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Monday, October 31, 2005

Scooter Agonistes

Unka Karl avoided the scythe of Patrick Fitzgerald last Friday, but Lewis Libby is looking at 30 years. Conventional wisdom says this is because Karl went in and tried to change his story and tell the truth to Fitzgerald, convinced him he'd just had a temporary "memory lapse, while Libby went down protecting Big Dick Cheney. Not true.

One of the big mysteries that followed the October 24 publication of the bombshell NYT article about the VP being Libby's source was why Libby would testify before the grand jury and contradict what his own notes said regarding the fact that he first heard about Valerie Wilson's CIA employment history from Dick Cheney. And the answer is, he didn't.

From the NYT:
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. (my emphasis throughout)
"Appears to" -- but didn't. After re-reading Fitzgerald's press conference transcripts, that isn't what happened. But in order to understand what did happen, let's dial it back a bit:

On September 26, 2003, the Department of Justice authorized the FBI to commence a criminal investigation into the leak.

On October 14 and November 26, Scooter Libby is questioned by the FBI. During those interviews, according to the indictment for obstruction of justice pp 26, Libby first began spinning the now-famous story that he heard it all from reporters, and when he repeated it, said he did not know if the information was true.

At the time, John Ashcroft is Attorney General. He questionably continues to be briefed about the DoJ's investigation on a daily basis, despite the revelation in Time Magazine that Ashcroft paid Rove $746,000 at one time as a political consultant.

According to Murray Waas, this didn't sit too well with career people at the Justice Department. They finally got together and approached the number two guy, James Comey, and told him he had to go to Ashcroft and tell him he had to recuse himself. Ashcroft finally does so on December 30, 2003, and on December 31, Comey appoints Patrick Fitzgerald as Special Counsel.

Fitzgerald immediately begins smacking everyone around with subpoenas. Although Fitzgerald never makes reference to Libby's notes, the NYT article (which might have been the result of some administration over-spin) says that notes Libby turned over to Fitzgerald indicated that on June 12, 2203 Libby was told by Cheney that Wilson's wife worked in the Counterproliferation division.

Okay. Up until this point, many have speculated that Libby et. al. were counting on Ashcroft to keep a lid on this mess. Well, now Ashcroft's gone. For whatever reason -- maybe the notes were too widely disseminated to be reliably shredded -- the notes are turned over to Fitzgerald. Now Libby actually does have to testify before the grand jury in March of 2004. What does he say?

According to Fitzgerald's press conference:
He said that, in fact, he had learned from the vice president earlier in June 2003 information about Wilson's wife but he had forgotten it and that when he learned the information from Mr. Russert during this phone call he learned it as if it were new.
It's easy to skip over this bit in Libby's testimony but it's there, p. 18, count four of the indictment, when he talks about his conversation with Russert:
And then he said, you know, did you know that this -- excuse me, did ou know that Ambassador Wilson's wife works at the CIA? And I was a little taken aback by that. I remember being taken aback by it. And I said -- he may have said a little more but that was -- he said that. And I said, no, I don't know that. And I said, no, I don't know that intentionally because I didn't want him to take anything I was saying as in any way confirming what he said, because at that point in time I did not recall that I had ever known, and I thought this is something that he was telling me that I was first learning.
So, Scooter's reading from the same playbook that Karl is, the Steve Martin "I forgot" defense. He goes in and tells the grand jury the truth about Cheney and tries to make some sense of it in light of his previous statements to the FBI, but he's still spinning the "reporters told me" story.

Why did he cook up the whole "reporters" crock? And why did he try to peddle it for so long? Most people I talk to believe that at this point they were betting that the reporter firewall would hold. That the reporters would collectively refuse to talk about conversations they had conducted with confidential sources. Well that one didn't hold, did it.

Now, this is a side note regarding Scooter's testimony before the grand jury, but I think an important one. The opening paragraph from the New Yorker contains a dangerous sentiment I have heard elsewhere:
It'’s probably safe to assume that nobody who participated in the outing of Valerie Plam Wilson as a C.I.A. agent, in the summer of 2003, was mindful that the result of the process —the publication of Wilson's name in Robert Novak's syndicated column might be federal crime.
Libby was a lawyer. We now know that he was practically wild posting Valerie Wilson's CIA status all over Washington DC. We can't know everything that went on with regard to her outing, but there are a group of people who have heard as much as anyone has, and who are very skeptical that Libby's actions and statements were not carefully crafted to skirt the stipulations of the IIPA and the Espionage Act. And that would be the members of the grand jury themselves.

From p. 21, count 5 of the indictments:
Q. The next set of questions from the Grand Jury are -- concern this fact. If you did not understand the information about Wilson'’s wife to have been classified and didn'’t understand it when you heard it from Mr. Russert, why was it that you were so deliberate to make sure that you told other reporters that reporters were saying it and not assert it as something you knew?
I would find it odd that the grand jurors themselves would feel the need to pose this question to Libby, and in just this way, if after hearing all they've heard they were not possessed of a deep suspicion that all these stories were crafted expressly for the purpose of getting the leakers off the hook from underlying charges they believed they were most certainly guilty of.

Fitzgerald may not be able to prove it, at least not at this point in time. And we may never know. But the people who have the best shot at having the answers found reason to question the motives for these specific fabrications. And for whatever reason, Fitzgerald took pains to include their suspicions in the indictments.

(BTW -- I owe Big Dick an apology. I said the other day that if what the NYT was saying was true, and Libby had lied to the grand jury in contradiction of his notes, Cheney probably had too. But the NYT story was evidently wrong, any my extrapolations were too. Sorry, Dick.)