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I made the point the other day that if Cheney were put on the stand, he might be put in a place where he refuted some of Libby's testimony. Specifically, Cheney might have to admit that he and Libby talked about revealing Plame's identity with reporters during the week of July 6. And this presents a problem, because it either means both Libby and Cheney would claim to have forgotten about Plame's ID, then learned it again as if it were new the week of the leak. Or, they'd effectively be admitting to leaking Plame's ID after having learned of it through classified channels, making it a possible violation of the IIPA (barring, of course, a Cheney claim to have declassified Plame's identity before leaking it to reporters, which is where I think we are heading).

But given what we know about how Cheney's own talking points on Plame evolved between June 10 and July 14, it is almost impossible for Cheney to argue that he–like Libby–forgot Plame's ID and learned it as if it were new. Which of course makes it difficult for Libby to argue that he forgot. If his boss was actively remembering, what are the chances Libby was actively forgetting? Huh.

So here's the evolution of Cheney's talking points, as best as I can reconstruct them.

Martin's News, June 11
The first that we know Cheney to have learned of Plame's CIA employee was when Cathie Martin told him (and Libby) in his office. Here's how Martin explains it:

[Cathie Martin]: First [conversation with Harlow] was pleasant [emphasizes] I had never spoken to him before, talked about press reports, I was asking him, "we didn't send him." so I was saying to him, you must have sent him, who is this guy, what are you saying to the press, they're not taking my word for it. I remember him being, I didn't know who he [Wilson] was either, but apparently his name is Joe Wilson he was a charge in Baghdad, and his wife works over here. I understand charge to be diplomat who works overseas. Had been a charge, former is my recollection of what that meant. [Martin h]as notes, but the notes don't have a precise date. Asked to see VP and shortly thereafter told him and Scooter was there as well, told them what I had learned. It was the same day. I remember going into VP's office Scooter was there which was pretty normal. He told me Ambassador's name and apparently he was a charge and his wife works at CIA. Don't remember any specific response.

Given the phone records from Harlow to OVP Press Office, this conversation appears to have taken place on June 11, possibly June 10. While Martin doesn't remember any response, the testimony suggests that Libby elicited this call to Martin when he called Grenier and asked him to state that Defense and State, as well as OVP, had expressed an interest in the Niger intelligence. At this point, then, the talking points focused on shifting the focus away from OVP and pointing it more generally to Defense, State, and OVP.

Cheney's News, June 18?
I'm going to place the second "talking point" on June 18. I'm guessing that's when Cheney really spoke to Libby and told him Plame worked in Counter-Proliferation.

I first raised some reasons to doubt Libby's dating of that meeting in this post. But apparently I'm not alone–like me, the FBI took a look at the note, noticed the date had been changed, and came to suspect that Libby altered the note after the fact. Here's what Libby said about altering the date:

L: June 12, but this symbol means I'm not sure.

F: What's this to the right?

L: It's a note later explaining that this is a telephone conversation with the VP about Iraq uranium and the Kristof article… it's indicating that this is something someone told the VP… and then this says the wife works for the Counterproliferation Division.

At some point he switches from telling me what someone else told him to talking points for the press — e.g., that we didn't know about forgeries until the IAEA said so. (these are the three/four points mentioned earlier — but "forgeries" somehow replaces the NIE as point three??)

F: Under the 12, were you correcting something?

L: Might ahve been an 18, then corrected it to 12… realized it wasn't the 18th.  I couldn't tell without a microscope. (laughs)

F: Do you know how much later you added the material about VP, Kristof, Iraq, etc.?   June, July, October?

L: Might have been June, but I don't know.

One thing that supports the notion that this note postdates the Pincus article is that it doesn't mention the Pincus article at all–and, as Jeff points out, it echoes a word Kristof used in the lede of his second column on this, "behest." That second column was published on June 13, a day after the Pincus article.

The curious thing about this timing, if it is correct (though frankly, it'd be true if this conversation took place any day after June 11) is that it suggests Cheney learned of Plame's employ at CIA then went to find more details. It suggests they deliberately learned where Plame worked, which further suggests they knew enough details to know she was covert.

In any case, on this mystery date, these are the talking points Cheney gave Libby:

functional office
CP–his wife works works in that division

Debriefing took place here
& was meeting in the region

4) OVP and Defense and State — expressed strong interest in issue
1) didn't know about mission

2) didn't get report back

3) didn't have any indication of forgery was from IAEA

These talking points, one through four (or rather, in VP count, four to one through three), seem to focus on a response to the Kristof/Pincus/Kristof articles. Already, Dick has had to admit that he did express an interest in the underlying intelligence. Though he's still trying to implicate State and Defense in that interest too (I've asked before–is this Bolton at State and Feith at Defense, in which case he might as well have said OVP and OVP and OVP). And though the info on Wilson's debriefing and Plame's employ aren't part of the talking points yet, they're definitely part of Dick's understanding of the case.

Martin's Operative Talking Points

Now, there are an interim set of talking points that aren't really Cheney's talking points, but at least show how OVP was responding to this issue publicly from the mystery June date and July 6, when Wilson's oped comes out. These are Cathie Martin's talking points, which she says she had been using prior to July 6, and therefore had on hand to send to Ari for his July 7 press briefing. These talking points are:

  • The Vice President's office did not request the mission to Niger.
  • The Vice President's office was not informed of Joe Wilson's mission.
  • The Vice President's office did not receive a briefing about Mr. Wilson's mission after he returned.
  • The Vice President's office was not aware of Mr. Wilson's mission until recent press reports accounted for it.

At some point, I'll come back to assess the veracity of these talking points. But for the moment, note how the talking points evolve as they move from Cheney to Libby to Martin. The talking points lose all reference to Plame and the forgeries (curious, that). OVP appears to have given up its efforts to say that State (Bolton?) and Defense (Feith?) were interested in this as well, and now retreat to the "Vice President's office did not request the mission to Niger." to which they add the "not informed of mission" talking point. Of course, this leaves them in a precarious position. "Vice President's office did not request the mission to Niger" is close parsing here, since it's clear that OVP asked for more information and it's also clear that Dick's briefer said they'd get DO to get its contacts to look into the allegations. It's that precarious position that probably ended up getting them in trouble.

Cheney's Annotated Copy of Wilson's Op-ed, July 6?

And then we have Cheney's annotations on Wilson's op-ed. Libby has argued in this grand jury appearance that Cheney didn't take those notes contemporaneously, that he just came back after the Novak article and wrote them down, having conveniently decided to save the dead tree version of the op-ed, and brought it back to DC from Jackson Hole, where he had spent the long weekend.

I'm going to make an executive decision and label that story a bunch of horseshit, and assume that Cheney read and annotated the Wilson op-ed on July 6, when it came out.

In which case, we have Cheney writing a new set of talking points on July 6:

Have they done this sort of thing?

Send an Amb to answer a question?

Do we ordinarily send people out pro bono to work for us?

Or did his wife send him on a junket?

A pretty dramatic shift in talking points, even from the Libby ones from June 12 18. But note the focus. Cheney is attacking the genesis of the trip. This is significant, obviously, since he raises Plame. But it's also significant because it goes to the precarious position of OVP–that they had in fact asked for more information, which led to Wilson's trip. He's trying to attack what happened between the time he asked for more information and the time that Wilson got sent.

It's in that context that Cheney uses Plame's purported role in Wilson's trip as a talking point. It's absolutely damning, if we can prove that Cheney read this op-ed before the leaks started in earnest.

And I think we can prove that.

Cheney's Talking Points, July 8

There's one more reason why I'm fairly certain that Libby's story is horseshit Cheney wrote his notes on Wilson's op-ed contemporaneously. That's because part of the notes he wrote on Wilson's op-ed show up in the new talking points he dictates to Cathie Martin on July 8. Those talking points read:

It is not clear who authorized Joe Wilson's trip to Niger.

He did not travel to Niger at the request of the Vice President.

  • The Vice President's office did not request the mission to Niger.
  • The Vice President's office was not informed of Joe Wilson's mission.
  • The Vice President's office did not received a briefing about Mr. Wilson's mission after he returned.
  • The Vice President's office was not aware of Mr. Wilson's mission until this spring when the press reported it.

According to Mr. Wilson's own account, he was unpaid for his services.

Mr. Wilson never saw the documents he was allegedly trying to verify on his trip to Niger.

Mr. Wilson has said he was convinced that Niger could not have provided uranium to Iraq but, in fact, Niger did provide uranium to Iraq in the 1980's–200 tons of which are currently under IAEA seal.

Mr. Wilson provided no written report to the CIA or any other agency of his trip to Niger when he returned.

The Vice President was unaware of Joe Wilson, his trip or any conclusions he may have reached until this spring when it was reported in the press–over year after Mr. Wilson's trip.

Six months after his trip, the considered judgment of the intelligence community was that Saddam Hussein had indeed undertaken a vigorous effort to acquire uranium from Africa according to the National Intelligence Estimate. [my emphasis]

If you look at the original dictated notes, this draft, and the final, you can see most of what they were thinking. Cheney gave Martin a bunch of new talking points, several of them directly at that precarious position of theirs–their claims that they had nothing to do with Wilson's trip. They add that "it's not clear who authorized Wilson's trip." Reiterate that it was not at the request of Cheney (and Martin adds in all the talking points she had been using–the ones she gave to Ari to use).

And note that they shift their talking point about the awareness of Wilson's trip. Previously, they said, "the Vice President's office" was not aware of Wilson's trip (these are from the Ari talking points). Now they get more specific: "The Vice President was unaware of Joe Wilson, his trip, or any conclusions." As I will show in a later post, I suspect they realized they had learned of Wilson's trip, at least by March if not by February. So they could no longer claim that everyone in OVP (that'd be Scooter) was unaware of Wilson's trip, only that Cheney was unaware of the trip.

There's a lot more in these talking points, including the specious argument that since Niger gave Iraq uranium in the 1980s, before the consortium took over in Niger, then it was perfectly plausible they would do so again. And this is when they start referencing the NIE publicly, even though (as Martin's notes indicate) she wasn't sure she should refer to what she still believed to be classified conclusions from the NIE.

But the important point about these talking points is that Cheney references Wilson's op-ed. As hard as Libby tries, he cannot claim that Cheney only read Wilson's op-ed after the Novak article. Cheney uses an attack–the ridiculous attack about Wilson going pro bono–that he wrote in his op-ed talking points in the talking points he dictated to Martin on July 8.

Cheney's Potential Talking Point, July 12

And then there are the talking points that Cheney dictates to Libby on July 12 aboard Air Force 2.

On the Record

  • The Vice President heard in his regular intelligence briefing that Iraq was trying to acquire Uranium from Niger. As part of the regular briefing process, the Vice President asked a question about the implication of Iraq trying to acquire Uranium from Niger. (Note: During the course of the year, the Vice President asks the Agency many questions.) The Agency responded within a day or two. The Agency said that they had reporting suggesting the possibility of such a transaction but the reporting lacked detail. The Agency pointed out that Iraq already had 500 tons of yellowcake, portions of which came from Niger according to the IAEA.
  • The Vice President was unaware of the Joe Wilson trip and did not know about it until June of this year, when it was first discussed in the press.
  • The Vice President did not see Wilson's trip report until recently.
  • The Vice President saw the NIE last fall, which he took to be authoritative.

Deep Background (as Administration Official)

  • The only written record of Joe Wilson trip included that "the former Prime Minister of Niger said he had been approached and met with a delegation of Iraqi officials in what he believed to be an effort to acquire more Uranium in 1999."

Notes

  • Give straight report on NIE
  • Mention "vigorously pursue."

In addition to dictating these written talking points on the plane, Libby has testified, Cheney may have talked about leaking Plame's identity to reporters.

Beyond the Plame addition unrecorded in the notes, though, there are a few interesting additions. First, Cheney has given up his efforts to pretend his request wasn't the genesis of the trip. There's a lot of disingenuousness in his explanation of the genesis of the trip, but he appears to have resigned himself to admitting to having set off the chain of events that led to Wilson getting sent.

The caveats about who saw what are now all limited to the Vice President–don't want to go on the record with easily disproven claims (though I'll work on them…). And then there's the bit that was somewhat new–the urge to leak inaccurate claims about the Mayaki part of Wilson's report, and the willingness to leak the NIE to all comers. Libby had wanted to add that to the talking points earlier in the week (see Libby's notes on the draft of Cheney's talking points), but only after Tenet's statement did they add it to explicit talking points (though Libby tried to go there with Judy on July 8). Clearly, OVP was ratcheting up its attacks, even after Tenet had admitted that the 16 words shouldn't have been in the SOTU.

Which makes the Plame tidbit all the more interesting. I firmly believe that Dick ordered Libby to leak Plame's identity to Judy Miller on July 8. But here Cheney is, discussing more widespread dissemination of her identity (knowing full well, of course, that Novak's article had hit the wires…). The mention of Plame shows a continuity of knowledge from when Cheney read the op-ed (some time on or before July 8), through the time Libby learned it as if it was new, to the time when Cheney was maybe talking about leaking Plame's ID on July 12.

Libby may be arguing that he forgot Plame's identity and learned it as if it were new. But there appears to be a clear continuity in Cheney's knowledge of Plame's identity. Which sort of makes Libby's "as if it were new" claims ring hollow.