FBI documents obtained by a congressional committee indicate
that Vice President Dick Cheney may have authorized his former deputy to leak
the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson.
In a June 3 letter sent to Attorney General Michael Mukasey,
Rep. Henry Waxman, Democratic chairman of the House Oversight and Government
Reform Committee, called on the Justice Department to release transcripts of
interviews that Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald conducted with President
George W. Bush and Cheney about the leak of Plame's identity.
Waxman said the Justice Department has turned over to his
committee redacted transcripts of interviews that federal investigators
conducted with former White House political adviser Karl Rove and Cheney's
former chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
According to those transcripts, Libby told federal
investigators that Cheney may have told him to leak Plame's association with
the CIA to reporters, Waxman said in the letter to Mukasey.
"In his interview with the FBI, Mr. Libby stated that
it was �possible� that Vice President Cheney instructed him to disseminate
information about Ambassador [Joseph] Wilson's wife to the press. This is a
significant revelation and, if true, a serious matter. It cannot be responsibly
investigated without access to the Vice President's FBI interview," Waxman
Waxman's office would not release copies of the Libby-Rove
transcripts or describe the contents in any detail. Fitzgerald's investigative
interviews with Bush and Cheney -- asking how much knowledge the president and
vice president had about the Plame leak -- have not been disclosed.
The scandal revolves around actions taken in June and July
of 2003 when Rove, Libby and other administration officials leaked information
to reporters aimed at discrediting Ambassador Wilson, who had challenged the
truthfulness of Bush�s pre-invasion claims that Iraq had purchased yellowcake uranium
Durinng the investigation, it was revealed that Bush
authorized portions of a classified National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq�s
alleged WMD to be disseminated to select reporters as part of the anti-Wilson
campaign. Cheney dispatched Libby on that mission.
However, it is still unknown whether Libby was authorized to
pass on information about Plame�s work at the CIA or whether he did that on his
own. Other administration officials, including Deputy Secretary of State
Richard Armitage and Rove, also served as sources for journalists on Plame�s
identity as a CIA officer.
Right-wing columnist Robert Novak blew Plame�s cover on July
14, 2003, in an column suggesting that Plame had helped arrange her husband�s
trip to Africa as some kind of junket.
Wilson, a diplomat who had served in Iraq and Africa, was
selected by the CIA�s counter-proliferation office, where Plame worked, to
travel to Niger in early 2002 to examine the Iraq-yellowcake allegations.
Wilson returned to the United States and reported to CIA officials that the
claims appeared to have no merit, a finding that matched with inquiries from
other U.S. officials.
Nevertheless, in January 2003, seeking to dramatize the need
for invading Iraq, President Bush cited the Niger claims in his State of the
Union speech. That set the stage for Wilson to begin criticizing the misuse of
this intelligence. Initially, Wilson avoided giving all the details about his
role but finally went fully public in a New York Times op-ed on July 6, 2003.
That, in turn, prompted an intensified White House campaign
against Wilson leading to Novak�s article. With Plame's cover blown and her spy
network endangered, the CIA sought a criminal investigation into the leak.
As the probe got underway In September 2003, Bush professed
to know nothing about the controversy and publicly called on anyone with
information to step forward. At the time, however, he was withholding the fact
that he had authorized declassification of some secrets about the Niger uranium
issue and had ordered Cheney to arrange for those secrets to be given to
reporters to undermine Wilson�s criticism.
In other words, though Bush knew a great deal about how the
anti-Wilson scheme got started -- since he was involved in starting it -- he
uttered misleading public statements to conceal the White House role. That was
followed by denials of involvement from Rove and Libby -- issued through
then-White House press secretary Scott McClellan.
Fitzgerald indicted Libby in October 2005 on five counts of
perjury and obstruction of justice. In October 2005, I first reported that
Fitzgerald also was investigating whether Cheney played a role in the leak. I
reported, too, that Bush and Cheney discussed Plame prior to the leak,
undercutting Bush's claims some three months later that he was unaware of
nuances of the case.
In February 2007, during closing arguments at Libby's trial,
defense attorney Theodore Wells told jurors that the prosecutors had been
attempting to build a case of conspiracy against the vice president and Libby,
and that the prosecutors believed Libby may have lied to federal investigators
and to a grand jury to protect Cheney.
In his rebuttal, 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
The jury convicted Libby of four counts, leading to a
sentence of 30 months in jail. However, Bush commuted the sentence to eliminate
jail time and left open the possibility that Libby might get a full pardon
before Bush leaves office.
The way Bush handled Libby�s commutation removed the chief
incentive for Libby to cooperate further with prosecutors (to avoid or reduce
his jail time) and dangled a possible reward down the road if Libby remains in
the administration�s good graces (a full pardon).
Now, according to the transcript cited by Rep. Waxman, it
appears that Libby did tell prosecutors in an earlier interview that it was
�possible� that Cheney did order him to leak Plame�s identity. Waxman is now
pressing to learn what Cheney and Bush said in response to Fitzgerald's
questions about exactly what they did or did not order their subordinates to
Leopold is the author of "News Junkie," a memoir. Visit
www.newsjunkiebook.com for a
new website is The Public Record.