Sunday, October 30, 2005
As Brad DeLong notes, roughly a dozen people inside and outside of government have contradicted Libby's account of events. And so, I'm finding it harder and harder to believe that Libby ever thought his story would fly.
More likely, he decided to take one for the team--to shield others from legal or political consequences.
Of course, that raises all sorts of questions about the use and abuse of the presidential pardoning power--questions CONTRAPOSITIVE will explore at some length in the days to come.
In the meantime, Billmon makes the case that Fitzgerald's indictment is at least one count short, and that the prosecutor was contemplating even more explosive charges relatively late in the game. (He follows that post with another--also well worth reading--exploring the possibility that Fitzgerald has more in store for the Bushies.)
Elsewhere, The Plank asks Fitzgerald spokesman Randall Samborn an interesting question, and gets an interesting answer.
Here's Purdum, writing in the Saturday edition of The Times:
Patrick J. Fitzgerald...offered renewed evidence of that oldest of Washington axioms: the cover-up is always worse than the crime.Except that Fitzgerald didn't offer evidence of any such thing.
Fitzgerald didn't diminish the seriousness of the underlying crime he was charged with investigating. And he certainly didn't exonerate Libby on that score.
In fact, he went to great pains to get across almost the opposite message:
FITZGERALD: In trying to figure out [whether Libby committed a crime by outing Plame], you need to know what the truth is.Fitzgerald's conclusion, clearly, isn't that Libby is innocent of having intentionally outed Plame. And he isn't saying that Libby's guilty of deliberately burning her either.
So our allegation is [that] in trying to drill down and find out exactly what we got here, if we received false information, that process is frustrated...
The whole point here is that we're going to make fine distinctions and make sure that before we charge someone with a knowing, intentional crime, we want to focus on why they did it, what they knew and what they appreciated; we need to know the truth about what they said and what they knew...The harm and the obstruction crime is it shields us from knowing the full truth.
Instead, Fitzgerald's point is that, because Libby has lied, he (Fitzgerald) simply isn't in a position to know which of these possibilities is true.
A nuanced thought, granted. But nothing a bright fourth grader couldn't handle.
So why are Purdum and The Times conveying something close to the opposite of the truth on the front page of their newspaper?
Friday, October 28, 2005
Fitzgerald just said something to the effect of, "Libby claims to have not known something on Thursday that he told Fleischer on Monday."
Libby clearly didn't believe that Ari Fleischer would talk. But he did.
UPDATE: Here's the exact language from the transcript:
It's also alleged in the indictment that Mr. Libby discussed it with the White House press secretary on July 7th, 2003, over lunch. What's important about that is that Mr. Libby, the indictment alleges, was telling Mr. Fleischer something on Monday that he claims to have learned on Thursday.
Fitzgerald's press conference is scheduled for 2pm. But if you're like me, you'll be tuning in here at noon.
Thursday, October 27, 2005
Q Is it safe to say the next nominee is not going to be a White House employee? (Laughter.)
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
But because the story has a number of moving parts, and because early on it got bifurcated by the media into two more or less separate narratives (Miller the First Amendment crusader; Miller the Plame leak figure) it can be easy to loose track of what we now know about Miller's role.
But we know a lot.
And while the elite media has given the story plenty of attention, the focus has been almost exclusively on the details--her encounters with Times editors; her evolving justifications for her behavior; the gaps in her story.
But mainstream reporters haven't dared to engage the most salient, big-picture question her conduct raises: Did Miller lie to Patrick Fitzgerald in an attempt to cover for Lewis Libby?
To see why this is an utterly reasonable question to ask, it's helpful to bring the two separate Miller narratives together, and to review her involvement in the Plame story chronologically, from the beginning of its legal phase.
(The following is based on the Times' lengthy dissection of the case, Judith Miller's personal account of her testimony and this shorter piece by Murray Waas posted on the website of the National Journal.)
1. Fall 2003: The Washington Post reports that "two top White House officials disclosed Plame's identity to at least six Washington journalists." Philip Taubman, Washington bureau chief of The New York Times asks Miller and other reporters whether they were among the six. Miller denies it.In sum:
2. August, 2004: Floyd Abrams, Miller's lawyer, tells his client that according to Joseph Tate, Lewis Libby's lawyer, she's free to testify. Tate also relays (via Abrams) that in his grand jury testimony, Libby has denied ever telling Miller the name or undercover status of Valerie Plame Wilson.
According to The Times: "[Miller] concluded that Mr. Tate was sending her a message that Mr. Libby did not want her to testify."
3. July 6, 2005: With the appeals process at an end, Judith Miller is jailed.
4. September 15, 2005: In a "folksy, conversational two-page letter," Libby tells Miller she's been free to testify about their conversations all along.
He also writes: "The public report of every other reporter's testimony makes clear that they did not discuss Ms. Plame's name or identity with me."
5. September 29, 2005: After lawyers advise her that her jail term might be extended beyond the end of the grand jury's term, Miller consents to testify and is released from jail.
6. September 30, 2005: In front of the grand jury, in response to questions about her contact with Libby, Miller testifies to having met with him on July 8, and to having discussed Joseph Wilson and his wife. She testifies to having discussed the same subject on a July 12 phone call with Libby--two days before Robert Novak's column on Plame was published. But in both instances she makes clear that she does not remember Libby having identified Plame by name.
These are the only contacts she mentions.
Asked by prosecutors about a June 23 meeting she may have had with Libby, she testifies that she cannot recall any such meeting.
Presented by prosecutors with White House visitation logs referencing a June 23 meeting, Miller concedes that such a meeting was "possible."
She testifies that she's not certain how the name "Valerie Flame" got into her notebook, but she's pretty sure Libby had nothing to do with it.
7. Early October, 2005: Miller "discovers" notes of the June 23, 2003 meeting which she had testified she couldn't recall.
8. October 12, 2005: With the aid of these notes, she's able to remember (according to the Times account) that on June 23, 2003: "Her assignment was to write an article about the failure to find unconventional weapons in Iraq. [But] Mr. Libby wanted to talk about a diplomat's fact-finding trip in 2002 to the African nation of Niger to determine whether Iraq sought uranium there."
Miller lies to her editor to keep Libby's discussion of the Wilsons secret; she refuses to testify until the threat of indefinite incarceration becomes apparent; when she does testify, her original testimony conveniently leaves out the crucial June 23 meeting--the one which Libby also neglected to mention to the grand jury; and while she doesn't remember who provided her with the name "Valerie Flame" she's careful to discount the possibility that it could have been Libby.
Even after prosecutors have made it clear that they know about her the June 23 appointment with Libby, Miller's notes jog her memory in a way that does the least possible damage to him: She maintains that she can't recall him having mentioned Plame's name or her covert status.
Now: Surely, it doesn't take a cynic to note that, except when it puts her in personal legal jeopardy or contradicts what is publicly known, Miller's actions exculpate Libby (to the extent possible) at every step in this process.
And it doesn't take a skeptic to wonder whether Miller's been more interested--all along--in protecting Libby the person than she's been in meeting an impersonal, journalistic obligation not to reveal her sources.
There's no smoking gun, to be sure. But a pattern certainly does seem to exist.
And while the mainstream media has been oddly quiet about this dimension of the story, Times Executive Editor Bill Keller, of all people, comes closest to connecting the dots--in his letter to the Times staff:
If I had known the details of Judy's entanglement with Libby, I'd have been more careful in how the paper articulated its defense.Keller isn't suggesting Libby and Miller were having an affair. Instead, he's insinuating, however delicately, that Miller may not have been playing it straight; that her allegiance to Libby may have gone beyond the usual loyalty of a reporter to her source.
Of course, there's a word for that kind of loyalty in the context of a criminal probe: It's called perjury.
Don't. Get. Eliminated.
Monday, October 24, 2005
Important questions include: What was gained--and by whom--from this story's publication? Does the piece itself offer any clues?
More to come.
UPDATE: Steve Clemons is right to suggest that, whatever else this story does, it shatters the President's credibility on the Plame issue:
This means that Vice President Cheney has known all along that he was Scooter Libby's source--and whether Libby had license from him or not to try and slaughter the reputation of Joe Wilson--CHENEY KNEW.
The entire charade of President Bush stating that he wanted to get to the bottom of who leaked Plame's name--and who was involved--is no longer believable at any level. Cheney would not have failed to disclose this to Bush, and Bush played along as if none of his staff were involved.
Return, for a moment, to Joseph Wilson's original New York Times Op-Ed.
Remember that, in the piece, Wilson was questioning language in the State of the Union alleging efforts by Saddam Hussein to buy uranium from Niger. And remember that the White House ultimately backed away from the uranium allegation because the documents supporting it were determined to be forgeries.
The forgeries themselves haven't received much attention lately. Still, the question of who forged them and why is a controversy all its own.
According to this article, it's a controversy Patrick Fitzgerald is now looking into.
The senators were all talking in the context of the Clinton impeachment. But it's difficult to see why the context should matter.
As Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) explained at the time: "Perjury and obstruction hammer away at the twin pillars of our legal system: truth and justice."
That's as true today as it was in 1999.
Sunday, October 23, 2005
It's been a long road.
This week, though, the Plame affair is likely to reach a decisive moment. Still, it's important to keep in mind that no reliable information has emerged about what is likely to happen.
Yes--there's been a lot of chatter in recent weeks from "lawyers involved in the case." But a careful reading of news reports citing legal sources make it clear that these lawyers don't work in Patrick Fitzgerald's office.
And in this case, Fitzgerald's lawyers are the only lawyers that matter.
(The one reporter who does seem to have prosecution sources--Murray Waas--has been more or less silent on the issue of indictments.)
All of which is a long way of saying it's a live possibility that no one will be charged in the leak probe.
So it's worth facing up to that possibility. But it's also worth taking a moment to return to the issue at the center of the Plame matter, and to remember what we've learned.
Namely: Karl Rove and Lewis Libby outed a CIA operative working on WMD issues for political gain.
Either they knew she was covert and allowed politics to trump national security or they didn't know her covert status and, in feats of staggeringly bad judgment, acted without considering the consequences of their behavior.
If the latter is true (and that's the charitable interpretation), their security clearances should have immediately been revoked.
Even if they emerge from next week uncharged, they should be fired.
That they have been able to survive and thrive in the Bush administration--even after their dangerous behavior became public--isn't surprising. But is should be a scandal.
Saturday, October 22, 2005
As Sullivan notes, "Not exactly a sign of his being about to pack up and go home."
Thursday, October 20, 2005
But the most notable news comes in a story by Murray Waas, who fills a gaping hole in the Plame narrative's Judith Miller sub-plot: It took the prodding of the special prosecutor for Judith Miller to "remember" her June 23 meeting with Lewis Libby, and to come clean about it:
New York Times reporter Judith Miller told the federal grand jury in the CIA leak case that she might have met with I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby on June 23, 2003 only after prosecutors showed her Secret Service logs that indicated she and Libby had indeed met that day in the Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House, according to attorneys familiar with her testimony.Wouldn't be surprised if Executive Editor Bill Keller wanted to stay put in China for a few more days.
When a prosecutor first questioned Miller during her initial grand jury appearance on September 30, 2005 sources said, she did not bring up the June 23 meeting...Pressed by prosecutors who then brought up the specific date of the meeting, Miller testified that she still could not recall the June meeting...When a prosecutor presented Miller with copies of the White House-complex visitation logs, she said such a meeting was possible.
Shortly after her September 30 testimony, Miller discovered her notes from the June 23 meeting, and returned on October 12 for a second round of grand jury testimony. In this second appearance, Miller recounted details from her June 23 meeting with Libby, with the assistance of her notes.
Bob Bennett, an attorney for Miller, confirmed in an interview that Miller's October 12 testimony "corrected" her earlier statements to the grand jury regarding the June 23 meeting...Bennett said that Miller's testimony is now "correct, complete, and accurate." (Italics added.)
Billmon, always sharp, weighs in:
What's undoubtedly true...is that Waas's story flushes the last fecal traces of Miller's professional reputation straight down the toilet. Going to prison to protect a confidential source is one thing, committing perjury (or something damned close to it) in an effort to conceal criminal misconduct by a senior White House official is something else entirely. Judy's just lucky Fitzgerald needs her as a witness, otherwise she could look forward to a few more years of sleeping on thin mattresses and begging her fellow inmates to let her watch a few minutes of CNN.
After all, what kind of "presidential counselor" would deliberately accuse President Bush of having known for two years about Karl Rove's role in the Plame leak? What would be the motive?
Josh Marshall looks into this question, and comes up with an answer that's at least plausible.
But the Washington Post is also making news:
Cooper, after receiving permission from sources, testified before the grand jury and later said publicly that Rove and Libby had talked to him about Plame. But other reporters were contacted by other White House officials about Plame during the crucial week in July 2003 after Wilson's views became public, according to government officials and people involved in the case. (Italics added.)First Rove. Then Libby. Who's next?
UPDATE: Well, so much for predictions. In the Rose Garden this morning, neither of the two questions asked by American journalists addressed yesterday's report that President Bush has known about Karl Rove's role in leaking Valerie Plame's identity for two years.
I guess lying to the country isn't as big a deal as it used to be.
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
It's a small thing, but this graf from today's Times piece about the Plame investigation is pretty telling:Among the names being discussed to take some of Mr. Rove's responsibilities should he have to step aside, an outside adviser to the White House said, are Dan Bartlett, currently Mr. Bush's counselor; Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican National Committee; and Robert M. Kimmitt, the deputy Treasury secretary.The deputy Treasury secretary is a candidate to fill in for Karl Rove? I guess that tells you one of two things. Either the president likes his top political adviser to have an unusually sophisticated grasp of economic policy, or he has a tendency to stick political hands in positions normally reserved for people who are pretty fluent in economics. I think the way to resolve this mystery is to ask yourself whether Bill Clinton would have asked Larry Summers, a former deputy Treasury Secretary, to be his top political adviser.
Sunday, October 16, 2005
"The way [Miers is] being beaten up by the far right is very sexist. People should hold their fire, and give people an opportunity to come before a hearing," said Feinstein, D-Calif.Look: Let's set aside for a moment that Feinstein is wrong on the merits, and should be ashamed for imputing impure motives to Miers opponents.
Consider the politics: Religious conservatives are now calling the President out on his poor judgment, his abandonment of principle and his tendency toward cronyism.
Why beat these people up for coming around to a Democratic view of the President?
Isn't this a moment to reach out to these voters--or at least to cite their criticism as evidence that Democratic complaints are gaining traction across the ideological spectrum?
Another character in the drama remains unnamed: the original source for columnist Robert Novak, who wrote the first piece naming Plame. Fitzgerald, says a lawyer who's involved in the case, "knows who it is—and it's not someone at the White House.
Saturday, October 15, 2005
Q What do you say to reports that the White House is very jittery about everything that's been happening, and that the President is under a great strain?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you've been covering the President today. The President has been having a pretty full day here at the White House. Like I said, we've got a lot of important work on the plate, and we are moving forward on the President's agenda.
Q Where do these reports come from, that they--do they have any validity?
MR. McCLELLAN: From your colleagues, who write them.
MR. McCLELLAN: From your colleagues, who write them.
Q I mean, do they have any basis?
MR. McCLELLAN: What do you mean, "do they have any basis"?
Q That's what I'm asking.
MR. McCLELLAN: Ask those colleagues.
Q No, I'm asking you--
MR. McCLELLAN: I told you what we're doing.
Q --you know what's going on in the White House.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, we're focused on the priorities of the American people.
Q Come on, Scott, have you got a case of the shakes, or not? Come on. (Laughter.) Hold up the hands, let's see (Laughter.)
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
It was a baseless charge and--because it was employed cynically--an insult to women and men working to combat genuine sexism in our society.
Now, with conservatives up in arms over the Miers nomination, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) is using the same deplorable tactic on Republicans:
I'm shocked at the sexism and double standard coming out of the far right [on the Miers nomination].The debate about Miers has been about her qualifications and her ideology. Gender simply hasn't entered into it. Shame on Mikulski for pretending otherwise.
Sunday, October 09, 2005
I've taken a pretty clear position on the Miers issue: Unless she demonstrates an easy familiarity with constitutional law and a sophisticated, mainstream judicial philosophy, she should not be confirmed.
But for those of us who yearn for a Return to Seriousness in government--and understand that a climate of seriousness is impossible without Democratic control of Congress (or at least one of its chambers)--the political calculus offered by the Miers nomination is not so clearcut.
Because if Miers is defeated, and conservatives play a central role in her defeat, the right wing of the Republican party will emerge emboldened and empowered.
On the other hand, if Miers squeaks through with the support of a slim majority of Republicans joined by a minority of Democrats, the Republican base will be demoralized. They'll likely spend 2006 on the sidelines.
And that would set the stage for a Democratic rout in the mid-terms.
So what's a serious-minded Democrat to do? As I've said, I hope Miers gets voted down unless she proves that she deserves to be on the court.
But I also hope Harry Reid and friends are looking a few moves ahead on the chess board.
Just another Saturday morning at the 59th Street Marine Waste Transfer Station in Manhattan.
A truck unloads paper--destined for recycling--onto a barge.
(Special thanks to openhousenewyork.)
What this shows on the part of the president, in my judgment, is a lack of seriousness...We have some of the finest jurists in the country who have stood the test...and he passes them all over for his personal attorney, who has a complete tabula rasa. That suggests to me either that Bush has contempt for the conservative community, he doesn't care about their issues or he does not want the fight.
Saturday, October 08, 2005
If great intellectual powerhouse is a qualification to be a member of the court and represent the American people and the wishes of the American people and to interpret the Constitution, then I think we have a court so skewed on the intellectual side that we may not be getting representation of America as a whole.For the record: CONTRAPOSITIVE is ready to go out on a limb in support of the use of intellectual firepower as a factor in the selection of Supreme Court nominees.
And, note to Coats: The role of the Supreme Court in our system is not to represent the "wishes of the American people."
In fact, I'm pretty sure that approach to judicial decision-making would fall under the category of legislating from the bench...
Thursday, October 06, 2005
Rove seems to have made a September 26 appearance at a fundraiser in Kentucky. But after that, he appears to have fallen off the map.
Has Karl Rove been in hiding for the last ten days?
UPDATE: Looks like Rove has indeed been busy.
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
It must be occurring to at least some Dems that, at least in ideological terms, they could likely do far worse than Miers.Based on what evidence? Because she may not loathe gay people?
Anyone using that single data point to conclude anything is betraying an ignorance about how the Supreme Court works and how judges judge.
The fact is that right now, for all we know, Miers could very well ascribe to a brand of strict, literalist originalism that would make Thomas and Scalia blush. There is no evidence to suggest this. But there is also no evidence--literally none--to suggest otherwise.
That conservatives are anxious about her nomination tells us nothing: People like Rush Limbaugh are anxious not because Miers is a liberal but because they don't know beyond a shadow of a doubt that she's a conservative.
Reading anything more into objections on the right is a mistake.
Don't know about anyone else, but that certainly gives me pause.
A prominent strand of commentary in the elite media interprets this range of reactions as evidence that Miers is a "safe" choice. Consider this wire story by AP scribe Ron Fournier:
Some liberals call it cronyism. Some conservatives call it a betrayal. President Bush is gambling that it will prove smart and safe--choosing a little-known loyalist with no judicial experience to fill a second Supreme Court vacancy.But if Miers is on the fast-track toward confirmation, she shouldn't be. George Will makes all the obvious points:
Harriet Miers seems destined for confirmation. Despite howls from the fringes of both parties, Democratic and Republican strategists expect her to take a seat alongside newly minted Chief Justice John Roberts barring a surprise development.
There is no evidence that she is among the leading lights of American jurisprudence, or that she possesses talents commensurate with the Supreme Court's tasks. The president's "argument'' for her amounts to: Trust me. There is no reason to.The burden is indeed on Miers. Will is right: She should have to work aggressively to prove that she's up to the job--that she has the requisite intellectual firepower, a sound and sophisticated approach to constitutional reasoning and a working knowledge of the court's history and precedents.
It is important that Miers not be confirmed unless, in her 61st year, she suddenly and unexpectedly is found to have hitherto undisclosed interests and talents pertinent to the court's role. Otherwise the sound principle of substantial deference to a president's choice of judicial nominees will dissolve into a rationalization for senatorial abdication of the duty to hold presidents to some standards of seriousness that will prevent them from reducing the Supreme Court to a private plaything useful for fulfilling whims on behalf of friends.
The wisdom of presumptive opposition to Miers' confirmation flows from the fact that constitutional reasoning is a talent--a skill acquired, as intellectual skills are, by years of practice sustained by intense interest. It is not usually acquired in the normal course of even a fine lawyer’s career. The burden is on Miers to demonstrate such talents, and on senators to compel such a demonstration or reject the nomination.
Accomplishing all that in a few days of hearings is a tall (though not insurmountable) order. But it's a standard she must be held to given her lack of relevant experience and the lack of a relevant paper trail on the basis of which to assess her qualifications.
Senators voting to confirm her without such proof will have fallen down on the job.
We welcome the president's nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court. He pledged emphatically during his campaign to appoint judges who will interpret the law rather than create it. He also promised to select competent judges who will 'not use the bench to write social policy.' To this point, President Bush's appointments to the federal bench appear to have been remarkably consistent with that stated philosophy. Based on the information known generally about Harriet Miers, and President Bush's personal knowledge of her, we believe that she will not prove to be a lone exception.What does Dobson know that the rest of us don't?
UPDATE:Dobson revises and extends:
"Some of what I know I am not at liberty to talk about," [Dobson] said in an interview, explaining his decision to speak out in support of Ms. Miers. He declined to discuss his conversations with the White House.
Monday, October 03, 2005
UPDATE: The right-wing folks at Powerline aren't amused:
I'm sure that she is a capable lawyer and a loyal aide to President Bush. But the bottom line is that he had a number of great candidates to choose from, and instead of picking one of them--Luttig, McConnell, Brown, or a number of others--he nominated someone whose only obvious qualification is her relationship with him.
The reason the Roberts nomination was successful politically was the nominee's obviously overwhelming qualifications for the job. Bush could have done the same thing once again, with any of a number of superbly qualified candidates. He should have nominated another great conservative, and dared the Democrats to filibuster him: the resulting political fallout might have changed the dynamics of Bush's second term in the administration's favor, and we would have wound up with another great jurist on the bench.
Instead, Bush chose a nominee who makes little sense on either substantive or political grounds: a second or third tier candidate whose choice will be, I think, slight political minus for the President because of her perceived lack of qualifications. I really don't get it.
Sunday, October 02, 2005
First, some thoughts about the unfolding Judith Miller strand of the Valerie Plame story. As has been widely observed, Miller's recent decision to testify before the grand jury raises more questions than it answers.
Two quick points.
1. Miller and her lawyers have argued that the original waiver she received from Lewis Libby couldn't safely be construed as uncoerced. But the evidence has undermined that claim. And so, in the face of mounting media pressure, their tune is changing. Reuters tells us:
[Miller attorney Floyd] Abrams said he spoke to Libby's attorney, Joseph Tate, before Miller went to jail. "It is true that he said to me it's OK with him [Libby] if she testifies," Abrams said."Abrams goes on to mount an obfuscating argument about the mandatory--and thus ostensibly coerced--waiver Libby signed for the White House. But that's besides the point. Both sides now admit consent had been given for Miller to testify. She wasn't willing to take yes for an answer. But Libby clearly seems to have given her the okay.
2. So why didn't she just talk to the grand jury? The truth is beginning to emerge. Also via Reuters:
Tate said he believed Miller's goal in refusing to accept that waiver was to protect other sources.Who are Miller's other sources? What did Fitzgerald want to know about them? And why is he now content to close his investigation without getting Miller to go on the record about them?
Abrams said: "She has other sources and was very concerned about the possibility of having to reveal those sources or going back to jail because of them."
That appears to conflict with comments by attorney Robert Bennett, who also represents Miller in the case. Bennett said on Friday that "Judy is not protecting anybody else."
And why can't Miller's famous, high-priced lawyers get their stories straight?