Thursday, November 03, 2005

I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby appeared in federal court this morning and pleaded not guilty to five felony counts of making false statements, perjury, and obstruction of justice, for his role in the CIA leak case.

The new development out of the arraignment this morning is that Libby has retained an entirely new legal team, including Ted Wells and William Jeffress, Jr. The two are both well respected criminal defense attorneys. Jeffress is perhaps best known for his defense of the nation's largest tobacco companies against Justice Department racketeering charges. Wells had represented former Senator Robert Toricelli and former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy.

Also, earlier this morning, this report from the Associated Press, datelined Rome:

Italian secret services warned the United States months before it invaded Iraq that a dossier about a purported Saddam Hussein effort to buy uranium in Africa was fake, a lawmaker said today after a briefing by the nation's intelligence chief.

"At about the same time as the State of the Union address, they (Italy's SISMI secret services) said that the dossier doesn't correspond to the truth," Sen. Massimo Brutti told journalists after the parliamentary commission was briefed.

Brutti said the warning was given in January 2003, but he did not know whether it was made before or after President Bush's speech.

The United States and Britain used the claim that Saddam was seeking to buy uranium in Niger to bolster their case for the invasion, which started in March 2003. The intelligence supporting the claim later was deemed unreliable.

Italian lawmakers questioned Premier Silvio Berlusconi's top aide and SISMI director Nicolo Pollari about allegations that Italy knowingly gave forged documents to Washington and London detailing a purported Iraqi deal to buy 500 tons of uranium concentrate from Niger. The uranium ore, known as yellowcake, can be used to produce nuclear weapons.

Pollari requested the hearing after the allegations were reported last week by the daily newspaper La Repubblica. Pollari and Cabinet Undersecretary Gianni Letta were questioned by members of a parliamentary commission overseeing secret services.

La Repubblica, a strong Berlusconi opponent, alleged that after the Sept. 11 attacks Pollari was being pressured by Berlusconi to make a strong contribution to the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The Italian leader is a staunch U.S. ally.

Berlusconi's government has denied any wrongdoing, and the premier has personally defended Pollari amid calls for his resignation.

Berlusconi, in an interview with the conservative daily newspaper Libero published today, said Italy had not passed any documents on the Niger affair to the United States. He added that La Repubblica's allegations were dangerous for Italy because "if they were believed, we would be considered the instigator" of the Iraq war.

The Niger claim also is at the center of a CIA leak scandal that has shaken the Bush administration, leading to last week's indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby...

To read the AP dispatch in its entirety, click here. To read about the Niger forgeries, Laura Rozen and Josh Marshall are blogging and reporting this much thoroughly than this blog.

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