Cheney and the Plame-Gate Cover-up

If Dick Cheney is to be believed, he wasn't very upset that former U.S.
Ambassador Joseph Wilson criticized the Bush administration for having
"twisted" intelligence to support its false pre-war claim that Iraq's
Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium from Africa.

In a May 8, 2004, interview
with federal investigators, the then-Vice President said he did raise a
few internal questions about Wilson's 2002 fact-finding mission for the
CIA, which checked out - and knocked down - Cheney's suspicion that
Iraq was trying to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger.

But Cheney denied that he unleashed a retaliatory campaign to discredit
this early Iraq War critic - nor told anyone to leak the fact that
Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, worked at the CIA and had a small
role in recruiting her husband for the Niger mission.

Vice President advised that there was no discussion of 'pushing back'
on Wilson's credibility by raising the nepotism issue, and there was no
discussion of using Valerie Wilson's employment with the CIA in
countering Joe Wilson's criticisms and claims about Iraqi efforts to
procure yellowcake uranium from Niger," said the FBI summary of
Cheney's interview.

also said he didn't speak with CIA Director George Tenet or Deputy
Director John McLaughlin about Wilson between July 6, 2003, when Wilson
wrote a New York Times op-ed describing how the Niger intelligence was
"twisted," and July 14, eight days later when right-wing columnist
Robert Novak exposed Plame's CIA employment in a column that sought to
discredit Wilson.

Cheney depicted one disparaging comment that he made about Wilson as more of an inside joke.

[Cheney] does recall at one point 'gigging' Tenet and/or McLaughlin
about vetting a separate, unrelated intelligence matter by
sarcastically suggesting to them that perhaps they ought to send Joe
Wilson to check it out," the FBI summary said.

Vice President stated that the issue of Valerie Wilson's possible
involvement in sending her husband to Niger was just not a big deal and
did not become one until after the publication of the Novak editorial."

Cheney also claimed that he had no recollection of an earlier meeting
in his vice presidential office during which he told his press aide
Cathie Martin and his chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby that
Plame was employed by the CIA.

Libby became one of several Bush administration officials to leak news
of Plame's CIA employment to journalists, along with the suggestion
that she had arranged her husband's fact-finding mission to Niger as
nepotism, even though Wilson received no pay. (Plame has said her role
was limited to conveying a message to her husband that her CIA
superiors wanted to speak to him about the trip.)

Scribbled Comments

Though Cheney played down his animosity toward Wilson during the
interview, some of the anger came through when Cheney was asked to read
aloud comments he scribbled in the margins of Wilson's op-ed that
Cheney had ripped out of the Times.

Cheney acknowledged that his handwritten note included the question,
"Did his wife send him on a junket?" He also told the investigators
that he "believed it possible that he and Libby discussed the Wilson
trip as some kind of a junket or boondoggle."

Curiously, however, Cheney conceded that as a former U.S. ambassador
who served in Africa, Wilson's "qualifications for the trip were 'OK.'"
Cheney also was aware that Wilson wasn't paid for the trip, which would
seem to undercut Cheney's suspicion of nepotism.

However, Cheney turned Wilson's willingness to undertake the mission
without pay into a negative. According to the FBI report, "he [Cheney]
thought it was strange that Joe Wilson did his investigative work pro
bono." Because of the lack of pay, Cheney complained about the
"seriousness" of the CIA's investigation and ridiculed it as "amateur

Yet, what is
remarkable about Cheney's interview - beyond his inability to recall
key facts - is that all the anti-Wilson complaints that Cheney cited,
no matter how minor or contradictory, became the cornerstones of a
sustained assault on Wilson by the Bush administration, congressional
Republicans, and right-wing and neoconservative pundits.

It was as if Cheney had written the script not only for his Republican
defenders but for the Washington Post's neocon editorial pages, which
waged its own war of words against Wilson after he blew the whistle on
President George W. Bush's false claims about Iraq seeking uranium.

Even Cheney's weakest points were amplified and exaggerated as they
moved through the Republican-neocon echo chamber. For instance, a small
point of misunderstanding - Wilson's belief that Cheney had been made
aware of the Niger trip since it was Cheney's concern that prompted the
mission - was transformed into an accusation that Wilson was a liar.

Wilson was painted as a liar again after Cheney transformed Wilson's
accurate comment - about taking on the CIA assignment with the
understanding that Cheney was interested in the Niger issue - into a
suggestion that Wilson was claiming that Cheney personally picked him
for the mission.

point made by Cheney - and picked up as an anti-Wilson attack line -
was Wilson's remark to CIA debriefers that Niger's prime minister
initially suspected that an Iraqi feeler about improved commercial
relations might have related to uranium, though it turned out the
Iraqis expressed no such interest.

According to the FBI summary, Cheney said he underlined this portion of
a March 8, 2002, CIA report on Wilson's debriefing because "he believed
it raised a 'red flag,' seeming to show that the former Niger Prime
Minister [Ibrahim] Mayaki had been approached about commercial
relations with Iraq which the former Prime Minister believed meant
yellowcake uranium sales."

Even though it turned out that Mayaki's suspicion was baseless - and
thus inconsequential - Cheney's "red flag" was raised repeatedly by
Republicans and neocons in their attacks on Wilson, including by the
Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee which cited this
irrelevant point to suggest that Wilson's report had actually supported
the Bush/Cheney case for war.

More Quibbles

Cheney also quibbled with Wilson's comment in his New York Times op-ed
that "it would be exceedingly difficult for Niger to transfer uranium
to Iraq." Cheney countered that "such a transfer had already happened
once before. Therefore, ... it did not mean that it could not occur."

But there is no real difference between saying something is
"exceedingly difficult" and that it possibly could "occur." Both
indicate that something is feasible, even if unlikely.

Despite the pettiness and contradictions of Cheney's anti-Wilson attack
lines, they reverberated for several years. They were given credence
not only in right-wing circles but in Establishment (pro-Iraq War)
places like the Washington Post.

More smears of Wilson and Plame were added as the ugly process moved
forward. For instance, Bush-Cheney backers began insisting that Plame
did not qualify as a covert officer deserving of special protection
because she hadn't "resided" or been "stationed" overseas in the five
years before her CIA identity was exposed.

But the actual language of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act
was that a covert officer must have "served" abroad in the previous
five years, which Plame had in undertaking intelligence missions
outside the United States (although she was based at CIA headquarters
in Langley, Virginia). The Bush-Cheney backers, especially right-wing
lawyer Victoria Toensing, had engaged in word substitutions.

Overall, the 28-page FBI report on the Cheney interview recalled the
anything-goes hostility that the Bush administration and its media
acolytes directed at anyone who dared criticize the Iraq War in its
early days. Besides Wilson, others on the White House enemies list
included former United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter and even
the Dixie Chicks whose lead singer had spoken out against the war.

If Washington circa 2002-2004 had been a normal place, Wilson would
have been praised for his service to the United States. Not only did he
take on a difficult government assignment pro bono, he reached the
accurate conclusion that Iraq was not seeking uranium from Niger and so
informed the CIA.

Then, after
Bush included that false claim in his 2003 State of the Union Address,
Wilson began briefing a few journalists on the deception. Ultimately,
he went public despite his awareness that he would anger the White
House and damage his career prospects.

But praise was not what Wilson got. Even as Wilson's disclosure forced
the Bush administration to retract the uranium claim - a sentence in
the State of the Union that became known as "the sixteen words" -
Wilson became the target of a nasty counterattack.

Novak exposed Plame's identity as a CIA officer, destroying her
intelligence career and putting her network of foreign operatives in
danger. The right-wing echo chamber rumbled with denunciations of
Wilson and his wife.

The Investigation

But the Bush administration's leaking of Plame's identity had a
surprise consequence. The CIA filed a complaint about the outing of
Plame, prompting a Justice Department investigation.

Initially, the inquiry hit a stonewall as Bush and other senior
officials denied any White House role in the leak or in the efforts to
undermine Wilson. Eventually, however, special prosecutor Patrick
Fitzgerald determined that the leak had involved several senior
officials, including Libby, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage
and White House political adviser Karl Rove.

Novak had gotten his information from Armitage and Rove. Libby had told
New York Times reporter Judy Miller about Plame and then had lied about
his role.

In 2007, Libby was
convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice and was sentenced to 30
months in prison. No one else was charged in the case, although
prosecutor Fitzgerald told Libby's jury that a "cloud" remained over
Vice President Cheney.

spare Libby jail time, President Bush commuted Libby's sentence.
Fitzgerald wrapped up his investigation without explaining why he took
no action against Cheney, Rove and other individuals implicated in the

As for Fitzgerald's
interviews with Bush and Cheney, the Justice Department - under both
Attorneys General Michael Mukasey and Eric Holder - resisted releasing
the FBI's reports. However, the Cheney report was finally made public
Friday in response to a Freedom of Information Act suit brought by
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

[To read more about the Plame-gate scandal, see's "Zeroing In on Bush-Cheney" and "Plame-gate: Time to Fire WPost's Hiatt."]

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