October 29, 2005
Now it’s about the Niger forgeries.
Friday, after securing a five-count criminal indictment against Vice
President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, for
lying to a grand jury about what he knew and when he knew it in regard
to the outing of a covert CIA agent, Special Prosecutor Patrick
Fitzgerald plans to pursue broader conspiracy charges against Cheney
senior White House officials, and top officials at the State Department
and the National Security Council, that may finally shed light on how
the Bush administration came to use erroneous intelligence that claimed
Iraq tried to purchase yellowcake uranium from Niger, lawyers involved
in the two year old investigation said.
many federal officials and the media have long speculated that
Fitzgerald was not only looking into the identity of administration
officials who leaked undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson to a
handful of reporters, it was only recently that those rumors were
to a court filing posted on the website of Patrick Fitzgerald, the
special prosecutor investigating who leaked the name of undercover CIA
agent to reporters, was interested in questioning New York Times
reporter Judith Miller about the CIA agent or whether she discussed Iraq's alleged efforts to purchase uranium from Niger.
August 12 and August 20, 2004, grand jury subpoenas were issued to
reporter Judith Miller and her employer, the New York Times, seeking
documents and testimony related to "conversations between Miller and a
specified government official occurring between on or about July 6,
2003 and on or about July 13, 2003, concerning Valerie Plame Wilson
(whether referred to by name or by description) or concerning Iraqi efforts to obtain uranium." the filing made by Fitzgerald last year states.
sources told United Press International that Fitzgerald's team of
investigators has sought and obtained documentation on the forgeries
from the Italian government.
According to the report,
"Fitzgerald's team has been given the full, and as yet unpublished
report of the Italian parliamentary inquiry into the affair, which
started when an Italian journalist obtained documents that appeared to
show officials of the government of Niger helping to supply the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein with Yellowcake uranium.
claim, which made its way into President Bush's State of the Union
address in January, 2003, was based on falsified documents from Niger
and was withdrawn by the White House one day after former Ambassador
Joseph Wilson wrote an op-ed in the New York Times in July 2003
disputing the administration’s claims that Iraq tried to purchase
uranium from Niger. It was Wilson’s op-ed and public criticism of the Iraq
war that led officials such as Libby to blow Plame’s cover in an
attempt to discredit Wilson, Plame’s husband, who went on a fact
finding mission to Niger
in February 2002 to investigate the uranium allegations. In outing
Plame’s covert status to reporters, Libby and other officials were
trying to show that Wilson’s trip was a boondoggle that was set up by Plame.
Fitzgerald’s investigation into the leak has led to many discoveries by
the prosecutor, one of which is that Cheney played a key role in the
leak and the reason was to closely guard the fact that the White House
knowingly used false intelligence, specifically the Niger documents, to build a case for war against Iraq.
the past month, Fitzgerald has turned his attention to a little known
cabal of administration hawks known as the White House Iraq Group
(WHIG), which came together in August 2002 to publicize the threat
posed by Saddam Hussein. WHIG was founded by Bush chief of staff Andrew
Card and operated out of the Vice President’s office.
examination centers on a group of players charged with not only selling
the war, but according to sources familiar with the case, to discredit
anyone who openly "disagreed with the official Iraq war" story.
group’s members included Deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove,
Bush advisor Karen Hughes, Senior Advisor to the Vice President Mary
Matalin, Deputy Director of Communications James Wilkinson, Assistant
to the President and Legislative Liaison Nicholas Calio, Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley and I.
Lewis "Scooter" Libby - Chief of Staff to the Vice President and
co-author of the Administration's pre-emptive strike policy.
was later appointed Secretary of State; her deputy Hadley was made
National Security Advisor. Wilkinson departed to become a spokesman for
the military's central command, and later for the Republican National
Convention. Hughes was recently appointed Undersecretary of State.
Several members of the group have testified before Fitzgerald’s grand jury.
Cheney’s role under scrutiny
officials close to Fitzgerald said they have seen documents obtained
from the White House Iraq Group which state that Cheney was present at
several of the group's meetings. They say Cheney personally discussed
with individuals in attendance at least two interviews in May and June
of 2003 Wilson gave to New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and
Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus, in which he claimed the
administration "twisted" prewar intelligence and what the response from
the administration should be.
was interviewed by the FBI surrounding the leak in 2004. According to
the New York Times, Cheney was asked whether he knew of any concerted
effort by White House aides to name Ms. Wilson.
close to the investigation have also confirmed that special prosecutor
Patrick Fitzgerald is trying to determine Vice President Cheney's role
in the outing of Mrs. Wilson, more specifically, if Cheney ordered the
close to Fitzgerald say they have yet to uncover any evidence that
suggests Cheney ordered the leak or played a role in the outing of Mrs.
Wilson. Still, the sources said they are investigating claims that
Cheney may have been involved based on his attendance at meetings of
the Iraq group. Previous reports indicate Cheney was intimately involved with the framing of the Iraq war.
Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal confirmed that the Iraq group was under scrutiny.
in August 2002, the group, which included Messrs. [Karl] Rove and
[Lewis] Libby, worked on setting strategy for selling the war in Iraq
to the public in the months leading up to the March 2003 invasion," the
Journal reported. "The group likely would have played a significant
role in responding to [former Ambassador Joseph] Wilson's claims" that the Bush administration twisted intelligence when it said Iraq tried to acquire yellow-cake uranium from Africa.
"strategic communications" task force operating inside the group was
instrumental in writing and coordinating speeches by senior Bush
administration officials, highlighting in September 2002 that Iraq was a nuclear threat.
White House Iraq Group operated virtually unknown until January 2004,
when Fitzgerald subpoenaed for notes, email and attendance records.
Bush Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. created the group in August of
senior official who participated in its work called it "an internal
working group, like many formed for priority issues, to make sure each
part of the White House was fulfilling its responsibilities," according
to an Aug. 10, 2003, Washington Post investigative report on the group’s inner workings.
Senior Bush adviser Karl Rove chaired meetings of the group.
group relied heavily on New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who,
after meeting with several of the organization’s members in August
2002, wrote an explosive story that many critics of the war believe
laid the groundwork for military action against Iraq.
On Sunday, Sept. 8, 2002, Miller wrote a story for the Times quoting anonymous officials who said aluminum tubes found in Iraq
were to be used as centrifuges. Her report said the "diameter,
thickness and other technical specifications" of the tubes -- precisely
the grounds for skepticism among nuclear enrichment experts -- showed
that they were "intended as components of centrifuges."
closed her piece by quoting then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza
Rice who said the United States would not sit by and wait to find a
smoking gun to prove its case, possibly in the form of a "a mushroom
cloud." After Miller’s piece was published, administration officials
pursued their case on Sunday talk shows using Miller’s piece as
evidence that Iraq
was pursuing a nuclear bomb, even though those officials were the ones
who supplied Miller with the story and were quoted anonymously.
comments on CNN’s "Late Edition" reaffirmed Miller’s story. Rice said
that Saddam Hussein was "actively pursuing a nuclear weapon" and that
the tubes -- described repeatedly in U.S. intelligence reports as "dual-use" items -- were "only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs."
on NBC's "Meet the Press," also mentioned the aluminum tubes story in
the Times and said "increasingly, we believe the United States will
become the target" of an Iraqi atomic bomb. Defense Secretary Donald H.
Rumsfeld, on CBS's "Face the Nation," asked viewers to "imagine a
September 11th with weapons of mass destruction."
President Bush reiterated the image of Rice’s mushroom cloud comment in his Oct. 7, 2002 speech.
The International Atomic Energy Agency later revealed that Iraq’s aluminum tubes were never designed to enrich uranium.
In February of 2003, WHIG allegedly scripted the speech Powell made to the United Nations presenting the United States’ case for war.
speech to the UN, United Press International reported, "was handled by
the White House Iraq Group, which… provided Powell with a script for
his speech, using information developed by Feith's group. Much of it
was unsourced material fed to newspapers by the OSP. Realizing this,
Powell's team turned to the now-discredited National Intelligence
Estimate on Iraq. But some of Feith's handiwork ended up in Powell's mouth anyway."
During its very first meetings, Card's Iraq group ordered a series of white papers showing Iraq’s
arms violations. The first paper, "A Grave and Gathering Danger: Saddam
Hussein's Quest for Nuclear Weapons," was never published. However, the
paper was drafted with the assistance of experts from the National
Security Council and Cheney's office.
its later stages, the draft white paper coincided with production of a
National Intelligence Estimate and its unclassified summary. "But the
WHIG, according to three officials who followed the white paper's
progress, wanted gripping images and stories not available in the
hedged and austere language of intelligence," according to the Post.
months later, Joseph Wilson began to question the veracity of the Bush
administration’s prewar intelligence in private conversations with
reporters. His accusations threatened to undercut the administration’s
successful marketing campaign: that Iraq was an imminent threat to the United States and its neighbors in the Middle East.
Now Fitzgerald is trying to find out what Cheney knew. Attorneys close
to the case said its very likely Cheney could be named as an unindicted
co-conspirator when the probe wraps up.
while Karl Rove may have escaped indictment on the day many believed
Fitzgerald would announce the investigation has ended, his fate still
hangs in legal limbo.
is betting on the fact that he can secure an indictment against Rove on
charges of perjury, obstructions of justice, the misuse of classified
information, and possibly other charges, as early as next week.
the past week, several people involved in the case—from the State
Department and the National Security Council—who faced imminent
indictment for their role in unmasking Plame to reporters have agreed
to cooperate with Fitzgerald and have provided him with information
that will help the prosecutor build a stronger case against Rove and
other key figures, the lawyers said.
investigation is not yet over," one of the lawyers in the case said.
"You must keep in mind that people like Mr. Rove are still under
investigation. Rather than securing an indictment on perjury charges
against Mr. Rove Mr. Fitzgerald strongly believes he can convince the
grand jury that he broke other laws."
lawyers said that in the past month Fitzgerald has obtained explosive
information in the case that has enabled him to pursue broader charges
against Rove and other top officials such as conspiracy, and violating
Plame and Wilson’s civil rights.
in a sign that could spell further trouble for the Bush White House,
the 22-page indictment against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President
Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, implicated former Undersecretary of State
Marc Grossman, as well as other aides who worked indirectly on behalf
of the vice president’s office, as the person who first obtained and
disseminated covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to Libby.
to the indictment, "on or about May 29, 2003, in the White House, LIBBY
asked an Under Secretary of State ("Under Secretary") for information
concerning the unnamed ambassador’s travel to Niger to investigate
claims about Iraqi efforts to acquire uranium yellowcake. The Under
Secretary thereafter directed the State Department’s Bureau of
Intelligence and Research to prepare a report concerning the ambassador
and his trip. The Under Secretary provided LIBBY with interim oral
reports in late May and early June 2003, and advised LIBBY that Wilson was the former ambassador who took the trip."
Lawyers involved in the two year old probe said that two former Cheney aides had a hand in obtaining information about Wilson and shared it with Libby after the chief of staff had personally requested such information.
aides, David Wurmser and John Hannah, are now cooperating with Special
Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s probe into the outing of Plame’s
identity and CIA status to reporters. Wurmser and Hannah have agreed to
cooperate with Fitzgerald after being told that they faced indictment
for their role in outing Plame. The officials had told Fitzgerald that
they were acting on orders from Bolton to obtain such information. Hannah a key aide to Vice President Dick Cheney and one of the architects of the Iraq war, and Wurmser was Cheney’s Middle East advisor and an assistant to Bolton.
with Fitzgerald would certainly come as no surprise to those who have
been following his career. Last year, he was questioned by the Federal
Bureau of Investigation for his possible role in leaking U.S. security secrets to Israel.
According to a 2004
story in the Washington Post, the FBI interviewed officials in Cheney’s
office and the Pentagon, including Hannah and Wurmser, former Defense
Policy Board member Richard Perle, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas
Feith and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, to determine if they
were involved in leaking U.S. security secrets to Israel, the former
head of the Iraqi National Congress Ahmed Chalabi and the American
Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
The revelation that
Hannah and Wurmser have become prosecution witnesses, as well as being
identified as the original sources of the leak, indicates Fitzgerald
now may be looking into the motive for outing Plame and how
Administration officials sought to derail a vocal critic of Iraq
resigned moments after he learned that he was indicted. The only
sitting Cabinet member to be indicted in recent history was President
Reagan's labor secretary, Raymond J. Donovan. Accused of grand larceny
in 1984, he was acquitted in 1987. H.R. Haldeman, chief of staff to
President Nixon, resigned before being indicted -- and convicted -- in
the Watergate coverup.
Expected to replace Libby as Cheney’s chief of staff is David Addington, a principal author of the White House memo
justifying the torture of terrorism suspects. He also strongly endorsed
holding suspects without access to the legal system, a measure rebuked
by the Supreme Court.
The Cheney loyalist
has also defended the Vice President's right to withhold information
about his meetings with energy company executives, much to the chagrin
John Byrne and Larisa Alexandrovna of RAW STORY contributed to this story
Leopold is the author of the explosive memoir, News Junkie, to be
released in the spring of 2006 by Process/Feral House Books. Visit
Leopold's website at www.jasonleopold.com for updates.