Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff has testified that President Bush authorized him to leak a highly classified intelligence document on Iraq to the press in an effort to defend the administration’s decision to go to war. This marks the first time Bush has been linked to the leaking of classified information and raises new questions if Bush was directly tied to the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s grand jury testimony was cited in court papers filed by prosecutors late Wednesday. Libby was indicted in October on charges that he lied to investigators about his role in the outing of Plame, the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson who was a vocal critic of the war. On Sept. 30, 2003, President Bush warned against anyone in his administration leaking classified information. “Let me just say something about leaks in Washington. There are too many leaks of classified information in Washington,” Bush said. “There’s leaks at the executive branch; there’s leaks in the legislative branch. There’s just too many leaks. And if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is.” On Capitol Hill, Bush was widely criticized by Democrats on Thursday. This is Senator Charles Schumer of New York. “It is increasingly clear that this case goes far beyond Scooter Libby. At the very least, President Bush and Vice President Cheney should fully inform the American people of any role they played in allowing classified information to be leaked,” said Schumer. “Did they believe they have the right to do this and if so, in what circumstances? Or is this just something that may have been done to accommodate the president’s momentary political needs? According to court documents today, Scooter Libby said that the president authorized the vice president to direct him to disclose classified information to reporters in order to bolster support for the war in Iraq.”
In other news from Capitol Hill, the Senate failed last night to agree on passing what had been described as the most far-reaching changes to the nation’s immigration laws in two decades. During the day on Thursday a bipartisan group of Senators announced they had reached a deal that would put millions of undocumented immigrants on a path to citizenship and to establish a guest worker program. But after a long night of debate, no vote was taken and it now appears a vote might be put off until after the Senate’s Easter break.
Meanwhile in Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahoney held a special mass as sign of solidarity with undocumented immigrants. Mahoney has vowed to order priests to ignore a proposed law that would make it a crime for priests, social workers and health care workers to help undocumented workers. “Well, we are at a very critical moment in the history of our country with immigration and we have the opportunity that we haven’t had in many years to actually pass a law that is humane and just and deals with all the issues around immigration,” Mahoney said. Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers also spoke in Los Angeles: “This is really great right now. We’re seeing a new civil rights movement being formed by Latinos. The Cardinal having the mass is such good support because this is such a national organization. When the Cardinal says he’s going to commit civil disobedience on behalf of the immigrants, then this is going to inspire others to do the same. This will have an effect on Washington.” Across the country immigrant groups are planning for massive nationwide protests on Monday.
Back in Washington, the Bush administration is now suggesting it might have the legal authority to conduct surveillance on domestic communication between Americans without a court warrant. Until now the administration has maintained it only has the authority to conduct warrantless eavesdropping of calls made to or coming from other countries. On Thursday Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified before the House Judiciary Committee. When he was asked if the president might order strictly domestic spy operations, Gonzalez said “I’m not going to rule it out.” Congressman Adam Schiff of California said he found Gonzales statement to be very disturbing. Schiff said “If the administration believes it can tap purely domestic phone calls between Americans without court approval, there is no limit to executive power. This is contrary to settled law and the most basic constitutional principles of the separation of powers.”
Meanwhile a retired AT&T telecommunications technician named Mark Klein has reportedly given a sworn statement that AT&T has been working with the National Security Agency to spy on Americans. Klein gave the statement as part of a lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation against several major telecommunications companies. Klein reportedly also disclosed several internal AT&T documents that showed AT&T put a “dragnet surveillance” in place to help the NSA. Klein’s statement and the documents have been put under seal. According to attorneys at EFF, the leaked AT&T documents supports the group’s claim that AT&T is diverting Internet traffic into the hands of the NSA wholesale, in violation of federal wiretapping laws and the Fourth Amendment. EFF’s staff attorney Kurt Opsahl said “Mark Klein is a true American hero. He has bravely come forward with information critical for proving AT&T’s involvement with the government’s invasive surveillance program.”
Meanwhile Democratic Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa has admitted in a radio interview that he is embarrassed that more Democrats have not supported Russell Feingold’s motion to censure the President for illegally ordering the NSA to conduct domestic spying.
In health news, a congressional report has concluded that the Bush administration’s international AIDS-prevention programs are being hampered by requirements that force recipients to spend significant amounts on abstinence education. According to the Government Accountability Office, AIDS specialists in 17 of the 20 countries surveyed said the Bush administration’s requirements “would prevent them from allocating prevention resources in accordance with local HIV/AIDS prevention needs.” In order to qualify for US assistance, seven countries had to allocate one third of their prevention funding on abstinence education, forcing cuts to several essential programs.
In news from Haiti–a top United Nations official is accusing the U.S.-backed interim government of illegally detaining most of the 4,000 people behind bars in the country. The official said most of the detainees should be released immediately including the hundreds that are being held for political reasons. More than 2,000 people are now jailed at Haiti’s national penitentiary. Only 4 percent of the prisoners there have been sentenced.
In news on Iraq, the Washington Post is reporting the Bush administration is dramatically reducing spending on so-called “democracy promotion” in Iraq. The move has angered several Republican-linked organizations who were awarded contracts after the US-led invasion. US officials said the money was needed to pay for increasing security costs. Les Campbell, who heads Middle East programs for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, said of the President’s commitment to democracy in Iraq: “when it’s translated into action, [it] looks very tiny.”
In Peru, a retired army officer who once tried to overthrow the Fujimori government, has surged into the lead in this weekend’s presidential race. Ollanta Humala has received widespread support among the nation’s poor and has been endorsed by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. But Humala has been widely criticized by business leaders. He has called for the nationalization of Peru’s natural resources, new taxes on foreign mining companies, a veto on a trade agreement with Washington and an end to US-sponsored eradication of coca. Humala spoke on Thursday before supporters. “The Peruvian people are immune to that fear of change. The Peruvian people want change. We don’t want more poverty, more social injustice, more unemployment, more abandonment, more corruption. Tonight, the Peruvian people should confirm (their desire for) change, a new society, that is nationalism.”
On Capitol Hill, Democratic Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney has apologized for being involved in altercation last week after a Capitol police officer failed to recognize her as she tried to enter the building. McKinney said “I am sorry that this misunderstanding happened at all and I regret its escalation, and I apologize. There should not have been any physical contact in this incident.” A grand jury is investigating whether McKinney hit the police officer. She had maintained she has been racially profiled.
In media news, about 20 staffers at the Village Voice have written a letter of protest over the firing of investigative reporter James Ridgeway. Ridgeway, who wrote for the paper for 30 years, was fired just months after the Voice was bought out by New Times Media, a chain of weekly newspapers based in Phoenix. The Voice staffers wrote the firing “sends a terrible message as to the sort of coverage that the new ownership portends.” Major changes have already been seen at the paper since February 1 when the new owner of the paper Mike Lacey first traveled to New York to meet with Voice staffers. After that initial meeting the Voice’s prize winning press critic Sidney Schanberg quit. Veteran columnist Nat Hentoff reportedly also resigned and then reconsidered. According to one account of the meeting, the new owner criticized the news section of the Voice because it was full of commentary and criticism of the Bush administration. That same week the new owners cancelled the Voices’ online blog called “The Bush Beat.”