FLASHBACK: How ‘E&P’ Reported Judith Miller’s Libby Revelations in 2005

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By: E&P Staff

With Judith Miller’s testimony underway in the trial of I. Lewis Libby in Washington, D.C., we thought it might be valuable, and interesting, to reprint E&P Editor Greg Mitchell’s response — the first major take anywhere — to The New York Times’ in-house probe of the Miller/Libby adventure on October 15, 2005.

Much of this goes over the same ground covered in Miller’s testimony on Tuesday, involving her three discussions with Libby in which the names of Joseph Wilson and/or his wife Valerie Plame came up. In a separate column the next day , Mitchell went out on a limb, calling for Miller’s dismissal and for Executive Editor Bill Keller to apologize to readers.

Here is the original article.

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Shortly after 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, The New York Times delivered on the Web its long-promised article probing Judith Miller’s involvement in the Plame case. It reveals many devastating new details about her experience — and dissent within the newspaper about her role and the way the Times handled her case.

Among other things, the 5,800-word article discloses that in the same notebook that Miller belatedly turned over to the federal prosecutor last month, chronicling her July 8, 2003, interview with I. Lewis Libby, she wrote the name “Valerie Flame.” She surely meant Valerie Plame, but when she testified for a second time in the case this week, she could not recall who mentioned that name to her, the Times said. She said she “didn’t think” she heard it from Libby, a longtime friend and source.

The Times’ article is accompanied by Miller’s own first-person account of her grand jury testimony. In it, she admits that the federal prosecutor “asked if I could recall discussing the Wilson-Plame connection with other sources. I said I had, though I could not recall any by name or when those conversations occurred.”

In this memoir, Miller also claims that she simply “could not recall” where the “Valerie Flame” notation came from, “when I wrote it or why the name was misspelled.”

But her notes from her earlier talk with Libby, on June 23, 2003 — belatedly turned over to the prosecutor last week –also “leave open the possibility” that Libby told her that former Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA, though perhaps not using the name “Plame.”

The article by the team of Times reporters concludes with this frank and brutal assessment: “The Times incurred millions of dollars in legal fees in Ms. Miller’s case. It limited its own ability to cover aspects of one of the biggest scandals of the day. Even as the paper asked for the public’s support, it was unable to answer its questions.”

It follows that paragraph with Executive Editor Bill Keller’s more sanguine view: “It’s too early to judge.”

That article includes this note: “In two interviews, Ms. Miller generally would not discuss her interactions with editors, elaborate on the written accounts of her grand jury testimony or allow reporters to review her notes.” Thus, the article appears to be less than the “full accounting” with full Miller cooperation that the editors promised.

Just as surprising, the article reveals that Keller and the Times’ publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, did not review her notes. Keller said he learned about the “Valerie Flame” notation only this month. Sulzberger knew nothing about it until told by his reporters on Thursday.

The article (written by Don Van Natta, Jr., Adam Liptak and Clifford J. Levy) says that Miller is taking some time off but “hopes to return to the newsroom,” and will write a book about the case.

Meanwhile, newsroom leaders expressed frustration about the Times’ coverage (or lack of) during the entire ordeal. Asked what she regretted about the paper’s coverage, Jill Abramson, a managing editor, said: “The entire thing.”

The article details how the paper’s defense of Miller, coming from the top, crippled its coverage of Plame case, and humiliated the paper’s reporters on numerous occasions.

Saturday’s story says that Miller was a “divisive figure” in the newsroom and a “few colleagues refused to work with her.” Doug Frantz, former chief investigations editor at the paper, said that Miller called herself “Miss Run Amok,” meaning, she said, “I can do whatever I want.”

The story also paints a less-than-flattering picture of Keller. At one point it dryly observes: “Throughout this year, reporters at the paper spent weeks trying to determine the identity of Ms. Miller’s source. All the while, Mr. Keller knew it, but declined to tell his own reporters.”

(See Greg Mitchell’s Pressing Issues column: After ‘NY Times’ Probe, Keller Must Fire Miller and Apologize to Readers)

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During the July 8, 2003, talk with Libby, he told her that Plame worked on weapons intelligence and arms control, and Miller allegedly took this to mean that she was not covert, but she didn’t really know one way or the other.

Revealing her working methods, perhaps too clearly, she writes that at this meeting, Libby wanted to modify their prior understanding that she would attribute information from him to an unnamed “senior administration official.” Now, in talking about Wilson, he requested that he be identified only as a “former Hill staffer.” This was obviously to deflect attention from the Cheney office’s effort to hurt Wilson. But Miller admits, “I agreed to the new ground rules because I knew that Mr. Libby had once worked on Capitol Hill.”

She talked to Libby again on the phone four days later, and the CIA agent’s name shows up in her notes yet again, with her married name this time, “Valerie Wilson.” Miller had by then called other sources about Plame, but she would not talk about them with the Times.

Two days after her third chat with Libby, Robert Novak exposed Plame.

In her first-person account, Miller writes that when asked by the prosecutor what she thought about the Robert Novak column that outed Plame as a CIA agent, “I told the grand jury I was annoyed at having been beaten on a story.”

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For the first time this clearly, Miller, in Saturday’s article, admits, “WMD–I got it totally wrong,” but then goes on to say that “all” of the other journalists, and experts and analysts, also were wrong. “I did the best job I could,” she said.

The article reveals, also for the first time, that Keller took her off Iraq and weapons issues after he became editor in July 2003. Nevertheless, he admits, “she kept drifting on her own back into the national security realm,” making one wonder who was in charge of her.

Another mystery the article may solve: Critics have long suggested that Miller was not even working on a story about the Joseph Wilson trip to Niger when she talked to Libby and others in 2003. But the Times’ article reveals that she had been assigned to write a story about the failure to find WMDs in Iraq, but this was her beat, so it’s hard to understand why she would need an assignment. In any case, in talking to Libby on June 23, 2003, he wanted to talk about Wilson.

In a somewhat amusing sidelight, Miller at the end of her piece addresses the much-discussed “aspens are already turning” letter from Libby last month that some thought was written in code or somehow had something to do with Aspen, Colo. Well, the Aspen part is right, Miller confirms, recalling a conference in that city in 2003 and an expected encounter with Libby — in cowboy hat and sunglasses — shortly afterward.

The article and Miller sidebar contain a great deal about the controversial “waiver” deal with Libby and the conflicting accounts of lawyers, but it’s too complicated (though fascinating) to summarize here.

At last report, Miller was still scheduled to received a First Amendment Award given by the Society of Professonal Journalists at their convention on Tuesday.

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