Vice President's Shadow Hangs Over Trial

Vice President Cheney reportedly gave his then-chief of staff instructions on how to handle criticism from Joseph C. Wilson IV.
Vice President Cheney reportedly gave his then-chief of staff instructions on how to handle criticism from Joseph C. Wilson IV. (By Haraz N. Ghanbari -- Associated Press)

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By R. Jeffrey Smith and Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 4, 2007

Vice President Cheney's press officer, Cathie Martin, approached his chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, on Air Force Two on July 12, 2003, to ask how she should respond to journalists' questions about Joseph C. Wilson IV. Libby looked over one of the reporters' questions and told Martin: "Well, let me go talk to the boss and I'll be back."

On Libby's return, Martin testified in federal court last week, he brought a card with detailed replies dictated by Cheney, including a highly partisan, incomplete summary of Wilson's investigation into Iraq's suspected weapons of mass destruction program.

Libby subsequently called a reporter, read him the statement, and said -- according to the reporter -- he had "heard" that Wilson's investigation was instigated by his wife, an employee at the CIA, later identified as Valerie Plame. The reporter, Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, was one of five people with whom Libby discussed Plame's CIA status during those critical weeks that summer.

After seven days of such courtroom testimony, the unanswered question hanging over Libby's trial is, did the vice president's former chief of staff decide to leak that disparaging information on his own?

No evidence has emerged that Cheney told him to do it. But Cheney's dictated reply is one of many signs to emerge at the trial of the vice president's unusual attentiveness to the controversy and his desire to blunt it. His efforts included the extraordinary disclosure of classified information, including one-sided synopses of Wilson's report and a 2002 intelligence estimate on Iraq.

Under questioning from FBI agent Deborah S. Bond, Libby acknowledged that he and Cheney "may have talked" aboard the plane from Norfolk that day about whether to make public Plame's CIA employment, Bond testified Thursday.

Her testimony brought Cheney closer than ever to the heart of the controversy surrounding the Bush administration's efforts to discredit Wilson, who had accused the White House of twisting intelligence he had gathered as it sought to justify the invasion of Iraq.

White House officials testified that Cheney was irritated because he thought Wilson had alleged the vice president sent him on the fact-finding trip to Niger but rejected the investigation's conclusions. Time after time at the height of the controversy, they said, Cheney directed the administration's response to Wilson's criticism and Libby carried it out.

Cheney personally dictated other talking points for use by the White House press office; helped negotiate the wording of a key statement by then-CIA Director George J. Tenet; instructed Libby to deal directly with selected reporters; told Libby to disclose selected passages from the national intelligence estimate and other classified reports; and held a luncheon for conservative columnists to discuss the controversy.

Throughout this period, Cheney kept a news clipping of Wilson's criticisms on his desk, annotated with the question, "did his wife send him on a junket?" according to court statements. Libby told a grand jury that he and Cheney discussed it on multiple occasions each day.

Randall Eliason, a former chief of public corruption prosecutions for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington, said, "There has been significant evidence of how deeply the vice president was involved. If Cheney is personally, deeply involved in it, it's Libby's job to be personally, deeply involved."

Wilson was a former U.S. ambassador dispatched by the CIA the previous year -- at the suggestion of his wife but on a decision by other officials -- to determine whether Iraq had recently tried to acquire nuclear materials from Niger. The agency later said that it was responding to inquiries made by Cheney's office, the State Department and the Defense Department.


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