Tomgram: De la Vega, The Whole Truth about Libby and the Leak
U.S. government and military has undergone a series of jolting
expansions in the Bush years. We got, for instance, a second Defense
Department called the Department of Homeland Security. We got a
military command for North America called United States Northern
Command. More than anything else, however, while we already had an
"imperial presidency," we also got an add-on -- an imperial
vice-presidency, a new form of shadow government in the United States,
a startlingly unbound, constitutionally unmandated new institutional
On taking office, Dick Cheney promptly began to set up
a vice-presidential office that essentially mimicked, and then to some
extent replaced, the National Security Council (NSC). Just as promptly,
his office plunged itself into utter, blinding secrecy -- as journalist
Robert Dreyfuss discovered
when he simply tried to chart out who was
working in this new center of power. No information, it turned out,
could be revealed to a curious reporter, not even the names and
positions of those who worked for the Vice President, those who,
theoretically, were working for us. Cheney's office would not even
publicly acknowledge its own employees, no less let them be
From that office (and allied posts elsewhere in
the executive branch and the federal bureaucracy), the Vice President
and his various right-hand men like I Lewis "Scooter" Libby and present
Chief of Staff David Addington
, both fierce believers in the so-called
unitary executive theory of government
(in which a "wartime"
commander-in-chief president is said to have unfettered power to
command just about anything), elbowed the State Department, the NSC,
and the Intelligence Community. With the President's ear, and in league
with Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon
(among others), they spearheaded a
series of mis- and disinformation operations that led to Iraq and
beyond. (Reporter Jim Lobe wrote about this at Tomdispatch in August
2005, "Dating Cheney's Nuclear Drumbeat."
Now shorn of
Rumsfeld, Cheney and his men, increasingly beleaguered, are nonetheless
pushing on as the Vice President secretively travels the world
. Only this week, in "The Redirection," a New Yorker piece
as chilling as any you might ever want to read, our premier journalist
of this era (as well as the Vietnam one), Seymour Hersh reports
two years ago, old hands from the Iran-Contra fiasco of the Reagan era,
well-seeded into the Bush administration, had an informal meeting led
by Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams. Their conclusions:
"As to what the experience taught them, in terms of future covert
operations, the participants found: â€˜One, you can't trust our friends.
Two, the C.I.A. has got to be totally out of it. Three, you can't trust
the uniformed military, and four, it's got to be run out of the
That's what passes for learning from
experience in the Bush/Cheney White House. Indeed, the same folks are
now evidently running an updated version of Iran-Contra (without the
CIA) out of the Vice President's office. At the same time, according to
Hersh, Cheney, in his urge to roll back Iranian regional power as well
as undermine Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia in
Iraq, and the Syrians, has set the Saudis loose to fund Sunni jihadis
-- just as they did in Afghanistan at American behest in the 1980s. The
result then was, among other things, al-Qaeda and the Taliban. So
imagine: Cheney's office is now working hard to combine the worst of
the Reagan-era Iran-Contra scandal with the worst of the Afghan
disaster. I wonder what the results could possibly be?
history of this sudden explosion of ultra-secretive vice-presidential
power remains to be written, based on documents that have not yet seen
the light of day. The Libby trial has recently offered us a glimpse
into the most secretive and powerful office in the land and its
interplay with the White House, State Department, and CIA. As former
federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega points out below, that glimpse
should be enough to trigger a Congressional investigation into the
Plame case. It's time, she tells us, for Congress to investigate all
the President's and Vice President's men and women.
De la Vega
has written a remarkable, must-read book about how we were defrauded
into war in Iraq, United States v. George W. Bush et al
. Every day
since it first appeared, our country has come to look ever more like a
United States v. Bush/Cheney world.
De la Vega is a woman who should be
Last week, apparently belatedly realizing the obvious -- that
the attack on former Ambassador Joseph Wilson and his wife Valerie
Plame was a White House family affair -- New York Times columnist
Nicholas Kristof called for the administration to come clean
. Bush and
Cheney owe "the American people a candid explanation" of their conduct
with regard to the leaking of Plame's identity as a CIA agent, Kristof
If, after observing this administration for over six
years, Nicholas Kristof thinks that the President and Vice President
are going to suddenly be overcome by conscience and tell all because he
has put his foot down, then Nicholas Kristof is downright adorable.
trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was merely a snapshot view of this
administration in daily action; but incomplete as it was, it
nevertheless starkly revealed what many had known all along: that the
most powerful officials in the United States government -- including,
but not limited to, the Vice President, the Vice President's Chief of
Staff, the Deputy Secretary of State, the President's Press Secretary,
the President's Chief of Staff, and, yes, the President himself -- had
responded to the barrage of criticism being aimed at their fictitious
case for war in the spring and summer of 2003 by focusing their sights
on a man and woman who had devoted their lives to public service.
people -- those who will use the highest offices of the United States
government to protect themselves and their prospects for reelection by
whatever means they deem necessary, regardless of the damage they leave
in their wake -- are not going to confess to anythingâ€¦ever.
in answer to questions from a reporter
about this very issue on
February 14, President Bush explained helpfully, "I'm not going to talk
about any of it." We will surely all expire if we hold our collective
breath waiting for the President to change his mind about this (or
anything else, for that matter). Fortunately, we do not need to hear
what Bush and Cheney have to say about "it" right now.
we have to wait for the outcome of any further investigation by Special
Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, even though it is entirely possible he and
his eminently capable prosecutors Peter Zeidenberg, Debra Bonamici, and
the rest of their team will continue to explore possible criminal
activity on the part of Vice President Cheney and others. A continued
investigation would, in fact, be both appropriate and warranted, given
the abundant evidence of Cheney's wrongdoing.
implied on the day he announced the charges against Scooter Libby,
however, the criminal justice system is not designed to address all the
issues raised by the CIA leak affair, perhaps not even the major ones.
The Libby case was not, Fitzgerald said, as he announced the
indictment, about the validity or honesty of the President's arguments
for an invasion of Iraq. In fact, the Libby case was not even about the
conduct of other members of the administration; it was solely about I.
Lewis "Scooter" Libby and whether he obstructed a grand jury
investigation, lied to federal agents, and then lied to a grand jury.
the spin immediately set in motion by Libby's cadre of supporters,
Fitzgerald was not suggesting that the charges he was leveling were
trivial, nor was he presuming to sanction the conduct of the Bush
administration in the run-up to the war. As a seasoned prosecutor, he
was merely making a simple, but necessary, point about the nature of
criminal charges and the laws that govern them. The laws of perjury and
obstruction of justice exist to vindicate an important government
interest in the integrity of grand-jury proceedings. Once such charges
are brought, however, they raise but a single issue: Is there proof
beyond a reasonable doubt that the individual or individuals charged
committed the conduct specified in the indictment?
perspective of the prosecution team, that question was, quite properly,
the only one raised by the criminal trial of Scooter Libby. And within
the confines of United States District Court Judge Reggie Walton's
courtroom, the prosecutors were only entitled to offer evidence
relating to that question. That is why the Libby trial has offered such
an incomplete and unsatisfying picture.
Evidence in the trial
showed, for example, that, on May 29, 2003, Libby first asked former
Undersecretary of Defense Marc Grossman for information about an
unnamed former ambassador's trip to Niger to inquire about possible
Iraqi purchases of uranium. Evidence was also presented that such a
trip had been mentioned in a May 6, 2003 op-ed written by Nicholas
Kristof. But because the prosecution was limited to introducing
evidence that tended to prove the charges in the indictment, the
evidence did not indicate what else were reporters saying about the
administration's case for war in the spring of 2003. From the Bush
administration's perspective, it would be the height of understatement
to say that there was not a whole lot of positive press.
starters, by at least mid-May, the Democrats, with Jay Rockefeller
leading the charge, were calling for an investigation into the
intelligence cited repeatedly by senior administration officials as
grounds for the invasion of Iraq. And here is a sampling of the
accompanying media furor:
May 30 -- Nicholas Kristof, "Save our Spooks,"
the New York Times:
to a â€˜torrent' of sources, there is reason to believe that intelligence
about weapons of mass destruction was â€˜deliberately warpedâ€¦to mislead
our elected representatives into voting to authorize [the war in
June 2 -- Jim Lobe, "Credibility Gap over Iraq WMD Looms Larger,"
Foreign Policy in Focus:
all three major U.S. newsweeklies -- Time, Newsweek and U.S. News &
World Report -- run major features on the same day on possible
government lying, you can bet you have the makings of a major scandal."
June 7 -- "Questions Swirl Around WMD Charges,"
Bush's administration distorted intelligence and presented conjecture
as evidence to justify a U.S. invasion of Iraq, according to a retired
intelligence official who served during the months before the war.
disturbs me deeply is what I think are the disingenuous statements made
from the very top about what the intelligence did say,' said Greg
Thielmann, who retired last September. â€˜The area of distortion was
greatest in the nuclear field.'"
June 9 -- Unnamed reporter
to White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer at White House Press Briefing
You said in April that the war was about weapons of mass destruction.
The war resulted in tens of thousands of innocent civilian deaths --
thousands of innocent civilian deaths, according to The Los Angeles
Times. Do you personally feel any remorse, given the public case that's
being made that this war was based on that false pretext?"
was, in short, a public relations nightmare, involving a sudden upsurge
in calls for an investigation as well as a surge of reports, stories,
and questions about government lying, warped intelligence, distortions,
and false pretexts for war. And the criticisms were aimed not only at
the White House but at the State Department, which was the likely
reason for the appearances of both National Security Adviser
Condoleezza Rice and former Secretary of State Colin Powell on the June
, 2003 Sunday morning talk shows.
To make things worse, the
Bush-Cheney '04 Campaign was about to rev up, with major fundraisers
scheduled for mid-June. Given this context, "no sane person" (to borrow
Patrick Fitzgerald's phrase from his closing argument in the Libby
case) could possibly believe that anyone in the Bush administration was
not involved in the smears, selective declassifications, ongoing
deceit, and cover-up that spun out of control in the spring and summer
of 2003. Indeed, we know that at least one key re-election campaign
committee member, lobbyist Ken Duberstein,
was involved as well, acting
as an intermediary between reporter Robert Novak and former Deputy
Secretary of State Richard Armitage.
investigation, and certainly no criminal trial, is ever going to
illuminate these White House machinations. In addition, as significant
as the criminal issues that arise from the circumstances of the CIA
leak may be -- and they are significant -- whether any members of the
administration violated any federal statutes in conducting their attack
on Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame has never been the most important
issue raised by this whole tawdry affair.
The paramount issue
is one of abuse of power by our highest executive branch officials and
their stable of White House staffers, lobbyists, Republican operatives
and other surrogates. The criminal justice system was never intended by
the framers of the Constitution to be the sole, or even primary, means
of investigating and redressing what the late Congresswoman from Texas
Barbara Jordan described during the Watergate investigations as "the
misconduct of public men." On the contrary, it is Congress that is both
entitled and obligated to oversee the conduct of the Executive Branch.
yes, the trial of Scooter Libby has raised as many questions as it has
answered, but we need not wait for the President and Vice President to
answer them; nor should we wait for the outcome of any further criminal
investigation. What is needed is a full-scale congressional hearing by
the House Oversight Committee on Government Reform. Representative
Henry Waxman (D. Ca.), the chair of the committee, has subpoena power
and can subpoena telephone records, meeting notes, daily calendars,
memos, and a host of key players whose testimony was not legally
relevant in the Libby trial, but who obviously have intimate knowledge
of the entire CIA leak case and cover-up. These figures would include
Karl Rove, Richard Armitage, lobbyist Ken Duberstein, Colin Powell and
Stephen Hadley among others. Finally, unlike the prosecutor in a grand
jury investigation, Waxman can hold hearings that are public -- in Room
2154 Rayburn Office Building, Washington, D.C. So the misconduct of
these public men and women, our highest elected and appointed officials
in the Executive Branch, can finally be judged by a much larger jury of
their peers, the people of the United States.