Friday, February 10, 2006

It has come to light that:

Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, testified to a federal grand jury that he had been "authorized" by Cheney and other White House "superiors" in the summer of 2003 to disclose classified information to journalists to defend the Bush administration's use of prewar intelligence in making the case to go to war with Iraq, according to attorneys familiar with the matter, and to court records.

Libby specifically claimed that in one instance he had been authorized to divulge portions of a then-still highly classified National Intelligence Estimate regarding Saddam Hussein's purported efforts to develop nuclear weapons, according to correspondence recently filed in federal court by special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald.

Why is this important? Well, they tell us:

The new disclosure that Libby has claimed that the vice president and others in the White House had authorized him to release information to make the case to go to war, and later to defend the administration's use of prewar intelligence, is significant for several reasons. First, it significantly adds to a mounting body of information that Cheney played a central and personal role in directing efforts to counter claims by Wilson and other administration critics that the Bush administration had misused intelligence information to go to war with Iraq.

Second, it raises additional questions about Libby's motives in concealing his role in leaking Plame's name to the press, if he was in fact more broadly authorized by Cheney and others to rebut former Ambassador Wilson's charges. The federal grand jury indictment of Libby alleges that he had lied to the FBI and the federal grand jury by claiming that when he provided information to reporters about Plame's CIA employment, he was only passing along what he understood to be unverified gossip that he had heard from other journalists.

Instead, the indictment charges that Libby had in fact learned of Plame's CIA status from at least four government officials, Cheney among them, and from classified documents. Indeed, much of Libby's earliest and most detailed information regarding Plame's CIA employment came directly from the vice president, according to information in Libby's grand jury indictment. "On or about June 12, 2003," the indictment stated, "Libby was advised by the Vice President of the United States that Wilson's wife worked at the Central Intelligence Agency in the Counterproliferation Division."

Libby testified that Cheney told him about Plame "in an off sort of, curiosity sort of, fashion," according to other information recently unsealed in federal court. Not long after that date, Libby, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, and a third administration official began to tell reporters that Plame had worked at the CIA, and that she had been responsible for sending her husband to Niger.

Finally, the new information indicates that Libby is likely to pursue a defense during his trial that he was broadly "authorized" by Cheney and other "superiors" to defend the Bush administration in making the case to go to war. Libby does not, however, appear to be claiming that he was acting specifically on Cheney's behalf in disclosing information about Plame to the press.

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