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As CIA Leak Trial Begins, Inside the Case Against Ex-Cheney Chief of Staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby

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Jury selection for the trial of Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff has begun. Lewis “Scooter” Libby faces five counts of lying to federal investigators, perjury and obstruction of justice. He is accused of lying to investigators and a grand jury during the investigation of the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. We speak with veteran investigative journalist Murray Waas. [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to jury selection for the trial of Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, which has begun this week. Lewis “Scooter” Libby faces five counts of lying to federal investigators, perjury and obstruction of justice. He’s accused of lying to investigators and a grand jury during the investigation of the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

Plame is the wife of Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who openly accused the Bush administration of manipulating and distorting pre-war intelligence on Iraq. He’s also accused of attempting to conceal his role, and possibly that of others, in leaking to the media that Wilson’s wife was a CIA officer. Libby’s defense team is expected to call his former boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, to testify as a witness.

On Sunday, Chris Wallace of Fox News questioned Vice President Dick Cheney about the case.

CHRIS WALLACE: Your former chief of staff, Scooter Libby, goes on trial this coming week on charges of obstruction of justice and perjury. As I mentioned to Mrs. Cheney, when she was here a few weeks ago, I happened to notice that you invited Mr. Libby to your Christmas party, which you also invited me to. Given his legal troubles, why?


CHRIS WALLACE: Why invite him to your party?

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: He’s a friend. He’s a good man. He is one of the finest individuals I’ve ever known. And I did invite him to the Christmas party. The last two years, he’s been at our Christmas party, and before that, when he was working for me —

CHRIS WALLACE: Was he honest?

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I believe he’s one of the more honest men I know. He’s a good man.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Vice President Dick Cheney on Fox this past Sunday. Well, Murray Waas joins us now on the phone from Washington, D.C. He’s a veteran investigative journalist who writes for the National Journal. He’s broken a number of stories on the saga of the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Welcome to Democracy Now!, once again, Murray.

MURRAY WAAS: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Murray, you’ve written a piece, ”CIA Leak Probe: Inside the Grand Jury.” Well, what leak have you gotten now?

MURRAY WAAS: Well, the key thing in the story that we just did is in the grand jury transcripts, what it shows is that the special prosecutor and his deputies, Patrick Fitzgerald and the [inaudible] prosecutors who work for him, were very skeptical of Scooter Libby’s claims that he did — he outed Valerie Plame and provided the information to reporters and that he did this on his own. And so, even though a lot of people have suspected this, and especially people who listen to your program and follow this a great deal, this is the prosecutor himself saying this.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain exactly what information you got.

MURRAY WAAS: Well, what’s really interesting is that on each occasion that — on literally each occasion that Scooter Libby goes out and talks to a reporter — Judith Miller of the Times, Matt Cooper of Time magazine — and gives them information about Valerie Plame or gives them her name and tries to, you know, retaliate against her husband or try and get this information out, literally before that, Scooter Libby meets with Dick Cheney. And according to the story that Cheney and Libby both tell to investigators, is that they meet, they discuss ways to discredit and rebut Wilson, and Cheney directs Libby to release some type of classified information to the press.

But, lo and behold, when Libby then goes out and talks to that press person at the direction of the vice president, he usually also gives them the name of Valerie Plame and the information about Plame. And in some instances, when Libby and Cheney meet and Cheney directs Libby to go talk to the press and leak something, he doesn’t leak that, but he leaks Plame’s name. So that raises the obvious, you know, inference and good possibility that Cheney, in fact, you know, is directing — possibly directing Libby to do this, and that the reason that Libby is standing trial and the reason that he committed perjury is basically to cover for the vice president. And that’s not my opinion, but that apparently is the opinion of the investigators who worked on this for three years.

AMY GOODMAN: Murray Waas, can you give us the chronology, as you lay it out in your piece, beginning with late in the morning of July 12, 2003, Vice President Dick Cheney standing atop a pier at the naval station Norfolk in Virginia, awaiting the commissioning of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan?

MURRAY WAAS: On the morning of July 12, Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby, they go to Norfolk, the naval station Norfolk. It’s, you know, an extraordinary thing. It’s the commissioning of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, Nimitz-class, USS Reagan. The carrier is 20 stories high. It took eight years to build. Fifteen to 20,000 people are standing under the clear sky. Nancy Reagan christens the ship. And it’s this extraordinary moment for both Cheney and Libby, that the war in Iraq is four months kind of over, they don’t know quite — people haven’t come to terms that there’s an insurgency yet. No one knows it’s going wrong.

And yet, on the plane ride home from this, Cheney and Libby are obsessed about the fact that Ambassador Joe Wilson has, days earlier, indeed exactly four days earlier, in fact, written a column saying that Libby and Cheney distorted intelligence to make the case to go to war with Iraq. And so, they’re sitting on the plane — Cheney, Libby, and another woman named Catherine Martin — and they’re sitting there strategizing: How are we going to undercut Wilson? How are we going to — you know, how are we going to make him look bad? You know, what can we do?

And so, on the plane, Cheney actually directs Libby to go talk to reporters and to leak a then-highly classified document, the debriefing of Wilson’s trip back from Niger, to reporters, and — because they think this is going to hurt Wilson’s credibility. So, literally, within a short time after Scooter Libby gets off the plane and the vice president directs him, he calls Judith Miller of The New York Times, he calls Matt Cooper, but he says literally nothing about the classified information that the vice president wants him to. You know, instead, he talks about Valerie Plame. So that raises the question as to whether the other thing was just a cover story and what Cheney really wanted him to leak was Plame’s name.

AMY GOODMAN: Murray Waas, why is Scooter Libby, according to your version of events, doing this? He’s been accused of covering up, of lying. Who is he lying for?

MURRAY WAAS: Well, he could be lying to save his own neck. He does have a presumption of innocence here, you know, like anybody who is being tried, although in this case the witnesses are so strong against this guy. You know, in other words, there’s three journalists who are going to testify against him. There’s six government officials.

AMY GOODMAN: The three journalists are?

MURRAY WAAS: Matt Cooper, Judith Miller and Tim Russert. All basically are pretty much going to get up and contradict what he said.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what Tim Russert has said. What has he told the grand jury? Has he spoken to the grand jury?

MURRAY WAAS: Tim Russert’s role is this — and it’s a little hard for people who don’t follow it that carefully. But what happened is, when Cheney and Libby talked regularly — like according to the grand jury information that we just published, the vice president was apoplectic. He was angry. He raised the issue of Valerie Plame again and again with Libby. He wrote in the margins of an op-ed, “Do we send” — “I don’t understand why we send ambassadors pro bono.” And Libby himself testified that they talked about this several times a day, every day, for at least a week or two weeks after this column came out.

So, what happens is that when he then talks to the press, when he then actually goes out — essentially Libby then gets caught at some point talking to the press, leaking Plame’s name and leaking information on Plame and outing Plame to these various journalists, and then he has to come up with an explanation. So, he’s learned this information from Vice President Cheney. The investigators have notes of Libby’s, in which Libby says in the notes, “I learned this from the vice president.” And there is also six government officials, a CIA briefing officer, assistant secretary of state, who say quite emphatically that based on inquiries from Libby, they told him that Plame was a CIA operative or whatever.

So, to get out of trouble, what Libby did was, when he got caught telling journalists, he then made up a whole phony story, according to the prosecutors, and what he told them was this, that he talked to Tim Russert, the NBC bureau chief, and Tim Russert was the guy who told him that Plame was a covert CIA operative and that Russert told him that NBC had been hearing these rumors from other journalists. So Libby’s explanation was, you know, all I was doing was passing along unfounded rumors that I represented as rumors, that I had heard from other journalists. But Russert is testifying that that’s a complete lie, that when he talked to Libby, they didn’t even talk about Plame. And so, the prosecutors are charging that as one of the counts of perjury, in lying to investigators so he could devise a cover story as to why he actually — you know, as to how he learned Plame’s name and leaked it.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do you make of — well, Chris Wallace is invited to the Cheneys’ Christmas party. He first, after the party, has Lynne Cheney on, the vice president’s wife, and asks about Scooter Libby, and she talks about him being a patriot — I’m paraphrasing — and then he has Dick Cheney on, and he also says — interesting choice of words — “I believe he’s one of the more honest people that I know.”

MURRAY WAAS: Well, Fox News, fair and objective, you know — I mean, what more can one say? I mean, the vice president — what is being done here is, what we see being done is, we’ve seen ever since Watergate, presidents have learned that if they want to be above the law, if they want their aides to get away with doing things — and we saw this in Iran-Contra — what you do is you essentially hold out the pardon power for them. So Cheney is keeping Libby, you know, who is — close to vest, because Libby is somebody who could testify against the vice president. So the vice president is keeping that relationship.

If you remember — one of the interesting things about this, if you remember —- if people remember during Watergate, one of the impeachment charges was that Nixon raised millions of dollars in hush money for the Watergate burglars, to shut them up. Well, today, we have a mechanism where we don’t have to do that. But in the case of Libby, he’s raised $3 million. A friend of the president, a major fundraiser for President Bush, for Dick Cheney, for the Republican Party, a strip mall developer in Florida named Mel Sembler has raised millions of dollars. So if you’re a guy like Scooter Libby -—

AMY GOODMAN: For Scooter Libby’s defense?

MURRAY WAAS: Yeah, for Scooter Libby’s defense. If press reports are right, it’s $3 million. The guy who’s in charge of that fund, who’s raised a good part of it, is a former ambassador, key Republican Party, you know, fundraiser. So, instead — you know, if President Nixon goes out, for example, and raises money under the table, that’s illegal. But what’s done nowadays is that people like Scooter Libby are taken care of. He has like a high-paying job, where he makes more money than Amy Goodman or Murray Waas or probably 90 percent of listeners for not even showing up, and then he has $3 million for his defense fund.

So, essentially, a president or vice president like Cheney can say, “Stick with us. We’ll get you the best lawyers. You could be acquitted at trial. If you’re not acquitted at trial, you have another bite at the apple, because then we’ll have you pardoned.” And so, they really take care of these guys. We saw this in Iran-Contra, the same type of thing, where the first President Bush just pardoned most of the key defendants on Christmas Eve before he left office.

AMY GOODMAN: Murray Waas, we’re going to have to leave it there. I thank you very much for being with us. Veteran investigative journalist writing for the National Journal, maintains a blog at whateveralready.blogspot.com.

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