According to lawyers, former Secretary of State Colin Powell and undersecretaries, including John Bolton, gave testimony about this memo. And a lawyer for one State Department official says his client testified that, as President Bush was flying to Africa on Air Force One two years ago, Press Secretary Ari Fleischer could be seen reading the document on board.
Gosh, that's funny, because just this morning we learned from the NYT that Bolton had not listed the Plame investigation as an ongoing legal issue when he filled out a form for his UN appointment (it is possible, of course, he had not yet been asked to testify when he filled out the form).
Democrats who have been eager to focus attention on the case have urged reporters to look into the role of several other administration officials, including John R. Bolton, who was then under secretary of state for arms control and international security and has since been nominated by Mr. Bush to be ambassador to the United Nations.
In his disclosure form for his confirmation hearings, Mr. Bolton made no mention of being interviewed in the case, a government official said.
I know I said yesterday that this memo may be a red herring. And I still suspect that it might be a red herring as far as it relates to what occurred on Air Force One. But Bolton's testimony suggests that the lead-up to its publication might be significant. Bolton and his department should be a prominent feature in that memo. If he isn't, then it suggests he was involved deeply in its publication. And even if he is included, it explains why he'd be involved in its production.
Recall that the memo is the State Department's attempt to summarize its disagreement over the Niger allegations. Plame's role was just a small part of the memo--two sentences in a three-page memo. As the WaPo describes it:
Plame -- who is referred to by her married name, Valerie Wilson, in the memo -- is mentioned in the second paragraph of the three-page document, which was written on June 10, 2003, by an analyst in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), according to a source who described the memo to The Washington Post.
Almost all of the memo is devoted to describing why State Department intelligence experts did not believe claims that Saddam Hussein had in the recent past sought to purchase uranium from Niger. Only two sentences in the seven-sentence paragraph mention Wilson's wife.
The memo was drafted June 10, 2003, for Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman, who asked to be brought up to date on INR's opposition to the White House view that Hussein was trying to buy uranium in Africa.
On July 6, 2003, shortly after Wilson went public on NBC's "Meet the Press" and in The Post and the New York Times discussing his trip to Niger, the INR director at the time, Carl W. Ford Jr., was asked to explain Wilson's statements for Powell, according to sources familiar with the events. He went back and reprinted the June 10 memo but changed the addressee from Grossman to Powell. [emphasis mine]
We know from the SSCI report there are several moments when people in State challenged the Niger allegations:
- An account of Wilson's trip, the planning meeting of which an INR analyst attended (40-1)
- An number of comments from INR analysts, particularly those written by a person described in the SSCI as "the Iraq nuclear analyst"
- Two cables from Ambassador Owens-Kirkpatrick describing her meeting and General Fulford's meeting with the President of Niger (37, 41)
- A report entitled Niger: Sale of Uranium to Iraq is Unlikely, written by Greg Thielmann (42)
- Disagreements INR analysts registered against the NIE prepared in September 2002, including the text box that famously got separated from the Niger findings (52-4)
- Two records of the INR nuclear analyst questioning the Niger forgeries, first in an e-mail written as soon as he received the documents (October 2002) and then in an email shared with analysts from several agencies (January 2002)
- Powell's speech to the UN, in which he had decided not to mention the Niger allegations after personally assessing the intelligence over the course of four days (66-8)
When you look at it, it's pretty clear State shouldn't have had anything to worry about, once it was discovered that the Niger documents were false. After all, they had been questioning the documents (and the allegation more generally) from day one.
But there are a few reasons why Colin Powell got put in the difficult position of trying to explain the forgeries away: "We were aware of this piece of evidence, and it was provided in good faith to the [U.N.] inspectors."
- The documents were passed from SISMI to CIA and the Embassy in Italy, but only the Embassy passed the documents back to anyone in the US--and they passed them directly to Bolton's department (58)
- Colin Powell made a speech in Davos on January 26, 2003 unquestioningly referencing the allegations (interestingly, the SSCI report does not talk about how that speech was vetted) (64)
- State produced a "fact sheet" summarizing the problems with Iraq's December 7 declaration to the UN (60-1)
The fact sheet is particularly important because it served a central role in our justification for the war at the UN. It was primarily the fact sheet, for example, that caused State to be the target of criticism in a UN and CIA-sourced article slamming the intelligence on the war published in the first few days of the war [hat tip to littlesky for pointing me to this article].
"The policy guys make decisions about things like this," said one official, referring to the uranium evidence. When the State Department "fact sheet" was issued, the official said, "people winced and thought, 'Why are you repeating this trash?' "
The State Department's December fact sheet, issued to point out glaring omissions in a declaration Iraq said accounted for all of its prohibited weapons, said the declaration "ignores efforts to procure uranium from Niger." Asked this week to comment on the fact sheet, a CIA spokesman referred questions on the matter to the State Department, where a spokesman said "everything we wrote in the fact sheet was cleared with the agency."
The State Department spokesman here may be parsing words. Because the SSCI tells a slightly different story about the way that document was vetted.
The fact sheet was written in John Bolton's shop by the Non-Proliferation Special Assistant, who may be Fred Fleitz (Fleitz describes his role as Special Assistant in his testimony at the Bolton hearings) at the request of Richard Boucher. The Special Assistant prepared the draft on December 18 and sent the document to WINPAC's Director at CIA for edits (incidentally, Fleitz in his Bolton testimony is adamant about the central role of WINPAC, his CIA home, in vetting documents). NSC received the document from WINPAC; they suggested the change of the word "Niger" to "Africa." Only the next day did the Special Assitant email the draft to INR.
At 11:28 a.m. on the morning of December 19, 2002, NP e-mailed its draft fact sheet to several offices in the State Department, including INR's Office of Analysis for Strategic, Proliferation, and Military Issues (SPM). NP sent the e-mail to the senior analyst in the office and did not indicate that there was a response deadline for comments. At 12:20 p.m. the senior analyst passed the fact sheet to three other analysts to solicit comments. At 1:12 p.m. the _____ Iraq nuclear analyst in SPM sent comments to NP requesting that the word "reported" be added before "efforts" in the sentence, "the declaration ignores efforts to procure uranium from Niger." The e-mail added, "as you know, INR assess this reporting as dubious. Policymakers are entitled to leave out the word 'reported,' but the INR/SPM would not sign off on such a move." The INR's comments did not reach NP before the fact sheet had already been forwarded to the Office of Public Affairs. NP did not try to retrieve the document from PA to make the INR's recommended change.
According to the State Department Inspector General, shortly after the fact sheet was posted, NP drafted a cable to all embassies which included the fact sheet, Ambassador Negroponte's speech, and Secretary Powell's public remarks. By this time, aware that the Niger reference in the Negroponte speech had been changed [by the NSC], NP changed the text of the fact sheet that was included in the cable to "abroad" instead of "Niger." None of the text was ever changed to qualify the uranium information as "reported" as recommended by INR. (61; emphasis mine)
So the single biggest thing State did wrong in the lead-up to war was done at Bolton's direction, clearly defying State's own intelligence analysts.
Which is why I think the requirement that Bolton testify to the grand jury about his role is notable. Of course, that means that Bolton had a role in preparing the INR memo, after the time when Dick Cheney had already asked for a work-up on Wilson. If we learned anything in Bolton's appointment hearings, we know that Bolton has been known to misrepresent his role in hassling analysts, particularly as it relates to the vetting process. And we know that as recently as last spring, State was lying about Bolton's role in the Niger fact sheet. From a Henry Waxman memo (PDF) that complains about excessive secrecy,
In April 2004, the State Department used the designation "sensitive but unclassified" to conceal unclassified information about the role of John Bolton, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control, in the creation of a fact sheet distributed to the United Nations that falsely claimed Iraq had sought uranium from Niger.
On July 21, 2003, I wrote to Secretary of State Colin Powell, asking for an explanation of the role of John Bolton, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, in creating the document. On September 25, 2003, the State Department responded with a definitive denial: "Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, John R. Bolton, did not play a role in the creation of this document." [emphasis mine]
Note the dates closely. Waxman first requested information from Powell in July 2003, right after Plame's identity had been leaked and at a time when Cheney was aggressively trying to deny any knowledge that the Niger allegations were bunk. Then State lies to hide Bolton's role in September, at a time when CIA was pressing hard for an investigation into the Plame outing. (Note, it's also just 10 days after David Wurmser, another of Bolton's assistants and a neocon in excellent standing, was moved to Cheney's office.)
What does this mean for the Plame case (as opposed to Bolton's fitness to be ambassador to the UN)?
First, it may explain why the INR memo did not get circulated to Powell sooner. It was dated June 10, but Powell did not see it until July 7. We know Bolton's involvement in the vetting process had held things up--or even scuttled them--before. More importantly, if Bolton was involved in the production of the document, it might mean that he was battling with INR over what to include. At the least, I suspect Bolton would have tried to remove any mention and responsibility for the Iraq fact sheet, as someone at State did for him in September 2002. But it might mean Bolton pushed to include other details or a particular spin in the memo. And keep in mind that Fred Fleitz probably knew Valerie Plame and her clandestine status from his other home at WINPAC.
Did John Bolton intervene to change the contents of that memo? And given that he apparently didn't disclose his involvement on his appointment form, did he subsequently lie about it to the Grand Jury?
MSNBC implies that other undersecretaries were asked to testify in addition to Bolton. I presume that includes Marc Grossman, who commissioned the memo. If Bolton misrepresented his role in the memo, I wonder if Grossman would set the record straight.
Breaking breaking, you gotta love breaking!!
Clemons is now reporting that Bolton has always been a very good source for Judy Miller.