The trial of former Vice Presidential Chief of Staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby is revealing just many of the fingerprints on the illegal and unethical outing of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame belong to Libby’s boss — Vice President Dick Cheney.
Testimony so far reveals Cheney’s obsession with destroying the credibility of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, whose investigation into claims Iraq was attempting to buy enriched uranium from Niger proved false one of the primary rationales for President George W. Bush’s illegal invasion of Iraq.
Did Cheney orchestrate the Plame affair? Each new day of testimony in the trial certainly points that way and what we have heard to date provides valuable insight into the mind and motives of the man who many believe is the real power of the Bush presidency.
As R. Jeffrey Smith and Carol D. Leonnig report in today’s Washington Post:
After seven days of such courtroom testimony, the unanswered question hanging over Libby’s trial is, did the vice president’s former chief of staff decide to leak that disparaging information on his own?
No evidence has emerged that Cheney told him to do it. But Cheney’s dictated reply is one of many signs to emerge at the trial of the vice president’s unusual attentiveness to the controversy and his desire to blunt it. His efforts included the extraordinary disclosure of classified information, including one-sided synopses of Wilson’s report and a 2002 intelligence estimate on Iraq.
Under questioning from FBI agent Deborah S. Bond, Libby acknowledged that he and Cheney “may have talked” aboard the plane from Norfolk that day about whether to make public Plame’s CIA employment, Bond testified Thursday.
Her testimony brought Cheney closer than ever to the heart of the controversy surrounding the Bush administration’s efforts to discredit Wilson, who had accused the White House of twisting intelligence he had gathered as it sought to justify the invasion of Iraq.
White House officials testified that Cheney was irritated because he thought Wilson had alleged the vice president sent him on the fact-finding trip to Niger but rejected the investigation’s conclusions. Time after time at the height of the controversy, they said, Cheney directed the administration’s response to Wilson’s criticism and Libby carried it out.
Cheney personally dictated other talking points for use by the White House press office; helped negotiate the wording of a key statement by then-CIA Director George J. Tenet; instructed Libby to deal directly with selected reporters; told Libby to disclose selected passages from the national intelligence estimate and other classified reports; and held a luncheon for conservative columnists to discuss the controversy.
Throughout this period, Cheney kept a news clipping of Wilson’s criticisms on his desk, annotated with the question, “did his wife send him on a junket?” according to court statements. Libby told a grand jury that he and Cheney discussed it on multiple occasions each day.
Randall Eliason, a former chief of public corruption prosecutions for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, said, “There has been significant evidence of how deeply the vice president was involved. If Cheney is personally, deeply involved in it, it’s Libby’s job to be personally, deeply involved.”