war." McGovern contends that Clinton is best equipped to do so, citing her ability to work with Republicans in the Senate and her efforts and missions overseas during her husband's presidency. "She has the international statue," he says, adding, "the Bill connection helps."

Political endorsements don't "mean a lot," McGovern maintains. But he has told Hillary Clinton he will gladly work for her campaign, perhaps as an emissary to die-hard liberal Democrats who might harbor doubts about her. "I'm willing to go to New Hampshire, Iowa, Massachusetts, wherever I can be of help," he says. "Some of the people who believe as I do in liberal politics go after her the way they go after George Bush. I can tell them, read what she believes in, listen to what she says."

Both Hillary and Bill Clinton were helpful to McGovern when he faced difficult congressional campaigns in his early years as a House member. One reporter, McGovern recalls, accused him of endorsing Hillary Clinton as payback for that assistance. McGovern insists he's not redeeming a political IOU--and that this endorsement is not part of a calculated attempt on the part of the Clinton campaign to bolster her left flank. "I approached them," he recalls.

What about the other candidates? Obama, a onetime community activist, has caused many progressive Democrats to swoon. His campaign also can shatter a political barrier. "In his first year in the Senate," McGovern says, "I don't recall him being much of a leader." McGovern notes he admires John Edwards' "focus on dealing with issues of poverty." Representative Dennis Kucinich? This progressive legislator agrees with McGovern that US troops should be removed from Iraq immediately. "On the war, our views are the closest," McGovern says. "I hope he does well. But there's more than just that one issue." Senator Chris Dodd, McGovern notes, is a friend. The two have worked together for years on Central America issues: "I think he's terrific."

But McGovern says there was no competition for his political affections. He's a Hillary Clinton fan. "I think she's a good person," he says. "Maybe because I know her as a woman who cares deeply about a lot of issues and who's motivated not just by ambition. That's how I've seen her for years--not this caricature of a person who doesn't stand for anything and who's secretly pro-war."

For some progressives, the Clinton years were a time of frustration and disappointment--a period of lost opportunity (with or without the Monica madness and other scandals, real or hyped). McGovern doesn't remember it that way. "I wish we could've done more then," he says. "But Bill Clinton protected more land in this country than any president since Teddy Roosevelt. He defended civil rights and reproductive rights. Do I wish he had been more liberal? Sure. I had sharp disagreements with him on Nafta and the [anti-drug trafficking] Colombia Plan. Overall, I thought he was a good president. As time goes on, I appreciate more the job he did."

Endorsing Hillary Clinton was no tough call for McGovern: "I didn't anguish over this. She's who I want to be with. She's the right person for the job. If I thought for one second that she wouldn't do everything humanly possible to end this war as fast as possible, no way in hell I would endorse her." McGovern is now looking forward to trekking from church basements in Iowa to pot luck suppers in New Hampshire to convince other Democrats she ought to be president.

******

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.

Neocon Godmother Considered Iraq War a Mistake

From the grave, Jeane Kirkpatrick, the godmother of the neoconservative movement, speaks: the Iraq war was something of a mistake.

Kirkpatrick, best known as the combative UN ambassador during the Reagan administration who argued that the United States should be kind to authoritarian regimes that were partners in the crusade against communism, died last December. She had just completed a book entitled Making War To Keep Peace, which is being published next month. In the book, she reports--apparently for the first time--that she had "grave reservations" about George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq. She notes that at the time, "I was privately critical of the Bush administration's argument for the use of military force for preemptive self-defense." She does not say where and to whom she voiced her misgivings--if she did. Most strikingly, she argues that the war--with respect to bringing democracy to Iraqis--did more harm than good.

It's stunning criticism from a hawk who for over two decades has been a guiding light for the neocons who cheerleaded the nation to war in Iraq. In her book, she contends that the invasion has so far been counterproductive:

On a personal note, I have dedicated much of my professional life to reconciling what I consider the twin goals of American foreign policy, and that is why President George W. Bush's decision to go to war has troubled me deeply.

These twin goals of our foreign policy are, first, ensuring our security and, second, promoting democracy and human rights. An appropriate balance between the two must exist, and that balance must be determined within the unique circumstances of any situation. Yet, for democracy to take hold in a given region, it must be preceded by institutions that are receptive and willing to support democracy--because democracy requires security as a prerequisite. That is why, throughout history, if the single force of political stability in a region is removed without critical institutions in place to fill the resulting vacuum of power, the security of societies and their budding institutions will be precarious at best.

Unfortunately, what we face in Iraq today is a vacuum of power, a lack of stable institutions needed to govern, and the problem that the promise of democracy for which our nation stands may be lost in the essential scramble for safety and stability in the streets. This is one of the reasons I am uneasy about the war we have made here--for we have helped to create the chaos that has overtaken the country, and we may have reduced rather than promoted the pace of democratic reform.

Kirkpatrick suggests the Bush administration and her neocon colleagues rushed into the war irresponsibly:

Iraq presented a very different set of circumstances from Afghanistan, however. These are things we ought to have known and taken into account when weighing our decision to invade in 2003.

Iraq lacked practically all the requirements for a democratic government: rule of law, an elite with a shared commitment to democratic procedures, a sense of citizenship, and habits of trust and cooperation. The administration's failure involved several issues, but the core concern is that they did not seem to have methodically completed the due diligence required for reasoned policy-making because they failed to address the aftermath of the invasion. This, of course, is reflected by the violence, sectarian unrest, ethnic vengeance and bloodshed we see in Iraq today.

No "due diligence." Kirkpatrick is politely charging that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and other top administration aides invaded a nation recklessly. Can there be a more damning indictment?

In the book, Kirkpatrick does not engage in self-criticism. Before the invasion, she was part of the commentariat that helped create the context for the war. Three weeks after September 11, she suggested that Saddam Hussein was behind the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Kirkpatrick declared, "Many people believe that it is likely that the hijackers had the support of Iraq. We know that Saddam Hussein has always said that we did not defeat him [in] the Gulf War, that it was just one battle, and that there would be more."

In a June 2002 interview with the Financial Times, Kirkpatrick said that she had "some questions" about whether it would be "prudent" to launch a preemptive strike on Saddam's regime, noting such an attack could "win recruits for the most radical Islamists." But on October 9, 2002--the day after Bush made a nationally televised speech asserting that Iraq posed a direct threat to the United States because it was loaded with weapons of mass of destruction and in league with al Qaeda--Kirkpatrick appeared on PBS's Newshour and praised the president for presenting an "effective and clear explanation of the US case...against Iraq." She voiced no reservations about a preemptive war with Iraq. And when Bush two weeks later said the United States could live with Saddam's regime if it met "all the conditions" of a United Nations disarmament resolution, Kirkpatrick called this gesture a mistake.

Shortly before Bush launched the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, he asked Kirkpatrick to head the US delegation to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. She took the job, and her primary mission soon became preventing the commission from passing a resolution condemning the Iraq invasion as illegal. Despite being "privately critical" of Bush's decision to invade, Kirkpatrick, according to her new book, believed the invasion was legal under international law, mainly because it was not a new war but a response to Saddam's failure to abide by the cease-fire terms of the first Gulf War. Thus, she writes, she was able to be a forceful advocate of Bush's right to invade Iraq, "even though I did not agree with the president's choices." A week after the invasion, Kirkpatrick beat back a resolution at the Human Rights Commission that challenged the legitimacy of the war.

Whatever her private concerns, she publicly defended the war. In a speech at the American Enterprise Institute on June 13, 2003, Kirkpatrick derided critics of the war. She singled out an editorial that had appeared in the International Herald Tribune. The paper had argued, "we did not like [Bush's] combative doctrine [of preemptive force] when it was formally unveiled...because it seemed to walk away from America's historical inclination to work with other nations to preserve the peace and to rely on force only when its security was directly threatened." Kirkpatrick called this "one of the silliest arguments" made against the war. In a September 30, 2003 speech at Georgetown University, she appeared to endorse the war and Bush's use of preemptive military action. Yet in her book, Kirkpatrick recounts that she did not support the "Bush administration's assertion of its right to preemptive action in self-defense." Now when it is too late--she is gone, the war is still here--Kirkpatrick says that Bush's primary rationale for the war was misguided and that the administration acted negligently by attacking Iraq without adequate preparation.

Kirkpatrick is the latest in a parade of Bush aides and associates who have expressed disappointment and dismay with Bush and his war. Matthew Dowd, the chief campaign strategist for Bush's 2004 reelection effort, recently told The New York Times that he had lost faith in Bush and believed US troops should be withdrawn from Iraq. Dowd indicated he felt the need to do penance for having enabled Bush to win reelection. Kirkpatrick offers no apologies for her own complicity, and only a small slice of the book concerns Iraq. Yet those few passages--each written in a dispassionate manner--show that as Kirkpatrick neared death she was troubled by the most important and consequential endeavor of the neoconservative movement, which she had inspired and led for decades. This is no deathbed confession. But it is a sharp parting shot: a mother's rebuke.

******

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.

John McCain and the Jew-Counter

Every day, the presidential campaigns email to reporters press releases touting the endorsements they have most recently snagged. On Tuesday morning, the John McCain campaign, stinging from the news that its first-quarter fundraising efforts were anemic, zapped out word that GOP moneyman Fred Malek is joining the McCain team as a national finance co-chair. The press release hails Malek:

Fred Malek has been a pioneer in four professions including corporate management, government, politics, and finance. After distinguished service as an Airborne Ranger in the U.S. Army, Malek joined the Marriott Corporation and rose to become president of Marriott Hotels and Resorts. He later served as president and co-CEO of Northwest Airlines.

Malek has played a central role in government over the past 30 years. He has served as Deputy Under Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and Deputy Director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB). He also served President Ronald Reagan in a number of advisory capacities and, in 1990, was Director of the Summit of Major Industrialized Nations--with the lifetime rank of Ambassador.

Malek's political career spans over three decades. In 1972, after Watergate, he served as the deputy chairman of President Richard Nixon's re-election campaign. Malek was director of the 1988 Republican National Convention and campaign manager for President George H.W. Bush in 1992.

The McCain press shop left out an interesting piece of Malek's history: when he counted Jews for President Richard Nixon. Two years ago--when Malek was leading an investment group seeking to buy the new Washington Nationals baseball team, my friend Tim Noah at Slate reviewed Malek's dark past. Here's what he wrote:

It's one of the more gothic stories about Nixon related in Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's The Final Days. As they tell it, late in 1971--the same year, coincidentally, that the Washington Senators moved to Texas and changed their name to the Rangers--Nixon

summoned the White House personnel chief, Fred Malek, to his office to discuss a "Jewish cabal" in the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The "cabal," Nixon said, was tilting economic figures to make his Administration look bad. How many Jews were there in the bureau? he wanted to know. Malek reported back on the number, and told the President that the bureau's methods of weighing statistics were normal procedure that had been in use for years.

In 1988, when George Bush pere installed Malek as deputy chairman for the Republican National Committee, Woodward dusted off his notes and, with the Washington Post's Walter Pincus, further revealed that two months after Malek filed a memo on the matter--he'd counted 13 Jews, though his methodology was shaky--a couple of them were demoted. (Malek denied any role and said Nixon's notions of a "Jewish cabal" were "ridiculous" and "nonsense.") The 1988 story raised a predictable ruckus, and Malek beat a hasty retreat from the RNC. As exiles go, Malek's was pretty painless. He still got to run the 1988 Republican Convention (and in 1992 he would be Bush pere's campaign manager). He joined George W. Bush's syndicate to purchase the Rangers, he went on the board of the American-Israel Friendship Society, he took over Northwest Airlines, and he started an investment firm, Thayer Capital Partners.

Counting Jews was not Malek's only shady enterprise. As a Nixon aide, he set up a project that sought to influence government decisions to assist Nixon's 1972 reelection campaign. In 2006, Washington Post columnist Colbert King described this program as "a scheme designed, organized and implemented...to politicize the federal government in support of Nixon's reelection." Citing a memo Malek wrote about the project, King noted,

The Malek memo also claimed another accomplishment: The steward of a dockworkers union local in Philadelphia, an active Nixon backer, had been accused of being responsible for illegal actions of the union's president. The Pennsylvania Committee to Reelect the President asked that the Labor Department rule in the steward's favor. It did, Malek claimed, adding that "this action had a very strong impact on the local ethnic union members."

Malek's responsiveness program was extensively investigated by the Senate Watergate committee. The panel found that the program was aimed at influencing decisions concerning government "grants, contracts, loans, subsidies, procurement and construction projects," decisions regarding "legal and regulatory actions," and even personnel decisions that affected protected "career positions" -- all to advance Nixon's reelection.

Malek, the committee determined, also called for channeling federal grants and loan money to blacks who would support Nixon's reelection efforts and, conversely, away from minorities who were considered administration foes. Equally striking, Malek wanted the program to be falsely structured so that Nixon and the White House would be dissociated from it in the event of a leak.

Malek was serious about keeping his pervert-the-government efforts secret. In a March 17, 1972 memo to H.R. Haldeman, Nixon's chief of staff, Malek wrote,

No written communications from the White House to the Departments -- all information about the program would be transmitted verbally...documents prepared would not indicate White House involvement in any way."

Ten years later, the Republican led Senate government affairs committee refused to approve Malek's nomination to be a governor of the US Postal Service, in part because some senators believed he had not been testified straightforwardly about this program during a confimation hearing. Still, the Bush clan embraced him, and he went on to run the 1988 Republican convention and President George H.W. Bush's unsuccessful 1992 reelection campaign. Last year, Malek's group lost its bid to buy the Washington Nationals. These days, he chairs two private equity firms and sits on the advisory committee for the Scooter Libby defense fund.

The McCain campaign press release quotes McCain saying, "Fred is an inspiring public servant who has served our nation well. I am honored to have his support and look forward to his guidance and counsel in the days and months ahead." Inspiring? How's that for straight talk? Is McCain, who once upon a time campaigned as a good-government candidate, truly inspired by Malek's days as a Nixon lieutenant, when Malek tallied Jews, rigged government contracts, and improperly influenced law enforcement and regulatory decisions? If McCain has to turn to Malek for help in fundraising, his campaign surely is in difficult straits.

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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.

Teach Bush To Google

From my blog at www.davidcorn.com....

Here's a frightening sign of how bad things are in the Bush White House. In Friday's Washington Post reporter Peter Baker reports on the recent staff exits at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The director of strategic initiatives, the counsel, the political director--each is fleeing the S.S. Bush, as chief of staff Joshua Bolten says this all part of the "natural ebb and flow." The departed include Thomas Graham, Bush's top Russia adviser. In recounting all these escapes, Baker writes:

The departures take their toll, though. Bush was embarrassed to learn that a Russian general he hosted in the Oval Office this week has been accused of war crimes in Chechnya. Some officials suggested that would not have slipped onto his calendar had Graham, a veteran Moscow watcher, still been at the National Security Council.

Now this is what's scary. You don't need to be a "veteran Moscow watcher" to know that that Vladimir Shamanov--the Russian general Bush had to the White House--is a suspected war criminal. Type his name into Google and the first reference is his Wikipedia entry, which starts,

Vladimir Shamanov is a governor of the Ulyanovsk region of Russian Federation. Shamanov is a Major General in the Soviet and Russian Army, awarded with title of Hero of Russia. He has been criticized by human-rights groups for failing to control his troops in military actions during the Second Chechen War.

War Crimes Accusations
When he was a commander in the North Caucasus (Chechnya) region, he was awarded the Hero of the Russian Federation title for actions around the village of Alkhan-Yurt. However, Human Rights Watch have asked the Russian government to open an investigation into the incident, which HRW has declared a "massacre."

The "War Crimes Accusations" heading does appear in bold on that page.

Most sentient White House staffers would realize it might be problematic for Bush to meet with a general accused of overseeing a massacre. Isn't it SOP for White House staff to vet visitors and brief Bush about the foreign officials he invites to the White House? So even if Bush's top Russia guy had split, an intern could have Googled the general and prevented Bush from rubbing elbows with a fellow with bloody hands. If the White House cannot get something like this right, the Bush administration--and the country--is really in trouble. After all, anyone who wages war in the 21st Century really ought to know how to use the Internet.

The Cunningham Scandal: A White House Link?

It's a cliche: what a difference a Democratic congressional majority makes. The US attorney scandal, Walter Reed, the suppression of global warming data, the FBI's misuse of national security letters--Democratic legislators have been demanding documents, testimony and answers. Given that they now hold the purse strings and can shoot out subpoenas, the Democrats can no longer be ignored by the White House, executive agencies, and the media. Representative Henry Waxman, the relentless Democratic chairman of the government oversight and reform committee, has been leading the pack in investigating allegations of administration wrongdoing. (See my 2005 profile of Waxman here.) There's a lot for Waxman to cover, and he's being thorough. Consider the letter he sent the White House on Monday.

In that note to Joshua Bolten, President Bush's chief of staff, Waxman requested information about a $140,000 contract the White House awarded in July 2002 to MZM, Inc. This was Mitchell Wade's company. He's the (now former-) military contractor who paid more than $1 million in bribes to Republican Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who's in jail for having accepted these and other bribes in return for steering federal contracts to Wade and Brent Wilkes, another defense contractor. (Wade pleaded guilty; Wilkes has not.) What's intriguing about the contract Wade received from the White House is that its amount equals the price Wade paid in August 2002 to buy the Duke-Stir, the yacht Cunningham lived (and partied) on in Washington. According to the sentencing recommendation memo in Cunningham's case, Cunningham himself negotiated the $140,000 purchase price of the boat in the summer of 2002. This raises the intriguing possibility that Wade that summer needed money to buy Cunningham the yacht and--presto--a White House contract materialized.

And there's more: this contract was Wade's first prime contract with the federal government. The firm had been incorporated in 1993 but had pulled in no revenue through 2001. So Cunningham scandal watchers have wondered, did a White House contract help launch Wade on his felonious ways, and was this contract legitimate?

The modest contract reportedly covered supplying computers and office furniture to Vice President Dick Cheney's office. By the time it was signed, MZM, which had become an approved federal contractor only two months earlier, was already bribing Cunningham, a member of the influential defense appropriations subcommittee. Two months later, in September 2002, MZM hit it big, scoring a $250 million, five-year contract with the General Services Administration. Look at the timeline, one congressional investigator notes: May, MZM was listed as a federal supplier; July, it won a White House contract for $140,000; September, it obtained a $250 million contract. A not-too-suspicious mind could wonder if something--or someone--was juicing the process.

A look at that first contract--and how it had come to be--would seem a no-brainer for investigators. Plenty of MZM's subsequent doings have been probed. But as Waxman notes, "To date, however, there has been no examination of the circumstances surrounding MZM's initial federal contract and the role that White House officials played in the award and execution of the contract."

Months ago, I tried to obtain information about this contract. According to federal procurement records, the contract was for "ADP systems development services" and "custom computer programming services." What did MZM do for the White House under these terms? I contacted the Interior Department. Why Interior? It's home to an interagency contracting office that handles procurement for the White House. This office was established during the Clinton administration as a good-government measure aimed at consolidating contracting efforts. But this procurement reform has become subject to abuse. A recent Senate armed services committee hearing examined how this change in the procurement system has allowed agencies to escape effective oversight. A 2005 Government Accountability Office report slammed the Interior Department's interagency contracting office for "significant problems" in handling Pentagon contracts granted to CACI International for interrogation and "other intelligence-related services" in Iraq.

I asked the Interior Department if I could obtain a copy of the MZM contract under the Freedom of Information Act. The answer: you can submit a FOIA request, but you won't get anything. "It's national security," an Interior official told me, reciting various exemptions. The release of this information, he said, was restricted not by the Interior Department but by the Executive Office of the President because it "includes techniques and procedures used by the Secret Service for law enforcement investigations" and because its disclosure "could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law." He added, "There is no way to get any details."

A committee chairman with access to subpoenas might have better luck. Waxman has asked for all MZM contracts related to the White House and other materials, such as any communications between Wade, Wilkes, MZM officials and White House employees. Waxman's request also covers communications between the White House and Interior relating to MZM--for the obvious reason.

It could be that MZM in the summer of 2002 managed to snag a small White House contract in legitimate fashion, even as Wade was plotting a quick, bribery-greased rise to the top. But given that the Cunningham/MZM tale is one of sleaze and crime--I haven't even mentioned the prostitutes Cunningham received as bribes--Wade's first contract with the Bush administration deserves scrutiny. Republican legislators--no surprise--expressed no interest in this when they ran Congress. And, coincidentally or not, the US attorney in charge of the Cunningham case, Carol Lam, is one of the prosecutors who was fired by the Bush administration. But here comes Waxman, and the Case of MZM's First Contract is alive and open.

Update: See this Talking Points Memo posting for more news on this MZM contract.

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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.

From Havana With Hypocrisy

Most leaders of totalitarian states do not display much humor in public. But Ricardo Alarcon, the president of Cuba's National Assembly, has a flair for satire. How else to interpret his recent piece on The Nation's website, in which he nostalgically ruminates about C. Wright Mills, noted sociologist and author, on the 45th anniversary of Mills' death? Alarcon hails Mills for having led an "intense, creative and noble life" and publishing books "in the midst of McCarthyism and the cold war"--including his classic The Power Elite--that "unmasked the true nature of capitalism." But the Mills book of most interest to Alarcon is Listen, Yankee: The Revolution in Cuba, which was based partly on long conversations Mills had with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in the summer of 1960. As Alarcon writes, "Written without great academic pretensions, told in straightforward language through the voice of an imaginary and anonymous Cuban revolutionary, the book aimed to reach ordinary Americans. It quickly became a bestseller." The book obviously was sympathetic to Castro and his revolution.

Alarcon decries the FBI for having attempted to undermine Mills' book. The Bureau unsuccessfully tried, Alarcon notes, to persuade Mills' publisher to put out a competing book criticizing the Cuban revolution. The FBI was spying on Mills at this time, and Mills, according to FBI files, believed he might be targeted for assassination by the FBI or another American agency. "Mills's friends," Alarcon writes, "recall that he was concerned not only for himself but for his family, and that he had indeed acquired a handgun, which he even kept next to his bed while he slept." After Mills suffered a heart attack, Castro invited him to recuperate in Cuba. Alarcon's narrative: while the FBI chased Mills, Castro sought to help the noble intellectual. "C. Wright Mills paid a high price for his passionate love of truth," Alarcon declares.

Mills was hounded for challenging the conventional wisdom of his day. But Alarcon's concern for the plight of this one author is comical--in a dark fashion--for he heads a government that does not allow its citizens to challenge openly the conventional wisdom of the Castro regime. There is no free press in Alarcon's country, no freedom of expression. There is no "passionate love of truth" among the rulers of Cuba. Alarcon is crying for Mills, while his government does even worse to Cuban writers than the FBI did to Mills.

For some "passionate truth" about the state of intellectual freedom within Cuba, let's turn to the Committee To Protect Journalists' most recent annual report on Cuba. (By the way, Nation publisher emeritus Victor Navasky is a CPJ board member.) The report notes that CPJ "named Cuba one of the world's 10 Most Censored Countries." It explains:

The government owns and controls all media outlets and restricts Internet access. The three main newspapers represent the views of the Communist Party and other organizations controlled by the government.

No freedom to write. No freedom to surf the Internet. And no freedom to report:

The media operate under the supervision of the Communist Party's Department of Revolutionary Orientation, which develops and coordinates propaganda strategies. Those who try to work as independent reporters are harassed, detained, threatened with prosecution or jail, or barred from traveling. Their relatives are threatened with dismissal from their jobs. A small number of foreign correspondents report from Havana, but Cubans do not ever see their reports.

And what does Alarcon's government do to brave souls who try to act as independent journalists? CPJ says:

Cuba continued to be one of the world's leading jailers of journalists, second only to China. During 2006, two imprisoned journalists were released, but two more were jailed....

Of the 24 journalists who remained imprisoned, 22 were jailed in a massive March 2003 crackdown on the independent press. Their prison sentences on antistate charges ranged from 14 to 27 years. Many of them were jailed far from their homes, adding to the heavy burden on their families. Their families have described unsanitary prison conditions, inadequate medical care, and rotten food. Some imprisoned journalists were being denied religious guidance, and most shared cells with hardened criminals. Many were allowed family visits only once every three months and marital visits only once every four months--a schedule of visits far less frequent than those allowed most inmates. Relatives were harassed for talking to the foreign press and protesting the journalists' incarceration.

Imagine a Cuban who wants to write and publish a Cuban version of The Power Elite. That person would be locked up in a modern-day dungeon by Alarcon and his comrades. Alarcon, thus, has no standing to bemoan the harassment of Mills or to pontificate about the glories of pursuing establishment-defying truths. (Stating the obvious about the gross absence of political and human rights within Cuba should not be equated with support for the economic embargo maintained by the Bush administration against Cuba. The wrongs of each side do not justify the other.)

"Today," Alarcon writes, "Cuba forges a path to craft its own unique socialist system, rooted on its own historical experience and with the active participation of its people." Not the active participation of anyone who wants to write or report news and ideas not sanctioned by Alarcon and his colleagues. It takes nerve for a person who runs one of the ten most censored countries to praise a pioneering and influential free thinker. That's why Alarcon's accolade for Mills is best read as farce.

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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.

Did GOP Lawyer Mislead Congress About Plame Case?

I've had many a conservative say many an unflattering--and untrue--thing about me over the years (while some have been kind and accurate). But I don't believe any detractor has testified falsely about me before the U.S. Congress--not until Republican lawyer/commentator Victoria Toensing appeared before the House oversight and government reform committee on Friday.

Toensing was on a panel that was part of the hearing starring retired CIA officer Valerie (Plame) Wilson, who for the first time publicly discussed at length the leak episode and her former status at the agency as a covert officer. After Wilson finished and after James Knodell, director of security at the White House, testified (to the surprise and outrage of Democratic members of the committee) that the White House never investigated the possible involvement of White House officials (such as Karl Rove) in the Plame leak, Toensing took a seat at the witness table.

Toensing, who was a lawyer for the Republican-run Senate intelligence committee in the 1980s and a Justice Department official during the Reagan administration, has been a point-person for the Libby Lobby, denouncing special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation of the Plame leak and deriding his indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former top aide, for perjury and obstruction of justice. At the hearing, Toensing, looking to absolve White House officials of wrongdoing, blasted the CIA for not adequately protecting Valerie Wilson, and she argued that Valerie Wilson was not a "covert agent" under the terms of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which makes it a crime for a government official to disclose information about an undercover CIA officer in certain circumstances. Toensing helped draft the law in the early 1980s. (More on all that in a moment.)

As the hearing was winding down--when the audience had thinned out and the camera crews and reporters were mostly gone--Democratic Representative Chris Van Hollen grilled Toensing about the White House's internal lack of curiosity about the leak. While fending off the questions, Toensing dragged me into the picture. Here's the exchange:

VAN HOLLEN: [White House press secretary] Scott McClellan in another statement said, "We have no information in the White House about any of these disclosures." Before you made that kind of statement, wouldn't you undertake some kind of investigation?

TOENSING: Well, I'm not here to answer for Scott McClellan. I don't know what was in his mind.

VAN HOLLEN: ...A long period of time went by when no administration administrative action was taken. And, as I understand your response to the question by [Democratic Representative Diane] Watson, you would agree that that kind of sort of investigation goes on routinely when there's been a disclosure of classified information, does it not?

TOENSING: It can and it cannot. I mean, I certainly wouldn't have done it in the brouhaha that had occurred well within a week of Bob Novak's publication [of the column that outed Valerie Wilson]. By the way, Bob Novak was not the first person to say she was covert. That was David Corn, who printed that she was covert. All Bob Novak did was call her an operative.

Stop the presses. I said Valerie Wilson was a "covert" officer? This is a canard that some Republican spinners have been peddling for years, in an attempt to get Novak off the hook while muddying the waters. I long ago gave up on persuading conservative ops like Toensing that this is nonsense they should drop, and I no longer routinely reply every time the silly charge is repeated. But when someone testifies falsely about you to Congress, you practically have a civic duty to call him or her on it.

Once again (Victoria), here's what happened. On July 14, 2003--in the midst of the firestorm fueled by former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's charge that the White House had twisted the prewar intelligence--Novak published a column about the Wilson affair. Halfway through the piece, Novak, citing "two senior administration officials," reported,

Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction.

This was the first media reference to Valerie Wilson as a CIA officer. It appeared in newspapers across the country. Intelligence agencies around the world must have noticed. Once this story was out, Valerie Wilson's cover was destroyed; her career was ruined; her operations and contacts were imperiled to whatever degree they were imperiled.

Two days later--after the damage was done--I wrote the first article noting that the leak was "a potential violation of the law" and explained that Novak's sources could face prosecution under the little-known Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Note the use of the word "potential." For this article, I interviewed Joseph Wilson and, as the piece reported, he would "neither confirm nor deny that his wife...works for the CIA."

My piece raised the possibility that Valerie Wilson was a "nonofficial cover" officer (a.k.a. a NOC). This was only deduction on my part. Valerie Wilson was known to friends as an energy analyst for a private firm. If she indeed was a CIA officer, she would have to be a NOC, for CIA officers who operate under regular cover tell people they work for other government agencies (such as the State Department or the Pentagon). CIA officers under regular cover do not pretend to be businesspeople. My article did not state that she was a CIA official (NOC or non-NOC). In the column, I even raised the possibility that Novak had botched the story and that "the White House has wrongly branded" Valerie Wilson "as a CIA officer."

Bottom line: I did not identify her as a "covert" officer or any other kind of CIA official. I merely speculated she was a NOC. That speculation was based on Novak's column. And given that Novak had already IDed her as a CIA "operative on weapons of mass destruction" (which happened to be a "covert" position within the agency), her cover--whether nonofficial or official--was blown to smithereens by the time I posted my article.

Toensing is engaged in a desperation-driven and misleading act of hairsplitting when she contends that Novak merely called her an "operative" and that I was the first to "print that she was covert." I never said Valerie Wilson was anything. At the time of the leak and in the following days, I did not know if she was a CIA employee of any kind. (But in our book, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, Michael Isikoff and I revealed for the first time what Valerie Wilson did at the CIA: she was operations chief for the Joint Task Force on Iraq, a unit with the Counterproliferation Division of the agency's clandestine operations directorate.)

So Toensing made a false statement to Congress. It was not her only one that day.

Toensing has repeatedly declared in recent years that Valerie Wilson was not a "covert" officer. In a Washington Post article last month, she made a definitive declaration: "Plame was not covert." Of course, Plame was a clandestine officer--as she and the CIA have confirmed. But Toensing claims that when she denies Valerie Wilson was a "covert" CIA employee she only means that Valerie Wilson was not a "covert agent" under the definitions of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. But to make this case, Toensing has to be disingenuous about the law she helped to craft.

During her testimony on Friday, she pointed to the law's definition of a "covert agent" and said, "The person is supposed to reside outside of the United States." That is not what the law says--and one can presume Toensing knows the actual details of the legislation. In defining a "covert agent" (whose identity cannot be disclosed under the act), the law cites two criteria for a current officer or employee of an intelligence agency: that person's "identity as such an officer, employee, or member is classified information" and that officer has to be "serving outside the United States or has within the last five years served outside the United States." Pay attention to Toensing's sleight of hand. Under oath, she told the committee the law applied to clandestine officers residing abroad. Not so.

In her recent Washington Post piece, Toensing wrote of Valerie Wilson, "She worked at CIA headquarters and had not been stationed abroad within five years of the date of Novak's column." This means, Toensing has argued, that Valerie Wilson could not be covered by the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. But Valerie Wilson testified that she had been dispatched on overseas missions under cover in the five years prior to the Novak column--an indication she had "served" abroad. (Hubris reported that as well.) Toensing is free to maintain that the law ought to cover only those officers residing overseas as part of a long-term foreign assignment. But that is not what the act says. By stating that the act defines a "covert agent" as an officer residing abroad (as opposed to an officer who had "served" overseas), Toensing misrepresented the law to members of the committee. (By the way, both Fitzgerald and the CIA have said that Valerie Wilson's employment relationship with the CIA was classified.)

As a lawyer, Toensing is probably aware that knowingly making a false statement to a congressional committee conducting an investigation or review is a federal crime. (See Title 18, Section 1001 of the U.S. Code.) The punishment is a fine and/or imprisonment of up to five years. To say that I identified Valerie Wilson as a "covert" officer is to make a false statement.

Toensing's testimony did not impress Representative Henry Waxman, the committee chairman. As he wrapped up the session, he told her, "Some of the statements you've made without any doubt and with great authority I understand may not be accurate, so we're going to check the information and we're going to hold the record open to put in other things that might contradict some of what you had to say." Perhaps Waxman will include this article in the record.

******

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.

Valerie Plame Speaks--Finally--About CIA Leak Case

Okay, can we finally get rid of one of the Libby Lobby's key talking points--that Valerie Plame Wilson was not an undercover CIA employee? This should be one outcome of the House oversight and government reform committee hearing on Friday, at which Valerie Wilson spoke for the first time at length about the leak case.

From the start of this scandal, confederates of the Bush White House (and backers of the war) have tried to diminish the significance of the administration leak that outed her as a CIA officer (as both legal and national security matters). Conservatives insisted she was not a clandestine officer doing anything important and that her employment at the CIA was either no big secret or no secret at all. A brief sampling:

* On September 29, 2003, former Republican Party spokesman Clifford May wrote that the July 14, 2003 Robert Novak column that disclosed Valerie Wilson's CIA connection "wasn't news to me. I had been told that--but not by anyone working in the White House. Rather, I learned it from someone who formerly worked in the government and he mentioned it in an offhand manner, leading me to infer it was something that insiders were well aware of."

* On September 30, 2003, National Review writer Jonah Goldberg huffed, "Wilson's wife is a desk jockey and much of the Washington cocktail circuit knew that already."

* On October 1, 2003, Novak wrote, "How big a secret was it? It was well known around Washington that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA....[A]n unofficial source at the agency says she has been an analyst, not in covert operations."

* On July 17, 2005, Republican Representative Roy Blunt, then the House majority leader, said on Face the Nation, "This was a job that the ambassador's wife had that she went to every day. It was a desk job. I think many people in Washington understood that her employment was at the CIA, and she went to that office every day."

* On February 18, 2007, as the Libby trial was under way, Republican lawyer/operative Victoria Toensing asserted in The Washington Post, "Plame was not covert."

Anyone who has read Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, by Michael Isikoff and me, would know (as we disclosed for the first time) that Valerie Wilson was the undercover operations chief for the Joint Task Force on Iraq of the Counterproliferation Division, a unit of the agency's clandestine operations directorate. (See my piece, "What Valerie Plame Really Did at the CIA," here.) Both the book and the article reported that she had traveled overseas--undercover--within the five years before her name appeared in the Novak column.

There was other evidence--official evidence--that she had been a covert officer at the CIA. When special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald indicted Libby in October 2005, he said that Valerie Wilson's employment at the CIA was classified information. (He repeated that at the trial.) And in a January 2004 letter to Democratic Representative John Conyers, the CIA noted that the Valerie Wilson's CIA employment status was "classified information."

Now comes the victim of the leak. Testifying to the committee, Valerie Wilson reported that the CIA still prohibits her from saying much about her CIA career. (The agency has held up the publication of her memoirs, claiming at one point that she cannot acknowledge working for the CIA prior to 2002.) But Plame was able to tell the committee, "I was a covert officer." She said she helped to "manage and run operations." She noted that prior to the Iraq war she had "raced to discover intelligence" on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. "I also traveled to foreign countries on secret missions," she said under oath, "to find vital intelligence." She said these trips had occurred within the past five years. She added that she could "count on one hand" the number of people outside the CIA who knew of her employment at the agency: "It was not common knowledge on the Georgetown cocktail circuit." She also explained that a covert officer at the CIA is "just like a general" who may spend time commanding troops in Afghanistan and then return to the Pentagon before heading off to another theater: "Covert operations officers, when they rotate back for temporary assignment in Washington, are still covert."

Before she testified, Representative Henry Waxman, the committee chairman, read an opening statement in which he said that Valerie Wilson had been a "covert" officer" who had "served at various times overseas" and "worked on the prevention of the development and use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States." Waxman noted that the CIA had cleared this statement. And during the questioning period, Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings reported that General Michael Hayden, the CIA director, had told him, "Ms. Wilson was covert."

Will Toensing, Novak, May, Blunt, Goldberg and others admit they got this wrong? Perhaps even apologize to Valerie Wilson for misinforming the public about her clandestine public service? At the least, they should stop repeating the canard she was not a covert officer. (Victoria Toensing, this means you.)

At the hearing, other aspects of the leak affair were discussed. Valerie Wilson noted she certainly didn't know if any of the administration officials who disseminated information about her (Libby, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Richard Armitage) realized she was undercover. But she added, "They should have been diligent in protecting me and other CIA officers." She explained that many employees of the CPD--where she worked--are covert, suggesting that Cheney and Libby (who both knew she was employed in that division) should have been careful in handling information about her.

One lingering question in the leak scandal is how much damage was done by the disclosure of her CIA connection. Her career as an operations officer was derailed. But were past or present operations blown? Specific sources and contacts endangered? Wilson testified that the CIA did a damage assessment but did not share it with her.

Wilson also addressed the issue of whether she dispatched her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, on his February 2002 trip to Niger, where he concluded there was not much to the allegation that Iraq had been uranium-shopping there. For years, White House allies have tried to dismiss the importance of Wilson's trip by suggesting he was not qualified for the mission and had been sent (perhaps on a nepotistic junket) by his wife. They have pointed to a Senate intelligence committee report that suggested Valerie Wilson was instrumental in sending him. Before the House committee, she testified that she did not have the authority to dispatch her husband on such a trip, that a coworker had the idea to send Joe Wilson (who years earlier had taken on a similar assignment for the Counterproliferation Division), and that she had merely been asked to write a note confirming her husband's credentials. She also said that a colleague was misquoted within the Senate intelligence committee report (saying she had proposed her husband for the trip) and that this colleague subsequently was prevented by a superior from sending the committee a memo correcting the record. In other words, her husband's detractors have overplayed this angle. (By he way, much of this story was reported in Hubris.) Democrats on the committee said they would ask the CIA for a copy of the smothered memo.

After Valerie Wilson, who left the CIA in early 2006, finished, Waxman declared, "We need an investigation. This is not about Scooter Libby and not just about Valerie Plame Wilson." Waxman was right in that the Libby trial did not answer all the questions about the leak affair, especially those about the roles of Bush administration officials other than Libby. How did Cheney learn of Valerie Wilson's employment at the Counterproliferation Division and what did he do with that information? How did Karl Rove learn of her CIA connection? How did Rove manage to keep his job after the White House declared anyone involved in the leak would be fired? (Rove confirmed Armitage's leak to Novak and leaked information about Valerie Wilson's CIA employment to Matt Cooper, then of Time.) What did Bush know about Cheney's and Rove's actions? What did Bush do in response to the disclosure that Rove had leaked and had falsely claimed to White House press secretary Scott McClellan that he wasn't involved in the leak?

Representative Tom Davis, the senior Republican on the committee, seemed rather unhappy about the prospect of a committee inquiry and noted that Fitzgerald already had investigated the leak for years. Fitzgerald's mission, though, was to determine if a crime had been committed. Not all wrongdoing in Washington is criminal. Valerie Wilson's presence at the hearing was a reminder that White House officials (beyond Libby) engaged in improper conduct (which possibly threatened national security) and lied about it--while their comrades in the commentariat spinned away to distort the public debate.

The world's most famous CIA officer finally had her say in public. Her testimony showed that critical parts of the leak story remain unknown. Given that she and her husband are pursuing a civil lawsuit against the leakers (Rove, Libby, Armitage, Cheney and others), that she is battling the CIA to publish her memoirs, and that Waxman is considering mounting a congressional investigation, the tale of the CIA officer outed into the cold is not yet done.

******

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.

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