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What We Learned at the Libby Trial By: Byron York
The Hill | Thursday, March 15, 2007


You know the highlights of the Scooter Libby trial.

Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff was convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements in connection with the CIA leak investigation.

We all saw the parade of A-list witnesses like Tim Russert, Bob Woodward, and Robert Novak.

But there was more going on at the trial than was reported in the papers or seen on TV. And we learned a lot more about the whole affair than we knew before.

Like this: When former ambassador Joseph Wilson began publicly bashing the administration, first as an anonymous source in the newspapers and then by name in The New York Times, people in the vice president’s office quite reasonably asked three questions.

The first was, “Who is this guy?” The second was, “Did we send him to Africa?” And the third was, “How did we choose him?”

Now, remember that after the controversy over the CIA leak broke, there was a lot of talk about the administration somehow smearing Wilson by revealing his wife’s identity.

But what we learned at the trial was that everybody — everybody — thought Wilson’s wife was a legitimate part of the story.

Take top CIA official Robert Grenier. Libby asked him to look into the matter, and at the trial, Grenier testified about what he told Libby.

“I believe I said something to the effect that Ambassador Wilson’s wife works there, and that is where the idea [for his taking the trip to Niger] came from,” Grenier recalled.

“Why was it you felt that that was a piece of information that should be passed on to Mr. Libby?” asked prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg.

“To me, it was an explanation as to why we had found this Ambassador Wilson and sent him off to Africa,” Grenier said. “I thought that was germane to the story.”

“How was it, in your mind, germane to the story?”

“Because not only was she working in the Counterproliferation Division, she was working in the specific unit that had decided to send Ambassador Wilson,” Grenier answered. “There was some question of why — and the reason of why was because his wife worked there.”

Grenier told Libby about Mrs. Wilson because she was part of the story. It was as simple as that.

Another trial moment shed light on all those stories we’ve seen over the years about Cheney and top Bush administration officials allegedly pressuring intelligence analysts to support the case for war in Iraq.

A CIA official named Craig Schmall, who used to brief both Cheney and Libby, testified about a time Libby received a call from a reporter.

According to Schmall, Libby was irritated because the reporter claimed to have talked to a CIA official who said Cheney and Libby, during a meeting with CIA analysts, had pressed for damning information on Iraq.

Schmall decided to check on it.

“I talked to the manager who was present at the briefing,” Schmall testified. “I asked them if they felt pressured or bullied, and she said absolutely not, that they were actually happy to have the opportunity to talk to Vice President Cheney and Mr. Libby about their topics.”

It was a small, revealing look inside the workings of the vice president’s office and the CIA. But you probably didn’t hear about it.

Finally, we got to see, with our own eyes, the report written after Joseph Wilson’s trip to Africa.

Wilson didn’t write it himself; he gave an oral report from which the CIA did a brief write-up.

But we learned that the report could be read two different ways. 

One way to read it was as a clear statement that Iraq had not bought any uranium in Niger. 

But the other way to read it was as an equally clear statement that, just two and a half years before Wilson arrived, Iraq had made inquiries about … buying uranium in Niger.

One report, two legitimate ways of reading it. 

And this was a scandal? Libby and the vice president’s office were perfectly justified in wanting to get their story out. And, just like Robert Grenier said, Valerie Plame Wilson was part of the story.

So now the trial is over, and all the talk is of whether George W. Bush will pardon Lewis Libby.

But let’s not forget all the other things we learned.

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