Sunday, April 9, 2006

Bush and the Valerie Plame case

Via Tom Engelhardt's TomDispatch site, Jason Leopold at is reporting that Patrick Fitzgerald's case in the Valerie Plame Wilson outing is about to place Bush in a tougher position:  Bush at Center of Intelligence Leak 04/06/06.  He writes:

Attorneys and current and former White House officials close to the investigation into the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson said Thursday that President Bush gave Vice President Dick Cheney the authorization in mid-June 2003 to disclose a portion of the highly sensitive National Intelligence Estimate to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward and former New York Times reporter Judith Miller.

These current and former White House officials are among the 36 witnesses who have testified before a grand jury and have been cooperating with the special counsel's probe since its inception.

The officials, some of whom are attorneys close to the case, added that more than two dozen emails that the vice president's office said it recently discovered and handed over to leak investigators in February show that President Bush was kept up to date about the circumstances surrounding the effort to discredit former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

The sources indicated that the leak probe is now winding down, and that soon, new information will emerge from the special counsel's office that will prove President Bush had prior knowledge of the White House campaign to discredit Plame Wilson's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who accused the administration of "twisting" intelligence on the Iraqi threat in order to win public support for the war.

The new information that surfaced late Wednesday places President Bush at the center of the probe for the first time since the investigation into the leak began more than two years ago and raises new questions as to whether Bush knew in advance the lengths to which senior White House officials went to discredit Wilson.

This gives new immediacy to this article by John Dean:  The Serious Implications Of President Bush's Hiring A Personal Outside Counsel For The Valerie Plame Investigation 06/04/06.  He wrote then:

It is possible that Bush is consulting Sharp [his attorney] only out of an excess of caution - despite the fact that he knows nothing of the leak, or of any possible coverup of the leak. But that's not likely.

On this subject, I spoke with an experienced former federal prosecutor who works in <?XML:NAMESPACE PREFIX = ST1 />Washington, specializing in white collar criminal defense (but who does not know Sharp). That attorney told me that he is baffled by Bush's move - unless Bush has knowledge of the leak. "It would not seem that the President needs to consult personal counsel, thereby preserving the attorney-client privilege, if he has no knowledge about the leak," he told me.

What advice might Bush get from a private defense counsel? The lawyer I consulted opined that, "If he does have knowledge about the leak and does not plan to disclose it, the only good legaladvice would be to take the Fifth, rather than lie. The political fallout is a separate issue."

I raised the issue of whether the President might be able to invoke executive privilege as to this information. But the attorney I consulted - who is well versed in this area of law - opined that "Neither 'outing' Plame, nor covering for the perpetrators would seem to fall within the scope of any executive privilege that I am aware of."

That may not stop Bush from trying to invoke executive privilege, however - or at least from talking to his attorney about the option. As I have discussed in one of my prior columns, Vice President Dick Cheney has tried to avoid invoking it in implausible circumstances - in the case that is now before the U.S .Supreme Court. Rather he claims he is beyond the need for the privilege, and simply cannot be sued.

Suffice it to say that whatever the meaning of Bush's decision to talk with private counsel about the Valerie Plame leak, the matter has taken a more ominous turn with Bush's action. It has only become more portentous because now Dick Cheney has also hired a lawyer for himself, suggesting both men may have known more than they let on. Clearly, the investigation is heading toward a culmination of some sort. And it should be interesting.  (my emphasis)

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