Administration coordinated a PR firing squad, put together ad hoc PR hit on the Wilsons
The collateral damage was to classified, objective WMD analysis at the CIA...
By Margie Burns on 2/22/2007, 1:08pm PT  

*** Special to The BRAD BLOG
*** by Libby/CIA Leak Trial Correspondent Margie Burns

At this writing, the jury is out in the perjury and obstruction of justice trial of I. Lewis Libby, former chief of staff for Vice President Cheney. When I left the courthouse this afternoon, Judge Reggie Walton was attending a memorial service, with the jury still deliberating for the second day.

I can make no prediction as to the trial outcome. However, in the interim some media outlets are pushing or falling into an insidious line that the Libby case is either too difficult and obscure to understand, or too trivial to bother with. Setting aside the allegations against Libby individually, this line is dangerous, partly because it is so blatantly the reverse of accurate. The CIA leak matter itself is actually very simple.

What the Libby case is about...

It’s simple: a bunch of very high-level people, at the policy-making level in the White House and the Office of the Vice President (OVP), set out to discredit and to oust Joe Wilson and more importantly, Mrs. Wilson, after Wilson published his July 6, 2003, op-ed article titled “What I Didn’t Find in Africa.”*

The maneuver was simple, merely using the bully pulpits of White House and Office of the Vice President to circulate numerous times within a month – to the press --- the item of information that Joe Wilson had been 'sent' to Niger to check out the purported Iraq-uranium deal by his wife, Valerie Plame, a WMD analyst in the Counter-proliferation Division of the CIA, where the overwhelming majority of analysts were covert. The line taken by Cheney's office was that Wilson was claiming falsely to have been 'sent' by the Vice President, when it was really his wife.

The administration action was concerted. From June 13, 2003, to July 12, 2003, testimony and documents in the Libby trial corroborate that at a minimum, this item was given to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward by then Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage, who also gave it to columnist Robert Novak; it was conveyed by Libby himself to departing White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who also heard it, according to his grand jury testimony, from White House staffer Dan Bartlett; Fleischer in turn gave it to a couple of other reporters including NBC’s David Gregory, who did not publish it; Libby also divulged it in an exclusive to then New York Times reporter Judith Miller; White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove also confirmed the item for Bob Novak – who published it in a column on July 14, 2003 – and gave it to Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper; and WashPost reporter Walter Pincus also received it. Other press contacts or attempted contacts in the same period included NBC’s Andrea Mitchell and Chris Matthews, who told Wilson that Rove had called Mrs. Wilson “fair game,” and Glenn Kessler at the WashPost.

In fact, the White House-OVP action was so concerted, firing-squad style, that in retrospect it becomes a sort of reverse lottery, an inverse Russian roulette; even in hindsight it becomes difficult to determine who fired figuratively the first shot or the fatal bullet.

Well, they organize firing squads this way for a reason. Same principle here: this was --- or was intended to be --- a PR hit, a PR firing squad, a PR lethal discrediting, with the toxic bolt of publicity directed at least against both the secret position held by Valerie Plame Wilson and the public role taken by Joe Wilson. As with the other kind of execution, more than one "senior official" was deputized to perform the action demanded by a higher office.

Think Ides of March for Julius Caesar, or the firing-squad scene in Rossellini’s Open City. This was a group assassination – marshaled ad hoc by an entrenched faction in the administration – performed for a reason, namely to prevent any further exposure of the pretexts behind which the administration went to war.

So, given the success of the obfuscation, the only thing the forces of law and order can do is to prosecute the open and apparent acts. “What’s open made to justice, that justice seizes” (Measure for Measure --- Shakespeare). You don’t get out of a speeding ticket just because other drivers are speeding away behind the back of the cop who’s writing your ticket. (Predictably, the putative law-and-order types among the neocons are saying you can, calling the prosecution “guilt by association” when they’re not representing the entire matter as either trivial or hopelessly confusing.)

That said, the Libby trial or Libby’s alleged actions are hardly the whole story. – No one is going to claim seriously that Libby went out on a limb to implement a series of press contacts that were strictly his own idea – holding his hand over a candle flame to demonstrate his toughness under interrogation – G. Gordon Libby. The higher office was that of the Vice President, and there is no reason to assume that any actions taken by the OVP were taken unawares of the White House.

[*Wilson’s timing, or that of the New York Times which published the piece, was probably an added irritant since that was the week that the president, with an entourage including then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, went to Africa.]

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