Cheney Interview: Pay2PlayPo Losing Its Ability to Report, Too

picture-113.pngThe WaPay2PlayPo’s Jeffrey Smith is usually a much better reporter than this. In his report on DOJ’s latest attempt to keep the materials from Cheney’s Fitzgerald interview secret–published right under a link to all the evidence released in the trial–Smith "reports,"

A document filed in federal court this week by the Justice Department offers new evidence that former vice president Richard B. Cheney helped steer the Bush administration’s public response to the disclosure of Valerie Plame Wilson’s employment by the CIA and that he was at the center of many related administration deliberations.

Which, if you take "new evidence" to mean "a new list summarizing many of the events described in evidence introduced two years ago at the Libby trial," would be factually correct.

But this isn’t.

Barron also listed as exempt from disclosure Cheney’s account of his requests for information from the CIA about the purported purchase; Cheney’s discussions with top officials about the controversy over Bush’s mention of the uranium allegations in his 2003 State of the Union speech; and Cheney’s discussions with deputy I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, press spokesman Ari Fleischer, and Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. "regarding the appropriate response to media inquiries about the source of the disclosure" of Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity. [my emphasis]

Smith gets that last bit from this language in the filing.

Vice President’s recollection of discussions with Lewis Libby, the White House Communications Director, and the White House Chief of Staff regarding the appropriate response to media inquiries about the source of the disclosure of Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA employee.

gx53201-libby-sonnet.thumbnail.jpgNow, the language used there–"the source of the disclosure of Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity"–ought to be a pretty big clue to Smith that this conversation happened after Plame’s identity was actually made public. That is, after July 14, 2003, which happened to be Ari Fleischer’s last day, meaning it’s pretty clear that Ari Fleischer (who was White House Spokesperson, not Communications Director) isn’t the guy referenced here. But you don’t really need clues like that to figure out that Smith is wrong here. Had Smith only clicked that link above his article and actually looked at the evidence released at trial, he would have seen the famous "meat grinder note," a note Cheney used as a talking point document for conversations with Andy Card (correctly identified by Smith as Chief of Staff) and Dan Bartlett (in his role as "White House Communications Director," the position listed in the filing) in early October 2003 to get them to force Scottie McClellan to exonerate Scooter Libby publicly. 

Has to happen today. 

Call out to key press saying same thing about Scooter as Karl.

Not going to protect one staffer and sacrifice the guy the Pres that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others.

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Cheney Interview: The New Jon Stewart-Worthy Excuses

As I mentioned, DOJ did one crappy-ass job of trying to give Emmet Sullivan a better reason they can’t turn over Dick Cheney’s interview materials than that Jon Stewart would embarrass poor Dick. They trot out the same canard about needing cooperation from high level officials in the future. But there two big problems with their argument.

The Release of a Late-Investigation Interview of the Target of that Investigation Will Hurt Early Investigative Cooperation

First, they’re basically forced to argue that they won’t be able to get information early in an investigation if VPs and the like worry that their interviews with Special Counsels will eventually be made public.

For example, obtaining information through interviews early in an investigation “often assists law enforcement agents in obtaining important background information,” “help[s] law enforcement investigators determine where to concentrate or focus the investigation,” and may “obviate the need to convene a grand jury at all or circumscribe the focus of the grand jury’s inquiry.” Breuer Decl. ¶ 6. “A law enforcement investigation based upon interviews subject to an expectation of confidentiality also benefits from senior officials more inclined to provide identifiable leads, name percipient witnesses, offer credibility assessments of the accuser or other witnesses, and even articulate inferences, insight or hunches that can be invaluable to a law enforcement investigator.”

But of course this interview wasn’t about "obtaining important background information" about "where to concentrate or focus the investigation" that might "obviate the need to convene a grand jury." Neither Bush nor Cheney gave an interview at that early stage of the process. Rather, this was an interview conducted while there was an active grand jury, at a time when all major witnesses save journalists had already been interviewed.

This was an interview of the ultimate target of the investigation, not a mere bystander.

Meanwhile, the DOJ wants to pretend that a grand jury investigation of top White House officials might thwart an investigation.

Additionally, if a senior White House official were to require the investigators to go through the grand jury process, “[s]uch a decision could impose considerable practical difficulties and burdens upon investigators and prosecutors that at best could prolong investigations and at worst thwart investigations.”

Tell that to Karl Rove and his five grand jury appearances. Turdblossom couldn’t get enough of the grand jury (and he’s been before a grand jury since). Read more

The Contents of the Fitzgerald-Cheney Interview

Mary pointed me to DOJ’s latest attempt to prevent CREW from accessing the materials relating to Cheney’s interview with Fitzgerald and the FBI. I’ll get into what a load of crap the DOJ argument is later. But first, I want to lay out what the FOIA declarations say about the Cheney interview itself.

First, the date. Rather than early June, as previously assumed, the CIA declaration included with this document reveals the documents were dated May 8, 2004–a month earlier in the investigation that we had  known (and therefore a month and a half earlier than Bush’s interview).

Otherwise, the declarations reveal the following contents of the interview:

  • Vice President’s discussion of the substance of a conversation he had with the Director of the CIA concerning the decision to send Ambassador Wilson on a fact-finding mission to Niger in 2002.
  • Vice President’s discussion of his requests for information from the CIA relating to reported efforts by Iraqi officials to purchase uranium from Niger.
  • Vice President’s recollection of the substance of his discussions with the National Security Advisor while she was on a trip to Africa.
  • Vice President’s description of government deliberations, including discussions between the Vice President and the Deputy National Security Advisor, in preparation of a statement by the Director of CIA regarding the accuracy of a statement in the President’s 2003 State of the Union Address.
  • Vice President’s recollection of discussions with Lewis Libby, the White House Communications Director, and the White House Chief of Staff regarding the appropriate response to media inquiries about the source of the disclosure of Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA employee.
  • Vice President’s description of his role in resolving disputes about whether to declassify certain information.
  • Vice President’s description of government deliberations involving senior officials regarding whether to declassify portions of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate.
  • Description of a confidential conversation between the Vice President and the President, and description of an apparent communication between the Vice President and the President. 
  • Names of non-governmental third-parties and details of their extraneous interactions with the Vice President.
  • Name of a CIA briefer.
  • Names of FBI agents.
  • Names of foreign government and liaison services.
  • The name of a covert CIA employee.
  • The methods CIA uses to assess and evaluate intelligence and inform policy makers.

Now, as I’ll get into when I discuss what a load of crap this is, almost every single bit of this was already revealed at trial. Read more

Judge Sullivan: Steven Bradbury Not Qualified to Withhold Cheney’s Plame Materials

Though we may need new rules about linking to the WaPo after they canned Dan Froomkin, not only is this story not an AP story (what with their expansive claims of fair use), but it has a bunch of more interesting details. So here’s the story about Judge Emmet Sullivan, demanding the government allow him to review the Dick Cheney FBI interview materials they’re trying to withhold from FOIA before he’ll allow them to withhold the materials.

U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan expressed surprise during a hearing here that the Justice Department, in asserting that Cheney’s voluntary statements to U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald were exempt from disclosure, relied on legal claims put forward last October by a Bush administration political appointee, Stephen Bradbury. The department asserted then that the disclosure would make presidents and vice presidents reluctant to cooperate voluntarily with future criminal investigations.

But career civil division lawyer Jeffrey M. Smith, responding to Sullivan’s questions, said Bradbury’s arguments against the disclosure were supported by the department’s current leadership. He told the judge that if Cheney’s remarks were published, then a future vice president asked to provide candid information during a criminal probe might refuse to do so out of concern "that it’s going to get on ‘The Daily Show’ " or somehow be used as a political weapon.

Sullivan said Bradbury, who was the acting head of the Office of Legal Counsel, was not obviously qualified to make such claims and that they were in any event unsubstantiated. Sullivan said the department needed new evidence, if it hoped to prevail, and said the administration should supply him with a copy of Cheney’s statements so he could directly assess whether the claims are credible.

No word on whether Sullivan believes Bradbury is unqualified because this is not the purview of OLC, or whether he has just read Bradbury’s crappy ass OLC opinions and made the same conclusion the rest of us have: his legal judgment ain’t worth much.

Sullivan appears to be predisposed to accept CREW’s–and frankly, Fitz’s–argument that, since Cheney didn’t have to appear before a grand jury, he (and the government) can’t now claim his interview materials can’t be released because of grand jury secrecy laws. 

Also note, there are three items responsive to the CREW subpoena, all in some way pertaining to the FBI interview. That means in addition to the interview report, we’ll get notes. Read more