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Fri

13

Jun

2008

McClellan to Testify Before Congress About Bush Administration’s Role in Plame Leak
Friday, 13 June 2008 04:26
by Jason Leopold

Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan has agreed to testify before the House Judiciary Committee next week about the White House’s role in the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame.

McClellan’s attorneys, Michael and Jane Tigar, said the former White House official would give sworn testimony to the congressional committee June 20.

“I have extended an invitation to Mr. McClellan to testify before the Judiciary Committee after discussions between Committee staff and his attorneys,” said John Conyers, the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, in a statement released Monday. “In his book, Mr. McClellan suggests that senior White House officials may have obstructed justice and engaged in a cover-up regarding the Valerie Plame leak. This alleged activity could well extend beyond the scope of the offenses for which Scooter Libby has been convicted and deserves further attention.”

A jury convicted Libby last year of four counts, leading to a sentence of 30 months in jail. However, Bush commuted the sentence to eliminate jail time and left open the possibility that Libby might get a full pardon before Bush leaves office.

However, the White House may assert executive privilege and attempt to block McClellan from testifying, White House press secretary Dana Perino told reporters last week.

McClellan was dragged into the middle of the Plame controversy in September 2003, after the CIA – angered by the blowing of Plame’s cover – got the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation into the leaking of her classified identity.
It fell to McClellan to steer reporters – and the public – away from suspicions that Bush’s inner circle was implicated in exposing an undercover CIA officer, an act that Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, once had likened to treason.

In the new book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and the Culture of Washington Deception, McClellan says George W. Bush’s political guru Karl Rove arranged a private meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby in 2005 when the two men were under mounting suspicion for leaking Plame’s identity.

Calling the scene “one moment during the leak episode that I am reluctant to discuss,” McClellan writes in his new memoir “in 2005, during a time when attention was focusing on Rove and Libby, [the meeting] sticks vividly in my mind. …

“Following [a meeting in Chief of Staff Andy Card’s office], Scooter Libby was walking to the entryway as he prepared to depart when Karl turned to get his attention. ‘You have time to visit?’ Karl asked ‘Yeah,’ replied Libby.”

“I have no idea what they discussed, but it seemed suspicious for these two, whom I had never noticed spending any one-on-one time together, to go behind closed doors and visit privately,” McClellan writes.

“At least one of them, Rove, it was publicly known at the time, had at best misled me by not sharing relevant information, and credible rumors were spreading that the other, Libby, had done at least as much,” McClellan said. “I don’t know what they discussed, but what would any knowledgeable person reasonably and logically conclude was the topic?”

Conyers said in a prepared statement May 30 when details of the book were leaked to the media that if McClellan’s claims about the White House’s role in the leak are true it “could amount to obstruction of justice beyond that for which Mr. Libby has already been convicted.”  

“I find Mr. McClellan's revelations about attempts to cover-up the Valerie Plame leak extremely troubling. Particularly disturbing is McClellan's assertion that he was specifically directed by Andy Card to 'vouch' for Scooter Libby after the investigation had begun,” Conyers said.

Mclellan also alleges in the book that President Bush told him he authorized the leak of the highly classified National Intelligence Estimate to reporters aimed at discrediting Ambassador Wilson, who had challenged the truthfulness of Bush’s pre-invasion claims that Iraq had purchased yellowcake uranium from Niger.

During the leak investigation, it was revealed that Bush authorized portions of the classified National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq’s alleged WMD to be disseminated to select reporters as part of the anti-Wilson campaign. Cheney dispatched Libby on that mission.

At Libby’s trial last year, it was also revealed that former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz contacted a person in the editorial department of The Wall Street Journal and asked the individual to write a critical story about Joseph Wilson, who publicly accused the Bush administration weeks earlier of "twisting" intelligence to win public and Congressional support for the Iraq war.

Wilson, a diplomat who had served in Iraq and Africa, was selected by the CIA’s non-proliferation office to travel to Niger in early 2002 to examine the Iraq-yellowcake allegations. Wilson returned to the United States and reported to CIA officials that the claims appeared to have no merit, a finding that matched with inquiries from other U.S. officials.

On July 17, 2003, 11 days after Wilson wrote an op-ed in The New York Times challenging the veracity of the Bush administration's prewar claims. Wolfowitz faxed the Wall Street Journal a set of "talking points" about the former ambassador that the paper's editors could use to discredit him in print.

Wolfowitz’s role in the leak case was revealed during Libby’s criminal trial last year

According to Libby's March 2004 grand jury transcripts, he said that Vice President Cheney discussed with him getting Wolfowitz to contact the Journal to leak the NIE as a way of undermining Wilson.

"After July 14, in that week, the Vice President thought we should still try and get the [NIE] out. And so he asked me to talk to the Wall Street Journal. I don't have as good a relationship with the Wall Street Journal as Secretary Wolfowitz did, and so we talked to Secretary Wolfowitz about trying to get that point across [to the Journal], and he undertook to do so," Libby testified.

The Journal printed, verbatim, Wolfowitz's talking points in an editorial in its July 17, 2003, edition and then misled its readers about the source of the information.

According to the editorial, "Yellowcake Remix," the Journal said the data the newspaper received about Iraq's interest in uranium "does not come from the White House," despite the fact that Libby testified that he personally lobbied Wolfowitz to leak the NIE to the Journal, and that arguably Wolfowitz's position as Undersecretary of Defense made him a senior member of the Bush administration.

As the leak probe got underway In September 2003, Bush professed to know nothing about the controversy and publicly called on anyone with information to step forward. At the time, however, he was withholding the fact that he had authorized declassification of some secrets about the Niger uranium issue and had ordered Cheney to arrange for those secrets to be given to reporters to undermine Wilson’s criticism, a fact McClellan documents in his book. McClellan wrote that a reporter asked about the veracity of rumors that Bush authorized the leak of the NIE and that he asked President Bush in April 2006 whether he authorized the NIE to be leaked.

“Yeah. I did,” Bush responded to McClellan’s query, according to former press secretary’s book. McClellan said in cable news interviews last week that Bush’s response blew him away because Bush had opposed selective leaks.

In other words, though Bush knew a great deal about how the anti-Wilson scheme got started – since he was involved in starting it – he uttered misleading public statements to conceal the White House role. That was followed by denials of involvement from Rove and Libby – issued through McClellan.

Also, since the leakers knew that Bush already was in the know, they might well have read his comments as a signal to lie, which is what they did. In early October, McClellan said he could report that political adviser Rove and National Security Council aide Elliott Abrams were not involved in the Plame leak.

That comment riled Libby, who feared that he was being hung out to dry. Libby went to his boss, Vice President Cheney, complaining, “They want me to be the sacrificial lamb,” Libby’s lawyer Theodore Wells said later.

Cheney scribbled down his feelings in a note to press secretary McClellan: “Not going to protect one staffer + sacrifice the guy the Pres that was asked to stick his head in the meat grinder because of incompetence of others.”

In the note, Cheney initially ascribed Libby’s role in going after Joe Wilson to Bush’s orders, but the Vice President apparently thought better of it, crossing out “the Pres” and putting the clause in a passive tense.

Cheney has never explained the meaning of his note, but it suggests that it was Bush who sent Libby out on the get-Wilson mission to limit damage from Wilson’s criticism of Bush’s false Niger-yellowcake claim.

Last week, Congressman Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, FBI documents obtained by a congressional committee indicate that Vice President Dick Cheney may have authorized his former deputy to leak the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson.

In a June 3 letter sent to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Rep. Henry Waxman, Democratic chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, called on the Justice Department to release transcripts of interviews that Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald conducted with President George W. Bush and Cheney about the leak of Plame's identity.

Waxman said the Justice Department has turned over to his committee redacted transcripts of interviews that federal investigators conducted with former White House political adviser Karl Rove and Cheney's former chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

According to those transcripts, Libby told federal investigators that Cheney might have told him to leak Plame's association with the CIA to reporters, Waxman said in the letter to Mukasey.

"In his interview with the FBI, Mr. Libby stated that it was ‘possible’ that Vice President Cheney instructed him to disseminate information about Ambassador [Joseph] Wilson's wife to the press. This is a significant revelation and, if true, a serious matter. It cannot be responsibly investigated without access to the Vice President's FBI interview," Waxman wrote.

Waxman's office would not release copies of the Libby-Rove transcripts or describe the contents in any detail. Fitzgerald's investigative interviews with Bush and Cheney — asking how much knowledge the President and Vice President had about the Plame leak — have not been disclosed.
 
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