Cheney Told Libby that Wilson’s Wife Worked for CIA

Illegally leaked notes by lawyers involved in the CIA leak case reveal that Vice President Cheney told Scooter Libby that Joe Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA.

Cheney Told Aide of C.I.A. Officer, Notes Show (NYT)

I. Lewis Libby Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, first learned about the C.I.A. officer at the heart of the leak investigation in a conversation with Mr. Cheney weeks before her identity became public in 2003, lawyers involved in the case said Monday. Notes of the previously undisclosed conversation between Mr. Libby and Mr. Cheney on June 12, 2003, appear to differ from Mr. Libby’s testimony to a federal grand jury that he initially learned about the C.I.A. officer, Valerie Wilson, from journalists, the lawyers said.

The notes, taken by Mr. Libby during the conversation, for the first time place Mr. Cheney in the middle of an effort by the White House to learn about Ms. Wilson’s husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, who was questioning the administration’s handling of intelligence about Iraq’s nuclear program to justify the war. Lawyers involved in the case, who described the notes to The New York Times, said they showed that Mr. Cheney knew that Ms. Wilson worked at the C.I.A. more than a month before her identity was made public and her undercover status was disclosed in a syndicated column by Robert D. Novak on July 14, 2003.

Mr. Libby’s notes indicate that Mr. Cheney had gotten his information about Ms. Wilson from George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, in response to questions from the vice president about Mr. Wilson. But they contain no suggestion that either Mr. Cheney or Mr. Libby knew at the time of Ms. Wilson’s undercover status or that her identity was classified. Disclosing a covert agent’s identity can be a crime, but only if the person who discloses it knows the agent’s undercover status.

It would not be illegal for either Mr. Cheney or Mr. Libby, both of whom are presumably cleared to know the government’s deepest secrets, to discuss a C.I.A. officer or her link to a critic of the administration. But any effort by Mr. Libby to steer investigators away from his conversation with Mr. Cheney could be considered by Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special counsel in the case, to be an illegal effort to impede the inquiry.

The irony of the lawyers investigating the leaking of secret information to the press leaking secret evidence to the press is rich, indeed. It amazes me that there never seem to be prosecutions for this action, which are clearly intended to poison the water for those under investigation and which taint the jury pool and harm people’s reputations regardless of the disposition of the case.

Otherwise, this is pretty thin stuff. Cheney asked the CIA director who this Wilson character, employed by the CIA for the Niger trip, was. Tenet apparently told him and intimated that Wilson’s wife, a trusted CIA employee, suggested him. Later, Libby told reporters that Wilson’s wife, a trusted CIA employee, suggested him.

Neither Cheneny nor Libby–not even, presumably Tenet–apparently had any idea that Valerie Plame Wilson’s status as a CIA agent was supposed to be a secret. If so, none of them committed the crime which was the purpose of the Fitzgerald investigation. At very worst, Libby apparently tried to hide a perfectly legal conversation with his boss from the investigators. Most likely, he was worried they might leak it to the New York Times who would make a big deal out of it.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. SoloD says:

    But, if this is true (which we certainly don’t know yet), it does put the lie to Cheney’s public position that he did not ever hear about Wilson’s trip. Maybe not perjury or obstruction (unless Cheney told the prosecutor the same story) but still lying to the American public.

  2. DL says:

    Unfortunately it’s not “just about sex” so the public might think serious crime occured. Though perjury is serious, it also maquarades as political entrapment these days!

  3. odograph says:

    What would you say if these prove to be defensive leaks by Cheney’s lawyers, or the Bush team?

    I’ve heard that the purpose of the leak is to soften the shock of the indictment. That makes sense to me.

  4. DL says:

    This entire fiasco is starting to sound like a popular “race track” song of the 40s. The lyrics went somnething like this:

    The owner told Clarence the clocker
    And Clarence told jockey McGee.
    The jockey of course, passed it onto the horse
    And the horse told me!

  5. odograph says:

    Who starts the war, McGee or the horse?

  6. McGehee says:

    Somebody tell that damn horse to get out of my face or I’m gonna mess him up!

  7. Leopold Stotch says:

    In other words, Ms. Plame’s identity was actually betrayed by the then-director of the CIA.

  8. DC Loser says:

    Uh…no, Tenet wasn’t the leaker as he was answering a direct question from the VP regarding official matters. It was in the perogative of the VP to ask for clarification concerning the Niger matter as part of his duties concerning national security. Now, what happened to that information once it was passed is what Fitzgerald is trying to get to the bottom of.

  9. James Joyner says:

    Odograph: An interesting possibility, I guess. Certainly, leaks by the defense team are less problematic than those by the prosecution, since the latter is state action and the rules of the game are intentionally written to protect the defendant.

    Regardless, lawyers have a duty to obey judges’ orders regarding confidentiality of evidence.

  10. Cheney told top aide of CIA officer?

    Notes in the hand of a federal prosecutor suggest the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney f

  11. ken says:

    Neither Cheneny nor Libby–not even, presumably Tenet–apparently had any idea that Valerie Plame Wilson’s status as a CIA agent was supposed to be a secret.

    Since all three of these people presumably have top secret clearances what they discuss amongst themselves is not at issue.

    It is their responsibility however when discussing CIA personal with the press to make sure that the person they are talking about is not officially covert, right? Is ignorance an excuse? I don’t think so. Not when issues of national security is at stake and the people in question are entrusted with our nations secrets.

  12. Jason says:

    Is ignorance an excuse? Yes it is. It is only an illegal act if one is not ignorant of the secret status of the agent. Ignorance is the only excuse.

  13. legion says:

    And this still doesn’t explain why the CIA itself originally requested this investigation in the first place… This could still track back to Tenet if he did not tell Cheney and/or Libby that Plame was covert & should be protected.

    One of the core questions in this whole affair has been what Plame’s exact role within the CIA was, and whether or not she was actually a covert operative. Wouldn’t ten minutes’ access to the CIA’s personnel files by a properly-cleared person be able to clear that friggin’ question up? It seems to me that that question _must_ have been answered long ago in the investigation… And if Plame _wasn’t_ undercover, there’s no reason for the defense not leaking that info already.

  14. odograph says:

    An interesting possibility, I guess.

    Well, it is just a possibility. It’s not like I made an assumption about which lawyer it was, and got all “bloggeriffic” in my indignation 😉

  15. Ron says:

    And this still doesn’t explain why the CIA itself originally requested this investigation in the first place
    I agree, the things the CIA has asked for investigations on, and the things they haven’t asked for investigation on, are illuminating.

  16. Hal says:

    I suppose everyone has forgotten about the memo that was all the news a while back. You know, the one which marked Plame’s name as Secret and not to be exposed to foreigners? Perhaps the CIA is even more compartmentalized than I suspect, but if this memo marked her status as secret, then I’m pretty darn sure that anyone else who knew about it also knew that it was secret.

    This excuse that they “didn’t know” is almost impossible to believe given the people involved and their clearance levels. I mean, you’d have to believe they were all a bunch of bumbling boobs who should never have been granted clearance to believe what’s being pushed here… Is that really the defense that James is pushing? That they’re all just bumbling, well intentioned boobs?

  17. Hal says:

    Also, note the dates. The memo was written on June 10th. The conversation with Cheney and Libby is on the 12th. Dollars to donuts that this memo, or the the request that produced it, was the source for Cheney, Tenet and Libby. If so, there is simply no way that they weren’t aware of her secret status, James.

  18. Hellblazer says:

    The Hapless Boob Defense

    Know it’s been making the rounds even before now, but it’s really becoming the foundation defense the defenders of the administration seem to be relying upon:Neither Cheneny nor Libby–not even, presumably Tenet–apparently had any idea that Valerie …