I was interested to see how Hubris dealt with Libby's NIE claims, since so far no one in the conventional media has figured out where they lead (though I'll talk about how NBC may be catching on below). Not surprisingly, Corn and Isikoff appear to still miss the point. But that doesn't mean their treatment of the NIE claim is worthless: they interviewed a "lawyer close to the principals" about the claims, which provides insight on how Libby's team may deal with this in court.
Why the NIE Claims Are Important
- Scooter Libby has instructions in his notes to leak something to Judy Miller on July 8, 2003
- When questioned about the notation, Libby claimed the instructions related to the NIE
- Libby went further to make certain claims about the NIE leak--that the leak was authorized by Dick Cheney and George Bush, that such an authorization was totally unique in his career, and that Libby was so worried about leaking the NIE to Judy that he double checked to make sure he was authorized to do so
- Libby later made claims that directly contradicted these assertions--most importantly, even though Libby claims the Judy leak was totally unique in his career, he also leaked the NIE to three other people: Bob Woodward, a journalist on July 2, and the WSJ
- Also, in spite of the fact that Libby says he was really worried about getting authorization to leak the NIE to Judy, he's not really sure whether he was authorized to leak the NIE to Woodward; his concern about the leak to Judy only extended to whatever he leaked to Judy
In short, Libby is almost certainly lying about what he was authorized to leak to Judy on July 8, 2003, in a meeting where Judy Miller admits he talked about Valerie Plame, and where Libby tried to get her to falsely attribute the story. Or let me put it even more plainly:
Evidence suggests that the Vice President of the United States authorized the outing of the CIA spy who could prove Cheney ignored evidence that Iraq didn't have WMDs.
What Hubris Says about the NIE Claims
Now Hubris doesn't read the basic details the same way I do. Here are the two passages that treat the NIE leak in the book:
In late June, Cheney discussed with Bush the steady stream of negative news stories about the administration's prewar use of the Iraq intelligence, according to a lawyer close to the principals. Cheney and Bush agreed that to refute the criticism they ought to divulge portions of the classified National Intelligence Estimate on weapons of mass destruction that had hastily been prepared prior to the congressional vote on the Iraq War resolution. "The president declassified the information and authorized and directed the vice president to get it out," the lawyer said. How that would be done--who should leak the information and to what reporters--was left entirely up to Cheney, the lawyer noted.
This was an extraordinary move. Before the war, it would have been a firing offense--if not a federal crime--for a government official to disclose any of the contents of the NIE. But now, with the administration under fierce attack for having manipulated intelligence, Bush was directing the vice president to leak parts of the NIE to protect the White House. Bush aides would later say that Bush possessed the authority to engage in such an act of automatic declassification. But the information would be used selectively--not to inform the public but to buttress a political argument. (250)
The passage goes on to describe how Libby leaked the information to Woodward on June 27. It describes what Woodward has publicly testified to have heard from Libby, including Libby's favorite word "vigorous." And it notes, rightly, that Libby wasn't revealing the full truth about the NIE's comments, "he was marshaling evidence to defend his client, the vice president."
Then, later, Hubris includes a second long passage on the NIE leaks, this time in regard to Judy.
Once again, Cheney had given his chief of staff the green light to disclose information from the classified National Intelligence Estimate. The idea was to strike back--at Wilson, at the critics--with the CIA's own words. Libby had also consulted David Addington, Cheney's longtime chief counsel and perhaps the White House's most notorious proponent of unbridled presidential power. Addington, according to Libby's later testimony, had reassured Libby that if Bush had authorized the disclosure of this classified information, that amounted to declassification of the material. This was the first time Libby had seen secret information declassified only on the say-so of a president. And now he was going to go further with Miller than he had with Woodward in revealing the contents of the NIE. He would be feeding sensitive information to a reporter whose stories had bolstered the WMD case for war--and who had an interest in defending the prewar claims. It was, one senior administration official later said, "Scooter's black op."
He cited classified intelligence reports from 2002 on the Niger charge. He claimed, according to Miller's subsequent account, that an agency cable based on Wilson's trip had "barely made it out of the bowels of the CIA." He noted that the cable showed Wilson had actually returned with information indicating that in 1999 Iraq had pursued expanding commercial relations with Niger, which included (or so one Niger official thought) uranium purchases.
He told her the NIE had "firmly concluded that Iraq was seeking uranium." (Libby at one point read from a piece of paper he pulled from his pocket.) He claimed that the detailed assessments in the NIE "were even stronger" than those in the slick, declassified CIA "white paper" released the previous October. But in making these assertions about the NIE, Libby was again being misleading and highly selective: the NIE hadn't "firmly concluded" that Iraq was seeking uranium. (260-1)
Incidentally, I can't find any attribution in the notes for the "Scooter's black ops" quote--can any of you? Perhaps it's the same guy as the "lawyer close to the principals"--which might make David Addington, a Senior Administration Official who also happens to be a "lawyer close to the principals," a good candidate for their source.
What's Wrong with Hubris' Treatment of the NIE Claims
Now, there are several funny things about Hubris' treatment of the NIE claims, all of which appear to be attempts to cover up the contradictory parts of Libby's story. These passages:
- Simultaneously talk about the "declassification" and the "leak" of the NIE and suggest sharing declassified information is a crime
- Make no mention of the numerous other descriptions in Hubris of classified information leaked to journalists
- Describe a multiple-part declassification of the NIE
- Claim there's a difference in substance between what Libby gave Woodward and what he gave Judy
"Declassification" versus "leak" versus "crime"
So here's the first problem. These passages don't seem to know whether the NIE was really declassified or not. They say the NIE was declassified, but then talk about leaking it selectively, as if, once it were declassified, it mattered who you leaked it to. In one sentence, it describes, "divulg[ing] portions of the classified" NIE, suggesting Bush had authorized the leak of information that remained classified; in the next sentence the lawyer claims Bush declassified the NIE. This seems to be an attempt to justify Libby's claims that this NIE leaking was unique in his career. But it's only sustainable if Bush and Cheney actuallly authorized the leaking of the still-classified NIE. Which is not what Libby claimed.
Other examples of leaked information
Then, Hubris goes on (with what appears to be Corn's and Isikoff's own synthesis of the issue) to suggest that "it would have been a firing offense--if not a federal crime--for a government official to disclose any of the contents of the NIE." Well, yeah, it would have been a firing offense and a crime if anyone ever chose to pursue it. But also would be a totally banal event, something that goes on all the time with this--and all--Administrations.
The Hubris synthesis is all the more absurd given the number of instances where Corn and Isikoff document one or another journalist receiving a leak of classified information from the Administration. Hubris describes the NSC giving WHIG an opportunity to use the aluminum tube leak to Judy and Michael Gordon to its advantage. (36) It shows the volume of other classified information gleaned from anonymous leaks (including SAOs) in Judy's and Gordon's September 2002 aluminum tube and mushroom cloud article. It shows Michael Gerson boasting that, if he couldn't get the super-secret "new" information on the Niger uranium claims into a Fall 2003 Bush speech, he would leak it.
If they didn't use it in the speech, "it's something we might leak to The New York Times," Gerson said, according to Gibson. (85)
Curiously, Corn and Isikoff don't mention that Judy and William Broad got leaked a copy of the then-classified White Paper on the purported Mobile Bioweapons Labs. That example is remarkably similar to the purported NIE leak, the premature leak of something that would be declassified within a matter of days. But even without that leak of classified information, Corn and Isikoff provide many examples of times when the Administration leaked highly classified documents for political gain.
Equally curious, Corn and Isikoff don't question why Libby and Dick would go to such lengths to leak the NIE (or whatever it is they claim to have done) when they were both already involved in the declassification of it? The NIE leak to the WSJ appeared on July 17; the NIE was declassified on July 18. Libby knew about both processes. Why get presidential sanction for such leaks?
The multi-step declassification process
On a related issue, Corn and Isikoff describe this odd declassification process to have happened in two stages. First, they describe the declassification process before they describe the leak to Woodward. Then, they suggest that Cheney "once again" declassified the document before Libby leaked to Judy on July 8. (They don't mention the as-yet unnamed journalist who received the leak on July 2.)
They (or the "lawyer close to the principals") describe it in this way to hide one glaring problem with Libby's NIE story. He first said that the whole insta-declassification process happened on July 2. But that would mean his leak to Woodward on June 27 would have broken the law. So then he simply said, "well, it must have happened sooner." Which of course leads to another glaring problem with Libby's story. Libby describes this whole process to be utterly unique in his career, he describes being very worried about whether leaking the NIE to Judy was really legal. But he also describes not remembering whether the NIE had been declassified before he leaked it to Woodward.
The Hubris version just eliminates this problem by inventing a two-stage declassification process. Which is remarkably close to Wells' version of Libby's grand jury testimony:
MR. WELLS: Just so the record is clear what the grand jury testimony is. He said that the disclosure of the material was a go, then it was a stop and then it was a go. Then he is asked at some point was it possible that you went too fast. He says I could have made a mistake but I know I was supposed to go, then I was told to stop, and then I was told to go.
But it still doesn't explain why Libby claims to care so much about staying within the law, yet doesn't know whether he was within the law when he leaked the classified NIE ("a firing offense" and "a federal offense" Corn and Isikoff remind us) to Woodward.
The Woodward leak versus the Judy leak
Then Corn and Isikoff try to explain, again, why Libby made such a big deal out of the leak to Judy when he didn't make a big deal out of the Woodward leak. They suggest "he was going to go further with Miller than he had with Woodward." But I'm not entirely sure how they see the Judy leak to be different.
They suggest, for example, that the leak to Judy was more problematic than the leak to Woodward because Judy had a self-interest in the material:
He would be feeding sensitive information to a reporter whose stories had bolstered the WMD case for war--and who had an interest in defending the prewar claims.
Though I don't know how this affects the legal issues surrounding the case at all.
Then Corn and Isikoff suggest maybe Libby gave more information to Judy than he had to Woodward. Curiously, the leave out the word "vigorously" in their description of the leak to Judy--Bob Woodward only revealed Libby had used that word with him after learning that detail about the leak to Judy. But none of the details suggests that Judy received more of the contents of the NIE than Woodward. Corn and Isikoff seem to make a big deal out of the news that Libby read something to Judy. But it's not clear how Libby shared the NIE details with Woodward, nor is it clear Libby was reading the NIE to Judy, as opposed to one of the other two documents he leaked to her on July 8.
Corn and Isikoff do reveal, working from Judy's version of the testimony, that Libby leaked details of the CIA report on Wilson's trip. But this doesn't help the logic of the Hubris narrative. It provides another example where Libby leaked classified information to a journalist (did he claim the CIA report was declassified??), which is further proof the NIE leak was no different than Washington as usual. And it really doesn't relate to the NIE claims.
In short, they provide no evidence to prove that Libby was "going further" with Judy than he was with Woodward. Unless they're referring to the fact that it was a breakfast meeting...!?!?!?
What that leaves
All of which suggests Libby's lawyers still have a problem. They're left with the same inconsistencies in Libby's story. And they're left with the increasing likelihood that "Scooter's black op" had nothing to do with the leak of the NIE and everything to do with the leak of the classified identity of a WMD operative.
NBC is catching on
But, as I said, I think the traditional media is beggining to catch on--or at least NBC is (ABC, of course, is quite busy pumping out propaganda, so I don't expect them to notice any time soon).
On MTP yesterday, Russert suckered Dick into reiterating the claim that he had the legal ability to declassify information.
MR. RUSSERT: There was a story in the National Journal that Cheney authorized Libby to leak confidential information. Can you confirm or deny that?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I have the authority as vice president under executive order issued by the president to classify and declassify information. And everything I’ve done is consistent with those authorities.
But then Russert made the logical follow-up, the same one I'm making here. And all of a sudden. Dick got quiet.
MR. RUSSERT: Could you declassify Valerie Plame’s status as an operative?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I’ve said all I’m going to say on the subject, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think the president should pardon Scooter Libby?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I’ve said all I’m going to say on the subject, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: You wouldn’t support a pardon?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I’ve said all I’m going to say on the subject.
Russert apparently is trying to live down his effort to claim a First Amendment protection for his cocktail weenies. Or maybe he's just getting pressure from Tweety, who thinks "Dick Cheney has so many apologists it's ridiculous." But at least Russert's asking the right questions.
Declassifying an NIE is not a unique event, as the subsequent declassification of it two weeks after Libby and Dick claim to have insta-declassified it shows. Declassifiying the identity of a covert operative--now that would be unique. And almost certainly a criminal act.