Addington's Role In Cheney's Office Draws Fresh Attention
By Murray Waas and Paul Singer
© National Journal Group Inc.
Sunday, Oct. 30, 2005
| ||David Addington, counsel to Vice President Cheney, has been named to succeed Scooter Libby as Cheney's chief of staff. Addington's own role in the Plame matter is emerging just as the vice president selects him for the top job. |
| || |
On the morning of July 8, 2003, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby
, then-chief of staff to Vice President Cheney
, had a two-hour meeting with New York Times
reporter Judith Miller
at which Libby gave information to Miller in an attempt to discredit former ambassador and Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson
When Libby returned to the White House, he immediately sought out David Addington, the vice president's counsel, according to court records and interviews. During their breakfast at the St. Regis Hotel, Libby had promised Miller he would try to find out more about Wilson, and Wilson's wife, CIA officer Valerie Plame. As the former general counsel to the CIA and counsel to the House Intelligence Committee, Addington was the right man for Libby to see.
Libby's and Addington's fates have dramatically changed as a result of the events of that day. Libby, long Cheney's most trusted aide, resigned as the vice president's chief of staff on Friday following his felony indictment on five counts of making false statements, perjury, and obstruction of justice in the CIA leak case. A federal grand jury accused Libby of trying to cover up that he had disclosed the identity of Plame, a covert CIA operative, in an effort to discredit Wilson and his criticism of the administration.
Addington is currently considered the leading candidate to succeed Libby as the chief of staff to a weakened but still powerful Cheney. But Addington's own role in the Plame matter is emerging just as the vice president considers whether to name him as his next chief of staff.
There is no evidence that Addington has done anything outside the law, or that Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has regarded him as anything other than a witness during the two-year probe that led to Libby's indictment. There is also no evidence that Addington was cognizant that Libby had allegedly leaked classified information on Plame to the media.
But Addington was deeply immersed in the White House damage-control campaign to deflect criticism that the Bush administration misrepresented intelligence information to make the case to go to war with Iraq, according to administration and congressional sources.
Moreover, as a pivotal member of the vice president's office, Addington also attended strategy sessions in 2003 on how to discredit Wilson when the former ambassador publicly charged that the Bush administration misled the country in pushing its case for war, according to attorneys in the CIA leak probe.
Further, Addington played a leading role in 2004 on behalf of the Bush administration when it refused to give the Senate Intelligence Committee documents from Libby's office on the alleged misuse of intelligence information regarding Iraq. Because Addington may be in line to succeed Libby, the Intelligence Committee-White House battle over the documents has sparked new interest on Capitol Hill.
On Friday Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee, renewed his earlier requests that the White House turn over crucial documents to Congress. Rockefeller said that if Republicans on the committee do not take formal steps to obtain the papers, the Senate should launch an independent inquiry separate from the intelligence panel.
Libby reportedly recommended to Cheney that Addington succeed him as the vice president's chief of staff. Addington and Libby have been close personally, and Addington's professional association with Cheney goes back more than two decades. Addington was counsel to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in the 1980s when Cheney was a member of that panel. And when President George H.W. Bush appointed Cheney as Secretary of Defense, Addington served as general counsel at Defense and as a special assistant to Cheney.
In addition to being longtime friends and colleagues, Cheney, Addington and Libby share a fundamental philosophy on the issue of executive power and have sought to implement it in asserting Cheney's power as vice president.
All three strongly believe that the presidency was severely weakened by Vietnam, Watergate, and other events, and that the Congress, the courts, and the media have encroached on and diminished executive branch powers and prerogatives. ( This is priceless: a war based on presidential lying, which finally ended 30 years ago, as Americans were chased from their Embassy in South Vietnam, over-reach by a paranoid president against American "enemies" which led to more revelations of abuse of power and all manner of horror; the Watergate Scandal, led to diminished executive power; so, hey, let's go and do it all again, except let's make it much worse, perhaps so horrible that the American people will not be able to handle the truth.)
Essential to reasserting presidential power, they have argued, is the necessity of setting strict limits on the release of executive branch information to Congress and the public, particularly in the area of foreign policy. Addington has been the administration's point man in this effort.
Ironically, the Bush administration has now been severely damaged by a scandal over the disclosure of classified information from the vice president's office itself. In charging Libby with five felonies, the special prosecutor in the CIA leak case has said that Libby was attempting to conceal his role in leaking a sensitive secret: the identity of a covert CIA operative.
When Libby and Miller met on July 8, 2003, Cheney's office was involved in an effort to discredit Wilson. The former ambassador had been sent on a CIA-sponsored mission to Niger in 2002 to investigate claims that Iraq was attempting to buy uranium material from the African nation in order to build a nuclear weapon. On July 6, Wilson wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times, and gave interviews to news organizations saying he found no evidence to back up the claim Iraq purchased the uranium, and he charged that the Bush administration was manipulating evidence in the matter.
At their breakfast meeting, Libby told Miller that Plame worked at the CIA, and also alleged that the CIA sent Wilson to Niger on Plame's recommendation, according to the grand jury indictment.
During the breakfast, according to attorneys familiar with Libby's previously undisclosed statements to federal investigators, Miller insisted that Libby provide her with additional information on Wilson and Plame to bolster any story she might write. Miller testified to the grand jury that it was Libby who offered to find additional evidence to verify what he had told the Times reporter, according to legal sources familiar with Miller's version of events.
Whatever the case, when Libby returned to the White House after meeting with Miller, he sought out Addington. Attempts to reach Addington for comment for this story were unsuccessful. He did not return messages left on his White House voice mail over the course of several days.
According to the grand jury indictment, Libby met with Addington "in an anteroom outside the Vice President's office." The indictment did not name Addington, but identified him as "Counsel to Vice President." The indictment says that Libby asked Addington, "in sum and substance, what paperwork there would be at the CIA if an employee's spouse undertook an overseas mission."
The indictment does not say what actions, if any, Addington took to learn more about Plame's CIA employment.
Four days after the Libby-Miller breakfast and Libby's discussion with Addington, Libby gave Miller additional information on Wilson and Plame, according to legal sources familiar with Miller's testimony.
Phone records reviewed by the grand jury in the CIA leak investigation appear to confirm that Libby and Miller had a three-minute conversation on July 12 while Miller was apparently in a taxicab returning home. When the reporter got home, she and Libby spoke for 37 minutes, according to the phone records.
Although Miller would not write a story about Plame and Wilson, on July 14, 2003, columnist Robert Novak disclosed in his syndicated column that Plame was an "agency operative" and had engaged in nepotism by suggesting her husband for the CIA's Niger mission.
If Libby stands trial, it appears all but certain that Addington will be a crucial witness against Libby, according to attorneys involved in the case. That is because the indictment charges that Libby told a "fictitious" account to the grand jury that he only learned of Plame's CIA employment from journalists, rather than from classified information.
The indictment charges that Libby committed perjury by testifying to the grand jury that he only first learned of Plame's CIA employment from NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert, and that Russert told him that the information about Plame had been common knowledge for some time. Russert, however, testified to the grand jury that he never told Libby about Plame.
Instead, the indictment charges, Libby learned about Plame and Plame's possible role in recommending her husband for the Niger mission from government officials: an undersecretary of state; a CIA officer who regularly briefed Libby on national security issues; an unidentified "senior CIA officer"; and Vice President Cheney himself.
Libby in turned shared that information with a number of officials in the vice president's office, according to the indictment: Addington; John Hannah, the deputy national security advisor; and Catherine Martin, then Cheney's press secretary.
It would not have been inappropriate for the various officials to have learned of Plame's identity as a CIA officer and discussed it among themselves, as long as they did not disclose the information outside of government circles, as Libby allegedly did, according to Fitzgerald's indictment.
The role of Addington differs from that of the other officials, however, in that it is the only known instance in which Libby tried to get a member of the vice president's office to find out additional information about Plame, according to the indictment.
Addington regularly attended detailed strategy sessions with Libby and other members of the vice president's staff to discuss how they might discredit Wilson and blunt his allegations that the White House misrepresented information on the Niger mission, according to government officials with detailed knowledge of those meetings. During those discussions, Addington and others discussed the possibility of selectively releasing classified information to Congress that would discredit Wilson, according to the same sources.
At the same time, Addington worked with Libby and Cheney in a broader effort to blunt congressional criticism that the administration selectively used intelligence information, and misrepresented other information, to make the case to go to war. In that instance, Addington played a key role in withholding information from Congress. It was his involvement in that effort that has drawn congressional ire in recent days.
An official who was involved in an interagency process to determine what information should be released to Congress said that a CIA representative, as well as one from at least one other agency, believed that Addington selectively released classified information to damage Wilson. This official also said it was believed that Addington was holding back other documents that would portray the administration in an unfavorable light.
National Journal reported last week that Vice President Cheney, Libby, and Addington, overruled advice from some White House political staffers and lawyers and decided to withhold crucial documents from the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2004 when the panel was investigating the use of pre-war intelligence.
In reaction to the National Journal story, Rockefeller released a statement saying he wrote in October 2003 to CIA Director George Tenet requesting White House documents. "I repeated that request in writing on two subsequent occasions," Rockefeller said, but "the Committee never received the White House documents. The fact is that throughout the Iraq investigation any line of questioning that brought us too close to the White House was thwarted."
After the indictment of Libby on Friday, Rockefeller said the charges "also go to the heart of whether administration officials misused intelligence by disclosing an undercover CIA agent.... If my Republican colleagues are not prepared to undertake a full and serious congressional investigation into the potential misuse of intelligence, then I regretfully conclude that we have no choice but to pursue an outside independent investigation."
Rockefeller's call for an inquiry by the Intelligence Committee captured the attention of many senators Friday, but did not attract wider press attention. It also surprised senators because Rockefeller, who is a political moderate, was often praised by the Republican chairman of the committee, Pat Roberts of Kansas, and other Republicans for serving as vice chairman in a bipartisan matter. Indeed, some other Democratic senators on the committee have privately complained that Rockefeller had not pressed Republicans hard enough on some oversight issues.
In an interview, Rockefeller's spokesperson, Wendy Morigi, said that the senator had "sadly come to the conclusion that the Intelligence Committee is not capable of doing the job of investigating the fundamental question as to whether the administration has misused intelligence to go to war."
Addington shares with Cheney and Libby the view of increasing presidential power and authority and setting strict limits on the release of executive branch information to both Congress and the public.
As early as May 2001, Addington was the point person for the White House in deflecting requests by congressional Democrats and later the General Accounting Office (now named the Government Accountability Office) for information about the energy policy task force convened by Cheney's office.
During confirmation hearings of Alberto Gonzales to be attorney general, it was revealed that Addington helped draft the White House memo that concluded that the Geneva Convention against torture did not apply to prisoners captured in the war on terror. The memo declared that terrorism "renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions." ( All wars are terrorism for the people who live where they are being waged, as well as for the soldiers required to fight them. That is why war should always be a very last resort and never should the executive conspire to deceive the people of America about the most serious commitment this nation can make; the decision to go to war. Attempting to deceive Congress is attempting to deceive the people. So is an orchestrated smear campaign launched through the news media, by the executive, with no one taking responsibility for their words, attacking a whistleblower, but instead, sneaking around through back channels to right-wing stenographers and mouth-pieces. The fact is that our armed forces have been terrorizing Iraqis with the kind of war only a superpower could wage. Americans should try to comprehend the horror of that for a day or two. Bush never had a plan for the reconstruction of Iraq. The Bush administration only had a plan for huge no bid contracts for which the hapless American tax-payers will be paying for generations, unless they refuse.
Last May, Amnesty International called for foreign governments to launch a broad investigation into U.S. torture policies and the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison. The organization included Addington among a list of officials who should be questioned for their role in writing "various legal opinions that may have provided cover for subsequent crimes."
Bruce Fein, a deputy attorney general during the Reagan administration who is now in private practice, argues that the White House has pressed the issue of presidential powers and executive privilege farther than any previous administration, and far beyond what the democratic process warrants. (Surely it is clear by now that the Bushites could not care less about Democracy!)
Addington has been part of a team that has asserted "a broad omnipotence of the president," Fein said, including the ability of the president to declare anyone an "enemy combatant" and to hold them indefinitely without legal representation.
Now, Addington's role in Cheney's office could be a focus as Fitzgerald pursues the case against Libby. At a news conference on Friday the prosecutor stressed that the leaking of a CIA officer's identity was a serious breach of national security. "At a time when we need our spy agencies to have people work there, I think just the notion that someone's identity could be compromised lightly"... [discourages] our ability to recruit people and say, 'Come work for us... come be trained... come work anonymously here or wherever else, go do jobs for the benefit of the country for which people will not thank you," Fitzgerald said.
Rockefeller was more blunt. "Revealing the identity of a covert agent is the type of leak that gets people killed," Rockefeller said on Friday, "Not only does it end the person's career... it puts that person in grave personal danger as well as their colleagues and all the people they have had contact with."
-- Murray Waas is a Washington-based journalist. Paul Singer is a National Journal correspondent.
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