|March 7, 2007|
||An Accountability Moment|
||Go Beyond The Headlines|
||Coffee and Donuts Not Included|
|For news and updates throughout the day, check out our blog at ThinkProgress.org.|
|Sign up | Contact us | Archive | Mobile|
Yesterday, a federal grand jury found Scooter Libby, Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff, guilty of lying about his role in the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity. “It’s sad that we had a situation where a high-level official — a person who worked in the office of the Vice President — obstructed justice and lied under oath,” commented special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald after the verdict was announced. Plame’s husband Amb. Joseph Wilson, the target of the Bush administration’s smear campaign, said, “I take no satisfaction in this. I think that the idea of a senior White House official being convicted of obstruction of justice and perjury is something that ought to sadden everybody who believes in public service.” But this case doesn’t end with Libby. “Where’s Rove? Where are these other guys? I’m not saying we didn’t think Mr. Libby was guilty of the things we found him guilty of. It seemed like…he was the fall guy,” said juror Denis Collins. In 2003, the White House promised that any staffer who leaked the undercover officer’s name “would no longer be in this administration.” This case made clear that at least 10 other administration officials — including Cheney — were involved in leaking Plame’s identity, yet none of them have been fired. The Bush administration also still refuses to say whether or not the President will pardon Libby and questions remain unanswered about the White House’s attempt to silence critics and push faulty intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war.
‘FINALLY CALLED TO ACCOUNT’: It was “a breath of fresh air to see someone in this administration, which specializes in secrecy, prevarication and evading blame, finally called to account,” writes the New York Times today. In Dec. 2003, Fitzgerald set out to answer a central question: “Did anyone in the administration intentionally and illegally disclose Plame’s classified status during the late spring and early summer of that year?” But he was never able to fully pursue his case, because of Libby’s lies to the FBI and the grand jury. Libby claimed that he “forgot he learned about Plame from Cheney in June 2003, and that he believed he heard of her for the first time a month later from NBC’s Tim Russert. He said he then shared the information with other reporters.” Russert’s testimony shot down Libby’s faulty-memory defense, claiming that he didn’t learn about Plame’s identity until several days after his call with Libby. Jurors agreed “that on nine occasions during a short period of 2003, Libby was either told about Plame or told others about her.” “This is not a case about bad memory,” Fitzgerald told the jury during opening statements last month. “It was important. … He made time to deal with the Wilson matter day after day after day.”
SMEARING WAR CRITICS: This morning, a Washington Post editorial tries to claim that the Libby investigation told “us nothing about the war in Iraq.” But in reality, it offered “some of the clearest evidence yet that this administration did not get duped by faulty intelligence; at the very least, it cherry-picked and hyped intelligence to justify the war.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said, “The testimony unmistakably revealed — at the highest levels of the Bush administration — a callous disregard in handling sensitive national security information and a disposition to smear critics of the war in Iraq.” On July 6, 2003, Wilson wrote a New York Times op-ed concluding, “Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.” In the following weeks, the CIA, State Department, and White House officials were all forced to admit that Bush’s claim in his 2003 State of the Union address — that Iraq was seeking “significant quantities of uranium from Africa” — was based on “bogus” information. But by that time, columnist Robert Novak had already disclosed Wilson’s wife’s identity in a July 14, 2003 piece, ruining her covert identity at the CIA. The White House wanted to publicly discredit Wilson’s CIA trip — and his criticisms of the Bush administration — by disclosing that his wife also worked for the CIA and “nepotism was the reason he had been chosen for the trip.” Novak testified that then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told him about Plame, but that Karl Rove then confirmed it. “According to Libby’s notes of a staff meeting at the time, Rove was among those actively seeking to discredit Wilson’s opinion. ‘We’re a day late in getting responses to the story,’ Rove said at a staff meeting. But it was the vice president, according to his then-chief of staff’s grand jury testimony, who told aides: ‘Get the full story out.'”
CHENEY WAS ‘INTIMATELY INVOLVED’: As the Washington Post notes, this trial portrayed Cheney “as more intimately involved in orchestrating the campaign to disparage Wilson than was previously known. … Testimony and evidence revealed that the vice president dictated precise talking points he wanted Libby and other aides to use to rebut Wilson’s accusations against the White House, helped select which journalists would be contacted and worked with Bush to declassify secret intelligence reports on Iraqi weapons that he believed would contradict Wilson’s claims.” But because Libby refused to tell the whole truth, the public still doesn’t know Cheney’s full role. For example, Libby “destroyed a note from Vice President Cheney about their conversations and about how Vice President Cheney wanted the Wilson matter handled.” But more disturbingly, this case offered a glimpse of the lengths to which Cheney went to push faulty intelligence about the Iraq war to the American people. Testimony by Catherine Martin, who was the Vice President’s top press aide at the time, “illustrated how doggedly Cheney insisted that the administration had significant evidence that Iraq was trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction — even after the White House had backed off that claim and admitted it was not solid enough for the president to have cited it in his 2003 State of the Union address.” Cheney also told Martin to alert the media that a recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) “indicated no doubts about Iraq’s efforts to buy uranium,” even though intelligence analysts concluded “that the uranium claim was never a key finding of the NIE and that there were doubts about it.”
LIBBY IS NOT A ‘LOYAL SOLDIER’: The right wing has consistently tried to play down the Libby trial, arguing that he is a “loyal soldier in the War on Terror.” But Libby is no “soldier,” let alone a “loyal soldier.” A different label for him was offered by President George H. W. Bush: “I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious of traitors.” Yesterday, as soon as the verdict was announced, Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano tried to spin the verdict for the defense, arguing that there is a basis for Libby’s defense counsel to say the jury “misunderstood the nature of the charges” and was “hopelessly confused.” It took the conservative National Review just 2.5 hours to publish a “Pardon Libby” editorial, and Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes argued that Bush will pardon Scooter Libby because “he didn’t really seriously impede the investigation” and “he’s been a loyal and effective member of this administration.” But in fact, Libby did “seriously impede the investigation” — Count 1 of the jury’s verdict ruled that Libby had obstructed the investigation. An ABC News poll taken when Libby was indicted found that 70 percent of Americans considered the charges against Libby to be serious.
PARDON POSSBILITY: The White House refuses to say whether or not it will pardon Libby. When asked about it yesterday, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said, “I don’t think that speculating on a wildly hypothetical situation at this time is appropriate. … There is a process in place for all Americans if they want to receive a pardon from a president. … And I’m aware of no such requests.” A former senior Cheney aide added, “‘It’s a very sad day. It’s outrageous. The President ought to pardon (Libby) by sundown.” In February, Bush also refused to discuss a possible Libby pardon. The White House repeatedly expressed sadness over the jury’s verdict, stating that the President was “sorry for Mr. Libby and his family.” This statement shows that the Bush administration still doesn’t understand the gravity of its actions. “I wish that he would express his sorrow for what has happened to my wife, whose career was destroyed as a consequence of this, and also to the service people of this country who are fighting in a war that now very clearly was justified by lies and disinformation,” responded Wilson last night.
MILITARY — ESCALATION WILL FURTHER STRESS ARMY BRIGADES OVERSTRETCHED BY MULTIPLE DEPLOYMENTS: The Center for American Progress yesterday released a report, “Beyond the Call of Duty: A Comprehensive Review of the Overuse of the Army in the Administration’s War of Choice in Iraq.” The report’s authors, Lawrence Korb, Peter Rundlet, and Max Bergmann, “undertook a massive research project to identify, brigade by brigade, the number and duration of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan by the active Army.” The report found 1.4 million troops have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, 420,000 troops have deployed more than once, and 84,000 National Guard and Reservists have been deployed multiple times. The multiple deployments are taking a toll on our soldiers. Last year, an Army survey found “U.S. soldiers serving repeated Iraq deployments are 50 percent more likely than those with one tour to suffer from acute combat stress, raising their risk of post-traumatic stress disorder.” “Combat stress is significantly higher among soldiers with at least one previous tour — 18.4 percent, compared with 12.5 percent of those on their first deployment, the survey found.” “The most likely explanation,” the survey said, “is that a number of soldiers returned [to Iraq] with acute stress/combat stress symptoms” that were unresolved from previous tours. Suicide rates among soldiers in Iraq doubled from 2004 to 2005. “Soldiers with multiple tours also reported greater concern over the length of the 12-month deployments than those on their first tours and were more likely to give lower ratings for their own morale and that of their units, which 55 percent described as low.” President Bush’s escalation strategy will push these overstressed troops even further. “Our Army is in bad shape” Korb said, “and the surge will only make it worse for the Army and the country.”
HOMELAND SECURITY — SENATE GRANTS UNION RIGHTS TO AIRPORT SCREENERS DESPITE WHITE HOUSE VETO THREAT: Yesterday, the Senate defeated an amendment introduced by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) that would have stripped out a provision granting union rights to 45,000 Transportation Security Administration (TSA) airport screeners. As it stands, the counterterrorism bill grants the screeners bargaining rights, while prohibiting both strikes and the right to wage negotiations. Nevertheless, the White House has threatened a veto if the bill contains these new union rights for TSA employees. TSA employees are housed in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which has the dubious distinction of having the “unhappiest workers in the federal government.” Granting TSA employees the right to organize would allow them to have the same rights as other DHS employees, as the airport screeners are “frequently required to work unscheduled overtime, suffer from high injury and illness rates, and have an attrition rate 10 times as high as the federal average.” Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) called on the White House and conservatives in the Senate to halt the veto threats. The bill would also implement many of the remaining recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, including reallocating homeland security resources, requiring the inspection of all air and sea cargo, and better funding first responders.
IRAQ — CHRISTIANS FACE ‘CAMPAIGN OF INTIMIDATION AND VIOLENCE’ IN IRAQ: In an op-ed for the DeMoines Register, Center for American Progress CEO John Podesta and Senior Fellow Brian Katulis highlight the injustices experienced by minority religious groups as a result of the civil-war in Iraq. Indeed, Christians — comprising less than 3 percent of the Iraqi population — have been the target of a “campaign of intimidation and violence” including the “fire bombings of dozens of churches” and “attacks on the heart of local Christian communities.” The Catholic News Service reports that this campaign has included the kidnapping of “at least six Iraqi priests,” and despite Christianity’s 2000 year-long history in Iraq, has caused at least half of Iraq’s one million Christians to flee to neighboring countries. One refugee commented, “When Saddam was in power there was no fighting. We were safer with Saddam; now we just leave the country.” As the LA Times reported yesterday, minority Christians feel they have “no part” in the sectarian war that has erupted in Iraq. Podesta and Katulis note that the administration’s attempt to promote democracy “narrowly defined as elections” has “backfired,” allowing radical Islamist leaders to “seize the reins of power.” While Pope Benedict XVI has attempted to “encourage Christians to be ‘courageous and steadfast,'” the chaos in Iraq has encouraged violence against religious minorities in the wider Middle East. Christians in Palestine have fallen victim to “violence and intimidation” and Lebanese Christians have been “leaving the country in increasing numbers in the aftermath of escalating violence and last summer’s war.”
“It’s too early to judge the success of this operation,” President Bush said yesterday of his escalation plan. “Yet even at this early hour, there are some encouraging signs.” On the same day in Iraq, suicide bombers and gunmen attacked Shiite religious pilgrims, “killing at least 130 people in one of the deadliest days of the four-year war.”
In a USA Today op-ed, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales calls the purged U.S. attorneys scandal “an overblown personnel matter.” But as Talking Points Memo documented, the excuses given yesterday by the Justice Deptartment for the firings are incredibly strained.
“On a personal level, friends of the vice president say the [Libby] trial has been deeply painful for him,” the New York Times reports. “Mr. Libby and Mr. Cheney were all but inseparable — [ex-Cheney staffer Mary] Matalin has called the former aide ‘Cheney’s Cheney’ — and often started their days by riding to work together.”
“Reporters will be barred” from Guantanamo Bay hearings meant to determine if 14 terrors suspects transferred from secret CIA prisons are “enemy combatants.” “No word of the hearings will be made public until the government releases a transcript of the proceedings, edited to remove material deemed damaging to national security.”
“President Bush has missed a March 1 deadline to submit a required report to Congress on expanding the eligibility for the Purple Heart.” Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) told Bush they are “disappointed” he allowed the deadline to pass, “saying wounded and deceased veterans and their families in this country deserve better.”
Senate leaders said yesterday they will use the upcoming defense spending bill to improve health care for military veterans, including new funding to improve facilities, improve diagnosis and treatment of brain injuries and mental health problems, and ease the transition between the military and veterans’ health care systems.
Meanwhile, the White House is adopting a sharply “defensive stance on the Iraq-war-funding bill,” resisting “giving Democratic staff even technical advice on funding that the new majority wants to add for veterans’ health programs.” President Bush held “a Republicans-only strategy dinner in the White House family quarters last week” on the bill.
The State Department released its annual human rights report yesterday, which cited Sudan, China, Russian, and Venezuela for abuses. Assistant Secretary of State Barry Lowekron admitted the report comes “at a time when our own record, and actions we have taken to respond to terrorist attacks against us, have been questioned.”
And finally: Didn’t do it. Wouldn’t be prudent. Former President George H. W. Bush insists he didn’t pat the behind of “Desperate Housewives” star Teri Hatcher after a lunch last month, despite apparent video evidence. The 82-year-old told Extra, “I have been teased about it relentlessly. (A website) accused me of patting her backside, which I did not do. The camera lies, it’s a fraud.”