April 06, 2006

Will the President Fire Himself?

George_w_bush In light of today’s surprising court filings about George W. Bush’s personal role in the Valerie Wilson affair, it’s worth reviewing how we got here:

  1. In the months after September 11, 2001, Dick Cheney was personally reviewing all unverified intelligence about Saddam Hussein in a process known as stovepiping. He comes across a report that suggests Saddam Hussein had sought to buy uranium from Niger.
  2. February 2002: Joe Wilson, a former African ambassador and deputy chief of mission to Baghdad, goes to Niger on a mission initiated by Dick Cheney’s office, and finds no evidence of the alleged transaction. Wilson reports his findings.
  3. January 2003: Bush, in his State of the Union address, says that “Saddam recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”
  4. March 20, 2003: The Bush Administration launches an invasion of Iraq, claiming Saddam has weapons of mass destruction.
  5. July 6, 2003: Wilson writes an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times called “What I Didn’t Find in Africa” refuting the uranium claim and accusing the administration of manipulating intelligence to justify the war.
  6. On July 14, 2003, the temperamental conservative Robert Novak writes a column outing Wilson’s wife, Valerie, as a CIA agent, and implying that Wilson was sent to Africa thanks to his wife’s connections. He identifies his sources as “senior administration officials.” A number of administration sources spread the same story to other reporters, including Judith Miller of the New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time.
  7. On September 30, 2003, Bush pledges to fire anyone involved in the leak.
  8. Fiercely non-partisan Patrick Fitzgerald is appointed as special counsel to investigate the affair on December 30, 2003.
  9. In the summer of 2005, with the Fitzgerald investigation nearing the indictment stage, Bush withdraws his pledge. Many believe Karl Rove will be charged after it is revealed that he leaked Wilson’s name to Cooper.
  10. October 28, 2005: Fitzgerald issues an indictment, charging that Scooter Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff, divulged Wilson’s name and then lied about it under oath. Libby resigns.

Today Fitzgerald’s team revealed that Libby exposed Valerie Wilson as a CIA agent at the behest of the Vice President, after Bush specifically declassified the information which was used to attack her husband.

The astonishing court filing says, in part:

Vice President advised defendant [Libby] that the President specifically had authorized defendant to disclose certain information in the NIE [National Intelligence Estimate]… Defendant further testified that on July 12, 2003, he was specifically directed by the Vice President to speak to the press…regarding the NIE and Wilson... During the conversations that followed on July 12, defendant discussed Ms. Wilson's employment [at the CIA] with both Matthew Cooper [of Time] and Judith Miller [of the New York Times].

The Washington Post reported today that “The White House did not challenge the prosecutor's account of Bush's and Cheney's role in orchestrating the effort to discredit Wilson yesterday.”

And as Senator John Kerry put it, “now we know that the president's search for the leaker needs to go no further than a mirror."

So will the president fire himself? Somehow I doubt it. But at least he could take responsibility, acknowledge his error, and apologize. Just like he did when he fired Rumsfeld. Oh, wait, that was an April Fool’s Day Joke.

By Will Friedman in High Crimes and Misdemeanors | Permalink  | 

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