Cheney's Fingerprint?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Friday, February 2, 2007; 12:58 PM

The revelation yesterday that Scooter Libby acknowledged in November 2003 that he and Vice President Cheney may have talked in July about whether to tell reporters that Valerie Plame worked at the CIA further bolsters the theory that Cheney may be the prime force behind this whole sordid tale.

The conversation in question took place on July 12, 2003, as Cheney and his then-chief of staff were flying back from an event in Norfolk on Air Force Two.

According to multiple reports, Cheney was talking about how to discredit Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, who was making trouble with his suggestion that the administration manipulated intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq. Wilson felt the administration had intentionally disregarded the findings of a trip to Niger he had undertaken for the CIA.

A few days earlier, Cheney had scrawled in the margin of an offending op-ed piece by Wilson: "[D]id his wife send him on a junket?"

Yesterday, an FBI agent testified that Libby raised the possibility in a November 2003 interview that "there was a discussion whether to report to the press that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA," during that July 12 flight. "Mr. Libby told us he believed they may have talked about it but he wasn't sure."

The timing is key. Because according to special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's indictment and reporting by the National Journal's Murray Waas, it was immediately after disembarking from Air Force Two that Libby started working the phones.

Libby promptly called Judith Miller. He had already met with the then-New York Times reporter twice by that point. But in his phone conversation that afternoon, according to Miller, he mentioned Valerie Plame for a third time and pushed that angle sufficiently that she felt obliged to tell him that the Times wasn't interested in writing a story about it.

And Libby promptly called Matt Cooper, then of Time Magazine. According to Cooper, it was during that phone call that Libby confirmed to Cooper that Plame had been involved in her husband's trip -- an allegation Cooper had first heard from Karl Rove.

What Libby Said

Michael J. Sniffen has the details from the Associated Press: "Former vice presidential aide I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby acknowledged he may have discussed with Vice President Dick Cheney whether to tell reporters that a prominent war critic's wife worked at the CIA, an FBI agent testified Thursday.

"Agent Deborah Bond . . . said that during Libby's second FBI interview in his office on Nov. 23, 2003, Libby described flying back from Norfolk, Va., with Cheney on July 12, 2003, at the height of public controversy over allegations made by Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson.

"Libby told the FBI he went to the front of the plane to get a statement Cheney wanted released to the press. . . .

"Bond testified Libby told the FBI 'there was a discussion whether to report to the press that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.' She added that Libby expressed some doubt.

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