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The Left's Libby Lie By: Ben Johnson
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, April 07, 2006


A court brief filed by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald states President Bush and Vice President Cheney declassified portions of the National Intelligence Estimate, allowing I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby to defend the administration in interviews with the press. In a typically mendacious sleight-of-hand, the Left has conflated this with the outing of non-covert CIA desk jockey Valerie Plame, intimating this “proves” Bush named her to “punish” her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV. Although Fitzgerald’s brief actually has nothing to do with the Plame leak – which he has never been treated as a crime – the Left has all but introduced articles of impeachment. Before the inevitable media storm swells these minor revelations into a political tsunami, it is important to note the administration appears guilty of neither lawbreaking nor even hypocrisy.


The Left Finds Its (Latest) Watergate


Not that facts will get in the way of a media feeding frenzy. The media elites have their Vietnam; now, they believe they have found their Watergate. Catherine Crier, sitting in last night for the vacationing conservative host of MSNBC’s “Scarborough Country,” declaimed, “If the charges are true, the president may have some explaining to do in this messy, two-year saga.” The New York Times hinted darkly that Fitzgerald’s revelations “point to Bush and Cheney as setting in motion a leak campaign to the press that ended in Plame’s blown cover.”


Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, also saw conspiracies at work. “The more we hear, the more it is clear this goes beyond Scooter Libby,” he said. “At the very least, President Bush and Vice President Cheney should fully inform the American people of any role in allowing classified information to be leaked.” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid added, “It's time for the president to come clean about his involvement in the leak case.” (“Come clean” apparently being Reid’s favorite elocution. No wonder they call him “Dingy Harry.”)


Getting to the Left’s real agenda, DNC Chair Howard Dean listed this as grounds for Bush’s removal from office. “The fact that the president was willing to reveal classified information for political gain and put the interests of his political party ahead of America's security shows that he can no longer be trusted to keep America safe,he said.


Once-and-future failed presidential candidate John Kerry implied the president should resign over the controversy. “Two and a half years ago, President Bush…said he’d fire whoever leaked classified information, and now we know the president himself authorized it. Now we know that the president's search for the leaker needs to go no further than a mirror.”


Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin cajoled for disciplinary action on the Senate floor: “The president and the vice president must be held accountable. Accountable for misleading the American people, accountable for the disclosure of classified material for political purposes. It is as serious as it gets in this democracy.”


In addition to Sen. Russ Feingold’s motion to censure the president for wiretapping al-Qaeda terrorists, Rep. John Conyers has held faux impeachment hearings and called Bush’s presidency “Treasongate.” (If Democrats retake the House this fall, Conyers will become chairman of the Judiciary Committee with ample time to indulge his juridical passions.)


One of Conyers’ supporters, far-Left New York Rep. Maurice Hinchey, a member of the Progressive Caucus, thundered yesterday, “How dare President Bush and Vice President Cheney say they want to prosecute those who leaked the NSA domestic surveillance program when they themselves authorized the disclosure of information from some of the most highly sensitive documents in the government.” He asserted another imaginative pretext for impeachment: “President Bush and other top members of his administration knowingly lied about uranium to the Congress, which is a crime.”


The leftist blog Democratic Underground rehearsed the Left’s current party line: “The President is NOT authorized to declassify a Covert Agent. At once, the Left has declared Bush guilty of uncovering Plame (whose identity “was not much of a secret” according to Robert Novak) and eligible for impeachment.


No Lawbreaking


But what Bush and Cheney authorized had nothing to do with Valerie Plame. Joshua Gerstein, who broke the story of Fitzgerald’s document in Thursday’s New York Sun, told Crier the information Bush approved for dissemination was unrelated to “the most sensitive information…[the identity of] Valerie Plame or her husband, Joseph Wilson.” Other media outlets also announce this fact.


  • Reuters: “The court documents did not say that Bush or Cheney authorized Libby to disclose Plame's identity.
  • The Associated Press: “There was no indication in the filing that either Bush or Cheney authorized Libby to disclose Valerie Plame's CIA identity.
  • Even the breathless New York Times noted Fitzgerald “stopped short” of accusing Bush or Cheney or any wrongdoing.

Nor have Bush and Cheney been accused of breaking any law. In his Sun article, Gerstein wrote:


The court papers from the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, do not suggest that Mr. Bush violated any law or rule…Mr. Bush's alleged instruction to release the conclusions of the intelligence estimate appears to have been squarely within his authority and Mr. Fitzgerald makes no argument that it was illegal.


The Washington Post ran a sidebar indicating, “Legal experts say that President Bush had the unquestionable authority to approve the disclosure of secret CIA information to reporters.”


What Actually Happened


Invoking an Executive Order that gives the president and vice president authority to change the status of classified documents, in July 2003 President Bush declassified portions of the CIA’s National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. The document had been compiled the previous fall at the request of Senate Democrats Durbin, Levin, Graham, and Feinstein. It was completed on October 1, 2002.


Portions of the NIE had been disseminated from that moment forward. Reporters asked Ari Fleischer about findings of “the National Intelligence Estimate” in four separate questions during a press briefing just eight days later, on October 9, 2002. Based on its conclusions, most Congressional leftists voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq.


Months after Bush’s 2003 State of the Union Address, and after Operation Iraqi Freedom had commenced, Joe Wilson wrote his infamous op-ed claiming he found no evidence Saddam Hussein had attempted to purchase yellowcake uranium from Niger. According to Fitzgerald’s court document, this is when Dick Cheney “expressed concerns to defendant [Libby] regarding whether Mr. Wilson’s trip was legitimate or whether it was in effect a junket set up by Mr. Wilson’s wife,” CIA agent Valerie Plame. These “concerns” probably stemmed from Wilson’s own account of “sipping sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens of people” – at poolside. They were undoubtedly exacerbated by the fact Cheney knew the CIA concluded Wilson’s trip “lent more credibility to the original Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports on the uranium deal”; that is, Wilson’s debriefing led Langley to believe Saddam had approached Niger for yellowcake. Cheney’s concerns proved justified: we now know Plame campaigned for the Agency to send her husband to investigate “this crazy report.” Both Wilsons were partisan, antiwar Democrats who had given thousands of dollars in campaign cash to such leftists as Al Gore, Ted Kennedy, Charlie Rangel, and Hillary Clinton. On July 6, 2003, Wilson went public in an attempt to discredit the war, shortly before landing a position with John Kerry’s presidential campaign.


At the same time, leftist senators, many of whom voted to support the war, had turned their back on the troops now in harm’s way. Just after Wilson’s op-ed, Ted Kennedy accused President Bush of “politicizing intelligence and falsifying facts to justify resort to war.” (Soon, he would claim the war was a “fraud” neocons “made up in Texas.”) Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-CA, told a crowd at UC-Berkeley, “This administration took part fact and part supposition…and they shaped it to reach a preconceived conclusion for the use of force, something that they had determined to do sometime well before March of this year.” Even Jay Rockefeller huffed, “Signs of a weapons program are very different than the stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons that were a certainty before the war.”


Against this onslaught, President Bush declassified the NIE’s “Key Findings.” Bush, through Cheney, gave Scooter Libby the green light to discuss portions of the NIE with reporters and made the “Key Findings” available to the public on July 18, 2003. Although Congress had been privy to its contents, and its outlines had long been circulated in the media, now everyone could see the intelligence community’s assessment, which was more dire than any picture President Bush presented. (It was, after all, drawn up by George Tenet’s CIA; Tenet told Bush the case for Saddam’s WMDs was “a slam dunk”.) Among its conclusions:


  • Saddam “could make a nuclear weapon within several months to a year”;
  • Iraq possesses proscribed chemical and biological weapons and missiles”; and
  • Iraq's offensive [biological weapons] programs are active and that most elements are larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf war.”

This was no attempt to “punish” Wilson – who by now fraudulently claimed to have seen forged documents the CIA did not possess while he was working for them. This was an attempt to defend the integrity of the war American fighting men and women were still waging halfway around the world. (If he did feel reprimanded, Wilson eased his pain by signing a book contract and posing for glossy pictures with his “covert” wife.)


In typical fashion, leftists now blame Bush for declassifying a harmless portion of the NIE in order to defend himself from their own scurrilous and disingenuous attacks.


Those wise enough to understand Bush is on solid legal ground have accused him of hypocrisy. John Nichols wrote on The Nation’s blog yesterday:


The White House initial response Thuesday [sic.] was to refuse to comment on Libby's testimony, which has called into serious question the president’s October, 2003, assertion that: “I don't know of anyone in my administration who has leaked. If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it, and we'll take the appropriate action.”


Likewise, MSNBC anchor Dan Abrams told Tucker Carlson he had clips of President Bush’s statements on leaking classified material paused for replay. Both are referring to President Bush’s statements of September 30, 2003, when he said:


There are too many leaks of classified information in Washington…And if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of…I don’t know anybody in my administration that leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it, and we'll take the appropriate action.


Others, like Rep. Hinchey, cite President Bush’s concern over recent leaks as proof of his dishonesty. But there is no contradiction here; Bush did not leak classified information. It is impossible to leak classified information that has already been declassified. Moreover, the NIE findings manifestly posed no threat to national security. The conclusions the CIA drew may have been incorrect, in which case, Senate Democrats should have been thankful for the chance to improve its intelligence gathering capabilities, since one of their own, Frank Church, helped destroy them in the 1970s, and their last presidential candidate proposed a $1.5 billion cut in intelligence funding.


The Pot and the Kettle


Finally, the media have questioned whether this NIE non-classified non-leak was “politicized.” In a story exonerating Bush of any legal wrongdoing, the Washington Post quotes lawyer Jeffrey H. Smith: “It is a question of whether the classified National Intelligence Estimate was used for domestic political purposes.”


The Post raised no such questions last November 2, when reporter Dana Priest leaked the existence of classified CIA prisons in Eastern Europe on its front page. “These prisoners, some of whom were originally taken to black sites, are delivered to intelligence services in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Afghanistan and other countries, a process sometimes known as ‘rendition,’” Priest wrote. “While the first-tier black sites are run by CIA officers, the jails in these countries are operated by the host nations, with CIA financial assistance and, sometimes, direction.” These revelations probably led to the al-Qaeda attack in Jordan that killed 56 people [1] one week to the day later. One month later, The New York Times broke news of the classified NSA anti-terrorist spy program, informing terrorists of the tools America is using to prevent a second 9/11. Coincidentally, the story appeared the same week the Senate was debating reauthorization of the Patriot Act. That, too, raises questions whether someone leaked this classified information “for domestic political purposes.”


Unlike the media's disregard for national security, nothing President Bush declassified, whether out of concern for troop morale or political self-defense, placed the United States at risk. The NIE revelations displayed the rationale behind the president's decision to take America into war – a rationale then under heavy fire from the partisan Left – and demonstrated the shoddy state of the CIA’s prewar intelligence vis-à-vis Iraq. The same Left that equally condemned Soviet and American nuclear stockpiles can discern no moral distinction between illegal leaks that hurt our troops and declassification that helps them. They only vaguely emote that Bush's actions must be much worse. 


The facts are: President Bush did not leak Valerie Plame's name, did not break any law, did not leak any classified information, and released only those facts that would stifle those who were destroying troop morale.


In other words, “Fitzmas” is more like Kwanzaa: a pseudo-holiday invented by leftists with no basis in history or reality.


1. Among them Syrian-born American citizen Moustapha Akkad, producer of the Halloween horror films. A Muslim, Akkad directed the 1976 film The Message, a sympathetic, Oscar-nominated portrait of the origins of Islam starring Anthony Quinn. R.I.P.

Ben Johnson is Managing Editor of FrontPage Magazine and co-author, with David Horowitz, of the book Party of Defeat. He is also the author of the books Teresa Heinz Kerry's Radical Gifts (2009) and 57 Varieties of Radical Causes: Teresa Heinz Kerry's Charitable Giving (2004).

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