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It Starts With Cheney
By American Progress Action Fund
The New York Times reveals this morning that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, first learned "about the C.I.A. officer at the heart of the leak investigation in a conversation with Mr. Cheney weeks before her identity became public in 2003." The assertion is backed by hard evidence. According to the Times, "Notes of the previously undisclosed conversation" are in the possession of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. While the revelation does not, on its face, suggest Cheney is in serious legal jeopardy, it could cause problems for the vice president if it conflicts with what he told the federal prosecutors, or if it can be shown that he participated in a larger conspiracy to knowingly reveal the identity of a covert CIA agent and/or subsequently cover it up. For Libby, the revelation that he learned of Plame from Cheney is particularly damaging because it is at odds with testimony he provided to the grand jury that he first learned of Plame's identity from journalists.
ZEROING IN ON CHENEY: Libby's notes of his conversation with Cheney indicate that they spoke on June 12, 2003, about Joe Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame. On that same morning, the Washington Post reported on its front page that a former ambassador (later learned to be Wilson) had passed on information prior to the war suggesting that the claim that Iraq was attempting to acquire uranium was false. That story directly implicated Cheney, saying the CIA's decision to send Wilson to Niger "was triggered by questions raised by an aide to Vice President Cheney." The Washington Post reported recently that Fitzgerald has "zeroed in on the role of Vice President Cheney's office." As early as February 2004, the Guardian reported, "informed sources said...that three of the five officials who are the real targets of the probe work or worked for Mr Cheney." The New York Daily News recently reported that Fitzgerald may be "edging closer to a blockbuster conspiracy charge - with help from a secret snitch." Already, a number of Cheney's current aides and former aides are known to have testified in the leak probe, including Libby, Mary Matalin, John Hannah, Catherine Martin, Jennifer Millerwise, and David Wurmser. (Click here to see our full list of Bush officials implicated in the probe.)
WHAT DID CHENEY TELL PROSECUTORS? In June 2004, the New York Times reported that Cheney had been "recently interviewed" by federal prosecutors in the leak probe. Although that story said Cheney did not testify under oath, the Times reports today that "Cheney was interviewed under oath by Mr. Fitzgerald last year." Cheney was reportedly asked last year whether he knew of "any concerted effort by White House aides to name the officer. It was not clear how Mr. Cheney responded to the prosecutors' questions." There are a few indications as to what Cheney may have told prosecutors. When Joe Wilson alleged that it was Cheney's office that did a "work-up" on him in 2003 in order to smear him, a spokesman in Cheney's office responded, "That is false." When Cheney was asked about his involvement in smearing Wilson on Meet the Press, the vice president said, "I don't know Mr. Wilson." But Libby's notes reveal that Cheney knew about Wilson and his wife a month before Novak outed her.
LIBBY'S INCONSISTENCY: A strategist "familiar with White House thinking" told the Los Angeles Times, "Nobody should fall out of their chair if they hear that the vice president discussed classified information trying to determine facts with his national security advisor and chief of staff." That spin overlooks Libby's inconsistent story to this point. Previously, it was reported that Rove was "shown testimony from Libby suggesting the two had discussed with each other information they had gotten about Wilson's wife from reporters in early July 2003. Rove responded that Libby's testimony was consistent with his general recollection that he had first learned Wilson's wife worked for the CIA from reporters or government officials who had talked with reporters." Last July, the Los Angeles Times reported, "Libby has indicated to investigators that he learned the identity of Plame from journalists."
WHAT DID BUSH KNOW? In 2001, the New York Times reported Bush and Cheney had an extremely close relationship. "[F]riends and advisers say the relationship between the two men is as crucial as ever, and still refer to Mr. Cheney as the president's consigliere, or the coach to Mr. Bush's quarterback." Bush himself noted, "There is no finer member of my administration than our Vice President, Dick Cheney. He's a great friend, a great advisor, a steady hand. He is the finest Vice President our nation has ever had." Bush and Cheney's close relationship was evidence by their joint appearance before 9/11 Commission. The question that must now be answered is whether Vice President Cheney had any discussions about Valerie Plame with President Bush prior to her outing.