Thursday, February 02, 2006

I have a new story in the National Journal tomorrow morning, which was also posted online late this afternoon.

Here is my lede:

Vice President Cheney and his then-Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby were personally informed in June 2003 that the CIA no longer considered credible the allegations that Saddam Hussein had attempted to procure uranium from the African nation of Niger, according to government records and interviews with current and former officials.The new CIA assessment came just as Libby and other senior administration officials were embarking on an effort to discredit an administration critic who had also been saying that the allegations were untrue.

CIA analysts wrote then-CIA Director George Tenet in a highly classified memo on June 17, 2003, “We no longer believe there is sufficient” credible information to “conclude that Iraq pursued uranium from abroad.“...

Despite the CIA’s findings, Libby attempted to discredit former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had been sent on a CIA-sponsored mission to Niger the previous year to investigate the claims, which he concluded were baseless...

To read the entire article, click here.

What is the significance of the previously unreported CIA assessment? First, virtually the entirety of the effort to discredit Wilson—which resulted in the outing of his wife, Valerie Plame, as a covert CIA officer, occurred after Cheney and Libby were briefed that Wilson was essentially correct, and that there was nothing to the Niger allegations.

Second, the new disclousre is also likely to have an impact on Libby’s faulty memory defense during his trial. As this excerpt from my story explains:

Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University, said, "The prosecutor's implicit inference before the jury may well likely be that Libby lied to protect the vice president. Even in a plain vanilla case, a prosecutor always wants to be able to demonstrate a motive."

That Cheney was one of the first people to tell Libby about Plame, and that Libby had written in his notes that Cheney had heard the information from the CIA director, Gillers said, might make it more difficult for Libby to mount a credible defense of a faulty memory. "From a prosecutor's point of view, and perhaps a jury's as well, the conversation [during which Libby learned about Plame] is the more dramatic and the more memorable because the conversation was with the vice president" and because the CIA director's name also came up, Gillers said.

The disclosure that Cheney and Libby were told of a CIA assessment that the agency considered the Niger allegations to be untrue, and that Tenet requested the assessment as a result of the personal interest of Cheney and Libby, would "demonstrate even further that Niger was a central issue for Libby," said Gillers, and would "make it even harder, although not impossible, to claim a faulty memory."

And thirdly, the new information is perhaps most important in comparing statements by Cheney and other administration officials said publicly about Niger and other Bush administration officials regarding prewar intelligence with what they were being told in private by the CIA.

Judd Legum at Think Progress had this post last night, referencing Cheney's statements regarding Niger on Meet the Press on Sept. 14, 2003-- almost three months after he was apprised of the CIA's findings. At this blog, our motto is you click, you decide!

Here is an even longer excerpt of what Cheney said on Meet the Press:

“[O]n the whole thing, the question of whether or not the Iraqis were trying to acquire uranium in Africa—In the British report, this week, the Committee of the British Parliament, which just spent 90 days investigating all of this, revalidated their claim that Saddam was, in fact, trying to acquire uranium in Africa. What was in the State of the Union speech and what was in the original British White papers. So there may be difference of opinion there. I don’t know what the truth is on the ground with respect to that” [emphasis added.]"

Finally, regarding those lost email records, I recommend this post by Steve Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy.

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