Cheney Doesn't Share

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Wednesday, February 7, 2007; 12:46 PM

Another memorable scene of the inner workings of the Bush White House unfolded yesterday in the federal courthouse where former vice presidential chief of staff Scooter Libby is on trial.

This one is particularly significant because it gives credence to the widespread view that Vice President Cheney oversees his own intensely secretive, highly defensive and sometimes ruthless operation within the White House -- and that he does so with President Bush's approval, but often outside the view of Bush's top aides.

Greg Miller writes in the Los Angeles Times: "As Libby sat silently in the courtroom, jurors heard his recorded voice describe how he was instructed to leak intelligence secrets to select reporters, even as other White House officials were expressing concern over the leaks and debating whether the administration should formally declassify intelligence reports on Iraq to combat criticism of the case for war.

"At one point, Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald can be heard on the tapes expressing disbelief that Libby would take part in those meetings without disclosing that the president had effectively already declassified key portions of one of the main prewar pieces of intelligence on Iraq, a national intelligence estimate on Saddam Hussein's alleged banned weapons programs.

"'Was that unusual for you to have the national security advisor, the director of Central Intelligence, the White House chief of staff among others in the dark as to something that you had done regarding declassification?' Fitzgerald asked.

"'It is not unusual for the vice president to tell me something which I am not allowed to share with others,' Libby replied."

Neil A. Lewis writes in the New York Times: "The audiotapes also provided more detail about Mr. Libby's July 8, 2003, meeting with Judith Miller, then a reporter for The New York Times. Mr. Libby told the grand jury that his meeting with Ms. Miller was approved directly by the vice president. Mr. Libby said that in order to convince Ms. Miller that Mr. Wilson's article in The Times was filled with inaccuracies, Mr. Cheney first went to President Bush directly to declassify a National Intelligence Estimate. Mr. Libby said that he used the intelligence estimate in the Miller interview to counter Mr. Wilson's claims that there was no Iraqi effort to obtain uranium from Niger.

"'The vice president instructed me to go and talk to Judith Miller and lay this out for her,' Mr. Libby told the grand jury. He said he did not discuss Ms. Wilson in the interview. But Ms. Miller, who went to jail for 85 days before talking to prosecutors about her interviews with Mr. Libby, testified last week that he spoke to her in detail about Ms. Wilson at the July 8 breakfast meeting.

"He lamented that Ms. Miller did not write anything from the interview. At the time, Ms. Miller's editors had tried to prevent her from reporting on this subject because of criticisms of her coverage about Iraq and unconventional weapons."

And it's worth noting that, on top of everything else, the information that Libby leaked that was theoretically from that secretly declassified national intelligence estimate was in fact a misrepresentation of that report. As Carol D. Leonnig and Amy Goldstein noted in The Washington Post last month: "Intelligence analysts have said that the uranium claim was never a key finding of the NIE and that there were doubts about it."

Fitzgerald's Dogged Questioning

Amy Goldstein and Carol D. Leonnig write in this morning's Washington Post: "Vice President Cheney and other senior White House officials regarded a former ambassador's accusations that President Bush misled the nation in going to war in Iraq as an unparalleled political assault and, early in the summer of 2003, held daily discussions about how to debunk them, I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby told a federal grand jury.

"In grand jury audiotapes played yesterday during Libby's perjury trial, the vice president's then-chief of staff said Cheney had been 'upset' and 'disturbed' by criticisms from former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV that Bush had twisted intelligence to justify the war. And Libby said that Karl Rove had been 'animated' by a conversation with Robert D. Novak, in which the conservative columnist told Rove he 'had a bad taste in his mouth' about Wilson and was writing a column about him. . . .

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