Sunday :: Feb 18, 2007

The "Scooter" Libby Trial and Uranium from Africa, Part 8: Slithery Scooter's Snow Job


by eriposte

[Preface: This post is the eighth of a series (see Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7) focused on offering some observations and analysis on some of the documents released during the Libby trial. Cross-posted at Firedoglake.]

As I went through through the transcript of Scooter Libby's March 5, 2004 grand jury testimony I figured out why Victoria Toensing - one half of the Boris and Natasha GOP shills duo - is Libby's BFF. After all, Libby couldn't seem to stop compulsively lying and obstructing justice indulging in the kind of GOP 'family values' that Natasha and Boris seem to think should not be prosecuted. The kind of values that many illustrious role models for Libby likely share.

Now, you're all likely familiar with Libby making stuff up about his conversations with journalists and Government officials regarding Valerie Wilson. However, what I found particularly interesting in his grand jury testimony - something I hope the Wilsons' lawyers are paying close attention to - is Libby's astonishing mendacity in the context of former Ambassador Wilson's 2002 Niger trip and findings, in direct contradiction to documentary evidence. Libby's grand jury testimony is a veritable goldmine for a keen prosecutor and I cannot thank Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald enough for having publicized it in its entirety. His testimony certainly explains why Libby never took the stand in his own defense at his criminal trial - and if I had been Libby's lawyer I would have certainly never planned to put him on the stand.

For clarity, I've separated this post into the following sections. (All emphasis in quoted portions is mine, unless otherwise stated.)

1. Libby and the NIE

2. Libby on the origins of Wilson's trip and knowledge of Wilson's name

3. Libby on Wilson's findings

4. BONUS: Libby v. Condi and the White House

5. Conclusions


1. Libby and the NIE

1.1 Libby's description of the INR dissent in the NIE

March 5, 2004 GJ transcript, page 19:

[Fitzgerald:] And do you recall whether or not there were any doubts expressed in the, in the NIE about the allegation that Iraq had tried to get uranium from Niger?

[Libby:] The NIE has a fairly clear declarative sentence in the section on uranium and Iraq, and it says something like, Iran (sic) began vigorously trying to procure uranium, something like pretty close to that. And that is unqualified in the section on uranium. There are some sections towards the back, and I'm sorry I haven't reviewed the document, and I'd be happy to look at it if you like, there are some sections towards the back in which State Department expresses some doubts about uranium. I think it had to do with whether or not someone could actually procure, actually get the uranium as opposed to trying to get uranium, if you follow what I mean.

Setting aside his Iran v. Iraq mistake (which he corrected shortly thereafter upon Fitzgerald's questioning), the portion I've highlighted in bold is simply nonsense. The INR statement was very clearly directed at the allegation that Iraq tried to get uranium (not merely because INR's response was in reference to the statement in the body of the NIE that Iraq was pursuing uranium from Africa):

...the claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are, in INR's assessment, highly dubious.

Interestingly, Libby later on inadvertently acknowledged that the NIE claim on Niger was actually based on the allegation that Iraq had purchased uranium (it was - the NIE Niger claim was not based on intel that alleged that Iraq had merely sought uranium):

[Libby:] And then I don't, I don't know that we got anything until the National Intelligence Estimate came out which had a very definitive statement, that they had begun to buy uranium. [page 62]

1.2 Libby and the January 24, 2003 document

March 5, 2004 GJ transcript, pages 116-117:

[Libby:] The January 24 document had the exact same content as the NIE, word-for-word as the NIE, and also saying that Iraq had vigorously begun trying to procure uranium from Niger...So both in October of 2002, and in January 24, three days before the State of the Union, the CIA in writing sent to the White House this consensus language which said Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger, the exact point that the President was making in the State of the Union. That's what the Vice President had seen. It's the only thing the Vice President had seen after the -- Wilson went out on his trip six months after, and that at least was the primary thing he had seen. ["only" thing or "primary" thing? - eRiposte]

March 5, 2004 GJ transcript, page 119:

[Fitzgerald:] There was efforts at times to declassify the January 24th report as well?

[Libby:] The exact same content, so I don't, I don't know how that technically works when it's the exact same content.

I am not discussing, here, Libby's deception about the significance of the Jan 24, 2003 document and his deliberate omission of the Cincinnati speech and the Foley-Joseph exchange prior to the SOTU that undercut his argument completely. The reason is that Marcy has already dismantled his nonsense in two posts. Particularly this one "The January 24 Document Had NOTHING to Do with the SOTU" - but also this one "What Wasn't In Tenet's Statement: The January 24 Document".


2. Libby on the origins of Wilson's trip and knowledge of Wilson's name

March 5, 2004 GJ transcript, pages 30-31:

[Libby:] And in the course of describing this [Cheney] also said to me in sort of an off-hand manner, as a curiosity, that his wife worked at the CIA, the person who -- whoever this person was. There were no names at that stage so I didn't know Ambassador Wilson's name at that point, or the wife's name. And I made a note of that also. He then went on to say, here's what we'd like you to say to the reporters, I think it was Pincus, as I said before, and he gave me three points. The first point was that we did not request a mission to Niger. The second point, as I recall, was that we had not gotten a report back from the mission to Niger until -- or we hadn't seen any such report until after the State of the Union, when these newspaper articles started.

There are three obvious points I should make about Libby's claims.


2.1 Wilson's name

It stretches all credibility for Libby to have claimed that he did not know Wilson's name at the time of his conversation with Cheney (e.g., see Marcy's post on timelines for more). Even more egregiously, Libby falsely claimed that he first figured out the name of the former Ambassador only after Joseph Wilson published his op-ed in early July 2003!

[Libby:] You know, I don't remember it in any detail. It was the same claim that we had had around since May. It's just now it had a name of it. Now we knew it was Ambassador Wilson. And there was this, you know, accusation of twisting the facts directly by somebody by name. So it was a concern. [page 80]

Not to mention, Libby told the grand jury that he told Time's Matt Cooper on July 12 that:

I think I said, I don't know if he has a wife, but this is what we're hearing.

Right.


2.2 OVP and Wilson's trip

Wilson never said the VP asked for his mission to Niger - the closest he came to that was: "Well, I went in, actually in February of 2002 was my most recent trip there—at the request, I was told, of the office of the vice president".

Guess what, Wilson was accurately stating what he was told by the CIA. As Emptywheel noted, in his grand jury testimony, Libby himself inadvertently confirmed this!

[Libby:] But my best recollection sitting here is that [Cheney] had been speaking to someone who was either from the CIA or it was someone who had spoken to someone from the CIA, and he was relaying to me what the CIA had said about how this came about. And it says something like -- my notes about it say something like, he was sent at our request, our behest or something, and then it says something about it being a functional office. (29-30)

So, for the Bushies to have mounted a false and full frontal attack on Wilson on this very point - without making it clear that Wilson was only relaying what the CIA had told him and the OVP - makes it clear that their intent was not just to correct the record. Their goal was a wholesale character assassination of Wilson.

BONUS: Libby also lied to the Washington Post's Walter Pincus about the origins of the Wilson trip in order to protect Dick Cheney, something that was noted in the book Hubris (pages 238-239) by Michael Isikoff and David Corn and by Marcy last week at FDL.


2.3 OVP knowledge of Wilson's findings

Interestingly, Libby kept switching his wording on the OVP's denial about having received a copy of the CIA report on Wilson's trip:

[Libby:] ...we had not gotten a report back from the mission to Niger until -- or we hadn't seen any such report until after the State of the Union...[page 30]

And:

[Libby:] And as I was indicating, the premises were wrong, we didn't get his report. [page 75]

And:

[Libby:] ...the report did not in fact reach the Vice President or me prior to the State of the Union [page 78]

I do find it rather interesting that Libby chose the State of the Union (Jan 28, 2003) as his reference date - and not some other date months later. That said, this is another one of the oft-repeated talking points from the Right which doesn't amount to much. The SSCI report made it very clear that the CIA did in fact send their report on Wilson's trip through all their usual channels (which presumably includes the White House):

The intelligence report based on the former ambassador's trip was disseminated on March 8, 2002. The report did not identify the former ambassador by name or as a former ambassador, but described him as "a contact with excellent access who does not have an established reporting record." The report also indicted that the "subsources of the following information knew their remarks could reach the U.S. government and may have intended to influence as well as inform." DO officials told Committee staff that this type of description was routine and was done in order to protect the former ambassador as the source of the information, which they had told him they would do. DO officials also said they alerted WINPAC analysts when the report was being disseminated because they knew the "high priority of the issue." The report was widely distributed in routine channels. [page 43]


3. Libby on Wilson's findings

I've broken down this section into a few sub-sections.

3.1 Relevant background information

3.2 Libby's claim that Wilson's findings supported the uranium claim and that it was part of the basis of the NIE

3.3 Libby's claim that Wilson reported that an Iraqi delegation visited Niger and that a former Nigerien PM claimed that Iraq sought uranium

3.4 Libby's depiction of the credibility of Nigerien officials


3.1 Relevant background information

(a) The U.S. intelligence community never did consider Wilson's trip as being credible evidence for the uranium from Africa allegation

In Part 4 of this series I noted that:

Up until February 2003, when the Bush administration was forced to provide evidence to the UN to support Bush's uranium from Africa allegation, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's trip had never been used by the US intelligence community (IC) in support of the uranium from Africa allegation. In particular, Wilson's findings had not been used as a piece of supporting evidence for/in the October 2002 NIE and had not been used as evidence for Bush's Jan 2003 SOTU claim (which in fact referred to the British claim). To the contrary, the intelligence community had specifically declined to use his findings because they felt that his trip did not provide credible evidence that Iraq had sought (or purchased) uranium from Niger. In fact, even the British Government's uranium claim was never based on any findings from Wilson's trip (especially since the CIA did not discuss Wilson's trip with the UK at that time).

[...]

...A series of events - one of which was entirely made up - in which no Iraqi or Iraqi proxy uttered the word "uranium" or mentioned "uranium" in any document are somehow considered by Libby, his lawyer and their pals in the Bush administration as shomehow supportive of the premise that Iraq was recently seeking significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Indeed, the CIA and DIA did not really consider Wilson's trip as supporting the "sought uranium" allegation. Despite this, the Bush administration continued - and Libby and his lawyer still continue - to peddle the fiction that Wilson's trip provided support for the uranium claim.

(b) Wilson never claimed that an Iraqi delegation visited Niger in 1999

In Part 7 of this series I also pointed out that:

When former Ambassador Joseph Wilson returned from Niger in early 2002, he narrated an incident conveyed to him by one of his sources, the former Nigerien PM Ibrahim Mayaki. Wilson told the CIA that Mayaki met an Iraqi delegation at the margins of an Organization for African Unity (OAU) meeting in Algiers in mid-1999. In this post, I showed that the CIA DO report on Wilson's trip did not state the location of this meeting. Yet, the CIA DO reports officer and some WINPAC and DIA analysts later claimed to the SSCI that the meeting occurred in Niger, contradicting Wilson's claim. Surprisingly, the British Butler report accurately reported what Wilson said, even as the Phase I SSCI report that was released around the same time parroted the incorrect claims of the CIA DO reports officer and the WINPAC/DIA analysts without correcting their claims. A review of additional U.S. IC documents suggests that the Algiers-Niger switch in U.S. IC documents occurred no later than April 3, 2003 and very likely prior to that. A more detailed investigation into this matter would be desirable.

The significance of the Algiers-Niger switch - which constituted another piece of deceptive, revisionist history about Joseph Wilson's report - is twofold. First, there are possible implications surrounding any "secret" Iraqi trip to Niger that was otherwise unknown. The Iraq-Niger meeting in Algiers in mid-1999 - narrated by Wilson - was never considered suspicious, as the Butler report pointed out. The Wissam Al-Zahawie trip to Niger in Feb 1999 had always been known to Western intelligence agencies (since 1999) and was never really considered suspicious until Al-Zahawie's name got inserted in the context of uranium into the forged Niger documents. Hence, the notion that there was a separate and secret mid-1999 trip by Iraq to Niger could be easily misused to claim that Iraq was secretly seeking uranium. Second, those indulging in this distortion of Wilson's claim were able to confuse people by swapping Wilson's claim about a 1999 Iraq-Niger meeting in Algiers with a 1999 Iraq-Niger meeting in Niger. By taking "mid" out of "mid 1999", it became possible to make Wilson's claim sound a lot like the claim from SISMI (originating from the forged Niger documents) that fraudulently distorted the objective of Wissam Al-Zahawie's visit to Niger in (early) 1999. The net result is that the distorted narrative about Wilson's trip could be misused by frauds in the Bush White House to further cement their allegation about Iraq seeking uranium in Niger. In a follow-up post I will show examples of how this distortion was misused.

(c) In June 2003, Libby and Cheney were told that the CIA did not consider the uranium claim to be valid

A third piece of information worth remembering:

Waas, 2/2/06:

Vice President Cheney and his then-Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby were personally informed in June 2003 that the CIA no longer considered credible the allegations that Saddam Hussein had attempted to procure uranium from the African nation of Niger, according to government records and interviews with current and former officials. The new CIA assessment came just as Libby and other senior administration officials were embarking on an effort to discredit an administration critic who had also been saying that the allegations were untrue.

CIA analysts wrote then-CIA Director George Tenet in a highly classified memo on June 17, 2003, "We no longer believe there is sufficient" credible information to "conclude that Iraq pursued uranium from abroad." The memo was titled: "In Response to Your Questions for Our Current Assessment and Additional Details on Iraq's Alleged Pursuits of Uranium From Abroad."

Despite the CIA's findings, Libby attempted to discredit former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had been sent on a CIA-sponsored mission to Niger the previous year to investigate the claims, which he concluded were baseless.

While I had previously reported on the June 17, 2003 CIA memo, I was not aware that Libby and Cheney had been directly briefed on it. This is fairly damning evidence against Libby in particular, who continued to peddle the uranium claim as being valid, well after this date.

The context summarized in the above passages is important for you to keep in mind when you read the following excerpts from Libby's grand jury testimony.


3.2 Libby's claim that Wilson's findings supported the uranium claim and that it was part of the basis of the NIE

March 5, 2004 GJ transcript, pages 73-74:

[Libby:] So in fact, within Ambassador Wilson's -- within the report of Ambassador Wilson's trip and his finding was evidence that Iraq was trying to acquire uranium and that's what the CIA eventually puts into the NIE which is also unclassified now.

March 5, 2004 GJ transcript, pages 98-99:

[Libby:] Yes, it says towards the bottom of the page here it says, "the White House blamed an October CIA report for ignoring Wilson's information and not requesting the original documents in which the charge was based for more than a year." And this was not -- two things, it was not right. I don't think anybody blamed the CIA for ignoring his information. In fact, I think he -- the CIA had looked at his information, had found that it, as reported in the NIE in October, had found -- in fact, far from ignoring it, they looked at it and found that it did not contradict the claim, and in fact supported the claim that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger.

There are two obvious problems in the above testimony.

First, Libby was claiming that Wilson's findings were supportive of the Bush administration's claim that Iraq sought uranium from Niger. He also claimed that the CIA considered his findings to be supportive of the Bush administration's claim that Iraq sought uranium from Niger. These were outright falsehoods (see Section 3.1), one that Libby's lawyer unfortunately continued to perpetuate during the trial.

Second, in his testimony, Libby implied that the CIA used the information from Wilson's trip to support the uranium claim in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). This was another egregious deception on his part because Wilson's findings were not at all part of the basis for the NIE's Niger uranium claim. The NIE Niger claim was based entirely on the information originating from the fabricated Niger claims sent by SISMI - information that alleged Iraq had purchased uranium from Niger.


3.3 Libby's claim that Wilson reported that an Iraqi delegation visited Niger and that a former Nigerien PM claimed that Iraq sought uranium

March 5, 2004 GJ transcript, pages 73-74:

[Libby:] ...there are denials in the first part of the report from the Niger government that they ever provided uranium. But there is also an assertion from a former Nigerian, I think prime minister, that in fact an Iraqi delegation had come to Niger seeking to open relations...

March 5, 2004 GJ transcript, page 114:

[Libby:] There are a lot of Niger officials referred to in his piece. The one time he refers to a Niger official sort of uniquely is when the guy was saying that there was an attempt to purchase uranium.

As I noted earlier, Wilson did not report that there had been an Iraqi delegation which went to Niger. The CIA DO report on Wilson's trip also did not claim that the Iraqi delegation visited Niger. This was revisionist history about Wilson's findings - whose origins within the U.S. Government are still unclear.

Secondly, the former Nigerien PM did NOT claim that there was an attempt to purchase uranium. He told Wilson that he thought that perhaps Iraq was interested in uranium. Equating this to an assertion that the PM claimed that Iraq sought uranium is nothing short of fraud. Let me give you an analogy to make this point clearer. If someone were to hypothetically speculate as follows:

"Given the way the Bush-Cheney administration has completely mishandled America's national security, perhaps the super-busy-with-national-security Scooter Libby is Osama bin Laden's boyfriend and perhaps Bush and Cheney are bin Laden's Manchurian candidates in the White House."

To take this speculative statement and use that to assert that we know for a fact that Libby is Osama bin Laden's boyfriend and that Bush and Cheney are bin Laden's Manchurian candidates would be nothing short of fraudulent. This kind of behavior may be acceptable to Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney, George Bush and their BFFs in the media but it is not acceptable behavior in a civilized democracy.


3.4 Libby's depiction of the credibility of Nigerien officials

March 5, 2004 GJ transcript, page 114:

[Libby:] There are a lot of Niger officials referred to in his piece. The one time he refers to a Niger official sort of uniquely is when the guy was saying that there was an attempt to purchase uranium.

March 5, 2004 GJ transcript, page 134:

[Libby:] Ambassador Wilson had gone to the government of Niger and said, I'm going to tell the United States government what you tell me. Did you in effect sell uranium to the number one enemy of America in the world which might use it to make an atomic bomb that might be used to threaten America? And a Nigerian official said, why no, we didn't do that. And I think the CIA found, as Director Tenet said on the llth, that there's only so much credibility you can add to that because it would be amazing if they said, yes, we did do that.

First of all, Wilson "uniquely" referred to more than one official - so Libby's claim was a falsehood. The former PM Ibrahim Mayaki (who's mere speculation was misused by the Bushies) was only one of the officials Wilson referred to. Wilson also "uniquely" referred to Mai Manga, Niger's former Minister of Energy and Mines.

In fact, Libby's framing was completely fraudulent. Why? Mai Manga actually admitted to Wilson - as narrated by the CIA DO report on Wilson's trip which Libby had seen - that:

  • Iran, previously deemed by the Bush administration as an arch enemy of the US and a member of the "axis of evil" along with Iraq, had in fact sought to buy 400 tons of uranium yellowcake from Niger
  • Pakistan, a country's whose intelligence service has long funded terrorism, including by the Taliban and Al Qaeda against the US, had in fact sought to buy uranium from Niger
  • Iraq had not sought/bought uranium from Niger

Since this former senior official Mai Manga was entirely forthcoming about Iran, one of the top enemies of the U.S. as defined by Libby's bosses, he had no reason to not be forthcoming about Iraq. Manga made it very clear that Iraq had not sought uranium from Niger anytime in the recent past. Yet, Libby being the fraudster that he is, tried to paint Mayaki's baseless speculation as fact and Mai Manga's factual assertion as not believable.

Let's not mince words here. This was clear cut fraud in front of the grand jury. This is exactly the kind of fraud that Libby and the Bush administration indulged in repeatedly to sell the war. Incidentally, this fraudulent talking point was also stoked by the pathetic Phase I SSCI report - specifically by the WINPAC and DIA analysts who also told the SSCI an incorrect story about the Iraqi delegation having somehow traveled to Niger:

(U) DIA and CIA analysts said that when they saw the intelligence report they did not believe that it supplied much new information and did not think that it clarified the story on the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal. They did not find Nigerien denials that they had discussed uranium sales with Iraq as very surprising because they had no expectation that Niger would admit to such an agreement if it did exist. The analysts did, however, find it interesting that the former Nigerien Prime Minister said an Iraqi delegation had visited Niger for what he believed was to discuss uranium sales. [page 46]


4. BONUS: Libby v. Condi and the White House

I've written before about the pathological Condi Rice. What I found interesting is how Libby, who was rolling out the lies one after another, inadvertenly made himself look honest in comparison to Rice by accidentally demolishing one of the White House's and Rice's most infamous talking points in the aftermath of the July 2003 Wilson op-ed.

March 5, 2004 GJ transcript, page 20:

[Fitzgerald:] Okay. And do you know if that was -- just going from memory, whether the part in the back [the INR dissent in the NIE - eRiposte] was in text or in a footnote, do you remember?

[Libby:] It's not a footnote in the sense that you or I use the term where there's a little -- you know, a little -- small little number six, and you go to the six at the bottom. I think it was in a blue box, if I recall, but I haven't looked at this in awhile. It might [be] an appendix actually. I'm not sure if it was in the text or an appendix.

Libby was right about this one, but here's a flashback.

Condi Rice (7/11/03):

The only thing that was there in the NIE was a kind of a standard INR footnote, which is kind of 59 pages away from the bulk of the NIE. That's the only thing that's there. And you have footnotes all the time in CIA - I mean, in NIEs. So if there was a concern about the underlying intelligence there, the President was unaware of that concern and as was I.

In other words, Rice was saying that the INR statement was a footnote. Mmmm-kay. What's more...

White House (7/18/03):

A senior administration official who briefed reporters yesterday said neither Bush nor national security adviser Condoleezza Rice read the NIE in its entirety. “They did not read footnotes in a 90-page document,” said the official, referring to the “Annex” that contained the State Department’s dissent…The official said Bush was “briefed” on the NIE’s contents, but “I don’t think he sat down over a long weekend and read every word of it.”

Of course, at least as far as Condi Rice was concerned, "neither...read the NIE in its entirety", was also a flat out lie, as certified by none other than Condi Rice herself - soon afterwards, in early August 2003. Here's Bob Somerby's note on that admission which the mainstream media slept through, as usual:

RICE: ...I did read everything that the CIA produced for the president on weapons of mass destruction. I read the National Intelligence Estimate cover to cover a couple of times. I read the reports; I was briefed on the reports. This is—after 20 years, as somebody who has read a lot of intelligence reports—this is one of the strongest cases about weapons of mass destruction that I had ever read.

In other words, Rice not only read the NIE in its entirety, she also read the so-called "footnote" - which was not really a footnote but an Annex which was very much part of the NIE. Libby attested to that under oath.


5. Conclusions

In my view, Scooter Libby's grand jury testimony is an enormous goldmine for smart prosecutors. Regardless of whether he is acquitted or found guilty in the ongoing trial, history will reflect the fact that he lied repeatedly about many items (large and small in importance) in his grand jury testimony - and not just on issues pertaining to Valerie Wilson.

Libby misrepresented the content of the INR dissent in the NIE and he lied about his knowledge of Wilson's name. He lied about Wilson's trip having been considered supportive of the Bush administration's uranium from Africa claim, he lied about a former Nigerien official having asserted that Iraq sought uranium, he misled about Wilson's trip somehow being part of the basis of the NIE claim, and he made the blatantly incorrect claim that Wilson's finding was that an Iraqi delegation traveled to Niger (in mid-1999). Libby also made a totally fraudulent representation of Wilson's findings by excluding the comments of a former Nigerien official (Mai Manga) from his description of the credibility of Nigerien officials and the significance of Wilson's trip. Finally, Libby also misled the grand jury repeatedly about the significance of the January 24, 2003 document he kept referring to.

Funnily enough, as much as Libby's lies under oath about Wilson's findings are helpful vindication for former Ambassador Wilson, Libby's brief moments of truthfulness in the Wilson context also proved enormously useful to the Wilsons. For instance, Libby inadvertently confirmed that Wilson's statement that his trip was arranged at the behest of the OVP was actually an accurate rendition of what the CIA told Wilson and the OVP. Libby also inadvertently demolished one of the most significant, false talking points from the White House and Condi Rice in the aftermath of Wilson's op-ed - regarding "footnotes" in the NIE.

Let me just say that I cannot thank Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald enough for having publicized Libby's grand jury testimony.

eriposte :: 8:31 AM :: Comments (3) :: Spotlight :: Digg It!