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Called to Account

Is Scooter Libby the fall guy for larger issues of corruption that the White House doesn't want to own up to?

Yesterday, a federal grand jury found Scooter Libby, Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff, guilty of lying about his role in the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity. “It’s sad that we had a situation where a high–level official–a person who worked in the office of the Vice President–obstructed justice and lied under oath,” special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald commented after the verdict was announced. But this case doesn’t end with Libby. “Where’s Rove? Where are these other guys? I’m not saying we didn’t think Mr. Libby was guilty of the things we found him guilty of. It seemed like … he was the fall guy,” said juror Denis Collins. In 2003, the White House promised that any staffer who leaked the undercover officer’s name “would no longer be in this administration.” This case made clear that at least 10 other administration officials–including Cheney–were involved in leaking Plame’s identity, yet none of them have been fired.

  • It is important that someone in the administration has ‘finally called to account’ for evading the truth. It was “a breath of fresh air to see someone in this administration, which specializes in secrecy, prevarication and evading blame, finally called to account,” The New York Times editorial board writes today. In December 2003, Fitzgerald set out to answer a central question: “Did anyone in the administration intentionally and illegally disclose Plame’s classified status during the late spring and early summer of that year?” But he was never able to fully pursue his case, because of Libby’s lies to the FBI and the grand jury. Libby claimed that he “forgot he learned about Plame from Cheney in June 2003, and that he believed he heard of her for the first time a month later from NBC’s Tim Russert. He said he then shared the information with other reporters.“Russert’s testimony shot down Libby’s faulty–memory defense, claiming that he didn’t learn about Plame’s identity until several days after his call with Libby. Jurors agreed “that on nine occasions during a short period of 2003, Libby was either told about Plame or told others about her.” “This is not a case about bad memory,” Fitzgerald told the jury during opening statements last month. “It was important. … He made time to deal with the Wilson matter day after day after day.”

  • The trial offered clear evidence that the administration bullied and manipulated reporters in an attempt to smear war critics in 2003. On July 6, 2003, Wilson wrote a New York Times op-ed in which he said, “Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.” In the following weeks, the CIA, State Department, and White House officials were all forced to admit that Bush’s claim in his 2003 State of the Union address that Iraq was seeking “significant quantities of uranium from Africa” was based on “bogus” information. But by that time, columnist Robert Novak had already disclosed Wilson’s wife’s identity in a July 14, 2003 piece, ruining her covert identity at the CIA. Novak testified that then–Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told him about Plame, but that Karl Rove then confirmed it. “According to Libby’s notes of a staff meeting at the time, Rove was among those actively seeking to discredit Wilson’s opinion. ‘We’re a day late in getting responses to the story,’ Rove said at a staff meeting. But it was the vice president, according to his then–chief of staff’s grand jury testimony, who told aides: ‘Get the full story out.’”

  • Vice President Cheney was ‘intimately involved’ in the leak of Valerie Plame’s identity. As The Washington Post notes, this trial portrayed Cheney “as more intimately involved in orchestrating the campaign to disparage Wilson than was previously known. … Testimony and evidence revealed that the vice president dictated precise talking points he wanted Libby and other aides to use to rebut Wilson’s accusations against the White House, helped select which journalists would be contacted and worked with Bush to declassify secret intelligence reports on Iraqi weapons that he believed would contradict Wilson’s claims.” But because Libby refused to tell the whole truth, the public still doesn’t know Cheney’s full role. For example, Libby “destroyed a note from Vice President Cheney about their conversations and about how Vice President Cheney wanted the Wilson matter handled.” But more disturbingly, this case offered a glimpse of the lengths to which Cheney went to push faulty intelligence about the Iraq war to the American people. Testimony by Catherine Martin, who was the vice president’s top press aide at the time, “illustrated how doggedly Cheney insisted that the administration had significant evidence that Iraq was trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction–even after the White House had backed off that claim and admitted it was not solid enough for the president to have cited it in his 2003 State of the Union address.” Cheney also told Martin to alert the media that a recent National Intelligence Estimate “indicated no doubts about Iraq’s efforts to buy uranium,” even though intelligence analysts concluded “that the uranium claim was never a key finding of the NIE and that there were doubts about it.”