Investigations could make or break Bush
Investigations could make or break Bush
Mon Mar 8 23:30:23 2004

Investigations could make or break Bush

Candidates and political parties that bank on their opponents'
getting dragged down by scandal usually end up disappointed — think
the Democrats in 1984 and the Republicans in 1996. Barring earth-
shattering revelations, elections get decided on the incumbent's
management of the economy and foreign affairs.

But for President Bush this year, neither looks to be holding
unambiguous election-year advantages. And there are increasing signs
a perfect storm of scandals is brewing, one that could end up making
a real difference in what is bound to be a down-to-the-wire election
this fall.

First up is the Plame investigation, Special Counsel Patrick
Fitzgerald's ongoing look into whether senior Bush administration
officials broke a federal law by leaking to the press the identity of
undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame. The investigation has been
focusing on the vice president's office. And though the press has
thus far failed to give it sufficient attention, a D.C. grand jury
has already heard the testimony of numerous White House appointees.

There's never been much doubt that at least one senior administration
official did leak Plame's identity to columnist Robert Novak. The
question is whether Fitzgerald can prove it or whether those who did
the leaking will be able to find enough wiggle room in the law to
slip through.

Next up is the much-less-discussed investigation into those forged
documents that purported to prove that Iraq was purchasing large
quantities of uranium from the African nation of Niger.

The Senate investigation is focusing on what happened to those
documents after that they got into U.S. government hands. But there's
also an ongoing FBI investigation into just who forged them and how
this fraudulent evidence of an Iraqi nuclear program was peddled into
American hands.

The results of that investigation could be bad news for the White
House, too.

Consider one piece of evidence that has more than one reporter's

We normally think of the uranium claims with reference to the 2003
State of the Union speech. But the real controversy came months

In September 2002, the White House was beginning a major press
offensive designed to prove that Iraq had a robust nuclear weapons
program. That campaign was meant to culminate in the president's Oct.
7 speech in Cincinnati.

But behind the scenes, a battle royal was shaping up between the
White House and the CIA. On Oct. 1, U.S. intelligence agencies
released to the White House and Congress a top-secret national
intelligence estimate (NIE) that mentioned the Niger reports as well
as claims about attempts to purchase uranium in Somalia and Congo.

Despite the NIE, however, the CIA clearly had grave concerns about
the accuracy of the Niger story. And there was a wrestling match
between the White House and the CIA over whether the president should
publicly refer to it in his speech.

The struggle culminated in the two days (Oct. 5 and 6, 2002) before
the president traveled to Ohio, when the CIA sent two separate top-
secret memos to the president's staff insisting that the references
be removed from the speech. Fearing that even that hadn't done the
trick, CIA Director George Tenet personally telephoned Deputy
National Security Adviser Steve Hadley insisting that the references
to uranium sales be removed from the speech, as they were.

Though none of this was publicly known at the time, it was clearly in
that first week of October 2002 that the White House was most in need
of some new evidence on the Niger uranium front. And on Oct. 7,
within 48 hours of those memos flying back and forth between the
National Security Council (NSC) and the CIA, an Italian businessman
was offering those forged documents to a reporter in a bar in Rome.

To call that timing convenient is rather an understatement.

Was the source of those documents (or someone associated with him)
privy to a high-level, secret dialogue between the NSC and the CIA?
And if so, how and why?

Finally, there's that pesky matter of the Democratic Senate Judiciary
Committee staff memos pilfered by Republican Senate staffers. We'll
know more when Sergeant at Arms Bill Pickle issues his report. But
even most committee Republicans now concede that the pilfering was
potentially criminal.

The issue behind the memos is the highly contentious matter of
judicial appointments. The strategy for those battles is
quarterbacked out of the White House counsel's office.

If GOP staffers had access to those memos, their contents almost
certainly figured into their discussions with members of the
counsel's office, whether the latter knew it or not.

If Memo-gate leads to a criminal referral, that investigation will
have to take a hard look at what folks at the counsel's office knew
and when they knew it.

To date, the White House has been able to blunt or delay
investigation into these matters with disciplined scandal management
and solid control on the hill. But once these investigations get into
the hands of career prosecutors they become much more difficult to
control. And each could each pop to the surface at what — for the
White House — would be the most inconvenient of times.

Fasten your seat belts.

Josh Marshall is editor of . His column appears
in The Hill each week. Email:

WASHINGTON -- When I first met and spoke with former ambassador to Iraq Joseph Wilson late last July, we ruminated over the strange "outing" of his wife as an agent of the CIA by a prominent American journalist. He was angry about the revelation, which seemed natural under the circumstances; but I was downright confused.

None of it made any sense. Connecting his wife to Wilson's findings on the Iraq war was about as coherent as saying that because Saddam Hussein has not been found, we are having a recall election in California; or that because Arnold Schwarzenegger has an explicit sexual past, Teddy Kennedy is against the Iraq war. It scans so poorly that the cause must be found elsewhere.

Wilson had, of course, heartily irritated the Bush administration by revealing, albeit at a respectfully late time, that the administration's claims that Hussein had sought uranium in Africa to build a nuclear bomb were totally false. In fact, his findings that no such substance went from Niger to Baghdad still stand today.

But soon after his revelations came a bewildering response, which is now shaking this capital with scandal on a scale that threatens to approach Watergate proportions. On July 14, syndicated columnist Robert Novak wrote his now-famous column linking Wilson's findings about the war with the profession of his wife. That column, with information that Novak insists came to him accidentally in conversations with two administration officials, simply said she was an agent of the CIA.

Then, long silence.

You'd be right to ask, "And then, what?" Or, "So what?" But there are no answers to those key questions. Even if she were a CIA agent, I asked Wilson last July, what exactly did that have to do with his war findings? "I don't know," he told me then--but he does now.

"Why did they do it?" he asked this week. "Because a crime has been committed and you try to deflect attention from the crime. What they are doing is to keep others from coming forward, as I did. But more and more, it is just revenge." Other observers and analysts on his side are saying of this embarrassing and threatening case for the Bush administration, "It's meant to intimidate others from speaking out against the war," or, "The story is gratuitous; it doesn't lend anything to the story," or, "It's a political smear of an innocent person, and it's just plain dirty." All of those comments are likely true.

It is a crime to reveal the identity of an American undercover agent, which Wilson's wife, we now know, is. In fact, it is a deadly serious crime because it almost certainly leads to the end of the agent's effectiveness and, most probably, career, as well as putting into danger all of the contacts the agent has built up around the world. Indeed, under the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act, a person with access to classified information who intentionally identifies a covert agent of the United States faces up to 10 years in prison and as much as $50,000 in fines.

So where does that put us? Well, Ambassador Wilson, along with other serious observers, has come forward with information that at least six journalists were deliberately called by White House officials to plant the story, probably in order to intimidate Wilson and others. If this is true, it should not be very hard for the Department of Justice, which has been called in by President Bush to investigate, to discover the truth behind this matter.

But the damning elements for the administration are all of its own making. >From day one of this presidency, there has been no place in the White House for anyone who disagrees; journalists who question White House officials are never invited in; you are with the little "bund" of true believers or you are not. And if you are not, there is a price to pay.

Meanwhile, Joe Wilson is a charming and intellectual man who insists that far from being some Democratic Party ideologue, he donated $2,000 to the Bush presidential campaign. He is a man who knows war--unlike the administration's neo-cons, who to a man lived by deferment after deferment to military service; it was Wilson who stayed behind in Baghdad in 1990 and gave heart to the dozens of Americans then held hostage by Hussein.

Which is all kind of funny, since it is the neo-cons who constantly make fun of the State Department diplomats, saying they're without spirit, guts or fight. Clearly, they have met their match--and the bout is only beginning.

"I am only one, but I am one.
I cannot do everything, but I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
What I can do, I should do. And what I should do, by the grace of God, I will do."
---Edward Everett Hale


This White House Scandal Finally Tips the Scale! 

Main Page -03/08/04

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