Citing faulty memory, former Vice President Dick Cheney told federal investigators in a 2004 interview he had no idea who revealed to reporters that Valerie Plame, the wife of a Bush administration critic, worked for the CIA.
Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, was convicted of perjury, obstruction and lying to the FBI in the probe of who leaked the former spy’s identity to the news media. At the end of Libby’s trial, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said “there is a cloud over the vice president” regarding the leaking of Plame’s identity.
A summary of the FBI’s interview with the then-vice president reflects that he had deep concern about Plame’s husband, Joseph Wilson, a former U.S. ambassador in Africa who said the administration had twisted prewar intelligence on Iraq.
In the FBI’s interview, Cheney’s memory of key events appeared hazy.
The 28-page interview summary was released Friday to the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which sued to get the material under the Freedom of Information Act.
Cheney told FBI agents that he did not recall discussing Wilson’s wife with Libby before her CIA employment was publicly revealed by conservative columnist Robert Novak on July 14, 2003. Libby’s own notes produced at his trial reflect that Cheney told him about the CIA employment of Wilson’s wife in mid-June 2003, a month before Plame’s CIA job became public knowledge.
Following Libby’s conviction, President George W. Bush commuted Libby’s 30-month prison sentence but rejected Cheney’s appeals to pardon Libby.
In the interview, whose participants included Fitzgerald, the vice president said the identity of Valerie Wilson and her employment were not high on his radar screen and that her employment with the CIA and relationship to Wilson did not figure prominently in his thinking. Cheney also told agents that he did not recall having a conversation about either Plame or her husband with Bush.
The vice president said he probably discussed Wilson with Bush’s top political adviser, Karl Rove, but told the FBI he would not have talked to Rove about Wilson’s wife.
Cheney’s occasional denials that he talked about Plame to various people at the White House are among the few things in the lengthy interview with the FBI that Cheney appeared certain about.
According to courtroom testimony, Rove was one of Novak’s sources for his column disclosing Plame’s CIA identity and Rove and Libby were sources for Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper, who also wrote a story identifying Plame.
Cheney said he was not aware of any discussions Libby may have had with Rove about Wilson or Wilson’s wife, and Cheney said Libby did not tell him about any such discussions.
The vice president advised the agents that he had no idea what Libby knew in the days before Plame’s CIA identity was publicly revealed. Cheney said he did not recall if Libby revealed to the vice president his independent knowledge about the fact that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA.
In a New York Times opinion piece on July 6, 2003, Wilson accused the Bush administration of twisting intelligence about Iraq’s efforts to buy a uranium “yellowcake” in the African nation of Niger. Bush referred to the yellowcake during his Jan. 28, 2003, State of the Union speech to Congress as he was trying to rally support for going to war with Iraq. Yellowcake is a powdered form of uranium that could be used in a nuclear weapon if purified and enriched.
The year before, the CIA had sent Wilson to Niger to determine the accuracy of the uranium reports. Wilson brought back denials of any sale and argued such a sale was not likely to happen.
In his FBI interview, Cheney said his initial reaction to the Wilson article was his sense that it was “amateur hour” out at the CIA.
Cheney said The New York Times piece was disturbing. Cheney said he was most disturbed because it was now being made to look as though the vice president had personally sent Wilson on the trip. The vice president said that all he had done was to make a legitimate inquiry of a CIA briefer in February 2002 about Niger and Iraq.
Plame was outed in Novak’s column as a CIA employee eight days after Wilson attacked the administration in The New York Times piece.
Cheney said it was then-CIA Director George Tenet who told him sometime before the July 6, 2003, publication of Wilson’s opinion piece in The New York Times that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA, but Cheney said he was uncertain when that was.
Cheney said he could not recall if he mentioned the content of his conversation with Tenet to Libby, but the vice president said that if he would have shared it with anyone, it would have been Libby.
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