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2006-02-10

Exclusive Interview: Murray Waas on How Cheney "Authorized" Libby to Leak Classified Information

Guests

Ellen Smith, owner and editor of Mine Safety and Health News. She has been covering mining-related issues since 1987 and has won 17 journalism awards for her reporting, including the Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi Award and the National Press Club Award for Newsletter Journalism. She is on the line from Mendon, New York.

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We speak with investigative journalist Murray Waas who reports that Lewis "Scooter" Libby–Cheney’s indicted former chief of staff–testified he had been "authorized" by Cheney and other White House "superiors" to disclose classified information to journalists to defend the Bush administration’s use of prewar intelligence in making the case to invade Iraq. [includes rush transcript]

We turn now to the ongoing controversy over the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

Three months ago Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby resigned after being charged with obstruction of justice, lying to the FBI and committing perjury before a federal grand jury in connection to the Plame case.

So far Libby is the only White House official to be charged in the case. He is schedule to go on trial next January–two months after the mid-term elections.

But newly released court documents raise new questions about the role of the Vice President in the affair. Investigative journalist Murray Waas has revealed# in the National Journal that Libby testified before federal grand jury that he had been "authorized" by Cheney and other White House "superiors" in the summer of 2003 to disclose classified information to journalists to defend the Bush administration’s use of prewar intelligence in making the case to go to war with Iraq.

Waas bases his article in part on a recent letter written by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s to Libby’s attorney.

Fitzgerald writes, "Mr. Libby testified in the grand jury that he had contact with reporters in which he disclosed the content of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) ... in the course of his interaction with reporters in June and July 2003.

Fitzgerald went on to write, "We also note that it is our understanding that Mr. Libby testified that he was authorized to disclose information about the NIE to the press by his superiors."

Although Fitzgerald does not identify Cheney by name, sources have told Waas that Fitzgerald is in fact referring to the Vice President.

  • Murray Waas, investigative journalist who writes for a number of publications. Among them, American Prospect magazine and Salon.com. He has broken a number of stories on the saga of the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. He maintains a blog at WhateverAlready.blogspot.com.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I reached Murray Waas yesterday and asked him to outline his expose.

MURRAY WAAS: Well, the story today says that Vice President Cheney, according to recent court filings, was authorized — actually authorized and directed "Scooter" Libby to provide classified information to the press, among the people, Judy Miller of the New York Times, to make the Bush administration’s case that they hadn’t misused pre-war intelligence to make the case to go to war with Iraq. So even though Libby’s not saying Cheney directed him to release the Plame information, Libby is essentially claiming he was authorized in a broader way by Cheney to go out and discredit Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is based on documents you have seen?

MURRAY WAAS: There’s actually a public court filing in the case, which is correspondence between Pat Fitzgerald, the Special Prosecutor, and Libby’s attorney, in which Fitzgerald makes reference to the fact that Libby said that he had been — he had claimed in the grand jury to have been, quote/unquote, "authorized" — that’s Libby’s word — by superiors to disclose the classified information. Libby and Fitzgerald don’t disclose who the superiors are, but I’ve talked to other people with first-hand knowledge of the matter who say that it was indeed — Cheney was the key person there.

AMY GOODMAN: And how does this help Libby’s case?

MURRAY WAAS: It’s unclear if it’s going to help Libby’s case. You know, it’s kind of — some people I’ve talked to have said that Libby wants to just pressure people — pressure the government to drop the case by demanding the declassification of documents. And so, he might not actually even use this defense at trial. So — and there’s always the possibility that he might think it would create sympathy for the jury if he was portrayed as a fall-guy, like Oliver North had been in Iran-Contra, or like other people have to some degree of success used in national security cases in the past.

AMY GOODMAN: Does this indicate that Vice President Cheney committed a crime?

MURRAY WAAS: No, the Vice President apparently can, or the President can declassify on their whim. It’s perfectly legal. They have control of the information. But what I think is of concern to the average person is while they’re clamping down on leaks, while there’s been these extraordinary attacks on reporters’ credibility by friends of the administration, while there’s been unprecedented leak investigations, when there’s been — with the example of the N.S.A. story or whatever — the Attorney General has decided to focus on the leaker, not the potential misconduct. You have the selective leaking by the administration to make the case to go to war, to defend themselves against allegations of wrongdoing after the fact — you know, and after the war has started. And so, it allows the government, allows the administration to control the information, you know, which in a democracy is kind of a dangerous thing. All presidents like to do it, but we’ve had kind of a perfect storm where it’s easier now than ever before.

AMY GOODMAN: Murray Waas, can you give us the timetable? How did this play out in June of 2003?

MURRAY WAAS: Well, in June of 2003 — June and July of 2003, Joe Wilson hadn’t publicly made his allegations about Niger yet. He had talked on background to a columnist for the New York Times, the Washington Post and some others, but his name hadn’t been out there. And so the Vice President, "Scooter" Libby, his chief of staff and National Security Adviser, and other people in the Bush administration, when these reports came out that a former ambassador traveled to Niger, found that the allegations of Saddam Hussein attempting to buy uranium from Niger to build a nuclear weapon were untrue and that the administration had misrepresented intelligence about it, they started to defend themselves. Then they became very, very aggressive in trying to discredit Joe Wilson. It was in that context that Valerie Plame’s name was leaked, and then a special prosecutor was named, and the chief of staff to the Vice President, "Scooter" Libby, was later indicted by a grand jury for supposedly covering up his role in that. But what was also going on is that they were also defending more broadly or more generally the allegations being made by Joe Wilson. So what the story today says is that Cheney, according to what Libby has testified to, authorized him to leak classified information, that the administration had not acted badly and used that information to defend them and attack their adversaries.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you explain what the N.I.E. is?

MURRAY WAAS: Yeah, National Intelligence Estimate is an inter-agency highly classified intelligence assessment. It’s pretty much controlled by the C.I.A., but it’s, on paper, kind of outside the C.I.A. The C.I.A. coordinates with the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency. The State Department has their own intelligence bureau, the National Security Agency. And they try and come to a consensus, a broad consensus, about what is the estimate or what is their analysis or prediction of some major issue. In this case, there was an N.I.E. about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. And the N.I.E. concluded that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program and had biological and chemical weapons. And we’ve since learned the U.S. inspectors, the ones sent by the C.I.A. to Iraq, have found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

Saddam Hussein actually apparently didn’t have any. After the first Gulf War, he didn’t, you know, start to reinvigorate those programs, because he just didn’t have the funds. The sanctions were actually working, in effect, the bombing campaign, the diplomacy. And Saddam Hussein just didn’t have these things. So the N.I.E. was erroneous. And Libby provided portions of that to Judith Miller, to in part say, 'Hey, you know, we might not be wrong here,' and also to attempt to demonstrate or show that they had been a victim of the C.I.A. or the National Intelligence Council providing them with the wrong information.

What that leaves out, though, is that the administration went beyond what the C.I.A. said, anyway, and the National Intelligence Estimate was the result of a politicized process, because people in the intelligence community, some of them, wanted to give the President what he wanted to hear. There were, you know, a number of people who were brave and stood up to their superiors in the C.I.A. and elsewhere and to the administration, but those people didn’t rule the day in the end.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Murray Waas, who has just done a major expose in the National Journal on Cheney authorizing Libby to leak classified information. Does Libby testifying to this at the grand jury indicate that he’s turned on Cheney?

MURRAY WAAS: No, to the contrary. He’s trying to — he’s not saying that Cheney directed him to leak information about Valerie Plame, which might have been illegal, or even if it was not considered a crime by the prosecutors, would look like a political dirty trick. So he’s — he might have — he’s charged with making false statements to the F.B.I. and grand jury, perjury, obstruction of justice, and he’s lying about his own role and maybe others he worked with, among them — it’s possible it could be Dick Cheney; we just don’t know — to put this information out there, you know, that Valerie Plame worked for the C.I.A. We just don’t know whether Libby — at this time, whether Libby was acting alone or with others. But he’s definitely not turning on the Vice President, but he’s trying to use the Vice President to say that Cheney knew in a broad way what he was doing, about his general conduct, in order to have — to get a more sympathetic jury and maybe look like part of his behavior was authorized.

AMY GOODMAN: Investigative reporter Murray Waas. His piece# appears in the National Journal.

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