What You See (in the Media) is Not What You Get (in the Libby Trial)

In the wake of the first week of the Libby Trial, Patrick Fitzgerald's soufflé has turned into a pancake. Of course, if you are getting your news of the trial from the press you're certain to believe Libby is in trouble. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reporting is as bad as I've ever seen (Matt Apuzzo of AP being the rare exception of a reporter who's getting it mostly right).

I don't have the official trial transcript but the Media Bloggers Association has had people in the media room reporting summaries of the proceeding on a live feed and so does Firedog Lake. Meanwhile,  the regulars at Just One Minute have been commenting from an informed perspective providing a view of the trial at substantial odds with what has been presented by those who (for some reason we can't figure out) are getting paid for their work, which largely consists of a fantasy version of the event.

In this rogue's gallery, David Shuster of NBC makes it into the JOM spotlight twice;  And Neil Lewis of the New York Times got star billing, as did the National Journal's Murray Waas.

Newsweek's "Spikey" Isikoff filed too late to see his name in JOM's lights yet but he, too, deserves mention for a preposterously fantastical article on the trial. The article begins, "White House anxiety is mounting over the prospect" that Rove and Bartlett may testify. Isikoff is on the White House speed dial? He knows this how?

Only at the end of the article - the very last sentence -- is it clear this is all his fevered speculation that he's passed on at the beginning of the article as a factual assertion.

In the second paragraph, he mischaracterizes defense counsel Wells' argument saying it was that Libby "had been made a scapegoat" to protect Rove. Actually, Wells said that during the investigation Libby feared he was being scapegoated, not that, in fact, he was. (I think it may well be that his fear was based in part of something not yet revealed -- that the FBI agents doing the investigation mischaracterized to Libby and others what various people had said, probably in the hope of getting them to turn on each other. I think, in sum, the investigators lied to Libby as I believe they did to others.)

Another mischaracterization from Spikey:
"Libby is charged about when and from whom he learned about Plame."
Actually Libby's own admission to investigators from day one was that he learned this from Cheney in June, that it was not a significant fact to him at the time, and that he'd forgotten about this side matter until reporters called asking about it. Certainly, a reporter as intimately familiar with this case as Isikoff, who wrote a book about it, could do a better job on this basic fact.

Next utterly false "fact": Spikey says Wilson said there was nothing to the reports that Iraq had been trying to purchase uranium in Niger.

We all know that is a lie. For one thing, the bi-partisan Congressional Committee investigating this said it was. Despite the restrictions on whom he could talk to (ex-officials), and what he was permitted to ask and the short length and nature of his "investigation", Wilson was told and reported back that there had been an Iraqi trade delegation to Niger and that it was believed they had been seeking to purchase uranium. Surely there was enough room in the article to tell readers that.

As to Rove's testimony, Spikey reports that Rove will testify that Libby told him on July 11 he learned of Plame and her role from Russert. That would, of course, seem to support Libby's contention that Russert told him. (Something in an odd formulation, hardly dispositive of the matter, Russert has publicly denied. That is, he says he didn't know her name and her job at the CIA. Of course, if Russert follows the pattern of the first four witnesses, I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that the prosecution's characterization of his testimony is as distorted as it has been of the first four prosecution witnesses.)

Spikey notes that,
"More than a half dozen officials have said they passed along the same information earlier than that."
Yeah, we heard four of them (Grossman, Grenier, Schmall and Martin) last week at the trial, and not one had a firm handle on when and where they told him, nor mentioned a reference longer than about 30 seconds.  Fitzgerald's theory is that these remarks were so consequential Libby could not have forgotten this information. But the trial testimony shows this is preposterous and the prosecution's own witnesses have been demonstrating that claim is preposterous. In the process they have revealed
(a) they have substantial memory problems themselves; and

(b) the indictment and Fitzgerald press conference when he announced the indictment  substantially overstated what these four witnesses had told the investigators and grand jury; and

(c) not a single witness believed the information about Plame  was significant that early in time.
More fiction offered up as news: Spikey says Rove is "edgy" because after his conversation with Libby he told Cooper about Plame. He knows this, how? Oh dear.

Libby says he told Cooper, Cooper says HE told Libby. Rove says, I believe, that he may have told Cooper but forgot the entire conversation until a fellow Time staffer reminded his lawyer and some note was found to refresh his recollection. The judge has sent a strong signal that Cooper lied (ruling after reading his notes of his conversation with Libby that no matter how Cooper testifies his notes will impeach him). Rove must really be sweating this out - not.

Isikoff does remind us of something interesting. Ari Fleischer, who had an immunity deal negotiated by Williams and Connolly, had publicly said he wasn't even represented by a lawyer. (Who else said that? Armitage...  the only other witness who appears to have been granted immunity - per the AP's Apuzzo - and the only other person known to have deliberately leaked the information about Plame.)

You can be sure that Fleischer's comment that he wasn't even represented by counsel will be used to impeach him at trial, and if it turns out that Apuzzo's hint that Armitage had a similar deal is true, Armitage's claim that he also had no counsel will be impeaching.

Spikey says Libby told Fleischer that Ms. Wilson worked at the CIA and that was "hush hush".  Having seen the mischaracterization of all the witness statements to date by the prosecution and the odd inferences drawn by the special prosecutor from them, I'll wait and see to what Fleischer actually testifies. My recollection is the hush hush was about other matters relating to the uranium in Africa tale, which was moving through the CIA   declassification process at the speed of frozen molasses (because the agency was clearly trying to forestall further embarrassment that this nonsensical Mission to Africa was causing it).

Finally, Spikey says Fleischer then heard about Plame from Bartlett and passed it on to NBC's David Gregory.  Last week during the trial, we learned for the very first time that Gregory who had earlier claimed  "no one called him"-implying he'd received no information about Plame -- was leaked the information by Fleischer. There were a number of earlier reports  that Fleischer saw the details about Plame in the INR which he was given while flying on Air Force One,  and immediately told Gregory, who ever afterward pretended he never knew this and who was never questioned by the crack special prosecution team.

A friend with a long distinguished career in law enforcement also has looked at the Isikoff story and says of my analysis:

"Well, FWIW [for what it's worth], I think you're right all up and down the line. The mischaracterization of Libby's scapegoating concerns is laughable, but this (from the article) is precious:
Rove has said in secret testimony that, during a chat on July 11, 2003, Libby told him he learned about Plame's employment at the CIA from NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert, a legal source who asked not to be identified talking about grand jury matters told NEWSWEEK. If Rove repeats that story on the witness stand, it could back up Libby's core assertion that he honestly, if mistakenly, thought he had heard about Wilson's wife from the "Meet the Press" host ... [/quote]
"And what would be the reason that Rove would take an oath and then not repeat what he said to the Grand Jury? To show Libby that his scapegoating concerns were well founded? To give Fitz  [Gerald] another shot at himself (Rove)? You can go to the bank on Rove repeating his G[rand] J[ury] testimony--and he won't just repeat his "story": Wells will make sure that the jury understands that the unindicted Rove said the same thing to the G[rand] J[ury], if at all possible. And that will be a BIG hit to the prosecution. If, as we and just about everyone else suspects, Russert will end up having to unpack his highly nuanced testimony, the perjury rap will collapse at that point.

"The scenario you sketch in #3[that whatever conversations in which Plame was mentioned in June to Libby were minor, of seconds' duration and utterly unmemorable] is coming through pretty clearly already--from the prosecution witnesses!

"I did not realize that Fleischer denied being represented, and I had taken Armitage's similar claim at face value--now I wonder. Can Fleischer's public statement in this respect be used to impeach him? The statement did concern the investigation. I say I took A[rmitage]'s claim at face value, only because when I heard it I thought that meant he received immediate assurances that he was safe. If he lied about that, too, and was going around trying to nobble witnesses to boot...." [Grossman testified that Armitage met with him before Grossman's first appearance before the grand jury and informed him he had been the leaker. Further he testified that he spoke to Armitage before all his discussions with investigators and the grand jury, setting up a strong implication that Armitage was trying to manipulate his testimony.]
With his own witnesses taking the air out of this thin case, the prosecutor's soufflé of an indictment has turned into a pancake when it came to trial.
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