Elizabeth de la Vega gives a brief description of the formation of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG) which figures so prominently in the CheneyGate story: The White House Criminal Conspiracy TomDispatch.com 10/31/05. As the title implies, the article sketches out a legal case for conspiracy and impeachment; the author is a former federal prosecutor. But it also has good historical information, like this:
But by August 2002, despite the Administration's efforts, public and Congressional support for the war was waning. So Chief of Staff Andrew Card organized the White House Iraq Group, of which Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove was a member, to market the war.
The PR campaign intensified Sunday, September 8. On that day the New York Times quoted anonymous "officials" who said Iraq sought to buy aluminum tubes suitable for centrifuges used in uranium enrichment. The same morning, in a choreographed performance worthy of Riverdance, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Gen. Richard Myers said on separate talk shows that the aluminum tubes were suitable only for centrifuges and so proved Iraq's pursuit of nuclear weapons.
If, as Jonathan Schell put it, the allegation that Iraq tried to purchase uranium from Niger is "one of the most rebutted claims in history," the tubes story is a close second. The CIA and the Energy Department had been debating the issue since 2001. And the Energy Department's clear opinion was that the tubes were not suited for use in centrifuges; they were probably intended for military rockets. Given the lengthy debate and the importance of the tubes, it's impossible to believe that the Bush team was unaware of the nuclear experts' position. So when Bush officials said that the tubes were "only really suited" for centrifuge programs, they were committing fraud, either by lying outright or by making recklessly false statements.
Quoting again from Joe Wilson's The Politics of Truth (2004), he relates how on March 7, 2003, still before the invasion of Iraq, the later Nobel prize winner Dr. Mohamed El Baradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), revealed publicly that the infamous Niger documents were phony. Obvious forgeries, actually.
Wilson writes about the how central the administration's claims about Iraq's nuclear program were to the case for war:
In the early months of 2003, the leaders of the political Right held the megaphone, and they were bellowing into it to push for war. By the time we invaded Iraq, a majority of Americans believed that Saddam had been responsible for the attacks on our territory and that he already possessed nuclear weapons. "We cannot wait for the final proof - the smoking gun - that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud," the president warned us in his October 8, 2002, speech in Cincinnati, to make the case to the American people for the congressional resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq.
The president and his senior advisers had used the "mushroom cloud" metaphor repeatedly over the months to pump up support for war. Now, with the IAEA'S revelation that no negotiation for the Iraqi purchase of uranium from Niger had ever taken place, one key element underpinning the charge against Iraq was acknowledged to have been based on a fraud. The only other piece of information that the administration had marshaled as evidence of Saddam's nuclear intentions was a claim that aluminum tubes purchased by Iraq, but seized before they could reach their destination, were for centrifuges that could be used to enrich uranium and create fissile material. However, experts throughout the government, including at the Department of Energy, had concluded that the tubes were ill suited for that function. In fact, they matched the specifications for artillery rockets and were more likely to have been purchased for that purpose, as David Kay later concluded.
Aluminum tubes ill suited for enriching uranium that did not exist constituted a compound lie that badly undermined the argument that Iraq had posed a grave and gathering danger to the United States. It cut to the heart of the case for war. The casual fashion in which the administration subsequently dismissed the revelation that the uranium charge was false was inexcusable. (my emphasis)
The motives of the Plame-outing conspirators are impossible to understand without this context. The "mushroom cloud" propaganda about Saddam's nuclear weapons program were far and away the most persuasive part of the administration's case for war, both with Congress and the public. And, based on the information now publicly available, that claim was based on those two things: the forged Niger documents and the false claims about the aluminum tubes.
Wilson's criticism of the critical Niger claim did indeed "cut to the heart of the case for war." And that's why they WMD frauds used to justify the Iraq War are inherently a part of the Libby case and the larger CheneyGate scandal.