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Evidence Suggests White House Conspiracy

Jason Leopold / t r u t h o u t | April 7 2006

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald stated in a court filing late Wednesday in the CIA leak case that his investigators have obtained evidence during the course of the two-year-old probe that proves several White House officials conspired to discredit former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, a critic of the administration's pre-war Iraq intelligence.

This is the first time the special counsel has acknowledged that White House officials are alleged to have engaged in a coordinated effort to undercut the former ambassador's credibility by disseminating classified intelligence information that would have contradicted Wilson's public statements.

Fitzgerald's court filing was made in response to attorneys representing I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, who was indicted on five counts of perjury, obstruction of justice, and lying to investigators related to his role in the leak, who are desperately trying to obtain evidence from the government to prove Libby did not intentionally lie to the grand jury when he was asked how he found out about Plame Wilson and whether he shared that information with the media.

Furthermore, Libby's attorneys have argued that they are entitled to the evidence in order to prove Libby was not engaged in a "plot" to discredit Wilson. But Fitzgerald said he does not have evidence that would prove that theory. Instead, Fitzgerald said the evidence he has obtained proves there was a coordinated effort by White House officials to discredit Wilson.

"There exist documents, some of which have been provided to defendant and there were conversations in which defendant participated, that reveal a strong desire by many, including multiple people in the White House, to repudiate Mr. Wilson before and after July 14, 2003.

Although Fitzgerald makes it abundantly clear that Libby is not charged with conspiracy, he argues that Libby's suggestion that no there was no White House plot to discredit Wilson is ludicrous given the amount of evidence Fitzgerald has in his possession that suggests otherwise.

"Once again, defendant ignores the fact that he is not charged with participating in any conspiracy, much less one defined as a "White House-driven plot to punish Mr. Wilson," the filing states. "Moreover, given that there is evidence that other White House officials with whom defendant spoke prior to July 14, 2003, discussed Wilson's wife's employment with the press both prior to, and after, July 14, 2003 - which evidence has been shared with defendant - it is hard to conceive of what evidence there could be that would disprove the existence of White House efforts to 'punish' Wilson."

Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was an undercover CIA operative whose identity was unmasked to reporters by several White House officials in what the former ambassador claims was an attack after he penned an op-ed in the New York Times in July 2003 exposing the administration's use of flawed intelligence on the Iraqi nuclear threat.

Fitzgerald did not name the other White House officials who were involved in the effort to undercut Wilson, but sources close to the case said that White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley are the officials who were involved in the alleged plot.

A footnote in the court filing states that Hadley was intimately involved in conversations and meetings that took place at Cheney's office where White House officials discussed how to respond to Wilson's statements about the administration's use of bogus intelligence that purportedly proved Iraq actively sought 500 tons of uranium from Niger.

At one point during the meeting, Hadley discussed declassifying a portion of the highly sensitive National Intelligence Estimate and leaking it to reporters as a way of responding to Wilson's statements.

"The government is producing to defendant Mr. Hadley's notes of meetings and conversations in which both defendant and Mr. Hadley participated, and in which the potential declassification of the NIE was discussed," the court filing says.

Moreover, Wednesday's court filing lays out for the first time how White House press secretary Scott McClellan came to publicly exonerate Libby and Rove during a press briefing in October 2003, three months after Plame Wilson's identity was unmasked by a columnist Libby and Rove had been a source for.

The filing suggests that Libby lied to McClellan about his role in the leak when he was asked about his involvement in October 2003, and urged the press secretary to clear his name during one of his morning press briefings. Additionally, the court document states that President Bush was unaware of Libby's involvement in the Plame Wilson leak and that Libby also concealed his involvement from Cheney.

"During this time, while the President was unaware of the role that the Vice President's Chief of Staff and National Security Adviser had in fact played in disclosing Ms. Wilson's CIA employment, defendant implored White House officials to have a public statement issued exonerating him," the filing states. "When his initial efforts met with no success, defendant sought the assistance of the Vice President in having his name cleared."

Libby prepared notes for McClellan to use during his daily press briefing that could be used to clear Libby's name from being associated with the Plame Wilson leak.

"Though defendant knew that another White House official had spoken to Novak in advance of Novak's column and that official had learned in advance that Novak would be publishing information about Wilson's wife, defendant did not disclose that fact to other White House officials (including the Vice President) but instead prepared a handwritten statement of what he wished White House Press Secretary McClellan would say to exonerate him:

People have made too much of the difference in
How I described Karl and Libby
I've talked to Libby.
I said it was ridiculous about Karl.
And it is ridiculous about Libby.
Libby was not the source of the Novak story.
And he did not leak classified information.
"As a result of defendant's request, on October 4, 2003, White House Press Secretary McClellan stated that he had spoken to Mr. Libby (as well as Mr. Rove and Elliot Abrams) and "those individuals assured me that they were not involved in this."

McClellan's public statement and the fact that President Bush vowed to fire anyone in his office involved in the leak was one of the motivating factors that led Libby to lie during an interview with FBI investigators in November 2003, Fitzgerald states in the court filing.

"Thus, as defendant approached his first FBI interview he knew that the White House had publicly staked its credibility on there being no White House involvement in the leaking of information about Ms. Wilson and that, at defendant's specific request through the Vice President, the White House had publicly proclaimed that defendant was "not involved in this."

"The President had vowed to fire anyone involved in leaking classified information. In that context, defendant proceeded to tell the FBI that he had merely passed information from one reporter (Russert) to other reporters while disclaiming any knowledge of whether the information he passed was true, and certainly unaware that he knew this classified information from government channels," the filing says. "Once that die was cast, defendant repeated the story in a subsequent interview and during two grand jury appearances.

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