April 08, 2006,
Many in the media, not to mention Democratic leaders like Senator Harry Reid, are outraged over the latest "revelation" in the CIA leak case. On Thursday we learned, in a new court filing by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, that Lewis Libby had told Fitzgerald that Dick Cheney told him that George W. Bush told him that Libby could tell Judith Miller that Saddam Hussein had sought uranium in Africa.
The Washington Post, in a front-page story, wrote that the news "for the first time places Bush and Vice President Cheney at the heart of what Libby testified was an exceptional and deliberate leak of material designed to buttress the administration's claim that Iraq was trying to obtain nuclear weapons." There you have it: In 2003, the Bush administration, faced with withering criticism from the likes of former ambassador Joseph Wilson, deliberately tried to defend its decision to go to war. It was a "shocking revelation," said Sen. Reid. "If the disclosure is true, it's breathtaking. The president is revealed as the leaker in chief."
Uh huh. But what, exactly, is the misdeed involved here? First of all, it should be made clear as it has not been in some discussions that Fitzgerald does not charge that the president authorized Libby to say anything about Valerie Plame Wilson. Remember her? The leak of her allegedly classified CIA identity was supposedly what the Fitzgerald investigation was all about. Yet the new stories have nothing to do with her. As a matter of fact, on page 27 of the new filing, Fitzgerald writes that as late as September 2003, "the President was unaware of the role that the Vice President's Chief of Staff and National Security Adviser [Libby] had in fact played in disclosing Ms. Wilson's CIA employment..."
So that's that. But what about the leak? Yes, the president authorized a top aide to leak portions of the National Intelligence Estimate, which was classified, although it would later be de-classified. But what is wrong with that? When the president decides to make something public, it can be made public. The Plame case has revolved around the allegedly unauthorized disclosure of classified information. Would anyone argue that this disclosure was unauthorized?
And does anyone remember what was happening at the time of the so-called leak? There was an enormous clamor over the "16 words" in the State of the Union address, and about pre-war intelligence in general. The administration was in the process of declassifying various pre-war intelligence findings, like those in the National Intelligence Estimate. In the midst of that came the specific accusations made by Joseph Wilson in an op-ed published in the New York Times on July 6, 2003. How was the White House to answer them? On pages 23 and 24 of the Fitzgerald filing, the prosecutor describes what Libby was authorized to tell Times reporter Judith Miller during their July 8, 2003 meeting, two days after Wilson's op-ed was published:
Defendant testified that he thought he brought a brief abstract of the NIE's key judgments to the meeting with Miller on July 8. Defendant understood that he was to tell Miller, among other things, that a key judgment of the NIE held that Iraq was "vigorously trying to procure" uranium....Defendant advised Miller that Wilson had reported that he had learned that in 1999 an Iraqi delegation visited Niger and sought to expand commercial relations, which was understood to be a reference to a desire to obtain uranium. Later during the discussion about Wilson and the NIE, defendant advised Miller of his belief that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA.
Has anyone who is so agitated about the latest news actually read that paragraph? Libby's assignment was to give Miller more information about Wilson's trip to Africa information that Wilson had conveniently left out of his article in the Times. But as far as the basic facts of the matter were involved, the fact that an envoy had been sent to Africa, the fact that that envoy was Joseph Wilson, the fact that he had been exploring possible Iraqi overtures to obtain uranium, and the fact that he had reached some conclusions about the issue all that was out of the bag by the time Libby met Miller on July 8. And who, by the way, had let it out of the bag? None other than Joseph Wilson.
That is not to accuse Wilson of leaking classified information. In his article, he did not reveal things like the names of people he consulted in Niger, which remain classified to this day. But of course, Lewis Libby didn't reveal those, either. In any event, the basic facts of the trip and Wilson's conclusions precisely the matters Libby wanted to discuss with Judith Miller were quite public at the time that Libby and Miller talked.
So we ask all those who have become so very excited about this new story: Read the Fitzgerald filing. Read a few news reports about what was happening in July 2003. And ask yourself: What is the problem? If you think about it, you'll probably agree that there isn't one.