Water Man Spouts

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Dilemma of Ari's Alienation

{1} "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’." – Ari Fleischer is the Third Man?; Jane Hamsher; FireDogLake; 10-30-05.

While we wait for reports on the opening statements in the Scooter Libby trial, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at the role that Ari Fleischer played in the Plame scandal. There seems to be a possibility that he will play a significant role in the trial, and it is fair to say that there has been some controversy over what Fleischer told investigators.

For example, a 7-18-05 Bloomberg report stated, "On the flight to Africa, Fleischer was seen perusing the State Department memo on Wilson and his wife, according to a former administration official who was also on the trip." However, on 7-23-05, the New York Times reported, "Mr. Fleischer told the grand jury that he never saw the document, a person familiar with the testimony said …."

Who to believe? Obviously, we cannot trust the White House. If we could, we wouldn’t be having this trial. It is clear that Mr. Fitzgerald is going to be presenting information to the jury – and hence, to the American people – that tells the story of the Office of the Vice President’s operation against Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame to an extent that it has not previously been told to the public.

{2} "The tensions between the White House and the CIA had been rising steadily in the months before the Iraq invasion, as CIA analysts complained about evidence being distorted or ignored and the White House pushed back with complaints about the quality of the intel they were getting. ‘I know the analyst who was subjected to withering questioning on the Iraq - al-Qaeda links by Libby with the Vice President sitting there,’ says a CIA analyst. ‘So I think there was an anger at the CIA for not getting it and being on board. The political side of the administration was pissed at the CIA’." – TIME; 7-25-05; page 29.

Let’s briefly review the set-up within the White House, as it pushed for an invasion of Iraq. For our discussion, we’ll start by noting there are two main offices: that of the president, and that of the vice president. The president gets "intelligence" from a wide range of sources, including the CIA. In this administration, the vice president has relied upon what Joseph Wilson described as "a government cult with cells in most of the national security system. Among those cells are the secretive Office of Special Plans in the Department of Defense (reportedly now disbanded) and a similar operation in the State Department that is managed in the office of Under Secretary for Disarmament John Bolton." (The Politics of Truth; Joseph Wilson; page 432)

The White House Iraq Group (WHIG) promoted the administration’s positions in the media. It coordinated efforts between the OVP, the OSP, and the Office of the President. It used methods that are known as "perception management" in order to "sell" the war. One example stands out: on Sunday, September 8, 2002, the New York Times had a front-page story about Iraq’s WMD programs. It involved aluminum tubes the administration claimed were part of a sinister WMD delivery system. The story, co-authored by Judith Miller, had been planted by none other than Scooter Libby.

The WHIG played this on the Sunday morning talk shows. VP Cheney was on Meet the Press, asking, "Did you see the story in the New York Times?" Colin Powell did much the same on Fox News Sunday; Richard Meyers did his thing on "This Week…"; and Condi Rice played the lie with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

In a wonderful essay titled, "Chris Matthews and the Power of Repetition," Ariana Huffington wrote about how Matthews exposed the WHIG tactic by repeatedly reporting on the method they used: plant the story, then have White House officials say, "Did you see this?" On a 10-19-05 program, Matthews told Frank Rich that it was a classic "alley-oop" play.

Now let’s apply that alley-oop strategy to the Plame scandal.

{3} "The next day, Libby told then White House press secretary Ari Fleischer that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA and added that this was a fact not widely known – dropping, perhaps, an invitation to Fleischer to leak it to a friendly reporter." – TIME; 11-7-05; page 37.

On page 336 of his book, Joseph Wilson focuses on the role that Ari Fleischer played in the White House’s response to his New York Times op-ed. Fleischer was among the officials who was going on a trip to Africa with President Bush. Wilson notes, "Ari Fleischer, the president’s press secretary, was planning to leave the White House after the current trip in order to set up his own communications shop …. I am not sure his performance during his last week with the White House would have inspired anybody to hire him."

In an article on the "23 Administration Officials Involved in Plame Scandal" on Think Progress, it is noted that Fleischer was "among (the) first government officials to criticize Wilson. " His attempts to "spin" the Wilson story began during a July 12, 2003 press conference held at The National Hospital in Abuja, Nigeria. He refers to Wilson as a "lower-level official," and said Wilson made "flawed and incomplete statements." (Newsday; 3-6-04) He also hinted that Wilson’s op-ed had obscured the truth:

Fleisher: The President’s larger message has not been obscured …

Q: You just said it was being obscured. You said there’s a larger truth here that’s being missed.

Fleischer: Yes, but the larger truth – the larger truth being missed this week …. I can say there is an important bigger picture here …. The discussion was, the CIA needs to explain what its role was in this….

The transcript of this press conference was subpoenaed by Mr. Fitzgerald. It is interesting to note that it was pulled from the White House’s web site at one point, but later replaced. (Newsday; 3-6-04) It can be found on their web site as "Press Gaggle with Ari Fleischer" for july 12, 2003

{4} "The White House lied. George W. Bush lied. Dick Cheney lied. Donald Rumsfeld lied. Ari Fleischer, perhaps predictably, lied. " – Bush’s Worst Enemy; William Rivers Pitt; TruthOut; 12-30-03

The June 10, 2003 State Department memo on the Wilson trip to Niger was faxed to Colin Powell. It would reportedly be passed around White House officials on Air Force One on bush’s trip to Africa. During his investigation, Mr. Fitzgerald was interested in who read the memo. And, interestingly, he was equally interested in which White House officials who were not along on the trip to Africa had access to the memo.

"According to sources close to the investigation, Fitzgerald seemed most interested in whether officials who stayed at the White House while the President was in Africa also had the memo that week, when the first known calls to reporters took place. Details of the memo, if not the memo itself, may have been shared with one or more White House officials well before Wilson’s article appeared. Rove and I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, have told prosecutors they had never seen the document, according to sources familiar with their statements." – TIME; 7-25-05; page 28.

Newsweek reported that Fleischer "was sent out to trash the Wilson op-ed. ‘Zero, nada, nothing new here,’ he said. Then, on a long trip to Africa, Fleischer and Bartlett prompted clusters of reporters to look into the bureaucratic origins of the Wilson trip. How did the spin doctors know to cast that lure?" (7-25-05; page 30)

That’s one of the "mysteries" the trial should answer. And it brings us back, full circle, to part of that sentence that Jane Hamsher recognized was one of the most important keys to the case: "the vice president instructed his aide to alert reporters of an attack launched that morning on Wilson’s credibility by Fleischer…"


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