By Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t Report
Wednesday 15 February 2006
Sources close to the investigation into the leak of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson have revealed this week that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has not turned over emails to the special prosecutor's office that may incriminate Vice President Dick Cheney, his aides, and other White House officials who allegedly played an active role in unmasking Plame Wilson's identity to reporters.
Moreover, these sources said that, in early 2004, Cheney was interviewed by federal prosecutors investigating the Plame Wilson leak and testified that neither he nor any of his senior aides were involved in unmasking her undercover CIA status to reporters and that no one in the vice president's office had attempted to discredit her husband, a vocal critic of the administration's pre-war Iraq intelligence. Cheney did not testify under oath or under penalty of perjury when he was interviewed by federal prosecutors.
The emails Gonzales is said to be withholding contained references to Valerie Plame Wilson's identity and CIA status and developments related to the inability to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Moreover, according to sources, the emails contained suggestions by the officials on how the White House should respond to what it believed were increasingly destructive comments Wilson had been making about the administration's pre-war Iraq intelligence.
Gonzales, who at the time of the leak was the White House counsel, spent two weeks with other White House attorneys screening emails turned over to his office by roughly 2,000 staffers following a deadline imposed by the White House in 2003. The sources said Gonzales told Fitzgerald more than a year ago that he did not intend to turn over the emails to his office, because they contained classified intelligence information about Iraq in addition to minor references to Plame, the sources said.
He is said to have cited "executive privilege" and "national security concerns" as the reason for not turning over some of the correspondence, which allegedly proves Cheney's office played an active role in leaking Plame Wilson's undercover CIA status to reporters, the attorneys said.
Aside from the emails that have not been turned over, there are also emails that Patrick Fitzgerald, the Special Prosecutor investigating the case, believes were either "shredded" or deleted, the attorneys said.
In a court document dated January 23, Fitzgerald says that, during the course of his investigation, he had been told that some emails from the offices of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney had not been saved. His letter does not claim that any member of the Bush administration discarded the emails, but sources close to the probe say that is what Fitzgerald has been alleging privately.
"In an abundance of caution," Fitzgerald's January 23 letter to Libby's defense team states, "we advise you that we have learned that not all email of the Office of the Vice President and the Executive Office of the President for certain time periods in 2003 was preserved through the normal archiving process on the White House computer system."
Spokespeople for Gonzales and the White House would not comment citing the ongoing investigation. Randall Samborn, a spokesman for Fitzgerald, also wouldn't comment. A spokesman for Cheney did not return calls for comment nor did Cheney's criminal attorney, Terrence O'Donnell.
Cheney testified for a little more than an hour about his role in the leak in early 2004. What he told prosecutors appears to be identical to testimony his former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, gave before a grand jury during the same year. Libby was indicted on five-counts of obstruction of justice, perjury, and lying to investigators related to his role in the Plame Wilson leak.
Two weeks ago, additional court documents related to Libby's case were made public. In one document, Fitzgerald responded to Libby's defense team that Libby had testified before a grand jury that his "superiors" authorized him to leak elements of the highly classified National Intelligence Estimate to reporters in the summer of 2003 that showed Iraq to be a grave nuclear threat, to rebut criticism that the administration manipulated pre-war Iraq intelligence.
News reports citing people familiar with Libby's testimony said Cheney had authorized Libby to do so. Additionally, an extensive investigation during the past month has shown that Cheney, Libby and former Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley spearhead an effort beginning in March 2003 to discredit Plame Wilson's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, a vocal critic of the administration's intelligence related to Iraq, who had publicly criticized the administration for relying on forged documents to build public support for the war.
Cheney did not disclose this information when he was questioned by investigators.
Cheney responded to questions about how the White House came to rely on Niger documents that purportedly showed that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from the African country. Cheney said he had received an intelligence briefing on the allegations in late December 2003 or early January 2004 and had asked the CIA for more information about the issue.
Cheney said he was unaware that Wilson was chosen to travel to Niger to look into the uranium claims and that he never saw a report Wilson had given a CIA analyst upon his return, which stated that the Niger claims were untrue. He said the CIA never told him about Wilson's trip.
However, these attorneys said that witnesses in the case have testified before a grand jury that Cheney, Libby, Hadley, the Pentagon, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the State Department, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Justice Department, the FBI, and other senior aides in the Office of the Vice President, the President, and the National Security Council had received and read a March 9, 2002, cable sent to his office by the CIA that debunked the Niger claims.
The cable, which was prepared by a CIA analyst and based on Wilson's fact-finding mission, did not mention Wilson by name, but quoted a CIA source and Niger officials Wilson had questioned during his eight-day mission, who said there was no truth to the claims that Iraq had tried to purchase 500 tons of yellowcake uranium ore from Niger.
Several current and former State Department and CIA officials familiar with the March 9, 2002, cable said they had testified before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak that they had spoken to Libby and Hadley about the cable, and that they were told Cheney had also read it.
Cheney told investigators that when Wilson began speaking to reporters on background about his secret mission to Niger to investigate Iraq's alleged attempts to purchase uranium, he asked Libby to contact the CIA to "get more information" about the trip and to find out if it was true, the attorneys added.
Furthermore, Cheney told prosecutors that before he learned of Wilson's trip, his office simply sought to rebut statements made by Wilson to reporters and the various newspaper reports that said the Bush administration knowingly relied on flawed intelligence to build a case for war.
Moreover, Cheney said that he and his aide were concerned that reporters had been under the impression that Cheney chose Wilson for the Niger trip, the attorneys said. Cheney testified that he instructed Libby and other aides to coordinate a response to those queries and rebut those allegations with the White House press office.
"In his testimony the vice president said that his staff referred media calls about Wilson to the White House press office," one attorney close to the case said. "He said that was the appropriate venue for responding to statements by Mr. Wilson that he believed were wrong."
Cheney told investigators that he first learned about Valerie Plame Wilson and her employment with the CIA from Libby. Cheney testified that Libby told him that several reporters had contacted him in July to say that Plame Wilson had been responsible for arranging her husband's trip to Niger to investigate the Niger uranium claims.
Cheney also testified that the next time he recalled hearing about Plame Wilson and her connection to Joseph Wilson was when he read about her in a July 14, 2003, column written by syndicated columnist Robert Novak.
Jason Leopold spent two years covering California's electricity crisis as Los Angeles bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires. Jason has spent the last year cultivating sources close to the CIA leak investigation, and is a regular contributer to t r u t h o u t. http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/021506J.shtml