While it may seem irrelevant, local readers should be interested in the intricacies of the Wilson/Plame/Libby episode because its low-level abuse is much like when graffiti and petty crime poisoned New York City in the early 1990s. The bad behavior in the Big Apple persisted until people did something about it. What you tolerate is what you are compelled to live with.
These three editorial sections will detail some of the abuses revealed by Wilson/Plame/Libby that hamper effective government: 1) the web of incompetence, 2) the web of deceit, and 3) the web of politics. The abuse will likely continue so long as you tolerate it.
1. The web of incompetence
Next we will look at the deceit and the politics.
- For years the CIA has peddled as fact the same flawed information to the Clinton administration, which was why Clinton sought to overthrow Saddam Hussein. In other words, Bush didn't lie. Like Clinton before him, Bush believed the CIA. The CIA's message was muddled in part because it had long been engaged in a turf war with the Department of State and, in part, because some long-time staffers took it upon themselves to set policy rather than provide intelligence. When ignored, they would leak. Interestingly, The CIA never insisted Wilson sign a standard confidentiality agreement. As pure conjecture, if Joe Wilson was sent to Niger to find nothing, finding nothing might have allowed the CIA to continue to try to catch clients of Pakistan's nuclear merchant, A. Q. Khan, who had been to Niger earlier at the same time as Iraq's nuclear expert. Khan was reeled in in 2004.
- When the CIA leaked, more often than not the Department of Justice turned a blind eye. Experience shows the DOJ staff does not act with an even hand, or necessarily follow the law and Constitution. They diminished the offenses of former Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, not even giving him a lie detector test about documents he repeatedly stole. They let him off with a fine and 100 hours picking up trash in a Virginia Park. Measure that against acting Attorney General James Comey, an old Schumer friend and associate, breaking rules that forbid appointing staff, which set loose an unfettered special prosecutor whom he then refused to supervise. The lack of supervision allowed an unethical perjury trap that ensnared Republican Libby during an incredible eight hours of grand jury testimony.
- CIA director George Tenet referred the Plame non-issue to the DOJ and dallied about who had sent Wilson, what was found, and how it was used. Tenet dragged out declassification of portions of the National Intelligence Estimate that supported the President's position.
- The FBI did not follow standard procedures, gave testimony that was belligerent, and "lost" notes about Tim Russert's testimony. In other cases, when notes could be found, they were demonstrably inaccurate.
Scott McClellanAri Fleischer, White House spokesman, backpedaled on the 16 words in Bush's State of the Union address that Iraq had sought uranium in Africa. The 16 words turned out to be accurate.
- Journalistically, Time Magazine's Matt Cooper, whose notes were incomprehensible, was caught letting his editor fictionalize quotes from Libby. From May 6, 2003, New York Times' Nick Kristof, repeatedly reported Wilson's serial lies for years after necessary corrections to his article were known to have been needed. To its credit, the Washington Post eventually acknowledged its involvement in perpetuating Wilson's lies, but it took years for the revelations to set in.
2. The web of deceit
In the Wilson/Plame/Libby case, Libby was found guilty of perjury. However, dangerous webs of incompetence, deceit, and politics color the case. This second chapter discusses deceit -- but not Libby's.
In the rarified air of major news, a leak may lead to five more minutes of prime time or five more inches of front page. No wonder, then, that furtive conversations are fed to journalists who only loosely check them before the leaks are played for the reporter's gain. News media like the NY Times, Newsweek, NBC, the Washington Post, CNN, Time Magazine and Newsweek cut the cloth to fit their predetermined storylines. They conveniently recycled and reused pseudo-experts with obvious connections and agendas even after they have been unmasked and discredited.
Who, then, likely presented misrepresentations to the American people?
Meanwhile, journalists with a disinterest in fact-based reality let liars and dissemblers get away scot-free:
- Joseph Wilson -- Who claimed to speak truth to power, misrepresented who sent him to Niger, who recommended him for the trip (his wife), what he reported to the CIA, and the findings reported in his July 6, 2003, NY Times editorial.
- Valerie Plame -- Contrary to claims, her memo recommending her husband go to Niger preceded the Vice President asking questions about the National Intelligence Estimate.
- James Comey -- while acting Attorney General, appointed Patrick Fitzgerald special prosecutor on Dec. 30, 2003, although as an employee of the DOJ Fitzgerald was ineligible for the position. Once appointed, Comey let Fitzgerald operate unsupervised.
- Patrick Fitzgerald ? violated prosecutorial standards when he overstated his case at the indictment press conference, pursued a phantom case while ignoring the trail of admitted leakers that included deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage and White House spokesman Ari Fleisher. Fitzgerald closed the Libby trial with outrageous conjectures not substantiated by evidence that drew a stern rebuke from presiding judge Reggie Walton. Fitzgerald alluded to Plame's employment status regularly during the trial even though the Judge frequently told the jury it was unknown and irrelevant to the case. Fitzgerald ignored his original assignment which was to find and punish those who outed Valerie Plame. Fitzgerald knew Wilson had leaked to other reporters but did not pursue such friendly leaks.
- Richard Armitage -- Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward's tape of Armitage was played at the Libby trial: "Everybody knows [Wilson's wife works for the CIA.] ? And they know 'cause Joe Wilson's been calling everybody." Armitage's claim that his June, 2003, leak was inadvertent makes no sense since he contacted and told columnist Robert Novak. Armitage further ignored the Presidential directive to report the leak to the President. Fitzgerald, who would have learned of Armitage at his appointment in December, 2003, told Armitage to keep quiet. Armitage was an inconvenience to Fitzgerald's crusade against the White House.
- Bill Harlow -- CIA spokesman Harlow confirmed Plame's CIA employment to columnist Robert Novak yet he was never pursued by Fitzgerald. Either Harlow was a leaker or Plame was not covert.
- The VIPS -- The Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity were former members of CIA, DOS and DOD regularly pressed into service by sympathetic reporters as pundits, They were agenda-driven and have been notably wrong about the potential use of chemical weapons by Iraq, partisan in their opposition to Vice President Cheney, and continue to be overused by a compliant press.
- Judy Miller -- The New York Times reporter probably had other sources, possibly including Plame. Although Libby released her from confidentiality, she refrained from testifying until Fitzgerald agreed only to question about Libby. That let whomever else had leaked to Miller get off scot-free.
- Nicholas Kristof -- The NY Times reporter met with Wilson and Plame for breakfast in May where Wilson outed himself as the Niger envoy. Shortly thereafter Kristof reported Wilson's claims. Senate investigators later concluded that Wilson's claim to have debunked the uranium reports was itself false. The Times allowed Kristof to continue reporting the bogus claim for years without printing corrections.
- Nation writer David Corn pushed Plame's non-official cover status despite overwhelming evidence she was not covert. At its simplest, clandestine operators do not work out of embassies. Plame did.
- The NBC entire stable of journalists dissembled to protect its image and its stable of "talent":
- "Meet the Press" host and producer Tim Russert asserted journalistic privilege against testifying after he had already given up any pretense of privilege by telling his story to the FBI. Fitzgerald played along with Russert, supporting a misleading affidavit to the court
- Andrea Mitchell had been researching weapons of mass destruction, Plame's area of expertise. She admitted on the Don Imus show that "Everyone knew" Plame's identity. She later backpedaled.
- According to immunized witness Ari Fleischer, he told NBC correspondent David Gregory of Plame.
Gregory denies he was told or that he told his boss Tim Russert. Gregory has made no comment on Fleischer's testimony. Phone records show Gregory did call back to Washington, and correspondents usually inform their producers of breaking information.
- Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC's "Hardball," has continuously repeated misinformation he knew to be incorrect. He regularly provides a platform for partisan hacks like Senator Schumer's former Judiciary Crime Sub-committee counsel and CREW (The acronym for the hilarious Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) executive director Melanie Sloan whose December appearance on "Hardball" was rebuked by trial judge Reggie Walton, for comment that "borders on unethical conduct."
- MSNBC's Keith Olbermann and David Shuster -have repeatedly changed facts that undermined their falsified narrative.
Having described webs of incompetence and deceit, the final section will examine the web of politics that runs through the Plame/Wilson/Libby case.
3. The web of politics
This is the last of three sections that describe the incompetence, deceit and politics that entwined the Wilson/Plame/Libby case from the outset. Wilson apparently attended the May 2, 2003, Democratic Senate Policy Committee hearing. In the same time frame, Wilson and Plame met with Nicholas Kristof for breakfast and agreed Kristof could write about Wilson's Niger trip, not using Wilson's name. That same month, Wilson joined the Kerry campaign as an unpaid adviser -- well before his July Op-Ed in the New York Times that challenged the sixteen words in Bush's State of the Union speech about Iraq having sought uranium in Africa. The article had "legs" -- a life of its own -- despite Wilson's own observation supporting Iraq's 1999 attempt, and a Senate investigation that later determined Wilson's objections were false.
Often, pursuing personal crusades is more important than doing one's job. Members of the CIA who disapproved of the President's policy undermined it through leaks to reporters that the Department of Justice did not investigate. Meanwhile, members of the Department of State may well have been sabotaging the administration for their own reasons. For instance, deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage had earlier undermined the Bush administration by not disbursing funding the President approved for the Radio Liberty program.
Incestuous relationships oppose presidential policy. In one instance, the Center for International Policy, headed by Washington Post reporter Dana Priest's husband, William Goodfellow, is a Fenton Communications client whose Iraq Policy Information Program was designed to get out the anti-war message. IPIP kept Joe Wilson as a featured speaker. Fenton Communications set up the Tides Foundation, heavily contributed to by John Kerry's wife, Theresa Heinz. Mel Goodman, a former CIA staffer, worked for CIP and was a Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity member. Other VIPS members like Larry Johnson and Ray McGovern are regular talking heads for mainstream media like NPR and CNN, but their anti-Bush predilections are always overlooked, even as they are trundled out for congressional hearings.
Other organizations maintain plausible deniability for their political connections while they engage in political dirty work. CREW is headed by Melanie Sloan, former counsel of the Judiciary Committee under Charles Schumer. CREW was responsible for the timing and the conflation of the Mark Foley emails and instant messages. CREW was a loud advocate for the special prosecutor that chased Libby.
Schumer likely heard Wilson May 2, 2003 at the Democratic Senate Policy Committee. He shepherded Comey's appointment to acting Attorney General. He beat the drum for Fitzgerald through early, strident public letters urging the investigation onward. Yet Schumer, years later, when told just before Libby's trial that Fitzgerald had known about Armitage from the beginning of his investigation, feigned surprise much like Libby had from Russert on hearing about Plame "as if for the first time." The only difference between Schumer's surprise and Libby's surprise before a grand jury is that Libby's gained him a felony conviction. This is hardball politics, not your government in action.
Over it all, politicians posture outrageously, the press duly reports it as news, and you, the viewer/voters, tolerate both. John Kerry, for instance, said of the Libby result, "This verdict brings accountability at last for official deception and the politics of smear and fear." Rubbish. Smear is the name Washington Democrats give to inconvenient truth. Wilson, no whistleblower, worked for Democrats to perpetrate a political smear as a gambit to bring down the Bush administration in the middle of a war in the vain hope of political office had Kerry been elected.
When the press gets a story wrong, it loses complete credibility when it allows the false storyline to continue in succeeding reports. Such is the record of the New York Times, the NBC television network, and others. In some cases the abuse may be vanity. It others it may be economics. But in some it is hardball politics. Chris Matthews' MSNBC show deserves to be called "Hardball" not because he reports on tough politics, but by manipulating what he reports, he plays partisan hardball politics.
Although Libby was found guilty of perjury, he was also the victim of political opportunists. The die was cast back when at his impeachment Clinton was not convicted. After that verdict, Senator Schumer's over-the-top cheerleading indicated the game was not over. This whole sordid tale is as much an indictment of Democrats as Republicans. There is enough inconvenient truth to go around. We elect first one party, then the other and nothing changes. The only differences from last year's Republicans are the jackasses on their sleeves and the partisan friendliness of a sympathetic press. Many now running Congress are tired, worn, venal hacks whose windy verbosity goes unnoticed by the press, to the detriment of a public that seems either not to care or to have given up hope. After all, why should it matter? New York City got on for years tolerating graffiti, broken windows, and slack behavior.
Well, it won't matter until it matters. Then it might be too late. Your children deserve better. You deserve better. But better comes only when you warn your senators, representatives, and press that their politics as usual is unacceptable.