The Cloud Over Cheney

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Wednesday, February 21, 2007; 2:12 PM

"What is this case about?" special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald asked in his rebuttal to the defense's closing arguments yesterday in the Scooter Libby perjury trial.

"Is it about something bigger?"

And while Fitzgerald never directly answered that second question, he at long last made it quite clear that the depth of Vice President Cheney's role in the leaking of the identity of a CIA operative is one of the central mysteries that Libby's alleged lies prevented investigators from resolving.

"There is a cloud over the vice president . . . And that cloud remains because this defendant obstructed justice," Fitzgerald said.

"There is a cloud over the White House. Don't you think the FBI and the grand jury and the American people are entitled to straight answers?" Fitzgerald asked the jury.

Libby, Fitzgerald continued, "stole the truth from the justice system."

After literally years of keeping his public pronouncements about the case to an absolute minimum, Fitzgerald yesterday finally let slip a bit of the speculation that many of us have long suspected has lurked just beneath the surface of his investigation.

Suddenly it wasn't just the defendant alone, it was "they" who decided to tell reporters about Wilson's wife working for the CIA. "To them," Fitzgerald said, "she wasn't a person, she was an argument."

And it was pretty clear who "they" was: Libby and his boss, Cheney.

Back in the summer of 2003, after former ambassador Joseph Wilson had dared suggest that the administration manipulated intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq, "they" were obsessed with denying that Wilson had been sent on his mission to Niger as a result of a request for information from the vice president's office, Fitzgerald said.

"They" saw his wife Valerie Plame's role in suggesting him for the trip as a way to cast suspicion on his mission and his claim.

In Fitzgerald's last words to the jury, what had been a somewhat innocuous-sounding memo suddenly became something close to a smoking gun documenting Cheney's encouragement to his minions out to spread the word about Wilson's wife.

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