Wed Jan 25, 2006 20:25

Last week, this State Department official said that a meeting took place in the office of the Vice President after Libby read the memo, to decide how they would respond to Wilson's increasing public criticism about the administration.

"There was a major, major concern about the polls, the public response, that Mr. Wilson could cause enormous damage," the retired senior State Department official said.

Grossman asked Carl Ford, then the head of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, to prepare what is known as an INR report about the Niger claims to shed additional light on what Wilson had been referring to in news reports.

The four-page memo indicated that the State Department long had doubts about the veracity of the administration's claims about Iraq's attempts to purchase yellowcake uranium from Niger. The memo made scant reference to Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame.

"We had real qualms that the intel was not true. When the report was prepared, we were actually happy, because it was an opportunity to talk about Niger again and why we thought there was absolutely no truth to the intelligence," one senior State Department official who saw the report said. "It was not intended to be a report about Mr. Wilson or Ms. Plame."

A retired State Department official who was a source for a July 20, 2005, Associated Press story told the AP that the memo was drafted to respond to specific questions about Wilson's debunking of the Niger uranium claims.

"It wasn't a Wilson-Wilson wife memo," the State Department official told the AP. "It was a memo on uranium in Niger and focused principally on our disagreement with the White House."

The retired official was tracked down and interviewed by this reporter. This person said some senior members of Cheney's staff wanted the memo "toned down" after they read it.

"Try to understand their concern," the retired State Department official said. "This was the very first time there was written evidence - not notes, but a request for a report - from the State Department that documented why the Niger intel was bullshit. It was the only thing in writing, and it had a certain value because it didn't come from the IAEA. It came from State. It scared the heck out of a lot of people because it proved that this guy Wilson's story was credible. I don't think anybody wanted the media to know that the State Department disagreed with the intelligence used by the White House. That's why Wilson had to be shut down."

The current State Department official said the INR memo was discussed at length during the meeting Grossman attended at the White House. That meeting may have been the first time other White House officials, including Karl Rove, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, and other unknown administration officials learned that Valerie Plame was Wilson's wife and that she worked at the CIA in a covert capacity.

All of the sources interviewed separately for this story said they were told that Karl Rove was the person who first suggested using the media to "turn the tables on Wilson." The officials wouldn't identify the person who told them this. The decision, however, was made during a meeting that took place between the White House Iraq Group.

"There was a discussion about what to do about Mr. Wilson," the current State Department official said. "There was a decision to leak a story to the press - I think a few journalists - about the Wilson trip, that it was a non-issue because his wife set it up for him. They were going to show that Wilson and his wife were Democrats. Can you imagine? They were going to say 'don't listen to them, they're partisan.' It was a coordinated effort to turn him into the story. Much to my surprise, it worked."

One of the officials interviewed for this story was also cited in a September 28, 2003, Washington Post story about the motivation to leak Wilson's wife's identity to the media. "Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge," the State Department official told the Post. The Post did not name the official.

Lawyers close to the leak case said Fitzgerald seems to be pursuing conspiracy charges against some of the higher-profile suspects in the leak, such as Rove.

Robert Luskin, Rove's attorney, did not return numerous messages left at Patton Boggs, the law offices where he works in Washington, DC.

The State Department officials said they were asked by Fitzgerald how important they thought the Niger uranium claims were in making a case for war. He also asked them why they doubted the authenticity of the Niger documents, why the reports appeared to be dubious, if they knew how Wilson was picked to investigate it, whether they heard about his verbal report upon his return, how and why the INR memo was prepared, and whether it was done in response to Wilson's claims about the Niger intelligence or so officials could find out how Wilson was chosen for the trip, and why any reference to his wife was made in the memo.

Ironically, a day after Wilson's July 6, 2003, op-ed titled "What I didn't Find in Niger" was published in the New York Times, Hadley accepted responsibility for allowing the infamous "16 words" to be included in Bush's State of the Union address. Hadley was sent two separate letters from the CIA, warning him not to allow Bush to cite the Niger uranium claim in his State of the Union address. Hadley said he forgot about the letters.

Exactly one week later, Valerie Plame Wilson's cover was blown in a column written by conservative journalist Robert Novak.

Jason Leopold spent two years covering California's electricity crisis as Los Angeles bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires. Jason has spent the last year cultivating sources close to the CIA leak investigation, and is a regular contributer to t r u t h o u t.


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