Capital Games | The Nation


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.

Armitage Confesses--and Prompts a Question for Rove

On Thursday, Richard Armitage went on CBS News and confessed: he was the original source for the Robert Novak column that outed Valerie Wilson as a CIA officer. He apologized to Valerie and Joseph Wilson. In an interview with The New York Times, Armitage said, "It was a terrible error on my part. There wasn't a day when I didn't feel like I had let down the president, the secretary of state, my colleagues, my family and the Wilsons. I value my ability to keep state secrets. This was bad, and I really felt badly about this."

Armitage is coming forward now because the book I co-wrote with Michael Isikoff of Newsweek, HUBRIS: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, disclosed Armitage's role and quoted named sources at the State Department confirming Armitage's role as the leaker. Armitage says that he kept his silence all these years because special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had asked him not to say anything. But after our book triggered a splash of news reports, Armitage asked Fitzgerald if he could go public, and he obtained Fitzgerald's consent.

Which brings me to a rather simple question: When will Karl Rove do the same?

He is no longer under investigation. But he did play a critical role in the leak case by confirming Armitage's information for Novak and then (before the Novak column appeared) leaking the same classified information to Matt Cooper of Time, as part of a campaign to discredit Joseph Wilson. (Hubris--which chronicles the behind-the-scenes battles in the CIA, the White House and Congress in the run-up to the war--has new details on Rove and Scooter Libby's efforts to undermine Wilson.) So will Rove now explain precisely what he did and why he did it, as Armitage has? Is he willing to admit he mishandled state secrets? Is he also sorry? Will he apologize to anyone?

Once upon a time, President Bush said he wanted the truth about the leak to come out. Libby, who is facing indictment for having allegedly lied to FBI agents and a grand jury about his involvement in the leak episode, may feel he is in no position to emulate Armitage. But Rove is not so encumbered.

What reason might Rove have for not following Armitage's lead?

The Meaning of the Armitage Leak in the Plame Case

One mystery solved.

It was Richard Armitage, when he was deputy secretary of state in July 2003, who first disclosed to conservative columnist Robert Novak that the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson was a CIA employee.

A Newsweek article--based on the new book I cowrote with Newsweek correspondent Michael Isikoff, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War--discloses that Armitage passed this classified information to Novak during a July 8, 2003 interview. Though Armitage's role as Novak's primary source has been a subject of speculation, the case is now closed. Our sources for this are three government officials who spoke to us confidentially and who had direct knowledge of Armitage's conversation with Novak. Carl Ford Jr., who was head of the State Department's intelligence branch at the time, told us--on the record--that after Armitage testified before the grand jury investigating the leak case, he told Ford, "I'm afraid I may be the guy that caused the whole thing."

Ford recalls Armitage said he had "slipped up" and had told Novak more that he should have. According to Ford, Armitage was upset that "he was the guy that fucked up."

The unnamed government sources also told us about what happened three months later when Novak wrote a column noting that his original source was "no partisan gunslinger." After reading that October 1 column, Armitage called his boss and long-time friend, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and acknowledged he was Novak's source. Powell, Armitage and William Taft IV, the State Department's top lawyer, frantically conferred about what to do. As Taft told us (on the record), "We decided we were going to tell [the investigators] what we thought had happened." Taft notified the criminal division of the Justice Department--which was then handling the investigation--and FBI agents interviewed Armitage the next day. In that interview, Armitage admitted he had told Novak about Wilson's wife and her employment at the CIA. The Newsweek piece lays all this out.

Colleagues of Armitage told us that Armitage--who is known to be an inveterate gossip--was only conveying a hot tidbit, not aiming to do Joe Wilson harm. Ford says, "My sense from Rich is that it was just chitchat." (When Armitage testified before the Iran-contra grand jury many years earlier, he had described himself as "a terrible gossip." Iran-contra independent counsel Lawrence Walsh subsequently accused him of providing "false testimony" to investigators but said that he could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Armitage's misstatements had been "deliberate.")

The Plame leak in Novak's column has long been cited by Bush administration critics as a deliberate act of payback, orchestrated to punish and/or discredit Joe Wilson after he charged that the Bush administration had misled the American public about the prewar intelligence. The Armitage news does not fit neatly into that framework. He and Powell were not the leading advocates of war in the administration (even though Powell became the chief pitchman for the case for war when he delivered a high-profile speech at the UN). They were not the political hitmen of the Bush gang. Armitage might have mentioned Wilson's wife merely as gossip. But--as Hubris notes--he also had a bureaucratic interest in passing this information to Novak.

On July 6--two days before Armitage's meeting with Novak--Wilson published an op-ed in The New York Times on July 6, 2003, that revealed that he had been sent by the CIA to Niger to investigate the charge that Iraq had been trying to buy uranium in that impoverished African nation. Wilson wrote that his mission had been triggered by an inquiry to the CIA from Vice President Dick Cheney, who had read an intelligence report about the Niger allegation, and that he (Wilson) had reported back to the CIA that the charge was highly unlikely. Noting that President George W. Bush had referred to this allegation in his 2003 State of the Union speech, Wilson maintained that the administration had used a phoney claim to lead the country to war. His article ignited a firestorm. That meant that the State Department had good reason (political reason, that is) to distance itself from Wilson, a former State Department official. Armitage may well have referred to Wilson's wife and her CIA connection to make the point that State officials--already suspected by the White House of not being team players--had nothing to do with Wilson and his trip.

Whether he had purposefully mentioned this information to Novak or had slipped up, Armitage got the ball rolling--and abetted a White House campaign under way to undermine Wilson. At the time, top White House aides--including Karl Rove and Scooter Libby--were trying to do in Wilson. And they saw his wife's position at the CIA as a piece of ammunition. As John Dickerson wrote in Slate, senior White House aides that week were encouraging him to investigate who had sent Joe Wilson on his trip. They did not tell him they believed Wilson's wife had been involved. But they clearly were trying to push him toward that information.

Shortly after Novak spoke with Armitage, he told Rove that he had heard that Valerie Wilson had been behind her husband's trip to Niger, and Rove said that he knew that, too. So a leak from Armitage (a war skeptic not bent on revenge against Wilson) was confirmed by Rove (a Bush defender trying to take down Wilson). And days later--before the Novak column came out--Rove told Time magazine's Matt Cooper that Wilson's wife was a CIA employee and involved in his trip.

Bush critics have long depicted the Plame leak as a sign of White House thuggery. I happened to be the first journalist to report that the leak in the Novak column might be evidence of a White House crime--a violation of the little-known Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which makes it a crime for a government official to disclose information about an undercover CIA officer (if that government official knew the covert officer was undercover and had obtained information about the officer through official channels). Two days after the leak appeared, I wrote:

Did senior Bush officials blow the cover of a US intelligence officer working covertly in a field of vital importance to national security--and break the law--in order to strike at a Bush administration critic and intimidate others?

And I stated,

Now there is evidence Bushies used classified information and put the nation's counter-proliferation efforts at risk merely to settle a score.

The Armitage leak was not directly a part of the White House's fierce anti-Wilson crusade. But as Hubris notes, it was, in a way, linked to the White House effort, for Amitage had been sent a key memo about Wilson's trip that referred to his wife and her CIA connection, and this memo had been written, according to special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, at the request of I. Lewis Scooter Libby, the vice president's chief of staff. Libby had asked for the memo because he was looking to protect his boss from the mounting criticism that Bush and Cheney had misrepresented the WMD intelligence to garner public support for the invasion of Iraq.

The memo included information on Valerie Wilson's role in a meeting at the CIA that led to her husband's trip. This critical memo was--as Hubris discloses--based on notes that were not accurate. (You're going to have to read the book for more on this.) But because of Libby's request, a memo did circulate among State Department officials, including Armitage, that briefly mentioned Wilson's wife.

Armitage's role aside, the public record is without question: senior White House aides wanted to use Valerie Wilson's CIA employment against her husband. Rove leaked the information to Cooper, and Libby confirmed Rove's leak to Cooper. Libby also disclosed information on Wilson's wife to New York Times reporter Judith Miller.

As Hubris also reveals--and is reported in the Newsweek story--Armitage was also the source who told Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in mid-June 2003 that Joe Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. Woodward did not reveal he had learned about Wilson's wife until last November, when he released a statement recounting a conversation with a source (whom he did not name). Woodward acknowledged at that time that he had not told his editors about this interview--and that he had recently given a deposition to Fitzgerald about this conversation.

Speculation regarding Woodward's source quickly focused on Armitage. Last week, the Associated Press disclosed State Department records indicating that Woodward had met with Armitage at the State Department on June 13, 2003. In pegging Armitage as Woodward's source, Hubris cites five confidential sources--including government officials and an Armitage confidant.

Woodward came in for some harsh criticism when he and the Post revealed that he had been the first reporter told about Wilson's wife by a Bush administration official. During Fitzgerald's investigation, Woodward had repeatedly appeared on television and radio talk shows and dismissed the CIA leak probe without noting that he had a keen personal interest in the matter: his good source, Richard Armitage, was likely a target of Fitzgerald. Woodward was under no obligation to disclose a confidential source and what that source had told him. But he also was under no obligation to go on television and criticize an investigation while withholding relevant information about his involvement in the affair.

Fitzgerald, as Hubris notes, investigated Armitage twice--once for the Novak leak; then again for not initially telling investigators about his conversation with Woodward. Each time, Fitzgerald decided not to prosecute Armitage. Abiding by the rules governing grand jury investigations, Fitzgerald said nothing publicly about Armitage's role in the leak.

The outing of Armitage does change the contours of the leak case. The initial leaker was not plotting vengeance. He and Powell had not been gung-ho supporters of the war. Yet Bush backers cannot claim the leak was merely an innocent slip. Rove confirmed the classified information to Novak and then leaked it himself as part of an effort to undermine a White House critic. Afterward, the White House falsely insisted that neither Rove nor Libby had been involved in the leak and vowed that anyone who had participated in it would be bounced from the administration. Yet when Isikoff and Newsweek in July 2005 revealed a Matt Cooper email showing that Rove had leaked to Cooper, the White House refused to acknowledge this damning evidence, declined to comment on the case, and did not dismiss Rove. To date, the president has not addressed Rove's role in the leak. It remains a story of ugly and unethical politics, stonewalling, and lies.

A NOTE OF SELF-PROMOTION: Hubris covers much more than the leak case. It reveals behind-the-scene battles at the White House, the CIA, the State Department, and Capitol Hill that occurred in the year before the invasion of Iraq. It discloses secrets about the CIA's prewar plans for Iraq. It chronicles how Bush and Cheney reacted to the failure to find WMDs in Iraq. It details how Bush and other aides neglected serious planning for the post-invasion period. It recounts how the unproven theories of a little-known academic who was convinced Saddam Hussein was behind all acts of terrorism throughout the world influenced Bush administration officials. It reports what went wrong inside The New York Times regarding its prewar coverage of Iraq's WMDs. It shows precisely how the intelligence agencies screwed up and how the Bush administration misused the faulty and flimsy (and fraudulent) intelligence. The book, a narrative of insider intrigue, also relates episodes in which intelligence analysts and experts made the right calls about Iraq's WMDs but lost the turf battles.

And there's more, including:

* how and why the CIA blew the call on the Niger forgeries

* why US intelligence officials suspected Iranian intelligence was trying to influence US decisionmaking through the Iraqi National Congress

* why members of Congress on both sides of the aisle who doubted the case for war were afraid to challenge the prewar intelligence

* how Cheney and his aides sifted through raw intelligence desperately trying to find evidence to justify the Iraq invasion

* how Karl Rove barely managed to escape indictment with a shaky argument.

And there's more beyond that. In other words, this is not a book on the leak case. It includes the leak episode because the leak came about partly due to the White House need to keep its disingenuous sales campaign going after the invasion. Feel free to see for yourself. The book goes on sale September 8. Its Amazon.com page can be found here.

This was posted at my blog at www.davidcorn.com.

Armitage Was the Original Leaker in Plame Case

The first piece of news from HUBRIS: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War, my new book (co-written with Michael Isikoff of Newsweek), has hit. Richard Armitage was the original leaker in the Plame case. The details are in a Newsweek story based on the book. Click here. I'll have more to say about this here and elsewhere on Sunday morning.

At Press Conference, Bush Stays the Course

George W. Bush keeps trying to rally popular support for his war in Iraq. But he has little to offer other than stay-the course-ism. He cannot point to progress in Iraq. Nor can he point to a plan that would seem promising. Thus, he is left only with rhetoric--the same rhetoric.

That was on display during a presidential press conference at the White House on Monday. Here's a selective run-down.

One reporter asked,

More than 3,500 Iraqis were killed last month, the highest civilian monthly toll since the war began. Are you disappointed with the lack of progress by Iraq's unity government in bringing together the sectarian and ethnic groups?

Bush replied,

No, I am aware that extremists and terrorists are doing everything they can to prevent Iraq's democracy from growing stronger. That's what I'm aware of.

He could not bring himself to say he is disappointed by the government's inability to curb the sectarian violence? That was an odd way to defend his actions in Iraq. Bush did go on to say,

And, therefore, we have a plan to help them--"them," the Iraqis--achieve their objectives. Part of the plan is political; that is the help the Maliki government work on reconciliation and to work on rehabilitating the community. The other part is, of course, security. And I have given our commanders all the flexibility they need to adjust tactics to be able to help the Iraqi government defeat those who want to thwart the ambitions of the people. And that includes a very robust security plan for Baghdad.

A question: when would it be fair to judge the plan's success? The plan has supposedly already been implemented. Yet the death count is rising in Iraq. A sharp-eyed (or sharp-eared) reporter should have asked, "If the death count goes up next month, will that mean the plan is a failure? And how should Americans (and Iraqis) evaluate whether the plan is working?" Or as Donald Rumsfeld might say, what are the operative metrics?

Bush repeatedly said that it would be disastrous for the United States to disengage from Iraq. He claimed,

It will embolden those who are trying to thwart the ambitions of reformers. In this case, it would give the terrorists and extremists an additional tool besides safe haven, and that is revenues from oil sales.

Regarding the "reformers"--and Bush noted this included reformers throughout the region--the US invasion of Iraq and the recent (and partially still ongoing war between Israel and Hezbollah) has undercut the reformers of the Middle East, or so say many such reformers. These reformers report they are on thinner ice because of US policies. Bush's actions, according to the grunts of Middle East reform, have not emboldened them. As for turning Iraq into a safe haven for terrorists and extremists, Bush has already accomplished that. An American journalist who had recently returned from Baghdad told me a few weeks ago that neighborhoods within a mile or so of the Green Zone in Baghdad are totally under the control of insurgents. Whole swaths of Iraq are beyond the authority of the Iraqi government. These areas can be safe havens for all sorts of miscreants. And it's fear-mongering to suggest that if the United States were to withdraw that anti-American jihadists will control the state and be enriched by oil revenues. Last time I checked, the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds all had an interest in Iraq. These groups are unlikely to turn the nation over to the few jihadist terrorists operating within Iraq.

One exchange did not inspire confidence. A reporter asked,

Mr. President, I'd like to go back to Iraq. You've continually cited the elections, the new government, its progress in Iraq, and yet the violence has gotten worse in certain areas. You've had to go to Baghdad again. Is it not time for a new strategy? And if not, why not?

Bush responded,

You've covered the Pentagon, you know that the Pentagon is constantly adjusting tactics because they have the flexibility from the White House to do so.

The reporter--who was not asking about tactics--interrupted:

I'm talking about strategy.

Bush then said:

The strategy is to help the Iraqi people achieve their objectives and their dreams, which is a democratic society. That's the strategy.

Actually, that's not a strategy. That's a goal. A commander in chief should know the difference. A strategy is how one goes about--in a general way--accomplishing goals. Tactics are how one implements the strategy. After Bush talked about giving military commanders in Iraq the "flexibility" to "change tactics on the ground," this interesting back-and-forth occurred:

Sir, that's not really the question. The strategy --

THE PRESIDENT: Sounded like the question to me.

Q: You keep -- you keep saying that you don't want to leave. But is your strategy to win working? Even if you don't want to leave? You've gone into Baghdad before, these things have happened before.

THE PRESIDENT: If I didn't think it would work, I would change -- our commanders would recommend changing the strategy. They believe it will work.

Seems as if Bush was saying that his commanders are in charge of the strategy. But isn't that his job?

Later on came this exchange:

Q: But are you frustrated, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: Frustrated? Sometimes I'm frustrated. Rarely surprised. Sometimes I'm happy. This is -- but war is not a time of joy. These aren't joyous times. These are challenging times, and they're difficult times, and they're straining the psyche of our country.

To recap: he is not "disappointed" (see above), but he is occasionally "frustrated." Yet hardly "surprised." Wait a moment. Does that mean he invaded Iraq realizing that the war there would turn into an ugly sectarian conflict that would bog down US troops for over three years? If so, why didn't he say something before the invasion about this? Or, better yet, why didn't he and the Pentagon prepare for such an eventuality? Citizens should hope he was damn surprised by what has happened in Iraq--even though that would not make him any less culpable.

Bush repeatedly acknowledged there is a legitimate debate whether the United States should disengage from Iraq. He noted,

I will never question the patriotism of somebody who disagrees with me.

This statement is--how should we put it?--not as accurate as it could be. Campaigning for congressional Republicans in 2002 Bush said that Senate Democrats were "more interested in special interests in Washington and not interested in the security of the American people." That certainly is not how one would describe a patriot. More recently, Bush's own Republican Party accused the Democrats of plotting to weaken the country. After a federal judge ruled that Bush's warrantless wiretapping program was unconstitutional, the GOP sent out an email headlined, "Liberal Judge Backs Dem Agenda To Weaken National Security." Accusing someone of having a gameplan to "weaken national security" is indeed questioning their patriotism. Has Bush decried this Republican National Committee tactic? Not in public.

The press conference allowed for a brief exploration of Bush's rationale for invading Iraq. One journalist inquired,

A lot of the consequences you mentioned for pulling out [such as chaos in Iraq, terrorist running amok, etc.] seem like maybe they never would have been there if we hadn't gone in. How do you square all of that?

Bush fired back:

I square it because, imagine a world in which you had Saddam Hussein who had the capacity to make a weapon of mass destruction, who was paying suiciders to kill innocent life, who would -- who had relations with Zarqawi. Imagine what the world would be like with him in power. The idea is to try to help change the Middle East.

Well, as both Charles Duelfer and David Kay--administration-appointed WMD hunters--reported, Saddam did not have any serious capacity to produce WMDs. None. He had no weapons and no serious production capability. So, yes, one would have to "imagine" such a threat. As for Saddam's relations with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (now deceased), there is no evidence that Saddam had anything to do with him before the war. As Colin Powell noted in his disastrous UN speech, Zarqawi at the time was operating out of northern Iraq, which was territory not under Baghdad's control. Once more, a healthy dose of imagination is required to follow Bush's argument.

The president continued:

You know, I've heard this theory about everything was just fine until we arrived, and kind of "we're going to stir up the hornet's nest" theory. It just doesn't hold water, as far as I'm concerned. The terrorists attacked us and killed 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East.

That led to this point-counterpoint:

Q: What did Iraq have to do with that?

THE PRESIDENT: What did Iraq have to do with what?

Q: The attack on the World Trade Center?

THE PRESIDENT: Nothing, except for it's part of -- and nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. Iraq was a -- the lesson of September the 11th is, take threats before they fully materialize....Nobody has ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq.

Not exactly. Dick Cheney and other hawks in the administration repeatedly said that there was a connection between Iraq and 9/11, citing an unconfirmed, single-source intelligence report that 9/11 ringleader Mohamad Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague five months before the attack. Yet the FBI and the CIA (and later the 9/11 Commission) had concluded that there was no evidence to substantiate this report and that the meeting likely did not happen. True, Bush officials did not claim that Saddam had "ordered" the attack, but they did suggest that Baghdad had participated in the attack--even when there was no evidence to support that assertion.

So over three years after Bush ordered US troops into Iraq, he is still claiming that Saddam was something of a WMD threat and he is refusing to acknowledge that his administration did attempt to link Saddam to the 9/11 attack--all while professing he has a strategy (or is it a set of tactics?) to win in Iraq. This is not the sort of stuff that will hearten a nation. Bush remains lost in Iraq, with the rest of the country (and the world) held hostage by the mistakes and miscalculations he will not concede.

In the NSA Case, a Judge Says No to King George

In ruling on Thursday that the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program is unconstitutional and must be halted, U.S. district Judge Anna Diggs Taylor slammed the White House on several critical fronts.

For months, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and other administration aides have been defending--even championing--what they call the "terrorist surveillance program," under which the National Security Agency can intercept communications that involve an American citizen or resident without a warrant if one party to the communication is overseas and suspected of being linked to anti-American terrorists). They have maintained that the president has the authority as commander in chief to authorize such surveillance. Though the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) generally forbids wiretapping without warrants, the White House has contended that Bush is not bound by the limitations of that law. This claim--arising from the Bush administration's view of expansive (even supreme) presidential power--set up a constitutional clash. And in the first round of the legal battle, Judge Taylor has knocked out the White House argument.

In her decision, she accused the administration of dishonestly arguing that the lawsuit filed by the ACLU and others (including journalists, researchers and lawyers) against the NSA wiretapping should be dismissed because it would expose state secrets:

It is undisputed that Defendants have publicly admitted to the following: (1) the TSP [Terrorist Surveillance Program] exists; (2) it operates without warrants; (3) it targets communications where one party to the communication is outside the United States, and the government has a reasonable basis to conclude that one party to the communication is a member of al Qaeda, affiliated with al Qaeda, or a member of an organization affiliated with al Qaeda, or working in support of al Qaeda. As the Government has on many occasions confirmed the veracity of these allegations, the state secrets privilege does not apply to this information.

She added:

Defendants assert that they cannot defend this case without the exposure of state secrets. This court disagrees. The Bush Administration has repeatedly told the general public that there is a valid basis in law for the TSP. Further, Defendants have contended that the President has the authority under the AUMF [legislation authorizing Bush to use military force against Iraq] and the Constitution to authorize the continued use of the TSP. Defendants [the Bush administration] have supported these arguments without revealing or relying on any classified information. Indeed, the court has reviewed the classified information and is of the opinion that this information is not necessary to any viable defense to the TSP....Consequently, the court finds Defendants' argument that they cannot defend this case without the use of classified information to be disingenuous and without merit.

In other words, Bush cannot hide behind an it's-classified defense. (Taylor did say that the administration could do so in a related matter--the data-mining of phone records by the NSA. That's because not enough information has been publicly released about this covert program.)

The judge reserved her sharpest words for slicing and dicing the administration's contention that Bush had the authority to ignore FISA and, in essence, act outside (or above) that law. And she cited a favorite Supreme Court case of conservatives to make this point: Clinton v. Jones. In that case, the justices ruled that Clinton could be sued for sexual harassment by Paula Jones. Taylor wrote:

It was never the intent of the Framers to give the President such unfettered control, particularly where his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights. The three separate branches of government were developed as a check and balance for one another. It is within the court's duty to ensure that power is never "condense[d]...into a single branch of government." Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 507, 536 (2004) (plurality opinion). We must always be mindful that "[w]hen the President takes official action, the Court has the authority to determine whether he has acted within the law." Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681, 703 (1997). "It remains one of the most vital functions of this Court to police with care the separation of the governing powers....When structure fails, liberty is always in peril." Public Citizen v. U.S. Dept. of Justice, 491 U.S. 440, 468 (1989) (Kennedy, J., concurring).

Though pundits, partisans and legislators have debated the legality of the warrantless wiretapping program, Taylor rendered a clear verdict:

The wiretapping program here in litigation...has undisputedly been implemented without regard to FISA and...in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Bush, as president, she added, has no extraconstitutional powers:

The President of the United States, a creature of the same Constitution which gave us these Amendments, has undisputedly violated the Fourth in failing to procure judicial orders as required by FISA, and accordingly has violated the First Amendment Rights of these Plaintiffs as well....In this case, the President has acted, undisputedly, as FISA forbids. FISA is the expressed statutory policy of our Congress. The presidential power, therefore, was exercised at its lowest ebb and cannot be sustained.

She noted:

The Government appears to argue here that, pursuant to the penumbra of Constitutional language in Article II, and particularly because the President is designated Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, he has been granted the inherent power to violate not only the laws of theCongress but the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution, itself.

We must first note that the Office of the Chief Executive has itself been created, with its powers, by the Constitution. There are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution. So all "inherent powers" must derive from that Constitution.

Once again, a court has told Bush that he is not all-powerful. He cannot create military tribunals on his own. He cannot detain American citizens as enemy combatants without affording them some elements of due process. Taylor's decision will probably be appealed by the Bush administration, and the case will wind its way toward the Supreme Court. But this decision reaffirms--and puts into practice--the bedrock principle that a president's power does not trump the workings of a republican government, even when it comes to war. Weeks before he took office in 2001, Bush quipped, "If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator." Democracy, though, is not easy. And a commander in chief has to abide by the rules, as various courts have now ruled. The administration's King George approach to governance has taken another blow. But it's royally unlikely this president is going to accept the decision and give up his claim to the throne.

Cheney on Lamont: Can't Resist the Low Blow

Mayhem in Iraq. Global warming on the warpath. National debt to the moon. There's much to moan about. But it's the little things that sometimes can tick one off the most. For instance, in the news today of Ned Lamont's win over Joe Lieberman, there was the remark from Dick Cheney that suggested al Qaeda was buoyed by Lieberman's defeat. The veep said that anti-American terrorists are "betting on the proposition that ultimately they can break the will of the American people in terms of our ability to stay in the fight and complete the task. And when they see the Democratic Party reject one of its own, a man they selected to be their vice presidential nominee just a few short years ago, it would seem to say a lot about the state the party is in today."

Two points. First, it was Cheney's boss, George W. Bush, who ran for the presidency in 2000 vowing to change the tone of partisan political discourse in Washington. I know that's a promise that was never kept. But what a nasty shot from Cheney. Neither he nor Bush seem to realize that even though they are GOP partisans they are still president and the vice president of the entire nation and actually have a higher standard to meet than the usual political hacks (including those in their own employ). Yet they show no interest in doing so. Again, nothing new about that.

Second, the disruption of the latest suspected terrorist plot--the one to blow up airliners heading to the United States from London--illustrates that the evildoers are probably not developing their plans based on the outcome of primary elections in the Nutmeg State. Moreover, American policy should not be held hostage to what America's enemies want or don't want. The debate is over what's best for the United States (and the rest of the world). To suggest one path or another would hearten the "terrorists" is to avoid a serious discussion. But what else would you expect from a fellow who still believes he was right to say a year ago that the Iraqi insurgency was in its "last throes"?

The Neverending Saga of Phase II

Why is it taking the Senate intelligence committee forty times longer to examine how the Bush administration used--or misused--the prewar intelligence on Iraq and WMDs than it took for the United States military to topple Saddam Hussein? American troops reached Baghdad in three weeks (there were a few complications after that). But the intelligence committee, led by Republican Senator Pat Roberts, has dilly-dallied for two-and-a-half years when it has come to reviewing how George W. Bush and his top aides represented--or misrepresented--the WMD intelligence as they led (or misled) the nation to war. Last fall, the Senate Democrats shut down the Senate for a few hours to protest the committee's lack of progress in producing the so-called Phase II report that was supposed to focus on this matter. Roberts and the Republicans promised to conclude the inquiry soon. Yet another nine months have gone by, and as The Washington Post reported on Sunday, the committee is still not yet done. The Post noted:

The Republican-led committee, which agreed in February 2004 to write the report, has yet to complete its work. Just two of five planned sections of the committee's findings are fully drafted and ready to be voted on by members, according to Democratic and Republican staffers. Committee sources involved with the report, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they are working hard to complete it. But disputing Roberts, they said they had started almost from scratch in November after Democrats staged their protest.

And those two sections do not focus on the central subject--the administration's use of the prewar intelligence. One examines the intelligence agencies' prewar WMD estimates with what was found on the ground in Iraq. The other looks at what information provided by Iraqi exiles made it into official intelligence estimates. (It does not explore the influence of Ahmad Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress on Bush administration officials before the invasion.)

I take the committee's lackadaisical approach to this issue personally, for Roberts once directly promised me that the Phase II would be a priority. This is what happened. On July 9, 2004, Roberts and his committee released a 500-plus page report on how the intelligence community screwed up the prewar intelligence. But the committee's report (over the objection of its Democratic members) ignored the touchy matter of whether Bush officials had mischaracterized the intelligence to win support for the invasion of Iraq. Not surprisingly, the committee, under Roberts direction, was avoiding this subject as the 2004 election neared. At the press conference Roberts held to mark the release of the committee's report on the WMD intelligence, I asked him about this missing part of the inquiry. Here's the exchange:

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

ROBERTS: This is in phase two of our efforts. We simply couldn't get that done with the work product that we put out....It is one of my top priorities....Now, we have 20 legislative days. We want to have hearings from wise men and women in regards to the [intelligence] reform effort, and we will proceed with staff on phase two of the report. It involves probably three things -- or at least three. One is the prewar intelligence on Iraq, which is what you're talking about. Secondly is the situation with the assistant secretary of defense, Douglas Feith, and his activity in regards to material that he provided with a so-called intelligence planning cell to the Department of Defense and to the CIA. And then the left one -- what is the last one? What's the third one? Help me with it....Well, that's prewar intelligence on Iraq.

There is a third one, and I don't know why I can't come up with it right now. But, anyway, it is a priority. And, hey, I have told [Senator] Jay [Rockefeller, the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee], I have told everybody on the other side of the aisle, everybody on our side of the aisle, 'We'll proceed with phase two. It is a priority.' I made my commitment, and it will be done.

So Roberts looked straight at me and said that the Phase II report was a "priority" for him and that he had made a commitment to complete this mission. Yet he has not made good on that commitment. It causes me to wonder if he misled me--that is, if he falsely declared he was committed to such a review only to kick the can down the road past the 2004 election. Now, according to the Post, he's trying to do the same with the 2006 elections. The paper noted:

The section most Democrats have sought, however, is not yet in draft form and might not emerge until after the November election, staffers said. That section will examine the administration's deliberations over prewar intelligence and whether its public presentation of the threat reflected the evidence senior officials reviewed in private.

Were Roberts truly committed to this task, it would have been done before the 2004 election. One committee staffer once told me this sort of review could be finished within months. Yet Roberts has been playing games--and he has got away with it. The Phase II controversy boils up (into public view) every six months or so and then fades. And only once has the Democrats succeeded in embarrassing Roberts for doing nothing. So he keeps kicking that can--rather than looking inside it. It's a funny way to treat a "priority."


BLATANT SELF-PROMOTION: If any of you happen to be near Cape Cod this week, I will be speaking/performing at the Payomet Theater on the evening of Wednesday, August 2. The event is billed "An Evening of Political Insight, Gossip and Outrage, Volume II," and it will combine satire, humor, analysis, self-righteous indignation, and bombast. I'll let the reviewers describe it in further detail. But as regular readers of DavidCorn.com know, I've taken a stab at stand-up during the past few years, and last summer when asked to participate in a spoken word series at the Payomet Theater in Truro (a town situated between Wellfleet and Provincetown), I let portions of that stand-up routine bleed into my usual lecture on the Current Political Situation. For some odd reason, I was invited back this summer. If you need more information, go to the home page of the Payomet Performing Arts Center.

Why Is the US in Iraq?

The sectarian violence that's taking place in the Baghdad area...is probably the gravest threat to stability that there is in the country right now.
-- General John Abizaid, chief of US Central Command
July 25, 2006

It is a new challenge. This isn't about insurgency, this isn't about terror, this is about sectarian violence. And it's a new challenge for the government. And they recognize that.
--Stephen Hadley, national security adviser
July 25, 2006

The greatest threat Iraq's people face is terror; terror inflicted by extremists.
--Nouri al-Maliki, Iraqi prime minister
July 26, 2006

Why is the United States in Iraq?

That is question that is increasingly difficult for the White House to answer coherently--and honestly. This past week, George W. Bush, appearing at a press conference with Maliki, noted that the horrific and intensifying violence in Iraq of recent weeks is "terrible" and that more US troops will be deployed to Baghdad. But who--and what--is the enemy? And what can US troops do about disorder and violence there?

Sectarian violence, according to Abizaid and Hadley, is now the main problem in Iraq (which was predicted by some experts before the invasion). Maliki, for obvious reasons, does not concede that. He wants US troops to remain in Iraq. Consequently, when he spoke to the US Congress on July 27, he depicted the fight in Iraq as a struggle pitting lovers of democracy (his government and the United States) against "terrorists" connected to those who attacked the United States on September 11, 2001. ("I will not allow Iraq to become a launch pad for al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations," he declared, in a line rather reminiscent of the previous work of White House speechwriters.) In a fact sheet, the White House noted that when Maliki met with Bush, the Iraqi leader "made clear that he does not want American troops to leave his country until his government can protect the Iraqi people."

Mission creep is under way. The cause--despite Maliki's Bush-like rhetoric--is no longer combating jihadists (which replaced weapons of mass destruction as the reason for the war). It's making Iraq safe from Iraqi religious extremists. Maliki's government cannot protect Iraqis from their own neighbors, so he is looking to Bush to be his nation's cop-on-the-beat. But can the US military be an effective police force in a society increasingly plagued by sectarian violence that has little, if anything, to do with the fight against al Qaeda and Islamic jihadism? Maliki's own government is even part of the problem. Death squads connected to the Shiite-controlled Interior Ministry have been lead players in the current killing spree. If Maliki cannot control these elements, how can the US military? (In his speech to the US Congress, Maliki didn't address the knotty matter of the government-linked death squads. He briefly referred to "armed militias" but claimed that the rule of law and human rights are "flourishing" in Iraq.)

Sunni leaders--who once called for US forces to quit Iraq right away--now fear the ascendancy of Shiite killing squads so much that they have quieted their demands for a US withdrawal, fearing such a move would leave the Shiite militias even more unfettered. But should the United States remain in Iraq in response to such concerns? If so, US troops would be risking and sacrificing their lives to assist a government that is tied to death squads in order to prevent (Sunni) opponents of the leading (Shiite) bloc of that government from being killed by (Shiite) supporters of that leading bloc. Yes, politics in the Middle East have always been notoriously complicated and Byzantine. How many books--or intelligence reports--has Bush read about the intricacies of Arabic culture, history and politics?

Bush, all too obviously, has no good ideas how to navigate these shoals--which may not be navigable. After saying that more troops would be deployed to Baghdad, Bush was asked by an Iraqi reporter what could be done to improve the security situation in Baghdad. "There needs to be more forces inside Baghdad who are willing to hold people to account," he replied. "In other words if you find somebody who's kidnapping and murdering, the murderer ought to be held to account. And it ought to be clear in society that that kind of behavior is not tolerated....We ought to be saying that, if you murder, you're responsible for your actions. And I think the Iraqi people appreciate that type of attitude."

In other words, just say no to killing. That's not much of a plan. And there's not much of a role for US troops in such a plan.

Bush has led the United States into a rough thicket in Iraq. It has taken him months--perhaps years--to acknowledge the troubles there. And his inadequate description--it's "terrible"--is far more upbeat than the depictions shared by reporters and others who have come back from Iraq in recent weeks bearing depressing and ugly tales of a society falling apart.

Iraq is a mess. Bush bears much of the responsibility for that. He invaded the country supposedly to defend the United States from a threat that didn't exist. He did not ensure that there were proper plans for the post-invasion challenges. He did nothing as his national security aides bungled one key strategic post-invasion decision after another. Now he has to contend with a violent sectarian conflict that his elective war unleashed. He has, to a limited degree, acknowledged the problem. He hasn't yet admitted there may be little he can do about it.

Will Plame vs. Cheney, Libby & Rove Unearth New Info?

Several years ago, I was talking to a Democratic senator on the intelligence committee about the CIA leak case. I asked if Democrats had any intention of pushing for a congressional investigation of the administration leak that appeared in Robert Novak's column and that outed Valerie Wilson as a CIA operative. The senator noted that a special counsel (Patrick Fitzgerald) was already on the case. That's true, I said, adding that it was not Fitzgerald's job to tell the public about his findings. His task was to investigate (secretly) a crime and then mount a prosecution if he could. Any information he would unearth would only become public were he to mention it in an indictment or a subsequent prosecution. He would not be issuing any report. And at the end of Fitzgerald's inquiry, I said to the senator, there might no prosecution (or merely a limited prosecution) and that the public might not learn all there was to know about the case. So, I asked this legislator, if Democrats cared about the leak, shouldn't they push for a non-criminal investigation? The senator replied in an exasperated manner: "You want us to investigate everything?"

Well, why not? But it was clear he wasn't interested in a congressional probe of the CIA leak case. Nor were many other Capitol Hill Democrats. Many were satisfied by the Fitzgerald appointment. But after investigating the case for over two years, Fitzgerald, has only indicted one Bush official, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, and that was not for the leak but for lying to the FBI and Fitzgerald's grand jury. (Libby disclosed Valerie Wilson's employment at the CIA to New York Times reporter Judy Miller and confirmed it for Time correspondent Matt Cooper.) In the course of the indictment and pretrial process, Fitzgerald has made some critical information available--such as the fact that it was Cheney who first told Libby that Valerie Wilson worked at the CIA's Counterproliferation Division, a unit in the agency's clandestine operations directorate. But Fitzgerald has not--and cannot under Justice Department guidelines--share all that he knows about the leak with the public. Thus, much of the story remains untold. And George W. Bush and his White House still refuse to answer any questions about the leak case, continuing a stonewalling strategy that has served them well.

Enter a new lawsuit. On Friday, Valerie and Joseph Wilson filed a lawsuit against Cheney, Libby and Karl Rove. (Prior to the Novak column, Rove leaked information about Wilson's classified employment to Time correspondent Matt Cooper; he also confirmed this information for Novak. Fitzgerald, though, was not able to bring a criminal case against him.) In the suit, the Wilsons accuse the three Bush officials--and unnamed coconspirators--of having violated their various rights, such as Valerie Wilson's privacy rights and Joe Wilson's right to express his opinions, which he did in a New York Times op-ed piece that criticized the Bush administration's Iraq policy. That article led White House officials to assail him.

The lawsuit is based on the Bivens case, in which a man named Webster Bivens was arrested in 1965 by agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. He later sued, complaining that the agents had searched his home and arrested him without a warrant and that he had suffered humiliation and mental suffering as a result. He argued that he could directly sue the narcs to remedy an unconstitutional invasion of his privacy rights. The Justice Department, representing the six unnamed narcotics agents, argued that Bivens had no right to bring a federal claim and could only initiate a tort action in a state court. A federal district court and then a federal appeals court tossed out his suit. But in 1971, the Supreme Court reversed those decisions. Writing for the majority, Justice William Brennan declared this sort of lawsuit was needed to check a federal official who was "unconstitutionally exercising his authority."

I'm no lawyer--though I occasionally play one on television--and cannot comment on whether Rove secretly sharing classified information with Cooper (or Libby doing the same with Miller) is the legal (and constitutional) equivalent of narcs busting into someone's home, throwing him into manacles in front of his wife and children, threatening to arrest the entire family, and searching the entire apartment, all without a warrant. And if Joe or Valerie Wilson had asked my advice, I might have suggested that they skip the suit, so Valerie Wilson can focus on writing her I-was-a-suburban-mom-spy memoirs--which is sure to land her on Oprah's couch, the bestsellers list, and (probably) a movie screen. (Angelina Jolie playing a real-life Mrs. Smith?)

But if the Wilsons can get their lawsuit to the discovery stage--and that might be a big if--they will be able to take depositions and demand documents from their targets and others. (Will they go after journalists?) Such action could yield information beyond what Fitzgerald has disclosed to the public. A private lawsuit is often an imperfect device to dig out the full story of any controversy. But this one is a reminder that the public has not yet received a full and official accounting of the leak case.

Novak Speaks on Leak Case--Finally

Robert Novak finally speaks--in a way.

In a column published in newspapers today, the conservative columnist finally discloses that he cooperated with the investigation of the CIA leak. Novak, of course, outed Valerie Wilson (aka Valerie Plame) as a CIA officer in a July 14, 2003 column on her husband's now-infamous CIA-assigned trip to Niger. In disclosing Valerie Wilson's employment status at the CIA--which was classified information--Novak cited two senior administration sources. After I read the original Novak column, I wondered if these leaks meant that Bush administration officials had violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act and wrote the first article that suggested the leaks might be evidence of a White House crime. (That article was posted on The Nation's website two days after the Novak column appeared.)

Novak's latest column answers only a few of the lingering questions. It has long been obvious that he cooperated with special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald--otherwise, he would have been subpoenaed by Fitzgerald, as had Judy Miller, Matt Cooper, Tim Russert and Washington Post reporters. The only question was the manner of Novak's cooperation. In public, he had proclaimed he would not give up his source. So what did he disclose to the investigators?

It turns out that when FBI agents on October 7, 2003, first called on Novak, they already knew who his sources were. They did not need Novak to ID the senior administration officials. And Novak cooperated to an extent. As he writes, "I did disclose how Valerie Wilson's role was reported to me, but the FBI did not press me to disclose my sources."

Three months later, he was questioned by Fitzgerald at his lawyer's office. Fitzgerald arrived wielding waivers signed by Novak's two sources. Most journalists did not accept such waivers--which were blanket statements signed by Bush administration officials under the threat of dismissal. Novak, too, did not believe these waivers, as he writes, relieved him of his "journalistic responsibility to protect a source." But since Fitzgerald already knew the identity of his sources (how Fitzgerald knew this Novak does not say), Novak discussed them by name--and avoided being subpoenaed and threatened with jail. He later testified about his sources before the grand jury.

Other reporters later took less accommodating stances. Even after Time magazine turned over emails indicating that Karl Rove had leaked information about Valerie Wilson to correspondent Matt Cooper, Cooper refused to cooperate with Fitzgerald. He only did so after his lawyer had extracted a personal waiver from Rove. Judy Miller went to jail rather than reveal that Scooter Libby had been a source, though Fitzgerald clearly knew Libby had spoken to her.

Novak took a different approach--which kept him out of jail and allowed him to duck a confrontation with Fitzgerald. He did not ask his sources for personal waivers. He confirmed for the prosecutor--even if begrudgingly--who his sources were without obtaining their permission to do so.

The leak case raised plenty of questions about reporter-source confidentiality and what journalists should do to protect sources--and how laws and ethics affect such decisions. Purists argued that reporters should never cooperate and not recognize either blanket or personal waivers. Others--such as reporters who faced jail sentences--advocated a sliding standard of sorts: they would go to prison to defend a confidentiality agreement with a source but would accept a personal waiver to avoid such trouble or to get out of jail. Novak found an even murkier middle ground: he would talk about a source whom the prosecutor had identified without first consenting with that source.

As a journalist who would not fancy doing hard time to protect an administration official, I am reluctant to judge another journalist's decision on such a matter. But, clearly, Novak's actions are not likely to win him many First Amendment awards.

Novak's new column also offers further proof that Karl Rove leaked classified information. This is no news flash. The Libby indictment pointed the finger at Rove. Rove's own lawyer has confirmed that his client confirmed the Valerie Wilson leak for Novak. And in the summer of 2005, Newsweek disclosed a Matt Cooper email that detailed how Rove had told Cooper that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. (There is no question that Valerie Wilson's employment status at the CIA was classified. Fitzgerald stated so at a press conference last October.)

Still, despite all this evidence, the Bush White House has not honored the vow made early on in the leak investigation: anyone involved in the leak would be dismissed. Rove still is gainfully employed as George W. Bush's top strategist at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. There are no signs that he has even been disciplined or denied access to classified information. During the investigation, the president refused to say anything publicly about Rove and the probe. And after the investigation, the president has refused to say anything publicly about Rove's participation in the leak.

Novak's column is an explanation of how the columnist wiggled out of a legal jam. More important, it is a reminder of how the stonewall strategy mounted by the White House and Rove succeeded.

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