There is a clash of titans underway at the filing room of the federal courthouse in Washington. Now that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald and Scooter Libby’s defense team are in the thick of pretrial motions, every week or so one side or the other files a motion, a counter-motion or a counter-counter-motion, and these documents are providing sporadic glimpses into what happened in the weeks that led up to the Plame/CIA leak in 2003. For instance, it was a Fitzgerald filing that revealed that Libby had testified that Dick Cheney had authorized him to leak selective portions of the National Intelligence Estimate on WMDs in Iraq to New York Times reporter Judith Miller and that this had happened after George W. Bush approved releasing (or leaking) slices of the NIE.
The most recent Libby filing did not contain such a blockbuster disclosure. But here are a few interesting portions:
When the issue of Valerie Wilson’s employment is viewed in its proper context, and the full story is revealed, it will be clear that Ms. Wilson’s role was a peripheral issue. If the press stories surrounding the governments NIE disclosure illustrate anything, it is that this case is factually complex and that the government’s notion that it involves only Mr. Libby and the OVP [Office of the Vice President] is a fairy tale.
Hmmm, does this mean that there was a wide-ranging White House effort to undercut Joe Wilson’s credibility that involved others than Libby and went beyond trying to depict Wilson trip to Niger as a boondoggle orchestrated by his wife, a CIA officer? Libby’s lawyers keep hinting that they will suck the rest of the White House into the case to defend their man. But this is puzzling, for if Libby goes too far down that road, won’t he hurt his standing as a deserving recipient of a presidential pardon? Many White House fans are raising millions of dollars for the Libby defense fund and a conservative think tank has put him on the payroll. So how many grenades can Libby throw at Bush, Cheney and Karl Rove?
The defense is likely to call Mr. Rove to provide testimony regarding Mr. Libby’s conversations with Mr. Rove concerning reporters’ inquiries about Ms. Wilson, as expressly discussed in the indictment.
Rove on the stand, being examined by Fitzgerald? Neither Rove nor the White House can want that. Fitzgerald has not indicted Rove, and his exact role in the leak remains murky–though he reportedly was the second source for the Bob Novak column that disclosed Valerie Wilson’s CIA employment. And he was the firt source for Matt Cooper of Time. If he hits the witness stand, Fitzgerald can ask much. What exactly did Rove do before the leak? What did he say to Novak? How did he learn about Valerie Wilson’s CIA status? Who else knew? Did he talk to Bush about this? After the leak investigation began–and Bush publicly said he wanted to know who the leakers were–did Rove inform his boss that he had been one of leakers? If so, why did Bush not keep his promise to fire anyone who had leaked classified information? This could be a rather dramatic moment in the Libby trial. Will Libby really put Rove (and the White House) through this? Or are his lawyers merely bluffing for now–in order to burden Fitzgerald with various documents requests? For his part, Fitzgerald has said he has no plans to call Rove as a witness.
In addition, Mr. Libby plans to demonstrate that the indictment is wrong when it suggests that he and other government officials viewed Ms. Wilson’s role in sending her husband to Africa as important. We need the requested documents to prepare this crucial aspect of his defense.
Fitzgerald’s indictment of Libby notes that Cheney–weeks before the Plame leak happened–told Libby that Valerie Wilson worked for the Counterproliferation Division of the clandestine service of the CIA, the operations directorate. Why was Cheney himself seeking out–and passing to Libby–information on Valerie Wilson if he did not view her role as potentially significant? Perhaps Cheney can answer that on the stand.
Further, Mr. Tenet is a likely witness.
Should this happen, Fitzgerald, unfortunately, is not going to examine former CIA chief George Tenet on how the agency screwed up much (though not all) of the prewar intelligence. He won’t grill Tenet on why the CIA director did not say anything when Bush and other administration officials overstated the CIA’s intelligence. That’s not part of Fitzgerald’s case. But it would be rather interesting to hear Tenet discuss the conflict that raged between the CIA and the White House at the time of the leak, when it was becoming increasingly likely that no WMDs would be found in Iraq and when the agency and the Bush crew were pointing fingers at each other. Tenet, who oversaw one of the biggest intelligence screw-ups in the CIA’s history (two, if you count 9/11), has snagged a presumably lucrative book contract. American citizens should not have to pay $30 each to receive Tenet’s explanations of what went wrong. They deserve this information (even if it is self-serving) for free. But none of the Republican-controlled congressional committees have called Tenet to testify publicly and extensively about the prewar intelligence disaster. Perhaps Fitzgerald can slip in one or two questions.
Imagine the spectacle if Libby’s attorneys are right in their pretrial assertions: Rove, Cheney and Tenet on the stand. The trial is not scheduled to begin until next January. Republicans fretting about the coming congressional elections should at least be happy about that.
I’M A DECIDER-MAKER. On Tuesday, Bush once again came to Donald Rumsfeld’s rescue–and he did so with that patented Bush eloquence:
I say, I listen to all voices, but mine is the final decision. And Don Rumsfeld is doing a fine job. He’s not only transforming the military, he’s fighting a war on terror. He’s helping us fight a war on terror. I have strong confidence in Donald Rumsfeld. I hear the voices, and I read the front page, and I know the speculation. But I’m the decider, and I decide what is best. And what’s best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense.
Ladies and gentlemen, your president–who hears voices and reads the front page (anything on the inside?), and who is the “decider” who decides “what is best.” This should really help him in the polls.