I think I may have found evidence that Ari Fleischer committed perjury today. If Ari Fleischer did not commit perjury today, then former Time Magazine reporter John Dickerson is a big-time liar. First I will introduce the principals, then I will provide the setting and significance of this testimony, and, finally, I will set off the comments of Dickerson against the testimony of Fleischer (and I will do it in pretty color-coded boxes).
Most of you will remember Ari Fleischer as President’s Bush’s first press secretary. He served as press secretary from the inauguration in January 2001 until July 14th, 2003 (coincidentally, the same day that Robert Novak’s column appeared). Fleischer testified today that he had lunch with Scooter Libby on July 7th, 2003 (the day after Joseph Wilson made his appearance on Meet the Press and his editorial appeared in the New York Times). During that lunch, Fleischer testified that Libby told him the name ‘Valerie Plame’ and that she was responsible for sending her husband to Niger. Later that same day Fleischer boarded Air Force One and headed to Africa with the President, Condi Rice, Colin Powell, and a host of other officials.
Fleischer testified that four days later (July 11th) while in Uganda, he told reporters David Gregory (NBC), Tamara Lippert (Newsweek) and John Dickerson (Time Magazine) that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA and was responsible for sending him on the trip.
John Dickerson no longer works for Time. Last I knew, he worked for Slate Magazine as their Chief Political Correspondent. On February 7, 2006 he wrote a column for Slate wherein he revealed that a ‘senior administration official’ had given him a tip: ‘go ask the CIA who sent Wilson’. That senior administration official was Ari Fleischer and they had that conversation in Uganda on July 11th, 2003.
You may have aleady noticed a discrepency in the story Dickerson told and the story Fleischer testified to today. Dickerson said that Fleischer gave him a tip to go ask who sent Wilson. Fleischer said he straight-up told Dickerson (and Gregory and Lippert) that Wilson’s wife was responsible.
This discrepency has enormous potential consquences. Fleischer claims that he did not understand the information Libby was giving him about Plame was classified even though Libby told him it that it was ‘hush-hush and on the Q.T.’ If he didn’t think it was classified then he wouldn’t be worried about off-handedly telling Dickerson about Plame. But, if he didn’t give her name away as he claims, but rather, told the reporters to seek out the ‘low-level person’ in the CIA that was responsible for sending Wilson…then he knew the information was classified.
Fleischer has immunity for the leak of Plame’s name, but he doesn’t have immunity against perjuring himself in this trial. Therefore, he would be crazy to lie on the stand. And, yet, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that he did exactly that when he testified today. Unless, that is, John Dickerson is a big-fat liar.
In the following blockquotes, excerpts from Dickerson’s article
will be in this color.
Accounts of the conversation in Uganda:
While the president finished his meeting with Museveni, I hung out with a “senior administration official” by an old yellow school bus. This was the first of my two conversations about Wilson.
Prosecutor: Were you in Uganda. Can you tell us if you had an occasion to talk to reporters by the side of the road.
Fleischer: President walking toward second event. Meeting with young children who were going to sing songs. A group of reporters on the side of the road.
Was the converation on the record?
The senior administration official spoke to me on background about Wilson and the president’s amazing decision to blame the CIA.
Prosecutor: was this a formal interview?
Fleischer: One of the many conversations I had with the press, the event was not one I had to be there. You sidle up to reporters and chat what was on their mind. Maybe this will address some of these issues about how people got sent. This backs up WH statement.
On the basic characterization of the talking points:
Other reporters wandered in and out of the conversation, but there were stretches where it was just the two of us (my tedious newsmagazine questions always had a tendency to drive other deadline-oriented reporters away). The official walked me through all the many problems with Wilson’s report: His work was sloppy, contradictory, and hadn’t been sanctioned by Tenet or any senior person.
Prosecutor: What part of it backs up WH account?
Fleischer: Allegation WH twisted intelligence. Amb Wilson wrote that a report had been filed. He said Cheney had played a role must be known by VP. I had been told by two WH officials, which I seemed like I should send on. VP wasn’t involved in it. That’s why I made a judgment to say that to the press.
On what Fleischer said about Plame:
Some low-level person at the CIA was responsible for the mission. I was told I should go ask the CIA who sent Wilson.
Fleischer: I recall I said to these reporters, If you want to know who sent Amb Wilson to Niger, it was his wife, she works there. Tamara Lippert Newsweek, David Gregory and John Dickerson, Time Magazine.
As we try to work out the motivations pulling at Ari, we should look at one more piece of his testimony. Here he notes that his information about Plame was not of much interest to the reporters at the time.
Prosecutor: Did your statement get much of a reaction?
Fleischer: Press’s reaction was so what. Didnt’ take out notebook, Didn’t ask any follow-up calls.
Prosecutor: Metaphorically speaking?
Fleischer: Like a lot of things i said to the press it had no impact.
Prosecutor: Did you have a reaction to their lack of reaction?
Fleischer: I try to think of things through the eyes of reporters. I don’t think reporters are going to be particularly interested. There wasn’t much news there. No one really cares who sent him.
Prosecutor: Did you have any hestitation about sharing this?
Fleischer: I never would have thought this was classified. never in my wildest dreams believed this involved, as I’ve read since, this involved a covert officer.
Now, let’s compare this story by Ari to the elaborate explanation Dickerson gave.
An hour later, as Bush spoke at an AIDS treatment center, I chatted with a different senior administration official [ed. note, Dan Bartlett]
, also on background. We talked about many different aspects of the story—the fight with the CIA, the political implications for the president, and the administration’s shoddy damage control. This official also pointed out a few times that Wilson had been sent by a low-level CIA employee and encouraged me to follow that angle. I thought I got the point: He’d been sent by someone around the rank of deputy assistant undersecretary or janitor.
At the end of the two conversations I wrote down in my notebook: “look who sent.” It was about 10:30 a.m. in Washington as the event ended. I called the Washington bureau but couldn’t reach anyone (they were all huddled in the morning meeting). What struck me was how hard both officials were working to knock down Wilson. Discrediting your opposition is a standard tactic in Washington, but the Bush team usually played the game differently. At that stage in the first term, Bush aides usually blew off their critics. Or, they continued to assert their set of facts in the hope of overcoming criticism by force of repetition.
We boarded Air Force One about 11 a.m. Washington time and flew to Nigeria. When I got into the press filing center there, I picked my way though dubious local food and checked my e-mail. White House officials had warned us the country was a hot zone of infestation. To avoid parasites we were not only told not to drink the water but not to shower, wash, or brush our teeth with it. We were also advised to bring our own sheets to sleep on. So, eating the locally provided dinner was probably a bad idea. I pushed aside the clumps of stew.
It had been a long week. I was co-writing a long story on the trip for the European edition, filing each day to the Web site and also filing for the domestic cover story on the fallout over the 16 words. Oh, and I also had to file a story on violence in Liberia. My inbox was a mess. In the middle of it was an e-mail from Matt Cooper telling me to call him from a land line when I had some privacy. At some time after 1 p.m. his time, I called him. He told me that he had talked to Karl Rove that morning and that Rove had given him the same Wilson takedown I’d been getting in Uganda. But Matt had the one key fact I didn’t: Rove had said that Wilson’s wife sent him.
So, that explained the wink-wink nudge-nudge I was getting about who sent Wilson. Matt and I agreed to point out in our files to the cover story that White House officials were going so directly after Wilson. We also agreed that I wouldn’t go back to my sources about the wife business. The universe of people who knew this information was undoubtedly small. Mentioning it to other officials would potentially out Rove as Time’s source to his colleagues. Plus, it was Matt’s scoop and his arrangement with Rove. He had a better sense of how to get the information confirmed without violating their agreement.
Now, for my money, Dickerson is spinning a pretty elaborate tale here if the truth is that Ari Fleischer spurted out the information that Wilson’s wife was responsible for the trip. It looks like perjury to me.