In a post earlier this week, I showed how—on the same day that Scooter Libby recorded that President Bush was interested in the Kristof column and the Wilson allegations—OVP started doing a bunch of research into Wilson's trip.
In this post, I'm going to speculate about a few more chronological details, arguing that Libby’s calls to Robert Grenier on June 11 were an attempt to get him to say on the record things that Libby already knew, but couldn’t otherwise use.
We still have no idea when Cheney told Libby that Plame worked at CPD. The note recording that event is dated June 12, but Libby admits he wrote the date and the description—“telephone VP re "Uranium in Iraq" –Kristof NYT article”—after the fact. And then he subsequently changed that date, so the dating on this is of little assistance.
But the original note seems to record a conversation between Cheney and Libby in which Cheney passed on some unfortunate news from CIA. There was some truth in the allegations Wilson made in the Kristof article—the CIA did consider the Wilson trip as a response to the Cheney request. In addition, Cheney learned the following tidbits of information:
- CounterProliferation (CPD) sent Wilson
- Wilson's wife works in CPD
- OVP and Defense and State expressed a strong interest in the Niger intelligence
The news that Wilson was sent at OVP’s behest is bad news for Libby and Cheney, because it means damage control is going to be more difficult. They can't just say Wilson is wrong on all counts, because CIA backs up his claim that Wilson was sent at Cheney's behest. With that in mind Cheney and Libby brainstorm talking points to respond. At first, they brainstorm three talking points. OVP:
- Didn't know about the mission
- Didn't get a report back [from CIA]
- Didn't have any indication [the documents were forgeries until the IAEA told them]
But then Libby sees one of the extraneous pieces of information Cheney shared—the news that OVP and Defense and State all expressed an interest in the intelligence. Wouldn't it be a good idea, Libby seems to say, to tell people that OVP wasn't the only Department interested in the Niger intelligence?
Cheney responds that they should "hold > Get agency to answer that." That CIA should have to say it, not OVP.
In his grand jury testimony, Libby claims the conversation happened in preparation for the Pincus article—which appears true. There's one talking point in the Pincus article that wasn't in Cheney and Libby's talking points—that an "aide" raised this issue. This is a lie, as the notes from Cheney's briefing makes clear, since Cheney, not an aide, asked about the trip. It is a lie that Pincus confirmed came from Libby. But it does admit, kind of, the most damaging piece of news OVP learned from Cheney’s source: that OVP was behind Wilson’s trip.
But two of the other three talking points do show up on Pincus' article.
The CIA's decision to send an emissary to Niger was triggered by questions raised by an aide to Vice President Cheney during an agency briefing on intelligence circulating about the purported Iraqi efforts to acquire the uranium, according to the senior officials. Cheney's staff was not told at the time that its concerns had been the impetus for a CIA mission and did not learn it occurred or its specific results [didn't know about the mission, didn't get a report back].
Cheney and his staff continued to get intelligence on the matter, but the vice president, unlike other senior administration officials, never mentioned it in a public speech. He and his staff did not learn of its role in spurring the mission until it was disclosed by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof on May 6, according to an administration official.
But the line about State and DOD is missing. From this, it's likely that the talking points were drafted in preparation for the Pincus article, but that OVP was unable to get CIA to tell Pincus that OVP and State and DOD were interested in the Niger intelligence before he wrote his article (or, perhaps, that Pincus simply didn’t believe that, though if it had come from CIA, I don't know why he wouldn't have believed that).
In other words, the days leading up to June 12 appear to have been an unsuccessful attempt to get CIA to publicly announce that OVP and State and DOD were all interested in the Niger intelligence.
That tension may provide some clue as to when and what happened with Cathie Martin’s conversations that week, particularly when we look at how Cathie Martin was working on the story on June 11. We know that Martin emailed Jenny Mayfield at 2:32 on June 11 saying she needed some time with him on the Pincus article that afternoon. But she also appears to have spoken to Libby about the Wilson stuff another time that day. Libby's calendar shows a 20 minute meeting between Martin, Libby, and Cheney at 1:05PM (just after a Deputies Committee meeting at which Grossman likely told Libby of Plame's CIA employ). But we know that Libby called Robert Grenier for more information at 1:15 PM that day—precisely halfway into the meeting. Presuming the calendar is accurate, Libby called Robert Grenier in the presence of Cheney and Martin, looking for information he likely already knew (from Grossman and almost certainly from Cheney). That suggests Cheney, Martin, and Libby discussed how to respond to Pincus, and that (presumably not telling Martin of the details they were after) they called Grenier for the missing piece: An on-the-record statement saying that State and DOD had been interested in the intelligence as well.
Libby didn't get Grenier immediately. Instead, Grenier called back around 2, learned what Libby was looking for, did some research, and prepared an answer: Valerie sent Joe, Plame worked in CPD, and DOD and State were also interested in the intelligence. Will CIA be willing to say the last bit publicly? Libby asked. I don’t see why not, Grenier said, have your press person speak to my press person. This leads to a conversation between Harlow and Martin. Perhaps Harlow agrees to make a statement—but if he does, it comes too late for the Pincus article. Also, such a statement doesn’t make it into Martin’s talking points on Wilson that she was still using almost a month later.
There seem to be two explanations for this: either the Cheney note is actually a note from Libby's conversation with Grenier (remember, he wrote "VP" sometime after he wrote the note itself). Or, OVP already had the talking points set up—and they had just called Grenier to try to solicit this information out of him. Perhaps, even, they were trying to make sure Cathie Martin learned of the information Cheney already knew, but via a third party source that couldn’t be traced back to the Vice President.
I lean toward the latter—it seems highly unlikely that Libby would have made up the conversation with Cheney and stuck to that story over four years and a trial. Which means the Libby-Cheney conversation happened sometime before the Grenier conversation (and therefore further suggests that, as has been assumed all along, Cheney was indeed Libby’s first source for Plame’s identity). And the Grenier conversation was simply an attempt to set somebody up to tell Libby, Martin, and the press the same information via a different source.
This suggests something critically important about the Libby-Cheney conversation, or at least about Cheney’s source for the information that Plame worked in CPD. Whoever or however Cheney learned of Plame’s identity, Cheney was unable to just go back to that source and get that person to confirm to the press that State and DOD had also been interested in the Niger intelligence. Remember, Libby has suggested that Tenet told Cheney of Plame’s ID. But if Tenet did, then for some reason Cheney couldn’t just call Tenet back up to tell him to tell Pincus that State and DOD were also interested in the Niger intelligence. Or perhaps Libby’s statement—which he never presented as definite—served to distract from Cheney’s real source. Perhaps Cheney’s source shouldn’t have had that information. Or perhaps Cheney’s source, if revealed, would prove that Cheney knew Plame was covert.
In any case, it appears from the detail that Cheney and Martin were present when Libby called Robert Grenier that they needed Grenier to reconfirm something Cheney and Libby already knew.