10/15/2005

Daily Kos: NYT Writes its Story, and Miller Buries Libby

Zzzz. Too sleepy to do my own analysis. Beisdes, Hunter nails it as usual! -- law

NYT Writes its Story, and Miller Buries Libby
by Hunter
Sat Oct 15, 2005 at 07:27:02 PM CDT

The New York Times has written the story they had studiously avoided writing for months. I was prepared to be little more than bemused by it -- and in the sections earnestly trying to convey what a pickle the paper considered itself to be in, it fulfills -- but there are, in fact, concrete elements of significance scattered throughout. Let's do some analysis here, and see if there's anything new: I think that in a few areas specifically relating to Miller's testimony, and why she resisted it, there are.

Unfortunately, this is going to be largely stream of consciousness. Let's look at the Times article first, which seriously damages Libby. Then we'll move on to Miller's own piece, which utterly destroys him.

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The Name

On June 23, 2003, Ms. Miller visited Mr. Libby at the Old Executive Office Building in Washington. Mr. Libby was the vice president's top aide and had played an important role in shaping the argument for going to war in Iraq. He was "a good-faith source who was usually straight with me," Ms. Miller said in an interview.

Her assignment was to write an article about the failure to find unconventional weapons in Iraq. She said Mr. Libby wanted to talk about a diplomat's fact-finding trip in 2002 to the African nation of Niger to determine whether Iraq sought uranium there. The diplomat was Mr. Wilson, and his wife worked for the C.I.A.

Note the wording there; Miller went to the interview with questions about WMDs in Iraq. Libby "wanted to talk about" Wilson's trip. Unless that's the world's sloppiest writing, that pretty clearly says that Libby brought it up, not Miller. That's very bad news for Libby.

On July 8, two days after Mr. Wilson's article appeared in The Times, the reporter and her source met again, for breakfast at the St. Regis Hotel, near the White House.

The notebook Ms. Miller used that day includes the reference to "Valerie Flame." But she said the name did not appear in the same portion of her notebook as the interview notes from Mr. Libby.

This -- and the NYT authors repeat this construct elsewhere -- is simply pathetic. We're told here that the name, the key name, the entire crux of when Miller first learned the name Plame -- and from the misspelling, we can be fairly assured she didn't know it before she scrawled it there -- did not appear among the notes about Libby.

But we're not told where it did appear. And, says Miller, she can't remember why she wrote it.

You've seriously got to be kidding me. Seriously. This is either the worst few sentences in New York Times journalism in the last five years -- and that's saying something -- or something is being deliberately hidden.

The whole of the Plame case may -- or may not be -- cracked by simply noting where the "Valerie Flame" reference did come up. Was it in the middle of notes with another source? Scrawled in a margin? Drawn in a box with hearts and flowers around it? Was it in the same pencil/pen/marker/crayon as the notes around it? Was it BEFORE, or AFTER, the notes about her conversation with Libby?

Note one thing we can say with certainty, though: Miller first heard the name "Valerie Plame", she didn't see it. It was told to her verbally, she didn't seek it out in any online reference. Or she would have known how to spell it.

Ms. Miller returned to the subject on July 12 in a phone call with Mr. Libby. Another variant on Valerie Wilson's name - "Victoria Wilson" - appears in the notes of that call. Ms. Miller had by then called other sources about Mr. Wilson's wife. In an interview, she would not discuss her sources.

That's useful for timeline purposes. And it shows that by that time, she was hot on the trail she was hand-placed on by Libby: investigating Wilson. But, says Miller:

In the fall of 2003, after The Washington Post reported that "two top White House officials disclosed Plame's identity to at least six Washington journalists," Philip Taubman, Ms. Abramson's successor as Washington bureau chief, asked Ms. Miller and other Times reporters whether they were among the six. Ms. Miller denied it.

"The answer was generally no," Mr. Taubman said. Ms. Miller said the subject of Mr. Wilson and his wife had come up in casual conversation with government officials, Mr. Taubman said, but Ms. Miller said "she had not been at the receiving end of a concerted effort, a deliberate organized effort to put out information."

Hmm. Just hmm.

What we see here is a very, very strange part of the elephant. Miller seems to be telling us that she was not part of an "organized" effort to investigate Joseph Wilson's wife. And yet, she investigated it, and apparently while in close contact with Libby, and after an initial conversation with Libby in which Libby brought Wilson up.


Testimony

This is going to be a big deal. If Libby is charged, it's going to become a huge deal. Follow closely:

Ms. Miller authorized Mr. Abrams to talk to Mr. Libby's lawyer, Joseph A. Tate. The question was whether Mr. Libby really wanted her to testify. Mr. Abrams passed the details of his conversation with Mr. Tate along to Ms. Miller and to Times executives and lawyers, people involved in the internal discussion said.

People present at the meetings said that what they heard about the preliminary negotiations was troubling.

Mr. Abrams told Ms. Miller and the group that Mr. Tate said she was free to testify. Mr. Abrams said Mr. Tate also passed along some information about Mr. Libby's grand jury testimony: that he had not told Ms. Miller the name or undercover status of Mr. Wilson's wife.

That raised a potential conflict for Ms. Miller. Did the references in her notes to "Valerie Flame" and "Victoria Wilson" suggest that she would have to contradict Mr. Libby's account of their conversations? Ms. Miller said in an interview that she concluded that Mr. Tate was sending her a message that Mr. Libby did not want her to testify.

Now that's really, really interesting. Miller was passed the information that Libby had said he had not told her the name or undercover status of Mr. Wilson's wife. Miller took, from that, a message that Libby did not want her to talk.

Why would she possibly conclude that, unless her testimony was going to directly conflict with his? If her testimony was corroborating the accuracy of his, she wouldn't have taken that message to mean don't testify, right? If Libby was being truthful about their conversation, he would welcome Miller's testimony verifying his own. Miller, however, based on her recollections of the same conversations, concludes he wants the opposite.

Think about that. Libby says "I never told Miller about Plame's name or undercover status". Miller takes that to be a clear message that "Libby wants me to not testify."

Wow. That's pretty compelling evidence that Miller herself thought she couldn't corroborate Libby's simple statement.

Libby is in deep, deep trouble here.


The Times

Just as an aside or intermission here -- since the Times story goes roughly in chronological order -- I don't have a lot of sympathy for the explanations why NYT coverage has been so abysmal, in all aspects of the Plame case. A recognition that the paper did not want to "complicate" Miller's legal troubles is, on principle, noble enough, but shuttering the investigative powers of an entire company because the archaic "public right to know" is secondary to "don't do anything that has the slightest bearing on our own involvement with the case" has a larger tinge of editorial cowardice than anything else.

Some reporters said editors seemed reluctant to publish articles about other aspects of the case as well, like how it was being investigated by Mr. Fitzgerald. In July, Richard W. Stevenson and other reporters in the Washington bureau wrote an article about the role of Mr. Cheney's senior aides, including Mr. Libby, in the leak case. The article, which did not disclose that Mr. Libby was Ms. Miller's source, was not published.

Mr. Stevenson said he was told by his editors that the article did not break enough new ground. "It was taken pretty clearly among us as a signal that we were cutting too close to the bone, that we were getting into an area that could complicate Judy's situation," he said.

In August, Douglas Jehl and David Johnston, two other Washington reporters, sent a memo to the Washington bureau chief, Mr. Taubman, listing ideas for coverage of the case. Mr. Taubman said Mr. Keller did not want them pursued because of the risk of provoking Mr. Fitzgerald or exposing Mr. Libby while Ms. Miller was in jail.

Yeah, that's going to be a high point of the eventual movie. Think less Woodward and Bernstein, and more Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.


More Testimony

Back to the testimony. And this time, we get to hear what Miller testified to Fitzgerald.

In a folksy, conversational two-page letter dated Sept. 15, Mr. Libby assured Ms. Miller that he had wanted her to testify about their conversations all along. "I believed a year ago, as now, that testimony by all will benefit all," he wrote. And he noted that "the public report of every other reporter's testimony makes clear that they did not discuss Ms. Plame's name or identity with me."

When Ms. Miller testified before the grand jury, Mr. Fitzgerald asked her about the letter. She said she responded that it could be perceived as an effort by Mr. Libby "to suggest that I, too, would say that we had not discussed Ms. Plame's identity." But she added that "my notes suggested that we had discussed her job."

Sounds like confirmation that she thinks her testimony is conflicting with what Libby said.

But now take a look at this construct:

The next day, Mr. Bennett called Mr. Fitzgerald. He informed the prosecutor that Ms. Miller had a voluntary, personal waiver and asked Mr. Fitzgerald to restrict his questions to her conversations with Mr. Libby.

Mr. Bennett, who by now had carefully reviewed Ms. Miller's extensive notes taken from two interviews with Mr. Libby, assured Mr. Fitzgerald that Ms. Miller had only one meaningful source. He agreed to limit his questions to Mr. Libby and the Wilson matter.

Well, that's pretty interesting. Bennett asserts to Fitzgerald that Miller has only one "meaningful" source in the Plame case. But up above, we have Miller stating that the name "Valerie Flame" was in the same notebook as her notes with Libby, but it didn't come from Libby and she doesn't know where it did come from. And remember, she heard it, she didn't look it up anywhere.

Uh-huh. It's enough to give you a nosebleed.


Miller's Article

All right, for the sake of purity I wanted to get through the NYT piece before tackling what Miller herself said, in her own article about what happened, and what she testified to.

Now let's see if her article confirms or smashes our Kremlinology above. Nothing like blogging on the fly...

My notes indicate that well before Mr. Wilson published his critique, Mr. Libby told me that Mr. Wilson's wife may have worked on unconventional weapons at the C.I.A.

Well, there you go. Can't get much more direct than that.

Miller says "my notes do not show that Mr. Libby identified Mr. Wilson's wife by name. Nor do they show that he described Valerie Wilson as a covert agent". The exact name is only relevant as a clue to who said what when, but if Libby was speaking of "Wilson's wife" "well before" Wilson's July 6th op-ed, whether he specifically mentioned her name isn't particularly significant.

The covert agent part is interesting, and will be a prime aspect of the defense in this case, if charges are filed. The assertion will be that Plame was known to be an analyst, and not an operative. There's two problems with that. First, of course, is that Novak specifically called her an operative. But second, it goes directly to the heart of how Libby knew the information he was conveying.

If Libby knew her CIA status, but not her name, and not specifically that she was an operative, and had an opinion of her relationship to Wilson's Niger trip that, to the best of our knowledge, whas characterized as such in only one source, it doesn't absolve him. If anything, it provides fairly rock-solid proof of a long-held presumption: that the leak of Plame's identity came from the classified State Department memo describing her (perceived) relationship to the Wilson trip.

Ergo, Libby was telling Miller information that was explicitly classified, from a classified source.

Ergo, espionage law comes into play.

Ergo, he's about to be charged. Bet on it.

Outing an agent may only be ancillary to the charges brought. The charges brought, specifically, may be intentionally leaking classified information. Plame's undercover status may, ironically enough, not be the central point of evidence.

And Miller's even nailed him with a motive.

As I told the grand jury, I recalled Mr. Libby's frustration and anger about what he called "selective leaking" by the C.I.A. and other agencies to distance themselves from what he recalled as their unequivocal prewar intelligence assessments. The selective leaks trying to shift blame to the White House, he told me, were part of a "perverted war" over the war in Iraq. I testified about these conversations after spending 85 days in jail for refusing to cooperate with the grand jury inquiry. Having been summoned to testify before the grand jury, I went to jail instead, to protect my source - Mr. Libby - because he had not communicated to me his personal and voluntary permission to speak.

Pow. Mr. Opportunity, meet Mr. Motive. And in the exact same conversations that Libby's discussion of Wilson's wife took place.

From here on in, we can expect Libby to be charged. The only question is what evidence Fitzgerald may or may not have that leaking this information was part of a multiperson conspiracy to distribute it.

Based on Rove's conversation with Time reporter Cooper, he may have a very, very strong case for that as well.

More later, but this is already long enough. Add your own analysis below

Daily Kos: NYT Writes its Story, and Miller Buries Libby

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