Libby Says Bush Authorized Leaks
By Murray Waas
, National Journal
-- -- Vice President Dick
Cheney's former chief of staff has testified that President Bush
authorized him to disclose the contents of a highly classified
intelligence assessment to the media to defend the Bush
administration's decision to go to war with Iraq, according to
papers filed in federal court on Wednesday by Patrick J.
Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the CIA leak case.
I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby testified to a
federal grand jury that he had received "approval from the
President through the Vice President" to divulge portions of a
National Intelligence Estimate regarding Saddam Hussein's
purported efforts to develop nuclear weapons, according to the
court papers. Libby was said to have testified that such
presidential authorization to disclose classified information
was "unique in his recollection," the court papers further said.
Libby also testified that an administration lawyer told him
that Bush, by authorizing the disclosure of classified
information, had in effect declassified the information. Legal
experts disagree on whether the president has the authority to
declassify information on his own.
The White House had no immediate reaction to the court
Although not reflected in the court papers, two senior
government officials said in interviews with National Journal
in recent days that Libby has also asserted that Cheney
authorized him to leak classified information to a number of
journalists during the run-up to war with Iraq. In some
instances, the information leaked was directly discussed with
the Vice President, while in other instances Libby believed he
had broad authority to release information that would make the
case to go to war.
In yet another instance, Libby had claimed that President
Bush authorized Libby to speak to and provide classified
information to Washington Post assistant managing editor
Bob Woodward for "Plan of Attack," a book written by
Woodward about the run-up to the Iraqi war.
Bush and Cheney authorized the release of the information
regarding the NIE in the summer of 2003, according to court
documents, as part of a damage-control effort undertaken only
days after former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV alleged
op-ed in The New York Times that claims by Bush that
Saddam Hussein had attempted to procure uranium from the African
nation of Niger were most likely a hoax.
According to the court papers, "At some point after the
publication of the July 6 Op Ed by Mr. Wilson, Vice President
Cheney, [Libby's] immediate supervisor, expressed concerns to
[Libby] regarding whether Mr. Wilson's trip was legitimate or
whether it was in effect a junket set up by Mr. Wilson's wife."
Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a covert CIA officer
at the time, and Cheney, Libby, and other Bush administration
officials believed that Wilson's allegations could be
discredited if it could be shown that Plame had suggested that
her husband be sent on the CIA-sponsored mission to Niger.
Two days after Wilson's op-ed, Libby met with then-New
York Times reporter Judith Miller and not only
disclosed portions of the NIE, but also Plame's CIA employment
and potential role in her husband's trip.
Regarding that meeting, Libby "testified that he was
specifically authorized in advance... to disclose the key
judgments of the classified NIE to Miller" because Vice
President Cheney believed it to be "very important" to do so,
the court papers filed Wednesday said. The New York Sun
reported the court filing on its Web site early Thursday.
Libby "further testified that he at first advised the Vice
President that he could not have this conversation with reporter
Miller because of the classified nature of the NIE," the court
papers said. Libby "testified that the Vice President had
advised [Libby] that the President had authorized [Libby] to
disclose relevant portions of the NIE."
Additionally, Libby "testified that he also spoke to David
Addington, then counsel to the Vice President, whom [Libby]
considered to be an expert in national security law, and Mr.
Addington opined that Presidential authorization to publicly
disclose a document amounted to a declassification of the
Addington succeeded Libby as Cheney's chief of staff after
Libby was indicted by a federal grand jury on Oct. 28, 2005 on
five counts of making false statements, perjury, and obstruction
of justice in attempting to conceal his role in outing Plame as
an undercover CIA operative.
Four days after the meeting with Miller, on July 12, 2003,
Libby spoke again to Miller, and also for the first time with
Time magazine correspondent Matthew Cooper, during
which Libby spoke to both journalists about Plame's CIA
employment and her possible role in sending her husband to
Regarding those conversations, Libby understood that the Vice
President specifically selected him to "speak to the press in
place of Cathie Martin (then the communications person
for the Vice President) regarding the NIE and Wilson," the court
papers said. Libby also testified, Fitzgerald asserted in the
court papers, that "at the time of his conversations with Miller
and Cooper, he understood that only three people -- the
President, the Vice President and [Libby] -- knew that the key
judgments of the NIE had been declassified.
"[Libby] testified in the grand jury that he understood that
even in the days following his conversation with Ms. Miller,
other key officials-including Cabinet level officials-were not
made aware of the earlier declassification even as those
officials were pressed to carry out a declassification of the
NIE, the report about Wilson's trip and another classified
document dated January 24, 2003." It is unclear from the court
papers what the January 24, 2003 document might be.
During those very same conversations with the press that day
Libby "discussed Ms. Wilson's CIA employment with both Matthew
Cooper (for the first time) and Judith Miller (for the third
time)," the court papers further said.
Although the special prosecutor's grand jury investigation
has not uncovered any evidence that the Vice President
encouraged Libby to release information about Plame's covert CIA
status, the court papers said that Cheney had "expressed
concerns to [Libby] regarding whether Mr. Wilson's trip was
legitimate or whether it was in effect a junket set up by Mr.
Cheney told investigators that he had learned of Plame's
employment by the CIA and her potential role in her husband
being sent to Niger by then-CIA director George Tenet,
according to people familiar with Cheney's interviews with the
Tenet has told investigators that he had no specific
recollection of discussing Plame or her role in her husband's
trip with Cheney, according to people with familiar with his
statement to investigators.
Two senior government officials said that Tenet did recall,
however, that he made inquiries regarding the veracity of the
Niger intelligence information as a result of inquires from both
Cheney and Libby. As a result of those inquiries, Tenet then had
the CIA conduct a new review of its Niger intelligence, and
concluded that there was no evidence that Saddam Hussein had in
fact attempted to purchase uranium from Niger or other African
nations. Tenet and other CIA officials then informed Cheney,
other administration officials, and the congressional
intelligence committees of the new findings, the sources said.
Six days after Libby's conversation with Cooper and Miller
regarding Plame, on July 18, 2003, the Bush administration
formally declassified portions of the NIE on Iraqi weapons
programs in an effort to further blunt the damage of Wilson's
allegations that the Bush administration misused the faulty
Niger intelligence information to make the case to go to war. It
is unclear whether the information that Bush and Cheney were
said to authorize Libby to disclose was the same information
that was formally declassified.
One former senior government official said that both the
president and Cheney, in directing Libby to disclose classified
information to defend the administration's case to go to war
with Iraq and in formally declassifying portions of the NIE
later, were misusing the classification process for political
The official said that while the administration declassified
portions of the NIE that would appear exculpatory to the White
House, it insisted that a one-page summary of the NIE which
would have suggested that the President mischaracterized other
intelligence information to go to war remain classified.
As National Journal recently
disclosed, the one-page summary of the NIE told Bush that
although "most agencies judge" that an Iraqi procurement of
aluminum tubes was "related to a uranium enrichment effort", the
State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the
Energy Department's branch "believe that the tubes more likely
are intended for conventional weapons."
Despite receiving that assessment, the president stated
without qualification in his January 28, 2003,
State of the Union address: "The British government has
learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant
quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell
us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum
tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production."
The former senior official said in an interview that he
believed that the attempt to conceal the contents of the
one-page summary were intertwined with the efforts to declassify
portions of the NIE and to leak information to the media
regarding Plame: "It was part and parcel of the same effort, but
people don't see it in that context yet."
Although the court papers filed Wednesday revealed that Libby
had testified that Bush and Cheney had authorized him to
disclose details of the NIE, two other senior government
officials said in interviews that Libby had asserted that Cheney
had more broadly authorized him to leak classified information
to a number of journalists during the run-up to war with Iraq as
part of an administration effort to make the case to go to war.
In another instance, Libby had claimed that Bush authorized
Libby to speak to and provide classified information to
Washington Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward for
"Plan of Attack."
Other former senior government officials said that Bush
directed people to assist Woodward in the book's preparation:
"There were people on the Seventh Floor [of the CIA] who were
told by Tenet to cooperate because the President wanted it done.
There were calls to people to by [White House communication
director] Dan Bartlett that the President wanted it done, if you
were not co-operating. And sometimes the President himself told
people that they should co-operate," said one former government
It is unclear whether Libby will argue during his upcoming
trial that these other authorizations by both the President and
Vice President show that he did not engage in misconduct by
disclosing Plame's CIA status to reporters, or that he
considered these other authorizations giving him broad authority
to make other disclosures.
Fitzgerald has apparently avoided questioning Libby, other
government officials, and journalists about other potential
leaks of classified information to the media, according to
attorneys who have represented witnesses to the special
prosecutor's probe. Outside legal experts said this might be due
to the fact that other authorized leaks might aid Libby's
defense, and because Fitzgerald did not want to question
reporters about other contacts with Libby because of First
In a Feb. 17, 2006 letter to John D. Negroponte, the
Director of National Intelligence, Sen. Jay Rockefeller,
D-W.Va., wrote that he believed that disclosures in Woodward's
book damaged national security. "According to [Woodward's}
account, he was provided information related to sources and
methods, extremely sensitive covert actions, and foreign
intelligence liaison services."
Woodward's book contains, for example, a detailed account of
a January 25, 2003 briefing that Libby provided to senior White
House staff to make the case that Saddam Hussein had aggressive
programs underway to develop chemical, biological, and nuclear
Two former government officials said in interviews that the
account provided sensitive intelligence information that had not
been cleared for release. The book referred to intercepts by the
National Security Agency of Iraqi officials that purportedly
showed that Iraq was engaging in weapons of mass destruction
Much of the information presented by Libby at the senior
White House staff meeting was later discarded by then-Secretary
of State Colin L. Powell and then-CIA Director George
Tenet as unreliable, and would not have either otherwise been
One former senior official said: "They [the leakers] might
have tipped people to our eavesdropping capacities, and other
serious sources and methods issues. But to what end? The
information was never presented to the public because it was
bunk in the first place."
In the letter to Negroponte, Sen. Rockefeller complained: "I
[previously] wrote both former Director of Central Intelligence
(DCI) George Tenet and Acting DCI John McLaughlin seeking
to determine what steps were being taken to address the
appalling disclosures in [Woodward's book]. The only response
that I received was to indicate that the leaks had been
authorized by the Administration
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