FDL Book Salon Welcomes Philip Shenon and “The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation”

thecommission-philip-shenon.thumbnail.jpg[Please welcome author Philip Shenon and our host, Jeff Lomonaco, in the comments. As is our tradition in Book Salons, please stay on the topic of the book. Thanks, Bev.]

I would like to welcome Philip Shenon. His new book, The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation, is a superb book. You should absolutely read it. Among its many accomplishments is that it makes a narrative of bureaucratic process enormously compelling. It helps, of course, that the bureaucratic process Shenon is writing about is the production of the 9/11 Commission’s report on the first of the pair of disastrous events that seems destined to define the soon-to-be-over Bush era. But Shenon turns the bureaucratic narrative of the 9/11 Commission and its report into a compelling read also because he is an extraordinary journalistic writer. The Commission is one of the best-written books by a journalist I have ever read.

The book is a page-turning and impressively perceptive telling of the internal dynamics and research of the Commission, with its ten prominent commissioners headed up by Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, its exceptional and colorful staff and, in the middle of it all, the Commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, who is the central character in the book. Even when the book recounts the already well-known, most dramatic public episodes in its production – most notably Richard Clarke’s public testimony and then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice’s public response – they are told in new and genuinely gripping detail. In the process of recounting the story of the report’s production, from different pivotal choices for how to proceed to encountering witnesses who were less than truthful, a list that not surprisingly prominently includes George Tenet, Vice President Cheney, and President Bush, to the clashes of staff members with the notoriously difficult personality Zelikow (on whom more in a moment), (more…)

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Murray Waas and Jeff Lomonaco

United States v. I. Lewis Libby(Welcome to FDL Book Salon, where today we are privileged to have Murray Waas and Jeff Lomonaco online with us to discuss The Unived States v. I. Lewis Libby. As always, please keep the discussion on point. The Salon today is being introduced by Jeff Lomonaco, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Minnesota. He became interested in the CIA leak investigation via his interest in how democracies go to war, especially how wars – and the Iraq war in particular – are justified in public debate. JFT)

On behalf of Murray and myself, I’d like to thank Jane, Christy and Jim and the whole FDL crew for the opportunity to participate in the Book Salon.

The principal aim of the The United States v. I. Lewis Libby is to present as accurate and accessible a record as possible of the trial of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s trial on charges of obstruction of justice, perjury and false statements stemming from his and others’ role in blowing the cover of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson. The book amounts, I believe, to the single best record we have thus far of the conduct and character of the most powerful and the most secretive Office of the Vice President in the history of the United States. The trial and grand jury testimony show a somewhat beleaguered OVP intensely focused on responding to Joe Wilson, but unaware of much of what Cheney and Libby themselves were doing separately from the others, most notably planning to disclose classified information to New York Times reporter Judith Miller on July 8, 2003.

It is also an extraordinary portrait of the Bush administration at the moment of its initial unraveling in July 2003, as it went into a crisis of integrity and credibility over its war in Iraq from which it has not yet, and presumably will never, recover. Libby’s notes introduced into evidence recorded the senior staff meetings where Karl Rove, Stephen Hadley and others sought the most effective response to Wilson as well as to a CIA determined not to shoulder all the blame for the infamous 16 words the claim that Saddam Hussein had recently sought uranium in Africa. And then-White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer confirmed what had long been suspected: that the very dramatic press conference on July 7, 2003 the day after Wilson published his op-ed criticizing the administration at which he backed off, for the first time, the State of the Union’s 16 words reflected the uncertain decision of the administration to no longer stand behind the most important speech the President gives each year. (p. 150)

It was at lunch that very day that Libby told Fleischer, the White House spokesperson, that Joe Wilson’s wife–whom Fleischer believed Libby called “Valerie Plame,” though he wasn’t entirely sure–worked at the CIA, indicating that the information was “hush hush” and “on the QT,” precisely the kind of juicy news a press secretary might slip to a reporter. Right now the controversy over Libby’s conduct is focused on learning this week whether or not he will go directly to jail and, especially, on whether or not President Bush should and will pardon Libby.

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FDL Book Salon Welcomes Murray Waas and Jeff Lomonaco

United States v. I. Lewis Libby(Welcome to FDL Book Salon, where today we are privileged to have Murray Waas and Jeff Lomonaco online with us to discuss The Unived States v. I. Lewis Libby. As always, please keep the discussion on point. The Salon today is being introduced by Jeff Lomonaco, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Minnesota. He became interested in the CIA leak investigation via his interest in how democracies go to war, especially how wars – and the Iraq war in particular – are justified in public debate. JFT)

On behalf of Murray and myself, I’d like to thank Jane, Christy and Jim and the whole FDL crew for the opportunity to participate in the Book Salon.

The principal aim of the The United States v. I. Lewis Libby is to present as accurate and accessible a record as possible of the trial of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s trial on charges of obstruction of justice, perjury and false statements stemming from his and others’ role in blowing the cover of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson. The book amounts, I believe, to the single best record we have thus far of the conduct and character of the most powerful and the most secretive Office of the Vice President in the history of the United States. The trial and grand jury testimony show a somewhat beleaguered OVP intensely focused on responding to Joe Wilson, but unaware of much of what Cheney and Libby themselves were doing separately from the others, most notably planning to disclose classified information to New York Times reporter Judith Miller on July 8, 2003.

It is also an extraordinary portrait of the Bush administration at the moment of its initial unraveling in July 2003, as it went into a crisis of integrity and credibility over its war in Iraq from which it has not yet, and presumably will never, recover. Libby’s notes introduced into evidence recorded the senior staff meetings where Karl Rove, Stephen Hadley and others sought the most effective response to Wilson as well as to a CIA determined not to shoulder all the blame for the infamous 16 words the claim that Saddam Hussein had recently sought uranium in Africa. And then-White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer confirmed what had long been suspected: that the very dramatic press conference on July 7, 2003 the day after Wilson published his op-ed criticizing the administration at which he backed off, for the first time, the State of the Union’s 16 words reflected the uncertain decision of the administration to no longer stand behind the most important speech the President gives each year. (p. 150)

It was at lunch that very day that Libby told Fleischer, the White House spokesperson, that Joe Wilson’s wife–whom Fleischer believed Libby called “Valerie Plame,” though he wasn’t entirely sure–worked at the CIA, indicating that the information was “hush hush” and “on the QT,” precisely the kind of juicy news a press secretary might slip to a reporter. Right now the controversy over Libby’s conduct is focused on learning this week whether or not he will go directly to jail and, especially, on whether or not President Bush should and will pardon Libby.

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Fireworks? Or Fizzle?

51np80lxbal_aa240_.jpgYou can pre-order The United States v. I. Lewis Libby here.

One of the several issues that may spark fireworks and the disclosure of new information at Scooter Libby's sentencing tomorrow is the question of Valerie Plame Wilson's status as an undercover CIA officer. That she was covert in the real-world, CIA sense has now been established beyond any doubt. But since Patrick Fitzgerald is arguing that Libby's sentence should be enhanced because he obstructed an investigation of a serious potential crime, the violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, there is likely to be dispute over whether Plame was a "covert agent" in the IIPA's peculiar definition of the term, which requires service abroad in the five years before the officer's cover was blown, as it was when at least four senior Bush administration officials disclosed Plame's CIA employment to reporters in June-July 2003. Fitzgerald has now made public his conclusion that Plame's covert work abroad qualified as service abroad and therefore she qualified as a "covert agent" under the IIPA. Not surprisingly, the defense is holding to the view that "service abroad" requires that the under cover officer be "stationed" abroad, and therefore that Plame did not qualify for protection under the IIPA.

Last week I showed how, regardless of the disposition of that issue, Fitzgerald's new disclosure that investigators concluded early on that Plame was covert under the IIPA demolished one of the main arguments of critics of his investigation and prosecution of Libby from the right. Because the meaning of "service overseas" in the IIPA definition of a covert agent has never been settled, people will continue to contest what it means and therefore whether the fact that Plame, as the unclassified summary of her career and cover history that Fitzgerald disclosed last week indicated, did intelligence work under cover overseas on seven occasions in the period before her outing qualifies. But what cannot be disputed is that investigators arrived at the conclusion that it did and therefore determined that a violation of IIPA could well have happened. And as I said, there's no reason to doubt that Fitzgerald and investigators came to that perfectly reasonable conclusion in good faith. Part of what I meant is that it's transparent that their understanding of the law was that "service abroad" meant that the relevant officer – Plame, here – had done covert work overseas, without the demand that it be of any lengthy duration in any given instance. Toensing had led the charge that the investigation proceeded without a basis because, Plame not counting as covert, the underlying statute could not conceivably have been violated and Fitzgerald knew it. But that turns out to be factually incorrect.

This seems to have sent the leading conservative commenter on the leak investigation, Tom Maguire, around the bend, and he has now summed up and modified his response to Fitzgerald's disclosures (and my argument) with the claim that Fitzgerald did not proceed in good faith because . . . the CIA did not include information about Plame's pension arrangement in the unclassified summary of her career and cover history they prepared and which Fitzgerald gave to the defense in June 2006, after having it approved by Judge Walton who had access both to the classified materials it was meant to summarize and the summary itself. (more…)

When Covert Means Covert

cspan-toensing.jpgIn the run-up to the sentencing of Scooter Libby next week, there are four major stories around the case, beyond the issue of the public release of letters to Judge Walton about Libby Jane discussed below: the role of Dick Cheney in directing Libby's actions during the week of July 6-14, 2003; Fitzgerald's announcement that Valerie Plame Wilson was determined to be covert under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act early on in the investigation; Fitzgerald's argument for a relatively stiff sentence for Libby of 30-37 months; and Senator Bond's renewal of criticism of the Wilsons in his additional views in the newly released part of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee's report on prewar intelligence on Iraqi WMD.

(There's actually a fifth piece of news, which shockingly has not received as much attention: Murray Waas along with some guy with the same first name as me have edited the transcript of the Libby trial for publication, with a hefty introduction by Waas and extensive editorial apparatus. It will be published on June 5, the day Libby is sentenced. I have it on good authority that it's awesome and you should all buy it. End shameless plug masquerading as news.)

I want to talk about the disclosure that Plame was covert under the IIPA, according to Fitzgerald.

Conservatives have staked a good part of their criticism of Fitzgerald and their defense of Libby on the notion that Plame did not qualify as a "covert agent" under the relevant statute, the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, and Fitzgerald knew it, so the investigation should have been terminated before Libby even got a chance to commit the acts of obstruction and lying for which he has been convicted of crimes. Fred Thompson, incipient Republican presidential candidate and staunch defender of Scooter Libby, recently gave a nice précis of this argument in a speech delivered to the Council for National Policy on May 12, 2007:

[T]here was no violation of the law, by anyone, and everybody — the CIA, the Justice Department and the Special Counsel knew it. Ms. Plame was not a "covered person" under the statute and it was obvious from the outset.

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Vigorous Pursuit

rovenovak.jpg 

[After enjoying his comments for the last few years on FDL and at Next Hurrah, we are thrilled to welcome Jeff to the front page of FDL.  Welcome, Jeff!  And a huge note of thanks for this brilliant, satirical artwork above to The Candorville Courier.  Made me laugh out loud this morning.  — CHS] 

I am very pleased to have the chance to guest post here in the midst of the very best Plame bloggers. I may have higher regard for the Washington press corps than a lot of people who post here, but there can be no question that the liveblogging that the incomparable Marcy Wheeler and Swopa, bloggers with a fuller, closer understanding of the case than any reporter could possibly have, have been doing is itself an event, as Rick Perlstein recently pointed out.

I have always been interested in the CIA leak case less because of who would end up being charged with crimes than what it would enable us to learn about the response of the Bush administration to the searing controversy over the prewar intel in summer 2003 and, beyond that, about how the administration mounted its public justification for war in the first place back in late 2002-early 2003. This matters for at least two reasons: because factual truth is both a powerful tool in politics, and one that is easily crushed and therefore that requires vigorous defense; and because it may help us to stop future disasters of the kind that the Bush administration’s conduct of the Iraq war has been.

It’s clear that Libby’s trial will not give us a complete picture of what happened; but it is certainly adding considerably to our knowledge. It is fun to watch numerous rightwing talking points both about Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation and about the dispute over prewar intel in July 2003 crumble as evidence in the case becomes public. My favorite amusing just-disclosed evidence is an internal email from the Office of the Vice President from September 2003, just as the investigation was being announced and initiated, that gives the lie to one of the rightwing’s talking points in defense of the administration and of Karl Rove in particular: that they were not really leaking – that Rove did not really leak to both Bob Novak and Matt Cooper – because the reporters called them, not the other way around. Here is Libby’s aide Jennifer Mayfield emailing Cheney press aide Cathie Martin about some things Libby wanted to make sure Martin saw (from ABC’s The Note):

And we really don’t like to fight with Bob Novak – besides being a fellow journalist and Terps fan, he is our hero.

But we don’t understand why

1. Bob thinks it matters that he was told the name of Wilson’s wife in a conversation he initiated, as he claimed yesterday. It is a classic political hit strategy, Bob, to take the call from the reporter, and work the negative information into the call.

This is, of course, just what Rove did with both Novak and Cooper. And it is what Libby did with Matt Cooper, after strategizing with Vice President Cheney. Never mind that the more significant leak from Libby to Judith Miller on July 8 took place at a meeting arranged by Libby himself, at the behest of Cheney and, to some extent, of President Bush himself. (more…)