The indefatigable Murray Waas has yet another Scooter Libby-related scoop, one that points to a developing split between the White House and Scooter’s lawyers a conflict with the potential to rock this administration to its core. In court papers filed by special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald, a key aspect of Libby’s grand jury testimony was revealed: Libby claimed he had been authorized by unnamed “superiors” to disclose key portions of a then-still-classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) to journalists in an effort to defend the administration’s rush to war with Iraq. A key fact reported by Waas puts this new information in perspective:
“Beyond what was stated in the court paper, say people with firsthand knowledge of the matter, Libby also indicated what he will offer as a broad defense during his upcoming criminal trial: that Vice President Cheney and other senior Bush administration officials had earlier encouraged and authorized him to share classified information with journalists to build public support for going to war. Later, after the war began in 2003, Cheney authorized Libby to release additional classified information, including details of the NIE, to defend the administration’s use of prewar intelligence in making the case for war.”
Fitzgerald has a reputation for getting underlings to turn on their bosses, and going straight to the top: he did it in cleaning up corruption in Chicago, he did it in the case of Conrad Black, and now he’s doing it to Cheney. The “Bulldog” is on the scent, and if I were the vice president I’d be raising money for my legal defense right about now.
Speaking of which, the Neocon Legal Defense Fund, otherwise known as the Scooter Libby Legal Defense Trust, has already raised in excess of $2 million, which Mel Semblor the Florida real estate magnate heading it up rightly describes as “a particularly excellent start.” Among the crowd of right-wing Republican also-rans and failed politicos, including Jack Kemp and Steve Forbes, two names from academia stand out: Professor Bernard Lewis of Princeton and Professor Francis Fukuyama of Johns Hopkins. That the leading Islamophobe and opponent of Arab “medievalism” and the foremost proponent of American hegemony as the verdict of capital-H History should join hands in defense of Libby is entirely appropriate, almost poetically so. They are the theory; Libby a lying, conniving, unscrupulous traitor is the practice.
Libby’s defense which we might call the “German” defense is that he was only following orders. Hey, he’s saying: it was those guys in the White House who told me to break the law. Just who these “superiors” might be is not specified in the court papers, but clearly Cheney is a prime suspect, as well as Stephen J. Hadley, then deputy national security adviser, and Karl Rove. This is the second tier of Washington warlords currently under siege in this investigation.
Libby lied when he testified before the grand jury that he had heard about CIA agent Valerie Plame’s sensitive work at the Agency via unsubstantiated rumors: Fitzgerald’s indictment identifies Cheney, as well as other administration officials and government documents, as an early source of this information. The information then filtered down to Rove and others, who spread it far and wide.
Clearly Fitzgerald is fishing for more charges under the Espionage Act, i.e., conspiracy to divulge classified information to those who are not entitled to receive it. In ensnaring them all in this legal web, the Bulldog is methodically and relentlessly building his case against the man at the center of it all: Cheney.
Waas also indicates that Libby’s defense strategy will quickly put him at odds with the most secretive administration ever. Legal correspondence between Fitzgerald and Libby’s lawyers reveals that the latter are demanding all sorts of top-secret government documents, the kind that any administration is likely to fight to keep under wraps, including “more than 10 months of the President’s Daily Brief” an “eyes only” summary of essential intelligence prepared for the president and a very few of his top advisers.
Like Larry Franklin, the convicted spy who pleaded guilty in the AIPAC espionage case, Libby faces a choice: he can save himself and turn state’s evidence, or he can pursue a delaying action in hopes that the trial will drag on long enough so that a presidential pardon will spare him so much as a single day of jail time. He appears to be pursuing the latter course at the moment, but the slightest indication that the president might hesitate in absolving Libby will have the defense considering other alternatives.
Franklin chose to rat on his fellow spies, longtime pro-Israel lobbyist Steve Rosen and his sidekick Keith Weissman: he wore a wire to at least one clandestine meeting, and he will get his 12-year sentence reduced considerably if he testifies to the prosecution’s satisfaction at the upcoming trial. The AIPAC duo’s defense strategy is essentially the same as Libby’s: delay with endless discovery motions, and blame everything on your superiors.
Rosen and Weissman will claim at the trial that AIPAC officials knew and approved of their intelligence-gathering activities, and there was never any question that what they were doing handing over vital secrets to Israeli embassy officials was perfectly legal. It is, the defense claims, a matter of “free speech” because “everybody does it” as a matter of course in the lobbying process. There are no secrets, in this view: everything is up for sale or trade to Washington lobbyists, including the national security of the U.S.
This is analogous to the Libby defense, which will surely claim and is already claiming that the prosecution is “criminalizing policy disputes,” and that everybody trades information, including classified information, as a simple matter of doing business in Washington.
This defense tactic, like blaming nameless “superiors,” is likely to put the “Free Scooter” crowd at increasing odds with the White House, dividing the neocons from mainline Republicans, splitting and isolating the War Party even further. Combined with a broad demand to hand over reams of highly sensitive documents, which the administration is sure to resist and resent, all indications point to an increasing reluctance on the part of Team Bush to support a pardon. This increases the likelihood that, before this is all over, Scooter will rat on his superiors and tell Fitzgerald all. This is the “Samson defense.” If Scooter goes down, he’ll either get pardoned or take this administration down with him.
This tends to verify what I have said from the beginning about the gang that lied us into war: they are an alien intrusion into the administration, with interests that only fleetingly coincided with this White House. Those interests now are radically diverging.
The neocons who ginned up this war and committed crimes in the process have no loyalty to party, or even to ideology. Always single-minded in pursuit of their objective war in the Middle East they latched onto the GOP solely as a matter of convenience, and never bet all their chips on one party or the other. They have no more personal loyalty to George W. Bush than an intestinal worm has to its host. Less, as a worm infestation rarely leads to death, while this plague of neocons spells real trouble both legal and political for the Bushies and the Republican Party, both of which stand to be discredited in the eyes of the voters and of history for a long time to come.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
We were on this story long before the “mainstream” media: we homed in on Scooter Libby as the source of the Plame leak way waaaaay back when, following every twist and turn of this story for three full years and naming the principals who now find themselves besieged by Fitzgerald. The same goes for the Larry Franklin/AIPAC spy scandal: the national media just isn’t covering one of the most important investigations in recent history, one with implications at least as significant as the Libby imbroglio. You only get full coverage at Antiwar.com and that’s the real value of this Web site. Our readers know what’s important far in advance of everyone else. They get the “inside story” the real scoop behind the headlines and they get it for free.
Which reminds me: nothing is really free. Our quarterly fundraising drive is in full swing but I fear we’re not even halfway there, and here it is Day 4 as I write. Only a few days to go, and we still have a long road to travel. Whether or not we make it and continue operations unaffected by massive and crippling budget cuts is entirely in your hands.
We have to do this, four times a year, just to keep going. But I don’t think of it as begging. We’re doing our job, and we’re doing it pretty well: and we expect that a good number of you will be sufficiently impressed with the importance of what we’re doing to give us a hand. Yes, we’re asking you to engage in a little charitable giving, but it isn’t as though we haven’t earned it. We’ve been on the ball in so many ways, following stories that the national media ignored, and giving you a comprehensive reality-based look at the world and the prospects for war and peace on a daily basis, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.
All this costs money, and, although we run a very tight ship, we do have some outstanding expenses, which must be paid immediately or else. I don’t want to sound too panicky, but there is a very real possibility that, if we don’t make our fundraising goal of $60,000, Antiwar.com as we know it could soon cease to exist. We could go dormant, or offline altogether.
Don’t let that happen. I urge all who haven’t given and those who have to dig deep into their pockets to save Antiwar.com from the chopping block. We deserve better than this and the antiwar movement can do better than this. We’ve never needed your support as much as we need it today. The War Party has millions nay, billions! to spend. Scooter Libby will spend as much as $6 million trying to wriggle out of Fitzgerald’s grasp. We just need a small fraction of that to keep going. Your 100% tax-deductible contribution could not be better spent: so, c’mon, send it in today.