Ari Speaks; Scooter ScramblesÂ
Ari Fleischer, former White HouseÂ Press Secretary to George W. Bush, testified in court today thatÂ I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby told him thatÂ former Ambassador Joe Wilson's wife was a CIA operative three days before Libby admitsÂ to learningÂ the information himself.Â Â Libby, formerÂ chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney,Â is on trial for five felony counts including perjury and obstruction of justice. Last week, I questioned the reasoning behind Fleischer's grant of immunity in exchange for his testimony. "Immunity from what and why?" I wondered. Well, now we know: Fleischer has been sitting on a bombshell.
Fleischer testified that Scooter Libby invited him toÂ lunch (for the first time despiteÂ both having workedÂ for the BushÂ administration for years) on July 7, 2003. The two discussed benign matters including the Miami Dolphins before the conversation turned to the growing controversy over then-Ambassador Wilson. The Ambassador had come under fire from the White House after discovering and reportingÂ that there was no truth to their report that Saddam Hussein sought to purchase yellowcake uranium from Niger.Â Â In a previous article published on gather.com, I outlinedÂ some of the events leading up Libby's trial where opening statements were made on Monday, January 22, 2007, including the July 6, 2003 publication of Wilson's New York Times op-ed entitled "What I Didn't Find in Africa."
Ambassador Wilson's op-ed piece (full text here) was highly critical of the administration's rationale for going to war in Iraq:
"Did the Bush administration manipulate intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq?
Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice to conlude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat."
Wilson's findings on his trip to Africa and subsequent publishing of the op-ed allegedly sparked a campaign on the part of Vice President Dick Cheney, his aide Scooter Libby and others to discredit him. Part of the alleged plan involved the purposeful outing of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, who was an undercover CIA agent working in the Agency's counterproliferation department.
On July 7, 2003, largely due to Ambassador's revelations in the op-ed piece, the White House was forced to admit that "accusations included in the President's State of the Union address have turned out to be inaccurate." These "accusations" include the damning words, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa," which has since been proven to be untrue.Â Coincidentally,Â July 7, 2003Â was the very day Libby invited Fleischer to lunch, discussed "the Wilson controversy," and revealed that Wilson's wife was a CIA operative.Â According to Fleischer's testimony under oathÂ today, Libby not only used Valerie Plame's name, but said the information was "hush-hush."
Fleischer's testimony, given in exchange for immunity, directly contradicts Scooter Libby's claim that he first learned who Valerie Plame was and that she was a CIA operative from Tim Russert of NBC'sÂ Meet the Press on July 10, 2003.Â Libby's claim is not only uncorroborated by Russert, but Russert deniesÂ it altogether. Russert says, "I was not and never have been the recipient of the leak" and that he did not know the name of Ambassador Wilson's wife or that she worked for the CIA until he read it in Robert Novak's column of July 14, 2003.
If Russert is called to testify in the Libby trial, which he undoubtedly will be, Libby's lawyers will seek to discredit his memory. Who would you believe: Scooter Libby or Ari Fleischer and Tim Russert?