'Coordination' is not 'conspiracy,' but it's still bad
I continue to be struck by your closing assertion from a couple of days ago that we know what happened in the CIA leak case. But that does not seem to be the case. Witness the fact that people who were always on the administration's side have seized on the fact that multiple members of the Bush administration who did not all get along were blowing Plame's cover at the same time as evidence, strangely enough, that there could not have been a concerted effort to do so. But in fact the trial (and pretrial phase) presented convincing evidence that -- alongside the leaks from Richard Armitage, who had his own reasons; Ari Fleischer, who learned of Plame from Libby; and Karl Rove -- there was a narrow, indeed compartmented effort, by Libby and Cheney, to disclose Plame's CIA employment to one reporter in particular: Judith Miller. In light of the confusion on this point, I'd be interested to hear which parts, if any, of the following, which is based on the evidence produced at trial and in the pretrial phase, you think did not happen. Let's set aside the question of criminal liability and talk about what happened.
It turned out, to most people's surprise (including mine), that the jury found Judith Miller to be a credible witness when she testified that Libby disclosed to her on July 8, 2003 that Joe Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. It helped that she had notes to support her recollection. In fact, Libby's July 8 meeting with Miller was of considerable significance to him and to Vice President Cheney. The trial presented evidence that Cheney and Libby carefully decided Libby should talk to Miller, and strategized in advance of the meeting about what he would say. John Hannah, Libby's replacement as National Security Advisor to Cheney and a defense witness, acknowledged in testimony that if Libby took up to two hours out of his very busy schedule that week to meet with Miller, it must have been an important meeting. Libby's explanation for the meeting was that he was giving Miller an exclusive leak of portions of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, specially and secretly declassified by President Bush in authorizing Libby, via Cheney, to leak it to reporter(s). The trouble with that explanation is that Libby had already leaked the key portion of the NIE -- its claim that Iraq was vigorously pursuing uranium in Africa -- to two reporters, Bob Woodward and David Sanger, in the two weeks preceding his meeting with Miller.
Instead, one important purpose of the meeting with Miller was to leak to her the fact that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA.
One particularly striking piece of evidence -- for the jury as well as for any observer -- was Vice President Cheney's underlined and annotated copy of Joe Wilson's July 6 op-ed. Cheney made a series of rhetorical questions critical of Wilson's mission culminating in this: "did his wife send him on a junket?" This obviously demonstrated Cheney's knowledge of Wilson's wife's CIA employment at the time and its perceived importance to him.
But Fitzgerald also introduced evidence that showed that Cheney personally overhauled the OVP's talking points about Wilson in light of his reactions to the Wilson op-ed. The significance of that evidence is not simply that Cheney's communications staff did what he told them to do. The new primary talking point for public consumption raised the question of who had sent Wilson -- just the question to which Cheney was privately asserting the answer was "Wilson's wife." Put simply, the fact that Cheney was using Plame's CIA employment as his criticism of Wilson in his notes, and the fact that Libby was giving out the information to Miller shortly thereafter, makes it very unlikely that Cheney did not communicate his knowledge of and criticism of Wilson's wife's CIA identity to Libby when they did their compartmented preparation for the Miller interview. That they kept the Miller interview secret from Cathie Martin, Cheney's chief press aide, and that Cheney did not include the information about Plame in his talking points, instead publicly seeking only to raise a question he thought he had the supposedly damning answer to, suggests that he knew the information was sensitive.
Now, whether Cheney explicitly told Libby to blow Plame's cover, or only communicated the information about Wilson's wife working at the CIA to him and repeated his refrain from that week that he wanted to get all the facts out, get everything out -- we don't know, since Libby testified that he could not have heard from Cheney about Plame in preparation for the meeting with Miller since he only learned the information, as though it were new, from Tim Russert a few days later.
As for why Libby and Cheney would have singled out Judith Miller when Libby did not blow Plame's cover to other reporters he was speaking with at the time, there's a very simple answer. No other reporter combined, to the same extent, ideological sympathy with the OVP worldview (along with investment in defending robust prewar claims about Iraq's WMD) and prominence of publication venue at the very heart of the MSM. Or, as Libby himself put it to the grand jury, "I selected Judy Miller because I know her to be a responsible reporter."
The leak failed, because Miller was not really being allowed to publish at the Times, but not for lack of trying on Libby's part.
Not all coordinated efforts have to be vast conspiracies. And the fact that others were conducting themselves inappropriately at the same time should hardly get Cheney and Libby off the hook of public accountability.
Jeff Lomonaco is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Minnesota, where he specializes in political theory. He has been doing analysis of the Libby trial for The American Prospect Online.
Did you even watch Judith Miller's testimony?