Libby ties Bush to Iraq leaks Classified info used to justify war

William Douglas Knight Ridder Newspapers Apr. 7, 2006 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON - President Bush authorized Vice President Dick Cheney's former top aide to divulge classified intelligence information to a New York Times reporter in an effort to defend the president's decision to go to war against Iraq, according to court papers made public Thursday.

The court documents indicate that Bush and Cheney authorized the release of the intelligence information after former Ambassador Joseph Wilson wrote a July 6, 2003, op-ed piece charging that the administration's claim that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was trying to obtain uranium from Niger was false. Some intelligence agencies also disputed the White House's allegation at the time, and it later proved to be false.

The court filing by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald for the first time places Bush and Cheney at the heart of what former Cheney aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Jr. testified was an exceptional and deliberate leak of material designed to buttress the administration's claim that Iraq was trying to obtain nuclear weapons. The information was contained in the National Intelligence Estimate, one of the most closely held CIA analyses of whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before the war.

According to court papers filed by Fitzgerald on Wednesday, Libby told a federal grand jury that he received "approval from the president through the vice president" to reveal key judgments of the estimate in 2003 about Saddam's purported attempts to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Those court papers said a critical conversation with former New York Times reporter Judith Miller on July 8, 2003, took place "only after the vice president advised defendant that the president specifically had authorized defendant to disclose certain information in the NIE."

Libby, however, isn't charged with leaking classified information but with five counts of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI. If convicted, he could face up to 30 years in prison and $1.25 million in fines.

The documents provide the most concrete evidence to date that Bush and Cheney were engaged in a campaign to disclose selected snippets of highly classified intelligence, much of it misleading, exaggerated or wrong, to journalists in an effort to bolster their case for war.

Bush administration officials declined to comment Thursday on Libby's testimony. "Our policy is not to discuss ongoing legal proceedings," said Ken Lisaius, Bush spokesman.

The filing was first reported Thursday morning in the online edition of the New York Sun.

Reaction from Democrats was immediate. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Democratic leader of the House, said: "I am troubled by news reports that President Bush may have authorized Mr. Libby to disclose intelligence information to support the administration's case for war in Iraq. I served for 13 years on the House Intelligence Committee, and I know intelligence must never be classified or declassified for political purposes."

Sen John Kerry, D-Mass., said, "If the president of the United States is authorizing leaks of classified material in order to destroy people who oppose his point of view or go after them, then something is really unbelievably wrong with their standards as well as the lack of accountability in this administration."

A Bush authorization was mentioned in a 39-page document filing by Fitzgerald to persuade a judge to rule against requests by Libby's legal team for a voluminous amount of "discovery" documents from the White House, the State Department and other federal agencies.

Libby testified "that he was specifically authorized" to disclose the key judgments of the classified National Intelligence Estimate to Miller. Two days later, Libby met with Miller because it was thought that the document was "pretty definitive" against Wilson and because the vice president thought that it was "very important" for the information in the estimate to be released, court documents say.

The key judgments in the intelligence estimate, however, never mention the allegation that Iraq was shopping for uranium in Niger. The full estimate, far from rebutting Wilson's conclusion, revealed that State Department experts didn't believe the allegation, either.

During the months before the Iraq invasion, a number of news outlets published classified information about Saddam's efforts to purchase aluminum tubes for a nuclear program and about Iraq's relationship to al-Qaida terrorists. Subsequent inquiries concluded that most of that information also was wrong.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, said that the president has "the inherent authority to decide who should have classified information" and a 2003 executive order gives the vice president the same power.

Bush and Cheney have railed against leaks, particularly of classified information. When the investigation arose over the disclosure that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was an undercover CIA officer, Bush promised to get to the bottom of it and vowed that anyone in his administration caught leaking would be dealt with accordingly.

"There's leaks at the executive branch; there's leaks in the legislative branch," Bush told reporters during a trip to Chicago on Sept. 30, 2003.

"And if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated the law, the person will be taken care of."

Washington Post and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

White House sidesteps Iraq leak issue

Associated Press Apr. 7, 2006 08:45 AM

WASHINGTON - The White House on Friday declined to challenge assertions that President Bush authorized the leaks of intelligence information to counter administration critics on Iraq.

But Bush's spokesman, Scott McClellan, appeared to draw a distinction about Bush's oft-stated opposition to leaks. "The president would never authorize disclosure of information that could compromise our nation's security," Bush's spokesman said.

Court papers filed by the prosecutor in the CIA leak case against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby said Bush authorized Libby to disclose information from a classified prewar intelligence report. The court papers say Libby's boss, advised him that the president had authorized Libby to leak the information to the press in striking back at administration critic Joseph Wilson.

McClellan volunteered that the administration declassified information from the intelligence report - the National Intelligence Estimate - and released it to the public on July 18, 2003. But he refused to say when the information was actually declassified. The date could be significant because Libby discussed the information with a reporter on July 8 of that year.

On Thursday, disclosure of official authorization for Libby's leaks to reporters brought strong criticism from administration political foes, but little likelihood that their demands for explanations will be met.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., citing Bush's call two years ago to find the person who leaked the CIA identity of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, said the latest disclosures means the president needs to go no further than a mirror.

In his court filing, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald asserted that "the president was unaware of the role" that Libby "had in fact played in disclosing" Plame's CIA status. The prosecutor gave no such assurance, though, regarding Cheney.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said that "in light of today's shocking revelation, President Bush must fully disclose his participation in the selective leaking of classified information. The American people must know the truth."

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the president has the "inherent authority to decide who should have classified information." The White House declined to comment, citing the ongoing criminal probe into the leak of Plame's identity.

In July 2003, Wilson's accusation that the Bush administration had twisted prewar intelligence to exaggerate the Iraqi threat "was viewed in the office of vice president as a direct attack on the credibility of the vice president, and the president," Fitzgerald's court papers stated.

Part of the counterattack was a July 8, 2003, meeting with New York Times reporter Judith Miller at which Libby discussed the contents of a then-classified CIA report that seemed to undercut what Wilson was saying in public.

Separately, Libby said he understood he also was to tell Miller that prewar intelligence assessments had been that Iraq was "vigorously trying to procure" uranium, the prosecutor stated. In the run-up to the war, Cheney had insisted Iraq was trying to build a nuclear bomb.

The conclusion on uranium was contained in a National Intelligence Estimate, a consensus document of the U.S. intelligence community. Libby's statements came in grand jury testimony before he was charged with five counts of perjury, obstruction and lying to the FBI in the Plame probe.

Libby at first told the vice president that he could not have the July 8, 2003, conversation with Miller because of the classified nature of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, Fitzgerald said. Libby testified to the grand jury "that the vice president later advised him that the president had authorized defendant to disclose the relevant portions" of the NIE.

Libby testified that he also spoke to David Addington, then counsel to the vice president, "whom defendant considered to be an expert in national security law, and Mr. Addington opined that presidential authorization to publicly disclose a document amounted to a declassification of the document."

Libby testified that he was specifically authorized to disclose the key judgments of the classified intelligence document because it was thought that its conclusions were "fairly definitive" against what Wilson had said and the vice president thought that it was "very important" for those key judgments to come out, the court papers stated.

After Wilson began attacking the administration, Cheney had a conversation with Libby, expressing concerns on whether a CIA-sponsored trip to the African nation of Niger by Wilson "was legitimate or whether it was in effect a junket set up by Mr. Wilson's wife," Fitzgerald wrote. The suggestion that Plame sent her husband on the Africa trip has gotten widespread circulation among White House loyalists.

Wilson said he had concluded on his trip that it was highly doubtful Niger had sold uranium yellowcake to Iraq.

The prosecutor's court papers offer a glimpse inside the White House when the Justice Department launched a criminal investigation of the Plame leak in September 2003. Libby "implored White House officials" to issue a statement saying he had not been involved in revealing Plame's identity, and that when his initial efforts met with no success, he "sought the assistance of the vice president in having his name cleared," the prosecutor stated.

The White House eventually said neither Libby nor Karl Rove had been involved in the leak. Rove remains under criminal investigation.

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