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Time for an Executive Branch Internet Dragnet

As George Zornick and Josh Hicks laid out (saving me the trouble) the news that IRS lost Lois Lerner’s emails from the period during which she reviewed the tax status of political groups is not all that surprising. After all, there’s a long history of the Executive Branch “losing” emails from a period that ends up being scandalous, including:

  • John Yoo’s emails from the period when he was working with David Addington to pre-authorize torture
  • SEC’s emails on the earliest non-investigations of Bernie Madoff
  • OVP’s emails from the days after DOJ initiated an investigation into the CIA leak case (and 5 million other emails)

I’d add two things to their list. This whole tradition started when the Reagan and Bush White House tried to destroy emails concerning the Iran-Contra scandal. And there’s a parallel tradition of having White House political staff conduct official business on non-White House emails, as both Bush and Obama’s White House have done.

And unfortunately, Steven Stockman hasn’t been paying attention. He asked NSA Director Mike Rogers for the metadata from Lerner’s missing emails. But NSA has already claimed they destroyed all their Internet dragnet records when they shut down the program in 2011. Perhaps Stockman should ask FBI whether they’ve got an Internet dragnet that might have collected on Lois Lerner?

Stockman is a nut.

But he might be onto something here. The government argues it is reasonable to collect all the records of all Americans in order to protect against the worst kinds of crimes people in the US might commit. Yet every time emails go missing, they do so amidst allegations of the worst kind of bad faith from the Executive Branch. If the threat of terrorism justifies comprehensive dragnets, based in part on the possibility the culprits will destroy evidence, then doesn’t the Executive Branch’s serial inability to fulfill its archival responsibilities under the law in the face of allegations of abuse of office do so too?

Besides, making a central repository of all the Executive Branch’s emails would address an asymmetry that corrodes democracy. Such a dragnet would ensure that the governed — and those who represent their interests — will always be able to exercise the same kind of scrutiny on those who govern as the government does on them.

Of course this will never happen, in part for justifiable reasons (cost, the privacy of federal employees), in part for unjustifiable reasons (the Executive would never agree to this). But given that it won’t happen, doesn’t it suggest the NSA’s dragnets shouldn’t either?

Update: In somewhat related news, Ron Wyden and Chuck Grassley are concerned that ODNI’s plan to continually monitor employees to prevent leaks will improperly chill whistleblowers.  If someone besides the Intelligence Community tracks that information, then access to the records could be provided more due process.

Peter Baker, Meat Grinder for Bush

Screen shot 2013-10-10 at 10.45.46 AM

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.”

[snip]

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.”

[snip]

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.

[snip]

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.

Navy v. Egan, not Just Branzburg v. Hayes, Needs Fixed

Today, 340 new journalists will join the 10 or so who have been covering the Bradley Manning prosecution closely for the last several years; his trial starts today at Fort Meade.

Expect to see a bunch of essays on secrecy to mark the beginning of the trial.

This one, in which Steven Coll calls for the Supreme Court to revisit the Branzburg v. Hayes decision that established a spirit but not a law protecting press sources, has already generated a lot of attention.

In the long run, to rebalance the national-security state and to otherwise revitalize American democracy, the United States requires a Supreme Court willing to deepen protections for investigative reporters, as the majority in Branzburg would not.

Among some other minor factual inaccuracies (including what the AP UndieBomb 2.0 leak was originally about), it includes this claim.

[Obama’s] longest-serving advisers are disciplined and insular to a fault; press leaks offend their aesthetic of power.

While I agree Obama’s advisors are insular to a fault, and agree they revel in an aesthetic of power, they do not despise all press leaks. Even aside from the typical policy debate leaks of classified information, the White House has long reveled in “leaking” classified information to selected members of the press, to get the information out there on its own terms. The tactic is not new — it is precisely the A1 cut-out approach the Bush Administration used to get us into the Iraq War. But the Obama Administration may have expanded its use (that is actually the reason Republicans in Congress were demanding investigations of the leaks that followed the AP story, the ones that, unlike the AP, exposed our mole).

Which is why Coll proposes an inadequate solution to what I agree is the key problem.

Obama inherited a bloated national-security state. It contains far too many official secrets and far too many secret-keepers—more than a million people now hold top-secret clearances. Under a thirty-year-old executive order issued by the White House, the intelligence agencies must inform the Justice Department whenever they believe that classified information has been disclosed illegally to the press. These referrals operate on a kind of automatic pilot, and the system is unbalanced. Prosecutors in Justice’s national-security division initially decide on whether to make a criminal case or to defer to the First Amendment. The record shows that in recent years the division has been bent on action.

I’m not opposed to establishing clearer laws about when a journalist’s sources may be protected. But that can be used — as Dick Cheney tried to use it — as a screen for his exposure of Valerie Plame. Protecting journalists’ sources will not only protect real whistleblowers, but it will also protect the system of official leaks that both Bush and Obama have used to accrue power and avoid accountability.

So not only is fixing Branzburg v. Hayes not enough to fix our “unbalanced … bloated national security state,” it doesn’t get at the underlying problem

As a threshold measure, journalists should be calling for the limitation or repeal of the Espionage Act, which is the real stick Obama is using to cut down on unsanctioned leaks. It’s bad enough for whistleblowers to risk losing their clearance, and with it, a well-compensated livelihood. But as soon as you start talking extended prison sentences, as soon as you start accusing whistleblowers of being worse than an enemy’s spy because they shared damning information with the public generally, that’s going to silence unsanctioned leaks.

Just as importantly, this entire structure of abuse of power rests on a different SCOTUS decision, Navy v. Egan, which gives the Executive absolute control over security clearances (and therefore the less powerful leverage usually wielded against whistleblowers, the ability to strip their clearance), but which has been interpreted by Bush and Obama to give the Executive unfettered authority to determine what is secret and what is not. This decision — which is precisely what David Addington told Scooter Libby he could rely on to justify outing Plame on Cheney’s order — is also what the Obama Administration cited when it refused to litigate al-Haramain and in so doing granted the Bush Administration impunity for illegal wiretapping. The Executive’s claim to have unlimited authority to decide what is secret and not is also what prevents the Senate Intelligence Committee from declassifying the torture report on its own authority. It is also the basis for the authority to stall releasing video of US helicopters gunning down a Reuters team to Reuters under FOIA, which led to Manning leaking it to WikiLeaks himself.

The Obama and Bush Administrations have claimed that no one — not Congress, not the Courts — has the authority to review their arbitrary use of secrecy to accrue more power. That claim is an expansive reading of Navy v. Egan, but thus far not one anyone has challenged before SCOTUS. And that is what has enabled them (with the limited exception of the Plame outing) to avoid all consequences for their asymmetric use of leaks.

So, yes, it would be useful if SCOTUS decided that journalists and others engaging in legitimate investigation can protect sources, especially when investigating national security. But until the underlying system — the Executive’s claim that it can abuse secrecy to protect itself — is changed, secrecy will remain a cancer rotting our democracy.

The US Attorney for CIA Scrambles to Cover-Up CIA’s Torture, Again

Bmaz just wrote a long post talking about the dilemma John Kiriakou faces as the government and his defense lawyers attempt to get him to accept a plea deal rather than go to trial for leaking the names of people–Thomas Donahue Fletcher and Deuce Martinez–associated with the torture program.

I’d like to look at four more aspects of this case:

  • The timing of this plea deal–reflecting a realization on the part of DOJ that their efforts to shield Fletcher would fail
  • CIA’s demand for a head
  • The improper cession of a special counsel investigation to the US Attorney for Eastern Virginia
  • The ongoing efforts to cover-up torture

The timing of the plea deal

Intelligence Identities Protection Act cases will always be risky to bring. By trying someone for leaking a CIA Agent’s identity, you call more attention to that identity. You risk exposing sources and methods in the course of proving the purportedly covert agent was really covert. And–as the case against Scooter Libby proved–IIPA often requires the testimony of spooks who lie to protect their own secrets.

There is a tremendous irony about this case in that John Kiriakou’s testimony in the Libby case would have gone a long way to prove that Libby knew Valerie Plame was covert when he started leaking her name, but now-Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer talked Patrick Fitzgerald out of having Kiriakou testify. Small world.

Bmaz notes that the docket suggests the rush to make a plea deal came after Leonie Brinkema ruled, on October 16, that the government didn’t need to prove Kiriakou intended to damage the country by leaking the names of a bunch of torturers. That ruling effectively made it difficult for Kiriakou to prove he was whistleblowing, by helping lawyers defending those who have been tortured figure out who the torturers were.

But the rush for a plea deal also comes after Matthew Cole and Julie Tate filed initial responses to Kiriakou’s subpoena on October 11. And after the government filed a sealed supplement to their CIPA motion that same day.

While both Cole and Tate argued that if they testified they’d have to reveal their confidential sources, Tate also had this to say in her declaration.

In 2008, my colleagues and I were investigating the CIA’s counterterrorism program now known as Rendition, Detention and Interrogation Program” (the “RDI Program”).

[snip]

I understand that defense counsel has subpoenaed me to testify about the methods I may have used to obtain the identity of CIA officers during 2008 while I was researching the RDI program.

Tate doesn’t say it explicitly, but it’s fairly clear she was able to get the identity of CIA officers involved in the torture program. Her use of the plural suggests she may have been able to get the identity of more than just Thomas Fletcher and Deuce Martinez. And she says she would have to reveal the research methods by which she was able to identify CIA officers who were supposedly covert.

Read more

I Don’t Think Luddite Means What CNN Thinks It Means

CNN’s Security Clearance blog thinks it has exposed Janet Napolitano as a Luddite.

Napolitano said she does not use email “at all.”

“For a whole host of reasons. So, I don’t have any of my own accounts and that, you know, I’m very secure,” Napolitano noted at a Washington conference about cyber security.

“Some would call me a Luddite but you know. But that’s my own personal choice and I’m very unique in that regard I suspect,” Napolitano added.

Of course, she’s not unique at all and–given her fondness for highly sophisticated data mining–not a Luddite.

CNN might consider two things before they conclude Napolitano doesn’t have email because she eschews technology. First, the graphic above, which Bloomberg put together to show how unresponsive Obama’s Administration is to FOIA requests. Part of the reason why DHS claims so many FOIA exemptions is the sheer number of FOIAs they get. But there have been other examples to show that Napolitano’s agency doesn’t much like transparency.

And then consider why other people who don’t use–or claim not to use–email did so. People like Scooter Libby, whose office also happened to disappear a good number of emails responsive to a criminal investigation. The most logical explanation for someone–particularly someone who avoids transparency in general–to avoid email is because it is FOIAable, it serves as a record of discussions that might be embarrassing.

So my guess is that one of the main reasons why Napolitano doesn’t use email is to avoid getting into trouble with it.

After all, like Scooter Libby, she knows as well as anyone the kinds of things the government and others can find in someone’s email box.

Cheney’s Thugs Win the Prize for Leak Hypocrisy

I wasn’t much interested in Mitt Romney’s latest efforts to change the narrative from the evil things he profited off of at Bain Capital and the tax havens he stashed the money he got as a result. Not only don’t I think journalists will be all that interested in Mitt’s claim that Obama’s White House is a leaky sieve. But I’m not about to defend the Most Fucking Transparent™ White House in Fucking History against such accusations.

Until Cheney’s thugs start leading the attack.

Such as Eric Edelman, who says we need “change” because Obama’s Administration leaked details of the Osama bin Laden raid.

Eric Edelman is this guy:

Shortly after publication of the article in The New Republic, LIBBY spoke by telephone with his then Principal Deputy [Edelman] and discussed the article. That official asked LIBBY whether information about Wilson’s trip could be shared with the press to rebut the allegations that the Vice President had sent Wilson. LIBBY responded that there would be complications at the CIA in disclosing that information publicly, and that he could not discuss the matter on a non-secure telephone line

Four days after Edelman made the suggestion to leak information about Joe Wilson’s trip, Scooter Libby first revealed to Judy Miller that Valerie Plame worked at the CIA.

But Edelman is not the only one of Cheney’s thugs bewailing leakers: (h/t Laura Rozen, who follows BabyDick so I don’t have to)

Romney today at VFW on contemptible conduct of Obama White House leaking classified info for political gain. Must read. http://tinyurl.com/bw4s4lt

Now, to be fair to dear BabyDick, unlike Edelman she has not been directly implicated in her father’s deliberate exposure of a US CIA officer working to stop nuclear proliferation. Unlike Edelman, she was not protected from legal jeopardy by Scooter Libby’s lies.

But she did co-author her father’s book, which was a whitewash of his treachery (even if it did reveal that Cheney had a second interview with Pat Fitzgerald, one treated as a grand jury appearance, just around the time Fitzgerald subpoenaed Judy Miller. BabyDick Cheney is complicit in the lies the Cheney thugs have used to hide what a contemptible leak for political gain the Plame leak was.

And now she thinks she should lecture others about far less treacherous leaks?

Withholding the Tax Decision: SCOTUSblog on the ObamaCare Decision

Having served as the liveblog link to a widely-anticipated court decision myself, I probably read Tom Goldstein’s tick-tock of how the decision got reported differently than others. Most interesting for me?

SCOTUSblog is not credentialed to cover SCOTUS

Goldstein describes how most major news outlets as well as the White House listened in on a conference call SCOTUSblog had to discuss the ruling as it came out. He notes that Fox managed to correct its incorrect initial reporting because Megyn Kelly was watching SCOTUSblog. He describes other news outlets–like NPR–citing SCOTUSblog as their source.

And yet, even with all those people relying on SCOTUSblog for coverage of the decision (and all other decisions), SCOTUSblog is not credentialed to cover the court.

The Supreme Court will not grant SCOTUSblog a press credential.  Lyle Denniston is the only member of our team permitted in the press area; he has a press credential because of his reporting for WBUR in Boston.  There are six other members of our team nearby, running nine computers on eight separate Internet connections.

I’m curious what the justification for this stance is. Does the Court care more about its prestige than ensuring that what amounts to its own newswire be able to report quickly and accurately?

SCOTUS decided not to email the decision

Perhaps that’s the case. After all, SCOTUS also decided not to email the decision to reporters (and the parties to the case), though they have done so in the past.

The Court’s own technical staff prepares to load the opinion on to the Court’s website.  In years past, the Court would have emailed copies of the decision to the Solicitor General and the parties’ lawyers once it was announced.  But now it relies only on its website, where opinions are released approximately two minutes later.  The week before, the Court declined our request that it distribute this opinion to the press by email; it has complete faith in the exceptional effort it has made to ensure that the website will not fail.

But it does.  At this moment, the website is the subject of perhaps greater demand than any other site on the Internet – ever.  It is the one and only place where anyone in the country not at the building – including not just the public, but press editors and the White House – can get the ruling.  And millions of people are now on the site anxiously looking for the decision.  They multiply the burden of their individual visits many times over – hitting refresh again, and again, and again.  In the face of the crushing demand, the Court cannot publish its own decision.

The opinion will not appear on the website for a half-hour.  So everyone in the country not personally at 1 First St., NE in Washington, DC is completely dependent on the press to get the decision right.

Aside from being a boneheaded technical decision, it is, again, a statement about the philosophy of information at the Court. Why insist that the decision go through those physically at the Court, where people have little space or time for close reading?

Who hacked SCOTUSblog?

And here’s the bit that has me most intrigued. When we covered the Libby trial, we were hounded by denial of service attacks, including on verdict day–though we were also operating on a less stable system with almost no staff and little time to prepare for the technical demands of the coverage, which I think made the attacks rewarding.

Plus, it wasn’t surprising someone would attack FDL during the Libby case; because we served as the wire service for the trial, and because we didn’t unquestioningly repeat whatever Barbara Comstock claimed, we ended up undermining Liibby’s defense team’s best efforts at spin. So I’ve always assumed our DNS hackers were conservatives trying to cut off our coverage, leaving the more favorable Libby spin by default.

So it made sense that we were getting attacked.

But SCOTUSblog?

Our problem at the moment is that someone is trying to crash the blog.  At 10:00 exactly, hackers are launching a “distributed denial of service” attack with 1,000 page views per second to try and bring us down.  It does not work; our tremendous Deputy Manager Max Mallory has spent months augmenting our capacity, and the hackers give up after a few minutes.

The only one who–assuming good faith interest in reporting accurately–who I can imagine having a motive to hack SCOTUSblog are other media outlets who don’t want a competitor to draw off potential readers and viewers.

Alternately, there’s the possibility that someone wanted the decision reported inaccurately. Read more

At About the Time He Subpoenaed Judy Miller, Patrick Fitzgerald Interviewed Cheney a SECOND Time

When I recover a bit more from having finished Dick Cheney’s infernal tome, I will have more to say about it.

But I wanted to point to this piece of news in it that no one has yet noted:

I participated in two lengthy sessions with the special counsel. The first was in my West Wing office in May 2004. The second was in Jackson Hole Wyoming, in August 2004. The second session was conducted under oath so that my testimony could be submitted to the grand jury.(408)

That is, Patrick Fitzgerald interviewed Cheney not just the one time we knew about–on May 8, 2004. But he also interviewed Cheney sometime during August 2004 (at least according to Cheney), apparently in anticipation of submitting that testimony to the grand jury.

The timing of this is pretty telling.

On August 12, 2004, Fitzgerald subpoenaed Judy Miller to testify. And on August 27, 2004, he wrote an affidavit justifying his subpoena, focusing closely on Scooter Libby’s claims that he had been ordered by Dick Cheney to leak material to Miller. And we know from Cheney’s first interview that he hung Libby out to dry, denying any knowledge of such things.

The Vice President does not recall any member of his staff, including Scooter Libby, meeting with New York Times reporter Judith Miller during the week of 7/7/03, just after publication of Joe Wilson’s editorial in the New York Times.

[snip]

The Vice President advised that no one ever told him of a desire to share key judgments of the NIE with a news reporter prior to the NIEs declassification on 7/18/03.

[snip]

The Vice President cannot specifically recall having a conversation with Scooter Libby during which Libby advised the Vice President that he wanted to share with the key judgments of the NIE with Judith Miller. Although if it did occur, he would have advised Libby only to use something if it was declassified. He believed Libby would have told him about any attempts to put something out to the media prior to its declassification and the Vice President cannot recall such a discussion.

When asked if he ever had a conversation with Scooter Libby wherein Libby informed the Vice President that certain material within the NIE needed to be declassified before it could be shared externally, Vice President Cheney advised he does not recall.

To a large degree, Cheney’s first answers–assuming they remained substantively the same in the second interview–necessitated Judy Miller’s testimony, since Libby had clear notes about being ordered to leak material to Miller that had been effectively hidden by his lies about Russert. Libby’s notes made it appear like he might have leaked Plame’s identity to Miller (which turned out to be the case). And Cheney’s refusal to claim he had authorized that leak put Libby at real risk of an IIPA indictment.

This interview raises a few more questions. First, in his first interview, Cheney did not release the journalists he had spoken with from their pledge of confidentiality. Bob Novak testified on September 14, 2004; though Fitzgerald’s affidavit makes it clear much of that discussion was about his conversation with Richard Armitage, Novak spoke with someone at OVP on July 7, 2003, so it has always been possible he was hiding a Cheney conversation.

In addition, Judy Miller explained away the “Aspens connected at the roots” comment by relating a chance encounter with Libby in Jackson Hole in August 2003 (not 2004). Though when I asked her if she had seen Cheney on that same trip, she did not answer. Is it possible the reference to Jackson Hole was a coded reference to Cheney?

Finally–and critically importantly–when CREW FOIAed this interview, they asked for “all transcripts, reports, notes and other documents relating to any interviews outside the presence of the grand jury of Vice President Richard B. Cheney that are part of Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation into the leak of the identity of Valerie Plame Wilson.” In other words, this second interview would have been squarely within the terms of their request. This interview should have been released under their FOIA, but was not.

This previously unreported Cheney interview would appear to go right to the heart of why Patrick Fitzgerald subpoenaed Judy Miller to find out whether Scooter Libby leaked Valerie Plame’s identity to her. And for some reason, it appears the Bush and Obama DOJ didn’t want us to read it.

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.

[snip]

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.

WSJ: Don’t Be Mean to Us Like Fitz Was to Judy

Most sane people are outraged by the WSJ’s hacktalicious editorial calling for calm on the hack scandal.

As well they should: the editorial discredits WSJ as a paper.

But I was particularly interested in this bit.

In braying for politicians to take down Mr. Murdoch and News Corp., our media colleagues might also stop to ask about possible precedents. The political mob has been quick to call for a criminal probe into whether News Corp. executives violated the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act with payments to British security or government officials in return for information used in news stories. Attorney General Eric Holder quickly obliged last week, without so much as a fare-thee-well to the First Amendment.

The foreign-bribery law has historically been enforced against companies attempting to obtain or retain government business. But U.S. officials have been attempting to extend their enforcement to include any payments that have nothing to do with foreign government procurement. This includes a case against a company that paid Haitian customs officials to let its goods pass through its notoriously inefficient docks, and the drug company Schering-Plough for contributions to a charitable foundation in Poland.

Applying this standard to British tabloids could turn payments made as part of traditional news-gathering into criminal acts. The Wall Street Journal doesn’t pay sources for information, but the practice is common elsewhere in the press, including in the U.S.

The last time the liberal press demanded a media prosecutor, it was to probe the late conservative columnist Robert Novak in pursuit of White House aide Scooter Libby. But the effort soon engulfed a reporter for the New York Times, which had led the posse to hang Novak and his sources. Do our media brethren really want to invite Congress and prosecutors to regulate how journalists gather the news?

This is structured as an appeal to other media outlets, warning them that if they pile on, it might well hurt them too (this structure continues to the rest of the editorial).

This argument ends with the Scooter Libby argument–the claim that the NYT, because it purportedly “led the posse to hang [Bob] Novak and his sources” (including, among others, Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby), ended up getting embroiled in the Libby case (in spite of the fact that NYT discredited itself by protecting Libby for a year after they had published his name as Judy’s source).

Fair enough. The NYT–and especially Judy Miller–was exposed to be as hackish as Novak was (and, as another outlet who published bogus leaks in the Joe Wilson pushback, the WSJ) when its laundering of government leaks was made clear.

So the WSJ is rightly reminding other media outlets that they are as hackish as it is. Perhaps they have specific incidents of hackishness in mind?  Maybe the rest of the press should worry that a focus on how corrupt our press has gotten will reflect badly on them too. It appears, for example, that the WaPo is worried about just such a thing.

Then, oddly (working backwards from the Judy Miller issue), the WSJ warns that if other media outlets pile on, it’ll criminalize payments made in the course of news-gathering–with a claim that such a horror would only matter for British tabloids. Only, that’s not exactly true, is it? And that’s before you consider the number of “consultants” TV stations pay for their “expertise.”

Then, in the first part of this passage, the WSJ rails against what is probably one of its biggest worries–it’ll be held liable in the US for the fairly well-established bribery it engaged in in the UK (even assuming no such bribery were discovered here in the US). It suggests that a poor helpless media company would never bribe a government for something real–like a contract. Putting aside the appearance that Murdoch’s minions bribed the cops.

Except at the heart of this scandal is Murdoch’s attempt to get full control of BSkyB. Not to mention Murdoch’s fairly well-established pattern of trading political support for Tony Blair, Hillary Clinton, and David Cameron in exchange for political favors.

This is bribery every bit as much as Halliburton’s bribery to get Nigerian contracts was bribery. A satellite concession is every bit as tangible a goal as is a contract. But it attempts to couch decades of Murdoch’s ruthless business practices in First Amendment hand-wringing. It suggests that whatever meager journalism Murdoch’s minions do, it should excuse his illegal business practices.

This WSJ editorial is a damning exhibit in outright hackery.

But I suspect its audience–other hackish media outlets–finds it a persuasive read.

Update: With this editorial in mind, I wanted to point to a few paragraphs of Alan Rusbridger’s description of how the Guardian broke this story. A key part of it, he describes, was in partnering with the NYT to break the omertà among British papers.

Big story? Not at all. Not a single paper other than The Guardian noted [a $1 million settlement against News of the World for bullying] in their news pages the next day. There seemed to be some omertà principle at work that meant that not a single other national newspaper thought this could possibly be worth an inch of newsprint.

Life was getting a bit lonely at The Guardian. Nick Davies had been alerted that Brooks had told colleagues that the story was going to end with “Alan Rusbridger on his knees, begging for mercy.” “They would have destroyed us,” Davies said on a Guardian podcast last week. “If they could have done, they would have shut down The Guardian.

If the majority of Fleet Street was going to turn a blind eye, I thought I’d better try elsewhere to stop the story from dying on its feet, except in the incremental stories that Nick was still remorselessly producing for our own pages. I called Bill Keller at The New York Times. Within a few days, three Times reporters were sitting in a rather charmless Guardian meeting room as Davies did his best to coach them in the basics of the story that had taken him years to tease out of numerous reporters, lawyers, and police officers.

The Times reporters took their time—months of exceptional and painstaking work that established the truth of everything Nick had written—and broke new territory of their own. They coaxed one or two sources to go on the record. The story led to another halfhearted police inquiry that went nowhere. But the fact and solidity of the Times investigation gave courage to others. Broadcasters began dipping their toes in the story. One of the two victims began lawsuits. Vanity Fair weighed in. The Financial Times and The Independent chipped away in the background. A wider group of people began to believe that maybe, just maybe, there was something in this after all. [my emphasis]

News Corp would have destroyed the Guardian, Rusbridger and Nick Davies say, if they had had the dirt to do so. Such threats are presumably how News Corp enforced the omertà on the story.

Now look at the editorial. It appears, first of all, to be an appeal to precedent–a similar kind of appeal often made when pointing out that an espionage prosecution of Julian Assange will criminalize newsgathering.

It argues that a prosecution of News Corp under the FCPA would be a bad precedent, equating contracts with–well, I”m not sure what News Corp is admitting to here, as its media interests do amount to a contract. It then suggests–the logic is faulty–that such a prosecution would also criminalize the news gathering of those who pay for stories. This seems to be an implicit threat directed at those who do pay for stories (note that this editorial doesn’t say News Corp, including Fox TV, doesn’t pay for stories, just WSJ), perhaps an attempt to silence TV news.

But then, after having already impugned newspapers that, like the Guardian and NYT, gave “their moral imprimatur” to WikiLeaks, the editorial levels a threat clearly directed at the NYT, noting how the the newspaper’s purported efforts to go after Novak’s sources ended up backfiring on the NYT.

Not long after Rusbridger described the omertà that helped News Corp forestall consequences in the UK, Murdoch’s mouthpiece here in the US issued a veiled threat against the NYT.

I’m betting that Murdoch thinks the NYT will be easier to destroy than the Guardian.