Panel Questions White House Aides
Panel Questions White House Aides
Tue Feb 24 14:21:43 2004

Panel Questions White House Aides,0,6900923.story?coll=ny-uspolitics-headlines
By Tom Brune

February 11, 2004

Washington - Several top White House press aides have been among the first to go before a grand jury in the investigation of who leaked the identity of a covert CIA operative to a newspaper columnist, the aides and other sources confirmed yesterday.

Among those confirming that they appeared before the grand jury led by a special Justice Department prosecutor appointed six weeks ago are chief White House spokesman Scott McClellan, former press aide Adam Levine and Republican consultant Mary Matalin, who served as a counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney.

McClennan's deputy Claire Buchan told the Associated Press she had appeared before the grand jury, and the Washington Post reported yesterday that the FBI has interviewed at least five current or former Bush administration aides.

The FBI, Justice Department and a spokesman for the special prosecutor declined comment.

Sources familiar with the investigation said the line of questioning in the grand jury by the team of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald suggested it had not found "smoking gun" evidence or been able to coax a confession from a leaker so far.

The press aides appeared not to be targets of the investigation into who identified Valerie Plame as a CIA operative to Robert Novak, a leak that resulted in a Novak column on July 14, a source familiar with the investigation said.

In that column, Novak quoted "two senior administration officials" as saying that Plame had suggested her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, for a mission to Niger to investigate reports Iraq tried to buy uranium there to develop nuclear weapons. CIA officials denied that account.

The investigation could spread beyond the leak to Novak and include other reporters, however. One source familiar with the probe said prosecutors had asked about a July 22 Newsday story that revealed Novak had exposed an undercover operative.

The questioning suggested to some sources that Fitzgerald might be taking steps that eventually would lead to calling reporters before the grand jury for questioning, a last and rarely used resort in leak investigations.

Fitzgerald was granted the attorney general's authority to subpoena reporters when Deputy Attorney General James Comey appointed him special prosecutor in the case on Dec. 30.

Comey made the appointment after Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself because of possible conflicts arising over his past connections with political director Karl Rove and other White House aides.

Prosecutors Ron Roos, a career Justice Department national security attorney, and Peter Zeidenberg from the department's public integrity section, conducted the grand jury questioning, sources said.

Matalin appeared before the grand jury sitting in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 23, her office said. Buchan told the AP she appeared on Jan. 30. McClellan said he appeared Friday. Levine, who left the White House in December, also appeared for a 30- to 45-minute session on Friday, his attorney said.

In the grand jury sessions, press aides were confronted with internal White House documents, mainly e-mails and telephone logs, between White House aides and reporters and questioned about conversations with reporters, according to sources and reports.

The logs indicate that several White House officials talked to Novak shortly before the appearance of his July 14 column, the Washington Post reported.

According to the New York Times, the set of documents that prosecutors repeatedly referred to in their meetings with White House aides are extensive notes compiled by I. Lewis Libby, Cheney's chief of staff and national security adviser.

The FBI has interviewed Rove, Libby, McClellan, Levine, Matalin, White House communications director Dan Bartlett, former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer and Cheney aide Cathie Martin, the Post reported.

Probing the Leak

A federal grand jury has questioned one current and two foremr Bush administration aides in an effort to discover who revealed the name of an udnercover CIA officer to a newspaper columnist seven months ago.

February 2002

CIA sends Joseph Wilson, a retired U.S. ambassador, to Niger to probe claims Iraq was trying to acquire uranium there to develop nuclear weapons. Wilson returns; calls intelligence "bogus."

March 9

CIA sends a memo to the White Housestating Wilson's findings.

Jan. 28, 2003

President George W. Bush cites report in State of the Union address: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

March 8

Mohamed El Baradei, chief of International Atomic Energy Agency, tells UN that Niger uranium claim is based on false evidence.

July 9

Wilson goes public, saying White House Exaggerated case for war by referring to uranium and Niger. A day later, White House Admits a mistake.

July 14

Citing administration sources, columnist Robert Novak reveals that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA operative in weapons of mass destruction.

Sept. 23

CIA report to Justice Dept. Charges leak broke 1982 law.

Sept. 26

Justice Department Launches a criminal investigation

Dec. 30

Attorney General John Ashcroft recuses himself from the probe.

January 2004

White House aides first appear before grand jury, including chief press officer and deputy.

CLAIM VS. FACT – IRAQ, LEAKS & WMD: The President said his Administration "stands for a culture of responsibility in America. We're changing the culture of America from one that said, 'if it feels good, do it,' and 'if you've got a problem, blame someone else,' to a culture in which each of us understands we're responsible for the decisions we make." Yet, the President has refused to take any responsibility for ignoring intelligence warnings and overhyping the WMD case against Iraq as a justification for war. Instead of answering questions about why the Administration received warnings and then ignored them, the White House has tried to attack and blame intelligence community. Similarly, the President has refused to take responsibility for his Administration's leak of a CIA operative's name.


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Bush Lies Uncovered

By Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service
February 23, 2004

For those still puzzling over the why the Bush administration decided to invade Iraq, two key players offered important, but curiously unnoticed, clues this week.

Statements made by both men confirmed growing suspicions that the Bush administration's drive to war in Iraq had very little, if anything, to do with the dangers posed by Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or his alleged ties to terrorist groups like al-Qaeda – the two main reasons the U.S. Congress and public were given for the invasion.

Separate statements by Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), and U.S. retired Gen Jay Garner, who was in charge of planning and administering post-war reconstruction from January through May 2002, suggest that other, less public motives were behind the war, none of which concerned self-defense, pre-emptive or otherwise.

The statement by Chalabi, on whom the neo-conservative and right-wing hawks in the Pentagon and Vice President Dick Cheney's office are still resting their hopes for a White House-friendly transition to self-rule, will certainly interest congressional committees investigating why the intelligence on WMD before the war was so far off the mark.

In a remarkably frank interview with the British newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, Chalabi said he was willing to take full responsibility for the INC's role in providing misleading intelligence to George Bush, Congress and the U.S. public to persuade them that Hussein posed a serious threat to the United States that had to be dealt with urgently.

The Telegraph reported that Chalabi merely shrugged off accusations his group had deliberately misled the administration, saying, ''We are heroes in error.''

"As far as we're concerned, we've been entirely successful," he told the newspaper. "That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. The Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat. We're ready to fall on our swords if he wants."

It was an amazing admission, and certain to fuel growing suspicions on Capitol Hill that Chalabi, whose INC received millions of dollars in taxpayer money over the past decade, effectively conspired with his supporters in and around the administration to take the United States to war on pretenses they knew, or had reason to know, were false.

Indeed, it now appears increasingly clear that defectors handled by the INC were sources for the most spectacular and detailed – if completely unfounded – information about Hussein's alleged WMD programs, offered not only to U.S. intelligence agencies, but also to U.S. mainstream media, especially the New York Times, according to a recent report in the New York Review of Books.

Within the administration, Chalabi worked most closely with those who had championed his cause for a decade, particularly neoconservatives close to Cheney and Rumsfeld – Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith and Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby.

Feith's office was home to the Office of Special Plans (OSP) whose two staff members and dozens of consultants were given the task of reviewing raw intelligence to develop the strongest possible case for war. OSP also worked with the Defense Policy Board (DPB), a hand-picked group of mostly neoconservative hawks, which was chaired until just before the war by Richard Perle, a long-time Chalabi friend.

DPB members, particularly Perle, former CIA director James Woolsey and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, played prominent roles in publicizing reports by INC defectors and other alleged evidence developed by OSP that made Hussein appear as scary as possible.

Chalabi even participated in a secret DPB meeting just a few days after the Sept. 11 attacks in which the main topic of discussion, according to the Wall Street Journal, was finding a way to use 9/11 as a pretext for attacking Iraq.

The OSP and a parallel group under Feith, the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group, have become central targets of the congressional investigation, according to aides on Capitol Hill, while unconfirmed rumors circulated here this week that members of the DPB are also under investigation.

The question, of course, is whether the individuals involved were fooled by Chalabi and the INC or whether they were willing collaborators in distorting intelligence.

It appears that Chalabi, whose family has extensive interests in a company that has already been awarded more than $400 million in reconstruction contracts, is signaling his willingness to take all of the blame, or credit, for the faulty intelligence.

But other statements made by Jay Garner this week in an interview with The National Journal suggest that the administration had its own reasons for the war. Asked how long U.S. troops might remain in Iraq, Garner replied, ''I hope they're there a long time," and then compared U.S. goals in Iraq to U.S. military bases in the Philippines between 1898 and 1992.

''One of the most important things we can do right now is start getting basing rights with (the Iraqi authorities)," he said. ''And I think we'll have basing rights in the north and basing rights in the south ... we'd want to keep at least a brigade."

Garner added, ''Look back on the Philippines around the turn of the 20th century: they were a coaling station for the navy, and that allowed us to keep a great presence in the Pacific. That's what Iraq is for the next few decades: our coaling station that gives us great presence in the Middle East."

While U.S. military strategists have hinted for some time that a major goal of war was to establish several bases in Iraq, particularly given the ongoing military withdrawal from Saudi Arabia, Garner is the first to state it so baldly. Until now, U.S. military chiefs have suggested they need to retain a military presence just to ensure stability for several years, after which they expect to draw down their forces.

If indeed Garner's understanding represents the thinking of his former bosses, then the ongoing struggle within the administration over ceding control to the United Nations becomes more comprehensible. Ceding too much control, particularly before reaching an agreement establishing military bases will make permanent U.S. bases much less likely.

Jim Lobe writes about U.S. foreign policy for Tom Paine, AlterNet, and Foreign Policy in Focus.


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