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The Nation

Did GOP Lawyer Mislead Congress About Plame Case?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

The Power of Subpoena

Investigate, investigate, investigate. That's one of key tools given to Democrats since they won back the Congress. And thus far they are using it to impressive effect.

Because of slim majorities, internal discord and Presidential Bush's veto pen, Democrats are unlikely to pass many major pieces of legislation in the next two years. But they can sure make the Bush Administration's life unpleasant. To paraphrase Jesse Jackson, they can keep scandals alive. From Walter Reed to pre-war fabrications to global warming to less glamorous subjects, like the FCC and FDA, the new Congress is performing much-needed oversight.

Just take one recent example: Attorneygate. The firing of eight US attorneys would have flown under the radar of the last Congress. Democrats could have protested publicly---but done little else. Now it's yet another scandal that threatens to topple Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and possibly other top Administration officials. Thanks to the power of subpoena, we can expect to see more explosive testimony on Capitol Hill.

Iraq Anniversary AARGH

Call me crazy, but it still gets my goat that the entire Iraq debate takes place without the input of the female majority. The Sunday TV talk shows are wall-to-wall male. Tim Russert seems his most relaxed, when--as again on March 18--he's surrounded by white men. Russert's not the only one, on the day before the anniversary of the invasion, three out of five Sunday TV news shows featured no women at all. The sole female on ABC was Senator Dianne Feinstein. Fox News Sunday included one woman on their panel of five, and she was representing Barack Obama.

Simple sexism would be infuriating enough, but leaving women out of this debate is also stupid. In which areas have have the good old boys most spectacularly failed? First in the launching of Bush's criminal war (women, when polled, were disproportionately against.) After the disaster of the invasion came the debacle of the reconstruction. I don't believe women are biologically determined to have more expertise in the winning of hearts-and-minds, but barred historically from the killing and slaughtering professions, women have risen to the top in relief and development and before the invasion, just about all the most experienced people in that arena were accurately anticipating what a mess would follow Rummie's rush into Baghdad.

Just what is it about being correct (as opposed to Right) that bars one from the conversation?

Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and erstwhile United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights was right about Bush's "war on terror." I believe it was she who first pointed out that you can't wage a war on a tactic, and besides, the attacks of 9/11 were criminal acts not acts of war. (And acts, of course, that Iraq had nothing to do with.) Retired Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatowski, tried to blow the whistle on Rummie/Feith's failure to prepare for post-Saddam Iraq when she was still working as a Near East expert in the Defense Department. Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) is the one person who voted against Bush on the invasion of Afghanistan. She could see what was coming when the Congress still had time not to abdicate their war-powers authority. Sgt. Kelly Dougherty went to Iraq in 2003 and came back to co-found Iraq Veterans Against the War at age 27, determined to sound the alarm about the troops' lack of armor and the racist attitudes driving much of the occupation. Any one of those women would be a fantastic guest. Why not book the bunch?

From Iraq, women like Yanar Mohammed of the Organization for Women's Freedom in Iraq screamed to high heaven about the dangers of collaborating with warlords (described in this country as clerics who happened to have militias.) American viceroys, eager to get the oil-profits flowing, were trading human rights, especially women's rights, for a phoney promise of security, said Mohammed. But you can't have national security without women's security, said countless women's leaders -- leaders whom the media studiously ignored.

On RadioNation this week, we spoke with Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, who witnessed the occupation from far-too close up when she was taken hostage, released and then shot by US forces. Sgrena has "expertise" I wouldn't wish on anyone. The least she deserves is a place in the discussion. Gold Star mom Cindy Sheehan has a PhD in grief and drive. Have the television bookers forgotten that we have a peace movement in this country--one that just elected a Democratic majority --thanks to women including Sheehan, and Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, and Leslie Cagan, co-chair of United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of some 1300 national and local groups, backed up by tireless rabble-rousers like Sunsara Taylor of the World Can't Wait who spent March 17 in freezing rain and snow outside the Pentagon?

I MISS MOLLY IVINS. But heck, I was missing Molly on tv for years before the cancer got her. I'm truly tired of making this argument, so I'll stop. But maybe you'll pick up the baton and (gently) bludgeon someone with it.

Grassroots with Grit Show Democrats How To Win.Pre-Order "Blue Grit," my new book, now at lauraflanders.com.

End the War (On Terror)

Today marks the fourth anniversary of America's war against Iraq. The Nation vigorously and rigorously opposed the war before it began. In "An Open Letter to Congress," published on the eve of the vote on the war resolution, we wrote, "the case against the war is simple, clear and strong."

As we mark what may well be the most colossal foreign policy disaster in US history, we mourn the death and destruction--which has not ended. We mark the lies and delusions that launched this war--since they too are continuing.

The majority of the American people have found their way to the truth and are demanding an end to this catastrophe. Yet the political system continues to crawl hesitantly toward accepting the enormity of this failure.

The political battle is joined in Congress as the House approaches a fateful vote on how to compel withdrawal through legislation on military appropriations. We applaud those who seek to defend the principles of a fully funded withdrawal. Yet we also understand that the new Democratic majority is struggling to find ways to force the President ‘s hand and an exit from his wrongful war. It will be a long and tortuous process---judging from the painful political calculations the House leadership is making to cobble together a compromise bill.

As the House grapples with legislative maneuvers it is worth remembering that from the start of this war four years ago, House Democrats stood tall and bravely alone. A substantial majority opposed the original war authorization and their initial skepticism has been fully confirmed by subsequent events.

But as we mark the anniversary of the Iraq war, it is also time to consider the longterm damage the misconceived "war on terrorism" has inflicted on our security and engagement with the world. Eventually US troops will leave Iraq because the brutal facts on the ground will compel it. But even as we struggle to get out of this failed war, our political system continues to evade the challenge of finding an exit from the "war on terror." At a time when we need a coherent alternative to the Bush doctrine and an alternative vision of what this country's role in the world should be, we see both parties calling for intensifying the "war on terror" --even for increasing the size of the military, and for expanding its ability to go places and do things. But who is asking the fundamental question: Won't a war without end do more to weaken our security and democracy than seriously address the threats and challenges ahead?

Witness the collateral damage to our democracy. This Administration has used the "war" as justification for almost anything--unlawful spying on Americans, illegal detention policies, hyper-secrecy, equating dissent with disloyalty and condoning torture.

The Administration has also justified the expansion of America's military capacity---over 700 bases in more than 60 countries, annual military budgets topping $500 billion -- as necessary to counter the threat of Islamic extremism and to fight the "war on terror." What too few politicians are willing to say is that combating terrorism-- a brutal, horrifying tactic -- is not a "war" and that military action is the wrong weapon. Illegality and immorality aside, it simply doesn't succeed. Yes, terrorism does pose a threat to national and international security that can never be eliminated. But there are far more effective (and ethical) ways to advance US security than a forward-based and military-heavy strategy of intrusion into the Islamic world. Indeed, the failed Iraq war demonstrated anew the limits of military power.

Fighting terror requires genuine cooperation with other nations in policing and lawful and targeted intelligence work; smart diplomacy; withdrawal of support for oppressive regimes that generate hatred of the US; and real pressure to bring about negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians with the goal of achieving peace and security for Israel and justice and a secure state for the Palestinians. (There are other effective means of combating terrorism; what is important is that they are harnessed and coordinated so as to provide a true alternative to hyper-military ventures.)

It is also worth remembering as we mark this anniversary that military invasion and occupation, and crusades masquerading as foreign policy, divert precious resources from real security. Four years ago, the doubts and warnings about military action in Iraq were brushed aside (including those clearly and consistently expressed by the Nation). Now that reality has confirmed the argument, isn't it time to act on the knowledge?

Alongside the get-out-of-Iraq debate, the political system needs a parallel debate that lays out how we will exit this "long war" --which is a formula for unlimited militarization and recurring wars. (As an industrial project for the arms industry, it could be even more open-ended than the Cold War.) We need a debate that confronts the danger of inflating a very real, but limited threat of terrorism into an open-ended global war, to be fought simultaneously on countless obscure battle fronts, large and small, visible and secret.

Major political leaders in both parties continue to buy into a view of US global supremacy--the "indispensable nation" scenario. They were silent when the Pentagon opened a new "Africa Command" to hunt down Islamists on that continent. Nor they did object when CIA gunships bombed villages earlier this year in Somalia. When Bush announced intentions to increase Army troop strength by 90,000, Democrats boasted it was their idea first.

To what end? These new troops won't be available for Iraq. Are they for the next war or occupation? The delusion of military power is deeply rooted.

We would do better --both in addressing the danger of a wider sectarian war with failing regimes in the Middle East, and in combating terrorism-- to reduce the heavy US military and geopolitical footprint in the region. That means withdrawing US forces from Iraq and organizing regional diplomacy, including with Iran and Syria, to contain the civil war from spreading to other countries in the region. It would mean addressing the legitimate grievances that arouse the passions of many in the Islamic world, especially Israel's occupation of the West Bank. And it would mean changing the conversation with the people of the Arab and Islamic worlds from the danger of extremism to the promise of more economic opportunity.

A purposeful opposition must form to rethink America's role in the world. There are large and fateful questions to confront: What kind of country does the US want to be in the 21st century? Republic or Empire? Global leader or global cop? Where, as Sherle Schwenninger asked in the Nation's pages a few years ago, "is the America that is less one of warrior and preacher/proselytizer and more one of architect and builder?" How can America act like an imperial power in a post-imperial world? Much can be accomplished by focusing on the questions that conventional opinion ignores. And starting the discussion/debate now can help establish new terms and limits for the next president elected in 2008.

Concretely, Congress should be pushed to take legislative action to renounce the Bush doctrine of "preventive war" enunciated before he invaded Iraq. As The Nation warned in our "Open Letter to the Members of Congress" on the eve of the 2002 war resolution vote, "the decision to go to war has a significance that goes far beyond the war....It declares a policy of military supremacy over the entire earth--an objective never attained by any power. ...The new policy [of preventive war] reverses a long American tradition of contempt for unprovoked attacks. It gives the United States the unrestricted right to attack nations even when it has not been attacked by them and is not about to be attacked by them...It accords the US the right to overthrow any regime--like the one in Iraq--it decided should be overthrown...It declares that the defense of the US and the world against nuclear proliferation is military force." Declaring the Bush doctrine of endless war defunct will not solve the problems posed by Iraq, but it will reduce the likelihood that we will see more Iraqs in our future.

With the 2008 elections looming, it is unlikely that the Democrats (with a few honorable exceptions) will rethink their official national security strategy in any significant way. But citizens committed to a vision of real security can launch a debate framed by our own concerns and values. If we have learned anything in the past six years, it is that even overwhelming military power is ill suited to dealing with the central challenges of the 21st century: climate crisis, the worst pandemic in human history (AIDS), the spread of weapons of mass destruction, stateless terrorists with global reach, genocidal conflict and starvation afflicting Africa, and a global economy that is generating greater instability and inequality.

A real security plan would widen the definition to include all threats to human life, whether they stem from terrorism, disease, environmental degradation, natural disasters or global poverty--a definition that makes it clear that the military is only one of many tools that can be used to address urgent threats. A last resort. This alternative security strategy would also reconfigure the US presence in the world – reducing the footprint of American military power, pulling back the forward deployments drastically and reducing the bloated Pentagon budget by as much as half.

Yes, at home, all this will take time and have to overcome the fiercest kind of political resistance. Yet this is not an impossible political goal, now that Americans have seen where the military option leads. Dealing intelligently with reality is not retreat. It is the first wise step toward restoring real national security.

Terror in the Philippines

In October, I wrote about workers at the Chong Won garment factory in the Phillipines, who produce clothing for a number of retailers and brands, including Wal-Mart. Back then, workers were on strike defending their legal right to organize. Yesterday I caught up with Father Jose Dizon -- "Father Joe" -- a priest at the Workers' Assistance Centre in Cavite, who has played a major role in supporting the workers' efforts.(Naomi Klein wrote about Father Joe, and this organization, in her ground-breaking 1999 book No Logo.) Soft-spoken and cheerful, despite the grim situations we're discussing, Father Joe is visiting the United States to testify before Congress about the dismal and deteriorating human rights situation in his country. I interviewed him at the United Nations, where he was attending a meeting of social justice-minded religious leaders. He said that factory management still refuses to negotiate with the workers' union.

A February investigation of Chong Won by the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) -- the monitoring group founded by the student anti-sweatshop movement -- found violations of minimum wage, forced overtime and many other laws. It also found that factory management had colluded with local authorities to retaliate violently against striking workers: indeed, the report states, "with respect to freedom of association, Chong Won's misdeeds are among the most egregious and persistent that the WRC has encountered."

As the factory's most powerful customer, Wal-Mart could easily pressure management to respect the workers' rights. In fact, the right to freedom of association is part of Wal-Mart's own code of conduct for suppliers (a fact that many of its U.S. employees would find pretty darkly hilarious). Last fall, Father Joe and the workers met with representatives of Wal-Mart, who said they would pressure the management to do the right thing; he now thinks that they were "not serious." The retailer has taken no action and workers now fear Wal-Mart might pull out altogether, instead of using its economic power to improve the situation. Says Father Joe, "We are just asking Wal-Mart to follow its own code of conduct with respect to the right of workers to collective bargaining."

Father Joe says the workers are determined to continue their strike and that they are still in "high spirits." The picket line is a lively place, he says: "It's become an area for study, for discussion, to raise up their political consciousness."

Write to Wal-Mart and tell the company to act now. Rajan Kamalanathan is theDirector of Compliance at Wal-Mart: rkamalanathan@wal-mart.com. [note correction: his name was incorrect in earlier version of this] Can't hurt to drop a line to the factory management, too:

Mr. Yong Ryul Kim,President,Chong Wong Fashion Inc.; South Ave. PEZA;Rosario, Cavite4106;Philippines.Fax: (63)(46) 437-0314;Tel: (63)(46) 437-0316/19;Yong_ryul_kim@yahoo.com

To join a North American support campaign for Chong Won, and learn about other actions you can take, go to the Maquila Solidarity Network website, which will be updated next week. United Students Against Sweatshops also has a campaign on this, as does the International Labor Rights Fund.

The Chong Won situation needs to be viewed in the context not just of Wal-Mart's global indifference to workers, but also of the murderously hostile environment in the Phillipines. Since President Arroyo took power in 2001, there have been 836 political killings, 48 of them labor activists.

Father Joe and other WAC activists have been followed by spies, and have received threatening messages. The organization's director was found murdered in September. These days, they avoid going out alone at night, or working late at the WAC office. This climate of fear, Father Joe says, is "much worse than under Marcos." Indeed, in just three years of Arroyo there have been more extra-judicial killings than in Marcos's entire two decades in power. Under the late dictator, those who faced the most repression were people in the armed, underground resistance. Today, the targets of political violence are engaged in legal organizing activities, which as Father Joe points out, are "above ground, so we are like sitting ducks." Under Marcos, Father Joe faced arrest -- and indeed, was jailed -- but "now, I could lose my life!"

In addition to Wal-Mart, it's a good idea to get in touch with governmental authorities, since they are implicated both in the Chong Won situation, and the killings in the country at large. Here are their addresses:

HE Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo;President, Republic of the Philippines;Malacanang Palace;JP Laurel Street, San Miguel, Manila;1005 Philippines.Fax: (+63 2) 736-10-10;corres@op.gov.ph

Atty. Lilia B. De Lima;Director-General,Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA);San Luis St. Cor. Roxas Blvd.,Pasay City.Fax: (63) (2) 772-3375; 891-6380;cez@pldtdsl.net ; erd@peza.gov.ph ; dglbl@peza.gov.ph

Mr. Arturo Brion;Secretary,Department of Labor and Employment;Executive Bldg., San Jose St., Intramuros, Manila.Fax: (63) (2) 527-2121; 527-2131; 527-5523; 527-34-94;osec@dole.gov.ph

"Malfeasance in Office"

Henry Waxman knows a thing or two about the Constitution, and the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee displayed that knowledge at the opening of Friday's extraordinary morning of testimony by outed CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson.

While appropriate attention will be paid to the remarks by the woman whose identity was exposed in a pattern of leaks that appears to have been coordinated by Vice President Dick Cheney's office, what Waxman said at the opening of the hearing sent the essential message.

"It's not our job to determine criminal culpability," the congressman said of the committee he heads, "but it is out job to determine what went wrong and insist on accountability."

The founders established parallel tracks for dealing with government wrongdoing.

A judicial process has already begun to hold members of the administration to account for violating laws protecting the identity of Central Intelligence Agency operatives by outing Plame in an apparent attempt to harm her husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson. Wilson had earned the administration's wrath by revealing evidence of manipulation of intelligence by an administration that was attempted to convince Congress to authorize an attack on Iraq.

But the essential process for dealing with government wrongdoing is that established in the Constitution as the authority of Congress to examine and sanction presidents, vice presidents and their aides.

The legislative branch of the federal government is fully empowered to check and balance the executive branch, especially in times of war and national crisis. Those checks and balances begin to be applied when Congressional committees open investigations and when the elected representatives of the people begin to demand accountability.

Plame left no doubt that wrongdoing occurred. "My name and identity were carelessly and recklessly abused by senior official in White House and State Department," she testified. "I could no longer perform the work for which I had been highly trained."

As Massachusetts Congressman John Lynch explained before initiating his questions, the pattern of leaks suggested to him that members of the administration engaged in "a deliberate attempt to destroy your status as a covert agent."

Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich got to the heart of the matter, asking rhetorically: "Why? Why did this happen to you? Was it an unintentional mistake or part of a wider pattern."

Holding a chart detailing the leaks that targeted Plame, Kucinich spoke of a "coordinated" effort to discredit her and her husband, and suggested that it was indeed part of a broader pattern of administration attacks on critics. The congressman then detailed a long list of moves by the White House to intimidate and punish former Cabinet secretaries, aides and others who had questioned the actions of the president or vice president.

California Congresswoman Diane Watson picked up on the critique, suggesting that there had indeed been "malfeasance in office" by members of the Bush administration.

Waxman's inquiry is in its early stages. But Watson's choice of the term "malfeasance in office" points to where this inquiry can – and almost certainly should – proceed.

In the early years of the American experiment, when the founders of the republic still served in the executive and legislative branches, the term commonly used to describe the wrongdoing that might meet the deliberately vague "high crimes and misdemeanors" standard established in the Constitutional provisions for the impeachment of presidents, vice presidents and other top officials was: "malfeasance in office."

James Madison used the term, or variations on it, frequently in his writing about executive power and its abuse. The first great impeachment trial of a national political figure, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase in 1804, was on the specific charge of "malfeasance in office."

Two hundred years later, the term "malfeasance in office" remains the standard reference phrase for official misconduct of the most serious sort. It is used in state Constitutions and has been specifically and frequently been used during impeachment proceeding against presidents – including those of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.

That a reference to "malfeasance in office" would be featured on the first day of a congressional inquiry that is charged with determining what went wrong in the CIA leak case and insisting on accountability offers at least a measure of hope that the process unfolding today may yet lead to the appropriate checking and balancing of an errant executive branch and its lawless leaders.

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

For Anti-War Democrats: The Toughest Choice

The House Appropriations Committee deliberations on whether to advance an Iraq War spending bill that includes provisions seeking to extract U.S. troops from the conflict by next year points up the challenge faced by Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the coming week.

Pelosi, who voted against authorizing President Bush to attack Iraq, has been clear about her desire to bring the war to a conclusion. As Pelosi said this week: "Any U.S. military engagement must be judged on three counts -- whether it makes our country safer, our military stronger or the region more stable. The war in Iraq fails on all three scores."

Yet, to Pelosi's view, the only way to do that is by providing the money for continuance of the war over the course of at least another year. This is a painful political calculation, she says, arguing that the neither the Democratic caucus not the full House is not prepared to back a quick exit strategy.

As Pelosi has said over the years, "There is no one Democratic voice . . . and there is no one Democratic position (on the war)." Members of her own leadership team, including Maryland Congressman Steny Hoyer, the number two Democrat in the House, approved of the war initially and have never been comfortable in the anti-war camp. And, while there are many House Democrats who favor the rapid withdrawal of all U.S. troops from the quagmire, there are a handful of Joe Lieberman-like Democrats who really do want to "stay the course." And there are many more who are afraid to take responsibility for ending the war because, even though the notion in popular in polling, post-withdrawal realities on the ground in the Middle East could be ugly enough to cause second thoughts on the part of voters.

So, in hopes of initially uniting Democrats and then creating a new center of gravity in the House that might see a significant number of Republicans sign on to a "troops home" measure, Pelosi and two of her closest allies, Appropriations Committee chair David Obey, D-Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha, who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee charges with oversight of military spending, have set out to use the spending bill as a tool to reframe the debate about the war.

It is the sort of serious legislative move that gets points from government teachers but that leaves activists cold. And Pelosi has struggled to keep her balance in the face of fierce attacks from the White House and the Republican National Committee for trying to "micromanage" the war – GOP press releases refer to her deridingly as "General Pelosi" – and from progressives who say she is not doing enough to bring the troops home.

The essential objection to the legislation Pelosi, Obey and Murtha are pushing so aggressively is that it does not end the war. In fact, it funds the war for a year or more – perhaps even providing sufficient resources for the president to pursue his objectives until the end of his tenure in 2009.

Pelosi and her allies speak of establishing benchmarks and timelines designed to force the president's hand; "We are trying to end the authorization of the war if the Iraqis and the administration don't perform," says Obey, who got in trouble last week for referring to critics of the plan's caution as "idiot liberals."

Unfortunately for Obey and Pelosi, the "idiot liberals" have a point when they say that the Democratic leadership plan offers no assurance that U.S. troops will be extracted from Iraq in 2008.

The spending bill is too vague and soft to be counted on to actually do that. As California Congresswoman Barbara Lee, perhaps the most ardent war foe in the House said when voting against the Pelosi plan Thursday, "I don't think the president deserves another chance."

Lee has been blunt in saying that she believes "the American people sent a mandate to us to bring home our men and women before the end of the year," and she has proposed an amendment to the spending bill that would do just that. Lee's plan would provide funding for bringing the troops home safely rather than continuing the war.

Out of deference to Obey, arguably the strongest committee chair on the Hill, Lee did not offer her amendment during the Appropriations Committee deliberations. Those deliberations saw all the other Democrats on the committee vote for the measure, which was approved and sent to the full House by a vote of 36-28.

But, Lee, a Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair, says. "Still, too many of our troops are dying in an occupation that needs to end sooner rather than later, and I will continue to push for enforceable timelines and to protect our troops and to fully fund their safe and orderly withdrawal from Iraq at the earliest practicable date."

Anti-war activists who have been pushing for Congress to use the "power of the purse" to defund the war are organizing to push House members to back the Lee amendment. In an email sent today, Peace Action executive director Kevin Martin notes the coming fourth anniversary of the war's start and says to the group's tens of thousands of backers, "I need you to tell Congress this must be the last such anniversary we observe.

The Supplemental War Appropriations bill has been passed by the House Appropriations Committee and is on its way to a full vote in the House. Regrettably, this bill passed without stipulating a one year or shorter timeline for withdrawal nor any language requiring Bush to seek Congressional approval for attacking Iran."

"Now," continues Martin, "every Representative has an opportunity to reshape U.S. military involvement in the Middle East -- and you have the responsibility to tell them what needs to be done." To do so, Martin urges activists to tell members of the House to: "Support the Lee Amendment which restricts spending to fund only a safe and orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops and military contractors from Iraq by the end of the year."

But will the Lee amendment come to the floor?

Pelosi is working hard to find 218 votes for her proposal. If she gets there sometime next week, she will call a very quick vote. The speaker does not want to be slowed down by amendments from the left or the right. So there are no guarantees the Lee amendment will go up for a vote – although some Democratic leaders have quietly suggested that allowing such a vote might serve as a means to ease pressure from the grassroots on anti-war members.

If the Lee amendment is not available as an out to express clear opposition to extending the war, there is no question that a number of progressive Democrats will vote against the funding bill – as will a handful of anti-war Republicans.

That's Pelosi's challenge and, at least to some extent, it is also the challenge for the anti-war community.

Peace Action's Martin says in his email that activists should urge members to vote "no" on the Pelosi plan unless it includes both the Lee amendment and an amendment prohibiting an attack on Iran without specific congressional approval. Since it is exceptionally unlikely that such amendments will be attached to Pelosi's measure, anti-war members of the House and activists around the country are faced with a conundrum.

They can refuse to back Pelosi, effectively preventing the advance of a serious if deeply flawed attempt to constrain the Bush administration's war making over the next two years. Or they can swallow hard and back a measure that continues to fund a war they believe should be finished.

Some of the leading opponents of the war in the House have decided to go with Pelosi. When her plan was approved by the Appropriations Committee, it had the votes of members such as Illinois Democrat Jesse Jackson Jr. and New York Democrat Jose Serrano, a member of the Out of Iraq Caucus who last year was one of just three House Democrats to vote for a measure to immediately withdraw all U.S. troops from the country.

Serrano said that supporting the $125 billion supplemental spending bill backed by Pelosi and Obey was the most difficult vote of his three-decades as a member of the New York state legislature and the U.S. House. "Some of my friends on the left are telling me that I sold out. In the Bronx they're ready to do what they have to do," said Serrano, acknowledging anti-war movement frustration with Pelosi's plan. But Serrano argued that the measure set in motion a process that could lead to withdrawal and he said, "I want this war to end. I don't want to go to any more funerals. So, I will take whatever heat is given... and support this bill today and support it on the floor next week."

The question now is whether other ardent foes of the war will choose to give their votes to Pelosi -- who, knowing that she will lose some conservative Democrats, needs the overwhelming majority of anti-war Democrats on her side if her proposal is to prevail.

This coming week will be one of incredibly difficult choices for Democrats who know this war must end. Do they try to get what they can by voting with Pelosi or do they abandon Pelosi to stand squarely against the continuation of the war?

"If you push too far, you may get nothing," says Congressman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat who will back Pelosi's plan. "I'll be attacked by people at home saying it's not perfect. It's not. We don't have the votes to pass something that's perfect. It's the best we can get."

But Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, a California Democrat who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus and who has been one of Hinchey's closest allies for years, says voters put Democrats in charge to take "bold action" against the war – not to compromise. Explains Woolsey, "There's a significant number of people who are steadfast in not continuing this war, who absolutely don't want to fund the surge and who want to give a voice to the people who voted on Nov. 7 and asked us to end this once and for all."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

"Malfeasance in Office"

Henry Waxman knows a thing or two about the Constitution, and the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee displayed that knowledge at the opening of Friday's extraordinary morning of testimony by outed CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson.

While appropriate attention will be paid to the remarks by the woman whose identity was exposed in a pattern of leaks that appears to have been coordinated by Vice President Dick Cheney's office, what Waxman said at the opening of the hearing sent the essential message.

"It's not our job to determine criminal culpability," the congressman said of the committee he heads, "but it is out job to determine what went wrong and insist on accountability."

The founders established parallel tracks for dealing with government wrongdoing.

A judicial process has already begun to hold members of the administration to account for violating laws protecting the identity of Central Intelligence Agency operatives by outing Plame in an apparent attempt to harm her husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson. Wilson had earned the administration's wrath by revealing evidence of manipulation of intelligence by an administration that was attempted to convince Congress to authorize an attack on Iraq.

But the essential process for dealing with government wrongdoing is that established in the Constitution as the authority of Congress to examine and sanction presidents, vice presidents and their aides.

The legislative branch of the federal government is fully empowered to check and balance the executive branch, especially in times of war and national crisis. Those checks and balances begin to be applied when Congressional committees open investigations and when the elected representatives of the people begin to demand accountability.

Plame left no doubt that wrongdoing occurred. "My name and identity were carelessly and recklessly abused by senior official in White House and State Department," she testified. "I could no longer perform the work for which I had been highly trained."

As Massachusetts Congressman John Lynch explained before initiating his questions, the pattern of leaks suggested to him that members of the administration engaged in "a deliberate attempt to destroy your status as a covert agent."

Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich got to the heart of the matter, asking rhetorically: "Why? Why did this happen to you? Was it an unintentional mistake or part of a wider pattern."

Holding a chart detailing the leaks that targeted Plame, Kucinich spoke of a "coordinated" effort to discredit her and her husband, and suggested that it was indeed part of a broader pattern of administration attacks on critics. The congressman then detailed a long list of moves by the White House to intimidate and punish former Cabinet secretaries, aides and others who had questioned the actions of the president or vice president.

California Congresswoman Diane Watson picked up on the critique, suggesting that there had indeed been "malfeasance in office" by members of the Bush administration.

Waxman's inquiry is in its early stages. But Watson's choice of the term "malfeasance in office" points to where this inquiry can – and almost certainly should – proceed.

In the early years of the American experiment, when the founders of the republic still served in the executive and legislative branches, the term commonly used to describe the wrongdoing that might meet the deliberately vague "high crimes and misdemeanors" standard established in the Constitutional provisions for the impeachment of presidents, vice presidents and other top officials was: "malfeasance in office."

James Madison used the term, or variations on it, frequently in his writing about executive power and its abuse. The first great impeachment trial of a national political figure, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase in 1804, was on the specific charge of "malfeasance in office."

Two hundred years later, the term "malfeasance in office" remains the standard reference phrase for official misconduct of the most serious sort. It is used in state Constitutions and has been specifically and frequently been used during impeachment proceeding against presidents – including those of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.

That a reference to "malfeasance in office" would be featured on the first day of a congressional inquiry that is charged with determining what went wrong in the CIA leak case and insisting on accountability offers at least a measure of hope that the process unfolding today may yet lead to the appropriate checking and balancing of an errant executive branch and its lawless leaders.

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