A Grave Indictment, but Grave Questions Remain

David Corn

If a senior White House official leaks classified information that identifies an undercover CIA officer to reporters in order to undermine a critic of the administration, he is not entitled to lie about it to FBI agents and a grand jury charged with the task of determining if such a leak violated the law. That was special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's message, as he held a dramatic press conference at the Justice Department to explain the five-count indictment his grand jury issued against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. "This is a very serious matter," he insisted.

The indictment charged Libby with two counts of making false statements to the FBI, two counts of committing perjury (by lying twice to the grand jury) and one count of obstruction of justice. All these charges referred to Libby's account of how he came to learn of Valerie Wilson, the undercover CIA official who was married to former ambassador Joseph Wilson, a White House critic, and who was outed in a July 14, 2003 Bob Novak column. During interviews with FBI agents and in his testimony before the grand jury, Libby--who, before the Novak column was published, told Judith Miller of The New York Times and Matt Cooper of Time that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA--repeatedly claimed that he was merely passing along information he had heard from other reporters. For instance, on March 5, 2004, Libby, answering questions about a July 12, 2003 conversation with Cooper, told the grand jury,

All I had was this information that was coming in from the reporters....I said, reporters are telling us that [about Valerie Wilson's employment at the CIA]. I don't know if it's true. I was careful about that because among other things, I wanted to be clear I didn't know Mr. Wilson. I don't know--I think I said, I don't know if he has a wife, but this is what we're hearing.

On March 24, 2004, Libby, in another appearance before the grand jury, said,

All I had was that reporters are telling us that, and by that I wanted them to understand it wasn't coming from me and that it might not be true....So I wanted to be clear they [the reporters to whom he spoke] didn't, they didn't think it was me saying it. I didn't know if it [the information about Valerie Wilson] was true, and I wanted them to understand that.

But, according to the indictment, Libby had actively gathered information on Joseph Wilson and his wife after newspaper stories appeared about a trip that Joseph Wilson had taken to Niger for the CIA in February 2002, during which he had concluded that the allegation that Iraq had been shopping there for weapon-grade uranium was highly dubious. In May 2003, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, using Wilson as a source, wrote about this trip without naming Wilson. The Washington Post did the same the following month. And on July 6, 2003, Wilson published an op-ed piece in the Times describing his mission to Niger and his findings, which undercut the Bush administration's use of the Niger allegation in making a case for war.

In late May 2003--after the first Kristof column and before Wilson went public with his op-ed--Libby asked Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman for information on the unnamed ambassador's trip to Niger. Grossman ordered the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research to prepare a report on the ambassador and the trip and subsequently told Libby that Wilson had been the ambassador. On June 9, 2003, according to the indictment, classified CIA documents that covered Wilson and the Niger trip (without mentioning Wilson by name) were faxed from the CIA to Libby. Two or three days later, Grossman told Libby, the indictment says, that "Wilson's wife worked at the CIA." About that time, Libby spoke with a senior CIA officer, who also informed Libby that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. Also about the time, the indictment states, Cheney told Libby that Wilson's wife was employed at the CIA in the counterproliferation division. This is an intriguing fact. Usually in Washington, principles ask their subordinates to dig up information for them. Apparently, Cheney was doing his own fact-finding on the Wilson front. The indictment does not explain what Cheney was up to or why. It notes that "Libby understood that the Vice President had learned this information from the CIA." Cheney had a back-channel behind his back-channel (Libby).

Libby was not done gathering information on Joseph and Valerie Wilson. On or about June 14, 2003--still weeks before Wilson's op-ed article appeared--Libby, according to the indictment, met with a CIA briefer and "discussed with the briefer, among other things, 'Joseph Wilson' and his wife 'Valerie Wilson' in the context of Wilson's trip to Niger." (Fitzgerald's use of quotation marks in this passage of the indictment suggests he has notes from this meeting.)

Libby, as depicted in the indictment, was aware of the sensitive nature of the material he had collected on the Wilsons. When an assistant asked if information on Wilson's trip could be shared with the press to rebut the charge that Cheney had sent Wilson to Niger (an allegation never made by Wilson, who had said that his trip was a response to a request that had come to the CIA from Cheney's office), Libby told his aide that he could not talk about this topic on a nonsecure telephone line.

Yet days later--on June 23, 2003--Libby met with Judy Miller and told her that Wilson's wife might work at the CIA. And the day after Joseph Wilson's op-ed piece appeared, Libby had lunch with White House press secretary Ari Fleischer and informed him that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA, adding that this was not widely known. That week, Libby twice more discussed Valerie Wilson with Miller. And on July 10 or 11, 2003, Libby, according to the indictment, spoke to a senior White House official--identified as "Official A" and possibly White House aide Karl Rove--who told Libby that earlier in the week he (Official A) had discussed Wilson's wife and her CIA employment with Novak, who would be writing a column about her.

If the indictment is correct, Libby was not only in the loop regarding Valerie Wilson and her connection to the CIA; he had helped to create it. Yet Fitzgerald's indictment quotes Libby declaring over and over he only had heard--and passed along--scuttlebutt received from other reporters. To prop up this cover story, Libby told the FBI agents that it had been NBC News' Tim Russert who had said to him that Valerie Wilson worked at the CIA and that "all the reporters knew it." Russert told the grand jury that he had not discussed Wilson's wife with Libby and that in this particular conversation Libby had complained to him about an MSNBC reporter (who goes unnamed in the indictment).

Libby appears to have concocted a rather clumsy cover story, especially in that he pointed to a specific reporter as his source--Russert--for the information on Valerie Wilson that he shared with Miller and Cooper. A reasonable assumption is that even if Libby was not a source for the Novak column that identified Valerie Wilson, he was attempting to distance himself--and perhaps Cheney--from the administration's effort to find and leak information on Wilson and his wife (even if it might be classified) to undercut Wilson's criticism. During the press conference, Fitzgerald noted that Libby was the first official who talked to a reporter about Valerie Wilson when he discussed her with Miller on June 23, 2003.

Fitzgerald's indictment of Libby seems rather tight. Libby said he knew nothing about Wilson's wife except what he had heard from reporters. Fitzgerald has compiled what looks like solid evidence that Libby was actively collecting information on Joseph Wilson and his wife. And if this case goes to trial, possible witnesses for the prosecution include Russert, Fleischer, Grossman, Libby's principle deputy, a CIA briefer, Official A, and Cheney. Libby could be sentenced up to 30 years if found guilty of all counts. Libby, the first senior White House official to be indicted since the Ulysses Grant administration, is in serious legal trouble.

Is anyone else? Fitzgerald's grand jury expired on Friday. But he has asked the presiding judge to keep a grand jury available for him because he has not completed his investigation. His probe, he said at the press conference, is "not quite done." Then he quickly added, "But I don't want to add to a feverish pitch. It's very, very routine that you keep a grand jury available for what you might need." He noted that the "substantial bulk of the work" has been completed. But he said, "Let's let the process take place."

How to read this? Not over, but mostly finished. Fitzgerald seemed a man who was rather close to the end of a long and tough endeavor, and he yielded no hint of any indictments to come. He certainly did not signal or say, "Stay tuned."

Does that mean this leak investigation could end only with Libby indicted--not for participating in the leak but for lying about his pre-leak actions? That's possible. And Fitzgerald, sticking to the rules of grand jury investigations, refused to reveal any information about the case that was not included in the indictment. Who were Novak's sources for the leak? Fitzgerald wouldn't say. Is Official A a new name for Mr. X--the term used by reporters to refer to Novak's original source? Fitzgerald didn't say. Might Rove be Official A? Fitzgerald didn't say. Why did the leak refer to Valerie Wilson by her maiden name of Plame? Fitzgerald didn't say. What sort of cooperation did Fitzgerald receive from Novak (who presumably spilled all to Fitzgerald, otherwise he would have landed in the slammer like Miller)? Fitzgerald didn't say. Was Cheney in cahoots with Libby regarding the latter's false testimony? Fitzgerald didn't say. How much damage was done to the CIA and its operations by the leak? Fitzgerald didn't say. What about George W. Bush? What did he know about Rove's involvement in the leak and when did he know it? No reporter at the press conference even asked about this.

Fitzgerald did not share much beyond the information he had to disclose in order to indict Libby. He did declare that "the fact that Valerie Wilson was a CIA officer was classified...but it was not widely known outside the intelligence community" and that "her cover was blown" by the Novak column. (So much for the goofy rightwing conspiracy theory that I colluded with Joseph Wilson after the Novak column to out Valerie Wilson as an undercover CIA operative. If you don't know about that, don't ask.) And he passionately countered the pre-indictment criticism from Republicans and others who argued that bringing perjury and obstruction of justice charges--rather than accusing anyone of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act or other laws that apply to leaking classified information--would be a cheap shot or an act of prosecutorial overreaching. He explained that he and his investigators were assigned the job of investigating the unauthorized disclosure of classified information and determining if any laws--not one particular statute, such as the Intelligence Identities Protection Act--were violated. In such an inquiry, he said, "fine distinctions" are critical, and consequently, it is "important that the witnesses who come before a grand jury, especially the witnesses who come before a grand jury who may be under investigation, tell the complete truth." In this probe, that included Libby.

Fitzgerald indicated he had considered the possibility of charging leakers with violating the Espionage Act, which makes it a crime for government officials to disseminate classified information--to unauthorized individuals. Using the Espionage Act in this manner, some media and legal experts have claimed, would lead to an Official Secrets Act, but Fitzgerald said he didn't accept that analysis. Still, he called this act "a difficult statue to interpret." And he chose not to indict anyone--yet--for violating it. He also defended his choice to pursue Miller and Cooper and to seek Miller's imprisonment, citing a special need for their testimony. ("I do not think that a reporter should be subpoenaed anything close to routinely," he said.) When asked about detractors who have accused him of being partisan, he replied, "for which party?"

Fitzgerald knows far more than what is in the Libby indictment. But the American public may never learn what he has uncovered. There might be no further indictments, and Fitzgerald dismissed the idea of writing a final report. He said that he does not have the authority to issue such a document--and that he does not believe a special counsel should have that authority. Independent counsels used to have the obligation to craft a final report that detailed their investigation and findings and explained decisions to prosecute and not prosecute. But the independent counsel law expired, and Fitzgerald is operating as a special counsel pursuant to Justice Department rules that do not provide for the production of a final report and that do compel prosecutors to keep grand jury material that is not used for an indictment or trial confidential. Feeling the reporter's pain, Fitzgerald remarked, "I know that people want to know whatever it is we know....We just can't do that....We either charge someone or we don't talk about them."

Which means that after the government has paid for a two-year investigation, the public may be left in the dark about much of what happened in the leak case. The leakers may never be held accountable. Rove's role, Bush's knowledge, Cheney's potential involvement--all of that could remain a secret, even though Fitzgerald has apparently dug deep and unearthed much of the tale. When a reporter asked Fitzgerald if he had learned how Washington works, he replied, "Yes," and said no more.

The Libby indictment does stand as a significant development. Libby was an influential aide for an influential veep in an administration that has often been accused of lying to get its way--such as during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. And he has been charged with putting himself above the law and undermining an investigation initiated by his administration's Justice Department. On January 22, 2001, Bush, while swearing in the new White House staff, said, "We must remember the high standards that come with high office. This begins with careful adherence to the rules. I expect every member of this administration to stay well within the boundaries that define legal and ethical conduct. This means avoiding even the appearance of problems. This means checking and, if need be, double-checking that the rules have been obeyed. This means never compromising those rules....We are all accountable to one another. And above all, we are all accountable to the law and to the American people."

Libby, who quickly resigned after the indictment was released, has fallen. But Rove, who also leaked classified information by passing information on Wilson's wife to Cooper and Novak, has violated White House rules and Bush's self-proclaimed standards, if not the law itself. He has not been held accountable yet, and that task may be beyond Fitzgerald's reach. Nor have Bush and Rove explained why the White House misled the public when it denied Rove and Libby were involved in the leak. Neither have accepted responsibility for that. As for Libby, Bush, in a brief statement, said he was "saddened" by the news of his indictment. He said nothing about the ethical standards of his White House.

In politics and policy, lying is not always illegal. And it's easy to see why officials in this White House might think they can escape being held accountable for prevaricating. But Libby seems to have lied to the wrong guy in the wrong forum. "Truth is the engine of our judicial system," Fitzgerald declared while explaining the gravity of the Libby indictment. And this is a grave indictment. It just doesn't answer many grave questions that still remain in the CIA leak affair.


LOST about finances?

I'm not a fan of the small group curriculum from Crown Financial Ministeries, so I'm really looking forward to hearing this series!


No QB turnovers? Michael Vick must not be playing...

Let me be the first to say that Atlanta needs to bench Michael Vick and start Matt Schaub.

I've been a fan of Atlanta Falcons backup quarterback Matt Schaub since the 2004 pre-season when he led the NFL in passing yards, completions, and touchdowns. Since then he's been relegated to the bench except when Vick goes out for an injury.

Despite Atlanta's loss to New England yesterday at the Georgia Dome, it was the best home game I've ever seen the Falcons play. As quarterback, Matt Schaub gave the Falcons the best opportunity to win, but our defense let us down.

Yesterday Matt Schaub showed his true colors and why he, rather than Michael Vick, should be the starting quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons. With the exception of Atlanta's blowout against Minnesota, Vick has thrown an interception or fumbled the ball in every game so far this year. Compare this to Schaub, who, playing against the defending Super Bowl champs threw NO interceptions and didn't fumble the ball once.

Matt Schaub is listed as being 6' 5" whereas Michael Vick is listed at 6' 0" (though Schaub looks more than 5" taller than Vick when standing side-by-side). Perhaps it's his height advantage, perhaps it's his accuracy, but Schaub is a much better west coast quarterback than Vick. Understandably you can't rate a quarterback on just one game, but what would it hurt to sit Vick out for another week so his hamstring and sprained knee can fully recover while giving Schaub another opportunity to show what he can do? If numbers don't lie, then I'll let their quarterback ratings do all the talking...

Matt Schaub = 90.3 QB rating
Michael Vick = 83 QB rating


"Heroes" sermon by Andy Stanley

I still remember my first visit to North Point Community Church over four years ago. Andy Stanley is the pastor of North Point and happens to be the son of Charles Stanley who pastors First Baptist Church of Atlanta. My wife and I both have "Baptist baggage" from bad experiences with that denomination, so it was with great cynicism that we visited North Point. Visiting a church whose pastor is the son of a prominent Baptist preacher, we expected to hear a fire and brimstone sermon arrogantly delivered from a self-rightousness point of view, a lot of shouting, and a final altar call. Man, were we ever wrong.

Andy has a way of taking a book that's 2,000 years old and making it relevant to life today. And as a bonus, he does it with humor, sincerity, and a big dose of humility. My marriage is stronger, my friendships are deeper, and I'm a better Dad because of the growth experienced as a result of Andy Stanley and North Point. I never thought I'd get up before 7:00am and drive the 20 miles from Marietta to Alpharetta, GA, just to attend church, but I do. I can't imagine life without North Point Community Church (hereinafter referred to as North Point).

Since attending North Point, I'd never heard a questionable sermon from Andy or one that made me wonder where he was coming from until August when he delivered the 4-part "Heroes" series. In a nutshell, Andy made the case that a hero is defined as someone who has 1) clarity -and- 2) an irresistable urge to act. My immediate thoughts in hearing this definition were, "where is this in scripture" and "whose clarity?" In my humble opinion, he gave weak answers to both questions, but I hoped that perhaps in a followup sermon he would comprehensively address both.

As he usually does, in the second sermon of this series Andy gave several examples of individuals he considered heroes, one of whom I believe he's dead wrong about. Hearing what I considered to be blasphemy from the pulpit left me incensed. I figured that I had several options: 1) leave; 2) throw something at him; 3) listen to everything else he had to say and hope for a clarification. Option #1 was out because I would have had to yank my daughter out of Waumba Land (children's ministry). Sitting in the balcony gave me a great shot at tossing some vegetables towards the stage, but alas, all I had was my bible, notebook, and cell phone, and I didn't think this would pass the what-would-Jesus-do test.

So I tried to listen. I learned it's hard to listen when you're angry. I prayed for peace. I prayed for calm. I thanked God that I hadn't brought other like-minded friends, family, and neighbors who would never return to North Point had they heard this sermon. I prayed for patience. I also learned that it's difficult to believe someone's words after you feel they've spoken a lie. I did sit through the sermon, and my blood pressure fell, but unfortunately Andy offered no retraction or clarification. So I heeded Andy's closing challenge. With clarity and an irresistable urge to act, I felt compelled to share with Andy my experience.

I considered sending him an email, but I figured that there were several administrative assistants who managed and screened his email inbox. I could have phoned, but I figured with 18,000 regular attendees at North Point's Alpharetta campus that I'd have little chance of reaching him. I decided to write.

I've learned it's always wise to let someone else read a letter of this nature as I wanted to be sure my delivery was clear and not an impediment to the message I wished to convey. I listened to the sermon again online and then started writing. I took the wise counsel of my wife to make several changes and then mailed the letter. My hope was that the letter would at least reach Andy, but I had little expectation of ever getting a response. Again, Andy surprised me.

About a week and a half later, I was shocked to find a message on my home answering machine from none other than Andy Stanley. He had received my letter, read it, and wanted me to know that he'd meant no offense in his message. He offered his cell phone # if I wished to call him back, and then he thanked my wife and I for our involvement in leading a community group at North Point. Andy does his homework. I felt like I'd gotten a call from the Pope.

We traded several voice messages and finally spoke a couple of weeks later. He listened patiently. I think he heard me. Andy didn't change my mind about "Heroes"--I thought his definition of hero and biblical support were weak--I hated the series. It appears he adapted the series from his book, The Next Generation Leader [synopsis here] he wrote a few years ago, which IMHO would have made a better sermon.

Pastors deserve a mulligan every now and then. The last sermon in this series did touch on the subject of how a hero needs to do the right thing the right way at the right time, but it sounded like an afterthought and seemed to fall out of chronological order with the rest of the series. Regardless, the fact that Andy took the time to read my letter and respond speaks volumes about the kind of leader he is, and perhaps that is the message God wanted me to learn. As brothers in Christ we may not always agree, but we always need to listen.


Where is Sunshine?

One of the many bright spots in the Atlanta Falcons' receiving corps during training camp was Cole Magner, nicknamed "Sunshine" because of his long blond hair

After the preseason game against Baltimore, Michael Vick said, "He's a guy who goes out and catches the ball with no gloves on, straight hands, so you have to respect that. He's a playmaker. I've been watching him the last month and a half and critiquing him. I think he's going to make this football team." Several days later when asked about Magner again, Vick added, "The kid hasn't dropped a ball since he's been here. I'm not trying to jinx him, but he hasn't dropped a ball. You see him make the tough grabs and the 'Wow' catches that Jim is looking for. He does it all."

After the Falcons beat the Ravens in preseason, Coach Jim Mora even named Magner as special teams player of the game for returning 2 punts for 43 yards.

Magner's only mistake in a preseason game was in the 3rd quarter against Jacksonville where he fumbled a punt return with Jacksonville recovering.

Unfortunately Magner was a victim of the Falcons' final roster cut on September 3.

Probably because of his strong showing against Baltimore, the Ravens signed Magner to their practice squad on September 6. But on September 20, the Baltimore Ravens terminated his contract.

Aside from Finneran and possibly Jenkins, I think the Falcons still are weak in the wide receiver position. Of course I'd like to see Magner back on the Falcons' roster, but if we don't pick him up I hope he finds a place somewhere in the league.