President Trump pardoned Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice related to the leak of CIA officer Valerie Plame's identity. She talks to NPR's Scott Simon.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
President Trump issued the third pardon of his administration Friday to Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Libby was Chief of Staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. He was convicted in 2007 of perjury and obstruction of justice in connection to the leak of the identity of a CIA officer. That CIA officer was Valerie Plame, and she joins us now. Valerie, thanks very much for being with us.
VALERIE PLAME: My pleasure, I think. Although, it's always good to be with you, Scott.
SIMON: Always good to have you. Thanks so much. How do you feel about this pardon?
PLAME: Well, it's certainly not about me. It's definitely not about Scooter Libby, and I think it's all about Trump, Donald Trump, and his future. He's trying to set up a firewall and demonstrate that you can spill the beans, you can cooperate with the special prosecutor, perhaps be convicted - if you're convicted of lying, perjury, obstruction of justice, or otherwise - and you will still get a pardon in the end. So it doesn't really matter what I feel about it. That's what I think is happening.
SIMON: So you don't think this has any connection to anything other than the president's current political difficulties?
PLAME: No, I don't, I mean, this has nothing to do with justice, per se. In fact, you know, you don't have to take my word for it, take President George W. Bush's word for it, who respected the jury's verdict in Scooter Libby's case. He reviewed the facts of the case very carefully because he was under tremendous pressure from his vice president, Dick Cheney, to provide a pardon. And he declined to do so.
And so the timing of Donald Trump's pardon of Scooter Libby is not a coincidence. And you have to wonder, sort of, on top of that, doesn't Donald Trump have better things to do? I mean, yesterday, clearly, he was preparing for strikes in Syria.
SIMON: Well, let me also understand something just for the historical record. In fact, it was not Lewis Libby who leaked your name, was it? That was Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state, who never was prosecuted.
PLAME: That's not true. In fact, there were quite a few people who were involved. There was a coterie of senior White House Bush officials that were involved in the leak of my name. As you well recall, it was payback for my husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, who had written an op-ed piece going after the central narrative that the Bush White House gave for the war of choice in Iraq.
He said the intelligence had been cherry-picked that was used to sell the war to the American people. And the Bush White House didn't take well to that, and as payback, betrayed my covert CIA identity. So it wasn't just - I mean, we can get down in the weeds, but not for this time right now. No, there was quite a few people involved in the leak of my identity.
SIMON: So to put the capper on it, in a way, you don't believe this pardon has anything to do with Scooter Libby, much less you?
PLAME: (Laughter) No, not really. This is all about sending a message about those who commit crimes against national security that he feels free to pardon them. He's got a very small but very important audience to my mind, they would include Manafort, Flynn, Kushner, Cohen. I mean, the news of the past week of the FBI's raid on his lawyer's office was interesting.
SIMON: Former CIA officer, Valerie Plame, thanks so much for being with us. This is NPR News.
The idea of leaking an undercover CIA agent's name to exact revenge on her husband, discredit him, and protecting the fraudulent pretext for war is consistent with the kind of hardball political tactics Karl Rove has often deployed. Whether the plan originated in the White House with Rove or was born of Scooter Libby's obsession with Israel, Iraq and protecting the vice president may not even be known after court testimony. Karl Rove's resume is proof, however that he wouldn't have hesitated to suggest such an unlawful act in the interest of concealing a greater crime. On balance, leaking Valerie Plame's identity to reporters was of considerably less risk than exposing the possibility that an American president had misled the country into a war.
James Moore and Wayne Slater, To Come Undone
Lewis "Scooter" Libby is a member of the Neo-conservative cabal that took the United States into un-winnable wars in Asia and the Middle East that has lasted longer than WWI, WWII, and Korea combined. James Moore and Wayne Slater in The Architect: Karl Rove and the Master Plan for Absolute Power (2006) posit that George W. Bush filled his administration with appointees whose political convictions regarding Israel were so strong that they were as a minimum, accused of having "dual loyalties" and, in the worst case, were described as "Israel-firsters."
The most influential of the Bush choices were Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and Douglas Feith, while vice President Dick Cheney turned to I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, John Hannah, and David Wurmser (who coauthored "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm" in 1996, which called upon Israel to attack Syria and Lebanon and overthrow Saddam Hussein as critical steps for redrawing the political power structure of the Mideast), all of whom had exhibited a predisposition to favor Israel in policy and decision-making processes.
Nearly every neocon had had problems with their security clearances said Philip Giraldi, a 17 year Mideast CIA veteran. "Because they've been giving information to Israel or they are suspected thereof." In addition to their unflagging commitment to Israel, most of the neoconservatives promoting the Iraq invasion had a common connection to Michael Ledeen, who co-wrote Michael Flynn's Field of Fight.
THE OVERT ACTS OF "SCOOTER" LIBBY
Once in the White House, Karl Rove and company blurred the line between politics and policy in myriad ways, but none as important to Bush's reelection as the war in Iraq. In the run-up to 2004, Rove was a leader of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG), which was created to market the war. The WHIG, whose members also included Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby pressed Congress for a war resolution in September 2002, two months before voters went to the polls.
David Wurmser, a neoconservative from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), helped build the rouge intelligence operation that was to become known as the Office of Special Plans (OSP). The purpose of the intelligence operation that was to become OSP was to find evidence incriminating Iraq on weapons of mass destruction and its connection to al-Qaeda. The fact that no such data had ever been uncovered didn't seem to prove a deterrent to the group's work.
Not much was known about OSP until the retirement of Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski who spent the final year of her service in the Pentagon at the Near East South Asia Bureau, where she closely observed the war plans experience--mostly academics, civilians, and private contractors--were brought in to work up war planning with OSP. According to Kwiatkowski, William Luti was the direct conduit from OSP into the vice president's office. Those connections between a Pentagon intelligence operation and the VP's office were considered without precedent.
A significant portion of that information was built around allegations that Iraq was trying to get uranium oxide or "yellow-cake" ore from Niger. When former ambassador Joseph Wilson returned from the country however, he briefed two CIA officers at his home and told them there was no evidence to corroborate such a claim. A report on his findings was sent through routine channels. His information was given a grade of "good" by the agents who debriefed him, but the summary of his findings did not make its way to the vice president's office, or to the national security adviser, who later suggested it may have gotten lost in the "bowels" of the bureaucracy.
Although she understood the corruption of the processes she was witnessing, 'I've gotta get this over to Scooter,' and, 'He needs this by 3:00 p.m.’ I just didn't pay attention to civilian personnel. I worked for the secretary of defense. And I was amazed that these guys were talking about directly providing stuff into Cheney's staff. I asked somebody later. 'Who's this Scooter? He must be an important guy.' I thought he was a general or something. They were giving him propaganda, though, not intelligence."
AMERICAN ZIONISTSAT WORK
Stefan Halper & Jonathan Clarke in America Alone: The Neo-Conservatives and the Global Order (2004) posit that a common charge laid at the neoconservative door is that they are an exclusive "in group" or "cabal." They are sufficiently sensitive to this description to react with vigorous defense against it. They argue that, based on their writings, speeches, voluminous public pronouncements, and generous media accessibility both domestically and internationally, they cannot be accused of acting as a Soviet-era conspiracy or cabal. This is fine as far as it goes. It is certainly true that they do not shrink from the limelight. But Halper & Clarke argue that this media blitz conceals--about their true objectives introduces an important criticism of the neo-conservatives, namely that they have not come clean and are not coming clean with the country, [and in 2018, it is still relevant and is a major cause of Anti-Semitism].
The positive side of their public availability is that they and their views are easy to identify. They include individuals who hold or held positions in government: Chief of Staff to the Vice-President, I. Lewis Libby: Special Adviser to the President, Elliott Abrams; Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul D. Wolfowitz; State Department officials John R. Bolton and David Wurmser.
Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who would be better described as American nationalists than as neo-conservatives, have found that many of their deeply held beliefs about American exceptionalism and unilateralism parallel neo-conservative thought and have been decisive in their support for the underlying neo-conservative ideological thrust. Both their signatures can be found on a key neo-conservative document, the 1997 Statement of Principles by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). Rumsfeld signed the Project's January 1998 letter to President Bill Clinton calling for the removal of Saddam Hussein. Cheney shares the neo-conservative absolutist antipathy to international organizations as sources of encroachment on U.S. sovereignty. Without their support, the neo-conservative agenda could never been implemented.
From the time of its inauguration in 1997, the PNAC was an essential element of the defense-establishment-to-be. The list of signatories included those who would subsequently assumed pivotal roles in the foreign policy of George W. Bush's administration, such as Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, and Libby. Later to be Cheney's Chief of Staff and an active neo-conservative in the 1990s, Libby had first begun service in government at the State Department in 1981 as part of the Policy Planning Staff. From 1982 to 1985, he then served as Director of Special Projects in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. From 1989 to 1993, Libby was Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, and in 1998 served as the Legal Adviser to the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on U.S. National Security and Military/Commercial concerns with the Peoples' Republic of China, which was more commonly known as the Cox Committee. A longtime compatriot of Wolfowitz, Libby also joined the board at the Rand Corporation and became a consultant to Northrop Grumman.
Neoconservatives also found themselves in positions of great power beyond the State and Defense Departments. I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a Wolfowitz protégé, went from prior positions on Capitol Hill, the State Department, and the Department of Defense, to become the vice president's Chief of Staff. From early on in the administration, the vice president's office was formidable presence, the little short of a mini-National Security Council. To complement Cheney's own vast experience in foreign and national security policy, Libby assembled a team of unusually accomplished and experienced advisers. With various and many military experts, specialists on foreign and national security matters, seasoned veterans of the pentagon, political allies and like-minded legislative aides from Congress, as well as veteran lobbyists and speech writers, the vice president's office was equipped to play a significant role in shaping the executive agenda.
Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley agrees: "Cheney is unique in American history. He is the vortex in the White House on foreign policy-making. Everything come through him." Whereas previous vice presidential offices had often included maybe one dominant national security aide and policy experts on loan from other federal agencies, Cheney introduced into his team permanent staff experts and full-time specialists on areas such as the Middle East and military affairs. Cheney's team had the wherewithal to operate independently of other arms of government, such as the National Security Council (NSC). As Libby and his staff participated in White House foreign policy meetings it is possible to argue that the vice president's small staff became more influential than the larger staff of the NSC itself.
Libby and Defense Planning Guidance
Halper & Clarke declare that before the speech at West Point and the publication of the NSS, neoconservatives had advocated a U.S policy of preemption. In 1992, aides to Secretary of Defense Cheney, supervised by Paul Wolfowitz and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby (now the vice president's chief of staff), prepared a document known as the Defense Planning Guidance (DPG). The document was the military's blueprint for planning, building, and deploying forces in fiscal years 1994 through 1999. While never officially finalized, in fact, it was a completed document, and a working draft of the DPG was leaked to the Washington Post and the New York Times. The full text was not reproduced, but the content is well known and appears to line up closely with the principles put forth in the 2002 NSS.
The first objective advanced by the DPG was to "prevent the reemergence of a new rival." This required the United States to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would be sufficient to generate global power. The authors of the draft argued that "beyond deterring attack on the United States," the United States should be prepared to use force to "preclude threats" and to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. In addition, the draft advised that the United States should be "postured to act independently when collective action cannot be orchestrated." The language of the draft was significant. According to Barton Gellman the Washington Post reporter who received the leak, the document contained the word "preempt." The broad suggestion that the military should be configured to support the United States as a benevolent global hegemon.
Iraq: The False Pretenses
The days after 9/11 were the critical space in which the requirement of top policy makers to devise a concrete response to a national emergency coincided with the perspectives of neo-conservative thinking that had spent some twelve years in the making. Suddenly, the neoconservative's long desired goal of regime change in Baghdad coincided with the president's political need for a powerful response. Drawing on his experience of similar debates within the Clinton administration on the Balkans, General Wesley Clark commented that the focus on Iraq "was the old idea of state sponsorship--even though there was no evidence of Iraqi sponsorship whatsoever--and the opportunity to 'roll it all up.' I could imagine the arguments. War to unseat Saddam promised concrete, visible action."
Years before, these ideas had been reduced to paper by those around the president's cabinet table. As early as 1992, Cheney, Wolfowitz, and Libby had established the intellectual basis for driving American tanks up the streets of Baghdad. They and Rumsfeld had all been signatories on the PNAC's founding statement of principles in 1997. Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Libby had each signed the open letter to Clinton in January 1998, entitled "Remove Saddam's Regime from Power," along with seven other signatories who had also become members of the Bush administration.
The case for war against Iraq as discussed on September 15, 2001, was thus the operational roll-out of the neo-conservative template. Earlier, Daniel Bell, himself a neoconservative, had observed: "being ideological you have prefabricated ideas." He might have been writing of this moment.
THE RETURN OF THE NEOCONSERVATIVES
Jacob Heilbronn in They Knew They Were Right: The Rise Of The Neocons (2008) writes that while Bush had adopted the rhetoric of the neocons, his second term would see a progressive move away from neoconservatives actually occupying positions in his administration. One exception was John Bolton, whom Bush nominated to become UN ambassador in March 2005.
Bolton ran into fierce resistance on Capitol Hill and was never confirmed. Bolton himself rejects the term "neoconservative." A graduate of Yale, he loathed the student left of the late 1960s and cut his political teeth fighting campaign finance regulations. Bolton carried over his uncompromising stands into the arena of international affairs. He was a unilateralist who believed that the United States should not negotiate with Iran and North Korea, and did his best to stymie any negotiations during his tenure at the State Department. At the UN, Bolton cracked down on the American staff, insisting on vetting any cables leaving the building. A protégé of James Baker and [the late] former North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, Bolton functioned as a bridge between the neocons and traditional conservatives. [Before his appointment as Security Adviser by Trump], he occupied Jeane Kirkpatrick's former off at AEI, where he wrote a memoir and gave speeches denouncing the government's bureaucracy.
In the end, the longer his presidency went on, the more of a neoconservative Bush became--and the less power the neoconservatives themselves exercised directly. Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith would leave the administration in disgrace. Richard Perle was forced to resign from the Defense Policy Board because of perceived conflicts of interest, including his Israeli financial ties. I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby became embroiled in a perjury trial that ended with three out of four guilty convictions.
However, once again, neoconservative ideas are proving harder to extirpate than their critics hoped.
Comey: Trump’s pardon of Scooter Libby ‘an attack on the rule of law’
"There’s a reason George W. Bush, for whom Scooter Libby worked, refused to pardon him after looking at all the facts in the case," Comey said in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America."
"It was an overwhelming case. There’s no reason that’s consistent with justice to pardon him, and so it’s an attack on the rule of law, in my view."
Libby, the former chief of staff to former Vice President Cheney, was convicted in 2007 on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in the probe into the disclosure of the identity of former covert CIA officer Valerie Plame.
Libby was initially sentenced to 30 months in prison and a $250,000 fine but was ultimately spared jail time after former President George W. Bush commuted his sentence. But Bush refused to grant him a full pardon.
Comey's comments came as he enters into day three of a media blitz to mark the release of his memoir, "A Higher Loyalty:Truth, Lies, and Leadership." That book offers a biting assessment of Trump as an unethical leader who acts more like a mafia boss than a president.
Trump abruptly fired Comey in May 2017, ostensibly because of his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of State.
The president later acknowledged that he had considered the FBI's investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and Russia as part of his decision to fire Comey.
Former FBI Director James Comey's book, A Higher Loyalty, comes out Tuesday. Terry Gross of WHYY's Fresh Air talked to Comey about his tell-all memoir a day before it published.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Former FBI Director James Comey's book "A Higher Loyalty" comes out tomorrow. His tell-all memoir is not only about his interactions with President Trump. It's also about how he views the conduct of the highest officeholder in the U.S. Here's what he told Terry Gross of WHYY's Fresh Air today.
TERRY GROSS, BYLINE: A few days ago, President Trump gave Scooter Libby a full pardon. Libby had been Vice President Cheney's chief of staff. In 2007, Libby was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with leaking the identity of a covert CIA agent Valerie Plame. And Plame said over the weekend, Trump is saying if you get in trouble, don't spill the beans. I'll take care of you. This is how the mafia works.
So that's Valerie Plame's take on it that Trump is sending a message like if you get in trouble, don't spill the beans on me. I'll take care of you. You are the one who appointed the special prosecutor on that case. You appointed Patrick Fitzgerald. Do you think the president is also sending you a message that he's undoing some of your work, that he's putting a thumb in your eye by pardoning Scooter Libby? Do you take it personally at all?
JAMES COMEY: I don't. Ringing in my head is something my wife has said to me a lot throughout my life - it's not about you, dear. I doubt that he's thinking about me when he's doing that. But that doesn't mean it's not an attack on the rule of law. There's a reason that President George W. Bush, for whom Scooter Libby worked, refused to pardon him after reviewing the case in detail. There was overwhelming evidence that he lied intentionally to investigators and to the grand jury.
I tell the story of the Scooter Libby case in the book because in - the book is not about Donald Trump. He's part of it. But a big part of the book is about so what are the values that are at the core of our work in the justice system? And one of them is people have to tell the truth in the course of our investigations or the rule of law fails. The Libby case was incredibly important and justified by overwhelming facts. To pardon now is an attack on the rule of law. https://www.npr.org/2018/04/16/603036983/former-fbi-director-comey-...
SHAPIRO: You can hear the rest of Terry Gross' interview with James Comey tomorrow on WHYY's Fresh Air.
Moore and Slather implicate James Comey when they posit that regardless of how the leak was set into motion the findings of the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, allege there was a campaign from within the administration to inform journalists of Valerie Plame's background. The day after her husband's op-ed in the New York Times, the vice president's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, had lunch with White House press secretary Ari Fleischer and informed him that Plame worked at the CIA and that the information was "not widely known." The next day, Libby had breakfast with his friend reporter Judith Miller of the Times and shared with her the background on Plame's work at the CIA. Later that day July 8, 2003, Libby asked David Addington, then the legal counsel to the vice president, what paper work might exist at the CIA "if an employee's spouse undertook an overseas trip."
Fitzgerald for his part, must have immediately had his suspicions about what he was hearing from Rove and Libby. A few months after he'd taken over the investigation of the [Valerie Plame] leak, Fitzgerald wrote the man who'd appointed him to the post, then acting attorney general James Comey, and asked that his legal purview include the authority to investigate not just the leak itself but also perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and even intimidation of witnesses. Comey readily granted Fitzgerald the addition authority.