‘NYT’ and ‘Wash Post’ Columnists Agree: Libby Trial Is All About the ‘Cover-Up’

By: E&P Staff

Two leading columnists for rival New York Times and Washington Post have come to the same conclusion: There are many minor points and side issues and even “red herrings” in the current Libby/CIA leak trial but at its heart it is an extremely significant case revolving around the crumbling of a “cover-up.”

That is, the leaking of Valerie Plame’s name, and the furious approaches to reporters in the summer of 2003, was mainly in the service of trying to prevent a truth from coming out: that the administration essentially lied our way into war.

Frank Rich in his Sunday column for the Times joined David Ignatius from the Post in this matter. Sunday happens to be the day before the fourth anniversary of Colin Powell’s highly inaccurate and misleading speech to the United Nations that greased the path to war.

Rich refers to Vice President Cheney’s recent CNN interview in which he declared claims of setbacks in Iraq “hogwash” this way: “The vice president?s on-camera crackup reflected his understandable fear that a White House cover-up was crumbling. He knew that sworn testimony in a Washington courtroom would reveal still more sordid details about how the administration lied to take the country into war in Iraq. He knew that those revelations could cripple the White House?s current campaign to escalate that war and foment apocalyptic scenarios about Iran. Scariest of all, he knew that he might yet have to testify under oath himself.

“Mr. Cheney, in other words, understands the danger this trial poses to the White House even as some of Washington remains oblivious. From the start, the capital has belittled the Joseph and Valerie Wilson affair as ‘a tempest in a teapot,’ as David Broder of The Washington Post reiterated just five months ago. When ‘all of the facts come out in this case, it?s going to be laughable because the consequences are not that great,?’Bob Woodward said in 2005. Or, as Robert Novak suggested in 2003 before he revealed Ms. Wilson?s identity as a C.I.A. officer in his column, ‘weapons of mass destruction or uranium from Niger’ are ‘little elitist issues that don?t bother most of the people.’ Those issues may not trouble Mr. Novak, but they do loom large to other people, especially those who sent their kids off to war over nonexistent weapons of mass destruction and nonexistent uranium.

“In terms of the big issues, the question of who first leaked Ms. Wilson?s identity (whether Mr. Libby, Richard Armitage, Ari Fleischer or Karl Rove) to which journalist (whether Mr. Woodward, Mr. Novak, Judith Miller or Matt Cooper) has always been a red herring. It?s entirely possible that the White House has always been telling the truth when it says that no one intended to unmask a secret agent. (No one has been charged with that crime.) The White House is also telling the truth when it repeatedly says that Mr. Cheney did not send Mr. Wilson on his C.I.A.-sponsored African trip to check out a supposed Iraq-Niger uranium transaction. (Another red herring, since Mr. Wilson didn?t make that accusation in the first place.)

“But if the administration is telling the truth on these narrow questions and had little to hide about the Wilson trip per se, its wild overreaction to the episode was an incriminating sign it was hiding something else.”

Ignatius in the Post had written on Friday: “Why was the White House so nervous in the summer of 2003 about the CIA’s reporting on alleged Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Niger to build a nuclear bomb? That’s the big question that runs through the many little details that have emerged in the perjury trial of Vice President Cheney’s former top aide, Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby.

“The trial record suggests a simple answer: The White House was worried that the CIA would reveal that it had been pressured in 2002 and early 2003 to support administration claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and that in the Niger case, the CIA had tried hard to resist this pressure. The machinations of Cheney, Libby and others were an attempt to weave an alternative narrative that blamed the CIA….

“So we begin to understand why the White House was worried about the CIA in the summer of 2003: It feared the agency would breach the wall of silence about the claims regarding weapons of mass destruction…. Let me say it again: This trial is about a cover-up that failed.”

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