Elliott Abrams: A Convicted Liar Defends a Convicted Liar’s Boss by Lying

Elliott Abrams makes a good point: the “reviews,” thus far, of Cheney’s book have focused on particular incidents rather than on the scope of the narrative. Once I get done with it, I plan to do a full review, which I think would have been better titled, “Portrait of the Evil Bureaucrat as a Young Man.”

Yet the sole defense of the full memoir Abrams offers is an assertion that Cheney’s principles as Vice President remained the same as those that guided him when he protected the illegal acts of the Iran-Contra conspirators.

I first knew Cheney when he was chairman of the Republican Policy Committee in the House of Representatives (from 1981 to 1987), and our discussions centered then on the wars in Central America. Neither controversy nor scandal shook his view that preventing communist takeovers in that region was an important goal for the United States. Later, when I served at Bush’s National Security Council, I sometimes worked with Cheney, then vice president. Despite those who claim he changed over time, I did not find that so. The central qualities remained: total devotion to principle and to country, and complete and unswerving commitment to any policy he believed served American interests.

Curiously, Abrams neglects to admit that Cheney’s embrace of illegal means amounted to an embrace of Abrams’ own illegal means. No wonder Abrams is so fawning!

But the rest of Abrams’ piece on Cheney does precisely what he criticizes others for: relitigating individual events, notably Cheney’s policy differences with Condi Rice and Colin Powell.

Which is how he sets up his rather bizarre claim that Cheney never leaked.

Many use leaks to protect their personal interests. Cheney did none of these things. When he differed from a policy he told the president so, privately, and told the press and those outside the White House nothing — a practice that earned him unending attacks in the media from gossip-hungry journalists.


As to Powell, the criticism is more personal, for Cheney accuses him of criticizing the president and his policies to people outside the administration and of constant leaking.

Powell himself has admitted that he could not continue after 2004 because his views could not be reconciled with those of Bush. He has not admitted to the leaking, but the leaks by Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage, were too widely known in Washington to require any additional proof. And as to Cheney’s indictment of Powell and Armitage for standing by while Scooter Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff, was unjustly prosecuted for the leak of Valerie Plame’s name, the facts are in; the complaint is justified.

Just as a reminder, Abrams was, himself, one of those initially listed among the leakers of Valerie Plame’s identity and we never learned Judy Miller’s sources for Plame’s identity besides Scooter Libby, so perhaps here again he is lauding Cheney for protecting him.

But even aside from Abrams’ factually incorrect statement of the facts revealed at the Libby trial–notably, that Libby lied to hide the fact that Cheney had ordered him to leak information, possibly including Plame’s identity, to Judy Miller–he ignores the leak Cheney’s office used as cover for their conversations with Bob Novak on July 7, the day before Novak asked Armitage questions that elicited Plame’s identity. On July 7, Cheney’s office spoke to Novak, purportedly in an attempt to scotch Frances Fragos Townsend’s appointment as Bush’s Homeland Security Advisor (precisely the kind of leak, Abrams says, Cheney didn’t do). And just as a reminder, Cheney was the only person known to have refused to release journalists he spoke to about Joe Wilson and Plame from their confidentiality agreements.

Elliott Abrams’ post amounts to a celebration that Dick Cheney would use any means–even illegal means–to achieve the ends he believed important, something Abrams himself has done too. And in support of that celebration, this convicted liar lies about Cheney and leaks; he lies about the substance of another convicted liar’s lies.

So I guess Abrams did pay tribute to Cheney’s entire life memoir after all.

Lindsey Graham Calls Raymond Davis an “Agent”

AFP has a report (notably picked up by Pakistan’s Dawn) on the Senate’s hand-wringing over whether we should tie aid to Pakistan to the release of Raymond Davis, the “consulate employee” who shot two alleged Pakistani spies. Here’s what Lindsey Graham had to say:

But Senator Lindsey Graham, the top Republican on Leahy’s subcommittee, strongly warned against any rollback of assistance to Pakistan, citing the need for help in the war in Afghanistan and the hunt for suspected terrorists.

“Our relationship’s got to be bigger than this,” Graham said.

“This is a friction point, this is a troubling matter, it doesn’t play well in Afghanistan. We can’t throw this agent over, I don’t know all the details, but we cannot define the relationship based on one incident because it is too important at a time when we’re making progress in Afghanistan,” he said. [my emphasis]

Lindsey, Lindsey, Lindsey! Under Ben Cardin’s proposed law criminalizing leaks (and, frankly, under existing law), you could go to jail for such honesty. Good thing you have immunity as a member of Congress.

Though in the spirit of Bob Novak–who claimed to be thinking of a political professional running congressional campaigns in Dick Cheney’s state when he called Valerie Plame an “operative”–I suppose Graham could claim he just thought Davis serves some kind of service employee at the consulate, one of the “agents” that help with visas or some such nonsense.

Not that that’ll help the tensions over this incident in Pakistan at all.

Joe Lieberman Threatens to Put Dexter Filkins, Judy Miller in Jail to Fearmonger over Wikileaks

Joe Lieberman has introduced what he claims to be a law targeted at Wikileaks.

“The recent dissemination by Wikileaks of thousands of State Department cables and other documents is just the latest example of how our national security interests, the interests of our allies, and the safety of government employees and countless other individuals are jeopardized by the illegal release of classified and sensitive information,” said Lieberman in a written statement.

“This legislation will help hold people criminally accountable who endanger these sources of information that are vital to protecting our national security interests,” he continued.

The so-called SHIELD Act (Securing Human Intelligence and Enforcing Lawful Dissemination) would amend a section of the Espionage Act that already forbids publishing classified information on U.S. cryptographic secrets or overseas communications intelligence — i.e., wiretapping. The bill would extend that prohibition to information on HUMINT, human intelligence, making it a crime to publish information “concerning the identity of a classified source or informant of an element of the intelligence community of the United States,” or “concerning the human intelligence activities of the United States or any foreign government” if such publication is prejudicial to U.S. interests.

Problem is, not only would it not endanger Wikileaks (as far as we know). But it would put both good journalists–like Dexter Filkins–and bad ones–like Judy Miller and Bob Novak–in jail.

As far as we know, Wikileaks has been successful in its dumps at hiding the identities of any intelligence sources. (It has exposed one of State Department’s moles in Germany, who has been fired. But a diplomatic source is not an intelligence source, is it?)

But other journalists do expose sources. Such as when Dexter Filkins reported on how much the CIA has been shoveling at Ahmed Wali Karzai. Or when Judy Judy Judy exposed the CIA ties of a Ahmed Chalabi rival. And then, of course, there’s that little matter of Bob Novak and Valerie Plame.

This is all getting really, really stupid. Doesn’t Joe Lieberman have anything better to do with his time? Like funnelling money to the TSA for some other invasive search machine? Or giving the uber-rich big tax breaks?

Karl Rove’s Self-Delusions Hit New Heights–Forgets He Outed Valerie Plame

Okay, this is one for the ages.

Karl Rove is out today with what is presumably an excerpt from his book, revealing his biggest mistake. He doesn’t verbalize what that mistake is, really. Rather, he bitches about a list of Democrats.

But the initial complaint appears to be that on July 15, 2003, Ted Kennedy accused George Bush of lying to get us into the Iraq war.

Seven years ago today, in a speech on the Iraq war, Sen. Ted Kennedy fired the first shot in an all-out assault on President George W. Bush’s integrity. “All the evidence points to the conclusion,” Kennedy said, that the Bush administration “put a spin on the intelligence and a spin on the truth.” Later that day Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle told reporters Mr. Bush needed “to be forthcoming” about the absence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Thus began a shameful episode in our political life whose poisonous fruits are still with us.


At the time, we in the Bush White House discussed responding but decided not to relitigate the past. That was wrong and my mistake: I should have insisted to the president that this was a dagger aimed at his administration’s heart. What Democrats started seven years ago left us less united as a nation to confront foreign challenges and overcome America’s enemies.

July 15, 2003 was, of course, the day after Bob Novak–acting on a leak involving Richard Armitage, Scooter Libby, and Karl Rove himself–outed Valerie Plame. Before Ted Kennedy said the first mean thing about Bush, Rove had already leaked to at least Novak and Matt Cooper, and OVP was leaking even more wildly (and it should be said, leaking classified information to the WSJ, where Rove’s piece appears, to make their case).

But now Karl Rove says “the Bush White House discussed responding but decided not to relitigate the past”?!?!?

Aside from the fact that Rove’s op-ed operates on the erroneous foundation that the Administration shared all the intelligence they juiced up with Congress (they didn’t), the entire op-ed is based on an absolutely delusional sense of timing.

And a convenient silence about what the White House had already done, in concert, before Ted Kennedy correctly accused the President of lying us into war.

The Secrets Novak Brings to the Grave

I tried to say nothing when news of Novak’s announcement came. I had nothing good to say, though my own father died of brain cancer and I empathize with Novak and his family for that–it is a horrible way to die, particularly for someone whose identity was tied with his intellect.

But I couldn’t resist a snark on twitter: 

Cue Woodward claiming he got deathbed confession about what really happened during the 7/9/03 conversation Novak & Libby hid.

Perhaps Woodward will–as he did with Reagan’s CIA Director and Iran-Contra co-conspirator, Bill Casey, who also died of brain cancer–make dubious claims about deathbed conversations with Novak.

But the fact is that Novak died with most of his role in the Plame outing still shrouded in secrecy. That’s partly true because of the significant changes in Novak’s story over time. All of the following Novak claims changed as the stage of the investigation suited:

  • Whether he understood the leak was intended to seed a story or it was an offhand remark
  • From whom he learned the name "Plame," changing from "they" (his sources, then in the plural, not "two"), to possibly Who’s Who, to definitely Who’s Who
  • From whom he learned that Valerie Wilson worked in counterproliferation and whether that person made it clear this meant she was covert
  • His use of the word "operative" and whether he really confused Valerie Wilson with someone running a congressional campaign in Wyoming (really! he claimed to have–and other journalists bought it!) 
  • From whom he learned that Joe Wilson had learned that an "Iraqi delegation had tried to establish commercial contacts"–a detail that was in the CIA report on Wilson’s trip (which remained classified until after Novak spoke to his claimed sources for the story), though Novak used the wrong date for it
  • When he spoke to Rove–which changed from July 9 to maybe July 8 or 9

On all those details, Novak’s story changed repeatedly. And then there’s one I’ve never heard anyone ask: from whom Novak got the talking point, "The White House, the State Department and the Pentagon, and not just Vice President Cheney, asked the CIA to look into it," a talking point that shows up in Libby’s note from Cheney on Plame’s identity and may appear in Judy Miller’s notes.

Yet today, most journalists assume Novak’s final answers–the ones that eventually shielded Rove and Libby and Cheney from most consequences–were truthful, and believe they know what happened.

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Why Was the White House Searching for Plame-Wilson-Novak Emails Dated May 1, 2003?

William Ockham made a really important discovery. One of the files turned over to CREW has search files from September and November 2004 relating to the Plame investigation. Look at pages 44-46 for Rove and Cooper searches and page 49 for Plame Wilson Novak searches.

Of particular interest, here are the days on which they were apparently searching for Plame Wilson Novak emails dated:

May 1, 2003
May 9, 2003
May 16, 2003
May 27, 2003
June 2, 2003
June 23, 2003
June 30, 2003
July 7, 2003
July 12, 2003
July 24, 2003
August 8, 2003
August 13, 2003
August 27, 2003
August 29, 2003 
October 9, 2003

Now, I’m not entirely sure what these dates mean, but my guess is they were a search run overnight on September 23, 2004 for appearances of Plame, Wilson, or Novak on particular dates, and the search results came back the next morning–September 24, 2004. That timing makes sense–it was when Patrick Fitzgerald had strong suspicions that Novak had talked to people in the White House about Plame. And, it was certainly after Fitz developed suspicions he wasn’t getting all the email (he asked Libby about the dearth of email in his name in March 2004). 

So that timing makes sense. As do most of the dates searched. On June 2, OVP was panicking about a Walter Pincus article. The June 23 date is when Novak probably set up his meeting with Armitage and its the day Libby first leaked Plame’s name to Judy. July 7, 2003 is the day when OVP decided to more aggressively leak Plame’s name, and also a day when Novak was purportedly reporting on his Frances Fragos Townsend story, almost certainly with OVP. July 12 is when the White House started leaking Plame’s name in anticipation of the Novak article, which was on the wire. The later days are all plausible dates of conversation with Novak. (Though note, they don’t include July 8 or 9, 2003, when we know Novak spoke with Rove and Libby respectively about the Wilsons.

But May 1, 2003?

Before the Nicholas Kristof column came out? The day before Wilson and Kristof first spoke?

Like Teddy, Novak Couldn’t Stay Away

cbl posted a link to this Novak piece over on the mother ship.

Reports of strong support within John McCain’s presidential campaign for Independent Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman as the Republican candidate for vice president are not a fairy tale. Influential McCain backers, plus McCain himself, would pick the pro-choice liberal from Connecticut if they thought they could get away with it.

But they can’t get away with it — and this has been made clear to McCain by none other than Joe Lieberman himself.

The Iraq War skeptic, Novak, was so amenable to his sources that he even pretended to support Bush’s war.

Actually, Lieberman is a heroic figure among Republicans for having risked his Senate seat to support President George W. Bush’s war policy.

To be honest with you, I’m sort of happy that Novak, who had retired to undergo brain cancer treatment, is still serving his role as a channel of leaks.

And if the urgent leak that drew him out of retirement is that all the Republicans hate Joementum, if Bob Novak, of all people, will prevent Holy Joe from "gracing" our screen for the next two months, then maybe he is starting to work off the bad karma of outing Valerie Plame.

Bob Novak Is One Key to Libby’s Aspen Letter

Alright. Admittedly this discovery is rather dated. But hell–what are blogs for, if not to rehash that old Aspen letter Libby sent Judy in September 2005? Especially if, after rehashing the letter, you discover that Bob Novak may be there hiding among the Aspen trees?

Back when I first analyzed the letter, I compared how Libby’s description of the testimony of journalists matched up against published accounts about that testimony.

Because, as I am sure will not be news to you, the public report of every other reporter’s testimony makes clear that they did not discuss Ms. Plame’s name or identity with me, or knew about her before our call.

I compared that statement to the public reports from Tim Russert and Matt Cooper and agreed (after some coaching from readers), that Russert "did not discuss Ms. Plame’s name or identity with [Libby]" and Cooper "knew about her before [Libby’s] call." Surprise! Even in a cryptic letter, it appeared, Libby was being transparent and honest with Judy. Which struck me as rather suspicious–that Libby might tell such transparent truths in such cryptic language.

But I did that analysis a month before I first speculated that Libby had spoken to Bob Novak the week of the leak, and a full year before Libby’s and Novak’s conversation on July 9 was confirmed in court filings. That is, when Libby wrote the Aspen letter, we didn’t know that Novak was among the journalists who had testified about a conversation with Libby, but Libby knew it. And if my reading of the script Libby sent Judy via Steno Sue and Pool Boy was correct, then Judy would have known about the conversation, though not that Novak had testified. As a reminder, here’s how I first speculated that Libby and Novak had spoken:

Steno Sue’s Secret Message
The morning Judy testified the first time to the Grand Jury, one of Libby’s allies managed to get the following passage inserted into the newspaper that will replace the NYT as the nation’s newspaper of record.


The Novak Surprise
Now we come to far and away the most curious part of this coaching session:

Libby did not talk to Novak about the case, the source said.

Is this still a message for Judy? Why would Libby’s friend need to remind Judy that Libby hadn’t spoken to Novak in the case? Unless she knew that he had spoken to Novak? I think it highly possible that Libby’s friend is telling Judy not to mention the fact that she knew Libby spoke to Novak about this case.

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Once a Predictable Tool, Always a Predictable Tool

novak-pawned.pngPoor Bob Novak. Usually when people use him for political ends, he’s able to maintain the fiction that the leaks he gets are true.

But not so his "scoop" that McCain was going to announce his Veep choice this week:

I got a suggestion from a very senior McCain aide late yesterday afternoon that he was going to announce it this week, that they didn’t want it to come out the way it was going to come out, and they suggested that I put it out. I then called another senior person, who said, "I can’t talk about that but wouldn’t this be a terrific week to announce it, that is, with Obama getting the headlines? So I just put something on the Internet that the McCain camp–sources close to the McCain campaign suggested he might, he might name it this week, but didn’t disclose the name. I, I since have been told by certain people that this was a dodge, they were trying to get a bit of publicity to rain on Mc–on Obama’s campaign. That’s pretty reprehensible, if it’s true, but we’ll find out in a few days whether, uh, what I was, suggested was true or was a scam.

Curiously, Novak doesn’t seem all that pissed at being set up as a tool. Given that he was quick to admit Karl Rove and Richard Armitage as his sources for the CIA leak case–though not, remember, Scooter Libby–that sort of suggests Novak’s not that surprised or pissed this tip turned out to be false. Otherwise Novak would name the senior McCain aides.

Then again, I can’t help but remember the central role that the Off the Record Club played in the leak of Valerie Wilson’s name. There was Ken Duberstein, the guy who set up Richard Armitage to leak to Novak. He’s McCain’s senior political aide. The founder of the Off the Record Club, Richard Hohlt, is the guy who faxed Novak’s column to Rove in advance, so he would know that Valerie was good and outed so Rove could start prepping the secondary "Wilson’s wife is Fair Game" campaign. I don’t think Hohlt has a significant role in McCain’s campaign–though he is "known as the person you go to to try to get stuff in Novak’s column." Another key Off the Record Club member sure does have a key role in McCain’s campaign, though: Charlie Black, McCain’s ethically-impaired Chief Strategist. Read more

Five Years Later–and the Attorney General Still Maintains the Cover-Up

Five years ago today, on a Monday morning just like today, this happened:

Our bedroom was just beginning to show the first hints of morning light on July 14 when Joe marched in, dropped the newspaper on the bed, and said in a tight voice, "Well, the SOB did it." He set a steaming mug of coffee on my bedside table and left the room. What? I struggled to wake up. I sat up, switched on the lamp, and opened the Washington Post to the op-ed page; I didn’t know what I would find, but I knew it wouldn’t be good. Rovert Novak had written in his column that "Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction."

And yet, five years later, through the President’s efforts to silence Scooter Libby and through the Attorney General’s determination to hide the Vice President’s and President’s own testimony, we still have had no full accounting of the leak of Valerie Wilson’s identity. In fact, most of the press attention has been focused on the following sentence in Novak’s column, the one that–Richard Armitage apparently convinced Patrick Fitzgerald–derived from a stupid and careless but ultimately ignorant leak.

Two senior administration officials told me that Wilson’s wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report.

And so, largely because once an investigation was announced, Novak told a different story about that first line–about how he learned of Valerie’s maiden name and about how he learned of her status–than he told just after the leak, when he said "They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it," the press just bought that implausible, revised story. Novak’s new cover story got so far-fetched that he was comparing Valerie Wilson with a person running a congressional campaign in Wyoming.

I call all kinds of politicians operatives. … Someone’s running a congressional campaign in Wyoming, I call him an operative.

And even when it was revealed that there had been a third conversation that went into Novak’s column, a conversation between Libby and Novak, a conversation they both made efforts to hide for three years, almost no one went back to scrutinize Novak’s column and sources again. Read more