9/30/2005

David Corn: When you already have a fall guy, use him

A CIA-Did-It Defense for Scooter Libby?/Was Judy Miller a Martyr for a Mistake?

When you already have a fall guy, use him--especially if he's a dead man.

Could that be the legal strategy of I. Lewis Libby (a.k.a. Scooter), Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, in the Plame/CIA leak case?

The news of the day in this scandal is that New York Times reporter Judy Miller, who was imprisoned for refusing to cooperate with special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, is free. She and the Times cut a deal with Fitzgerald... Her position now is the same as the other reporters who are known to have cooperated with Fitzgerald: if the source waives protection, then a reporter can talk. Her crusade is over.

But back to the fall guy. The end of this sub-plot has caused Libby's team to leak his defense to the media. The Post quotes "a source familiar with Libby's account of his conversations with Miller." The odds are that source is Libby or his attorney. This super-secret source says that on July 8, 2003, Miller and Libby talked. This was six days before columnist Bob Novak disclosed the CIA identity of Valerie Wilson and two days after former Ambassador Joseph Wilson wrote an explosive Times op-ed disclosing that his trip to Niger in February 2002 had led him to conclude that President Bush had falsely claimed that Iraq had sought weapons-grade uranium in Africa. In this conversation, Miller asked Libby why Wilson had been sent on this mission by the CIA.. Libby, according to this source, told Miller that the White House was, as the Post puts it, "working with the CIA to find out more about Wilson's trip and how he was selected." Libby noted he had heard that Wilson's wife had something to do with it but he did not know where she worked.

Four or five days later, according to the Libby-friendly source, Libby and Miller spoke again. Now Libby knew more. He told Miller that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and had a role in sending Wilson to Niger. This source tells the Post that Libby did not know her name or that she was an undercover officer at the CIA. That latter point is crucial, for, under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, Fitzgerald can only prosecute Libby if Libby disclosed information about a CIA officer whom he knew was a covert employee.

There's no telling whether this source is being truthful. Karl Rove's attorney put out facts that crumbled as more information became public. But you don't have to look too far between the lines to discern Libby's cover story. It goes something like this: Wilson wrote his Times article. All hell broke loose. The White House asked, "Who authorized this trip?" Someone called the CIA for information. The CIA reported back that Wilson was contacted by the counter-proliferation office, where his wife Valerie was working. But--and here's the crucial "but"--the CIA did not tell the White House that Valerie was undercover. Thus, if any White House officials--say, Rove or Libby--repeated this information to reporters, then they may have been engaged in leaking classified and sensitive information to discredit a critic but they were not committing a crime. And who was at fault? George Tenet, the CIA director at the time.

How convenient. Tenet has already taken the fall for Bush's decision to launch the war in Iraq.

David Corn: "A CIA-Did-It Defense for Scooter Libby?/Was Judy Miller a Martyr for a Mistake?"

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