‘Flame’ Plame Blame Game

After spending 85 days in jail, protecting a source that had given her a waiver long ago, New York Times reporter Judith Miller emerged to testify in private, to prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald‘s grand jury, and in public, to the readers of the New York Times. We don’t know what she said to the grand jury, of course, but if her piece in the Times is any indication, it was no more illuminating – or credible – than her previous front-page pieces retailing tall tales told by Iraqi “defectors” as hard evidence of Saddam’s “weapons of mass destruction.” According to Miller – who suddenly recalled a previous undisclosed conversation with I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and “found” her notes – she told Fitzgerald she didn’t recall the name of the person who had disclosed CIA agent Valerie Plame’s name to her, even though the phrase “Valerie Flame” [sic] appears in the same notebook as her notes of her encounter with Libby. “I simply could not recall where that came from, when I wrote it, or why the name was misspelled.”

Miller’s credibility, having already taken a huge hit from the debunking of her reporting on Iraq’s alleged WMD, hit a new low with her admission that she agreed to Libby’s suggestion that she attribute statements made by him to a “former Hill staffer.” Well, uh, yes, Libby was indeed a former Hill staffer, but that would be like attributing remarks made by his boss, Dick Cheney, to a “former Republican member of Congress.” This goes beyond the routine dishonesty engaged in by all public officials and reveals a taste for deception that approaches the level of artistic appreciation.

The aesthetic aspect of Libby’s penchant for disguises and cloak-and-daggerish secrecy also comes out in the concluding paragraphs of Miller’s account, in which she discusses the letter he wrote to her releasing her from any pledge of confidentiality, with its weird allusions and implied double meanings:

“Mr. Fitzgerald also focused on the letter’s closing lines. ‘Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning,’ Mr. Libby wrote. ‘They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them.’ How did I interpret that? Mr. Fitzgerald asked. In answer, I told the grand jury about my last encounter with Mr. Libby. It came in August 2003, shortly after I attended a conference on national security issues held in Aspen, Colo. After the conference, I traveled to Jackson Hole, Wyo. At a rodeo one afternoon, a man in jeans, a cowboy hat, and sunglasses approached me. He asked me how the Aspen conference had gone. I had no idea who he was.

“‘Judy,’ he said. ‘It’s Scooter Libby.'”

Libby’s macabre sense of drama has a certain Halloweenish quality to it: there he is, all gussied up in red-state drag as a cowboy, inexplicably showing up at a rodeo in rural Wyoming. A week or two earlier – July 24 – the CIA had indicated to the Department of Justice that it was time to start looking into possible security breaches in the Plame affair, and by July 30 it had formalized this request in a letter to DoJ’s Criminal Division.

The jig was up. It was time for Libby and his band of liars to start covering their tracks.

What did Libby and Miller talk about, as they watched horses buck and kick, furiously trying to throw off rough-and-ready riders amid clouds of obfuscating dust?

Just a few miles west of Jackson Hole, Cheney’s Teton Pines home provides him with a refuge aside from the usual undisclosed location. So I guess Scooter just happened to be in the neighborhood and also coincidentally popped up at this rodeo, like a jack-in-the-box, so unrecognizable to Miller – who had interviewed him for hours at a time – that he had to identify himself.

Miller’s account of her testimony points in a single direction: Cheney. Libby, says Miller, had from the beginning sought to “insulate his boss” from charges of shaping intelligence to fit a pro-war agenda, complaining to her about the “perverted war” between the CIA and the White House: the former, according to Libby, sought to shift the blame to the latter for the failure to verify prewar intelligence. Fitzgerald asked her what Cheney knew about Libby’s activities, and this could provide the basis for a conspiracy charge leveled not just at Scooter but also ensnaring his boss.

Miller is doing a Larry Franklin. You’ll recall that Franklin is the Pentagon’s top Iran specialist, who worked for director of policy Douglas Feith and has been charged with conspiracy to violate the Espionage Act. He was indicted for giving out classified information to Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, two top AIPAC officials, who then passed it on to officials at the Israeli embassy. Franklin was caught, confronted with his treason, and agreed to wear a wire when meeting his handlers, but then stopped cooperating in order to get a better deal. He started cooperating again, however, in return for the promise of a lighter sentence, and pled guilty the other day. That’s bad news for Rosen, who for 20 years was the powerhouse behind AIPAC’s legendary lobbying clout, and for Weissman: both face a prospect roughly equivalent to that faced by Alger Hiss as he confronted the testimony of Whittaker Chambers – although Franklin’s courtroom shenanigans, including an outburst denying that the papers he ripped off from the Pentagon’s archives were ever classified, count as anything but acts of contrition. Franklin is no Chambers, and Miller even less so – neither had a change of heart or mind. We strain, in vain, to hear Miller’s mea culpa. Yet, whether out of fear of the legal consequences, or resentment at how they fared at the hands of their former co-conspiractors, both Franklin and Miller are providing corroborating evidence in what may prove to be parallel cases involving the same charges.

We hear much about how the focus of Fitzgerald and his legal team is “widening,” yet it was never firmly fixed to begin with. The CIA’s complaint to the Department of Justice merely referred to the possible “unauthorized disclosure of classified information,” establishing a broad mandate for the investigation from the start. By the time Fitzgerald was appointed to head up the investigation, a whole series of probes – including the Franklin inquiry and the investigation into Ahmed Chalabi‘s links to Iranian intelligence – were in play. These congruent legal proceedings – all targeting a single group of individuals linked by their pro-war loyalties – are swords of Damocles hanging over the heads of the War Party and threatening to bring down the Cheney presidency.

The vice president’s office played a key role in the propaganda campaign that lied us into war: in effect, Cheney and the neocon clique he shelters set up a power center that rivaled – and for a brief moment surpassed – the power of POTUS. They suppressed internal opposition to their war policy and sought to bypass the intelligence community in compiling the intelligence that made the case for war. They doctored, cooked, and otherwise fabricated the “evidence” of Iraq’s alleged WMD and Saddam’s nonexistent links to al-Qaeda and 9/11. They constructed an elaborate mythology, which the neocons defend to this day – but went over the line on several occasions, perhaps the least of which was the outing of covert CIA agent Plame.

That was their undoing. We won’t know how many laws the neocons broke in their zeal to rush us into war until Fitzgerald issues his indictment(s), as he almost surely will, but the illegal transmission of classified information to those not entitled to receive it is bound to figure prominently if and when any charges are forthcoming. Furthermore, as in the Franklin case, the first indictments may not be the final ones. Once they turned Franklin, prosecutors in the AIPAC case set their sights on the real targets of the investigation: Rosen and Weissman. An indictment can be a powerful argument, inducing accomplices and hostile witnesses to spill the beans and implicate higher-ups. Fitzgerald’s first round of indictments is unlikely to be his last.

None of this comes as any surprise to those of my readers who have been following the Plame story in this space. I said, from the beginning, that this is about a lot more than a possible violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, and that a broader conspiracy linked to violations of laws against espionage is involved. As Fitzgerald homes in on Cheney, my prediction that this investigation would eventually target the vice president personally is being confirmed, and one aspect of Miller’s account could be an important clue in unraveling the mystery of Fitzgerald’s intentions.

Here’s a question that prosecutors would be naturally curious about, and I’d be surprised if Fitzgerald didn’t ask Miller about it during her testimony: what was she doing in Jackson Hole, anyway? The assumption is that she was on vacation, but Miller doesn’t say that: she only somewhat laconically declares “I traveled to Jackson Hole, Wyo.,” without elaborating. So we have an unusual gathering of some of the principals in this case, all serendipitously together in a remote geographical location, and I don’t mean just Miller and Libby…

Here’s a link that shows Cheney on vacation in Wyoming in mid-August, presumably at his home in Teton Pines. Now put this in the context of Miller’s decision to testify. Her turnabout involved not only a personal telephone call from Scooter releasing her from her confidentiality pledge, but also an agreement with Fitzgerald that restricted her testimony to her conversations with Libby.

If Miller met with Cheney at some point in this time frame, under the terms of her agreement with Fitzgerald she couldn’t even be asked about it.

Who is – or, rather, was – Miller protecting? Not Scooter Libby, who had already given her leave to testify, according to his own account, and whose transparent attempt to influence her testimony has been decried by Miller’s attorney. Why did Miller choose to end her Times piece with that anecdote about her meeting Libby at the rodeo? Was she signaling that she wouldn’t or couldn’t continue to hold the fort against Fitzgerald’s relentless assault much longer – and that she is perfectly capable of ratting on her “other sources,” as she described them, if the price of her silence is too high?

Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning. They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them.”

The aspens are turning, all right, but not in the way Libby anticipated – or hoped. Fitzgerald, it appears, is turning hostile witnesses with the threat of indictments and possible jail time, and is zeroing in on Libby in hopes of building such an airtight case against him that he’ll agree to turn on his boss. Or will he fall on his sword, and take the rap? Either way, we are fast approaching a juncture at which my prediction, made two years ago, will be worth recalling:

“If Libby is implicated as having anything to do with Plame’s ‘outing,’ then that, in turn, implicates Cheney, who must take responsibility. The vice president’s resignation, under these circumstances, is a distinct possibility.”

How do you impeach a vice president? Let’s hope we soon have occasion to find out.


Speaking of Judy Miller, I have a piece on her role as the War Party’s megaphone in an upcoming issue of The American Conservative, which should be on display at your local newsstand by the time you read this – and if it isn’t, then you ought to be asking your news agent why the heck not. TAC is a wonderful source of antiwar reporting and commentary, and if you aren’t a subscriber – if you’re one of those dogmatic liberals put off by the “C-word” – then it’s your loss, let me tell you. Go here to subscribe.

My essay, “A Real Hijacking: The Neoconservative Fifth Column and the War in Iraq,” appears in the second volume of Neoconned!, a massive compilation of antiwar essays from the Right and the Left, published by IHS Books. Volume I is subtitled “Just War Principles: A Condemnation of the War in Iraq,” with contributions from Pat Buchanan, Wendell Berry, Eric Margolis, Charley Reese, and the late Jude Wanniski, among others, and Volume II (which includes my contribution, as well as essays by Kirkpatrick Sale, Noam Chomsky, Professor Claes Ryn, Alexander Cockburn, and others too numerous to mention) concerns “Hypocrisy, Lawlessness, and the Rape of Iraq,” and features an introduction by Scott Ritter. More about these books in a future column: go here to order Volume II (over 800 pages for under 20 bucks!). Go here to order Volume I. (Don’t ask me why Amazon doesn’t have a package deal for both volumes: that’s just the way it is…)

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].