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FDL Book Salon: Anatomy of Deceit, The Ari Fleischer Smear

anatomy_of_deceit_72color_21.jpg

I'm a football fan. I've got plans to catch up with my everyday friends after two weeks of fun in DC; I plan to sit back, catch up on all last week's beer thirties, and yell at the TV. (I'll be rooting for the Bears tonight, though I suspect Adam Vinatieri will make me cry.) So I'll only check in sporadically on this thread. But since not everyone has gotten their book in the mail yet, we decided to give you one more teaser from Anatomy of Deceit to read while you're watching the game. In honor of a tentatively planned appearance on Talk of the Nation tomorrow (2:00 ET), in which we'll discuss media coverage of the CIA Leak case and the trial, I decided to offer a piece on the campaign to impugn Ari Fleischer from July to October 2005. Based on this campaign, I guessed correctly [it was a classic wild-arsed guess] in July 2005 that Ari was going to be a key witness in the trial.

I'm just glad I noted that Ari "may have leaked to a journalist," given what we know now. But the rest of it–the transparent attempt to distract from Rove's trouble–that all holds up well, I think.  


Rove needed to get the spotlight off himself and onto someone else. That someone turned out to be former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer. On the same day that the Times identified Rove as one of Novak's two sources, the New York Daily News published an article citing unnamed sources "close to the probe" explaining that, in addition to Rove, the grand jury was investigating Fleischer's role in the Plame affair. "Ari's name keeps popping up," one source told the paper.[i]

Clearly, the behind-the-scenes media campaign was giving reporters fresh meat (in the form of Fleischer) to distract them from Rove. The campaign based its insinuations about Fleischer's involvement on what is now called the INR memo, the same document from which Armitage had learned of Valerie Wilson's identity. The memo was faxed to Air Force One during President Bush's trip to Africa during the week of July 6, 2003. The Daily News story, quoting the unnamed sources, pointed out that the memo "included background on Wilson" and that it "appears to be a key" to revealing who gave Valerie Plame Wilson's name to Robert Novak.

A whole slew of stories in the national media followed in quick succession, each of them describing the memo and Fleischer's purported incrimination due to it.[ii] The press, which just a day before had been in a frenzy reporting Rove's demonstrable role in the CIA leak, had abruptly shifted its attention to chasing down a story implicating Fleischer and (to a lesser degree) Colin Powell in unsubstantiated ways.

One typical and egregious example of such misdirection was a Bloomberg story that began with a relevant question: "What did [Rove] know and when did he know it?" But then it answered that question by pointing to Fleischer:

On the same day the memo was prepared [July 7], White House phone logs show Novak placed a call to White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, according to lawyers familiar with the case and a witness who has testified before the grand jury. Those people say it is not clear whether Fleischer returned the call, and Fleischer has refused to comment.

The Novak call may loom large in the investigation because Fleischer was among a group of administration officials who left Washington later that day on a presidential trip to Africa. On the flight to Africa, Fleischer was seen perusing the State Department memo on Wilson and his wife, according to a former administration official who was also on the trip.

In addition, on July 8, 2003, the day after the memo was sent, Novak discussed Wilson and his wife with Rove, who had remained in Washington, according to the New York Times.[iii]

The story suggested the following scenario: Fleischer looked at the INR memo, learned of Valerie Wilson's purported role in Wilson's trip, returned the call to Novak and passed on the information about Valerie Wilson, and then Novak brought it up with Rove. Barely noticed among the flurry of articles was a denial: "Fleischer told the grand jury that he never saw the memo, a person familiar with [his] testimony said, speaking on condition of anonymity. . . .  Fleischer has told the grand jury that he did not return Novak's call, a person familiar with the testimony said."[iv]

Furthermore, the INR memo simply could not have prepared Fleischer to leak to Novak. Two articles pointed out that the memo didn't include the name, Plame, used in Novak's column,[v] and two others noted that the memo didn't identify Valerie Wilson as covert.[vi] (Indeed, an Isikoff article published the year before had pointed out both of these facts.)[vii]) And yet many reporters continued to focus on Fleischer, such as Jim VandeHei of The Washington Post, who kept reporting the Fleischer story until October 2005, even after co-authoring a July 2005 article that made clear the memo couldn't be the source of the Novak leak.[viii]

We now know the insinuation doesn't make any sense. Fleischer testified that Libby told him on July 7, before the memo was sent, "The Vice-President did not send Ambassador Wilson to Niger. . . .  the CIA sent Ambassador Wilson to Niger. . . . [H]e was sent by his wife. . . . [S]he works in . . . the Counterproliferation area of the CIA." Libby also made sure Fleischer knew this was sensitive, calling it "hush hush," "its on the QT."[ix] It's possible that Fleischer did leak Valerie Wilson's involvement to a reporter. But when, on July 11, he pushed John Dickerson of Time magazine and other journalists to look into the roots of the trip, sending them to discover Valerie Wilson's purported involvement themselves, he stopped short of leaking her classified identity. And according to Fleischer, the provenance of any information he leaked didn't come from the INR memo, it came from Libby.

The timing of leaks about the INR memo-particularly in relation to Fleischer-makes sense only in the context of the revelations about Rove and the more distant threat of Miller's testimony. While some of the articles in July 2005 suggested that witnesses had recently been asked about Fleischer's role, the bulk of interviews with administration officials took place in early 2004, with a second batch after the Senate released its report on Iraq intelligence in July 2004. And one article makes clear that the questions about the INR memo came much earlier in the investigation.[x] Yet all of a sudden, just as scrutiny turned to Rove, the series of articles focusing on Fleischer appeared.

The leak campaign against Fleischer served one other purpose, albeit a crafty one. Since Libby had told Fleischer of Valerie Wilson's identity in such a way that made it appear that Libby knew her identity was classified, Fleischer was a potential witness against Libby. Focusing suspicion on Fleischer would undermine his role as a witness if Libby were to face charges.[xi]

The leaks about Fleischer and the INR memo served several purposes: They distracted the press corps from validated revelations of Rove's involvement; they provided an alternative source for the Novak leak and a provenance for that leak outside the White House; and they impugned a potential witness at a trial. All of this was possible because some journalists didn't question what they were being fed by their unnamed sources.


[i] Thomas DeFrank and Kenneth Bazinet, "Prez Ex-Flack Lumped with Rove?" New York Daily News 15 July 2005.

[ii] Richard Stevenson, "State Dept. Memo Gets Scrutiny in Leak Inquiry on CIA Officer," New York Times 16 July 2005, Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei, "Memo Is a Focus of CIA Leak Probe" Washington Post 16 July 2005, Richard Keil and William Roberts, "Special Prosecutor's Probe Centers on Rove, Memo, Phone Calls," Bloomberg 18 July 2005, Anne Marie Squeo and John D. McKinnon, "Memo Underscored Issue of Shielding Plame's Identity," Wall Street Journal 19 July 2005, Walter Pincus and Jim VandeHei, "Plame's Name Marked as Secret," New York Times, 21 July 2005.Two articles appear to be State Department push-back against published discussions of the memo: Tom Hamburger, "Memo May Hold Key to CIA Leak," LA Times 17 July 2005 and Barry Schweid, "Memo Gets Attention in Probe of CIA Leak," Associated Press 20 July 2005. And just one article quotes from an Ari Fleischer surrogate: "Fleischer told the grand jury that he never saw the memo, a person familiar with the testimony said, speaking on condition of anonymity. … Fleischer has told the grand jury that he did not return Novak's call, a person familiar with the testimony said." David Johnston, Douglas Jehl and Richard W. Stevenson, "For Bush Aides in CIA Case, 2nd Issue Arises," New York Times, 23 July 2005.

[iii] Richard Keil and William Roberts, "Special Prosecutor's Probe Centers on Rove, Memo, Phone Calls," Bloomberg 18 July 2005.

[iv] David Johnston, Douglas Jehl and Richard W. Stevenson, "For Bush Aides in CIA Case, 2nd Issue Arises," New York Times, 23 July 2005.

[v] Richard Stevenson, "State Dept. Memo Gets Scrutiny in Leak Inquiry on CIA Officer," New York Times 16 July 2005 and Tom Hamburger, "Memo May Hold Key to CIA Leak," LA Times 17 July 2005.

[vi] Tom Hamburger, "Memo May Hold Key to CIA Leak," LA Times 17 July 2005 and Walter Pincus and Jim VandeHei, "Plame's Name Marked as Secret," New York Times, 21 July 2005.

[vii] Michael Isikoff, "CIA Leak Probe: Powell's Grand Jury Appearance," Newsweek 9 August 2004.

[viii] VandeHei and Carol Leonnig, "Rove Told Jury Libby May Have Been His Source In Leak Case," Washington Post 20 October 2005.

[ix] Appeals Court Opinion, "In Re:Grand Jury Subpoena Judith Miller" reissued 3 February 2006.

[x] Walter Pincus and Jim VandeHei, "Plame's Name Marked as Secret," New York Times, 21 July 2005.

[xi] This is precisely what Libby's lawyers would do after he was indicted-point to this flurry of leaks as potential evidence that Fleischer had cooperated with Fitzgerald because he himself was implicated in the leak.

The press has reported that Mr. Fleischer reviewed the State Department report sent to Air Force One during the Africa trip, and has speculated that he divulged information to reporters concerning Ms. Wilson during the trip. (A Leak, Then A Deluge, Exhibit I; Prosecutor's Probe Centers on Rove, Memo, Phone Calls (Update 2), BLOOMBERG, July 18, 2003, attached as Exhibit J.) On cross-examination at trial, the defense will be entitled to question Mr. Fleischer on issues such as: (1) when and how he learned about Ms. Wilson's identity; (2) the nature of his conversations with reporters; and (3) any efforts he undertook to criticize Mr. Wilson. If the press reports are correct, and Mr. Fleischer disclosed information concerning Ms. Wilson to reporters, he himself may have been a subject of Mr. Fitzgerald's investigation. Mr. Fleischer may thus have a motive to shade his testimony. Such possible bias will be vigorously explored on cross-examination.

Third Motion of I. Lewis Libby to Compel Discovery under Rule 16 and Brady. 17 March 2006.

CommunityFDL Main Blog

FDL Book Salon: Anatomy of Deceit, The Ari Fleischer Smear

anatomy_of_deceit_72color_21.jpg

I'm a football fan. I've got plans to catch up with my everyday friends after two weeks of fun in DC; I plan to sit back, catch up on all last week's beer thirties, and yell at the TV. (I'll be rooting for the Bears tonight, though I suspect Adam Vinatieri will make me cry.) So I'll only check in sporadically on this thread. But since not everyone has gotten their book in the mail yet, we decided to give you one more teaser from Anatomy of Deceit to read while you're watching the game. In honor of a tentatively planned appearance on Talk of the Nation tomorrow (2:00 ET), in which we'll discuss media coverage of the CIA Leak case and the trial, I decided to offer a piece on the campaign to impugn Ari Fleischer from July to October 2005. Based on this campaign, I guessed correctly [it was a classic wild-arsed guess] in July 2005 that Ari was going to be a key witness in the trial.

I'm just glad I noted that Ari "may have leaked to a journalist," given what we know now. But the rest of it–the transparent attempt to distract from Rove's trouble–that all holds up well, I think.  


Rove needed to get the spotlight off himself and onto someone else. That someone turned out to be former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer. On the same day that the Times identified Rove as one of Novak's two sources, the New York Daily News published an article citing unnamed sources "close to the probe" explaining that, in addition to Rove, the grand jury was investigating Fleischer's role in the Plame affair. "Ari's name keeps popping up," one source told the paper.[i]

Clearly, the behind-the-scenes media campaign was giving reporters fresh meat (in the form of Fleischer) to distract them from Rove. The campaign based its insinuations about Fleischer's involvement on what is now called the INR memo, the same document from which Armitage had learned of Valerie Wilson's identity. The memo was faxed to Air Force One during President Bush's trip to Africa during the week of July 6, 2003. The Daily News story, quoting the unnamed sources, pointed out that the memo "included background on Wilson" and that it "appears to be a key" to revealing who gave Valerie Plame Wilson's name to Robert Novak. (more…)

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