Way back in March of 2006, Scooter Libby’s attorneys filed an excuse for his faulty memory. In short, the failure to find WMD was a major problem and Valerie Wilson was only a small piece of a much greater problem.
“The media conflagration ignited by the failure to find [weapons of mass destruction] in Iraq and in part by Mr. Wilson’s criticism of the administration, led officials within the White House, the State Department, and the CIA to blame each other, publicly and in private, for faulty prewar intelligence about Iraq’s WMD capabilities.”
So, the defense goes, Libby had his hands full defending his conduct from more than little old Joe Wilson. He had to deal with whole departments, like the CIA (Valerie Wilson) and State Department (fmr. Joe Wilson).
This is largely true. In fact, murmurs started before shock-and-awe even got underway and just four days after the first missile landed on Baghdad, the CIA was already planting stories in the New York Times, like this one.
The recent disclosure that reports claiming Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger were based partly on forged documents has renewed complaints among analysts at the C.I.A. about the way intelligence related to Iraq has been handled, several intelligence officials said.
Analysts at the agency said they had felt pressured to make their intelligence reports on Iraq conform to Bush administration policies.
For months, a few C.I.A. analysts have privately expressed concerns to colleagues and Congressional officials that they have faced pressure in writing intelligence reports to emphasize links between Saddam Hussein’s government and Al Qaeda.
As the White House contended that links between Mr. Hussein and Al Qaeda justified military action against Iraq, these analysts complained that reports on Iraq have attracted unusually intense scrutiny from senior policy makers within the Bush administration.
“A lot of analysts have been upset about the way the Iraq-Al Qaeda case has been handled,” said one intelligence official familiar with the debate.
That debate was renewed after the disclosure two weeks ago by Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, that the claim that Iraq sought to buy uranium from Niger was based partly on forged documents. The claim had been cited publicly by President Bush.
“The forgery heightened people’s feelings that they were being embarrassed by the way Iraqi intelligence has been handled,” said one government official who has talked with C.I.A. analysts about the issue.
For a while, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Feith kept a stiff upper lip and predicted that we would find WMD. By late May they began to lower expectations. But they still knew, in their heart of hearts, that the CIA and State Department had been right and the OVP and Pentagon had been wrong.
In fact, as Murray Waas reported back in 2005, it was much worse than anyone knew.
Vice President Cheney and his chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, overruling advice from some White House political staffers and lawyers, decided to withhold crucial documents from the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2004 when the panel was investigating the use of pre-war intelligence that erroneously concluded Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, according to Bush administration and congressional sources.
Among the White House materials withheld from the committee were Libby-authored passages in drafts of a speech that then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell delivered to the United Nations in February 2003 to argue the Bush administration’s case for war with Iraq, according to congressional and administration sources. The withheld documents also included intelligence data that Cheney’s office – and Libby in particular – pushed to be included in Powell’s speech, the sources said.
Administration sources also said that Cheney’s general counsel, David Addington, played a central role in the White House decision not to turn over the documents. Addington did not return phone calls seeking comment. Cheney’s office declined to comment after requesting that any questions for this article be submitted in writing.
A former senior administration official familiar with the discussions on whether to turn over the materials said there was a “political element” in the matter. This official said the White House did not want to turn over records during an election year that could used by critics to argue that the administration used incomplete or faulty intelligence to go to war with Iraq. “Nobody wants something like this dissected or coming out in an election year,” the former official said.
But the same former official also said that Libby felt passionate that the CIA and other agencies were not doing a good job at intelligence gathering, that the Iraqi war was a noble cause, and that he and the vice president were only making their case in good faith. According to the former official, Libby cited those reasons in fighting for the inclusion in Powell’s U.N. speech of intelligence information that others mistrusted, in opposing the release of documents to the Intelligence Committee, and in moving aggressively to counter Wilson’s allegations that the Bush administration distorted intelligence findings…
…In interagency meetings in preparation for Powell’s U.N. address, Wilkerson, Powell, and senior CIA officials argued that evidence Libby wanted to include as part of Powell’s presentation was exaggerated or unreliable. Cheney, too, became involved in those discussions, sources said, when he believed that Powell and others were not taking Libby’s suggestions seriously.
So, Libby has some justification in arguing that, in the summer of 2003, other agencies were looking to blame the OVP and the Pentagon for the failure to find WMD. The problem is, their criticism was wholly justified. And, in any case, his assistant Cathie Martin testified yesterday that Libby knew of Valerie Wilson’s job and identity prior to talking to Tim Russert because she told him. Not only that, but Libby talked to Andrea Mitchell and blamed the CIA for the WMD screw-up. When Stephen Hadley got reamed out by George Tenet about Mitchell’s report, Libby let Hadley keep the false impression that Martin was the source. What a guy.
If this case were not so old and not so complicated, it would force the Vice-President to resign. We’ll see what Ari Fleischer has to say on Monday. I can’t wait.