By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 14, 2006
After former U.S. ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV publicly criticized a key rationale for the war in Iraq, Vice President Cheney wrote a note on a newspaper clipping raising the possibility that the critique resulted from a CIA-sponsored "junket" arranged by Wilson's wife, covert CIA officer Valerie Plame, according to court documents filed late Friday.
The filing by special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald is the second that names Cheney as a key White House official who questioned the legitimacy of Wilson's examination of Iraqi nuclear ambitions. It further suggests that Cheney helped originate the idea in his office that Wilson's credibility was undermined by his link to Plame.
Fitzgerald's filing states that Cheney passed the annotated article by Wilson to his chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who Fitzgerald says subsequently discussed Wilson's marriage to Plame in conversations with two reporters, despite the fact that Plame was a covert CIA officer and her name was not supposed to be revealed. The filing was first reported by Newsweek on its Web site.
Fitzgerald does not allege in his filing that Cheney ordered Libby to disclose Plame's identity. But he states that Cheney's note to Libby helps "explain the context of, and provide a motive for" many of the later statements and actions by Libby. Libby was indicted last year for making false statements to FBI agents, obstruction of justice and perjury, mostly based on Libby's testimony that he did not confirm Plame's involvement in conversations with the two journalists.
Wilson's credibility became a key issue for the White House because the results of his probe into Iraq's nuclear program surfaced when the administration had already been hit by charges it had distorted intelligence before invading Iraq. Wilson had concluded after taking a CIA-sponsored trip to Niger two years earlier that evidence of Iraqi attempts to acquire nuclear weapons materials there was dubious.
A court filing last month by Fitzgerald -- who has been gradually spelling out what he plans to say during Libby's trial next year -- stated that Cheney had expressed concern about whether Wilson's trip was a junket set up by his wife. The new filing includes the precise annotations that Cheney wrote on a copy of Wilson's July 2003 article in the New York Times, titled "What I Didn't Find in Africa."
"Have they done this sort of thing before?" Cheney wrote. "Send an amb[assador] to answer a question? Do we ordinarily send people out pro bono to work for us? Or did his wife send him on a junket?"
Fitzgerald's filing states that Libby learned of Plame's name from Cheney, in the course of discussions by the vice president's office about how to respond to a June 2003 inquiry from Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus about Wilson's trip to Niger. Fitzgerald asserts that those conversations -- and earlier ones sparked by a May 2003 column about the trip in the Times -- help demonstrate that Libby's "disclosures to the press concerning Mr. Wilson's wife were not casual disclosures."
Libby has not said in grand jury testimony that Cheney instructed him to leak Plame's name, according to a court filing by Libby's attorneys last month. His attorneys have also said that Plame's role in the matter was of peripheral interest to the White House, a circumstance that explains why he may have forgotten exactly what he said to reporters about Plame. Libby's attorneys have also said they will attempt to demonstrate at trial that Plame's identity was known by many officials in Washington and that Libby had no special reason to believe her identity was protected information.
Fitzgerald, in contrast, spelled out in his new filing that it was an article about Wilson's trip in the New Republic that prompted Libby to discuss the matter with a former colleague, Eric Edelman. During that conversation, Libby said he could not talk about the trip because of "complications" at the CIA that could not be discussed on the telephone, Fitzgerald states -- evidently based on Edelman's statements.
Fitzgerald also says in the filing that after columnist Robert D. Novak published the first newspaper article mentioning Plame's name on July 14, 2003 -- the disclosure that sparked Fitzgerald's investigation -- a CIA official discussed in Libby's presence "the dangers posed by disclosure of the CIA affiliation of one of its employees."
This conversation, Fitzgerald said, directly undermines Libby's claims that he had no reason to believe he or others had done anything wrong and had no reason to lie to the FBI. It also helps explain, Fitzgerald said, why Libby told a grand jury he thought Wilson was fully qualified to go on the trip and he was unsure if Wilson was even married.
The new filing also expands on Fitzgerald's revelation last month that Libby had disclosed portions of a previously classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq by describing portions of it to a Times reporter. It states that Libby also provided -- "through another government official" -- a copy of portions of the NIE to the Wall Street Journal before it published a July 17, 2003, editorial on that subject.
Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride declined to comment and referred questions to Fitzgerald's office.
Staff writer Peter Baker contributed to this report.