Saturday :: Oct 15, 2005

Treasongate: Miller and the NYT Fail to Come Clean


by eriposte

In today's articles by the New York Times (Don Van Natta, Jr., Adam Liptak and Clifford J. Levy) and Judith Miller, I was looking for clarity on two crucial aspects of the Valerie Plame case/expose.

  • Will the NYT and Miller admit that Miller misled the grand jury?
  • Will Miller clarify whether or not she knew about Valerie Plame/Wilson before her first conversation with Lewis Libby (on Joseph Wilson)?

As I suspected, the NYT editors and Miller made it clear that they are not going to clarify the truth on these matters and took the decision to continue to obfuscate. [However, see my correction added later in this post.]

In this post I discuss these two issues.

1. Did the NYT or Judith Miller admit that Miller misled the grand jury? No.

As I showed in my detailed review of the available evidence, Judith Miller clearly misled the Plame grand jury about her meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby in June 2003. This was the reason she was forced to testify a second time before the grand jury.

The main NYT article completely ignores this fact, using this wording:

On Sept. 29, Ms. Miller was released from jail and whisked by Mr. Sulzberger and Mr. Keller to the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown for a massage, a manicure, a martini and a steak dinner. The next morning, she testified before the grand jury for three hours. Afterward, Ms. Miller declared that her ordeal was a victory for journalists and the public.

She testified before the grand jury for a second time on Wednesday about notes from her first meeting with Mr. Libby.

I do not blame the reporters who wrote the articles for this. It is clear that the NYT management must have insisted that the real reasons requiring her second grand jury appearance remain hidden.

How does Judith Miller cover her own misbehavior? As expected, she completely hides it too, with this bland statement.

I testified in Washington twice - most recently last Wednesday after finding a notebook in my office at The Times that contained my first interview with Mr. Libby. Mr. Fitzgerald told the grand jury that I was testifying as a witness and not as a subject or target of his inquiry.

[After all, if the discovery of her "notes" that led to her second appearance was nothing to feel bad about, then why submerge the facts surrounding it?]

UPDATE 10/17: In a follow-up interview with the Wall Street Journal, Miller said this:

Ms. Miller said she discovered the June 2003 notes in her office after being prompted to seek out answers to another question Mr. Fitzgerald had asked her. "There was an open question about something, and I said I would go back and look and see if there was anything in my notes that would address that question," she said yesterday.

She said she found the notebook in her office.

This is highly misleading and does not rule out the possibility that she misled the grand jury. For example, the Fitzgerald subpoena did not require her to discuss any conversations with him in June 2003. Also, it is impossible to believe that in over 2 years, she had not checked all of her notebooks.

So, WMD-gate was strike one against Judith Miller.

Her misleading the grand jury was strike two.

Her (and the NYT) covering up the real story behind her grand jury appearance #2 is strike 3.

As far as I'm concerned, you're out Ms. Miller.

2. Did the NYT or Judith Miller clearly state whether or not she knew about Valerie Plame/Wilson before her first conversation with Lewis Libby on Joseph Wilson? No.

[UPDATE: This section has been corrected on 10/17/05]

What is even more obfuscatory in both the articles (again, the blame goes to the NYT management and Judith Miller) is that they don't answer this simple and straightforward question. The wording in the articles is convoluted and intended to confuse people from understanding clearly whether or not Miller knew about Valerie Plame before Lewis Libby first mentioned her (as Wilson's wife) to Miller.

Why would this be the case? Perhaps because Miller did not want to divulge information about another source who might have told her about Valerie Plame.

Miller says in her write-up (emphasis mine):

It is also difficult, more than two years later, to parse the meaning and context of phrases, of underlining and of parentheses. On one page of my interview notes, for example, I wrote the name "Valerie Flame." Yet, as I told Mr. Fitzgerald, I simply could not recall where that came from, when I wrote it or why the name was misspelled.

I testified that I did not believe the name came from Mr. Libby, in part because the notation does not appear in the same part of my notebook as the interview notes from him.

So when did this phrase get included in her notebook? Before or after her first meeting with Lewis Libby? No answer.

Her statement about Libby raising Wilson's wife's CIA identity in their first meeting is written in a manner that is somewhat ambiguous (emphasis mine):

The First Libby Meeting

[...]

Soon afterward Mr. Libby raised the subject of Mr. Wilson's wife for the first time. I wrote in my notes, inside parentheses, "Wife works in bureau?" I told Mr. Fitzgerald that I believed this was the first time I had been told that Mr. Wilson's wife might work for the C.I.A. The prosecutor asked me whether the word "bureau" might not mean the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Yes, I told him, normally. But Mr. Libby had been discussing the C.I.A., and therefore my impression was that he had been speaking about a particular bureau within the agency that dealt with the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. As to the question mark, I said I wasn't sure what it meant. Maybe it meant I found the statement interesting. Maybe Mr. Libby was not certain whether Mr. Wilson's wife actually worked there.

Why is this ambiguous?

Well, the first sentence: "...Mr. Libby raised the subject of Mr. Wilson's wife for the first time" only says that this was the first time Libby told her about Joseph Wilson's wife. It does not say that this was the first time she heard about Wilson's wife.

However, the second sentence following it is interesting: "I wrote in my notes, inside parentheses, "Wife works in bureau?"". In my view, the most important aspect of this sentence is the question mark at the end. If there had been NO question mark, then we could not have eliminated the possibility that Miller knew - prior to this conversation- that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA . But since the question mark exists, it may be reasonable to conclude that the information was new to her at that time.

Yet, Miller's comment at the end that she wasn't sure why she had the question mark is rather incredulous.

All in all, she leaves the answer to the question about whether she knew about Valerie Wilson's CIA identity prior to her first meeting with Libby hanging --- and up to individual interpretation. This is deplorable journalism from her (and her NYT editors who published this).

[UPDATE 10/17/05 : My mistake here entirely and it was unacceptable that I did not read this section carefully enough. So my apologies. Regarding the question of whether she knew about Plame's CIA identity before her first conversation with Libby, Miller does state that "I believed this was the first time I had been told that Mr. Wilson's wife might work for the C.I.A." (I've bolded this sentence above). What concerns me is that her statement does not portray a sense of complete confidence. For example, here is an extract from a subsequent Washington Post article:

Miller told prosecutors that "to the best of her recollection she did not know of" Plame's employment at the CIA "before she spoke to Mr. Libby," [Bennett] said.

So, we have a carefully worded ("best of her recollection") statement denying knowledge of Plame's CIA identity prior to her conversations with Libby. Presumably it's worded carefully enough so that if the reality emerges later as being somewhat different, then Miller can have another "oh, I just had forgotten, here are my newest notes of all" moment. At this point, I have no faith in her claims (also see here, for another reason why) - so I'm undecided on whether Judy knew about Plame's CIA identity prior to her first meeting with Libby.]

That's not all.

There was a second opportunity for Miller to answer this question and that is handled even more deplorably.

Sharp readers may recall something I have been harping on since Libby's letter to Miller surfaced. What I'm talking about is this sentence that appeared in that letter (emphasis mine):

Because, as I am sure will not be news to you, the public report of every other reporter's testimony makes clear that they did not discuss Ms. Plame's name or identity with me, or knew about her before our call.

Here is how Miller cites this sentence (emphasis mine):

Mr. Fitzgerald asked me to read the final three paragraphs aloud to the grand jury. "The public report of every other reporter's testimony makes clear that they did not discuss Ms. Plame's name or identity with me," Mr. Libby wrote.

The prosecutor asked my reaction to those words. I replied that this portion of the letter had surprised me because it might be perceived as an effort by Mr. Libby to suggest that I, too, would say we had not discussed Ms. Plame's identity. Yet my notes suggested that we had discussed her job.

Notice that Miller omitted the portion: "or knew about her before our call". I am sure Fitzgerald would not have missed out on that. He is too detail-oriented to leave that out since he specifically asked her to read the entire text in the paragraphs. (Unacceptably, even the NYT article leaves this portion out).

This deliberate omission is serious. Why?

I have stated before that the implication of the sentence in Libby's letter is that since the issue of Wilson's wife did come up in the conversations between Libby and Miller, then per Libby, Miller was aware of Valerie Wilson before their conversation. (I have also stated that I don't know if Libby's claim was true.)

So, by leaving out the "or knew about her before our call" part of Libby's sentence, Miller makes herself out to be a champion of truth (and Libby to be a liar) by distorting what Libby really wrote to her. This is way beyond deplorable. It's hard for me to believe that Fitzgerald would not have caught this in her testimony.

In a nutshell, given two opportunities in her own article to come clean about the following question:

Were you aware of [anything noteworthy regarding] Joseph Wilson's wife [including her undercover name Valerie Plame] and her CIA identity prior to speaking with Lewis Libby on June 23, 2003?

...Miller chose to obfuscate and mislead her readers.

Now, if the answer to that question is really "NO", then what she said about being "surprised" by that sentence in Libby's letter would make complete sense. But nowhere does she clearly state that the answer is "NO". So, this is left for the reader to infer - assuming the reader trusts her honesty. This reader surely does not.

[Note: My co-blogger Steve takes a guess that she probably did not know about Valerie Plame prior to her first meeting with Libby. See his post for more details.]

Bottom line: While Miller's article provides plenty of ammunition for critics of Libby and makes it clear Libby is going to have a tough time with Fitzgerald, it fails to answer (and misleads readers on) two fundamental questions about her knowledge and role.

A final point.

As Dave at Seeing The Forest has noted, Miller makes extraordinary use of the "I don't recall" approach. Several key questions from Fitzgerald are conveniently relegated to her memory dustbin. It is hard for me to believe that there is so much that she could have forgotten about such an important matter. Steve has more on this, as well as on the NYT management's terrible conduct.

This makes me even more dead set against giving Miller any benefit of the doubt about her truly disgraceful and shameful conduct in this whole affair. Not to mention, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher, has proven himself to be one of the worst newspaper publishers in recent American history by his over-friendly and over-cozy handholding of his employee, Judith Miller, through all her nonsense and gross misbehaviors, at the cost of the integrity of the NYT.

eriposte :: 7:13 PM :: Comments (17) :: TrackBack (1) :: Digg It!