By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 10, 2006
Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff testified that his bosses instructed him to leak information to reporters from a high-level intelligence report that suggested Iraq was trying to obtain weapons of mass destruction, according to court records in the CIA leak case.
Cheney was one of the "superiors" I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby said had authorized him to make the disclosures, according to sources familiar with the investigation into Libby's discussions with reporters about CIA operative Valerie Plame.
But it is unclear whether Cheney instructed his former top aide to release classified information, because parts of the National Intelligence Estimate were previously declassified.
The disclosure in a legal document written by special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald demonstrates one way in which Cheney was involved in responding to public allegations by Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, that the administration had exaggerated questionable intelligence to justify war with Iraq.
In a letter written in January and released in court papers filed by Libby's defense Monday, Fitzgerald wrote that Libby testified that his "superiors" authorized him to disclose information from the National Intelligence Estimate to reporters in the summer of 2003.
The National Journal first reported on its Web site yesterday that Cheney had provided the authorization.
The intelligence estimate is a classified report prepared by intelligence officers for high-level government officials, and some parts are regularly declassified in a summary and available to the public.
Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride declined to comment on Cheney's role in Libby's discussions of the intelligence estimate, referring calls to Fitzgerald's office. Fitzgerald's spokesman has declined to comment on the prosecutor's investigation and filings.
Libby was indicted in October on charges of obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements in the course of the investigation. Fitzgerald has been trying to determine since January 2004 whether administration officials knowingly disclosed Plame's identity to reporters to discredit Wilson's allegations, a possible violation of law.
Plame's name first appeared in a syndicated column by Robert D. Novak in July 2003, eight days after her husband publicly accused the administration of relying on questionable information about Iraq's weapons program to justify the war.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said the new information about Libby's testimony exposes a possible hypocrisy within the Bush administration as it seeks to punish those who leak politically embarrassing information about secret CIA prisons and warrantless spying, but encourages leaks that aid the administration's political strategy.
"These charges, if true, represent a new low in the already sordid case of partisan interests being placed above national security," Kennedy said in a statement. "The Vice President's vindictiveness in defending the misguided war in Iraq is obvious."
Larry Johnson, a former intelligence officer and colleague of Plame's who has been critical of the administration's campaign against Wilson, said the Libby testimony helps prove that top executive branch officials were working to discredit an administration critic.
"This was not some rogue operation, but was directed at the highest levels, and specifically by Dick Cheney," Johnson said. "Libby was definitely a man with a mission, but a man who was given a mission."