Three days after President Bush commuted the thirty-month jail sentence of Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby, we spend the hour with former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was outed as a CIA operative after Wilson publicly challenged the Bush administration’s reasons for going to war on Iraq. Libby was found guilty of perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements in the investigation into who blew Plame’s cover. Wilson says he believes Libby’s commutation was a quid pro quo for his silence on the role of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, whose administration he calls "corrupt from top to bottom." [includes rush transcript]
President Bush has refused to rule out the possibility of a full pardon for Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby in the CIA leak case. Bush spoke to reporters a day after commuting Libby’s two-and-a-half-year prison sentence.
- President Bush. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday outside the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
In response to Bush’s decision, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on July 11th to examine presidential clemency power. The panel’s chair, Congressmember John Conyers of Michigan, said: "The use of such authority could completely circumvent the law enforcement process and prevent credible efforts to investigate wrongdoing in the executive branch."
Libby was convicted in March, the highest-ranking White House official ordered to prison since the Iran-Contra scandal. He was found guilty of perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements in the investigation into who blew the cover of CIA officer Valerie Plame.
Bush’s decision to commute Libby’s thirty-month prison term came just five hours after a federal appeals panel ruled that Libby could not put off serving his sentence while he appealed his conviction. That meant jail time for Libby was imminent, and the US Bureau of Prisons had already assigned him a prisoner identification number. Earlier on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow defended Bush’s decision to commute Libby’s sentence.
- White House Press Secretary Tony Snow.
While Libby won’t see a day of jail time, he will still have to pay a $250,000 fine. But now there is a question of whether he will even have to serve the two years of supervised probation imposed by the trial judge. U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said Tuesday that under federal law, the probation period may be called into question with the commutation of the sentence.
In an ironic twist to the story, now the only person to serve jail time in the CIA leak case turns out to be a journalist. Former New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed for contempt of court in July 2005 for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury investigating the leak. Miller refused to violate her oath of confidentiality to Libby and spent 85 days in prison. Libby was the only person charged in the federal investigation. No one was charged with the leak itself.
The whole story dates back over four years ago and centers around the invasion of Iraq. In July 2003, veteran diplomat Joseph Wilson published an op-ed in the New York Times refuting Bush’s claim that Iraq had sought uranium from Africa. Wilson had been sent by the CIA to Niger to investigate those claims and found them to be false. The article forced the Bush administration to admit that a key justification for the invasion was false. Within a few days of its publication, the White House leaked the name of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, and her CIA identity.
Joe Wilson joins us today from Santa Fe, New Mexico.
- Joseph Wilson. Husband of outed undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame. His book is called "The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity." Wilson was the acting US ambassador to Iraq before the 1991 Gulf War and was the last US official to meet with Saddam Hussein before the war began.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZALEZ: President Bush has refused to rule out the possibility of a full pardon for Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby in the CIA leak case. Bush spoke to reporters a day after commuting Libby’s two-and-a-half-year prison sentence..
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: First of all, I had to make a very difficult decision. I weighted this decision carefully. I thought that the jury verdict should stand. I felt the punishment was severe. So I made a decision that would commute his sentence but leave in place a serious fine and probation. As to the future, I’m, you know — rule nothing in and nothing out.
REPORTER: Mr. President, federal sentencing guidelines call for jail time in these kinds of cases of perjury and obstruction of justice. Why do you feel otherwise? And are you worried that this decision sends a signal that you won’t go to jail if you lie to the FBI?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I took this decision very seriously on Mr. Libby. I considered his background, his service to the country, as well as the jury verdict. I felt like the jury verdict ought to stand. And I felt like some of the punishments that the judge determined were adequate should stand. But I felt like the thirty-month sentencing was severe and made a judgment, a considered judgment, that I believe is the right decision to make in this case, and I stand by it. Thank you all very much.
JUAN GONZALEZ: President Bush speaking to reporters on Tuesday outside the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. In response to Bush’s decision, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on July 11th to examine presidential clemency power. The panel’s chair, Congressmember John Conyers of Michigan said, "The use of such authority could completely circumvent the law enforcement process and prevent credible efforts to investigate wrongdoing in the executive branch."
Libby was convicted in March, the highest-ranking White House official ordered to prison since the Iran-Contra scandal. He was found guilty of perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements in the investigation into who blew the cover of CIA officer Valerie Plame. Bush’s decision to commute Libby’s thirty-month prison term came just five months after a federal appeals panel ruled that Libby could not put off serving his sentence while he appealed his conviction. That meant jail time for Libbby was imminent, and the US Bureau of Prisons had already assigned him a prisoner identification number.
Earlier on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow defended Bush’s decision to commute Libby’s sentence.
TONY SNOW: Keep in mind that Scooter Libby has been convicted of a felony. That remains the same. He has a $250,000 fine to pay. That remains the same. He’s got two years of probation. That remains the same. A felony conviction has profound impacts on his ability to earn a living as a lawyer, because he’s not going to be able to practice law, so this is hardly a slap on the wrist in terms of penalty. It is a very severe penalty.
JUAN GONZALEZ: While Libby won’t see a day of jail time, he will still have to pay a $250,000 fine. But now there’s a question of whether he will even have to serve the two years of supervised probation imposed by the trial judge. US District Judge Reggie Walton said Tuesday that under federal law, the probation period may be called into question with the commutation of the sentence.
In an ironic twist to the story, now the only person to serve jail time in the CIA leak case turns out to be a journalist. Former New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed for contempt of court in July 2005 for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury investigating the leak. Miller refused to violate her oath of confidentiality to Libby and spent eighty-five days in prison. Libby was the only person charged in the federal investigation. No one was charged with the leak itself.
AMY GOODMAN: The whole story dates back over four years ago and centers around the invasion of Iraq. In July 2003, veteran diplomat Joseph Wilson published an op-ed in the New York Times, four years ago tomorrow, refuting Bush’s claim that Iraq had sought uranium from Africa. Wilson had been sent by the CIA to Niger to investigate those claims and found them to be false. The article forced the Bush administration to admit a key justification for the invasion was false. Within a few days of its publication, the White House leaked the name of Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame and her CIA identity.
Joe Wilson joins us today to talk about the case. A veteran diplomat, Joe Wilson was the acting US ambassador to Iraq before the '91 Gulf War and was the last US official to meet with Saddam Hussein before the war began. He is the author of _The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity_. Ambassador Wilson joins us from Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he lives with Valerie Plame and their two children now. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ambassador Wilson.
JOSEPH WILSON: Nice to be back with you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to be with you. First, your overall reaction: were you surprised to the erasing of Scooter Libby’s prison sentence by President Bush?
JOSEPH WILSON: There is very little that this administration does these days that surprises me. I believe that the President is corrupt to the core, and his administration is corrupt from top to bottom. I think, in doing this, he has actively subverted the rule of law and the system of justice in our country, which has undergirded our democracy for 231 years. It’s a disgrace. I believe that it casts a pall over him and his office and begs a question of what was the quid pro quo and whether or not he is now an active participant in an ongoing obstruction of justice in the cover up of the lies that they used to justify our invasion, conquest and occupation of Iraq in the first place.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And why do you say a quid pro quo? Your perspective on why you think the President is engaged still in a cover-up?
JOSEPH WILSON: Well, clearly, at the time of Mr. Libby’s conviction by a jury of his peers on four counts of lying, perjury and obstruction of justice, the special prosecutor in this case, representing the US government, said that Libby had blatantly and repeatedly lied, and as a consequence, sand had been thrown in the eyes of the umpire, by which he meant he was unable to get to the facts surrounding the underlying crime, the betrayal of the national security of our country. And Mr. Fitzgerald said that there remained a cloud over the Vice President and over his office.
Now, with his sentence commuted, Mr. Libby now no longer has any incentive whatsoever to begin to tell the truth to the special prosecutor, to wipe that sand from the umpire’s eyes, and to either lift that cloud over the Vice President or let it rain on him. So this is much more than just a commutation of Mr. Libby’s sentence. This is a cover-up of the Vice President’s role in this matter and quite possibly the role of the President and/or some of his senior White House advisers.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s go through what this commutation of the sentence, the erasing, of the sentence means: taking away the incentive for Scooter Libby to speak to the prosecutor, cooperate with the prosecutor, since he won’t be going to jail, but at the same time, since he wasn’t pardoned at this point, if he’s called to testify before Congress, he can plead the Fifth Amendment, because he’s still in the midst of his case. Is this accurate, Ambassador Wilson?
JOSEPH WILSON: I’m not a lawyer, but my understanding, from what I’ve read, is that that’s correct, that since he’s still in the appeals process, that he can still exercise his Fifth Amendment rights. I believe that can be overcome by offering him immunity from prosecution, which may be the only course that the Congress or this prosecutor now has in order to compel his testimony.
AMY GOODMAN: It also means — I mean, President Bush has said now for years that he, Vice President Cheney won’t comment on this case while it’s in litigation, and without doing the pardon right now — perhaps it’s to come, since President Bush has left that open — Bush and Cheney continue not to have to comment on the case, the issue of President Bush having said that anyone in the White House who leaked your wife’s name would be fired, would be out.
JOSEPH WILSON: Well, I think that that would be a patently absurd assertion. The President of the United States, in his statement, actually recognized the validity of the verdict, so for all intents and purposes the investigation on the facts is over. Anything to do with the appeal would be on matters of law. The President, I think, owes the American people a full explanation of his role and of the role of the Vice President in this betrayal of the national security of our country. And he should begin by instructing Mr. Fitzgerald to release the transcript of his interview with the special prosecutor and the interview of the Vice President, as well as other interviews of senior government officials. In fact, I would go further, I would argue that he should call on the special prosecutor to release the transcripts and all evidence that he has gathered in this investigation, so that the American people can assess for themselves what it is that is this cloud over the Vice President that Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald has talked about repeatedly.
AMY GOODMAN: Ambassador Joe Wilson is staying with us for the hour. We’re going to go to break now. When we come back, we’ll go back in time to President H. W. Bush, the President’s father, and his relationship with Ambassador Wilson when Ambassador Wilson was the acting ambassador in Iraq in the first Gulf War. Stay with us.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Ambassador, I’d like to ask you, the defenders of President Bush’s actions say that the presidential pardon power doesn’t have any limits to it, and obviously whether it’s in the Clinton administration or prior administrations, there’s been a lot of political operation in terms of the use of the pardon power. What’s your response to that?
JOSEPH WILSON: Well, I think that’s probably right. Again, I’m not a lawyer, but I think it does beg the question as to whether the President, in so doing, became an active participant in an ongoing cover-up and obstruction of justice and thereby brought himself into violation of the law. And clearly the appropriate remedy for that would be impeachment. This issue was discussed by the founding fathers. James Madison, I believe it was, and I think George Mason were the two who discussed this at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Clearly, the hearing next week chaired by Chairman John Conyers of the House Judiciary Committee, I suspect, will want to get into these matters. I hope that they have constitutional lawyers amongst their witnesses.
AMY GOODMAN: How does this affect your lawsuit, you and your wife Valerie Plame’s lawsuit against — well, explain exactly who it is against?
JOSEPH WILSON: Sure, the American justice system provides us with an opportunity to seek civil justice, as well as criminal justice. Indeed, the state is the one who sought criminal justice in this matter. And so, we have filed suit against Vice President Cheney, Mr. Libby, Mr. Rove and Mr. Armitage. Those are the ones that we know were actively leaking, betraying Valerie’s identity to members of the press. There are a number of charges that we have made. People who want to know more about the charges and read the complaint can go to www.wilsonsupport.org.
It’s pretty clear to us now that with the President’s machinations to try and avoid accountability and responsibility for the actions of his administration, that the only venue left for the American people to get the truth in this matter and the only venue left for ensuring some accountability of those who would abuse their public office and to deter future generations of public servants from engaging in similar behavior is a civil suit.
So, again, people can go to www.wilsonsupport.org to hear all the details about it, but essentially we are charging the Vice President, Mr. Libby, Mr. Rove and Mr. Armitage with having abused our rights — rights of privacy, rights of employment, constitutional rights of protected free speech — and we want to hold them to account for what they’ve done, not in our names, but in the names of those who actually believe that this should remain a democracy and the values, which have held us in such good stead since the passage of the Constitution, should continue to be respected.
AMY GOODMAN: Your wife, Valerie Plame, testified before Congress for the first time in March. She spoke about the case during a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. This is some of what she had to say.
VALERIE PLAME: My name and identity were carelessly and recklessly abused by senior government officials in both the White House and the State Department. All of them understood that I worked for the CIA, and having signed oaths to protect national security secrets, they should have been diligent in protecting me and every CIA officer.
AMY GOODMAN: Valerie Plame also described how she learned that columnist Robert Novak had publicly identified her as a CIA agent.
VALERIE PLAME: I found out very early in the morning, when my husband came in and dropped the newspaper on the bed and said, "He did it." And I quickly turned and read the article, and I felt like I had been hit in the gut. It was over an instant, and I immediately thought of my family’s safety, the agents and networks that I had worked with, and everything goes through your mind in an instant.
AMY GOODMAN: Joe Wilson, can you talk about what your wife did in the agency?
JOSEPH WILSON: Well, it’s been written in a number of books, including Hubris by David Corn and Mike Isikoff, that she was actively involved in senior positions in the Counter-Proliferation Division, and as such, she was engaged in activities designed to ensure that weapons of mass distraction, and in particular nuclear weapons, would never reach American shores, would never explode in American metropolitan areas and would be essentially denied access to American territory.
JUAN GONZALEZ: This week marks four years since the opinion piece that you published in the New York Times that started this enormous scandal. Your reflections back now over this four year period when you initially wrote that piece? What were you hoping to do, and your reaction to then the response from the administration?
JOSEPH WILSON: Sure. The last clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution ensures the right of citizens to petition their government for the redress of a grievance. Citizens in this country do that every day at every level of governance. I happened to do it at the level of federal governance on an issue about which I had some particular knowledge. I did so only after I had spoken privately to House investigators, Senate investigators, the State Department and people close to the White House. I did it reluctantly, because my government refused to accept responsibilities for the lies that were in the President’s State of the Union address in January of 2003.
Those lies included the famous, now infamous, sixteen words: "The British [government has] learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." It was apparent to me that the administration was not going to accept responsibility, when in June then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice lied on Meet the Press with Tim Russert, when she said that perhaps somebody in the bowels of the agency knew something about this matter, but nobody in her circle.
I wrote the article to petition my government for the redress of a grievance. That grievance was that the US president should not lie to the Congress of the United States, to the American people, and to the world, and that they ought to accept responsibility for the misstatements of fact in the President’s State of the Union address.
The day after my article appeared, the White House acknowledged that the sixteen words should never have been in the State of the Union address, after which I was silent, after which I left the public stage because my job, I believed at that time, had been done.
The administration, regrettably for it and for this country, decided that it wasn’t well enough to accept responsibility for its actions. It rather needed to go on a character assassination campaign against the person who had the temerity to challenge them on their facts, and in so doing, they betrayed the national security of the country by compromising my wife’s identity as a covert CIA officer. This was done in Africa — it may not have been quite as blatant when on the President’s trip his senior advisors, including Condoleezza Rice, were saying, "Look into who sent Wilson," which, in and of itself, was a misstatement of fact, as well — and it happened very directly out of the White House, with Mr. Rove, Mr. Libby and Mr. Armitage all talking actively to the press and giving up my wife’s identity and her status as a CIA employee.
AMY GOODMAN: Yet Karl Rove was not indicted.
JOSEPH WILSON: Neither Karl Rove nor Rich Armitage were indicted. I don’t know why. There is a cut-out, or there’s a caveat, I believe, in the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which basically says you have to know that that person is a covert officer in order to be in violation of that particular act. There are lots of other laws and administrative regulations pertaining to the handling of classified material. How Mr. Rove and Mr. Armitage avoided being sanctioned for their actions is beyond me, but I was not privy to the investigation. Hopefully we will find out some of that when we depose them in the civil suit.
AMY GOODMAN: Ambassador Wilson, President Bush said those sixteen words, that the British understood that Saddam Hussein was getting uranium from Africa — and it was about getting uranium from Niger — in January of 2003. It was the rationale used for the invasion in March. Your piece came out in July, months after the invasion. Why didn’t you speak out before the invasion?
JOSEPH WILSON: Well, first of all, at the time of the President’s speech, it was not clear that the country to which he was referring when he made that statement was Niger. I did, in fact, call the State Department the day after the State of the Union address, and I asked the deputy assistant secretary what the President was referring to, and I pointed out to him that had he been referring to Niger, I didn’t believe the facts were there, and if the facts were there I’d be interested in knowing about them.
AMY GOODMAN: Who was the deputy assistant secretary, Joe?
JOSEPH WILSON: I don’t have his name offhand, but he was Walter Kansteiner’s principal deputy. And his response to me — I said, "You know, I have to assume that either the President misstated the facts, in which case he needs to correct it, or he was speaking about another African country." The response was, "Well, he was probably speaking about another African country."
It was only in March, when Mohamed ElBaradei, the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, testified before the UN Security Council, and he said that the State Department had turned over to him documents pertaining to the alleged sale of uranium from Niger to Iraq and that he had — his team had assessed those documents and determined that they were not authentic. In other words, they were forgeries.
At that time, the State Department acting spokesman said, "We fell for it," which was when I was able to, in my own mind, make the link between the President’s statement, Niger and my own trip there. From that time on until July, I sought to explain to the State Department, to people close to the White House, to Democratic senators, as well as to staff members of both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, that the genesis and the outcome of my trip and the need for the administration to correct the record. It was only after it became apparent to me that, unless challenged directly, the administration would never accept responsibility for its actions, and it was at that point that I determined that I was going to have to put pen to paper and write the article myself.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And when you saw the reaction, the exposure of your wife’s identity in the press, what was your reaction then?
JOSEPH WILSON: Well, first of all, the assertions that she had anything to do with my trip were bogus. But secondly, and more importantly, the idea that an administration would go after family members, I think, sent a chill down the collective spines of anybody who’s involved in this particular business, the policy world. It was a signal to the foreign policy and intelligence communities that if you do to us what Wilson just did to us, we will do to you what we did to his family.
At that time, you may recall, there were a number of intelligence analysts who were speaking off the record or in deep background about the pressure that they had felt from Mr. Cheney and Mr. Libby’s repeated trips to the Defense Intelligence Agency headquarters and the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters, the barrage of questions designed to elicit responses, which would strengthen their case for war. In other words, they had clearly made a decision to go to war, and they were shaping the facts to fit the decision. That is now abundantly clear. And they, in compromising and betraying Valerie’s identity, they clearly wanted to shut up those analysts who were speaking anonymously and trying to get the truth out on these particular matters.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And your sense of the impact of this kind of activity by the Bush administration on those career servants, whether they are in the Foreign Service, in the State Department or the CIA, in the intelligence community, of this extreme form of dealing with their own employees in government?
JOSEPH WILSON: Well, I know for a fact that there was one analyst out at the Defense Intelligence Agency who just shut up because he knew he had three years to go until retirement, had two kids in college and didn’t want to jeopardize his pension. I also know of another couple, where the wife said to the husband, "I don’t want you to get involved in this, because I don’t want to happen to us what happened to the Wilsons." So I think it’s pretty clear.
And you need only to look at the record. The reports of government pressure, of vice presidential pressure, of Scooter Libby pressure on the intelligence community dried up shortly after or as Mr. Novak’s article was being published, and it was only a couple of years later that people began to feel comfortable enough to come out and challenge the administration on its lies and on its, really, subversion of our democracy.
AMY GOODMAN: Ambassador Joe Wilson, I want to go back in time to the first Gulf War. Can you explain your role? I mean, we know coming out of it that President George H. W. Bush, George Bush’s father, called you a true American hero. Explain what happened at that time.
JOSEPH WILSON: Sure. At the time of the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein and his thugs, I was the chargé d’affaires or acting ambassador to our embassy in Baghdad. That was, by the way, the kickoff of the Gulf War. Desert Storm, which is our counterattack, is commonly cited as the beginning of the Gulf War, but in fact the Gulf War began when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, invaded and conquered that country in violation of UN Charter, in violation of the Arab League Charter, in violation of Iraq’s own draft constitution at that time.
I confronted Saddam Hussein personally on August 6, four days after the invasion, during which time he told me that if we did not challenge his conquest of Kuwait, then he would give us all the oil we wanted at a good price, he would serve as America’s policeman in the region, and he would not go on and invade Saudi Arabia, which, of course, was a grave concern to the United States, given that eastern Saudi Arabia houses the strategic petroleum reserves upon which the oil markets depend for price stability and upon — we, of course, the Western industrialized world depend largely for our petroleum needs. My response to Saddam Hussein was: "Get out of Kuwait, allow all Americans to leave the region, and quit looting American diplomatic properties in Kuwait."
Shortly thereafter, Saddam annexed Kuwait. He began taking Americans hostage. He took a total of — somewhere in the order of 150 Americans hostage. He called them "human shields," had them housed in so-called strategic locations around the country. And in order to prevent him from taking even more Americans hostage, we opened up our diplomatic quarters and offered safe quarter to Americans resident in Baghdad.
My responsibility during that period as acting ambassador was twofold. It was to ensure to the maximum extent possible that Americans were kept out of harm’s way and were evacuated from the region to the extent that we could, and that, secondly, that Saddam Hussein fully understood that the United States and indeed the international community was not going to stand for his conquest of Kuwait and that there would be consequences if he did not withdraw from Kuwait, and those consequences would include the military expulsion of him from Kuwait.
I’m proud to say that during the course of my stay there as chargé, as acting ambassador, we evacuated several thousand Americans and nationals from other countries. Indeed, every American who both wanted to leave Iraq and was able to leave Iraq did leave Iraq, with the exception of two: one American on my staff died of a cerebral hemorrhage the first night of the invasion of Kuwait, and an American who was picked up by the Iraqis in those first few days as a hostage died of a heart attack before the embassy was even made aware that he had been taken hostage by the Iraqis. Every other American and many members of other communities were evacuated thanks to the efforts of the US government and my embassy in Baghdad.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And you finally left Iraq at what point?
JOSEPH WILSON: I left Baghdad on January 12. Secretary of State Baker met with Tariq Aziz in Geneva, Switzerland, as a last-ditch effort to secure Saddam’s withdrawal peacefully from Kuwait. During the course of that meeting, Secretary Baker later told me, he raised the issue of the remaining Americans present in Baghdad with Tariq Aziz four times. He asked him on four occasions, "Should we decide to reduce the size of our embassy, i.e. close it, will you guarantee to me the safe passage of our diplomats out of harm’s way?" Each time, Tariq Aziz said that he was going to have to refer that to, quote, "higher authority," which was Saddam Hussein. When I later spoke to Mr. Baker, he said that he wasn’t sure that he was ever going to see me again, because he was very concerned that the Iraqis might do to us what they had done to an Iranian delegation right on the eve of the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War, which was to disappear them.
AMY GOODMAN: We have to break. We’re going to come back to our conversation with Ambassador Joseph Wilson. He’s speaking to us from Santa Fe, New Mexico.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Joseph Wilson, yes, the acting ambassador in Iraq during the first Gulf War, has written the book The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity. He is the husband of Valerie Plame Wilson, whose identity was outed after Ambassador Wilson wrote that piece that appeared in the New York Times on July 6, four years ago, July 6, 2003, actually also happened to be President Bush’s birthday. Juan?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Ambassador Wilson, we were talking before the break about your leaving Baghdad back in the first Gulf War. You came home. You were met by President Bush at the time, and he expressed enormous gratitude for your work there. I’m wondering if, in the last four years, you took the opportunity at any time to try to reach out to him, to Bush’s father, to talk about what has been happening with you and your wife under the administration of his son?
JOSEPH WILSON: Juan, it’s absolutely true that when I arrived back in Washington on January 13, the very next day I was in the Oval Office. The President of the United States and his War Cabinet were there. The President introduced me to his War Cabinet as a true American hero. I spent a lot of time with the President and subsequently went over with him to meet Mrs. Bush. I have a picture in my scrapbook of walking through the rose garden with President Bush about thirty-six hours before the bombing of Baghdad that kicked off Desert Storm, during which time the President was asking me precisely those questions that one would want one’s commander-in-chief to ask on the eve of sending Americans off to kill and to die in the name of the American people. It was a very personal and very emotional meeting, and I retain an enormous amount of respect for the President and his team, of which I was part, in the management of the international crisis that was created by Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
I had spoken to him several times and communicated with him several times in the run-up to the second Gulf War. I shared with him a number of articles that I had written, most particularly the first article I wrote in October of 2002 on this matter. I spoke with him shortly after my second — my New York Times article appeared, the "What I Did Not Find in Africa" article. I have found it, and I’m sure he has found it, too painful to communicate personally now, and so I have not spoken to him or had any written correspondence with him for several years. This fight with his son has become, as you can imagine, personal, and certainly for the administration’s side, obviously very bitter, since they have mobilized the most efficient character assassination and smear team that the nation can produce in order to try and rid themselves of this meddlesome priest, to quote Shakespeare.
AMY GOODMAN: Ambassador Wilson, at that time, when you came back, you met President Bush, you were called a hero. You now jump forward to this period, and you see what President Bush’s son has done, now the commutation of Libby’s sentence. It’s very interesting to look at the media coverage over the last few days. Among the things that have been raised is President Clinton, for example, pardoning Marc Rich. Interesting to note that it was Scooter Libby who was Marc Rich’s attorney. Any comments on that?
JOSEPH WILSON: That’s right. Yeah, I think the coverage is a response to the administration’s concerted effort to change the subject, something that they’ve been hugely successful at doing with the mainstream media, much, I believe, to the shame of American journalism these days. The story has never been about Bill Clinton. The story has never been about Marc Rich. It’s never been about Joe Wilson. It’s never been about Valerie Wilson. The story has always been about what this administration did in lying to the American people about the justification for the invasion, conquest and occupation of Iraq. And yet, every day, Tony Snow and his predecessors achieve some measure of success in standing up there and pointing the press in a different direction.
Let me just give you one example. After my article appeared, the thrust of the coverage should have been who put the lie in the President’s mouth and why. Instead, within a week, the subject was changed to Wilson and his wife, so much so that to this day very few Americans know who wrote and who cleared that passage for the President’s speech. And yet, at the same time, most Americans know the name of a CIA officer whose identity was protected by American statute, and they know her name for one reason and one reason only, because she happens to be married to somebody who had the temerity to call the administration on its lies.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, one other thing that this whole scandal ultimately exposed was the enormously close relationship between key members of the national press and government officials and official sources, obviously the Judith Miller situation being the most important one. And, as you mentioned, the question of how the press failed to tell the stories that should have been told, was that part of the problem?
JOSEPH WILSON: I think the press utterly failed the American people. It failed in its role as a guarantor of integrity within the system. It put protection of sources who had blatantly lied to them above its obligations to share information with the American people and to hold the government to account for its actions.
AMY GOODMAN: Joe Wilson, I wanted to ask about the fine that has been levied against Scooter Libby. He, in addition to the sentence of two-and-a-half years, though that’s been erased, was fined $250,000. Now, this has been continually raised by people like, well, the White House Press spokesperson Tony Snow, saying it’s not as if he is getting off scot-free, that’s an onerous fine. What about the Scooter Libby defense fund, the people who are involved with raising the millions of dollars for his defense and his fine, like, among others, Fred Thompson, the likely Republican presidential candidate; James Woolsey, very active here, the former CIA director whose firm lobbied for the INC, for the Iraqi National Congress, Ahmed Chalabi’s CIA-funded group; Mary Matalin, James Carville’s wife, who’s a big Republican consultant? What about this group of people raising money for Scooter Libby?
JOSEPH WILSON: Well, first of all, with respect to his defense fund, one of the members of the defense fund, Richard Carlson, said the other day that they would not pay the fine. But the bottom line is, the fine is, for somebody like Scooter Libby, is chump change. After all, he was a lawyer for fifteen years for one of the wealthiest people in the world — up until the time of his pardon, he was — arch-fugitive Marc Rich. So I have no doubt that this is really like buying a pack of gum for Mr. Libby.
With respect to those who are members of the board of advisers of the defense fund, it really is a who’s who of American conservatives, and I think it just demonstrates the extent to which they’re willing to put the very particular interests of their friends and their buddies above law and order and the system of justice in this country. I look forward to Mr. Thompson running. I think that it’s going to be the — Republican Party will be hard-pressed to run as the law and order and justice party.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think will puncture the silence now? If Libby continues to be protected by the Fifth Amendment, if the administration says they won’t talk about this issue because he continues to be in litigation, what will force what you’re calling — well, the breaking of the silence, what you’re saying is an obstruction of justice by the President of the United States?
JOSEPH WILSON: Well, I think the only thing that will do it will be pressure, pressure brought by Congress, pressure brought by our civil suit, pressure bought by members of the media, such as yourself, who are prepared, actually, to challenge the administration and not just spew their pablum, repeat their pablum.
AMY GOODMAN: Think this is an impeachable offense?
JOSEPH WILSON: I have always believed that the whole question of impeachment comes from the facts as they’re developed by duly constituted bodies. I guess if I had a call to make, it would be that, let’s get to those facts. And I hope that the Congress will be able to do that. I hope our lawsuit will be able to do that.
But I do believe that the President’s action of commuting his sentence is, on the face of it, a conflict of interest. I think that — remember, Mr. Libby was a direct subordinate to the President of the United States. Given that the President of the United States was interrogated by the special prosecutor, given that the special prosecutor has said repeatedly that there remains a cloud over the Vice President, I think that there is a very real reason to suspect that in commuting his sentence, the President has become a party to an ongoing obstruction of justice and cover-up.
JUAN GONZALEZ: You mentioned earlier that ultimately this was all about the covering up of the manufacturing of the lies that led the United States into this new war. I would like to get a sense in the last few minutes that we have, your assessment of what this war has meant to the United States, what damage it has done to our country, and whether now the public finally is beginning to grasp the enormous machinations that went on in the administration to launch this war.
JOSEPH WILSON: Well, I think, first of all, it’s important to recognize this was not a war about national security. It was not a necessary war. It was not a preemptive war. It was not a preventive war. It was a war to validate an academic theory contained in a document called the Project for the New American Century. It was a war to do the bidding of a very small sect of foreign policy players within the Republican Party called the neoconservatives.
It has utterly failed to achieve any broader American national security goals, and, more to the point, I think it has weakened us strategically in three fundamental areas in the region. One, the war on international terrorism — there are now millions more who hate us than hated us before the night of shock and awe and the subsequent invasion, conquest and occupation of Iraq, and of those millions, hundreds of thousands are now probably prepared to pick up arms and kill us — try to kill us.
Secondly, I think it has weakened our ability to continue to defend and have unfettered access to the strategic oil fields of the region, and so long as we are a petroleum-based economy — and we will be for the foreseeable future — that the difficulty in unfettered access will be reflected both in, I think, stability of prices and stability of supplies.
And thirdly, we have a longstanding obligation that has been accepted by all political parties in the United States to serve as a guarantor for Israel 's national security and territorial integrity. I believe that's been greatly weakened by our action in Iraq. Israel is seen as a proxy of the United States, and when they cannot hit us, you can be sure they will hit them. And that will just further exacerbate the situation.
I would also say that the one thorn that really must be pulled from the side of the Middle East is the Arab-Israeli ongoing conflict. The United States has been AWOL ever since this president came into office, and as a consequence the parties on all sides have acted on their worst nightmares, rather than trying to strive to achieve a common objective and common dreams in the region.
AMY GOODMAN: Joseph Wilson, you were an adviser to John Kerry for a time when he was running for president. You have held great stock in Democrats being able to change things. You now are saying that President Bush is involved in a criminal cover-up involving the outing of your wife’s identity. Do you think the Democrats are up to the challenge right now? You have Nancy Pelosi saying impeachment is off the table. What do you think they can do, should do and have not yet done?
JOSEPH WILSON: Well, if you recall, Amy, in the last campaign in 2004, there were some of these Republicans who were running around talking about the Democrats in the following terms: they are latte-drinking, Volvo-driving, Northeastern liberals —
AMY GOODMAN: We have ten seconds.
JOSEPH WILSON: — all of which may be true, but the one thing that they are not, they are not Republicans. And given the state of this Republican Party, that’s enough for me, and I will campaign actively for any and all Democrats who want to defeat this iteration of the Republican Party.
AMY GOODMAN: Joseph Wilson, I want to thank you for being with us, a former ambassador, husband of the outed undercover CIA operative, Valerie Plame, wrote the book The Politics of Truth, speaking to us from Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he and his family have moved.