In the NYT, Peter Baker presents his version of George Bush’s decision not to pardon Scooter Libby as the best pitch for his new book, Days of Fire, Bush and Cheney in the White House. Given that the piece is not at all newsworthy (and as I’ll show, Baker’s version of it is badly flawed), I suppose Baker thought that Bush’s refusal to fulfill Cheney’s request supports Baker’s contention that Bush, not Cheney, was the dominant player in the relationship.
One piece of evidence Baker provides to support that contention is this quote from Alan Simpson.
Cheney “never did anything in his time serving George W. that George W. didn’t either sanction or approve of,” said Alan Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming and a close friend of Cheney’s.
If Baker believes Simpson’s claim, however, then his entire reading of Cheney’s involvement in leaking Valerie Plame’s identity is wrong (and not just because he quotes Liz Cheney pretending PapaDick had no role in the leak).
Baker provides dialogue suggesting that Bush and certain lawyers — Baker identifies them as White House Counsel Fred Fielding and his Deputy William Burck — debated whether Libby was protecting Cheney.
“All right,” the president said when the lawyers concluded their assessment. “So why do you think he did it? Do you think he was protecting the vice president?”
“I don’t think he was protecting the vice president,” Burck said.
Burck figured that Libby assumed his account would never be contradicted, because prosecutors could not force reporters to violate vows of confidentiality to their sources. “I think also that Libby was concerned,” Burck said. “Because he took to heart what you said back then: that you would fire anybody that you knew was involved in this. I just think he didn’t think it was worth falling on the sword.”
Bush did not seem convinced. “I think he still thinks he was protecting Cheney,” the president said. If that was the case, then Cheney was seeking forgiveness for the man who had sacrificed himself on his behalf.
Baker implies that Bush’s conclusion — that Libby believed he was protecting Cheney — convinced himself it would not be ethical to pardon Libby based on Cheney’s insistence. (Note, whatever you and I were paying Burck, it was far too much, because his logic as portrayed here is pathetically stupid.)
That would imply that Bush believed — Burck’s shitty counsel to the contrary — that Cheney played some role in the leak.
But Alan Simpson, who truly does know Cheney well, says Cheney never did anything without either Bush’s sanction or approval. Which would imply that whatever Cheney did to leak Plame’s identity, he did with the approval of Bush.
Which brings us to the other gaping hole in Baker’s account (aside from his complete misunderstanding of the evidence surrounding the leak itself). Baker uses the word “lawyers” 11 times in this excerpt, including (but not limited to) the following.
In the final days of his presidency, George W. Bush sat behind his desk in the Oval Office, chewing gum and staring into the distance as two White House lawyers briefed him on the possible last-minute pardon of I. Lewis Libby.
“Do you think he did it?” Bush asked.
“Yeah,” one of the lawyers said. “I think he did it.”
At the time, Bush said publicly that he was not substituting his judgment for that of the jury. So how would he explain a change of mind just 18 months later? That was the argument Ed Gillespie, the president’s counselor, made to Cheney when he came to explain why he was advising Bush against a pardon. “On top of that, the lawyers are not making the case for it,” Gillespie told Cheney, referring to the White House attorneys reviewing the case for Bush. “We’ll be asked, ‘Did the lawyers recommend it?’ And if the lawyers didn’t, it’s going to be hard to justify for the president.”
The following Monday, Bush had his final, definitive meeting with the White House lawyers, ending any possibility of reconsideration. There would be no pardon for Libby. [my emphasis]
Lawyers lawyers lawyers. Baker emphasizes how important the counsel of Nixon’s old lawyer and his apparently half-witted deputy were to Bush’s decision, and he implies, with his description of which lawyers Ed Gillespie referred to, that those lawyers were limited to official White House lawyers.
Nowhere — at least nowhere in this excerpt — does Baker mention that Bush also consulted with his own lawyer, Jim Sharp, as reported by Time 4 years ago.
Meanwhile, Bush was running his own traps. He called Jim Sharp, his personal attorney in the Plame case, who had been present when he was interviewed by Fitzgerald in 2004. Sharp was known in Washington as one of the best lawyers nobody knew.
While packing boxes in the upstairs residence, according to his associates, Bush noted that he was again under pressure from Cheney to pardon Libby. He characterized Cheney as a friend and a good Vice President but said his pardon request had little internal support. If the presidential staff were polled, the result would be 100 to 1 against a pardon, Bush joked. Then he turned to Sharp. “What’s the bottom line here? Did this guy lie or not?”
The lawyer, who had followed the case very closely, replied affirmatively.
Yet neither Time then nor Baker now considered the implications of Bush consulting with the lawyer who knew what questions he got asked when Pat Fitzgerald interviewed the President.
Those questions would have included whether — as Libby’s grand jury testimony recorded Cheney as having claimed — the President declassified the information, including Plame’s identity, Cheney ordered Libby to leak to Judy Miller. They also would have included why — as the note above shows — Cheney almost wrote that “
the Pres” had ordered Libby to stick his neck in a meat grinder and rebut Joe Wilson, before he cross out the reference to the President and used the passive voice instead. They would have also included questions about Bush’s public comments about rebutting Wilson in meetings. (I laid out these details in this post.)
Peter Baker pretends that Bush had no personal knowledge of the leak or — more importantly — of Fitzgerald’s reasons for suspecting Cheney ordered the leak. He somehow forgets that Bush consulted his own lawyer, along with Fielding and Fielding’s lackey, either to interpret what Libby did or, more likely, what implications pardoning Libby would have for his own legal exposure.
Which is pretty bizarre. While including these details might make Bush look like a self-interested asshole, they are the only details that make sense if — as Baker suggests with the Simpson quote — whatever Cheney did that required Libby’s protection, he did with Bush’s sanction.
As if the AP and the Administration weren’t already enjoying a contentious relationship, today it details the Administration’s use of second, secret emails.
Some of President Barack Obama’s political appointees, including the secretary for Health and Human Services, are using secret government email accounts they say are necessary to prevent their inboxes from being overwhelmed with unwanted messages, according to a review by The Associated Press.
The scope of using the secret accounts across government remains a mystery: Most U.S. agencies have failed to turn over lists of political appointees’ email addresses, which the AP sought under the Freedom of Information Act more than three months ago. The Labor Department initially asked the AP to pay more than $1 million for its email addresses.
Google can’t find any reference on the Internet to the secret address for HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Congressional oversight committees told the AP they were unfamiliar with the non-public government addresses identified so far by the AP.
Ten agencies have not yet turned over lists of email addresses, including the Environmental Protection Agency; the Pentagon; and the departments of Veterans Affairs, Transportation, Treasury, Justice, Housing and Urban Development, Homeland Security, Commerce and Agriculture. All have said they are working on a response to the AP.
Now, the Administration claims people are doing this just to cut down on clutter in their email boxes. But thus far, it appears that the second emails aren’t being turned over under FOIAs or, if they are, aren’t being identified as belonging to the principal.
And so we move into another chapter of the Executive Branch hiding or deleting emails to avoid transparency, which of course goes back to Poppy Bush’s efforts to hide PROFS notes as part of the Iran-Contra coverup. The National Security Archive’s timeline, of course, misses the several efforts under the Bush Administration to either delete massive amounts of emails, particularly those from sensitive days of the CIA Leak Investigation, and the political staff’s use of RNC email addresses to take emails entirely out of Presidential Records Act retention.
This is getting tiresome: we’re going on 5 presidential administrations now that have played games with emails, a tedious series of efforts to avoid transparency.
Maybe it’s time for Congress to put some real teeth onto laws requiring the President to retain such records?
Dick Cheney’s biggest failures are surely moral. The hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed, senselessly. The thousands of Americans killed, senselessly. The hundreds of thousands, perhaps over a million, on both sides, maimed and poisoned and scarred both physically and mentally.
See Juan Cole and Tomas Young (who will shortly die from wounds suffered in the Iraq War) for an accounting of that cost.
But there has been far too little accounting of the cost of Dick Cheney’s strategic choices.
Dick Cheney spent the first several months of the Bush Administration assessing where the US would get its energy in future years and how that would sustain our hegemonic role in the world. In his autobiographical novel, published in 2011, he had this to say about his Energy Task Force.
The report is one I am very proud of. I commend it to anyone looking to understand America’s energy challenges still today.
The environmental groups that criticized the report are all too often, in my experience, opposed to any increase in the production of conventional sources of energy. They don’t want to drill anyplace. They don’t want to mine coal anyplace. They seem to believe we can depend on alternative sources of energy, such as solar or wind. It’s my view — and it’s the view reflected in the report — that while we should develop alternative sources, in the final analysis, we can’t effectively address our energy problems in the near term nor can we remain competitive in the global economy unless we also produce more energy from conventional, domestic sources.
Right now, none of the alternative sources of energy can compete economically with petroleum and coal and other conventional sources. It’s also the case that time and time again, we have found that developing alternative sources has undesirable, unanticipated consequences. The push for ethanol fuel produced from corn, for example, resulted in driving the price of a bushel of corn up significantly. This had a huge impact on people who used corn for purposes other than fuel — purposes that weren’t subsidized. Cattleman, for example, were suddenly faced with significantly higher feed prices. [my emphasis]
While Cheney’s report did have a chapter on “Nature’s Power,” (which is not, interestingly, one of the two he accused critics of having not read), just one paragraph on any alternative source of power but hydropower shows up on the chapter on “Energy for a New Century.”
Hydropower is, to date, the most successful form of renewable energy. However, some forms of renewable energy generation—wind, geothermal, and biomass— have the potential to make more significant contributions in coming years, and the cost of most forms of renewable energy has declined sharply in recent years. The most important barrier to increased renewable energy production remains economic; nonhydropower renewable energy generation costs are greater than other traditional energy sources. The following chapter discusses renewable and alternative energy in greater detail
Never mind that Cheney’s understanding of the competitiveness of alternatives by 2011, particularly with coal, which the report boosted aggressively, was badly mistaken.
He argued in 2011 — 10 years after 9/11 and 7 years after the Iraq War had descended into a clusterfuck — that alternative energy has some nasty unintended consequences (he might have a point if he talked about how Ethanol contributed to increase food insecurity for actual human beings, which contributes to political instability, but apparently he sees feeding Americans cheap grain fed beef to be a higher priority).
And of course, the nasty unintended consequence that is climate change did not show up in this discussion in the least.
On May 16, 2001, Dick Cheney released a report declaring (based partly on a shortage in CA artificially caused by Enron) an energy crisis, and proposing recommendations to bring more fossil fuels online quickly, as well as nuclear power.
America in the year 2001 faces the most serious energy shortage since the oil embargoes of the 1970s.
This imbalance, if allowed to continue, will inevitably undermine our economy, our standard of living, and our national security.
Present trends are not encouraging, but they are not immutable. They are among today’s most urgent challenges, and well within our power to overcome. Our country has met many great tests. Some have imposed extreme hardship and sacrifice. Others have demanded only resolve, ingenuity, and clar ity of purpose. Such is the case with energy today.
We submit these recommendations with optimism. We believe that the tasks ahead, while great, are achievable. The energy crisis is a call to put to good use the resources around us, and the talents within us. It summons the best of America, and offers the best of rewards – in new jobs, a healthier environment, a stronger economy, and a brighter future for our people.
Four months later, 19 Arabs, 15 of whom were Saudis, destroyed the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon. All of them were motivated, in part, by America’s increasing presence in the Middle East.
The 10th anniversary of the Iraq War has refocused attention on the Iraqis who warned America before the war that Iraq had no WMD.
Naji Sabri, Saddam’s foreign minister, told the CIA’s station chief in Paris at the time, Bill Murray, through an intermediary that Iraq had “virtually nothing” in terms of WMD.
Panorama confirms that three months before the war an MI6 officer met Iraq’s head of intelligence, Tahir Habbush al-Tikriti, who also said that Saddam had no active WMD. The meeting in the Jordanian capital, Amman, took place days before the British government published its now widely discredited Iraqi weapons dossier in September 2002.
But as far as I can tell, there has been no significant media discussion of what happened with Mahmud Faraj Bilal al Samarrai, the Iraqi who, in 1991, destroyed Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons.
Following a particularly invasive IAEA inspection in late-June 1991, Saddam ordered Dr. Mahmud Faraj Bilal, former deputy of the CW program, to destroy all hidden CW and BW materials, according to an interview with Bilal after OIF.
ISG interviewed Dr. Mahmud Firaj Bilal, the Iraqi scientist who supervised the destruction of Iraq’s undeclared chemical munitions, along with a number of Iraqi higher officials who were knowledgeable of the weapons destruction. Although other sources have corroborated parts of Dr. Bilal’s account, ISG’s understanding of Iraq’s chemical and biological warfare agent unilateral destruction is heavily dependent on Dr. Bilal’s information, which is a weakness in our analysis. Nevertheless, as with Iraq’s long range missiles, we obtained a reasonably coherent account of the disposition of the CW munitions, though we were not able physically to verify the story. The UN has, however, verified some of it.
When Bilal was finally released last year (according to his lawyer, the very last scientist in custody to be released) Charles Duelfer reported his statements–the statements describing the destruction of the CW/BW we started a war to find–were mostly credible.
Bilal was interviewed at length by UN inspectors and Iraq Survey Group inspectors. His statements have not been found to be in great error. Yet he spent 9 years in jail. His superior in the Iraq CW program, General Faiz Abdullah Shahine (head of the infamous CW research and production facility known as the al Muthanna State Establishment) was never even detained and has reportedly lived a very successful business life–as he did during the Saddam regime.
Yet Duelfer, who has a piece today insisting the intelligence wasn’t cooked, professed last year to have no idea why Bilal was held so long.
Why? Bilal, must have been asking himself this question for a long time. I suspect “Why?” is a question many Iraqis ask themselves every day…
Maybe this is why:
In a letter to the CIA in 2006, made public by his lawyer, the former head of research and development at the military industries ministry recalled that he had given himself up to the CIA on March 2, 2003.
The guy who destroyed Saddam’s CW/BW stocks 12 years before Bush started a war because of those WMD tried to turn himself in to the CIA more than two weeks before Bush started the Iraq War. And yet that guy — who has never been anything but cooperative, even according to Charles Duelfer, but who tried to avert the war — is the guy our allies in Iraq kept locked up for 9 years.
10 years ago today, George Bush gave his final warning to Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq or face war. While the first half of Bush’s speech cited Saddam’s purported refusal to give up his WMD program, the second half of the speech was littered with insinuations about Saddam’s terrorist allies.
If Saddam Hussein attempts to cling to power, he will remain a deadly foe until the end. In desperation, he and terrorists groups might try to conduct terrorist operations against the American people and our friends. These attacks are not inevitable. They are, however, possible. And this very fact underscores the reason we cannot live under the threat of blackmail. The terrorist threat to America and the world will be diminished the moment that Saddam Hussein is disarmed.
We are now acting because the risks of inaction would be far greater. In one year, or five years, the power of Iraq to inflict harm on all free nations would be multiplied many times over. With these capabilities, Saddam Hussein and his terrorist allies could choose the moment of deadly conflict when they are strongest. We choose to meet that threat now, where it arises, before it can appear suddenly in our skies and cities.
Terrorists and terror states do not reveal these threats with fair notice, in formal declarations — and responding to such enemies only after they have struck first is not self-defense, it is suicide. The security of the world requires disarming Saddam Hussein now. [my emphasis]
We know that Dick Cheney tried, in the days leading up to this speech and an earlier March 14 one, to boost these vague allegations in part by resuscitating the claim that Mohammed Atta met with Iraqi diplomat-spook Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani in April 2001. The CIA pushed back hard on the claim. An account of that fight is one of the most significant redactions in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2006 assessment of the bullshit lies told to get us into Iraq (see numbered page 96), as explained by Mark Hosenball.
According to two sources familiar with the blacked-out portions of the Senate report that discuss the CIA cable’s contents, the document indicates that White House officials had proposed mentioning the supposed Atta-Prague meeting in a Bush speech scheduled for March 14, 2003. Originated by Czech intelligence shortly after 9/11, the tendentious claim was that in April 2001, Atta, the 9/11 hijack leader, had met in Prague with the local station chief for Iraqi intelligence. The sources said that upon learning of the proposed White House speech, the CIA station in Prague sent back a cable explaining in detail why the agency believed the anecdote was ill-founded. Continue reading
I’ve been in an car dealer service waiting room all morning, so I’m late to the story about Barack Obama telling Jello Jay Rockefeller he’s not as bad as Dick Cheney.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) confronted the president over the administration’s refusal for two years to show congressional intelligence committees Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel memos justifying the use of lethal force against American terror suspects abroad.
In response to Rockefeller’s critique, Obama said he’s not involved in drafting such memos, the senators told POLITICO. He also tried to assure his former colleagues that his administration is more open to oversight than that of President George W. Bush, whom many Democratic senators attacked for secrecy and for expanding executive power in the national security realm.
“This is not Dick Cheney we’re talking about here,” he said, according to Democratic senators who asked not to be named discussing the private meeting.
Aside from the fact that — as I’ve pointed out — Obama is actually worse than the last year of the Bush Administration, when Acting OLC head Steven Bradbury was sharing OLC memos with Congress, I’m struck that Obama seems to forget he is the President, not the Vice President.
The comparison still is inapt. George Bush didn’t write any Executive Orders pretending to be transparent and his classification Executive Order effective empowered Dick Cheney to classify and instadeclassify at will (an authority that John Brennan seemed to use while he was in the White House).
But like Bush, Obama has people working for him who are as allergic to oversight as Dick Cheney. I pointed out yesterday, for example, that Obama’s Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, thinks he shouldn’t even answer questions in open session and tried to stop publishing the number of people with security clearances.
Under Bush, DOD hid pictures of coffins; under Obama DOD just started hiding numbers of drone strikes.
Cheney went to the mat to hide who he had met with on his Energy Task Force. Obama’s National Security Council went to the mat to hide any mention that the President had authorized the torture program — and they hid it, they explained, because they were still using that very same authorization (though to do thinks like engage in targeted killings).
Obama seems to be hiding behind his own stated good intention (even while he admitted to Democratic Senators he would feel the way they do now if he were still in the Senate) just like Bush hid by his stated good intention that no one would leak the name of a CIA officer. Both, meanwhile, were either ignoring or pretending to ignore the sheer paranoia about secrecy of the men that work for them.
At the time he wrote the white paper, Delery was Senior Counselor to Attorney General Eric Holder. Last March, he became Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Division of DOJ and, in the absence of an Assistant AG (or, as far as I can tell, even a nominee, in which case this feels a lot like what George Bush did with Steven Bradbury when he left the Acting head in charge for years on end), the Acting head of the Civil Division.
As I also noted, Delery actually argued the government’s case in the ACLU’s Drone FOIA on September 20, 2012. Now, that’s the ACLU’s other drone FOIA, not the one specifically requesting information that should have included the unclassified white paper Delery wrote if DOJ had answered the FOIA in good faith.
Nevertheless, it asked for closely related information:
The Request seeks a variety of records relating to the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to conduct targeted killings, including the legal basis for the strikes and any legal limits on who may be targeted; where targeted drone strikes can occur; civilian casualties; which agencies or other non-governmental entities may be involved in conducting targeted killings; how the results of individual drone strikes are assessed after the fact; who may operate and direct targeted killing strikes; and how those involved in operating the program are supervised, overseen or disciplined.
At the time ACLU submitted the request on January 13, 2010, Delery was in the Deputy Attorney General’s Office. DOJ responded to its part of the FOIA on February 3, 2010 — 16 days after DOJ worked on a briefing on targeted killing Eric Holder would make to President Obama and 15 days after he delivered that briefing — by claiming only FBI would have responsive records. When FBI searched its records it found none. DOJ made that initial response 6 days before someone in DAG — Delery’s office — wrote an email to OLC about the Holder briefing.
So while DOJ’s non-responsiveness in the drone FOIA is not as egregious as it was in the Awlaki FOIA, it’s still clear that the department Delery worked in, if not (as in the Awlaki FOIA) Delery’s work itself, was shielded from FOIA by a disingenuous FOIA response.
Yet Delery, the Acting head of the Civil Division, nevertheless decided he should argue the government’s case. Technically, Delery was arguing for CIA’s right to pretend it hadn’t confirmed its role in drone strikes in spite of repeated public statements doing just that, so he wasn’t defending the non-disclosure of his Department’s work, per se. Still, it’s not generally considered good form for a lawyer to argue a matter in which he has been so closely involved. He did so, however, at a time before we knew just how centrally involved he was in this matter.
With all that in mind, I thought I’d look at what Delery said to the DC Circuit.
MR. DELERY: May it please the Court, Stuart Delery for the Appellee, CIA.
This Court in several cases has identified two important interests that the strict test for official confirmation serves. It protects the Government’s vital interest in information related to national security and foreign affairs, and it advances FOIA’s interest in disclosure by not punishing officials for attempting to educate the public on matters of public concern because otherwise officials would be reluctant to speak on important national security matters.
Here, the Government has acknowledged that the United States makes efforts to target specific terrorists as part of its counter-terrorism operations, that as part of those operations or, in some cases, those operations involve the use of remotely piloted aircraft or drones, and it’s also described the legal framework and standards that apply in this context in a series of speeches and interviews including by the President’s counter-terrorism advisor, John Brennan, but also the Attorney General, the legal advisor to the State Department, the General Council of DOD, and as has been referenced in yesterday’s or the recent exchange of 28J letters including a recent interview by the President. But, there’s been no official acknowledgment one way or the other about whether the CIA is involved in these particular operations. [my emphasis]
Delery suggests that a series of Leon Panetta comments (both before and after he moved from CIA to DOD) making the CIA’s role in drone killing clear should not amount to confirmation that the CIA is involved in drone killing because, he says, FOIA’s interest in disclosure should not punish public officials for attempting to educate the public.
Or, to put it another way, the Administration giving a bunch of self-serving speeches should not then make the topic of those speeches subject to FOIA because, in Delery’s mind, that would work contrary to FOIA’s support for disclosure because it would punish officials for giving self-serving speeches.
Gen. John Allen, the top American and NATO commander in Afghanistan, is under investigation for what a senior defense official said early Tuesday was “inappropriate communication’’ with Jill Kelley, the woman in Tampa who was seen as a rival for David H. Petraeus’s attentions by Paula Broadwell, the woman who had an extramarital affair with Mr. Petraeus.
In a statement released to reporters on his plane en route to Australia early Tuesday, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said that the F.B.I. had informed him on Sunday of its investigation of General Allen.
Mr. Panetta turned the matter over to the Pentagon’s inspector general to conduct its own investigation into what the defense official said were 20,000 to 30,000 pages of documents, many of them e-mails between General Allen and Ms. Kelley, who is married with children.
Really, at this point, what can you even say about the secret storm soap opera that roils within the rarified brass air of the US Military? This was just the last hit for a night that saw the emergence of the Shirtless FBI Guy (now under investigation himself by the Office of Professional Responsibility at DOJ) to a nightime search of Paula Broadwell’s home by the FBI.
There are too many tentacles, evolving too quickly, to go too deep on all the facts that have rolled out even in the last twelve hours. But the General Allen/Jill Kelley bit is fascinating. Remember, the handful of emails Paula Broadwell sent to Kelley reportedly did not mention Petraeus by name. This latest report at least raises the possibility Broadwell was referring to an inappropriate relationship between Kelley and Allen, and not Kelley and Petraeus. I am not saying such is Continue reading
In March 2011, I noted a previously unreleased OLC memo mentioned in Jack Goldsmith’s May 6, 2004 illegal wiretapping memo seemingly giving the President broad authority to learn about grand jury investigations.
For example, this Office has concluded that, despite statutory restrictions upon the use of Title III wiretap information and restrictions on the use of grand jury information under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e), the President has an inherent constitutional authority to receive all foreign intelligence information in the hands of the government necessary for him to fulfill his constitutional responsibilities and that statutes and rules should be understood to include an implied exception so as not to interfere with that authority. See Memorandum for the Deputy Attorney General from Jay S. Bybee, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel, Re: Effect of the Patriot Act on Disclosure to the President and Other Federal Officials of Grand Jury and Title III Information Relating to National Security and Foreign Affairs 1 (July 22, 2002)
The Brennan Center has now liberated that memo (though they don’t yet have it linked). And it shows that in July 2002, Jay Bybee interpreted a section of the PATRIOT Act that expanded information-sharing to include sharing grand jury information, with no disclosure, with the President and his close aides.
The notion that grand jury testimony should be secret dates back to at least the seventeenth century. The rules governing disclosure of grand jury proceedings are set by the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure; prior to the PATRIOT Act, those rules declared that grand jury information could be shared only under certain circumstances, such as when the material was necessary to assist a prosecutor. However, disclosures had to be reported to a judge, and everyone receiving the information had to be told of its confidentiality.
The PATRIOT Act changed these rules significantly. Government lawyers could now share “any grand-jury matter involving foreign intelligence, counterintelligence …, or foreign intelligence information” with nearly any federal official, including those working in law enforcement, intelligence, immigration, national defense, or national security. Even records about a grand jury’s deliberations or a particular grand juror’s vote were apparently fair game. And the standard for sharing the information was not whether the material was “necessary” to the official’s duties; instead, the information need only “assist” the official in some way.
First, although the rule expressly requires that disclosures of grand jury information be reported to the court, Bybee advised that disclosures to the president need not be reported lest they “infringe on the presumptively confidential nature of presidential communications.” (OLC had previously decided that similar disclosures to the president would be reportable in some circumstances but not in others.) In addition, disclosures to the president’s “close advisors” – including the president’s chief of staff, the vice president, and counsel to the president – could be kept secret as well. While only “information that is actually necessary for the President to discharge his constitutional duties” could be secretly disclosed to the president or his advisors, that requirement is highly unlikely to be tested in practice.
Permitting the content of deliberations or a grand juror’s vote to be shared secretly with the vice president is surprising enough. The memo goes much further, however. Once an attorney for the government has shared grand jury information with anyone – the president, one of his close advisors, or any other federal official whose duties are listed above – the person receiving the information can share it with anyone else without reporting to the court. That later disclosure, according to the memo’s crabbed reasoning, is not a disclosure “under” the rule, and therefore is not bound by the reporting requirement.
And there’s more: the recipient of one of those subsequent distributions can use the information for any purpose. Because these down-the-line releases are not technically disclosures “under” the rule, the “official duties” constraint does not apply.
I’ll have more to say about this once I get the memo.
But imagine how it might be used in, say, the Valerie Plame or the Thomas Drake investigations. They were, after all, investigations about the unauthorized disclosure of foreign intelligence information. They also happened to be investigations into Dick Cheney’s law-breaking, but they were ostensibly about leaks of precisely the kind of information Jay Bybee permitted be shared with the President and … the Vice President. And in the case of the Plame leak, once Cheney got a hold of the information, he could share it with Karl Rove who could do whatever the fuck he wanted with it.
Mind you, once Pat Fitzgerald got put in charge, I doubt such sharing happened on the Plame case–at least not before August 2005, when Jim Comey retired. After that, who’s to say what David Margolis, the master of institutional self-preservation, might have done with grand jury information implicating top White House officials?
And, yes, by all appearances, this memo remains operative.
Update: Here’s the memo. And here’s the operative passage:
Although the new provision in Rule 6(e) requires that any such disclosures be reported to the district court responsible for supervising the grand jury, disclosures made to the President fall outside the scope of the reporting requirement contained in that amendment, as do related subsequent disclosures made to other officials on the President’s behalf.
As a number of outlets have reported, DOD has written a threatening letter to Matt Bissonnette, the Navy SEAL whose memoir comes out next week.
But I think they’re misunderstanding part of the nature of the threat (though Mark Zaid, a lawyer who has represented a lot of spooks in cases like this one, alludes to it here, which I’ll return to). Here are, in my opinion, the two most important parts of the letter. First, DOD’s General Counsel Jeh Johnson addressed it to Penguin’s General Counsel as the custodian for the pseudonymous writer he makes clear he knows the real identity of elsewhere in the letter.
Mr. “Mark Owen”
c/o Alexander Gigante, Esquire
Penguin Putnam, Inc.
That, by itself, is not a big deal. But it does mean Johnson knows Penguin’s GC will read this letter.
More importantly, here’s how Johnson ended the letter:
I write to formally advise you of your material breach and violation of your agreements, and to inform you that the Department is considering pursuing against you, and all those acting in concert with you, all remedies legally available to us in light of this situation. [my emphasis]
That is, DOD is also considering legal remedies against “those acting in concert” with Bissonnette.
As far as we know, the only people acting in concert with Bissonnette are at Penguin’s imprint of Dutton. Thus, as much as this is a threat to Bissonnette, it’s also a threat to Penguin.
Which would make sense because–as Zaid points out–the government has been trying to push the application of the Espionage Act to those sharing classified information since the AIPAC trial.
Mark Zaid, a lawyer who has represented a variety of former military and intelligence officials in disclosure and leak cases, said the Johnson letter looked like a signal that the Pentagon was “contemplating a test case against the publisher or media for disclosing classified information.”