Thursday, February 09, 2006

Only Following Encouragement 

Here's a startling new development in the Libby case, courtesy of Zemblan patriot J.D. and our steadfast colleagues at Cursor. The doctrine of the unitary executive teaches us that, in the case of the President, adherence to the law is entirely optional. Now it turns out that the imperial White House is so darned imperial that senior staffers are empowered to ignore the law as well. Murray Waas reports that, according to his own testimony before a grand jury, Scooter Libby was "authorized" and "encouraged" by Dick Cheney and other unspecified White House "superiors" to leak highly classified information to the press:
Libby specifically claimed that in one instance he had been authorized to divulge portions of a then-still highly classified National Intelligence Estimate regarding Saddam Hussein's purported efforts to develop nuclear weapons, according to correspondence recently filed in federal court by special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald.

Beyond what was stated in the court paper, say people with firsthand knowledge of the matter, Libby also indicated what he will offer as a broad defense during his upcoming criminal trial: that Vice President Cheney and other senior Bush administration officials had earlier encouraged and authorized him to share classified information with journalists to build public support for going to war. Later, after the war began in 2003, Cheney authorized Libby to release additional classified information, including details of the NIE, to defend the administration's use of prewar intelligence in making the case for war . . . .

Although it is not known if Cheney had told the special prosecutor that he had authorized Libby to leak classified information to reporters, Dan Richman, a professor of law at Fordham University and a former federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, said, "One certainly would not expect Libby, as part of his defense, to claim some sort of clear authorization from Cheney where none existed, because that would clearly risk the government's calling Cheney to rebut that claim" . . . .

The new disclosure that Libby has claimed that the vice president and others in the White House had authorized him to release information to make the case to go to war, and later to defend the administration's use of prewar intelligence, is significant for several reasons. First, it significantly adds to a mounting body of information that Cheney played a central and personal role in directing efforts to counter claims by Wilson and other administration critics that the Bush administration had misused intelligence information to go to war with Iraq.

Second, it raises additional questions about Libby's motives in concealing his role in leaking [Valerie] Plame's name to the press, if he was in fact more broadly authorized by Cheney and others to rebut former Ambassador Wilson's charges. The federal grand jury indictment of Libby alleges that he had lied to the FBI and the federal grand jury by claiming that when he provided information to reporters about Plame's CIA employment, he was only passing along what he understood to be unverified gossip that he had heard from other journalists.

Instead, the indictment charges that Libby had in fact learned of Plame's CIA status from at least four government officials, Cheney among them, and from classified documents. Indeed, much of Libby's earliest and most detailed information regarding Plame's CIA employment came directly from the vice president, according to information in Libby's grand jury indictment. "On or about June 12, 2003," the indictment stated, "Libby was advised by the Vice President of the United States that Wilson's wife worked at the Central Intelligence Agency in the Counterproliferation Division" . . . .

Libby's legal strategy in asserting that Cheney and other Bush administration officials authorized activities related to the underlying allegations of criminal conduct leveled against him, without approving of or encouraging him to engage in the specific misconduct, is reminiscent of the defense strategy used by Oliver North, who was a National Security Council official in the Reagan administration.

If Libby's defense adopts strategies used by North, it might be in part because the strategies largely worked for North and in part because Libby's defense team has quietly retained John D. Cline, who was a defense attorney for North. Cline, a San-Francisco partner at the Jones Day law firm, has specialized in the use of classified information in defending clients charged with wrongdoing in national security cases.
The Bush administration's modus operandi, in brief:
1) Break the law.
2) Admit to breaking the law.
3) Assert the necessity of breaking the law, and the authority to do so.
4) Brazen it out until the next scandal comes along to distract the public.
Oh, and we almost forgot:
5) Avoid the unpleasant prospect of accountability by maintaining compliant, easily bullied Republican majorities in Congress. At any cost.

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