Quantcast

The Nation

Shine a Light

Kudos to new Senator Jon Tester and Representative Kirsten Gillibrand. They've become the only two members of Congress to post their work schedules online. That doesn't sound like much. But in a place like Washington, where so many deals get done in secret, behind closed doors, letting everyone see what you're up to is a courageous act.

The idea was spearheaded by the Sunlight Foundation, an innovative new group in Washington run by veteran watchdoger Ellen Miller. Thanks to them, you can peruse the archives of Senator Tester's schedule here and Rep. Gillibrand's "Sunlight Report" here.

Both Tester and Gillibrand won elections in which ethics played a major role. They should be congratulated for sticking to their commitments. Hopefully the push for greater transparency will lead to farther-reaching reforms, like publicly financed elections.

I just got off the phone with Senator Tester and encouraged him to persuade his fellow Senators to follow his lead. Something tells me that in the world's most exclusive club, there won't be many eager volunteers.

Libby Trial: Judy Miller's Memory Mess

When special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald was prepping for the trial of Scooter Libby, he probably looked toward the moment when he would call former New York Times reporter Judith Miller to the stand and thought, We're just going to have to get through that day.

Miller, the controversial journalist whose prewar reporting hyped the WMD threat posed by Iraq, was called as a prosecution witness on Tuesday, and she was pummeled by Bill Jeffress, an attorney for Libby, who has been charged with making false statements to the FBI and grand jury investigating the CIA leak.

Initially, Fitzgerald briskly guided Miller through her account--a story already publicly known. On June 23, 2003, she met with Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, in the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House. Libby was frustrated and angry about media accounts--some fueled by intelligence community leaks--that suggested the Bush White House had misrepresented the prewar WMD intelligence. He was particularly upset, according to Miller, about stories that had appeared regarding an unnamed ex-ambassador who had taken a trip to Niger in 2002 to investigate the allegation that Iraq had tried to buy uranium there and who had concluded the charge was unfounded. Libby told Miller the former diplomat was Joseph Wilson and said, as an aside, that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. In her notes, Miller wrote that the wife was employed at the "bureau," a reference to a nonproliferation office within the CIA. She said that this was the first time she had heard anything about Wilson's wife working at the CIA. She also testified that Libby referred to Wilson's trip as a "ruse" and "irrelevancy."

She met with Libby again on July 8--two days after Wilson outed himself as the ex-ambassador in a New York Times op-ed. This time Miller and Libby rendezvoused at the dining room of the St. Regis Hotel in Washington. During the two hour discussion, according to Miller, Libby was "quietly agitated." He defended the administration's use of the prewar intelligence, claiming there had been solid intelligence to back up President George W. Bush's use of the uranium-in-Africa allegation in his 2003 State of the Union speech. Libby maintained that Wilson's reporting had supported the conclusion that Iraq had sought uranium in Niger. (That's not how Wilson saw it.) Libby again referred to Wilson's wife and said she was employed at WINPAC--the acronym for the CIA's Center for Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation and Arms Control, a unit of the agency's intelligence directorate. (Libby was wrong. Valerie Wilson was the operations chief of the Joint Task Force on Iraq, a unit within the Counterproliferation Division of the agency's clandestine operations directorate.)

During this meeting, Miller testified, her pen didn't work. But she still managed to take some notes. She didn't explain how. Perhaps she scratched away with the tip of the pen.

She also testified about a third conversation with Libby. This was a July 12, 2003 phone call. The two discussed Wilson's wife, and Miller informed Libby that her paper wasn't interested in pursuing the "Plame story."

Though Fitzgerald had sent Miller to prison for 85 days after she had refused to cooperate with his investigation, she was a to-the-point witness who gave the prosecutor what he wanted: another account showing that Libby was in the know about Valerie Wilson and was discussing her with others (in this case, a reporter) before the leak outing her as a CIA officer appeared in Robert Novak's July 14, 2003 column. Miller's testimony contradicted Libby's claims that in the days prior to the leak he did not know about Valerie Wilson's CIA connection and that he had not leaked any information regarding her to reporters.

Then came Jeffress. He immediately went for the underbelly: Miller's memory. While being questioned by Fitzgerald, Miller acknowledged that in the fall of 2005 when she first appeared before Fitzgerald's grand jury--after getting out of jail--she had completely forgotten about her first meeting with Libby. She told the grand jury only about the July 8 meeting and the July 12 phone call. On the witness stand, she testified that during her initial grand jury appearance, Fitzgerald had asked her to review her notebooks. That night she did so and discovered notes referring to the June 23 meeting at the Old Executive Office Building. She immediately called her lawyer, and soon she was back before the grand jury to talk about that first conversation with Libby.

Jeffress feasted on this. For years, he noted while questioning Miller, she had not remembered the June 23 meeting at all. Then suddenly she could recall details from it. What Libby had said about Wilson's wife. How Libby was behaving. What his mood was. From the time the leak story broke in the summer of 2003 until her second grand jury appearance in fall of 2005, nothing had caused her to recall that meeting, Jeffress noted. "The meeting of June 23 was not memorable to you," Jeffress said, putting it as both a question and declaration. "I didn't remember that it even occurred," Miller replied.

Miller explained that after she reviewed her notes she had a good memory of certain parts of the encounter. Jeffress then quoted Miller's own statements from before the grand jury and from a media interview in which she said her memory was not so sharp about these matters. And he went on and on, clawing at the wound, making this Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter seem like she was so daft she couldn't remember her own shoe size without notes.

This was a twist. When the story first came out in the fall of 2005 that Miller had forgotten her first meeting with Libby, her critics howled. How could she, they wondered (accusingly), have not remembered such an important session? Surely, she was covering up for Libby--or someone. But on the stand, she appeared genuine. She was fighting for her reputation--what's left of it--and did not want to be depicted as a conjurer of untrustworthy memories. Now it was Libby's lawyers (not liberal bloggers) who were assaulting her, challenging her credibility. At one point, when the back and forth became a bit confusing, Jeffress snidely asked, "Do you remember my question?"

It was a thrashing. And by the end of the day, it wasn't over. The trial was sidetracked by a reprise of the issue that landed Miller in jail: whether she would disclose her confidential sources. Had Miller met with other sources around the time of her June 23 meeting with Libby? Jeffress asked. Yes, she said. Who were they? "I don't recall," Miller answered. "Can you name one?" Jeffress asked. Before she could reply, the lawyers--included her own attorney, Robert Bennett--were huddling with Judge Reggie Walton. Was Jeffress asking Miller to reveal sources other than Libby? Would she do so? Libby's lawyers argued that she could not refuse to disclose the names of these other sources. Fitzgerald maintained this was an irrelevant question. Ted Wells, a Libby lawyer, said that Miller would probably say she had forgotten--and he could use such a statement to impeach (further) her credibility. There was much wrangling, and the judge sent the jurors home.

The matter was not fully resolved by the time the judge had to leave. That left open the possibility that Miller might again be asked to talk about her sources. But this time--in yet another twist--Fitzgerald was on her side, trying to help the journalist he had once jailed. However this question would be decided, Miller left the court expecting more punishment from Jeffress. He noted before court recessed that he was not done with her and would resume his romp through the Miller memory mess the next morning.

Jeffress' attack on Miller was no surprise. He and Wells have been doing all they can to question the memories of every prosecution witness. With Miller, it was more brutal. Still, Fitzgerald had called to the stand yet another witness who challenged Libby's statements to the FBI and a grand jury. The jurors in this case will have to ask themselves, are all of the prosecution witnesses wrong? Is this a parade of people who are each misremembering events--and doing so in the same way? Miller added to the quantity, not the quality, of Fitzgerald's case--but quantity is not irrelevant when the issue is they-said/he said.

Earlier in the day--before the Miller massacre--David Addington, Cheney's chief of staff (Libby's replacement), finished his turn in the dock. Addington testified about a conversation he had with Libby shortly before the criminal investigation of the CIA leak began in September 2003. According to Addington, Libby said, "I just want to tell you I didn't do it." Addington did not ask what the "it" was. Libby then asked Addington how a person would know if they had met a CIA employee who was undercover. Addington, who had once worked at the agency, said you might not know unless you saw a document or were told. Addington offered to bring Libby a copy of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, the law that prohibits government employees from disclosing information about secret intelligence officers. And Addington later dropped off a copy with Libby.

One interpretation this exchange would be that Libby--despite his protestation to Addington--was worried he might be a target of the criminal investigation. That could have caused him to lie to the FBI and the grand jury investigating the case. (A Libby advocate might argue that if he believed he had done no wrong, he'd have no reason to lie.)

When Wells had his chance to cross-examine Addington, he fired in several different directions. Wells introduced into evidence a note Libby had taken on June 12, 2003. On this day, The Washington Post had published an article that referred to the Wilson trip without naming the former ambassador.

Libby's note indicates that in a phone conversation that day, Cheney told Libby that Wilson's wife worked at the "CP" division--a reference to the CIA's Counterproliferation Division. The note suggests that Cheney shared with Libby other information the vice president had gathered on Wilson and his trip. Cheney also told his chief of staff that he had not known about the Wilson mission and had not received any report on Wilson's findings.

The June 12 note is a piece of evidence that has been cited by the prosecution in pretrial submissions. It shows that Libby learned where Valerie Wilson worked from his boss. The obvious question is, would Libby really have forgotten this information, as he has claimed? The note also indicates that for Cheney the Wilson matter was a priority--enough so that on his own he had obtained information on the then-unnamed ambassador and his trip to Niger. (How Cheney gathered this information on Joseph and Valerie Wilson remains a secret.)

So why did Wells introduce the note? He moved on to another Libby note--one written after Libby had met with Addington following the publication of Wilson's op-ed piece. In that conversation, according to Addington's testimony on Monday, Libby had asked him whether a president had the authority to declassify secrets on his own and whether there would be paperwork if a CIA officer sent a spouse on an overseas mission. Libby's note regarding the meeting recorded the two subjects this way: "1) declass 2) Wilson K." (K is lawyer shorthand for contract.) Wells noted that this document did not contain any reference to a CIA "spouse." He was trying to make a slim point: Libby used the word "spouse" in a June 12 note but did not do so in a note written a month later; so maybe Addington is wrong when he said the two of them talked about a CIA spouse.

Wells also endeavored to advance the Karl-Rove-set-up-Scooter-Libby theory he had previewed in his opening argument. (See here.) He cited a set of notes Libby had taken at a senior staff meeting that indicated Rove was keen on countering Wilson's charges. Then he presented a note written by Cheney when the leak investigation was underway. The White House by this point had publicly (but falsely) claimed that Rove was not involved in the leak. Cheney wanted the same for Libby. The Cheney note reads,

Has to happen today.
Call out to key press saying the same thing about Scooter as Karl.
Not going to protect one staffer + sacrifice the guy that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others.

The note also contained talking points, written by Libby, that he and Cheney wanted Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, to recite at a press briefing:

I've talked to Libby. I said it was ridiculous about Karl [being involved in the CIA leak] and it is ridiculous about Libby. Libby was not the source of the Novak story. And he did not leak classified information.

Referring to this set of notes, Wells asked, if Libby was "being hung out as a scapegoat in public?" Addington said that he had no idea. But Addington added that after McClellan made a statement reflecting these talking points, he (Addington) told Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, that the White House ought not to discuss criminal investigations in public. But your boss wanted this done, Bartlett told Addington.

Wells was trying to bolster his earlier contention that Libby was somehow turned into a sacrificial lamb by White House powers more interested in protecting Rove. But so far Wells has introduced little to support this narrative. And the evidence he referenced while questioning Addington indicated that the White House press office did what Cheney had asked it to do: protect Libby. That's not how you hang someone out to dry.

Wells and Jeffress are fortunate. They are not bound by memory or truth. They only have to challenge the government's case. They can do so by undermining the prosecution witnesses or by tossing out alternative (and confusing) scenarios, without having to prove any single theory of the case. Or by doing both. With Miller on the stand, they had their best day yet. If only her prewar reporting had been so fiercely challenged.

*****

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.

Molly's Pledge

Read John Nichols' tribute to Molly Ivins, who died on wednesday.

Many Nation readers know that the inimitable, invaluable, iconoclastic columnist Molly Ivins has been battling cancer. It started in her breasts and now has spread throughout her body. This past weekend she was back in the hospital for the third time since the disease was first diagnosed in 1999.

In the second-to-last syndicated column she's been able to write she declared herself on an "old-fashioned newspaper campaign" and vowed to use every column she had to "write about this war until we find some way to end it."

But since then she's only managed to write one more column. That one ran on January 11 and opposed President Bush's proposed "surge" escalation of the war. In strong language -- even for a writer famous for plain talk -- Ivins stated: "We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war."

At the Washington peace march this past Saturday, which Ivins had promoted in her latest column, actor Sean Penn echoed her refrain: "We are the deciders" to the delight of tens of thousands of protesters.

And now, with Ivins too sick to write, the rest of us will have to carry her "old-fashioned newspaper campaign" forward.

With that in mind, the Berkeley Daily Planet is hereby launching what it is calling the "Molly Ivins Festschrift." As executive editor Becky O'Malley wrote in today's edition:

"A festschrift is defined by Merriam-Webster as "a volume of writings by different authors presented as a tribute or memorial especially to a scholar." Academics are wont to create festschrifts on the occasion of a revered colleague's sixtieth birthday, for example. Molly's already sixty-two, but no time like the present to catch up with what we should have done two years ago. And we might call it festschrift if we could reliably remember how to spell or pronounce that German word, but let's just call it the Molly Ivins Tribute Project."

O'Malley's idea is that Ivins' colleagues in the journalism world should take over and intensify her campaign to make every effort to end the war. "It would be nice," O'Malley adds, "if a lot ofthese columns could be funny, since skewering serious subjects with humor is what Molly does best, but that's not required." Who, after all, can write about serious subjects as amusingly as Ivins without trivializing them?

The Berkeley Daily Planet has created a special mailbox to receive the offerings. Please send submissions to tribute@berkeleydailyplanet.com. The paper will publish them as they come in at berkeleydailyplanet.com. The best ones will also be published in the paper's Tuesday and Friday print editions. The suggested length is 600 to 800 words. Please also forward this call for contributions to any columnists you read regularly, and to any publications which might circulate the results or highlight the project.

Chuck Schumer Has Half of a Plan

In the car this morning, I was listening to Chuck Schumer being interviewed by Terry Gross. I have to say, I've always had a soft-spot for the guy. First, he's just so New York (that voice!) it's hard for me not to like him. Second, he came to talk at my university when I was an undergrad about the Violence Against Women Act and I was blown away by how knowledgeable and passionate he was about the topic. Even as he's moved in a strange, hawkish direction post 9/11, I've retained an affection for him, but his performance on Fresh Air was frustrating.

Atrios has done a thorough job documenting the idiocy of Democratic politicans talking to the press about how "Democrats don't have a message" or "Democrats always say what they're against, but not what they're for." That's a perfectly fine point for a pundit or journalist or dude in a bar to make, but if you're a sitting Senator, you're in a unique position to do something about the putative lack of message and that is: Articulate your message! No one's stopping you. There's no reason to spend precious air time talking about a lack of message when you can easily help solve the problem.

And what is Chuck Schumer's message? Well, it's almost like an Onion headline about the Democrats. It's called the 50% solution, and I'll let Mark Schmitt, reviewing the book over at TPM Cafe, sum up why it's such a lemon:

Most of Senator Schumer's halfway goals don't really lend themselves to that kind of 50% solution. Others have commented on the terrorism section, so I won't talk about that. But take the goal of reducing children's access to internet pornography by 50%. As a parent, I don't want my child to be exposed to pornography, and as a First Amendment civil libertarian, I don't want a lot of restrictions on free expression on the internet. That's a conflict. But the halfway point -- accepting some restrictions as a price for reducing children's exposure to pornography by 50% -- seems the worst of both worlds. I don't want young children to see just half as much porn! And I don't know what a "Schumer Box" is or how it reduces porn, and I'm not sure I want to know.

Big Russ and the VP

If I were Tim Russert I'd be as hopping mad as a Buffalo Bills fan on any given Sunday. First, Dick Cheney's office tried to scapegoat him in the Plamegate scandal and then Cheney's staff wanted to book the VP on Meet the Press specifically because they found it easy to "control the message" on Russert's show.

To recap: Cheney's former chief of staff Scooter Libby is on trial for perjury, specifically for falsely claiming that he first learned about Joe Wilson's wife from Tim Russert. (Read David Corn's Capital Games for a full account of the trial so far.) According to former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer's testimony, Libby knew about Valerie Plame before he talked to Russert.

If Fleischer is correct and Libby was lying, the interesting question is not why (to protect himself and his boss) but why out of all the people in the media business Scooter picked Tim Russert to blame.

Former Cheney communications director Cathie Martin, who was tasked with containing the Plame scandal after it broke, shed some light on this question. "I suggested we put the vice president on 'Meet the Press' which was a tactic we often used," Martin revealed in recent testimony. "It's our best format."

There is clearly only one way this convoluted circle can be complete. Tim Russert needs to invite Cathie Martin on Meet the Press, read that quote back to her, and ask her to explain.

Father Robert Drinan, D-Constitution

When Father Robert Drinan was swept into Congress as part of the "New Politics" surge of 1970 -- which saw Democratic primary voters across the country replace pro-Vietnam War incumbents with anti-war champions such as California's Ron Dellums and New York's Bella Abzug--the new representative from Massachusetts arrived as a Constitutional scholar who had a bone to pick with Richard Nixon's imperial presidency. The longtime dean of the Boston College of Law, Drinan joined the House Judiciary Committee with the stated purpose of renewing the system of checks and balances by asserting the power of Congress to constrain and, where necessary, sanction the president for overstepping his authority.

Nixon was not amused. He placed Drinan's name high on the White House "enemies list" and the chairman of the Republican National Committee, a Nixon acolyte named George Herbert Walker Bush, declared that the dissenting Democrat's defeat would be a top priority of the president's party.

Drinan did not blink. The Jesuit priest, who has died this week at the age of 86, never hesitated to identify Nixon's military adventurism in southeast Asia as both "morally objectionable" and "illegal." And the wily and whimsical scholar--who had joked with supporters such as a young John Kerry about campaigning on the slogan: "Vote for Father Drinan or Go to Hell"--was determined to hold Nixon to account on both counts.

In particular, Drinan believed that Nixon's secret order of a massive carpet bombing campaign against Cambodia--according to White House transcripts, the president announced to aides: "I want gunships in there. That means armed helicopters, DC-3s, anything else that will destroy personnel that can fly. I want it done!"--represented an absolute violation of the constitutional requirement that wars be authorized by Congress.

After New York Times reporter William Beecher exposed the fact that the initial carpet-bombing campaign had gone on for more than a year and killed tens of thousands of Cambodians, Drinan introduced H. Res. 513 – "Resolution impeaching Richard M. Nixon, President of the United States, of high crimes and misdemeanors"--on July 31, 1973. An embarrassment to House Democratic leaders, who were trying to mute discussion of impeachment at a time when Nixon's approval ratings remained high, Drinan's resolution, which citied violation of Section 1, Article 8, of the Constitution – "The Congress shall have power to… declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water"--as the grounds for impeachment, was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee. Despite the fact that committee chair Peter Rodino told CBS News on the night of its introduction that the question it raised was a "serious matter," the impeachment resolution attracted no cosponsors and languished in committee for months.

Almost exactly a year after its introduction, however, when the wheel had turned to such an extent that Nixon had in fact been impeached by the Judiciary Committee, a version of Drinan's resolution was finally considered in the committee's closing discussion on articles of how to act against Nixon. With support from the Congressional Black Caucus, Drinan pressed the committee to move his article of impeachment against Nixon for ordering the bombing of Cambodia without the permission of Congress. Key Democrats in Congress opposed the article, arguing that, while America people were prepared to impeach the president for the petty crimes of Watergate, they were not ready to remove him for violating the Constitutional constraint on presidential warmaking. Drinan was having none of it. To the suggestion that an article of impeachment sanctioning the president for the ordering the bombings would not "play in Peoria," the congressman from Massachusetts asked: "How can we impeach the President for concealing a burglary but not for concealing a massive bombing?"

Drinan's argument drew enthusiastic support from a number of the Judiciary Committee's younger members, including the Michigan representative who would eventually become its chair, John Conyers. But the committee's majority rejected the sanction by a vote of 26-12. The committee's failure to send a clear signal about the limits on presidential warmaking haunt the United States to this day.

When I began to study the history of impeachment, I consulted with Father Drinan, who helped to form my understanding of the founders' intent that the "heroic medicine" be used "to chain the dogs of war." Drinan and I spoke often in his later years, when he taught at Georgetown University Law Center and kept a wary eye on the Capitol where he had served from 1971 to 1981, when a papal order forced him to leave the House.

Drinan was frustrated by the caution of the Congress during the presidencies of both Bill Clinton and George Bush. He really did believe in the necessity of checks and balances--calling for his successors in the House to look beyond their party affiliations to challenge the failed approaches of Democratic and Republican presidents in the Middle East. And he never lost his sense of perspective when it came to impeachment. He dismissed Republican attempts to sanction Bill Clinton as petty moralizing gone awry. And he counseled those who would seek to remove George Bush and Dick Cheney to understand and respect the process--as he noted that he had in waiting more than two years after arriving in Congress as an anti-war firebrand to move his article of impeachment against Nixon. Before there can be serious talk of impeachment, the law professor explained, newly empowered House Democrats must exercise the powers afforded by their committee assignments to genuinely investigate charges of wrongdoing, with the honest intent of separating mistakes from misdeeds and with an eye toward establishing precisely where lines of law and morality may have been crossed.

Those who now occupy stations of power in the Capitol should not be hesitant, however, in asserting that Congress has the authority to block executive warmaking and to hold president's to account. Active almost to the end, Drinan delighted in the determination of Democrats like Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold and his old Judiciary Committee colleague, Conyers, to challenge the excesses of the current administration.

Drinan died one day after hundreds of thousands of anti-war demonstrators filled the streets of Washington, two days before Feingold opened a Senate Judiciary Committee session on using the power of the purse to end the war in Iraq and three days before Conyers was set to convene an oversight hearing titled: "Presidential Signing Statements under the Bush Administration: A Threat to Checks and Balances and the Rule of Law?"

In a week such as this it is not so difficult to understand why -- after the 2006 elections gave Democrats control of both houses of Congress and handed key committee and subcommittee chairs to the likes of Conyers and Feingold--the old Jesuit was heard to proclaim: "God heard our prayers!" I am only sorry that Father Drinan is not around to enjoy the hearings that are in every sense are celebrations of the Constitution that he so cherished.

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

John Nichols' latest book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism.

Senate Stalling on Iraq, Minimum Wage

The first thing the Senate did after the House overwhelmingly passed a minimum wage increase was to load up the bill with tax breaks for business. Then they began a seemingly endless debate on amendment after amendment, many of them irrelevant to any wage boost, that has stretched into the better part of two weeks.

No wonder Jon Stewart called the Senate "the place where smart people go to die." After considering 107 different Republican amendments, supporters of raising the minimum wage will push for a cloture vote today. If they get the sixty votes needed to end debate, a final vote will likely occur on Thursday. Once that's done, they can move on to debating what to do about Iraq. [UPDATE: The Senate voted 87-10 today to invoke cloture and head to a vote later in the week.]

Republicans view the debate on the minimum wage as a two-fer: they can both prevent (or at least dilute) an increase in the minimum wage through legislative minutiae and also forestall what will be an unpleasant conversation for the party over Iraq.

Once Senators tackle Iraq, however, it's uncertain how they'll proceed. The nonbinding resolution opposing the President's escalation, introduced by Senators Biden, Hagel and Levin, may not have enough votes to pass. A competing measure introduced by Senator John Warner, viewed as insufficiently tough on Bush, may siphon off votes and muddy the debate.

It's unclear why the House didn't take the lead on Iraq, just like they did on the 100 hour plan, and quickly pass a resolution denouncing Bush's policy right after the State of the Union address, as a prelude to more meaningful action. To many progressives, the House may be imperfect, but the Senate is certainly worse.

Libby Trial: Fleischer Tags Libby and Confesses Leaking

Taking the witness stand in the Scooter Libby trial on Monday, Ari Fleischer, President George W. Bush's former press secretary, could not rely on his old friends, spin and deny. Instead, he shared an account that harmed Libby's defense, that spared the White House a new embarrassment, and that created a riddle.

Testifying as a prosecution witness, Fleischer--who cooperated with special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald only after pleading the Fifth Amendment and obtaining immunity--told the jurors of a lunch he had with I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby on July 7, 2003. This was one day after former Ambassador Joseph Wilson published an op-ed piece asserting he had inside information showing the White House had twisted the prewar intelligence and a week before the leak outing his wife as a CIA officer appeared in rightwing journalist Robert Novak's column. At the lunch, Libby, according to Fleischer, passed along what Fleischer considered an intriguing "nugget" of information: that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and had sent her husband on the fact-finding trip to Niger during which Wilson concluded that the allegation that Iraq was seeking uranium there was highly dubious. Libby was even specific about where Wilson's wife worked within the CIA: the Counterproliferation Division, a unit in the agency's clandestine operations directorate. Fleischer said that Libby mentioned the name of Wilson's wife and told him, "This is hush-hush, this is on the QT, not very many people know about this." Fleischer had not heard anything previously about Valerie Wilson.

The conversation was "odd," Fleischer testified. He noted that this was the first time he ever had lunch with Libby and that the vice president's chief of staff was not someone whom Fleischer considered a "source"--that is, a fellow White House official who would regularly tell Fleischer what was happening within 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Usually when Fleischer asked Libby questions about White House policies or actions, the "typical response," he said, was that Libby would tell him to check with Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser. After receiving the information from Libby on Valerie Wilson, Fleischer testified, he concluded that the Wilson mission to Niger was the result of "nepotism at the CIA." (Though a classified State Department memorandum written at the request of Libby weeks earlier had noted that Valerie Wilson had organized her husband's trip to Niger, the memo--due to a series of bureaucratic slips--had overstated her involvement in the trip. For a complete account of the misleading memo episode, see the book I co-wrote with Michael Isikoff: HUBRIS: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War.)

Fleischer's appearance was not so good for Libby, but not so bad for the White House. Once again, Fitzpatrick had a witness testifying that Libby had obtained information on Valerie Wilson and had passed it along. This undermined Libby's sworn statements to the FBI and a grand jury that days after this lunch--when he spoke to Tim Russert of Meet the Press--he knew nothing certain about Wilson's wife and her CIA employment. Fleischer testified confidently, as a fellow accustomed to fielding tough questions could be expected to do. He also admitted that he, too, had leaked information about Valerie Wilson to reporters.

This is what happened, Fleischer said: A day or so after his lunch with Libby, he was on Air Force One in a staff cabin. The president was touring Africa, and the Wilson controversy was raging, as reporters continued to hurl questions at the White House about Bush's use of the Niger charge in his prewar State of the Union. Fleischer was reading a classified CIA account of Wilson's trip that had been handed to him to by Rice. (He and other White House officials thought this document contained information that undermined Joe Wilson's criticism of the administration.) Sitting nearby was White House communications director Dan Bartlett (now counselor to the president). Bartlett was reading another document on the Wilson matter--probably a version of the State Department memo mentioned above. Bartlett, Fleischer said, exclaimed, "I can't believe he or they are saying the vice president sent Ambassador Wilson to Niger....His wife sent him. She works at the CIA." Bartlett wasn't speaking specifically to Fleischer, according to Fleischer; he was just "venting." Fleischer said nothing to Bartlett and kept on reading his own document. But he now had two sources--Libby and Bartlett--on Valerie Wilson's CIA connection.

Then on July 11, when Bush was in Uganda and visiting with children with AIDS, Fleischer sidled up to two reporters traveling with the president: David Gregory of NBC News and John Dickerson, then of Time, now of Slate. The night before, CBS News had reported that the White House had known the uranium-in-Africa charge was false at the time it was placed in Bush's speech, and Fleischer was looking to rebut this damaging charge. He told Gregory and Dickerson about Wilson's wife, hoping this would reinforce the White House claim that it had known nothing about the origins of the Wilson trip or Wilson's findings. But, according to Fleischer, the two reporters didn't react. They didn't take out their notebooks. They didn't ask follow-up questions. "Like a lot of things I said to the press," Fleischer testified, "it had no impact....This said to me that nobody really cares who sent Ambassador Wilson." Neither Gregory nor Dickerson (who was in the courtroom as Fleischer testified) broke the news about Valerie Wilson.

Fleischer's account of the leak-that-went-nowhere left Bartlett in a safe position. Bartlett, in this telling, had merely blurted out his reaction to a classified document. He had not passed the information to Fleischer with the intention of leaking it. Fitzgerald's opening argument made it seem that Bartlett was involved in a leak orchestrated by Fleischer. But Bartlett's participation in the affair--if Fleischer was speaking accurately--was accidental. Libby's, though, was not, according to Fleischer.

There was one big wrinkle in the Fleischer account. Call it the Dickerson Doubt. Dickerson has written that Fleischer did not tell him anything about Valerie Wilson. Describing his conversation with Fleischer, Dickerson in 2006 noted in Slate,

Some low-level person at the CIA was responsible for the mission. I was told I should go ask the CIA who sent Wilson.

In this article, Dickerson did not identify this official as Fleischer, but Hubris reported that Fleischer was his source. Dickerson also noted that an hour after this conversation another senior administration official--in this instance, Bartlett--told him essentially the same thing:

This official also pointed out a few times that Wilson had been sent by a low-level CIA employee and encouraged me to follow that angle. I thought I got the point: He'd been sent by someone around the rank of deputy assistant undersecretary or janitor.

Dickerson's account flat-out contradicts Fleischer's confession. (Gregory has not commented on this episode.) What does that mean?

The defense could have used this contradiction to try to impeach Fleischer's credibility. If Fleischer falsely remembers leaking, then maybe he's also wrong about what happened during his lunch with Libby. But Libby's lawyers want Fleischer to be right about the supposed leak to Dickerson and Gregory. They are building a case--or the innuendo--that Tim Russert was wrong when he told Fitzgerald's grand jury that he knew nothing about Valerie Wilson when he spoke to Libby (and could not have, as Libby has claimed, told Libby anything about Wilson's wife). Libby's attorneys have said that Russert may have had knowledge about Valerie Wilson and her CIA position because he may had heard about it from colleagues at NBC News, such as David Gregory.

It's complicated, but the argument goes like this: Fleischer leaked to Gregory and Dickerson; Gregory told Russert; and Russert told Libby that reporters were hearing that Wilson's wife was CIA. (There's a side benefit to this theory: Dickerson worked with Matt Cooper at Time. Perhaps Dickerson told Cooper about Valerie Wilson, and then Cooper, rather than receiving information on her from Libby, actually passed information to Libby.) But there's at least one problem for the defense. In the indictment of Libby, Fitzgerald noted that the Russert-Libby phone call happened on July 10, 2003. Yet Fleischer's (real or not) leak to Gregory (and Dickerson) occurred on July 11, 2003. To make this part of the defense work, Libby's lawyers have to show--or suggest--the Libby-Russert call occurred at a later time than Fitzgerald has placed it.

In any event, the defense was in a curious position. If it cited Dickerson's account to raise questions about Fleischer's memory, including his recollection of the lunch with Libby, it would have lost the (fanciful) Libby-to-Fleischer-to-Gregory-to-Russert-to-Libby daisy chain. As for what really happened in Uganda, Dickerson has the edge in credibility. First, he's not a former White House press secretary. More important, it's hard to imagine that both Dickerson and Gregory would not have reported new information about the Wilson trip, which was a piping hot story that week. As Dickerson has noted previously, when he subsequently learned that Wilson's wife was a CIA officer, he considered that noteworthy. (He heard this from Cooper, who had gotten a leak from White House aide Karl Rove.) Both he and Cooper then tried to get this information into Time's cover story on the scandal. Their editors, though, left this fact out--which led Cooper and Dickerson to file a story on the newsmagazine's website a few days later.

Dickerson is an inconvenient witness for both sides. The prosecution doesn't want him on the stand. He could impeach the credibility of its best witness so far. And the defense wants him out of the picture. He could undercut its attempt to rattle Russert. He appears to have a get-out-of-the-witness-box-free card. And the mystery of Fleischer's purported leak remains.

Why would Fleischer make up a leak that didn't happen? Did he seek immunity to cover an act that he didn't commit? What's a reporter covering this case--or a reader of the coverage--to make of this? A cascade of theories, no doubt, will pour forth. But this case has had memory issues. And Libby's lawyers will certainly be hammering that larger point--ad nauseum--in the weeks to come.

Other developments? Yes, there were some. When Ted Wells, a Libby attorney, cross-examined Cathie Martin, Cheney's former public affairs chief, he noted that none of the four sets of talking points created by Cheney's office regarding Wilson's charges mentioned Wilson's wife. Wells' point: this was not a matter of much concern for Cheney or Libby. But under questioning from Fitzgerald, Martin conceded that while Libby was in her loop, she was not in his--and that she was unaware of all of Libby's activities regarding the effort to counter Wilson. At the end of her testimony, she looked disappointed.

Later in the day, after Fleischer was done, David Addington, Cheney's current chief of staff, was called as a witness by the prosecution. He testified that sometime during the week after Wilson published his op-ed, Libby and he had a conversation in Libby's small office outside Cheney's West Wing suite. Libby, according to Addington, asked Addington, who used to work at the CIA, what paperwork would exist if a CIA officer sent a spouse on a mission. No names were mentioned, but Addington figured the query was related to the Wilson trip, and he explained to Libby how records are kept at the CIA. Addington told him that there ought to be paperwork documenting such a trip. He also testified that at one point in this conversation Libby "extended his hands out and pushed them down" to indicate that Addington should keep his voice low. Here was yet another indication that Libby had Joe and Valerie Wilson on his mind.

At the end of the day, the prosecution had fared better than the defense. Fleischer presented a puzzle. But he also was a straightforward witness regarding the lunch. Cathie Martin, who testified last week that she had told Libby and Cheney about Valerie Wilson, acknowledged that there was anti-Wilson activity going on in Cheney-land above her paygrade and that Libby was involved in this. And Addington's brief account depicted a Libby who was gathering information on Valerie Wilson in a suspiciously quiet manner. But the witnesses did provide plenty of information that Libby's legal team can use to support a variety of competing narratives, with the aim of confusing jurors. There remains a lot for the jury to sort out--and the prosecution's presentation is only half finished. Then comes the defense.

*****

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.

Chicago: This Is What Democracy Looks Like?

I ask this question not in reference to the anti-war protests this weekend in the nation's capital, but of the municipal elections here in Chicago. Every four years we have a campaign for mayor that is far less competitive than the supposedly undemocratic presidential elections in Venezuela. Now running for his sixth term, mayor Richard M Daley, as per usual, faces no signficant opposition in the election set for Feburary 27th. That means he'll likely waltz to yet another crushing victory, and the city's very significant problems will once again not get the airing they desperately need. While it's true that certain aspects of the city are well-managed, there are enough dysfunctions in Daley-run Chicago that, if the city were actually a functioning democracy, the Mayor would be in real danger of being booted. His administration has been beset by scandals and corruption, most recently the conviction of his ex-patronage chief. The trial demonstrated conclusively that city jobs are still doled out in an old-school style patronage arrangement in violation of consent decrees designed to stop the practice and ensure basic civil service protections for city workers. But in some senses, the corruption pales in comparison to the systematic transfer of hundreds of thousands of poor, black, public housing residents out of the city's borders under the "Plan for Transfomation"[pdf], and a very troubling and persistent record of extreme police brutality[pdf]. There's also the budgetary shell game the mayor's been playing with Tax Increment Financing, something that has been well-covered in the pages of the Chicago Reader.

For all these reasons it was pretty dispiriting to watch Barack Obama kiss the Mayor's ring last week when he endorsed him at a press conference. Given the fact that Obama is going to do well in Illinois whether Daley helps him out or not, and that Daley himself is going to cruise to victory whether or not he receives Obama's imprimatur, it's just hard to see what Obama had to gain from aligning himself with the once and future king.