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“Wilson’s Wife Wasn’t A Person But An Argument”

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This case is “about someone to whom Wilson’s wife wasn’t a person but an argument.” — Patrick Fitzgerald in his closing summation Tuesday.

A favorite argument of the apologists for Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby (and critics of Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald) is that the Libby prosecution is not merely a waste of time and money but unfair, since no one has yet been charged with a violation of the IIPA or other security classification statutes. We’ve seen examples of this argument from the editorial boards of the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, and most recently in Sunday’s prominently displayed (complete with photoshopped mugshots of Fitzgerald and Joe Wilson) op-ed by Victoria Toensing. A major premise of the “no underlying crime” argument is that Valerie Wilson was not a covert agent, and hence there was no classified status to be revealed.

Of course, these advocates have always understood, but never acknowledged, that there were sound reasons why Valerie Plame’s classified status was purposely not “proved” in the Libby trial. The first and most obvious is the fact that since Libby was indicted for lying to the FBI and Grand Jury and obstructing the investigation, it was not necessary for the government to reveal or prove Plame’s status. The second was the dilemma the government faced in not wanting to be forced to prove any CIA employee’s job, status, classification or cover in open court, because having to do so would risk revealing even more classified information (and opening up possibilities for “greymail”). Since a violation of disclosure statutes was not being charged in this trial, and the Libby Court and Fiztgerald fully understood the CIA’s dilemma, they carefully and deliberately avoided any requirement that the government confirm or deny Valerie’s status. Of course, that did not stop Fitzgerald’s detractors from irresponsibly taking advantage of the situation by claiming that Valerie Plame’s status was not classified. Victoria’s dirty little secret is the knowledge that the government was duty bound not to respond to such claims if it did not have to respond. Pachacutec’s post discussed the suspect timing and intent behind the WaPo editors and Toensing op-ed, and ConsortiumNews did a point-by-point critique of Toensing.

In the face of such blatant irresponsibility by the Washington Post, it is not surprising therefore, that past and present employees of the CIA felt compelled to come to Valerie’s defense, lest they and other agents become exposed to the same type of intimidation and outing that Valerie Wilson had to face. It was particularly gratifying to see this Larry Johnson post confirming yet again that Valerie was indeed an undercover agent before her cover was blown and explaining why he knew this was true, even though he understood why the government itself would have been extremely reluctant to “prove” this fact in open court.

Valerie Plame was undercover until the day she was identified in Robert Novak’s column. I entered on duty with Valerie in September of 1985. Every single member of our class–which was comprised of Case Officers, Analysts, Scientists, and Admin folks–were undercover. I was an analyst and Valerie was a case officer. Case officers work in the Directorate of Operations and work overseas recruiting spies and running clandestine operations. Although Valerie started out working under “official cover”–i.e., she declared she worked for the U.S. Government but in something innocuous, like the State Department–she later became a NOC aka non official cover officer. A NOC has no declared relationship with the United States Government. These simple facts apparently are too complicated for someone of Ms. Toensing’s limited intellectual abilities.

Update: Commenter Woodhall Hollow notes that Larry Johnson provides further explanation of Valerie Plame’s covert NOC status today.

While the case was therefore not a prosecution under the IIPA or other security classification statutes, that did not stop the concept of improperly disclosing classified information from playing a major role in the Libby trial. Reading through Marcy’s (emptywheel’s) extraordinary live blogging, I was struck by how much the trial was about the carelessness and indifference with which the Bush Administration in general, and the Office of Vice President in particular, treated classified information. That came through loud and clear in Tuesday’s closing arguments, which provided helpful summaries of what the trial evidence has disclosed.

Over and over again, Cheney and Libby treated classified information like the NIE not as something to be protected and shielded from exposure but rather as a weapon in a propaganda war. It was information to be selectively withheld or disclosed, misrepresented and misused to buttress arguments, confuse the public and punish political enemies. And when it came to the potential classified status of a covert CIA agent, there wasn’t the slightest concern shown by Cheney or Libby for Valerie Plame’s protection during that critical period of 2003. The astonishing thing after three weeks of trial, including over 8 hours of Libby’s Grand Jury testimony, is that not once did these men ask whether disclosing Valerie Plame’s job and status would cause harm to her, to her operation in the CIA or to the efforts and people in the broader intelligence community. Instead, as Fitzgerald noted in his closing argument today, “Wilson’s wife wasn’t a person but an argument.”

The total lack of concern in the OVP (Cathie Martin excepted) is in stark contrast to the concerns expressed by others who testified in the trial. I’ll just note a couple instances captured from Tueday’s closing arguments from Marcy’s live blogging. [Remember these snippets are not transcipts; they are not precise; they’re Marcy’s best efforts to capture and type the statements live. I’ve corrected some obvious typos but otherwise the indented portions are from two of Marcy’s posts, Lbby Live: Zeidenberg’s Prosecution Summation, One and Two.]

From Prosecutor Zeidenberg’s closing summary just after 9:43 and before 11:11 in Marcy’s live blog:

[CIA briefer] Grenier wasn’t sure he had shared the info on Plame. Unsure whether he shared it, but he knew he had gotten it, he wanted to err on side of caution. Now he testified at trial that he was sure. Want to remind you of how he accounted for that. Not memory of conversation, but memory of feeling of discomfort, that he had said too much, that he shouldn’t have shared info about someone who may have been covert. . . .

[Now goes to 10/04 article, with the B&J front, reading from article again] B&J leak. Talks about damage inadvertant disclosure of front company could form. Remember testimony of Schmall, CIA briefer. he told them disclosure is a serious business. People can get harrassed, people can get arrested, people can get killed. Addington testified that Libby asked him how you would know if someone was covert. Remember Addington’s answer: You wouldn’t know. Look at nondiclosure agreement.

[reading from it] Unauthorized disclosure of classified information can cause damage or irreperable injury to US. I understand that if I am uncertain, I am required to confirm that info is unclassified before I disclose it. I’ve been advised that any breach = termination of security clearance. He knows that, you can’t even be negligent.

The defense counsel did their best to prevent Fitzgerald from even talking about the potential damage Plame’s outing and the exposure of her Brewster Jennings cover might have done to the country, insisting that any evidence on that be considered solely for the purpose of indicating Libby’s “state of mind.” And so it does. We now have a trial record full of evidence on the cavalier state of mind of the Administration’s highest officials towards national security.

The evidence shows that Cheney and Libby were not merely negligent; they were reckless in how they treated classified information. That conclusion is inescapable, even though the prosecution made no effort in this trial to prove they were deliberate and intentional in outing Valerie Plame. [To be fair, the defense did not need to disprove intent, for the same reason.] Even Ari Fleischer understood how recklessly he had been used by Libby and the OVP:

Nevertheless, when Ari reads press accounts of criminal investigation, he is mortified, bc he sees that this info appears to have been classified, appears to have involved covert agent. Got a lawyer, got immunity.

The closing summaries recounted evidence showing that Scooter Libby and Karl Rove were also concerned about the possibility of disclosing classified information, but in their cases, and that of the Vice President, the concern was not about how best to protect the information but rather how best to frame and selectively leak it to what they hoped would be cooperative reporters willing to publish it. Judy Miller was an obvious candidate, but Libby’s June 23 and July 8 meetings and later phone call with Judy, authorized by Cheney, were unsuccessful; for once, she didn’t write what she was told, because they did not know (nor did it come out in trial) that Judy’s editors had effectively ruled out further Miller reporting on these topics. But Robert Novak did not have that limitation. He’d print whatever they wanted. Again from the trial evidence, as summarized (part One) Tuesday and live blogged by Marcy:

Next person, Judith Miller, June 23. Ms Miller, NYT reporter. Taking notes, recalls that he was upset, angry with CIA, felt they were backtracking on what they said publicly before the war. Very familiar with Wilson. Said Wilson ruse, irrelevancy, should be ignored, Familiar with Wilson’s trip, familiar with Wilson’s wife. He said she worked in the bureau. From context Miller understood as reference in CIA that deals with non-proliferation. Ms Miller was 6th person that Libby talked to about Wilson’s wife during that short span of time, June 11 to June 23, less than two weeks. [no discussion of Miller’s credibility]

What’s next? Ari Fleischer, July 7. An event that stands out in Fleischer’s mind. He was leaving, only time he had had lunch with Libby. Fleischer’s memory of it clear. Future employment plans. Libby thanked him for comment in gaggle. Miami Dolphins. Mr Libby said he had info that was hush hush and on the QT. Wilson wasn’t sent by VP, but by CIA and that Wilson’s wife works in counter-proliferation division, the same diviision that Libby was told about and you saw referred to in note from VP. Mr Fleischer took this as gossip, as info that was passged on, unsual, Libby didn’t share info normally, he was not someone that Ari could get info normally. WHY did Libby choose to share this info with PS on that date. If you think it was because conversation lagged and he had run out ofthings to say, or did he tell him that bc it was Ari’s job to talk to the press, he could spread around without it ever coming back to him. I suggest it’s the latter, gave it to him deliberately hoping Ari would talk to reporters. That’s exactly what did happen. Gregory, Dickerson. Talks to them, tells people about Wilson’s wife.

And Libby understood that when he was talking to Judy Miller, he needed to conceal his identity further. From part One, just after 10:06:

She told you Libby was agitated, angry. She told about NIE, what was in there. Talked about Powell presentation. She told you ground rules changed in middle. First, referred to as SAO. Then rules change, I want to be referred to for this next portion as Former Hill Staffer. Libby didn’t work on Capitol Hill, worked in OVP. Didnt want this next part to be linked with him or his office. Conversation turns to Wilson and Wilson’s wife. He tells Ms Miller that Wilson’s wife works at WINPAC.

And finally, Karl Rove showed his concern for Plame’s possible security status by total indifference. He and Libby discussed their leak week’s efforts on Friday afternoon, but Libby’s GJ testimony on that conversation doesn’t reveal a word on either side expressing concern about whether they might have just exposed a CIA agent or compromised her work. They must have shared a laugh and a thumbs up when Rove said he knew that Novak’s column was coming out. Mission Accomplished. What do you want to bet that Rove had already seen Novak’s column, because it had been given to him by Novak’s and Rove’s Republican lobbyist buddy?

From Patrick Fitzgerald’s closing argument, live blogged here:

DONT YOU THINK THE AMERICAN PEOPLE ARE ENTITELD TO ANSWERS? If as a result his wife had a job, she worked at CPD, she gets dragged into newspapers. People want to find out was a law broken, when people want to know, who did it. What role did Defendant play? What role did VP play? He told you he may have discussed this with VP. Don’t you think FBI deserves straight answers? When you go in that jury room, your common sense will tell you that he made a gamble. He threw sand in the eyes of the FBI. [When Libby lied,] he stole the truth from the judicial system. You return a guilty [verdict] and you give truth back.

If you missed it, check out last nights amazing video in which Jane, Christy and Marcy summarize yesterday’s closing arguments. It’s a keeper. And emptywheel has another great read on what this all might mean for the Vice President.

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley