Ever since Fitzgerald’s filing last week I’ve been saying that the "can’t he or can’t he declassify" discussion over the NIE was a red herring. We know from Fitzberald’s response that Cheney authorized Scooter Libby to disclose misleading portions of the NIE to Judy Miller for political cover, but he says nothing about whether anyone authorized Libby to leak the other two documents he showed Miller at the same time, one of which Fitzgerald takes pains to point out most certainly was classified — the CIA report regarding Joe Wilson’s trip to Niger:
Defendant discussed with Miller the contents of a then classified CIA report which defendant characterized to Miller as having been written by Wilson. Defendant advised Miller that Wilson had reported that he had learned that in 1999 an Iraqi delegation visited Niger and sought to expand commercial relations, which was understood to be a reference to a desire to obtain uranium.
Wilson didn’t write the report himself. But the fact that Libby admits he went to David Addington for legal counsel prior to releasing the NIE shows that he wasn’t just recklessly shooting from the hip, he wanted to know his ass was covered. It does not make sense on any level that he did not seek this same cover with regard to information that most certainly had not been declassified. And according to Murray Waas today, those suspicions were correct. Dick Cheney authorized Libby to leak the classified trip report to Judy Miller. (I’ve since spoken to Joe Wilson who says it is his understanding that the document is still classified.)
The evidence that Cheney was a key architect in the effort to discredit Wilson — and quite possibly Fitzgerald’s target — is growing. Says Murray:
On April 5, the special prosecutor in the CIA leak case, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, asserted in a court filing that Joseph Wilson‘s July 6, 2003 op-ed piece in The New York Times criticizing the Bush administration’s Iraq policies "was viewed in the office of Vice President as a direct attack on the credibility of the Vice President (and the President) on a matter of signal importance: the rationale for the war in Iraq."
Moreover, on July 12, 2003, the same day that Libby spoke to both Cooper and Miller, Libby and Cheney traveled aboard Air Force Two for the dedication of a new aircraft carrier in Norfolk, Va. During the flight either to or from Norfolk, Cheney, Libby, and Cathie Martin, then-assistant to the vice president for public affairs, discussed how they might rebut Wilson’s charges and discredit him, according to federal court records, and interviews with people with first-hand knowledge of accounts that all three provided to federal investigators.
Let’s remember the key graf that was scrubbed from the Barton Gellman piece in the Washington Post shortly after it went online on October 25, 2005:
On July 12, the day Cheney and Libby flew together from Norfolk, the vice president instructed his aide to alert reporters of an attack launched that morning on Wilson’s credibility by Fleischer, according to a well-placed source.
Libby talked to Miller and Cooper. That same day, another administration official who has not been identified publicly returned a call from Walter Pincus of The Post. He “veered off the precise matter we were discussing” and told him that Wilson’s trip was a “boondoggle” set up by Plame, Pincus has written in Nieman Reports.
That Air Force II trip on July 12 is taking on increasing significance as time goes on.
Bottom line: this time there’s no wiggling out of it. Dick Cheney ordered Scooter Libby to leak classified information to a reporter for nothing more than political hay prior to an election when they felt that the truth of Joe Wilson’s allegations could hurt them at the polls. They spared nothing — not even national security — in the craven pursuit of power.