dislogue

Books, culture, fishing, and other games

February 04, 2007

The Media's Shadow Hangs Over Trial

That's a far more accurate headline than Washington Post's Vice President's Shadow Hangs Over Trial headline on the Sunday, February 4, 2007 story by R. Jeffrey Smith and Carol D. Leonnig. This whole trial is about the media attempting to foist on the American public, and perhaps the world, a lie: George Bush lied when he said the 16 words in the 2003 State of the Union address. But the trial isn't about those 16 words, Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald tells us. It's about Libby lying under oath and obstructing justice. Except it isn't, if you pay attention to the media and to Fitzgerald's own subtext. Thus we see the Vice President's shadow on the wall behind the witness box, projected there by the light of hope gleaming from the large bloodshot media eye.

See, I can spin and offer opinion too. But then that's what bloggers unashamedly do. We don't pretend to deliver news, as "newspapers" claim to. Newspapers such as, oh, Washington Post, for example.

For those actually following this trial closely, that headline is no great surprise. Matthew Cooper, witness for the prosecution and reporter for Time at the time of the events leading to this trial, gave us a glimpse of headline writing practices while under oath. We don't yet have transcripts, but "EmptyWheel" of FireDogLake.com is doing journeyman work attempting to psuedo-transcribe as much as she can. While I tend to disagree with her opinions on the trial, she's been far better than most reporters at approaching objectivity in the actual reporting. So the trial "quotes" here are thanks to her effort. While they will not be word for word, I think they will be close to the essence. Closer than the opinion found in the "news."

Here's what Cooper said under cross by member of the Libby team, Jeffress:

J(Jeffress) You remember in war on Wilson, the story was WH was declaring war on Wilson

MC(Cooper) there's a question mark in that headline.

The headline to the story was "War on Wilson?" Cooper's pointing out that there was a question mark appears to be his attempt to justify the headline that isn't well supported by the facts. Along with buried ledes and "put the real truth after the jump," this is a favored tactic of newspapers that know most of us don't really read, we just scan headlines and maybe a sentence or two of the first paragraph.

But this sort of sloppiness with facts has consequences. Do it enough and it becomes habitual; the line between fact and opinion blurs. Thus we end up with news stories more composed of opinion than facts.

"Vice President Cheney's press officer, Cathie Martin, approached his chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, on Air Force Two on July 12, 2003, to ask how she should respond to journalists' questions about Joseph C. Wilson IV. Libby looked over one of the reporters' questions and told Martin: "Well, let me go talk to the boss and I'll be back.""

If that reads like a novel it's because it's a fictionalized account, I suspect. Oh, the people, place and time are probably factual, but that quote at the end is no quote. It's a made up quote. Remember, these reporters were not there. It's also not the sort of thing one remembers accurately after years. If this trial has taught us one thing, it's that memories are vague. If they even persist without external help.

But that opening, despite the faux quote, is the last bit resembling reporting for a while. The next sentence is opinion:

"On Libby's return, Martin testified in federal court last week, he brought a card with detailed replies dictated by Cheney, including a highly partisan, incomplete summary of Wilson's investigation into Iraq's suspected weapons of mass destruction program."

Just ask yourself this, "Whose words are these:" "...including a highly partisan, incomplete summary?" Are those Martin's words? Are they a paraphrase of Martin's words? Clearly no and no. These are the reporter's opinion on what Libby brought back, not his nor Martin's.

Then we get, " Wilson's investigation into Iraq's suspected weapons of mass destruction program." What investigation was this? The only "investigation" in which Wilson participated was a trip to Niger to see if there was any evidence that Iraq had attempted to or succeeded in procuring uranium there. That is a very small slice of the "investigation into Iraq's suspected weapons of mass destruction program." But the statement here makes it seem Wilson was conducting THE investigation into Iraq's WMD program. This is a not-so-subtle elevation of Wilson's importance which helps to justify the accusations that the White House conducted a campaign, a "war on Wilson," as Cooper would have it. If we didn't know better, we might suspect these reporters were carrying Cooper's water for him even at this late date, wouldn't we? But, of course, they aren't. They're reporters, and thus, by definition impartial and objective, just like Cooper himself. Which is why he insists on a question mark after a misleading headline.

"Libby subsequently called a reporter, read him the statement, and said -- according to the reporter -- he had "heard" that Wilson's investigation was instigated by his wife, an employee at the CIA, later identified as Valerie Plame. The reporter, Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, was one of five people with whom Libby discussed Plame's CIA status during those critical weeks that summer."

The account here of the phone conversation diverges from Cooper's testimony rather starkly. It's interesting that Martin, who was present during the phone call, heard no reference to Wilson's wife. Here's part of the cross examination of Cooper:

J You and Mr. Dickerson knew by the time you talked to Libby that Wilson's wife worked at CIA. Your recollection is that you asked him what he had heard. He said, I'd heard that too. Do you take that as confirmation. As a fact.

MC I did take it that way.

J Do you in all your stories say according to the person I talked to this is a fact.

MC One has to put it in context, and I took it as confirmation.

What's interesting here, is Cooper already knew that Wilson's wife worked at CIA when he talked to Libby. There's no mention of that in the WaPo article. Not only that, Cooper brought it up and asked Libby if he'd heard that. I hate to repeat myself, but.. There's no mention of that in the WaPo article. Instead the reporters make it seem that Libby brought up the subject. But that's not what Cooper says above. Cooper was looking for confirmation on something he'd already been told.

Also interesting, elsewhere in the testimony Cooper admits this was "off the record," thus could not, per the "rules" of journalistic ethics in play, be used as confirmation of anything. When he answered the questions about confirmation here, others in the media room at the trial report the room broke up in laughter. That Cooper could claim this was a confirmation was, to them, absurd. But somehow that didn't make the story either. It's odd; it's a pretty interesting point, and the whole media crew got a big laugh out of it. But I suppose it's not news. The polls on what Americans think of the media these days indicate it would be a dog bites man tidbit.

"After seven days of such courtroom testimony, the unanswered question hanging over Libby's trial is, did the vice president's former chief of staff decide to leak that disparaging information on his own?"

Ah, now we know what the trial is really about! It's not about did Libby commit perjury, or did he obstruct justice, it's about did the Vice President order him to leak that Valerie Plame worked at CIA! I'm glad they cleared that up for us. We might have forgotten otherwise, especially since Fitzgerald made a point, and the judge made a point, and the defense made a point of saying this trial is not about Valerie Plame, her role in sending Wilson to Niger, nor her employment status at CIA. What would we do without the media watching out for the truth for us?

Of course the reporters don't SAY "the trial is about Cheney," they just drop a sentence like this, and a headline like above, in the middle to remind us, to not-so-subliminally feed into our unconscious repeatedly the "real story." And that wasn't enough:

"No evidence has emerged that Cheney told him to do it. But Cheney's dictated reply is one of many signs to emerge at the trial of the vice president's unusual attentiveness to the controvery and his desire to blunt it. His efforts included the extraordinary disclosure of classified information, including one-sided synopses of Wilson's report and a 2002 intelligence estimate on Iraq."

I love this sort of negative statement. My masters thesis was on Weldon Kees who used this construction a lot. "No birds sing." The idea is to bring into the reader's mind this idea of birds singing, but negate it. You need to somehow expect that birds should be singing before you can miss them, which is what the poet wants. And that's what's going on here with "no evidence has emerged." The clear implication is that some should have, or will. We are in an unnatural state of expectation. Things are not as they should be.

After years of investigation, millions of dollars spent on a special prosecutor (whose role is unconstitutional according to many Constitutional scholars) "no evidence has emerged that Cheney told him to do it." But! But hope springs eternal. And spin does too, in this article. That first sentence was actually factual reporting, sort of, poetic tricks aside. If the reporters had stopped there (if only!), they would be doing their job, if a bit poetically. But (as they say) they didn't. The dictated reply is "one of many signs." What are these signs? They aren't evidence or there would be evidence. What they are is documentary and anecdotal evidence of the Vice President doing a Vice Presidential job. I know that's unusual; most Vice Presidents don't do much. But (as they say), there it is.

Of course, that he's doing his job, considering most Vice Presidents don't do much, is "unusual attentiveness," so we won't claim too strongly that that "unusual" (an adjective that some might construe as more opinion) is nonfactual. If most vice presidents do nothing, and Cheney is actually leaving a paper trail that shows he is doing something, that would indeed comprise "unusual attentiveness" to his role as Vice President.

As to it being a controversy, that's fair, as is his wanting to blunt it. The administration has both the right to respond to criticism and the responsibility to correct the record, especially where it impinges on national security. Most of us feel pretty strongly that nuclear materials are a national security matter. That's why we track and regulate them so closely. Thus, when a former ambassador, who had gone on an investigatory mission, tasked by CIA (who did not require him to sign a non-disclosure covering this trip, oddly enough) chooses to "share" what he claims to have discovered in the New York Times, and that information doesn't resemble much the CIA's own report of his trip, well, yes, the Vice President on whose "behest" said Ambassador claimed he was sent might want to "blunt" that. Frankly, I'm surprised he didn't apply a blunt object to said ambassador's head.

As to the "extraordinary disclosure of classified information," well, that's illegal and exactly what this investigation was tasked to investigate. So, if as these reporters assert explicitly, the Vice President disclosed classified information, they must have some evidence that the Special Prosecutor does not, right? But they said just above there was no evidence. I think it's a good thing they aren't on the witness stand. Their story holds together about as well as Cooper's testimony.

And that "one-sided synopses," what's with that? Are we to understand that we only got one side of the Wilson "report?" What started this was Wilson publishing his "side" of the report in The New York Times. So I guess Cheney couldn't have released a synopsis because that would make two sides. At least if I can still remember my basic arithmetic. All I can figure here is journalism schools don't get into things like arithmetic (we know they don't get into statistics). What's really disturbing about the synopses and intelligence summary (which were partly declassified and partly redacted so that they could be released, thus, by definition are no longer classified) is that they contradict Wilson's "side" as published in The New York Times. And a bipartisan committee in Congress came to the conclusion that Wilson erred. Well, he didn't get his facts right, okay? Some might go so far as to say he willfully and deliberately misrepresented the CIA report he claimed to be reporting on in his Op-ed. But not these reporters, nor most. They would never give opinions on something, which is what I just did even if I attributed it to "some."

"White House officials testified that Cheney was irritated because he thought Wilson had alleged the vice president sent him on the fact-finding trip to Niger but rejected the investigation's conclusions. Time after time at the height of the controversy, they said, Cheney directed the administration's response to Wilson's criticism and Libby carried it out."

That first sentence is a bit confusing. It's hard to understand if the reporters mean to say Cheney or Wilson rejected the investigation's conclusions. If they mean Wilson, it's actually accurate, aside from the mild opinionating in "alleged." Wilson's article can easily be read to suggest that Cheney's request led to Wilson's dispatching (and it did, sort of, indirectly) and thus that Cheney was aware of it:

What I Didn't Find in Africa

By JOSEPH C. WILSON 4th

Published: July 6, 2003

In February 2002, I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions about a particular intelligence report. While I never saw the report, I was told that it referred to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake a form of lightly processed ore by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990's. The agency officials asked if I would travel to Niger to check out the story so they could provide a response to the vice president's office.

While it doesn't flat say "Cheney sent me," it does lead to that impression. Creating the impression that OVP requested this information, then ignored it when it wasn't what they wanted to hear, might just be grounds for Cheney to be a bit annoyed, and to wish to set the record straight. Contrary to popular opinion in some circles, Cheney is, after all, only human. This also doesn't make mention of exactly who those officials were, which is, of course, what really seems to interest the media. One of them was Wilson's wife.

"Cheney personally dictated other talking points for use by the White House press office; helped negotiate the wording of a key statement by then-CIA Director George J. Tenet; instructed Libby to deal directly with selected reporters; told Libby to disclose selected passages from the national intelligence estimate and other classified reports; and held a luncheon for conservative columnists to discuss the controversy."

And next comes a list of all the things the Cheney-Libby team did. Except it wasn't a Cheney-Libby team, it was an OVP and White House staff team. Everyone who deals with the press seems to have been involved to some degree. Along with a few others not in this group, like CIA and State. The first known contact from the government side to the press was Armitage at State. Somehow that never gets into these articles. He was who told Novak. Oh wait, he did make it in... way down there in the usual "after the jump" sort of position. "The first shall be last," I guess these reporters hew to the Christian line.

Again we see reference to "classified reports." When something is declassified, it's no longer classified, thus calling them "classified" is not accurate. I'm sure these objective reporters will want to correct that because they wouldn't want to give the impression that Libby was illegally releasing classified information. There is no evidence that happened. If there were evidence, surely the Special Prosecutor would be pursuing convictions. Illegally releasing classified information is a serious offense for which you can get a harsh slap on the wrist in some cases. In others you can spend decades in jail. It depends on how politically connected you are (see Berger case).

Holding lunches for conservative columnists deserves careful scrutiny and these reporters are justified in mentioning it. They themselves, of course, are clearly (oh, horrors!) not conservative, and thus they were not invited. This is most definitely a case of bias on Libby's part, and should be held up as an example of partisanship by White House staff. It gave these conservative columnists a jump on their collegues that just isn't fair. Not that the less-than-conservative columnists would bother printing the Administration's case, but it is a matter of principle and a free lunch. Fair is fair, everyone should be treated equally. I concede this point.

On the other hand, think of the taxpayer money saved. Instead of feeding somewhere in excess of 432 reporters, the White House only had to feed about 5.

"Throughout this period, Cheney kept a news clipping of Wilson's criticisms on his desk, annotated with the question, "did his wife send him on a junket?" according to court statements. Libby told a grand jury that he and Cheney discussed it on multiple occasions each day."

I'm unsure where this is coming from since it hasn't, to my knowledge, been covered in any testimony in court. Maybe these reporters have copies of the grand jury testimony that hasn't been entered as evidence yet. I know the prosecution is attempting to enter some articles fitting this description into evidence, and the defense is contesting that. But since this evidence has not yet been made public, I'm somewhat confused as to exactly how these reporters know. If I didn't know that they were above accepting information via "leaks," (after all, this case makes clear those are bad, right?) and if I didn't know that prosecutors aren't supposed to make prejudicial remarks about cases in progress, I might be a bit suspicious about what's going on here. But I'm not. I'm sure it's all above board. I just missed something in the trial.

"Randall Eliason, a former chief of public corruption prosecutions for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington, said, "There has been significant evidence of how deeply the vice president was involved. If Cheney is personally, deeply involved in it, it's Libby's job to be personally, deeply involved."

I missed Mr. Eliason's appearance too, I guess. I didn't catch where he made this statement. He must have access to information that hasn't been entered into evidence, but I'm sure it's there. Maybe Marcie nodded off when this happened. Or... wait... he's a "former chief of public corruption prosecutions." I guess he doesn't actually have access to anything more than I do. So he's just putting in his opinion based on what's public knowledge too. I guess that's fair.

I wonder what that "significant evidence" might be he's referring to though. No one else seems to know about it, not even these reporters, according to what they said earlier. Oh, it's not the same evidence! This is just generic evidence that the Vice President is involved, like with his job. Got it. I'm glad they didn't conflate this evidence with that other evidence (that they say doesn't exist, that the Vice President was involved in some sort of crime). That might mislead people.

As to being "deeply, personally involved," that is shocking. After all, it's just a job. Everyone knows no one in government actually gives a rat's behind about their jobs so this is indeed worth special mention. That both the Vice President and his aide actually are deeply and personally involved in matters pertaining to their responsibilities is worthy of being considered news. I applaud the decision to include this. We should have more of this sort of positive reporting. Too bad it's just the opinion of some former official who has no inside information of the case though. That sort of devalues it.

But to avoid accentuating the positive too much, let's move along:

"Wilson was a former U.S. ambassador dispatched by the CIA the previous year -- at the suggestion of his wife but on a decision by other officials -- to determine whether Iraq had recently tried to acquire nuclear materials from Niger. The agency later said that it was responding to inquiries made by Cheney's office, the State Department and the Defense Department."

So, Wilson was sent at the suggestion of his wife. I didn't think this was important enough to merit attention, which is why everyone was so surprised that someone in the White House (or some ones, to be more precise) actually discussed it with reporters. But I guess these reporters feel that it is too. They did seem to bring it up pretty often. The reporters, that is. It's not like it was wrong, unethical, smacking of nepotism, or anything, it's probably just that it's a sign of increasing gender equality in government, and even a very rare example of women serving in Bush's government in other than menial roles. Go Val!

They did a pretty good job on this paragraph though. They did leave out some things, but those probably aren't important. This was actually the second time Wilson was involved in this sort of trip to Niger, as I understand it. I'm not clear on all the details, the first was in 1999. There's something about double-checking the first trip's information because it wasn't exactly what was expected. Maybe CIA wanted to give Wilson a second chance to get it right. There's also been some suggestion that Valerie "recommended" Wilson, as opposed to "suggesting" him, but that's just semantics. It's probably better to avoid the impression that Val was too aggressive. Wilson might be uncomfortable with that.

"On July 6, 2003, 16 months after his return, Wilson publicly accused the administration of ignoring his report, which debunked the Iraq-Niger speculation, and of twisting his information to justify the invasion of Iraq."

It's interesting that these reporters don't question the timing on this (they normally love questioning the timing, it's practically an institution with reporters). There are two interesting points here. First, isn't sixteen months pretty short of a period to wait for things involving government? But maybe Wilson was just tying up some loose ends before he settled into his new position with the Kerry Campaign. He was probably gonna be pretty busy since it was an election year, and things were about to heat up.

It was also unfortunate that President Bush had just flown out for Africa too, so he wasn't where reporters could easily reach him to ask his opinion of this. Instead Cheney and Libby were holding down the White House kitchen, so to speak, and had to try to answer Wilson's polite questions on why no one in the White House sought to take his best recipe for baking yellowcake a la Niger. He was, after all, a former ambassador, and an important man, and people should listen to him when he speaks on a subject in his area of expertise, even if what he said didn't exactly match what he told CIA. Not that he was upset; he was just concerned. He expressed that concern well in his conversation with reporters, as is coming out in testimony. It's odd that these reporters didn't choose to quote that.

"Wilson's allegations provoked a political firestorm. Within days, the White House was forced to repudiate a key assertion President Bush had made in his State of the Union address, and Tenet issued an unusual public apology for failing to stop the president from making it. But rather than tamping down the controversy, the administration's backtracking only "made it flare up," as then-White House spokesman Ari Fleischer testified last week."

"Firestorm" is poetical, isn't it? Colorful choice of words. I suspect these reporters have some small press run folios of poetry tucked away somewhere they aren't sharing with us. It's interesting that the White House was "forced" too. You'd think the Secret Service might have something to say about that. Not that this language is anything but dispassionate and objective.

As to the substance, the White House indeed erred. But it's not the error this states. The error was in "repudiating" those words which have since been re-confirmed. That Ari's testimony made it worse is true. It would have been better to simply stand firm and say "we go with the best information we have. Sometimes it's right; sometimes it's not." But, of course, this was a "forced error." Both Wilson and the media had their share in the play. It's interesting to watch the media play approach-avoidance games with the "credit" for this.

"In its response, the White House wound up training its fire not only on the substance of Wilson's allegations but on him personally, trial testimony has shown."

This is very much opinion. Testimony is not at all clear that the "fire" was trained on anything but the substance. Where Valerie is mentioned, it always is in conjunction with her involvement in the trip. And it's brought up by reporters more often than not. Though Wilson has stated publically that he expected the White House would come at him on his past personal life, there is no evidence of that. The only mention of past pecadillos is Wilson's own stated unfulfilled expectation. These reporters may be reading into the testimony some sort of personal attacks, but all that I've seen mentioned is Cooper's testimony that he saw the White House statements as "dissing" of Wilson. That's harsh. I know a junior high girl that has serious self-image problems as a result of being dissed.

Oh, there was also mention of a statement by Rice that seems to have tarnished Wilson's self-image. I forget the context, but most people with a healthy ego wouldn't have taken that as a personal attack.

"Over the course of that week in July, bracketed by Wilson's published criticism and Cheney's flight back from Norfolk, three senior White House officials -- Libby, Fleischer and special presidential assistant Karl Rove -- inaccurately told or suggested to five reporters that Wilson had been dispatched to Niger by Plame, according to the testimony. Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage separately told columnist Robert D. Novak that Plame worked at the CIA, and Novak made that news public July 14."

What exactly was it that these people "inaccurately told?" Without some quotes, it's hard to refute this. On the other hand, why should we bother? Burden of proof and all that. Plame at least recommended Wilson. While a construct like "his wife sent him" might be a bit off exact, it's closer than much of what we've read here. Spoken words are almost always less precise than written, thus these reporters have less excuse for their inexactness than do Libby, Fleischer and Rove. But as they offer no quotes, we'll just consider this an unsupported assertion of opinion.

At least they did work in Armitage, who not only told Novak "separately," also told others, and told them before any other known telling. That he was the first to tell, that he was asked by the Special Prosecutor not to tell anyone despite the President's order that anyone who did tell of Valerie's CIA employment should tell him, that he sat on the sidelines and said nothing for over a year, none of this is important and thus it doesn't get mentioned in the press. We can assume he broke no laws either, because he hasn't been charged with any crime. But it is all mysterious and interesting to those of us with inferior imaginations.

"The belittling implication of the disclosure, as Fleischer and others testified last week, was that nepotism, rather than Wilson's knowledge and experience, lay behind his involvement in the matter."

Actually, I missed this testimony. Fleischer and others mentioned that it might have been nepotism. That is not at all the same as what this declarative sentence says. And it's a valid thing to wonder about, in any case. What is nepotism if not the hiring of relatives because they are relatives? Any time someone suggests a relative the question of whether nepotism is in play should be asked. To not ask would be negligence. That is not to say that it is nepotism in all cases. In some cases, even this one, the choice might make sense. In this case what brought the choice into question was the result. If Wilson had not chosen to "go public" with information on a CIA-directed, secret mission, that his wife was involved in his selection would never have come up. That he did go public with what legally was CIA-proprietary information (and perhaps classified information) speaks to the wisdom of choosing him for this sort of sensitive mission.

'While Cheney and Libby have asserted that their sole intent in contacting journalists was to defend the credibility of their policy, prosecutors disclosed new evidence on Wednesday that the administration was focusing on Wilson himself. Cheney's then-communications director, Mary Matalin, advised Libby in a phone call July 10, prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg said.

Matalin, according to notes Libby made of the conversation, called Wilson "a snake" and warned that his "story has legs," Zeidenberg said. She laid out a plan: "We need to address the Wilson motivation. We need to be able to get the cable out. Declassified. The president should wave his wand."'

Can we say non sequitur? Because Matalin recommended something does not prove the intent of Cheney or Libby. Because I recommend to these reporters that they report impartially, sticking to the facts does not mean their next story will display that, nor that they will intend to do so. They might, they might not. They might listen to me, they might not. I have no control over their intentions or actions.

Let's face it, the only reason for these quotes is to get in the cute slurs tossed by Matalin in Wilson's direction. It's just a prurient waving about of dirty underwear. What's interesting is that the media left out Rice's comment about Wilson. That one probably hit a little too close to truth.

As far as the actual actions, what's personal about declassifying a report that proves Wilson was mistaken (see, I'm still being kind)? Wilson was the one making assertions in the press about his trip, the origins of it, and the findings. Since OVP (and the White House) found those inaccurate, why should it not react with facts? Libby did not tell the reporters that Wilson was a snake. If he had, this quote would make sense, but a quote of Libby saying it would make more sense. Of course, he didn't say it. So these reporters kindly imply that he was thinking it, since Matalin said it and he took a note. I must admit admiration to the scope of their imaginations.

'While arguing unsuccessfully that the jury should see all of Libby's notes on the conversation, Zeidenberg said, "All we have heard from the defense all along is that Mr. Libby was only interested in responding on the merits." He said it was significant that Libby wrote down word for word "an extremely negative and ad hominem attack, if you will, about a critic."'

He argued unsucessfully for the reasons I already mentioned, along with other legal ones I probably don't understand, but the judge does. I'll trust the judge on this. Maybe the reporters should too (especially since arithmetic is already a bit more than they have shown themselves able to handle). Getting these notes into evidence, somehow, is very important to the prosecution because they have a dearth of support for motive. Notice how the sentences above are spun so that it seems unreasonable for the defense to assert Libby was only interested in responding on the merits. In fact, it's the prosecution's responsibility to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Libby had motive to commit the crimes the prosecution has charged him with. I looked, but I didn't see any relating to calling Wilson a snake. They want this as a sort of legless "proof" that Libby was actually out to get Wilson personally, and as a result, he lied to the grand jury and investigators to cover his tracks. I would wish them luck, but that wouldn't be honest of me. I will wish for justice done.

"Plame's employment at the CIA was classified, making it illegal for any official to knowingly and intentionally disclose it. Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's 22-month investigation did not produce charges of that offense."

This may be a false statement. This may be a true statement. Judge Walton has said that he does not know Plame's classification status. CIA doesn't want to say. There are theories about why, but they are speculation. Judge Walton has also stated, as has Fitzgerald, that Plame's classification status has no bearing on this case. Fitzgerald also brings it up as often as he can. Most of the times he does, Judge Walton instructs the jury again that it has no bearing on the case. It would almost be amusing if it were not so annoying. Fitzgerald was appointed Special Prosecutor to investigate whether Plame's status, assuming it was classified, was illegally leaked. Instead were getting a he-said she-said special ed class in memory failure at taxpayer expense. As these reporters say so accurately, the investigation "did not produce charges of that offense."

That's not to say the investigation was a failure. It was never assumed officially that there was an offense. The purpose of the investigation was to determine if there was one, and if so, whodunit. Since Fitzgerald has a stellar reputation for this sort of work, it's reasonable to assume no illegal release of classified information occurred. There are other alternatives, of course, of lesser degrees of probablility. One would be that the Special Prosecutor failed to perform his duty competently. One might further conjecture that the frustration at this failure might have resulted in less than fair and reasonable charges of another sort. Another possibility is that OVP is just too smart for the Special Prosecutor. Or that Armitage is. Or Fleisher. Or some other unknown original source of the leak, maybe someone in CIA with an axe to grind. This is speculation. It's fun, if it doesn't become a matter of faith.

In any case, the statement that "Plame's employment at the CIA was classified" is not considered by the court to be a known fact. Thus, it is not proper reporting to state it except as opinion. I'm glad they preceeded it with "In our opinion,..."

"But Libby was indicted for making false statements, obstruction of justice and perjury for denying that he was aware of Plame's employment and had disclosed it to journalists."

This is an overbroad summation of the charges. There are specific charges, this is not one of them. It's too general. The specific charges involve elements of the above statement. This is either an attempt at dumbing them down for public consumption, or, like me, the reporters haven't really bothered to go over the details of rather lengthy and wordy specific charges. I don't much blame them in this case. As far as it goes, it's not too bad. Unfortunately for the prosecution, they have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that certain things said were intentionally false, not that Libby generally lied. That will be rather challenging based on what I've seen so far.

"In courtroom testimony, witnesses have asserted that Cheney and two others told Libby about Plame in June, and that he told two journalists and Fleischer -- who in turn said he told two more journalists. It was, in short, a hot topic of gossip by the administration."

This is again a gross generalization and not exactly correct. Libby himself says Cheney told him. And he promptly forgot because it didn't seem important. Then later, Libby testified, Tim Russert brought up the subject and said it was being talked about by reporters. That it seemed important to reporters put it in a new light and Libby remembered the earlier conversation with Cheney. One of the charges involves the conversation with Russert, who has not testified. Libby says he remembers Russert telling him. Russert says he doesn't remember telling Libby. Maybe one or the other is lying. Libby is charged, Russert is not. Maybe one or the other is just confusing one conversation with another. The jury gets to sort it out.

There are other possible conversations that it came up in, but it's pretty unclear from testimony. Memories are not exact, and notes are few and cryptic. There is a conflict between Libby's and Cooper's testimonies. When I say Libby's, I refer to his grand jury testimony, and the quotes in the indictment of that testimony. We have not yet heard from Libby directly. In this case, however, the Judge has stated that Cooper self-impeached. His testimony is not internally consistent. Thus it is not sufficient to outweigh Libby's on its own. It is postulated by lawyers following the case that the Cooper charges could be, and probably should be, dropped.

There is little evidence, if any at all, that this was, "in short, a hot topic of gossip by the administration." There is quite a lot of evidence (just read the old articles and seek out the news recordings) that this was a hot topic of gossip in the media.

"According to Martin's testimony, Cheney directed her early in the week of July 6 to keep track of daily news coverage of the controversy, including "who was continuing to comment." During a meeting on Capitol Hill, Martin said, Cheney "dictated to me what he wanted me to say" about it to reporters."

This is entirely consistent with the Libby position that the Wilson affaire was of concern because it was an attack on the credibility of the Administration. The Administration sought actively to get its side of the story out, including the declassified documents proving Wilson's Op-Ed was inaccurate. In general, the media picked up on only the elements that fit their preconceived notion of the story. Thus even today some parts are greatly downplayed (shoved beneath the fold), though they are central to understanding the chronology and perhaps what actually happened. Mr. Armitage, are you still with us?

"In a meeting July 8, Martin said, Cheney also decided that Libby would call NBC News reporters Andrea Mitchell and David Gregory to discuss the matter. Martin said she walked out during Libby's subsequent calls to the reporters."

Just more gleaned from the testimony to attempt to support the media-driven "War on Wilson?" story. But note, there's nothing here that's inconsistent with simple attempts to get out the Administration position. Calling reporters is not an automatic sign of personal attacks. What's not said here is that neither Mitchell nor Gregory has been on the stand... yet. Both do have roles, and both are expected to testify.

"After Mitchell suggested in a broadcast that the White House was "pushing blame" for the mess toward the CIA, Martin said, then-deputy national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley looked directly at Martin during a staff meeting and said such efforts were improper. At that moment, Martin said, Libby "looked down," in effect leaving her to absorb the blame."

This is a complete misinterpretation of the scene these reporters set. First, the broadcast did not happen while the meeting did. That is a dramatic conflation. Hadley was not happy with Martin's performance of her duties. She was new to the position. I'm unclear on what exactly was the issue, but he wanted to deal with someone other than Martin. In the testimony, it seemed to me she took that as a sort of "I don't want to deal with her" gesture. But I'm speculating, just like the reporters are. I'm just telling you that I am. Nothing that I recall was said by Martin about "leaving me to absorb the blame." That is pure conjecture, I suspect.

What is clear is that if Plame was indeed classified, Hadley did not inform those he told that she was with CIA that her position was classified. He testified that he did not. In not doing so, he did not establish that CIA was trying to protect her status as it is required to do before the law protecting agents can be applied. If Plame was not classified, of course, Hadley did nothing wrong. Perhaps he's even justified in feeling CIA was unjustly blamed. Perhaps. If Plame did not in fact work for CIA, and CIA did not in fact send Wilson, I'd say CIA is indeed blameless. I suppose it's possible. I'm speculating.

"Three months later, White House spokesman Scott McClellan publicly cleared Rove of leaking Plame's name -- inaccurately, as it turned out -- but provided no such statement about Libby."

As I recall, the hounds were baying for Rovian blood at the time. (See, I can wax poetic too.) I don't understand the thinking that went into who was "cleared" when. The reason it's "important" in the case is that the prosecution is still trying to establish motive. The idea is to show that Libby was worried he was going to be made a scapegoat, thus he had motive to lie to try to distance himself as much as possible. There are some problems with that theory of motive, assuming it can even be established. But considering the climate at the time, it's only sensible to have this thought at least buzzing through your mind occasionally if you're in Libby's situation. So it's plausible, as a potential motive, as far as it goes.

'According to Cheney's own notes, introduced at the trial last week, Cheney told McClellan that such a statement "has to happen today. Call out key press saying same thing about Scooter as Karl. Not going to protect one staffer and sacrifice the guy that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others."'

That Cheney told McClellan this shows the thought was indeed about. It says nothing directly to Libby's thinking. But prosecution is seeking to connect those dots, to show that Libby actually drove that statement into being.

But is concern over being scapegoated a signifier for guilt? Or is it simply healthy paranoia in a politically poisonous atmosphere where people really were out to get Libby (and Cheney, and Rove, and Bush!) With that sort of climate, yes, scapegoating, the sacrifice of a sinless goat to "cover" the sins of those performing the sacrifice, becomes a less than distant concern. But is it enough that a smart lawyer like Libby would risk lying under oath, with its attendant potential (and I would think greater potential) for indictment, to avoid the concern of becoming a scapegoat?

What this article, and most others like it put out by the press, doesn't say is that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Libby had a motive (pick one) and that as a result of that motive he actually did as at least one of the charges alleges. Based on questions asked by the jury thus far, I'd say the prosecution has not made its case. Fitzgerald has not yet called all his witnesses, but as far into the list as it is, I am told, it is unusual that there is not a firmer foundation laid. Perhaps he has some concrete in the last few. Concrete memories would be a nice change.

Meanwhile the defense has not yet begun, and there are some problematical witnesses for the prosecution. And some of the witnesses will probably contradict earlier witnesses. That's what makes it all so interesting.

But in the end, assuming there remain charges undismissed, it will go to the jury. In an investigation launched to discover whether someone illegally leaked classified information, the jury will have to decide if Libby's memory resembles those of the other witnesses, that it too has failings, or that he had motive to and did indeed deliberately choose to not tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

So help them God.

UPDATE:

This is the portion of the Wells cross-examination of Grossman that touched on Wilson's reaction to Rice's statements. It's from early in the trial so EmptyWheel's style is not as clear as it has become later.

Conversation with Wilson on June 2003. Is it correct that Mr. Wilson complained that he had seen Condi Rice on MTP on June 8 and he was very upset about her comments. June 9, which was a Monday, you had a conversation with Mr. Wilson about MTP.

What he told you was that he was furious at the comments of Condi Rice.

Yes sir, he was really mad.

As I recall he told me that he was angry at the way he'd been described and that people weren't taking him seriously. He was angry that he'd been described as some low level person.

Did he tell you he was considering going public.

Yes sir.

You know, as of June 9 that Mr Wilson is furious with Condi Rice's comments and has indicated he may go public.

And then you talk to Mr. Libby and you made no mention that you had talked to Wilson.

I think that's true.

This hasn't been mentioned in press accounts, to my knowledge, or at least certainly not often. It's important as a view into possible motivation as to how this all came about in the first place. It also shows that Wilson himself had motivation to accuse the Administration and members of the administration of attacking him before there was any published account that his wife, Valerie, had set him up for the trip to Niger. He appeared to be (to Grossman) hurt and angry, if Grossman is to be believed in his sworn testimony.

Source

I took out one para that I was flat confused on. I misread the sentence in the article that included "time after time." (Hey, it was 4am!)

Rather than re-enabling comments (just don't want to deal with the spam), I will post the link to Just One Minute where the discussion on the trial is going on 24/7. If you're interested in this topic and prefer civil discussion to moonbat feeding frenzy, come join us there. Otherwise you might try firedoglake.com.

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