Thursday, March 08, 2007

How Far Will Libby Case Go?

Waxman Asks Fitzgerald to Testify Before Congress

By Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t | Report

Thursday 08 March 2007

Congressman Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said Thursday he wants Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to testify before his committee about his investigation into the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame-Wilson's identity. Plame-Wilson, Waxman's office said, has agreed to testify before Congress on March 16.

The announcement comes on the heels of a story first reported by Truthout on Wednesday , which stated that some members of Congress were engaged in discussions Tuesday about the possibility of holding immediate hearings and asking Fitzgerald to provide evidence he obtained during the course of his three-year investigation about the roles Vice President Dick Cheney and other White House officials played in the Plame leak. Plame is married to former ambassador Joseph Wilson, a fierce critic of the Iraq war who accused the administration of "twisting" pre-war intelligence. The Oversight Committee hearing, scheduled for March 16, comes nearly four years to the day that the US invaded Iraq.

In his letter to Fitzgerald dated March 8, Waxman requested a meeting with Fitzgerald to discuss whether the special prosecutor can voluntarily appear before his committee.

"I recognize that as a federal prosecutor, you are constrained by the rules of grand jury secrecy," Waxman's letter states. "But you undoubtedly recognize that Congress has a responsibility to examine the policy and accountability questions that your investigation has raised. As a result of your investigation, you have a singular understanding of the facts and their implications that bear directly on the issues before Congress.... Your investigation had a narrow legal focus: Were any federal criminal statutes violated by White House officials?"

On Tuesday, a jury in Washington, DC convicted former vice presidential staffer I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby of obstruction of justice, lying to investigators and perjury over when and how he learned that Plame was employed by the CIA and whether he disclosed that information to the media.

During a press conference Tuesday, Fitzgerald said if Congress inquired about his probe he would "do what's appropriate."

"After the verdict was announced yesterday, one juror expressed the view that former chief of staff to the vice president Libby was only a 'fall guy,'" Waxman said in his letter to Fitzgerald. "This juror's views encapsulated questions that many in Congress and the public have about whether the ultimate responsibility for the outing of Ms. Wilson rests with more senior officials in the White House."

Waxman said the Libby trial raised important questions about whether "senior White House officials, including the vice president and senior adviser to the president Karl Rove, complied with the requirements governing the handling of classified information" related to Plame's classified status within the CIA. "They also raise questions about whether the White House took appropriate remedial action following the leak, and whether the existing requirements are sufficient to protect against future leaks. Your perspective on these matters is important."

Two years ago, Waxman called for Congressional hearings to determine if there was a White House conspiracy to unmask Plame's covert status in retaliation for the criticism Wilson leveled against the administration's Iraq policy.

"I think that the Congress must hold hearings, bring Karl Rove in, put him under oath, and let him explain the situation from his point of view," Waxman said during an interview with Democracy Now in July 2005. "Let him tell us what happened. It's ridiculous that Congress should stay out of all of this and not hold hearings."

At the time of Waxman's comments, it was unknown how involved Cheney was in the matter. But two weeks ago, during closing arguments, Cheney was implicated in the leak. It was the first time Fitzgerald acknowledged that Cheney was intimately involved in the scandal and may have told Libby to leak Plame's status to the media. Fitzgerald told jurors that his investigation into the true nature of the vice president's involvement was impeded because Libby obstructed justice.

Libby's attorney, Theodore Wells, told jurors during closing arguments that Fitzgerald and his deputy have been attempting to build a case of conspiracy against the vice president and Libby, and that the prosecution believes Libby may have lied to federal investigators and a grand jury to protect Cheney.

At issue were a set of talking points Cheney dictated in July 2003 that the vice president's former chief of staff was instructed to discuss with the media, including information about Plame. The discussions with the media were supposed to be centered around Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, and the fact that he accused the White House of misrepresenting intelligence related to Iraq's attempts to acquire uranium from Niger, according to testimony by Cathie Martin, Cheney's former communications director.

During the trial, Martin testified that she was present when Cheney dictated talking points about Wilson, but Wells said in his closing arguments that there was a clear implication by the prosecution that Martin may not have been privy to some of the private conversations that took place between Cheney and Libby regarding Plame.

"Now, I think the government, through its questions, really tried to put a cloud over Vice President Cheney," Libby's attorney Theodore Wells told jurors Tuesday, according to a transcript of the closing arguments obtained by Truthout. "The prosecutors questioned Ms. Martin: 'Well, you weren't with Mr. Libby and the vice president all the time. Some things could have happened when you weren't there.' And the clear suggestions by the questions were, well, maybe there was some kind of skullduggery, some kind of scheme between Libby and the vice president going on in private, but that's unfair."

Rebutting the defense's assertion that Cheney was not behind the leak, Fitzgerald told jurors: "You know what? [Wells] said something here that we're trying to put a cloud on the vice president. We'll talk straight. There is a cloud over the vice president. He sent Libby off to [meet with former New York Times reporter] Judith Miller at the St. Regis Hotel. At that meeting - the two hour meeting - the defendant talked about the wife [Plame]. We didn't put that cloud there. That cloud remains because the defendant obstructed justice and lied about what happened."

"If you think that the vice president and the defendant 'Scooter' Libby weren't talking about [Plame] during the week where the vice president writes that [Plame] sent [Wilson] on a junket - in [Wilson's] July 6 column, the vice president moves the number one talking point, 'not clear who authorized [Wilson's Niger trip] - if you think that's a coincidence, well, that makes no sense."

Moreover, copies of handwritten notes by Vice President Dick Cheney - first reported by Truthout - introduced during Libby's trial also appeared to implicate George W. Bush in the leak case.

Bush has long maintained that he was unaware of attacks by any member of his administration against [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson. The ex-envoy's stinging rebukes of the administration's use of pre-war Iraq intelligence led Libby and other White House officials to leak Wilson's wife's covert CIA status to reporters in July 2003 in an act of retaliation.

But Cheney's notes, which were introduced into evidence during Libby's trial, called into question the truthfulness of President Bush's vehement denials about his prior knowledge of the attacks against Wilson. The revelation that Bush may have known all along that there was an effort by members of his office to discredit the former ambassador raises the question: Was the president also aware that senior members of his administration compromised Valerie Plame's undercover role with the CIA? That is a question that very well may be answered if and when Fitzgerald testifies before Congress.

Further, the highly explicit nature of Cheney's comments not only hints at a rift between Cheney and Bush over what Cheney felt was the scapegoating of Libby, but also raises serious questions about potentially criminal actions by Bush. If Bush did indeed play an active role in encouraging Libby to take the fall to protect Karl Rove, as Libby's lawyers articulated in their opening statements, then that could be viewed as criminal involvement by Bush.

Libby's defense team first discussed the notes - written by Cheney in September 2003 for White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan - during opening statements last week. Wells said that Cheney had written, "Not going to protect one staffer + sacrifice the guy that was asked to stick his head in the meat grinder because of incompetence of others": A reference to Libby being asked to deal with the media and vociferously rebut Wilson's allegations that the Bush administration knowingly "twisted" intelligence to win support for the war in Iraq.

However, when Cheney wrote the notes, he had originally written "this Pres." instead of "that was."

During cross-examination by Libby's attorneys, David Addington was asked specific questions about Cheney's notes and the reference to President Bush. Addington, former counsel to the vice president, was named Cheney's chief of staff after Libby resigned.

"Can you make out what's crossed out, Mr. Addington?" Wells asked, according to a copy of the transcript of Tuesday's court proceedings.

"It says 'the guy,' and then it says 'this Pres.,' and then that is scratched through," Addington said.

"OK," Wells said. "Let's start again. 'Not going to protect one staffer and sacrifice the guy ...,' and then what's scratched through?" Wells asked Addington again, attempting to establish that Cheney had originally written that President Bush personally asked Libby to beat back Wilson's criticisms.

"T-h-i-s space P-r-e-s," Addington said, spelling out the words. "And then it's got a scratch-through."

"So it looks like 'this Pres.?'" Wells asked again.

"Yes sir," Addington said.

Thus, Cheney's notes would have read "not going to protect one staffer + sacrifice the guy this Pres. asked to stick his head in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others." The words "this Pres." were crossed out and replaced with "that was," but are still clearly legible in the document.

The reference to "the meat grinder" was understood to be the Washington press corps, Wells said. The "protect one staffer" reference, Wells said, was White House Political Adviser Karl Rove, whose own role in the leak and the attacks on Wilson are well documented.

On Tuesday, during his press conference on the steps of a federal courthouse in Washington, DC, Fitzgerald reiterated his belief that the vice president was complicit in the leak.

The revelation by Fitzgerald on Tuesday and during closing arguments two weeks earlier led to widespread speculation that Fitzgerald had Cheney in his crosshairs. During a news conference Tuesday, Fitzgerald said he would further investigate others if he receives additional information.

Senator Charles Schumer, D-NY, who led the push for the appointment of a special prosecutor in 2003 to investigate the leak, said the Libby trial demonstrated to him that Libby was indeed the "fall guy" and was covering up for other officials who "remain unpunished."

"That is the real tragedy of this," Schumer said.

Juror Denis Collins, a former Washington Post reporter, who at one time worked alongside Post reporter Bob Woodward, agreed.

"It was said a number of times, what are we doing with this guy here? 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, as Mr. Wells put it, he was the fall guy," Collins said during a news conference Tuesday.

Jason Leopold is a former Los Angeles bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswire. He has written over 2,000 stories on the California energy crisis and received the Dow Jones Journalist of the Year Award in 2001 for his coverage on the issue as well as a Project Censored award in 2004. Leopold also reported extensively on Enron's downfall and was the first journalist to land an interview with former Enron president Jeffrey Skilling following Enron's bankruptcy filing in December 2001. Leopold has appeared on CNBC and National Public Radio as an expert on energy policy and has also been the keynote speaker at more than two dozen energy industry conferences around the country.

No comments: