Lewis “Scooter” Libby resigned on Friday after being indicted on five counts of obstruction of justice, perjury to a grand jury and making false statements to FBI agents during the CIA leak investigation. President Bush’s chief advisor Karl Rove has so far escaped indictment for his role in the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. We speak with former CIA agent, Larry Johnson. [includes rush transcript]
For the first time in 130 years, a White House staff member has been indicted for crimes committed in the office. On Friday, Lewis “Scooter” Libby was indicted on five counts of obstruction of justice, perjury to a grand jury and making false statements to FBI agents during the CIA leak investigation. He resigned following the indictments.
If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison and $1.25 million in fines. According to the indictment, Libby lied to the grand jury when he claimed that he learned of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame from NBC News Tim Russert in early July. In fact, investigators determined Libby learned of Plame from Cheney, State Department officials and a CIA briefer more than a month earlier. President Bush’s chief advisor Karl Rove has so far escaped indictment for his role in the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, the wife of Ambassador Joseph Wilson.
Until Friday Libby was a central figure in the Bush White House holding three top positions: chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, national security adviser to the vice president and assistant to the president. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald announced the indictment on Friday.
According to the Washington Post, Karl Rove narrowly escaped indictment after providing new information during eleventh-hour negotiations with Fitzgerald. But sources told the paper that he could still be charged in the case. On Sunday Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid called on Rove to resign. Reid pointed out that President Bush had previously said anyone involved in the leak should resign.
In a few minutes we will speak with former CIA analyst Larry Johnson but first we will hear part of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s press conference on Friday when he laid out the case against Libby.
- Patrick Fitzgerald, U.S. special prosecutor, October 28, 2005.
- Larry Johnson, former CIA agent and former deputy director in the US State Department’s office of counter-terrorism.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to turn now to Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and play an excerpt of his news conference.
PATRICK FITZGERALD: As important as it is for the grand jury to follow the rules and follow the safeguards to make sure information doesn’t get out, it’s equally important that the witnesses who come before a grand jury, especially the witnesses who come before a grand jury who may be under investigation, tell the complete truth. It’s especially important in the national security area. The laws involving disclosure of classified information in some places are very clear, and some places they’re not so clear. And grand jurors and prosecutors making decisions about who should be charged, whether anyone should be charged, what should be charged, need to make fine distinctions about what people knew, why they knew it, what they exactly said, why they said it, what they were trying to do, what appreciation they had for the information and whether it was classified at the time. Those fine distinctions are important in determining what to do. That’s why it’s essential when a witness comes forward and gives their account of how they came across classified information and what they did with it, that it be accurate.
Now, that brings us to the fall of 2003. When it was clear that Valerie Wilson’s cover had been blown, investigation began. In October 2003, the F.B.I. interviewed Mr. Libby. Mr. Libby is the Vice President’s Chief of Staff. He is also an assistant to the President and an assistant to the Vice President for national security affairs. The focus of the interview was what was it that he had known about Wilson’s wife, Valerie Wilson, what he knew about Ms. Wilson, what he said to people, why he said it, and how he learned it.
And to be frank, Mr. Libby gave the F.B.I. a compelling story. What he told the F.B.I. is that essentially he was at the end of a long chain of phone calls. He spoke to a reporter, Tim Russert, and during the conversation, Mr. Russert told him that, “Hey, do you know that all of the reporters know that Mr. Wilson’s wife works at the C.I.A?” He told the F.B.I. that he learned that information as if it were new, and it struck him. So he took this information from Mr. Russert and later on, he passed it on to other reporters, including reporter, Matthew Cooper of Time magazine and reporter Judith Miller of The New York Times. And he told the F.B.I. that when he passed the information on on July 12, 2003, two days before Mr. Novak’s column, that he passed it on understanding that this was information he had gotten from a reporter, that he didn’t even know if it was true. He told the F.B.I. that when he passed the information on to the reporters, he made clear that he did not know if this were true. This was something that all of the reporters were saying and, in fact, he just didn’t know. And he wanted to be clear of that.
Later, Mr. Libby went before the grand jury on two occasions in March of 2004. He took an oath, and he testified. He essentially said the same thing. He said that, in fact, he had learned from the Vice President earlier in June 2003, information about Wilson’s wife, but he had forgotten it. Then when he learned the information from Mr. Russert during this phone call, he learned it as if it were new. When he passed the information on to reporters Cooper and Miller late in the week, he passed it on thinking it was just information he received from reporters, and that he told reporters that, in fact, he didn’t even know if it were true. He was just passing gossip from one reporter to another at the long end of a chain of phone calls. It would be a compelling story that would lead the F.B.I. to go away, if only it were true. It is not true according to the indictment.
AMY GOODMAN: Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. On Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid called on Karl Rove to resign. Reid pointed out President Bush had previously said anyone involved in the leak should resign. We’re joined on the telephone right now by former C.I.A. analyst, Larry Johnson. We welcome to you Democracy Now!
LARRY JOHNSON: Hey, how are you doing?
AMY GOODMAN: Very good to have you with us. Can you talk about your response to the indictment?
LARRY JOHNSON: I think it’s a good start, a move in the right direction. What’s appalling is the response — you know, the Republican response is expected, but mainstream media figures, whether we are talking Tim Russert or Andrea Mitchell or others, who are trying to say, 'Well, so there's no underlying crime, so really no harm, no foul.’ You know, if you listen very carefully to what Fitzgerald said, “her cover was blown,” and you know, he didn’t — when he said her cover is blown, that mean she’s had cover, number one. Number two, the reason he could not indict under the Identities Protection Act is because Libby obstructed the investigation. So, you know, Fitzgerald is just playing — you know, biding his time. He is going to openly come in with an indictment on the original crime, but he is going to squeeze these guys very carefully. So, I think we’re fortunate to have someone of Fitzgerald’s character involved with this.
AMY GOODMAN: Larry Johnson, you trained with Valerie Plame?
LARRY JOHNSON: Yes. We were in the career trainee program together, and that started in September of 1985. From the day we all walked through that door, all of us were under cover. Later, several members of our class moved into what’s called “non-official cover” status which means they had no known association with the U.S. government in any fashion, and when they worked overseas, they were working under commercial cover or something else. As in Valerie’s case, she was an energy consultant for Brewster Jennings.
AMY GOODMAN: And when you say “non-official cover” or “commercial” cover, explain what you’re talking about. Explain the energy front firm that she claimed that she works for as she investigated weapons of mass destruction.
LARRY JOHNSON: When you work under official cover, you are acknowledged to be a U.S. government employee, but you’re usually perceived as either a State Department employee or Department of Defense or Department of Energy or some other federal agency. And when you travel overseas, you have a black passport, which is a diplomatic passport. If you are caught in the act of doing espionage, you are protected under that black passport by the Geneva Convention, and you will not be executed. You may spend a few days in jail, but ultimately, you will be released.
Valerie, however, traveled without the benefit of a diplomatic passport. She — and in some cases, NOCs or non-official cover officers will travel even with a foreign passport. If she had been caught, she would have no protection under the Diplomatic Geneva Convention or no protection as a diplomat, and she could have been executed. So, the purpose of using non-official cover companies is there are many people in the world who have information that we want, but getting access to them requires that — in some cases, they don’t want to deal with a U.S. government official, so that you use deception, and you know, this is about lying in part.
AMY GOODMAN: Larry Johnson, before the indictment came down, you accused Vice President Cheney, the Bush administration, of engaging in a covert action against the American people. Explain.
LARRY JOHNSON: Yeah. It has the hallmarks. Covert action is — in the past, the C.I.A. has used it overseas as a way to shape public opinion. Usually in my — the experiences I have had, it has been used — we used the truth. In other words, you didn’t have to go out and manufacture lies in order to deceive people. You would focus upon, you know — there were efforts to get the vote out in Greece and in other places to get the focus on some communist subversion, to use old-style Cold War language. In this case, when we look back at the case of how the facts were fixed around the intelligence leading up to the war, it is classic covert action. In other words, this government deliberately deceived its own people.
Two quick examples, and one of these continues. In the Niger claim that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger, the position of the intelligence community was consistently that there was no 'there' there. They rejected it. They didn’t find it credible. They briefed that on several occasions to Congress and, in fact, told President Bush to take it out of the speech. Yet, despite that, the information kept working its way back in, and there is now evidence of contacts between the Italian government dealing with the office of the Vice President and the National Security Council to get the information from the forged documents into the U.S. government, that despite the fact that the C.I.A. Chief of Station had repeatedly rebuffed attempts by the Italians to keep feeding them that.
On the question of Osama Bin Laden and working with Saddam Hussein, the intelligence community again consistently has said there was no relationship, there is no substance to that charge, yet the administration and others in the Office of Special Plans at the Department of Defense repeatedly put that word out to shape public opinion on something that was false. As I —again, looking at it, has the hallmarks of a covert action effort directed against the American people.
AMY GOODMAN: The Special Prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, was quite careful to say that this investigation is not over, though the grand jury has expired.
LARRY JOHNSON: Correct.
AMY GOODMAN: We don’t know what will happen with Karl Rove. He remains under investigation. Of course, you have raised questions about Vice President Cheney. What do you think should happen right now?
LARRY JOHNSON: Well, at a minimum, if Bush was serious about protecting this nation’s security, he should turn to Karl Rove and ask for his resignation. His clearances should be pulled, because there’s no doubt now that he was involved with helping pass the name and mishandle classified information. Whether he was, quote, “witting under the law” to have a crime that you can convict of is a different matter, but there is absolutely no doubt that he was mishandling classified information; therefore, he should no longer have access to such information. I think the President could potentially get this behind him, but I doubt if he is going to. And instead of doing what is right, he is just going to continue to protect cronies.
AMY GOODMAN: Larry Johnson, I want to thank you for being with us, former C.I.A. analyst, former Deputy Director of the U.S. State Department’s Office of Counterterrorism.