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National Security: Peeling Back the Curtain

The Progress Report

Today, the trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, is revealing how the administration operated during those crucial months in mid-2003.

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GOOD NEWS

New legislation introduced by Sens. Chuck Shumer (D-NY) and Barack Obama (D-IL) will “punish attempts to deceive and intimidate voters,” including “knowingly communicating false information about the time and place of an election or about voter eligibility rules.”


STATE WATCH

INDIANA: State Senate “voted to advance a proposed amendment that would ban same-sex marriage in the state.”

FLORIDA: Gov. Charlie Crist (R) hopes to “replace Florida’s maligned ATM-style voting machines with systems that provide a clear paper trail.”

VIRGINIA: “Virginia moved forward on Wednesday to apologize for slavery, something no president or legislature has done.”

ENVIRONMENT: Almost “375 mayors of large and small cities from 50 states” have signed the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement to combat global warming and its effects.


BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: As White House plays the anti-military card, troops go without guns, supplies, armor.

TEXAS OBSERVER: Remembering legendary columnist Molly Ivins. (Read her final column.)

BOB GEIGER: A young Marine dies of PTSD — and neglect.

WINDOW ON WASHINGTON: House Judiciary Chairman Conyers (D-MI) announces formal probe of presidential signing statements.


DAILY GRILL

WSJ: Was there a moment in the war when you said we have to make a major change in the way we’re doing things in Iraq?
GWB: Yes, there was.
WSJ: When was that?
GWB: September/October.
— Wall Street Journal interview with President Bush, 1/31/07

VERSUS

“I believe that the military strategy we have is going to work. That’s what I believe.”
— President Bush, 10/25/06


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STUDENTS

Politics with an Attitude: Everyone from Barack Obama to Stephen Colbert talks to Campus Progress. Right-wingers seem scared of us. Find out why here.

 

  February 1, 2007
Peeling Back The Curtain
Go Beyond The Headlines
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Peeling Back The Curtain

Three years ago, President Bush delivered the State of the Union containing the infamous 16 words that alleged Iraq was developing a nuclear program. During the following summer, the insurgency was picking up steam, the search for WMD had turned up nothing, whistleblowers like former Ambassador Joseph Wilson were beginning to question the administration’s motives, and the White House was hitting back against its critics. Today, the trial of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff, is revealing how the administration operated during those crucial months in mid-2003. Right-wing commentators like Fox News’ Brit Hume claim the Libby trial is a “not-very-serious case.” Libby is accused of felony perjury, a serious crime. Moreover, testimony from administration officials and journalists is showing how in the early days of the Iraq war, the White House manipulated the media, attacked its opponents rather than explain why no WMD had been found, and lost sight of the most serious issue of the time — securing Iraq.

‘UGLY MUTUAL EXPLOITATION’ IN WASHINGTON: The Libby trial has “pulled back the curtain on the White House’s PR techniques and confirmed some of the darkest suspicions of the reporters upon whom they are used,” wrote Dana Milbank of the Washington Post. “Relatively junior White House aides run roughshod over members of the president’s Cabinet. Bush aides charged with speaking to the public and the media are kept out of the loop on some of the most important issues. And bad news is dumped before the weekend for the sole purpose of burying it.” Neither the White House nor the journalists called to testify have “fared well, with prosecutors accusing the administration of carrying out a smear campaign against Wilson, and defense attorneys scrutinizing everything from the sloppy note-taking practices to the murky ethical terrain of members of the media.” Former Cheney communications director Catherine Martin explained how the White House “coddles friendly writers” such as former New York Times reporter Judy Miller, and “freezes out others” such as New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. Martin also described how in 2003, she and other “communicators” were “excluded from high-level discussions about how George J. Tenet, then the C.I.A. director, would publicly take responsibility” for the 16 words. (By keeping her in the dark, Libby and the White House kept the media in the dark.) Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer testified that in July 2003, “he was directed not to repeat his assurances that the information was correct,” but instead “punted” — a pretty way of saying “misled” — when answering questions about the 16 words.

THE CASE OF JUDY MILLER: The jurors in the Libby trial have so far received a detailed “primer on reporting tradecraft, with a great deal of testimony devoted to the various degrees of anonymity reporters grant sources in order to coax information from them.” Miller “was asked how common it was for government officials to refuse to have their comments attributed to them by name.” “Very common, she said, ‘particularly in this administration.'” Miller should know. In the months following the Iraq invasion, Miller quoted “senior administration officials” on multiple occasions who told her the WMD had been found in Iraq. For example, in early May 2003, Miller wrote an article entitled “U.S. Aides Say Iraqi Truck Could be a Germ-War Lab” in which she reported: “Senior Bush administration officials in Washington said today that a joint British-American team of experts had concluded that a tractor-trailer truck found in northern Iraq several weeks ago could be a mobile biological weapons lab.” It was later shown that at the time, intelligence officials “possessed powerful evidence” contradicting Miller’s reporting. The New York Times editorial board had to apologize for Miller’s faulty coverage. “We have found,” the Times wrote, “instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been … In some cases, the information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged.” Future revelations showed Miller may have “crossed an ethical line and grown too close to her sources,” especially Scooter Libby. Miller spent 85 days in jail before Libby released her for a second time with his strangely-worded release waiver reminding her that “out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning.” “Come back to work — and life,” Libby wrote. “Until then, you will remain in my thoughts and prayers.”

ATTACKING THE CRITICS:
More details have emerged about the administration’s decision to attack Joe Wilson personally rather than deal honestly with the 16 words. Wilson’s column came at a bad time for the administration as pressure mounted for the administration to produce the WMD. Yesterday, the prosecution unsuccessfully tried to introduce as evidence a note quoting Cheney aide Mary Matalin. “Wilson is a snake,” Libby quoted Matalin as saying. Matt Cooper, a former reporter for Time Magazine, testified that Karl Rove was the first to tell him that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA. “A number of things were going to be coming out about Mr. Wilson that would cast him in a different light,” Rove told Cooper. “I said ‘who’ and he said, ‘like, his wife,'” Cooper testified. Fleischer’s testimony showed Libby knew the status of Valerie Wilson was a secret. “This is hush-hush,” Libby told him. “This is on the Q.T. Not many people know about this.”

CHERRYPICKING INTELLIGENCE: Testimony and evidence revealed this week shows how Vice President Cheney “personally orchestrated his office’s 2003 efforts to rebut allegations that the administration used flawed intelligence to justify the war in Iraq.” Mary Matalin advised that Bush “should wave his hand” and declassify intelligence “that backed up the White House case for war.” Cheney told Catherine Martin “to alert the news media that a highly classified and recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) indicated no doubts about Iraq’s efforts to buy uranium.” Martin scribbled notes on what Cheney told her to tell the media. “As late as last October, the considered judgment of the intel community was that SH [Saddam Hussein] had indeed undertaken a vigorous effort to acquire uranium from Africa, according to NIE,” Martin wrote. Intelligence analysts have since revealed that “the uranium claim was never a key finding of the NIE and that there were doubts about it” at the time.

Under the Radar

WOMEN’S RIGHTS — NEW HARD-LINE ABORTION BILL INTRODUCED IN SOUTH DAKOTA: Three months after South Dakota voters rejected an abortion ban at the polls by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent, state legislators have introduced another “sweeping abortion bill…that supporters hope will lead to a legal challenge of Roe v. Wade.” The ban rejected in November “was extreme, allowing for abortion only in instances to prevent the death of a woman. The revised ban, titled the ‘Women’s Health and Human Life Protection Act,’ offers additional exceptions, though they are very narrowly defined.” In addition to preventing the death of a woman,” Ms. Magazine reports, “an abortion may be obtained in cases of rape or incest, but the victim must report the rape to the police within 50 days, the physician must obtain a copy of the report record, and the victim must provide either the name and last known address or a description of the alleged rapist to law enforcement. Furthermore, the physician would be required to take blood samples from the woman and the fetus to be submitted to law enforcement.” In the case of incest, a doctor “would have to get the woman’s consent to report the crime along with the identity of the alleged perpetrator before an abortion could be performed. Blood samples from fetuses would have to be provided to police in incest cases too.” Also, the penalties outlined in the new bill are “much more severe than last year’s bill. Any physician who performs an abortion outside the guidelines of the bill would be guilty of a class-four felony and could face up to 10 years in jail.”

IRAN — UNITED WITH U.S. ON TERRORISM AND BIN LADEN, BUT OPPOSE PERMANENT BASES: A recent poll released by WorldPublicOpinion.org reveals that Iranians are both “very concerned about the danger of terrorism, reject attacks against civilians overwhelmingly, and share strongly negative views of Osama bin Laden.” Seventy-four percent of respondents said they held an unfavorable opinion of bin Laden. Eighty-five percent of Iranians said attacks against civilians are rarely or never justified. The findings suggest a basis for diplomacy with Iran based on our common understandings. But the results do sound one important note of caution for the Bush administration. If it pursues permanent bases in Iraq, Iranians understand that it will have a negative affect on stability in the region. An overwhelming 79 percent of Iranians said permanent U.S. bases in the Middle East will have a negative effect on stability in the region. Recommendation 22 of the Iraq Study Group said: “The President should state that the United States does not seek permanent military bases in Iraq.” So far, Bush has refused to do so. Last year, congressional conservatives quietly stripped a provision from a funding bill that would have prohibited permanent bases in Iraq. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) had pushed a provision through the House — which was accepted unanimously — that put Congress on record as saying the U.S. would not be in Iraq forever. Lee recently pledged to continue pushing for the resolution until it is passed by Congress.

MEDIA — 2006 DEADLIEST YEAR FOR JOURNALISTS: A new report by Reporters Without Borders found that 81 journalists and media staffers “were killed worldwide in 2006, making it the deadliest year for reporters in more than a decade.” Approximately 871 journalists spend time in jail in 2006. Iraq was the most dangerous place for journalists to work, with 39 reporters and 26 other media staffers killed last year. The past four years in Iraq have been more dangerous for journalists than were the 20 years of conflict in Vietnam. In Oct. 2006, the number of embedded journalists in Iraq had dropped to 11, the lowest level since the war began. According to the Associated Press, “During the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, more than 600 reporters, TV crews and photographers linked up with U.S. and British units. A year ago, when Iraqis went to the polls to ratify a new constitution, there were 114 embedded journalists.” In its new report, Reporters Without Borders raised concerns about democratic countries having “little ambition, and sometimes even giving up, in defending the values they are supposed to embody.”


Think Fast

Mary Cheney, the lesbian daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney, yesterday publicly defended her decision to become pregnant. “I knew it wasn’t going to be the most popular decision,” she said. Cheney then gestured to her middle: “This is a blessing from God. It is not a political statement. It is not a prop to be used in a debate, on either side of a political issue. It is my child.”

Reacting to yesterday’s compromise between Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and John Warner (R-VA) on a resolution opposing escalation, White House spokesperson Dana Perino said, “These resolutions send mixed signals to our troops and our enemy.”

Yesterday marked the first time Bush has spoken of a problem of income inequality in America. He said, “The fact is that income inequality is real; it’s been rising for more than 25 year,” adding that he sees the dividing line as between those with good educations and those without.

Universal health care is “socialist,” according to former Sen. Rick Santorum, who believes that such a plan “would be a nightmare for America.” Approximately 69 percent of Americans favor a universal health care system.

9/11 Commission members said the intelligence agencies are still slow to share information, money, and personnel. “The Bush administration’s execution of the DNI reforms recommended by our commission has been a failure,” said John Lehman, a conservative member of the panel.

“The United States lags far behind virtually all wealthy countries with regard to family-oriented workplace policies such as maternity leave, paid sick days and support for breast-feeding, a new study by Harvard and McGill University researchers says.” The United States is one of just five countries that does not guarantee some form of paid maternity leave.

Federal prosecutors are preparing to seek indictments against Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, a former top CIA official, and Brent Wilkes, a San Diego defense contractor at the center of the bribery scandal that sent former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA) to prison. Both Foggo and Wilkes are embroiled in other high-profile congressional scandals.

And finally: Russert doesn’t like playing Hardball. Notes released yesterday in Scooter Libby’s trial quote Cheney adviser Mary Matalin warning Libby that Joe Wilson’s claims about the Bush administration were “not going away.” The notes say, “We need to address the Wilson motivation.” Matalin suggested that Libby call Meet the Press host Tim Russert. “He hates Chris,” the notes say, in a reference to Hardball host Chris Matthews, who had been promoting Wilson’s accusations on the air and slamming Libby by name.