Water Man Spouts

Friday, April 07, 2006

Ari Fleischer & the Libby Trial

As the corporate media reports on information in Patrick Fitzgerald's Document # 80, regarding Scooter Libby's claim that President Bush authorized the leaking of classified NIE information to journalists, it is interesting to consider the significance of some other issues raised by the Special Counsel. In order to more fully appreciate the Bush-Cheney information, I think that we should take a few minutes to look at the role of Ari Fleischer in the Plame scandal.
Lawrence Ari Fleischer, born on 10-13-1960, served as President Bush's Press Secretary from January, 2001 to July, 2003. While his resignation became official on July 15, 2003, right when the scandal was heating up, he had actually announced it the previous May 19th.
Fleischer promoted the Bush-Cheney agenda when presenting information on Iraq to the media. His public statements were often coordinated with high-ranking officials to send mixed messages; for example, while the president was saying that he hoped to resolve the dispute with Iraq about weapons inspections without going to war, Fleischer told reporters, "I'm not saying there is no plan (of attack) on his desk." (Woodward; Plan of Attack; page 188) He also said things like, "We have intelligence information about what Saddam Hussein possesses." (Woodward; page 234)
Yet Woodward makes clear that Fleischer was not kept in the loop about many of the plans for the war. (page 397) And a July 18, 2005 report on Bloomberg.com (Special Prosecutor's Probe Centers on Rove, Memo, Phone Calls) notes he "wasn't part of Bush's inner circle during his tenure as press secretary ..."
In Document # 80, Fitzgerald notes that Team Libby has listed Fleischer as among "Potential Government Wintesses." (page 9) Fitzgerald states that Ari will be "the government's sole White House witness, (and) will focus on conversations with defendant regarding Ms. Wilson which took place in June and early July 2003." (page 11) Team Libby is focused upon Fleischer's reportedly viewing a report that Colin Powell had on Air Force 1 on a trip to Africa: "If the press reports are correct, and if Mr. Fleischer disclosed information concerning Mr. Wilson's wife to reporters, defendant argues, then Mr. Fleischer would have a motive to shade his testimony." (page 12)
While I would not recommend believing either Fleischer or Libby, because both are indeed liars, I think that looking closer at Fleischer's role actually may shed light on why the uptight, angry Scooter and his crusty pal Dick Cheney took it upon themselves to out Plame.
From page 4 (#8) of the Libby indictment, we know that, "Prior to June 12, 2003, Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus contacted the Office of the Vice President in connection to a story he was writing about Wilson's trip. LIBBY participated in discussions in the Office of the Vice President concerning how to respond to Pincus." Then, on page 5 (#9), we learn that on that day, VP Cheney informed Scooter about Wilson's wife working at the CI Counterproliferation Division; Libby "understood that the Vice President had learned this information from the CIA."
On July 6, Ambassador Wilson's op-ed appeared in the New York Times. Starting the next day, Fleischer's activities are key. In the press release from Fitzgerald's office on the day of the Libby indictment, we read, "Following Wilson's July 6, 2003 statements, according to the indictment, Libby engaged in the following actions: on or about July 7, 2003, Libby had lunch with the then White House Press Secretary and advised that individual that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA, noting such information was not widely known." (page 7) It seems possible, perhaps likely, that Mr. Libby was hoping that Mr. Fleischer would share this information with journalists.
Fleischer was among the White House officials who traveled on Air Force 1 with President Bush to Africa, starting on July 7. On that trip, at least one former White House official told Fitzgerald that he saw Fleischer reading a classified report regarding Wilson's trip to Niger; the report included information on Wilson's wife. (The former official who told Fitzgerald that he saw Fleischer reading the report is believed by some to be Colin Powell.)
Newsweek (7-15-05) also reported, "Press Secretary Ari Fleischer was sent out to trash the Wilson op-ed. 'Zero, nada, nothing new here,' he said. Then, on a long Bush trip to Africa, Fleischer and Bartlett prompted clusters of reporters to look into the bureaucratic orgins of the Wilson trip. How did the spin doctors know to cast that lure? One possible explanation: some aides may have read the State Department intel memo, which Powell had brought with him aboard Air Force One." (page 30)
It is known that on July 7, Robert Novak called Ari Fleischer. It has not been publicly confirmed if the two actually spoke, and, if they did, what they spoke about. (Bloomberg.com; 7-18-05) However, in a 10-03 article, Novak wrote, "During a long conversation with a senior administration official, I asked why Wilson was assigned the mission to Niger. He said Wilson had been sent by the CIA's counterproliferation section at the suggestion of one of its employees, his wife." Some insightful writers have concluded that Ari may have been Novak's first source; see "Ari Fleischer is the Third Man?" from firedoglake, 10-30-05.
But on The Anonymous Liberal on 10-31-05, journalist John Dickerson is quoted as stating, "More astonishingly, we learn from the Fitzgerald indictment that Ari Fleischer knew about Plame and didn't tell anyone at all. He walked reporters, including me, up to the fact, suggesting they look into who sent Wilson, but never used her name or talked about her position. Why not? It certainly would have been helpful for him at the time."
Perhaps Mr. Fleischer was uncomfortable expoising Plame to journalists, because he knew from his lunch-time discussion with Mr. Libby that it was extremely sensitive. We do know that in his first press conference in Africa, Ari tried to put some spin on the story, by attempting to discredit Wilson. He called Wilson a "lower-level official" who made "flawed and incomplete statements on Niger." He also said that a "greater, more important truth is being lost in the flap over whether or not Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa. .... People cannot conclude that the information was necessarily false." Fitzgerald would serve a subpoena for the transcript of this press conference, which the White House had posted on their website, then scrubbed, then restored. (Democracy Now; 7-19-05; // firedoglake; 10-30-05; // White House; 7-12-03)
Fleischer fumbled the attempt to spin the "16 words" as not being up to the president's high standard, but still being almost true.
Ambassador Wilson notes in his book that Fleischer's clumsy effort "kept giving the story legs." (page 336) On of the sources Wilson used for his book, William Rivers Pitt, summed it up beautifully in his 12-30-03 article, "Bush's Worst Enemy," with one of my favorite lines: "Ari Fleischer, perhaps predictable, lied." The result, in part, can be found in Wilson's book: "Almost as soon as the White House acknowledgement was announced, Walter Pincus told me he began to receive phone calls from members of the administration trying to take it back. One official told Walter that telling the truth 'was the biggest mistake the administration had made'."
What happened next? Two important events take place on July 8th: Karl Rove has a conversation with Bob Novak, which includes information on Valerie Plame; and Scooter Libby meets with Judith Miller, requesting she attribute the information he shares as coming from "a former Hill staffer."
Fitzgerald would also find a series of e-mails between Rove and Libby, in which they discuss having CI Director Tenet make a statement, taking the blame for the President including the "16 words" in his State of the Union address. A July 23, 2005 New York Times article mentions that these e-mails, which included drafts of Tenet's statement, "had not been previously disclosed."
And on July 12, Libby was with VP Cheney on their trip to Norfolk. The 10-30-05 firedoglake article focuses on a key point : "According to Josh Marshall, a key sentence was cut out of the Gellman WaPo piece last night, but is still available on Nexis:
" 'On July 12, the day Cheney and Libby flew together from Norfolk, the vice president instructed his aide to alert reporters of an attack launched that morning on Wilson's credibility by Fleischer, according to a well-placed source.' Libby talked to Miller and Cooper. That same day, another administration official who has not been identified publicly returned a call from Walter Pincus. He 'veered off the precise matter we were discussing' and told him that Wilson's trip was a 'boondoggle' set up by Plame, Pincus has written in Nieman Reports. ....Update: Anonymous Liberal suggests that the reason the WaPo pulled the quote is because it inadvertently outs Fleischer as Pincus's source."
Exactly what role Ari Fleischer played should become better understood in Libby's trial. I think that there was discomfort on the part of Cheney and Libby, because Fleischer was not effective enough in countering Wilson. Perhaps it was then that Scooter decided he needed to take charge.


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