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Biden Blunders, Again

The remarkable thing about Joe Biden's botched announcement of his second presidential run is not that he said something outrageously inappropriate and, if we are to assume that Democratic caucus and primary participants retain even minimal standards with regard to the competence of contenders, electorally lethal.

The senator from Delaware has a very long history of lodging metatarsals in his oral orifice. And his reference to a more attractive and articulate senator and presidential contender, Illinoisan Barack Obama, as a "clean" African American was, while spectacular in its senselessness, oddly Bidenesque. This is not to suggest that the senior senator is a racist, nor even that he's some kind of neatness freak. (Biden says that, by "clean" he meant "fresh," which seems about right.) Rather, this is to suggest that Joe Biden is still Joe Biden, the linguistically lumbering, intellectually inelegant Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman whose "plan" for solving the Iraq mess is so convoluted that even he has trouble explaining it.

So, no, there was nothing all that astounding about the fact that the politician who got himself kicked out of the 1988 Democratic contest for plagiarism would, with another two decades of practice, come up with an even more sensationally disqualifying gesture this time around.

The remarkable thing about the Biden blow out is the notion that some pundits are actually discussing the extent to which the senator's "clean" comment may have harmed his chances – as if the guy's vanity candidacy ever had a chance.

Biden is, according to several recent polls from the first caucus state of Iowa and the first primary state of New Hampshire, having a hard time competing with Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich among the party faithful. In another early caucus state, Nevada, the Foreign Relations Committee chair is tied with 76-year-old former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel. While it is true that Gravel – who says he would "raze (the) Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib prisons to the ground" – is more frequently right on the issues than Biden, the Alaskan is not often identified as a frontrunner.

The truth is that, before the "clean" comment, Biden had about as much chance of winning the Democratic nomination for president as, well, Mike Gravel.

Now, Biden has a little less chance of securing the nod than Gravel.

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

Stopping the Next War

The Bush Administration has a new one size fits all scapegoat for everything that ails Iraq: Iran.

To listen to the Administration recently, you'd think Iran was solely to blame for US soldiers dying, reconstruction stopping and the Iraqi government faltering. The recent US attacks on Iranian targets in Iraq and accusations leveled at the government in Tehran have members of Congress and foreign policy experts increasingly concerned that the Administration is rushing the US into another war, under false pretenses and blind to the consequences.

"The White House has established a Media Outreach Working Group whose mission is to establish international outrage against Iran," Colonel Sam Gardiner testified yesterday on Capitol Hill. "We're seeing a pattern very much like the run up to the invasion of Iraq."

At a hearing convened by Rep. Barbara Lee, military and foreign policy experts stressed the need for Congress to exert its constitutional check on the White House.

"Congress can play a decisive role to prevent the situation from escalating out of control," said Dr. Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council. "If the President refuses to engage in diplomacy, then perhaps Congress should take on that responsibility."

A bipartisan group of Congressmen have introduced legislation requiring President Bush to get Congressional approval for any military action against Iran. Barbara Lee has gone one step further, sponsoring a bill that blocks the use of funds for "any covert action for the purpose of causing regime change in Iran or to carry out any military action against Iran in the absence of an imminent threat, in accordance with international law."

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on January 11, Senator Jim Webb asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a simple question: "Is it the position of this administration that it possesses the authority to take unilateral action against Iran, in the absence of a direct threat, without congressional approval?" He received, via the Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs, what a Webb staffer called an "unacceptable response" that was "unresponsive to the question."

Don't Fumble the Football to Al Qaeda

Here's the good news, Super Bowl XLI fans, the air war at home is going just grand! Yes, you'll see the usual crack team of Air Force Thunderbirds performing over Miami's Dolphin Stadium in thrilling pre-game ceremonies.

But that is not all… oh no, that is not all at all. In fact, as an estimated 1,000-plus private jets fly the rich and famous into local south Florida airports this week for the highest holy day on the American entertainment calendar, the Continental U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command Region is gearing up its area patrols, part of Operation Noble Eagle--NORAD's response to the fact that it couldn't get armed planes off the ground back on September 11, 2001.

In its own version of pre-game ceremonies, NORAD fighters are planning to "make low approaches at several local airports Feb. 2, including Boca Raton, Pompano Beach Airpark, Fort Lauderdale Executive, Opa Locka, and Kendall-Tamiami Executive." And then, of course, they will be "increasing sorties" over, and patrolling of, the potentially al-Qaeda-ridden skies over the Super Bowl itself. This is proof, as Maj. Gen. Henry C. Morrow, the commander of both the 1st Air Force and the Continental U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command Region, put it in an American Forces Press Service release bursting with pride, "of our continuing resolve to protect our homeland and citizens during these major events."

All of this is meant "to ensure public safety while demonstrating NORAD's rapid response capability" (useful undoubtedly in future intra-Pentagon budget battles). In the process, the Federal Aviation Administration is also "prohibiting all general aviation aircraft from flying within about 11 miles of the stadium from two hours before kickoff until about midnight."

Even the Goodyear blimp will be missing. After all, military planners have to assume that the leaders of al-Qaeda, in those camps along the Pakistani border stocked with DVDs (and probably resupplied by Netflicks via some jihadi website), have seen the 1977 action flick Black Sunday and watched that ominous blimp head for the Super Bowl bent on mayhem. You can't blame the Goodyear Blimp people either. Based on checkpoint behavior in Iraq, this could be a shoot first, ask questions later situation for any blimp in sight.

And let's hope that Sunday kickoff doesn't fly too high and kick off any NORAD warning signals.

Occupying Melting Glaciers

Amid his plan to escalate the war in Iraq, and his dead-on-arrival health care proposal, barely noticed in President Bush's State of the Union address was the call to permanently expand the US military by 92,000 soldiers over five years. Many Democrats and much of the mainstream media have signed onto this plan without so much as raising an eyebrow.

"I am glad he has realized the need for increasing the size of the armed forces… but this is where the Democrats have been for two years," said Representative Rahm Emanuel.

"In the post-Sept. 11 world," argued a Washington Post editorial, "the Army must be prepared to deploy to multiple theaters, while still guarding against the rise of a strategic threat such as China."

This decision has serious ramifications for the future direction of our country. We already have a hyper-militarized approach to security. This is a critical moment when the new Democratic Congress could lead a vigorous debate over how to best serve the national interest in an era of climate chaos, resource scarcity and geopolitical energy struggles rather than acquiesce to a size and spending increase in order to look "strong on defense."

Despite what some supporters of an expanded military say, this policy would do absolutely nothing to help the current situation of an army stretched thin ("the active Army is about broken," said former Secretary of State Colin Powell) due to this administration's recklessness. Gordon Adams and John Diamond of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars wrote in a recent op-ed, "Even on a fast track, it might be as long as five years before an additional combat-ready brigade would be ready to deploy [to Iraq]." Even Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, "An increase in the size of the Army today really won't show up for some period of time."

So what are the expand-the-military cheerleaders gunning for exactly? A continued course of invasions followed by occupation and nation-building? Spreading the folly of Iraq into Iran or Syria? The Bush administration has already demonstrated that such missions are as achievable as occupying the glaciers it is melting, and the American people have made clear that they have no desire to repeat the human catastrophe of Iraq.

Adams and Diamond cut to the chase: "If this is about invading Iran, or carrying out a land war in China, as The Post has suggested, then maybe we need to have a national debate about that strategy, not slip it in sideways by expanding the Army without agreeing on the mission."

As I wrote in a previous post, the struggle against terrorism is not primarily a military operation. It is an intelligence-gathering, law enforcement, and public diplomacy effort. We already have the strongest military in the world and spend more on our military than the next twenty three leading military spenders in the world combined – increasing the military's size will do nothing to address the very real challenges that lie ahead. What are we going to do when confronted by disappearing and melting glaciers – occupy them?

Indeed a key part of this debate should be assessing exactly what security challenges our nation faces in the 21st century. William Hartung, Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute, suggests defining security strategy more broadly to include, for example, global warming, HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses, and growing divisions in wealth, income, and access to resources. Congress should explore shifting funds that would otherwise be used to increase the size of the military (estimated as high as $85 billion over the next eight years) in order to address security challenges that are currently getting short shrift. Hartung believes Democrats need to make the argument that they are not only strong on defense – but a lot smarter too.

If there's anyone in Congress who hasn't yet learned to not blindly follow the Bush administration on matters of security… well, the administration has some nice glaciers they want to talk to you about investing in too. Enjoy.

Libby Trial: Matt Cooper Contradicts Libby

Washington is like high school.

That seemed true at the Scooter Libby trial on Wednesday when the prosecution and the defense argued whether notes written by Libby on July 10, 2003, could be fully introduced as evidence. The notes covered a conversation between Libby, who was then Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, and Mary Matalin, a Republican strategist and Cheney adviser. Libby had called Matalin seeking advice on how to deal with the firestorm of the week: former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's charge that he had inside information proving the White House had twisted the prewar intelligence.

Wilson's criticism had come at a time when questions were being raised about the reference in George W. Bush's 2003 State of the Union speech to the allegation that Iraq had been seeking uranium in Africa. According to the notes, Matalin told Libby that Wilson's charge was fitting into the "Democratic story on the Hill" and that the "story is not going away." The notes say, "We need to address the Wilson motivation." Matalin suggested that Libby call Meet the Press host Tim Russert. "He hates Chris," the notes say, in a reference to Hardball host Chris Matthews, who had been promoting Wilson's accusations on the air and slamming Libby by name. On the same page, Libby wrote, "Wilson is a snake."

This is how the nation's capital works. A scandal erupts, and the spinners go into damage control and try to manipulate the press however they can. In this instance, Matalin apparently believed Cheney's office could play Russert against Matthews.

It was unclear how much of this note federal district court Judge Reggie Walton will allow into evidence. The snake comment, he said, was prejudicial. But the line about Wilson's motivation could be relevant to assessing Libby's state of mind during that wild week. It could be interpreted to mean: let's undermine Wilson not on the merits of his argument but on what might have led to his trip--including his wife's employment at the CIA.

The fight over this document was a small part of the day. The major drama came when Matt Cooper, formerly of Time magazine, was called as a witness. He and Libby spoke on July 12, 2003--six days after Wilson had published an op-ed blasting the White House and two days before Wilson's wife was outed as a CIA officer in a Robert Novak column. During the subsequent CIA leak investigation, Libby told the FBI and a grand jury that he had said to Cooper that various journalists were telling the administration that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA but that he (Libby) didn't know if this was true. Libby testified to the grand jury that he told Cooper that all he knew about Valerie Wilson "was what reporters are telling us" and that "among other things, I didn't know [Wilson] had a wife."

Cooper gave the grand jury a very different account. He said that at the end of their conversation, he asked if Libby had heard anything about Wilson's wife being involved in sending her husband on his now infamous trip to Niger to check out the uranium allegation. As Cooper has put it, "Libby responded with words to the effect of, 'Yeah, I've heard that too.'" A day earlier, Cooper had been told by Karl Rove, a top White House aide, that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and was involved in the Wilson mission. With Libby's remark, Cooper believed he had confirmation of this hot piece of news. But Cooper's editors at Time kept the Wilson wife angle out of the cover story that was going to press the day of his conversation with Libby. Days later, Cooper co-wrote a piece for the magazine's website reporting that "some government officials have noted to TIME in interviews, (as well as to syndicated columnist Robert Novak) that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."

In Libby's telling, he had merely picked up some gossip from reporters and passed it to Cooper with the caveat that he didn't know if any of it was true. Cooper's account--which Fitzgerald received only after threatening to jail Cooper, who initially refused to cooperate with the investigation--is a direct challenge to the veracity of the statements Libby provided the FBI and the grand jury. And Libby is on trial for allegedly lying to the FBI and the grand jury in part about his chat with Cooper.

On the stand, Cooper described the July 12 phone call. There were no surprises. He stuck to his story. Did Libby, Fitzgerald asked, say to you that he had learned about Wilson's wife from other reporters? No, Cooper said.

It was straightforward--or seemed so. Until Bill Jeffress, a Libby attorney, cross-examined Cooper. He asked a series of questions insinuating that Cooper had learned about Wilson's wife not just from official sources but from John Dickerson, a colleague at Time. But Dickerson has said (more than once) that he was not leaked information about Wilson's wife. (See here.)

Jeffress was suggesting that the Libby confirmation was not important for Cooper--and perhaps even nonexistent. He introduced a "file" Cooper sent to his editors at Time shortly after his discussion with Libby. The memo reported what Libby had told Cooper about the Wilson controversy but did not mention anything about Wilson's wife. "Why did you not put that in your memo?" the attorney asked. "I can't explain that," Cooper replied. (One reason might be that his editors had already signaled to Cooper they were not interested in the Wilson's wife story, and the magazine was just about to close that week's issue.)

Jeffress poked at the sausage-making of journalism. When a source tells you, "I've heard something," he asked Cooper, do you take that as a fact? Cooper replied that he viewed Libby's remark "as confirmation." Did you ask Libby where he had heard it? Jeffress countered. No, said Cooper. Ouch.

Jeffress also engaged in a rather creative maneuver. He puled out the notes Cooper had typed on his laptop while speaking to Libby and highlighted one section that read:

had something and about wilson thing and not sure if it's ever

What did this mean? Cooper didn't know. Is it possible that Cooper had typed "had" instead of "heard." It's possible, Cooper said. And did Cooper often insert extra "ands" into his notes? "I don't accept that characterization," Cooper said, not hiding his irritation. Jeffress referenced another part of these notes that arguably had an unnecessary "and" or two. And, Jeffress continued, do you ever type an "r" when you mean to type an "n"? The lawyer produced two Cooper notes that had nothing to do with the Libby conversation in which Cooper had typed "erroneous" as "erroreous" and "energy" as "eregy." What about the "wilson thing" phrase? Jeffress asked. Could it be a reference to Wilson's wife?

Cooper could see where Jeffress was heading, and he sharply replied, that's not "how I remember it." Then Jeffress unveiled his masterpiece. Change the "had" to "heard," delete the "and," and change the "ever" to "even," and look what you get:

heard something about wilson thing and not sure if it's even.

Jeffress added the last word: true. Presto, Cooper's notes--with these tweaks--chronicle what Libby claims he said to Cooper. "That's not my recollection," Cooper said.

When Fitzgerald had another shot at Cooper, he asked the journalist if he would have considered Libby's remark to be "confirmation" of the information Rove had leaked to Cooper if Libby had said he didn't know the information was true and didn't know Wilson had a wife. "No," Cooper said. Did you ask Libby any follow-up questions about Wilson's wife? the prosecutor asked. "I should have," Cooper responded, evincing regret. Why didn't you? the prosecutor inquired. Libby was reluctant to stay on the phone, Cooper said. And when did the two discuss Wilson's wife? At the end of the conversation, Cooper answered. The words in Cooper's notes that Jeffress had worked his magic upon appear not at the end but about two-thirds into document.

Jeffress had thrown a handful of dirt into Fitzgerald's gears. He had raised questions about Cooper's journalistic practices. He had drawn Dickerson further into the story--perhaps to bolster the defense's less-than-solid contention that Tim Russert may have heard about Valerie Wilson from NBC News reporter David Gregory. This could be important later in the trial, when Russert takes the stand and challenges Libby's claim that he (Libby) heard about Wilson's wife from Russert. (Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer testified on Monday that he leaked information about Valerie Wilson to Dickerson and Gregory. Dickerson says Fleischer merely urged him to look into who had sent Wilson on his trip to Niger. An email from the time supports Dickerson.)

Whether or not Jeffress put much of a dent into Cooper--who was an unflappable and savvy witness--he still has a problem. Libby's own story is that he told Cooper he didn't know that Wilson had a wife. So far, seven witnesses have testified that they spoke to Libby about Wilson's wife prior to this conversation. And according to evidence introduced by the defense, Cheney told Libby that Wilson's wife worked at the Counterproliferation Division of the CIA. Cooper's testimony is hardly the only evidence contradicting what Libby told the grand jury about his conversation with Cooper.

Earlier in the day, Jeffress continued his assault on former New York Times reporter Judy Miller, questioning her ability to recall key information. (See here for an account of his initial attack on Miller.) He asked about conversations she had with sources other than Libby regarding Wilson and his wife. "I remember having other conversations," she said, adding, "I can't remember with whom I had those conversations." Wilson's phone number was in her notebook, Jeffress pointed out: who gave it to you? She couldn't recall.

Could she be sure, the lawyer asked, that no one had told her about Wilson's wife before Libby did so at a June 23, 2003 meeting (as she had testified)? Miller replied she had "no recollection of knowing" anything about Wilson's wife before that conversation with Libby. "You might have," Jeffress countered. "You can't be certain." Miller held fast: "I'm confident I didn't know before that." Then Jeffress quoted a Miller remark from her second grand jury appearance: "I don't remember if [the June 23 meeting with Libby] was absolutely the first time, but it was among the first time I had ever heard that. I don't--I can't recall for sure."

Jeffress asked her about her claim that Libby at that June 23 meeting had told her that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. In her notebook, she had written that Wilson's wife was employed at a "bureau." Miller testified on Tuesday this was a reference to a nonproliferation bureau at the CIA. But she also acknowledged that it had taken her "a while" to figure that out. But isn't the FBI sometimes referred to as the Bureau? Jeffress asked. Aren't there "bureaus" in the State Department? Isn't it true there are no parts of the CIA called a bureau? Didn't you tell the grand jury, he asked Miller, that you were "confused" by Libby's use of the word "bureau" and that your memory is bad on this? He displayed a grand jury transcript backing up his questions. He also noted that Miller's notebook had several references to Valerie Wilson prior to the leak. His suggestion: Miller had been talking to sources other than Libby about Joe Wilson and his wife and, due to her faulty memory, couldn't say for sure who had told her what.

Miller did her best to fend off his punches and defended her testimony. And Jeffress questioned her credibility with less visible enjoyment than the day before. He had already made his point about her memory, and not all jurors fancy overkill. Fitzgerald, during additional questioning, rehabbed Miller on a few matters. Responding to his queries, Miller said that there were no mentions of Wilson's wife in her notebooks prior to the notes related to her June 23 meeting with Libby. Fitzgerald also cited an exchange that occurred during Miller's first grand jury testimony. During that session, she did not recall her June 23 conversation with Libby--a point Jeffress has highlighted. But, as Fitzgerald noted, she also said that she did have a "vague memory" of talking with someone about Valerie Wilson's CIA connection prior to a meeting she had with Libby on July 8, 2003. In other words, she almost remembered her first conversation with Libby about Wilson's wife.

Miller's stint as a witness was ugly. But Fitzgerald managed to steer his case through these shoals. And her account was one more contradicting the statements Libby made to the FBI and a grand jury. Thanks to the cross examinations, jurors might have questions about each prosecution witness. Fitzgerald will win or lose depending on whether the jury looks past all the cuts and nicks. He has only a few more witnesses to call, including Russert, and he said he expects his case to be completed by early next week. Then it will be the Libby team's turn to send witnesses into the crossfire.

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

Wal-Mart Organics: Buyer Beware!

At the end of last summer, I explored, in the pages of The Nation's special food issue, the complex implications of Wal-Mart's move to expand its organic offerings. (Sorry, only the first couple paragraphs are online.) Like most of my writing about the environmental implications of Wal-Mart's policies, the article was balanced. Although I believe Wal-Mart is bad news for American workers, and has made almost no meaningful attempt to reform its personnel practices, I do think that some of the company's "green" reforms have the potential to genuinely help the earth.

Well, the jury's still out on the company's broader environmental impact, but on organics, it looks like I may have been too kind to Wal-Mart. The Cornucopia Institute, a watchdog group that advocates for family-scale farms and has been following Wal-Mart's organic moves with rigorous skepticism, discovered four months ago that Wal-Mart has been mislabeling non-organic products as organic. Though Cornucopia informed Wal-Mart about the problem, and filed a formal complaintwith the United States Department of Agriculture, many of the inaccurate signs remain .

Earlier this month, Corncopia filed a consumer fraud complaint with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Today, Wal-Mart Watch put out a call for action: Write or email USDA honcho Eileen Broomell and urgeher to begin a nationwide investigation of Wal-Mart's product labeling.

Fraud of this kind is a serious matter, especially with more and more companies marketing social responsibility. According to a study released last week by the marketing firm Packaged Facts, U.S. sales of grocery store products making an ethical claim – organically grown, hormone-free, eco-friendly, local, cruelty-free – have skyrocketed in the past year, reaching nearly $33 billion in 2006, up 17% from 2005. Packaged Facts projects that sales of such items will continue to grow, surpassing $57 billion in 2011. People relish the opportunity to make a difference at the cash register; sure, that impulse may sometimes be naive, but companies like Wal-Mart shouldn't get away with abusing customers' good intentions.

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.