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Some Thoughts On Libby's Predicament

Friday, April 07, 2006

The buzz around the office yesterday was about Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's claim that President Bush and Vice President Cheney indirectly authorized the outing of Valerie Plame. If you'll recall, Libby was indicted by a federal grand jury. Here's a little history from this Associated Press article titled Libby Says Bush OK'd Leaks, Filing Alleges:

In July 2003, Wilson's accusation that the Bush administration had twisted prewar intelligence to exaggerate the Iraqi threat "was viewed in the office of vice president as a direct attack on the credibility of the vice president, and the president," Fitzgerald's court papers stated.
Part of the counterattack was a July 8, 2003, meeting with New York Times reporter Judith Miller at which Libby discussed the contents of a then-classified CIA report that seemed to undercut what Wilson was saying in public.
Separately, Libby said he understood he also was to tell Miller that prewar intelligence assessments had been that Iraq was "vigorously trying to procure" uranium, the prosecutor stated. In the run-up to the war, Cheney had insisted Iraq was trying to build a nuclear bomb.
The conclusion on uranium was contained in a National Intelligence Estimate, a consensus document of the U.S. intelligence community. Libby's statements came in grand jury testimony before he was charged with five counts of perjury, obstruction and lying to the FBI in the Plame probe.
What are we to make of all this? Basically, Libby is claiming he got a "green-light" from Cheney to reveal the contents of the National Intelligence Estimate. For a more in-depth look, I recommend this article by John W. Dean. He peels back the layers to get at the heart of this issue. Here's a snippet from his article (recommended):
Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald has now revealed in court filings bombshell information that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby told the grand jury investigating the leak of Valerie Plame-Wilson's covert CIA identity. According to Fitzgerald's filings, Libby said that he was authorized by the President and Vice President to leak classified information to New York Times reporter Judith Miller.
This revelation has been accompanied by a number of public misstatements, which call for correction. The most blatant of these is the claim that Fitzgerald's filing indicates that the President authorized the release of Valerie Plame's covert status at the CIA. In fact, the document is conspicuously silent on this fact. The filing does indicate that the President authorized the release of classified information, but it was different information - a National Intelligence Estimate that had been classified pursuant to an executive order.
In addition, conventional wisdom - if that label fits the consensus information that is surfacing on radio and television news shows - has it that this information does not reveal that the President or Vice President did anything illegal. But that claim, too, is not necessarily accurate.
At a minimum, the filing indicates that the President and Vice President departed radically, and disturbingly, from long-set procedures with respect to classified documents - and that the Vice President, in particular, exceeded his declassification authority. And it may indicate that they, too, ought to be targets of the grand jury.
I was asked by one of my customers to express my opinion on this matter. Frankly, I don't have one. There is so much going on behind the scenes that there is simply no way anyone could make an informed and knowledgeable judgement of the facts. I've decided to "wait and see" what unfolds. I want to make it clear that this decision is based on the knowledge that all Americans are bound by a specific law found at 50USC421.
Section 421 is titled, "Protection of identities of certain United States undercover intelligence officers, agents, informants, and sources." This section clearly states that it is a violation of law to intentionally disclose "any information identifying such covert agent to any individual not authorized to receive classified information, knowing that the information disclosed so identifies such covert agent and that the United States is taking affirmative measures to conceal such covert agent's intelligence relationship to the United States."
If you read this section of law in it's entirety, you will not find a "free pass" to share information that identifies undercover agents. The President and the Vice President do not have the authority to waive your obligation to follow our laws. We are all bound by our laws--every last one of us. The question of Libby's guilt or innocence in these matters will hinge on whether he intentionally committed those acts mentioned above. Remember these facts as this story continues to unfold.


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