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Thursday, April 06, 2006


bush and cheney outed plame

impeachment has been a word distant from capitol hill since bill clinton was exonerated by the senate in 1999. but the ongoing investigation into the plame affair has taken a twist that will resurrect the word if not the reality, and charge the 2006 midterm elections with a measure of ideological fervor.

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby testified to a federal grand jury that he had received "approval from the President through the Vice President" to divulge portions of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) regarding Saddam Hussein's purported efforts to develop nuclear weapons, according to the court papers. Libby was said to have testified that such presidential authorization to disclose classified information was "unique in his recollection," the court papers further said.

Bush and Cheney authorized the release of the information regarding the NIE in the summer of 2003, according to court documents, as part of a damage-control effort undertaken only days after former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV alleged in an op-ed in The New York Times that claims by Bush that Saddam Hussein had attempted to procure uranium from the African nation of Niger were most likely a hoax.

According to the court papers, "At some point after the publication of the July 6 Op Ed by Mr. Wilson, Vice President Cheney, [Libby's] immediate supervisor, expressed concerns to [Libby] regarding whether Mr. Wilson's trip was legitimate or whether it was in effect a junket set up by Mr. Wilson's wife."

Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a covert CIA officer at the time, and Cheney, Libby, and other Bush administration officials believed that Wilson's allegations could be discredited if it could be shown that Plame had suggested that her husband be sent on the CIA-sponsored mission to Niger.

Two days after Wilson's op-ed, Libby met with then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller and not only disclosed portions of the NIE, but also Plame's CIA employment and potential role in her husband's trip.

Regarding that meeting, Libby "te that he was specifically authorized in advance... to disclose the key judgments of stifiedthe classified NIE to Miller" because Vice President Cheney believed it to be "very important" to do so, the court papers filed Wednesday said. The New York Sun reported the court filing on its Web site early Thursday.

Libby "further testified that he at first advised the Vice President that he could not have this conversation with reporter Miller because of the classified nature of the NIE," the court papers said. Libby "testified that the Vice President had advised [Libby] that the President had authorized [Libby] to disclose relevant portions of the NIE."
this comports fully with previous information that libby had learned of plame's identity through vice president cheney.

to be clear, libby's testimony claims that he was authorized to disclose parts of the national intelligence estimate -- it does not specifically claim that he was authorized to reveal plame's identity. however, there is a chain of conditional probabilities that would seem to put the issue safely beyond reasonable doubt, even if it cannot be proven.

moreover, if libby's testimony is true, it would expose yet another deception in an ever-lengthening chain for the bush administration, as the president has long claimed to know nothing about how this information was leaked.

note that leaks to bob woodward were part of what libby claims to have been authorized by the president to do.

Although not reflected in the court papers, two senior government officials said in interviews with National Journal in recent days that Libby has also asserted that Cheney authorized him to leak classified information to a number of journalists during the run-up to war with Iraq. In some instances, the information leaked was directly discussed with the Vice President, while in other instances Libby believed he had broad authority to release information that would make the case to go to war.

In yet another instance, Libby had claimed that President Bush authorized Libby to speak to and provide classified information to Washington Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward for "Plan of Attack," a book written by Woodward about the run-up to the Iraqi war.
this sets the stage for a very intriguing process. the bush administration, among many other gross and unprecedented claims of totalitarian authority, claims to be able to declassify information unilaterally by the authority of the president. legal scholarship debates this point, but the administration will certainly claim on this ground that the revealing of the estimate or of plame's identity, being directed by the president, was legal.

the investigation of patrick fitzgerald will have to determine where further indictments are warranted, but this much is becoming clearer: plame's undercover identity was outed by the very highest offices of the land -- whether as mere revenge for her husband's writing in the new york times or as a means to defusing an investigation into the niger-yellowcake forgeries being conducted by plame's outfit in the cia or both. bush is, of course, immune to prosecution by law enforcement no matter how blatant the transgression -- it is left to congress to remonstrate and punish a sitting president.

and this is why the 2006 midterms increasingly look politically important. there has long been a wide fringe movement of leftist activism energized to try to impeach bush. but what are the real chances of electing democratic majorities in the house and senate such that bush could be impeached? such a possibility seems remote to this page, following so closely on the gerrymandering which followed the 2000 census -- even abysmal popularity of this failing president and the thick smell of scandal that covers the republican party may not be enough to turn specially-designed congressional districts from red to blue.

in the end, impeachment would almost necessarily rely upon republican house members, alienated from their leadership on points of principle, to risk forsaking party money and machinery to indict a republican president. that seems impossible.


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