Behind the Scenes

The trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby is revealing much about how the Bush administration operated during the crucial months after the Iraq invasion in mid-2003.

The trial of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby is revealing much about how the Bush administration operated during the crucial months after the Iraq invasion in mid-2003. Right-wing commentators like Fox News’ Brit Hume claim the Libby trial is a “not-very-serious case.” Yet testimony from administration officials and journalists is showing how in the early days of the Iraq war, the White House manipulated the media and attacked its opponents instead of explaining why no weapons of mass destruction had been found. What’s more, the testimony also shows how the administration lost sight of the most “serious” issue of the time: securing Iraq.

  • The White House has repeatedly used manipulative PR tactics to keep the media and the public in the dark. The Libby trial has “pulled back the curtain on the White House’s PR techniques and confirmed some of the darkest suspicions of the reporters upon whom they are used,” wrote Dana Milbank of the Washington Post. “Relatively junior White House aides run roughshod over members of the President’s Cabinet. Bush aides charged with speaking to the public and the media are kept out of the loop on some of the most important issues. And bad news is dumped before the weekend for the sole purpose of burying it.” Former Cheney Communications Director Catherine Martin explained how the White House “coddles friendly writers” such as Judith Miller, and “freezes out others” such as Nicholas Kristof. Martin also described how in 2003, she and other “communicators” were “excluded from high-level discussions about how George J. Tenet, then the C.I.A. director, would publicly take responsibility” for the 16 words. By keeping Martin in the dark, Libby and the White House kept the media in the dark. Ari Fleischer testified that in July 2003, “he was directed not to repeat his assurances that the information was correct,” but instead “punted”–a pretty way of saying “misled”–when answering questions about the 16 words.

  • Rather than deal honestly with past mistakes, the Bush administration attacked their critics. More details have emerged about the administration’s decision to attack Joe Wilson personally rather than deal honestly with the infamous 16 words. Wilson’s column came at a bad time for the administration as pressure mounted for the administration to produce the WMD. Yesterday, the prosecution unsuccessfully tried to introduce as evidence a note quoting Cheney aide Mary Matalin. “Wilson is a snake,” Libby quoted Matalin as saying. Matt Cooper, a former reporter for Time Magazine, testified that Karl Rove was the first to tell him that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA. “A number of things were going to be coming out about Mr. Wilson that would cast him in a different light,” Rove told Cooper. “I said ‘who’ and he said, ‘like, his wife,'” Cooper testfied. Ari Fleischer’s testimony showed Libby knew the status of Valerie Wilson was a secret. “This is hush-hush,” Libby told him. “This is on the Q.T. Not many people know about this.”
  • Testimony shows that the administration over and over again relied on cherry-picked intelligence to go to war in Iraq. Testimony and evidence revealed this week shows how Vice President Cheney “personally orchestrated his office’s 2003 efforts to rebut allegations that the administration used flawed intelligence to justify the war in Iraq.” Mary Matalin advised that President Bush “should wave his hand” and declassify intelligence “that backed up the White House case for war.” Cheney told Catherine Martin “to alert the news media that a highly classified and recent National Intelligence Estimate indicated no doubts about Iraq’s efforts to buy uranium.” Martin scribbled notes on what Cheney told her to tell the media. “As late as last October, the considered judgment of the intel community was that SH [Saddam Hussein] had indeed undertaken a vigorous effort to acquire uranium from Africa, according to NIE,” Martin wrote. Intelligence analysts have since revealed that “the uranium claim was never a key finding of the NIE and that there were doubts about it” at the time.

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