Notes on Libby/Plamegate
In January 2003, Mr. Bush claimed that Iraq had purchased uranium -- a key ingredient in nuclear weapons -- from Niger.I think that this is wrong; I've asked for a specific citation, but I think that this is an incorrect reference to the January 2003 SOTU's "16 Words". Factcheck, in an article claiming Bush's "16 Words" on Iraq & Uranium: He May Have Been Wrong But He Wasn't Lying said
Bush said then, “The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa .” Some of his critics called that a lie, but the new evidence shows Bush had reason to say what he did.and specifically that
Ironically, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who later called Bush’s 16 words a “lie”, supplied information that the Central Intelligence Agency took as confirmation that Iraq may indeed have been seeking uranium from Niger.
So, my current understanding of the puzzle is that
- Rumors of purchase and attempted purchase were reported by intelligence agencies of various countries, as they had been for years before Bush (see, e.g. the Washington Post summary.)
- Cheney's office, and thus Libby himself, were trying to get clarifications of these;
- Valerie Plame was (very properly) in the discussions;
- she suggested sending him (for good reasons, so far as I can tell);
- he went, and effectively reported that (a) there almost certainly had not been purchases, but (b) there had been approaches which officials from Niger thought to be uranium-seeking and which Niger had rejected because of the sanctions, and thus
- people like me would think (c) that it follows that Saddam was not a huge nuclear threat but would become one if the sanctions fell apart, which they were doing.
- Bush said (b), which was apparently true, and that should be the end of the story, moderately creditable to all concerned. BUT
- Wilson called Bush a liar for saying (a). My understanding is that Wilson was lying.
- Wilson also claimed that he'd been sent at the "behest" (Kristof's term) of Cheney's office, i.e. through Libby. I count this claim as spin -- i.e., Wilson was trying to say that since Cheney had sent him, of course Cheney had seen the report, whereas in fact the report of Wilson's debriefing was never even sent to Cheney's office.
- (Wilson further claimed that he'd debunked forged documents, whereas in fact he had not seen them.)
- Libby, defending himself and his boss against actual lies which included the "behest" spin, understandably wanted to explain the actual origin of Wilson's mission.
- The origin of Wilson's mission lay in a wifely recommendation, which Libby probably thought sounded vaguely nepotistic -- ah, good, counter-spin!
- But Wilson's wife's involvement involved classified information. According to the indictment, this information was not common knowledge.
- I'm a little suspicious of the phrasing in the indictment: it does not say that Plame's employment was effectively concealed, or that Libby harmed her. (Is my employment common knowledge? I really don't know.)
- However, the indictment claims that Libby lied under oath about what he'd said. Perjury. If so, that's bad.
- How bad? Well, if convicted, he should lose what Clinton lost when convicted of perjury [see Update3], maybe more -- maybe he should lose his job. Well, he already did. His license to practice law? Sure. More than that, without proof of an underlying crime? I don't like it. But nobody cares what I like, and that's probably good.
Perhaps I should mention that one of my very few emails to my congresscritter was in opposition to the Clinton impeachment process. The underlying crime was a betrayal of his wife, and if she forgives him it's none of my business -- indeed I wrote at the time that I was happy to have the President have [consensual] sex with not only every female staffer and every male staffer but every animal at the White House, as long as he did his job. I didn't support him because I didn't like the way he did his job, but that's completely separate.
[Update] I see that Joseph Wilson has an LA Times op-ed saying
That was the day columnist Robert Novak identified Valerie as an operative, divulging a secret that had been known only to me, her parents and her brother.I would like to hear that from a source I found more credible. At the moment, I see that Wilson goes on to say he
knew that the statement in Bush's speech — that Iraq had attempted to purchase significant quantities of uranium in Africa — was not true. I knew it was false from my own investigative trip to Africa (at the request of the CIA) and from two other similar intelligence reports. And I knew that the White House knew it.It's my understanding, as indicated above, that this is false; it is contradicted by the Butler report (which is closest to relevance since Bush's statement was based on British intelligence) as well as by the Senate Select Committee's report of what Wilson himself said. It really appears to be an incomprehensibly blatant lie. (It's also not what he originally claimed to be rebutting.) Puzzling.
[update2]The WSJ article has been corrected.
[update3] Oops. I don't think Clinton was convicted of perjury, but rather "false testimony" (and contempt of court?) and fined $90K and $25K with five-year law license suspension, after he confessed to the false testimony charge. I think his "I did not fully accomplish this goal" summary is masterfully Clintonian (what goal? Why, of course, the goal of walking the "fine line between acting lawfully and testifying falsely".)