On June 8, 2003, George Stephanopolous and Condi Rice had the following exchange:
S: But let me stop you right there, because many in the United States goverment knew before then that this...
R: George, somebody, somebody down may have known. But I will tell you that when this issue was raised with the intelligence community--because we actually do go through the process of asking the intelligence community, Can you say this? Can you say that? Can you say this? -- the intelligence community did not know at that time, or at levels that got to us, that this...
S: But let me show you something here, this is...
R: ...serious questions about this report.
S: [Reads from Kristof's article] That's hardly low level, the vice president's office.
R: Well, the vice president's office may have asked for that report. [snip] ... this particular report, it was not known to us that it was a forgery.
The next day, the very first thing Scooter Libby recorded in his notes was that the President was interested in the Kristof report about the SOTU.
In his grand jury testimony, Libby couldn't provide any details regarding the circumstances of the note, beyond suggesting that he told the Vice President of the President's interest in the issue.
Q. And do you recall what the occasion was that, that you came to learn that the President was interested in the Kristof article?
A. I, I don't. It could be something that somebody said to me that I -- it doesn't mean that I observed it. It may be something someone said to me and I wrote it down.
Q. Any recollection of discussing with the Vice President the interest of the President in the Kristof article?
A. I don't, I don't have a recollection of it.
Q. Did you ever recall talking to the President himself about the Kristof article?
A. No, I don't, I don't think so.
Q. And do you ever recall Vice President Cheney talking to you about the President's interest in the Kristof article in particular?
A. Specifically that? I don't, sir. The way this note is written, I take it to be something that someone told me that I wanted to mention to the Vice President, not something the Vice President said to me.
Q. Okay. And do you have any recollection as to who would have told you that?
A. No, sir. It could have been a senior staff meeting, it could have been 15,or 20 of us gathered. It could have been somebody saying something.
This is, to the best of my knowledge of the evidence we've seen so far, the first involvement of George Bush in the events that led directly to the outing of Valerie Plame. Mind you, OVP had already been responding to it. In mid-May, the CIA sent Eric Edelman some backup information on the Wilson trip. According to Marc Grossman, Libby first asked about Wilson on May 29 (though Libby disputes that and Carl Ford appears to corroborate Libby).
But on June 9, the day Libby records the President expressing an interest in the issue, events start to go into hyperdrive. The fourth item in Libby's notes from that day records the answer Craig Schmall gave Libby (he says in response to a phone request) regarding whether or not there was evidence OVP had received a copy of Wilson's report.
Schmall explained that there was no record of the OVP receiving Wilson's report, but it was used in response to a Donald Rumsfeld request in March 2003 (in case you're wondering, that report was written on March 11, still 8 days before the start of the war).
And then, that same afternoon, Schmall blitzed OVP with more backup on the Wilson trip. At 1:19 PM, Schmall sent Libby a copy of a WINPAC report sent to Rumsfeld outlining the state of the Niger intelligence before the war. At 2:42 PM, Schmall sent a copy of Cheney's briefings from February 13 and 14 2002, showing Cheney inquiring into the Niger allegations and then being told that "we have tasked our clandestine sources ... to seek additional information on the contract." At 3:53, Schmall sent a copy of a report sent to Congress on April 3 summarizing the intelligence relating to the Niger allegations. All of these reports came faxed with the message: "Please pass to Mr. Hannah and Mr. Libby ASAP."
In other words, on the same day that the President first expressed an interest in the allegations in the Kristof article, OVP spends a big part of its day researching the allegations. And sometime that week, Vice President Cheney personally does research and learns--and passes on--that Valerie Wilson worked in CPD.
Of course, much of the bustle later in the week is also preparation to the Pincus article that would be published June 12. The events of June 11, in particular, appear to be Libby's attempt to get CIA to state (presumably in time for the Pincus article) that State and Defense, in addition to OVP, had been interested in the Niger allegations. June 11 is also the day when Cathie Martin writes an email to Libby's assistant Jenny Mayfield asking for time that afternoon to talk about the Pincus article. Even so, Martin doesn't remember the activities of the week to be primarily about the Pincus article.
W This says you had a call on 6/10 and 6/11.
W You were preparing for Pincus's article.
M I don't recollect how it happened.
W do you recollect Pincus came out on June 12.
W Do you recollect that you had the [conversation] before the article came out?
M I don't think I can recollect that. I can't place it there in my memory.
Don't get me wrong. A big part of the flurry of activity is preparation to the Pincus article. But it appears to be preparation to the Pincus article conducted with the urgency created by Bush's distinct interest in the outcome.
As we hear about what a nice guy Libby is tomorrow--from some of the Bush Administration's most important supporters--let's not forget that President Bush was involved in this from the time it started to go nuclear. When the investigation started to close in on Libby, Cheney barely backed off accusing the President of asking Libby to put his head in the meat grinder. Funny, then, that a month before the Plame leak, Libby may have been the one telling Cheney of Bush's interest in the Kristof allegations.