Big news. The New York Times is reporting that notes taken by Scooter Libby show that he learned of Valerie Wilson’s employment at the CIA from his boss, Dick Cheney. These notes contradict Libby’s testimony to the grand jury that he had first heard of Valerie Wilson from journalists. The paper that brought us Judy Miller reports:
WASHINGTON, Oct. 24 — I. Lewis Libby Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, first learned about the C.I.A. officer at the heart of the leak investigation in a conversation with Mr. Cheney weeks before her identity became public in 2003, lawyers involved in the case said Monday.
Notes of the previously undisclosed conversation between Mr. Libby and Mr. Cheney on June 12, 2003, appear to differ from Mr. Libby’s testimony to a federal grand jury that he initially learned about the C.I.A. officer, Valerie Wilson, from journalists, the lawyers said.
The notes, taken by Mr. Libby during the conversation, for the first time place Mr. Cheney in the middle of an effort by the White House to learn about Ms. Wilson’s husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, who was questioning the administration’s handling of intelligence about Iraq’s nuclear program to justify the war.
Lawyers said the notes show that Mr. Cheney knew that Ms. Wilson worked at the C.I.A. more than a month before her identity was made public and her undercover status was disclosed in a syndicated column by Robert D. Novak on July 14, 2003.
Mr. Libby’s notes indicate that Mr. Cheney had gotten his information about Ms. Wilson from George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, in response to questions from the vice president about Mr. Wilson. But they contain no suggestion that either Mr. Cheney or Mr. Libby knew at the time of Ms. Wilson’s undercover status or that her identity was classified. Disclosing a covert agent’s identity can be a crime, but only if the person who discloses it knows the agent’s undercover status.
It would not be illegal for either Mr. Cheney or Mr. Libby, both of whom are presumably cleared to know the government’s deepest secrets, to discuss a C.I.A. officer or her link to a critic of the administration. But any effort by Mr. Libby to steer investigators away from his conversation with Mr. Cheney could be considered by Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special counsel in the case, to be an illegal effort to impede the inquiry.
No wonder Libby may be in a mess of trouble. It’s not only that his testimony might not have lined up with that of Judy Miller or that he might have encouraged her to testify in a manner to absolve him. He may have not come clean with Fitzgerald in an attempt to protect Cheney and to keep the veep out of the line of fire. If this is the case, did Cheney–or anyone else at the White House (Bush included)–know that Libby was not testifying truthfully to the grand jury to save Cheney? Would that knowledge imply consent? Conspiracy? This scandal just got uglier and even more threatening for Cheney.
A reader has sent me this query:
One thing that the Times misses is that, if Libby covered up this conversation with Cheney is it not likely that Cheney did as well when he gave sworn testimony to Fitzgerald? These two guys are smart enough to try to get their story straight if they are going to lie. If so, it appears that Cheney would be in equal jeopardy of a perjury or obstruction charge. No?
Cheney did talk to Fitzgerald in the summer of 2004, but this was not sworn testimony. Still, one critical question is whether Cheney told Fitzgerald the truth and acknowledged that he had learned of Valerie Wilson and her CIA employment (apparently from the CIA) and then passed the information to Libby. If Cheney purposefully did not tell Fitzgerald the truth–even if he was not under oath–he might be vulnerable to an obstruction of justice charge or perhaps other charges. (I am no lawyer.) But this new development raises the possibility of an orchestrated cover-up that reaches the vice president. Remember the “unindicted coconspirators” of the Watergate days? Who would believe the waiting-for-indictments period could become more intense?