Sunday, February 04, 2007

Analysis: Will VP Cheney's power and/or status be diminished by the Scooter Libby trial?

By David IgnatiusFriday, February 2, 2007; Page A15
Why was the White House so nervous in the summer of 2003 about the CIA's reporting on alleged Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Niger to build a nuclear bomb? That's the big question that runs through the many little details that have emerged in the perjury trial of Vice President Cheney's former top aide, Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

The trial record suggests a simple answer: The White House was worried that the CIA would reveal that it had been pressured in 2002 and early 2003 to support administration claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and that in the Niger case, the CIA had tried hard to resist this pressure. The machinations of Cheney, Libby and others were an attempt to weave an alternative narrative that blamed the CIA.The truth began to emerge on July 11, 2003, when CIA Director George Tenet issued a public statement disclosing that the agency had tried to warn the White House off the Niger allegations. In that sense, the Libby trial is about a cover-up that failed.

What helped start the whole brouhaha was a 2003 op-ed article by former ambassador Joseph Wilson, disclosing that his fact-finding trip to Niger the previous year had yielded no evidence of Iraqi uranium purchases. His piece opened with a devastating question: "Did the Bush administration manipulate intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq?" A frantic White House tried to rebut Wilson's criticism by leaking the fact that his wife, Valerie Plame, worked at the CIA and had suggested sending him to Niger -- as if the CIA connection somehow contaminated Wilson's allegations and made the White House less culpable.

To understand the Libby case, it's important to look at the documentary evidence, which has been usefully compiled by washingtonpost.com.

The record begins with a Feb. 13, 2002, memo from a CIA briefer who had been "tasked" by Cheney on the uranium issue: "The VP was shown an assessment (he thought from DIA) that Iraq is purchasing uranium from Africa. He would like our assessment of that transaction and its implications for Iraq's nuclear program." The CIA briefer responded the next day with a comment that should have aroused skepticism on whether Iraq needed to buy any more uranium: Iraq already had 550 tons of "yellowcake" ore -- 200 tons of it from Niger. But the CIA, eager to please, asked Wilson a few days later to go to Niger to investigate the claim.

A glimpse of the pressure coming from the vice president's office emerges from a memo from CIA briefer Craig R. Schmall, after he was interviewed in January 2004 by FBI agents investigating the leak of Plame's covert identity: "I mentioned also to the agents that Libby was in charge within the administration (or at least the White House side) for producing papers arguing the case for Iraqi WMD and ties between Iraq and al Qaeda, which explains Libby's and the Vice President's interest in the Iraq/Niger/Uranium case."

CIA and State Department documents show that analysts at both agencies became increasingly skeptical about the Niger allegation and tried to warn the White House. A memo from Schmall to Eric Edelman, then Cheney's national security adviser, recalled: "CIA on several occasions has cautioned . . . that available information on this issue was fragmentary and unconfirmed." A memo from Carl W. Ford Jr., then head of the State Department's intelligence bureau, noted that his analysts had found the Niger claims "highly dubious."

The Niger issue wasn't included in Secretary of State Colin Powell's famous U.N. speech on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, according to Ford, "due to CIA concerns raised during the coordination regarding the veracity of the information on the alleged Iraq-Niger agreement." But despite CIA warnings, Bush referred to uranium purchases from Africa in his January 2003 State of the Union address, attributing it to British sources.

So we begin to understand why the White House was worried about the CIA in the summer of 2003: It feared the agency would breach the wall of silence about the claims regarding weapons of mass destruction. Robert Grenier, a CIA official who was the agency's Iraq mission manager, told colleagues that he remembered "a series of insistent phone calls" that month from Libby, who wanted the CIA to tell reporters that "other community elements such as State and DOD" had encouraged Wilson's Niger trip, not just Cheney.

The bottom line? Grenier was asked in court last week to explain the White House's 2003 machinations. Here's what he said: "I think they were trying to avoid blame for not providing [the truth] about whether or not Iraq had attempted to buy uranium." Let me say it again: This trial is about a cover-up that failed.

11 comments:

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trevorhguy said...

I think that this just reiterates the fact that this administration thinks that they are above the laws. There is a clear division of power in place in the U.S. and when one branch abuses their power and leans onto another group, questions are bound to come up. For instance, why was the White House so insistent to link Iraq with nuclear weapons? I mean that is after all the reason we went into Iraq wasn’t it? Is it possible that the White House has a hidden agenda in Iraq and needed a reason to go to war with them? Because, it has become abundantly clear that Iraq has no W.M.D.s. These are all things to ponder upon. So, to answer the question, yes, it will hurt Cheney along with the entire administration. The American people need to know that we can trust our leaders and the current regime has shown us time and time again that they are not to be trusted but like parents of a troubled teen we just give them the keys right back.

tonileep said...

I agree with Trevor's comment about why was the white house so adamant about linking nuclear weapons with Iraq. The reason we went into Iraq was because the administration thought they had weapons of mass destruction and the administration didn't find any. This makes me wonder if the white house did have another reason to go into Iraq but they didn't state what, they wanted to keep it a secret and cover it up. I think this will hurt Vice President Cheney in the long run.

BrandonK said...

I believe that Cheney's power and status will be diminished by the Scooter Libby trial. The main reason I say this is because of the hand-written notes. These notes written by Cheney, in his office, specifically plan how they're going to go after Joseph Wilson and his wife, and debunk Wilson's report dismissing the claim that Saddam Hussein was going after "yellow cake" in NIger. These 16 words in Pres. Bush's state of the union address were the basis of the administrations war-plans. Because of this, Joe Wilson's wife (covert CIA officer) was outed. The trial is proving that Cheney was directly involved in her outing

BrandonK said...

If there is one thing the American Public will not tolerate, it is the purposeful outing of someone working in the CIA.

Jahir D said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jahir D said...

Ah yes... good 'ole Cheney. It is quite clear that his power will be deminished by the Libby trial, but can his status really get any lower? This guy really doesn't have anything goin for him. In addition to being a bad public speaker and a horrible shot, he cannot even arrange a proper cover-up.
Good thing he can fall back on Bush's popularity to get him out of this hole...

BrandonSh said...

I was thinking the same thing Jahir was. How much lower can Cheney's, or the rest of the administration for that matter, reputation get? If this regime usually had a good approval rating, they I would say Cheney is in trouble. But how much lower can you get when you hit the bottom? I think this will be one of those situations where somebody says, "Did you hear about Cheney?" and the other person flatly replies, "Figures."

Dain said...

Cheney's status as VP will probably not be harmed by this issue, but his power will. The more this trial drags on, the more Cheney's (albiet already low) credibility will decline. While it will hurt, it won't deliver a knockout blow unless something directly links Cheney to the leak. If that happens, it will be a whole new ball game.

KimK said...

I pretty much agree with everyone else that the trial will hurt Cheney. Actually though, I think the whole situation has already hurt his power and status just about as much as it is going to. When it first came out it hurt Cheney's reputation, but now most people already know about it. However, I do not think it will really hurt Cheney too much because it really doesn't matter anymore if the American people like him -- it's not like he was planning on running for president or VP again.

KerryW said...

Of course it is going to diminish Cheney's power and status. The American public hears coverup and CIA and Iraq and nuclear bombs and boom, there you go. The American public will react because they love finding faults in the president or vice president or any person in the spotlight whether it be celebrities or government officials. It just happens.