Watergate II : Cheney : Prosecutor Zeroes In


Richard Moore


The Prosecutor Zeroes In 

By Dan Froomkin 
Special to washingtonpost.com 
Tuesday, October 18, 2005;  12:45 PM 

Could the CIA leak investigation turn into an accountability
moment for the Bush administration and the way it handled
intelligence before and after taking the country to war?

Jim VandeHei and Walter Pincus write in The Washington Post:
"As the investigation into the leak of a CIA agent's name
hurtles to an apparent conclusion, special prosecutor Patrick
J. Fitzgerald has zeroed in on the role of Vice President
Cheney's office, according to lawyers familiar with the case
and government officials. The prosecutor has assembled
evidence that suggests Cheney's long-standing tensions with
the CIA contributed to the unmasking of operative Valerie
Plame. . . .

"In the course of the investigation, Fitzgerald has been
exposed to the intense, behind-the-scenes fight between
Cheney's office and the CIA over prewar intelligence and the
vice president's central role in compiling and then defending
the intelligence used to justify the war. . . .

"Before the war, he traveled to CIA headquarters for
briefings, an unusual move that some critics interpreted as an
effort to pressure intelligence officials into supporting his
view of the evidence. After the war, when critics started
questioning whether the White House relied on faulty
information to justify war, Cheney and [Chief of Staff I.
Lewis 'Scooter'] Libby were central to the effort to defend
the intelligence and discredit the naysayers in Congress and

Tom Raum writes for the Associated Press: "Special prosecutor
Patrick Fitzgerald's CIA-leak inquiry is focusing attention on
what long has been a Bush White House tactic: slash-and-burn
assaults on its critics, particularly those opposed to the
president's Iraq war policies.

"If top officials are indicted, it could seriously erode the
administration's credibility and prove yet another
embarrassment to President Bush on the larger issue of how he
and his national security team marshaled information -- much
of it later shown to be inaccurate -- to support their case
for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003."

James Gordon Meek, Thomas M. DeFrank and Kenneth R. Bazinet
write in the New York Daily News: "Cheney's name has come up
amid indications Fitzgerald may be edging closer to a
blockbuster conspiracy charge - with help from a secret

" 'They have got a senior cooperating witness - someone who is
giving them all of that,' a source who has been questioned in
the leak probe told the Daily News yesterday.

"Cheney was questioned last year by prosecutors and has hired
a private attorney, former colleague Terrence O'Donnell, who
declined to comment when contacted by The News.

"Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride only offered the standard
canned response that her boss is cooperating."

Adam Entous writes for Reuters about "signs the federal
prosecutor investigating who leaked the identity of Wilson's
wife, covert CIA operative Valerie Plame, will announce
whether he will bring charges as early as Wednesday, people
close to the case said. . . .

"Fitzgerald's office said on Monday it had decided to announce
any decisions in the Plame case in Washington, rather than
Chicago, where the special prosecutor is based.

"It is unusual for Fitzgerald's office to comment on the case
and the statement led some observers to wonder if it might
signal an imminent decision or that Fitzgerald was trying to
increase pressure on potential targets to cut a deal."

Here are Fitzgerald spokesman Randall Samborn's exact words:
"If and when there would be any announcement, it would be made
in Washington."

Caroline Daniel and Edward Alden write in the Financial Times:
"Evidence is building that the probe conducted by Patrick
Fitzgerald, special prosecutor, has extended beyond the
leaking of a covert CIA agent's name to include questioning
about the administration's handling of pre-Iraq war

Daniel and Alden note that the Democratic National Committee
is calling attention to the fact that almost all of the
members of the White House Iraq Group have been questioned by
Fitzgerald. "The team, which included senior national security
officials, was created in August 2002 to 'educate the public'
about the risk posed by weapons of mass destruction on Iraq."

Can a Vice President by Indicted? 

All these news stories suggesting that Fitzgerald is drawing a
bead on Cheney's office raise an interesting -- if almost
entirely academic -- question: Can a vice president be

There are no signs that Fitzgerald is aiming directly at
Cheney himself. And as far as we know, the vice president has
not been called before the grand jury -- though he did have at
least one very mysterious meeting with prosecutors early this
summer. (See this June 5 New York Times story.)

Anyway, however ridiculous the question may or may not be, the
answer would appear to be: Yes. Technically and legally, a
sitting vice president can be indicted. In fact, there's a

Not long after he killed Alexander Hamilton in their famous
1804 duel, Vice President Aaron Burr was indicted for murder
in both New York and New Jersey. No constitutional crisis

And as this 2000 Department of Justice memo lays out, the
department researched the issue thoroughly in 1973.

Back then, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew was trying to stave
off a grand jury investigation into kickback, bribery and tax
evasion charges by insisting that he was only answerable to

After all, only Congress holds the power to remove the
president or vice president from office -- and presumably it
would be impossible to function as vice president from a jail

But none other that then-solicitor general Robert Bork
concluded that, while "the indictment or criminal prosecution
of a sitting President would impermissibly undermine the
capacity of the executive branch to perform its
constitutionally assigned functions," the vice president was
fair game.

The "brief from the solicitor general argued that, while the
president was immune from indictment, the vice president was
not, since his conviction would not disrupt the workings of
the executive branch."

Agnew ended up resigning his office as part of a plea bargain.

Civil suits of course are another story.

Richard Keil wrote in a Bloomberg story yesterday that he had
recently spoken to Ambassador Joseph Wilson, Valerie Plame's
husband, and Wilson "said that once the criminal questions are
settled, he and his wife may file a civil lawsuit against
Bush, Cheney and others seeking damages for the alleged harm
done to Plame's career.

"If they do so, the current state of the law makes it likely
that the suit will be allowed to proceed -- and Bush and
Cheney will face questioning under oath -- while they are in
office. The reason for that is a unanimous 1997 U.S. Supreme
Court decision ruling that Paula Jones' sexual harassment suit
against then- President Clinton could go forward immediately,
a decision that was hailed by conservatives at the time."

Focus on Cheney 

No Comment 

In a photo op with the Bulgarian president yesterday, Bush
once again declined to comment.

"Q Mr. President, would you expect a member of your
administration to resign or take leave if they were indicted?

"PRESIDENT BUSH: . . . There's an investigation going on; I've
made it very clear to the press that I'm not going to discuss
the investigation. And so, therefore -- and so my position
hasn't changed since the last time I've been asked this
question. There's a serious investigation. We're not going to
-- I'm not going to pre-judge the outcome of the

Aaron Brown interviewed New York Times reporter Judith
Miller's attorney, Robert Bennett, last night on CNN about
what Libby told Miller and what he didn't:

"BROWN: The -- the question of whether he tells her -- whether
he says to her Valerie Plame is an interesting one. There is
that part in her note that says 'Valerie Flame.' And she says
she doesn't remember who told her that. And I think, to some
people, it's a bit of a stretch to think that a -- a reporter
as resourceful and capable and experienced as Ms. Miller would
not remember who told her that.

"BENNETT: Well, but I -- you have to understand the context,
which has been lost in some of the reporting.

"In the same book where Judy had conversations with Mr. Libby,
she had many other conversations in unrelated -- on unrelated
subjects. And, in one of those back pages, there was a just --
with no context to it, there was that name, 'Valerie Flame.'

"And, so, I'm absolutely convinced that she -- she didn't

John Solomon and Pete Yost write for the Associated Press:
"Information attributed to Vice President Dick Cheney's chief
of staff in New York Times reporter Judith Miller's interview
notes is incorrect, offering prosecutors a potential lead to
tracking the bad information to its original source.

"Miller disclosed this weekend that her notes of a
conversation she had with I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby on July 8,
2003 stated Cheney's top aide told her that the wife of Bush
administration critic Joseph Wilson worked for the CIA's
Weapons Intelligence, Non-Proliferation, and Arms Control
(WINPAC) unit.

"Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, never worked for WINPAC, an
analysis unit in the overt side of the CIA, and instead worked
in a position in the CIA's secret side, known as the
directorate of operations, according to three people familiar
with her work for the spy agency."

The New York Times is aggregating blogger reaction to the
Miller story.

Poll Watch 

Richard Benedetto writes in USA Today: "President Bush's job
approval rating has slipped to 39%, the lowest measure of his
presidency, according to a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll. . . .

"Bush's fall, from a 45% approval rating in late September, is
largely due to a drop in support among independents and
Democrats. His approval among independents declined to 32%
from 37% since the last USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll taken Sept.
26-28. Approval among Democrats fell to 8% from 15%.

"Bush's approval among his Republican base continues to hold
firm. It was 85% in the previous poll and 84% in the latest,
steady support that's preventing him from falling lower.

"Bush, whose approval rating hit 55% shortly after he was
re-elected last November, has been below 50% since May. Polls
indicate that was due in large part to a growing public sense
that the Iraq war is not going well. This is the first time
Bush has fallen below 40%."

Here's some of the data .

The poll also asked about Karl Rove. Some 22 percent of those
polled had a favorable impression of him; 39 percent were
unfavorable; 16 percent had no opinion; 23 percent had never
heard of him.

Miers Watch 

As always, The Washington Post's Fred Barbash is blogging all
the latest Supreme Court-related developments.

But a few highlights:

David G. Savage writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Critics have
poked fun at the effusive greeting card messages that Harriet
E. Miers used to send to then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush and
that have become public following her nomination to the
Supreme Court.

"The glowing remarks were not limited to greeting cards,
according to the texts of recent speeches and other public
remarks released Monday by lawmakers."

For example: " 'I was with him on Sept. 11th, 2001,' she said
in June. 'The nation witnessed a resolute, determined, strong
leader who swiftly responded to the challenges our country
faced. . . . I believe I can say for all of us here, never
were we so proud to be Americans, and never were we so proud
of a president and first lady.' "

Rick Klein writes in the Boston Globe: "Earlier this year,
Supreme Court nominee Harriet E. Miers used several speeches
to push for expanding President Bush's powers to protect the
United States against terrorism, arguing that 'a nation at
war' needs a stronger executive branch, according to
transcripts the White House has provided to the Senate
Judiciary Committee."

Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post that Bush's hosting
of a dozen former Texas Supreme Court justices in the Oval
Office yesterday "was intended to quash talk that Bush might
withdraw the nomination, officials said." Here's the text of
the remarks at that photo op.

Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post about the big Miers
relaunch: "President Bush, in the Oval Office with some Texas
jurists who back Miers, said his Supreme Court nominee has
'high character' and 'integrity,' is 'a pioneer' and a
'leader' and is one of the top 'women lawyers' who would bring
'excellence to the bench.' Miers 'will be a superb Supreme
Court judge,' Bush said.

"This was meant to be an improvement on the announcement of
Miers's nomination two weeks earlier, in which Bush praised
her 'character' and 'integrity' and called her a 'pioneer' and
a 'leader' among 'women lawyers' known for her 'professional
excellence.' Miers is a 'superb choice,' he said back then."

The Conservative Crackup 

In his Post story, Baker writes that the enormous,
well-financed conservative political apparatus "constructed
largely by Bush strategist Karl Rove and deployed effectively
on behalf of recently confirmed Chief Justice John G. Roberts
Jr. has splintered over Miers and broken free from its

As Baker notes, David Keene , chairman of the American
Conservative Union, wrote yesterday in The Hill that many of
his friends "swallowed policies" they opposed out of loyalty
to Bush.

"No more," Keene wrote.

"From now on, this administration will find it difficult to
muster support on the right without explaining why it should
be forthcoming. The days of the blank check have ended because
no thinking conservative really wants to be part of a team
that requires marching in lock step without question or
thought, even if it is headed by the president of the United

Bruce Bartlett writes on Townhall.com: "The truth that is now
dawning on many movement conservatives is that George W. Bush
is not one of them and never has been."

Richard W. Stevenson writes in the New York Times, that
Bartlett was dismissed on Monday as a senior fellow at the
National Center for Policy Analysis, a conservative research
group based in Dallas, after he supplied its president with
the manuscript of his forthcoming book, "The Impostor: How
George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan

Sacrifice Card? 

Some of the same conservatives opposing the Miers nomination
are pointing fingers at White House Chief of Staff Andrew H.
Card Jr.

Anne E. Kornblut writes in the New York Times: "His office
oversaw the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina,
coordinating federal assistance that was broadly condemned as
too slow. Mr. Card personally managed the selection of Harriet
E. Miers for the Supreme Court, a choice that has splintered
the Republican Party and left the administration scrambling to
rescue her nomination.

"The confluence of crises, all running through Mr. Card's
suite just steps from the Oval Office, has some critics asking
whether he needs to clean house or assert himself more
forcefully - or at least consider a course correction before
Mr. Bush is downgraded permanently to lame duck status."
Torture Watch

Alessandra Stanley writes in the New York Times about " The
Torture Question ," a "Frontline" inquiry on PBS tonight.

" 'The Torture Question' methodically makes the case that
pressure to wring more information out of prisoners came from
the highest echelons of the White House and the Pentagon, well
before the 2003 invasion of Iraq with captives from
Afghanistan held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and worked its way
down to the lowliest, most ill-trained soldiers."

Briefing Watch 

Here is the text of yesterday's press briefing with Scott

See Helen Thomas try to get McClellan to explain what Bush
means when he talks about "legislating from the bench."

Thomas: "For example, is Brown versus the Board of Education
of Topeka, Kansas -- was that legislating? Was Miranda
legislating? Was the right to a lawyer legislating from the

McClellan: "These are great questions. I'm not the one who's
going through the confirmation process."

See McClellan rue the day he gave briefing room crank Les
Kinsolving a homework assignment:

Kinsolving: "Scott, on Wednesday you encouraged me to look at
news reports about scandals surrounding the Texas lottery when
Harriet Miers was chairwoman of that commission. And it turns
out there are hundreds of news reports from the late '90s
covering problems with contracts and kickbacks. . . . "

(Ken Herman of the Cox News service yesterday reported: "Those
who delve into Miers' lottery years will find a story spiced
with political intrigue and rife with charges and
countercharges lodged by and involving a colorful cast of
characters -- and, tangentially, a story involving President
Bush's much-discussed National Guard service.")

There was a first-timer in the room yesterday, Maria Hinojosa
of NPR, and her questions prompted McCllelan to explain how
things work there.

"People that work here in this room know me very well, and I'm
confident in our relationship. It's a relationship that is
built on trust. And I'm confident that I have done my part to
earn that trust," he said. "And I have great respect for the
people in this room that I've worked with for many years, and
they're a good bunch. I have deep respect for all that they do
and the hard work that they do. . . .

"And one final point. Nothing is ever personal in this room.
We're all just doing our job, and I recognize that, and I
think people in this room recognize it, as well."

Upstairs, Downstairs

President Bush hosted the annual White House Iftaar dinner
last night. Iftaar is the evening meal after a day of fasting
during the holy month of Ramadan. Here is the text of his

The Associated Press reports that he called on all responsible
Muslim leaders to denounce violent extremism because
terrorists follow an ideology that exploits Islam.

"Attendees included ambassadors from Islamic nations,
administration officials and Muslim leaders in the United

"The group interrupted Bush's brief remarks once, when he said
a Quran has been added to the White House library for the
first time in history."

One interesting note: According to the guest list, Bush's
dinner companions were almost without exception male. See, for
instance, this photo .

By contrast, Laura Bush was holding an almost exclusively
female Iftaar dinner at the same time upstairs in the White
House residence, featuring some of the Afghan women she met
during a visit to their country in March.

© 2005 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive 


"Apocalypse Now and the Brave New World"

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