Saturday, July 23, 2005

More Treasongate Fallout in Sunday's Times Heralds the Fall of the House of Bush...

It still amuses me that some folks think this is a non-story. This is the story of the summer, as long as there's no African American celebrities or Democratic congressmen being accused of crimes.

Anyway, from tomorrow's NY Times:

In the growing chorus of criticism of the run-up to war, Mr. Wilson's one-man media onslaught stood out as a sort of eyewitness account. He had been dispatched to Niger by the C.I.A. to see whether Iraq was buying uranium there for nuclear weapons. He claimed to have debunked the story in March 2002, only to have it reappear in January 2003, in the president's State of the Union address.

If believed, Mr. Wilson's accusations were poised to add an insider's authority to the cloud of doubt beginning to grow around the Iraq enterprise, as the resistance was proving far more stubborn than anticipated and the search for Saddam Hussein's weapons was coming up empty.

Ten weeks had passed since Mr. Bush's speech aboard an aircraft carrier, before a banner declaring "Mission Accomplished." And the president was being criticized by Democrats as taunting Iraqi insurgents a few days earlier by using the phrase "Bring 'em on." Behind the scenes, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council were skirmishing over who would take the blame for inaccurate intelligence.

The White House response to Mr. Wilson's accusations, as it unfolded over the next eight days, would be aggressive and comprehensive. At home and from the African road trip, in on-the-record briefings and in background tips to reporters, the president's aides sought to rebut Mr. Wilson's statements and undercut his credibility.

It was political trench warfare, Washington-style, an early exchange in what would become an enduring conflict over the administration's use of prewar intelligence.

But in the enthusiasm of the campaign to discredit Mr. Wilson, someone would expose the real job of the diplomat's wife, Valerie, a C.I.A. officer who had worked under cover for two decades, hiding her position from even close friends and relatives.

Whether thoughtless or deliberate, the shattering of Valerie Wilson's cover would prompt the C.I.A. to seek a criminal investigation into the leak. And the investigation would be turned over to a special counsel with a reputation for relentlessly pursuing his quarry...

Mr. Wilson began to spread the word to reporters that he believed the president's speech had misrepresented the government's knowledge. Identified as "a former U.S. ambassador to Africa," Mr. Wilson spoke with Nicholas Kristof of The Times for a May 6, 2003, column about the failure to find weapons of mass destruction. The column quoted an "insider" as saying, "It's disingenuous for the State Department people to say they were bamboozled because they knew about this for a year."

But it was only on that Sunday in July that Mr. Wilson - by then a foreign policy adviser to Democratic Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign - really turned up the volume. His charges in two newspapers and on a television network were instantly rebroadcast around the world.

The president's staff moved swiftly to counter Mr. Wilson's media trifecta, which threatened to undermine Mr. Bush's record as a war leader just 15 months before the election.

The goals were clear: shield President Bush from responsibility for dubious prewar weapons claims, and distance the vice president from Mr. Wilson's journey to Niger, which Mr. Cheney's aides say he knew nothing about.

The president's aides, including Ari Fleischer, his press secretary, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, would attempt to blunt Mr. Wilson's claims in on-the-record briefings, before Air Force Once took off for Senegal and then for the correspondents following the president as he traveled around Africa.

Meanwhile, those left in charge at the White House, including Karl Rove, the president's political guru, and I. Lewis Libby Jr., chief of staff to Mr. Cheney, would spend part of the week trying to defuse the controversy over the State of the Union address.

The White House response began at 9:30 a.m. on July 7, a Monday, as Mr. Fleischer briefed the press at the White House. "There is zero, nada, nothing new here," he said of Mr. Wilson's claims. But under questioning, Mr. Fleischer's account became murkier. He seemed to concede, before backing away, that Mr. Bush's entire statement about Saddam Hussein's search for uranium in Africa might have been flawed.

By evening, as Air Force One lifted off, officials on the plane were calling The Times and The Washington Post to make it clear that they no longer stood behind Mr. Bush's statement about the uranium - the first such official concession on the sensitive issue of the intelligence that led to the war.

Aboard the president's plane was a copy of a State Department memorandum on the Wilson matter faxed in-flight to Colin L. Powell, then the secretary of state. Officials who have seen the memorandum say that in a passage marked "S" for "secret," it included a crucial revelation: that Valerie Wilson was a C.I.A. officer who played a role in the agency's decision to send her husband to Africa.

As Mr. Bush appeared with one African leader after another, reporters repeatedly tried to slip in questions on Iraq. On Wednesday, July 9, in South Africa, he was asked if he regretted the uranium reference in the January speech.

"Look," the president replied, "I am confident that Saddam Hussein had a weapons of mass destruction program."

In Uganda, two days later, he was asked whether "somebody should be held accountable" for the inaccurate reference in the State of the Union address. He replied, "I gave a speech to the nation that was cleared by the intelligence services."

There's more. We now know that Bush was lying about the WMDs, and solicited a rubber stamp from George Tenet. What did Bush know and when did he know it? How much was he involved?

In fact, if you go over to the Week in Review section, they start asking those same questions.

The special prosecutor in the case, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, has kept a tight curtain of secrecy around his investigation. But he spent more than an hour in the Oval Office on June 24, 2004, interviewing Mr. Bush about the case. Mr. Bush was not under oath, but he had his personal lawyer for the case, James E. Sharp, with him.

Neither the White House nor the Justice Department has said what Mr. Bush was asked about, but prosecutors do not lightly seek to put questions directly to any president, suggesting that there was some information that Mr. Fitzgerald felt he could get only from Mr. Bush.

Allan J. Lichtman, a presidential historian at American University in Washington, said the lesson of recent history, for example in the Iran-contra case under President Ronald Reagan, is that presidents tend to know more than it might first appear about what is going on within the White House.

"My presumption in presidential politics is that the president always knows," Mr. Lichtman said. "But there are degrees of knowing. Reagan said, keep the contras together body and soul. Did he know exactly what Oliver North was doing? No, it doesn't mean he knew what every subordinate is doing."

No Republican is going to want to "ride Bush's coattails" going into either 2006 or 2008.

Iraq is getting to be even more of a quagmire, ...

"We are capturing or killing a lot of insurgents," said a senior Army intelligence officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make his assessments public. "But they're being replaced quicker than we can interdict their operations. There is always another insurgent ready to step up and take charge."...

[O]n Thursday, the rebels struck again, kidnapping the top Algerian diplomat in Iraq and a colleague. The gunmen snatched Ali Billaroussi, the top envoy, and Azzedine Belkadi, in Mansour, one of Baghdad's best neighborhoods, in broad daylight.

The abduction of the two diplomats followed the kidnapping and killing earlier this month of Ihab al-Sharif, Egypt's top diplomat, who had been designated to become the Arab world's first ambassador to Iraq. The kidnappings seemed designed to intimidate foreign governments, particularly Muslim governments, into withholding full diplomatic relations with the fledging Iraqi government.

As with the slaying of the moderate Sunni leaders, the kidnappings have seemed, so far, to have secured exactly what the insurgents wanted. No Arab government has yet sent an ambassador to this country.

It's about over for the House of Bush...

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