Archive for January, 2007

Matthew Cooper Testifies Rove Told Him About Plame

Jan. 31 (Bloomberg) — Former Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper testified today that top presidential aide Karl Rove was the first person to tell him that an Iraq war critic’s wife was a CIA official.

Cooper, testifying in Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s perjury trial, also contradicted Libby’s account of a conversation the two had the following day, on July 12, 2003, about war critic Joseph Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame.

Libby, 56, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former top aide, is accused of lying to investigators probing whether U.S. officials deliberately leaked Plame’s identity to retaliate against Wilson for attacking the administration’s Iraq war claims. Prosecutors say Libby falsely told a grand jury that, when Cooper asked about Plame, he said he heard about her from other reporters and didn’t know if the information was true.

“I asked what he heard about Wilson’s wife” sending him to Niger to find out if Iraq sought to buy uranium there, Cooper said. “Mr. Libby said words to the effect of `yeah, I heard that too.”’

Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald asked whether Libby said where he had learned about Plame.

“Not in any way,” said Cooper, now Washington editor of a new magazine, Conde Nast Portfolio. Asked whether Libby said he heard about her from other reporters, Cooper replied in the negative.

Wilson wrote a column in the New York Times on July 6, 2003, saying he found no evidence that Iraq tried to buy uranium in Niger and accusing the Bush administration of “twisting” intelligence to justify invading Iraq.


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Senate foes of troop buildup join forces

WASHINGTON – Two senators — a Republican and a Democrat — leading separate efforts to put Congress on record against President Bush’s troop buildup in Iraq joined forces Wednesday, agreeing on a nonbinding resolution that would oppose the plan and potentially embarrass the White House.

Sens. John Warner (news, bio, voting record), R-Va., and Carl Levin (news, bio, voting record), D-Mich., had been sponsoring competing measures opposing Bush’s strategy of sending 21,500 more U.S. troops to the war zone, with Warner’s less harshly worded version attracting more Republican interest. The new resolution would vow to protect funding for troops while keeping Warner’s original language expressing the Senate’s opposition to the buildup.

Levin replaced Warner as chairman of the Armed Services Committee when the Democrats took control of the Senate in January. Their resolution could well gain more support from members of both parties than their separate versions had been attracting. It lacks Levin’s language saying the troop increase is against the national interest, and it drops an earlier provision by Warner suggesting Senate support for some additional troops.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (news, bio, voting record) said he wants to begin debate Monday on the new measure, bypassing committee review. Levin’s original resolution would no longer be considered unless offered as an amendment.

“I believe we have a better chance now” of passing a resolution against the president’s plan, said Sen. Richard Durbin (news, bio, voting record), D-Ill.

The resolution is likely to pose a threat to the White House because of its potential appeal to Republicans who have grown tired of the nearly four-year war and want a chance to express their concerns. The White House has been hoping to avoid an overwhelming congressional vote criticizing Bush’s handling of the war.

“It’s been a hard work in progress,” Warner said of his resolution, which has been struggling to win support of 60 senators so as to prevent a filibuster.

The agreement comes as several leading Republicans who support the troop buildup said they will give the administration and the Iraqis about six months to show significant improvement. Many other Republicans say they are deeply skeptical additional troops in Iraq, rather than a political settlement, would help calm the sectarian violence.

The widely unpopular war has led to the deaths of more than 3,000 U.S. troops and is blamed for GOP losses in the Nov. 7 elections that handed control of Congress to the Democrats.

The House had planned on waiting for the Senate to vote as a way of testing the waters for Republican support of such a resolution. But according to a Democratic aide, the House may begin the process next week with a committee review. That would set the stage for a House floor debate the week of Feb. 12.

Warner had attracted at least seven other Republicans who were inclined to vote for his resolution. Scrambling to find additional support, Warner added language proposed by Sen. Judd Gregg (news, bio, voting record), R-N.H., that would protect funding for troops.

As of late Wednesday, Gregg had not said whether he would support the revised resolution.

“Colleagues have come up to me and said, ‘Can you assure me that this doesn’t provide a cutoff of funds?'” Warner said.

Warner’s resolution will now rival a proposal by Sens. John McCain (news, bio, voting record), R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham (news, bio, voting record), R-S.C., that would identify benchmarks for the Iraqi government. McCain’s measure is intended to give Republicans an outlet for expressing that the U.S. commitment in Iraq must not be open-ended, without openly criticizing the president.

McCain’s measure also picked up steam Wednesday, with Sens. Pat Roberts (news, bio, voting record), R-Kan., Lisa Murkowski (news, bio, voting record), R-Alaska, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (news, bio, voting record), R-Ga., and GOP leaders saying they might support it.

“I don’t think this war can be sustained for more than six months if in fact we don’t see some progress,” said Roberts. His comments came two days after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (news, bio, voting record), R-Ky., said the new U.S. military push was the Iraqis’ “last chance.”

Bush on Wednesday objected to Iraq proposals from Republicans and Democrats alike and acknowledged that “there’s a lot of pessimism” in Congress about his troop buildup.

In an interview with Fox News, Bush took issue with McConnell’s statement that his plan needs to be successful over the next six to nine months.

“I think it’s a mistake to put timetables on difficult missions because an enemy can adjust,” Bush said. “On the other hand, I certainly understand the urgency in Mitch’s voice. I also understand the skepticism on Capitol Hill. I mean, no doubt, there’s a lot of pessimism there today.”

In a statement after the president’s interview, McConnell avoided mention of a specific time frame, but he stressed that the U.S. commitment in Iraq “is not open-ended.”

“We will know in a relatively short period of time whether or not the Iraqis are committed, and initial results are positive,” McConnell said. “Of course we would need to reconsider our strategy if this effort fails.”

Bush also criticized a proposal by Sen. Barack Obama (news, bio, voting record), a Democratic presidential candidate from Illinois, to have all U.S. combat forces out of Iraq by spring 2008. “I say that it’s important to succeed and that failure in Iraq will cause chaos,” Bush said. “My admonition to those who are speaking out is let us back the troops and let us hope for the success” of their mission.

Although deserted by some key Republicans, Bush said: “I don’t feel abandoned. … When times are good, there’s millions of authors of the plan. When times are bad, there’s one author, and that would be me.”


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Obama Says “Withdraw the Troops By March ‘08″

Barack Obama has introduced a bill that requires the withdrawal of troops in the near future, with complete withdrawal by March of 2008.

The timetable may be too slow for some, and too fast for others.

Sen. Clinton has said she would consider it “irresponsible” for Bush not to have withdrawn all troops by the end of his term in January 2009.

Obama is now recommending making it a matter of law that troops be out ten months earlier than that.

The debate among Democrats is clearly shifting more toward winding down the war. (Note that I didn’t say it’s “shifting to the left.”

Opposition to this war can no longer be described as a left/right issue.)

Click for video

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Former New York Times reporter Judith Miller is “stressed out” and on the stand live undergoing questions in the CIA leak trial, and has just contradicted statements by Vice President Cheney’s former Chief of Staff I. Lewis Libby, who said he believed he first learned of CIA officer Valerie Plame’s identity from another reporter.

AP: “Miller testified Tuesday that Libby discussed the CIA officer on June 3, 2003. He said Wilson’s wife worked for the “bureau,” Miller recalled. She was confused about that at first, she said. “Through the context of the discussion, I quickly determined it to be the CIA,” she testified.

Firedoglake, which has been covering the CIA leak trial closely, is in the courtroom now. “This is not the picture of someone who is relaxed,” blogger EmptyWheel notes.

It “looks like she’s doing breathing exercises, pouring herself water. Got out of chair and is now back,” adds EmptyWheel. “Gets more water… Looking around cautiously. Closes eyes. Breathes. Breathes out. Looking straight forward. Head darts nervously. Staring forward. Shifts in chair. Looks toward Libby’s team? Looks toward lawyers. Adjusts blouse. Looks at lawyers again. Looks down, folds arms. Looks down. Looks toward Libby’s team. Folds arms, leans back, turning in swivel chair. Takes glasses off. Looks for tissue to wipe her hands.”




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President George W. Bush has given his administration a boost in how the government regulates key issues such as civil rights and the environment, The New York Times will report on its Tuesday front page.

The President “signed a directive that gives the White House much greater control over the rules that the federal government develops to regulate public health, safety,” privacy and other issues, writes Robert Pear for the Times.

Pear reports that “in an executive order published last week in the Federal Register, Bush said that each federal agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee” who will monitor the creation of process and procedures and the associated documentation.

“The White House will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency,” Pear writes, “to analyze the costs and benefits of new rules and to make sure they carry out the president’s priorities.”

Excerpts from the Times article follow…

This strengthens the hand of the White House in shaping rules that have, in the past, often been generated by civil servants and scientific experts. It suggests that the administration still has ways to exert its power after the takeover of Congress by the Democrats.

The White House said the executive order was not meant to rein in any one agency. But business executives and consumer advocates said the administration was particularly concerned about rules and guidance issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Business groups welcomed the executive order, saying it had the potential to reduce what they saw as the burden of federal regulations. This burden is of great concern to many groups, including small businesses, that have given strong political and financial backing to Bush.

Consumer, labor and environmental groups denounced the executive order, saying it gave too much control to the White House and would hinder agencies’ efforts to protect the public.


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Jan. 27: This Marine’s death came after he served in Iraq

When Jonathan Schulze came home from Iraq, he tried to live a normal life. But the war kept that from happening.

At first, Jonathan Schulze tried to live with the nightmares and the grief he brought home from Iraq. He was a tough kid from central Minnesota, and more than that, a U.S. Marine to the core.

Yet his moods when he returned home told another story. He sobbed on his parents’ couch as he told them how fellow Marines had died, and how he, a machine gunner, had killed the enemy. In his sleep, he screamed the names of dead comrades. He had visited a psychiatrist at the VA hospital in Minneapolis.

Two weeks ago, Schulze went to the VA hospital in St. Cloud. He told a staff member he was thinking of killing himself, and asked to be admitted to the mental health unit, said his father and stepmother, who accompanied him. They said he was told he couldn’t be admitted that day. The next day, as he spoke to a counselor in St. Cloud by phone, he was told he was No. 26 on the waiting list, his parents said.

Four days later, Schulze, 25, committed suicide in his New Prague home.

Citing privacy laws, Veterans Affairs officials wouldn’t comment specifically on the case, nor would they confirm or deny the Schulze family’s account. However, Dr. Sherrie Herendeen, line director for mental health services at the St. Cloud hospital, said Thursday that under VA policy, a veteran talking about suicide would immediately be escorted into the hospital’s locked mental health unit for treatment.

She also said that after hearing of Schulze’s death, the hospital is doing an internal review of its procedures.

Schulze’s father and stepmother, Jim and Marianne Schulze of rural Stewart, Minn., say their son would be alive today if the VA had acted on his pleas for admittance. They say they heard him tell VA staff in St. Cloud that he felt suicidal — in person on Jan. 11 at the hospital, and over the phone on Jan. 12.

On the evening of Jan. 16, Schulze called family and friends to tell them that he was preparing to kill himself. They called New Prague police, who smashed in the door and found him hanging from an electrical cord. Police attempted to resuscitate him, but it was too late.

Schulze’s family doctor in Stewart, a farming crossroads in McLeod County, said he was convinced that Schulze suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, a disabling mental condition that can result from military combat.

“Jonathan was a classic,” said Dr. William Phillips, who said he first examined Schulze in October 2004 when Schulze was home on leave from Marine duty.

Phillips said Schulze was reliving combat in his sleep, had flashbacks when he was awake, couldn’t eat, felt paranoid, struggled with relationships and admitted to drinking alcohol excessively. Phillips prescribed medication to calm his nerves and help him sleep.

The doctor also asked Schulze to seek counseling at Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps base in California where he was assigned. Phillips said he was unable to learn whether Schulze had done so.

“We don’t have a system for this,” Phillips said this week. “The VA is overwhelmed, and we’re rural doctors out here trying to deal with this.
Unfortunately, we’re going to see a lot of Jonathans.”

Seeking help

Maj. Cynthia Rasmussen, the combat stress officer for the 88th Regional Readiness Command at Fort Snelling, said veterans returning to Minnesota who have problems often don’t seek help until their civilian lives begin to fall apart. “Soldiers think if they go to get help that they’re going to be seen as weak, but they also think their command won’t have faith in them,” she said.

Rasmussen said reasons for mental illness among returning veterans are many and complex, but often relate to personality changes that service members must make while in uniform — and especially in combat zones — and then try to readjust to civilian life.

After Schulze left the Marines in late 2005, he continued to have aching memories of combat.

“When he got back from Iraq he was mentally scattered,” said his older brother Travis, who also served there with the Marines.

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Fleischer Tells Jury That Libby Told Him About Plame

Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told a jury today that Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff disclosed to him the identity of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame a week before her name surfaced publicly in the press.

Taking the stand as the most critical witness so far in the perjury trial of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Fleischer said that in an unusual lunch in the White House mess, Libby told him that the wife of prominent war critic Joseph C. Wilson IV worked in the CIA’s counterproliferation division.

Fleischer, who was called by the prosecution, said Libby told him at the July 7 lunch that former ambassador Wilson was sent to Niger to investigate reports Iraq had tried to buy nuclear material there by Wilson’s wife, not by the vice president, as some news accounts were saying.

Wilson later accused the administration of twisting information he gathered, in order to justify the invasion of Iraq. Some have charged that Plame’s name was leaked to columnist Robert D. Novak, who published it in a July 14 column, to discredit Wilson.

Fleischer said he believed that Libby told him Plame’s name, but could not be sure.

“He added that this was something hush-hush or on the QT, that not many people knew this information,” Fleisher said. “My impression was Mr. Libby was telling me this was kind of newsy.”

Added Fleischer: “My thought was that what I was hearing was about nepotism.”

Libby is charged with lying to FBI agents and a grand jury and obstructing justice in the investigation of who leaked Plame’s name to Novak. He told investigators that he learned about Plame’s identity from NBC reporter Tim Russert in a July 10 telephone call. He has pleaded not guilty, contending that when he testified, he did not remember some conversations he had with reporters about Plame. He is not charged with the leak itself.

Fleischer said he never viewed the information he received about Plame as classified or secret, because the protocol in the White House was that press aides would be warned explicitly when information was classified and could not be used in discussions with reporters.

Fleischer also made clear how uncomfortable he was when questioned earlier that day at a press briefing about Wilson’s claims that the administration was twisting intelligence. Earlier in the spring, he had insisted that President Bush stood behind 16 words in his 2003 State of the Union address about Iraq’s efforts to buy uranium in Niger.

But higher level officials he didn’t name began suggesting it might be a problem to defend that statement.

“I had been told to be careful not to stand by the 16 words, that the ground might be shifting on that,” Fleischer said. “You can’t say yes. You can’t say no. At that briefing, I basically punted. I said yes and no.”

During afternoon testimony, Fleischer told jurors that, a few days after his lunch with Libby, Fleischer had relayed the fact that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA to two reporters while they were covering a trip Bush made to Africa.

According to Fleischer, he passed on the information to the reporters, NBC’s David Gregory and Time magazine’s John Dickerson, as they were walking alongside a road in Uganda.

The former press secretary said that, in addition to learning about Plame from Libby, he also had just heard another White House aide, then-communications director Dan Bartlett, “vent” about news accounts that Cheney had asked for Wilson’s trip. Fleischer said he was in the senior staff cabin of Air Force 1 during the Africa trip when he overheard Bartlett say out loud that Wilson’s wife had sent him on the mission to Niger.

He testified that neither Libby nor Bartlett gave him any reason to believe that Plame’s employment was classified.

“I never in my wildest dreams thought this information would be classified,” he said.

Fleischer, who left the White House in mid-July 2003, said that in September, about 2 1/2 months after his conversation with the reporters, he saw a news account that the CIA had asked the Justice Department to investigate a possibly illegal leak of a covert CIA officer’s identity.

“I was absolutely horrified to know I had played a role,” Fleischer said. “I thought, ‘Oh my God. Did I play a role in somehow outing a CIA officer. . . . Did I just do something that I could be in big trouble for.’ “

He said that he hired lawyers and ultimately agreed to be interviewed by investigators after receiving immunity from prosecution.

Defense attorneys told U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton this morning they want to try to cast Fleischer as a man who had a motive to help prosecutors and lie about Libby — to save himself from possible prosecution for leaking information to reporters in mid-July 2003. Plame’s name and secret CIA role first appeared in a syndicated column by Robert Novak on July 14, 2003 — eight days after her husband publicly accused the administration of using bad intelligence to justify the war with Iraq earlier that year.

But at the same time, defense lawyers warned Walton that they are worried about the government providing too much information or suggesting too much about Fleischer seeking the immunity deal — because of what it might imply about their own client.

“The government seeks to use this testimony that if Mr. Fleisher thought he had a criminal problem, Mr. Libby must have thought he had a criminal problem,” said defense attorney William H. Jeffress Jr.

Defense attorneys are suspicious of the immunity deal and why Fitzgerald made it without any apparent reluctance. Libby’s defense lawyers suggested last week in court that Fitzgerald got a secret summary of Fleischer’s testimony — a deal they want to discuss with jurors when Fleischer takes the stand today.

Walton said this morning he had read in his chambers an affidavit the government provided from Fleischer about his immunity deal and was “satisfied” there was nothing to suggest Fleischer promised Fitzgerald any specific testimony. Fitzgerald had said last week no such promises were made.

“We got no specifics,” Fitzgerald said then.


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Ex-aide’s immunity deal won’t be detailed

WASHINGTON – Attorneys for former vice presidential aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby won’t know the specifics of former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer’s unusual immunity-from-prosecution deal when Fleischer testifies against their client Monday.

A federal judge ruled that Fleischer’s agreement with prosecutors is not relevant to Libby’s perjury and obstruction defense. Libby’s attorneys believed Fleischer promised specific testimony against Libby in exchange for immunity — a deal they wanted to use to question Fleischer’s credibility.

Prosecutors normally require an informal account of what a witness will say before agreeing to grant immunity. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said that he reluctantly gave Fleischer immunity without knowing specifics and believing only that the former top White House spokesman could help the investigation into who leaked a CIA’s operative’s name.

Fitzgerald gave U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton a summary of his conversations with Fleischer’s attorneys and Walton agreed that it didn’t need to be disclosed to Libby’s attorneys.

Fleischer was to begin his testimony later Monday after Vice President Dick Cheney’s former spokeswoman, Cathie Martin, leaves the stand.

Fleischer, who was the chief White House spokesman for the first 2 1/2 years of
President Bush’s first term, will be a key witness against Libby. Libby is accused of lying to investigators about his conversations with reporters regarding outed CIA operative Valerie Plame, the wife of a prominent Bush administration critic.

Libby says he was surprised to learn from NBC News reporter Tim Russert that Plame worked at the CIA. Anything he later told reporters about Plame was simply a repetition of what he learned from Russert, Libby said.

Fitzgerald’s first witnesses were government employees who testified that they told Libby about Plame days before the Russert conversation. Fleischer is expected to testify that Libby then relayed that information to him, also before Libby and Russert spoke.

As Fitzgerald said in his opening statement: “You can’t learn something on Thursday that you’re giving out on Monday.”

Fleischer acknowledged being one of the sources for the leaks Fitzgerald was investigating and defense attorneys want to cast him as an opportunist who cannot be trusted.

Prosecutors will counter that Fleischer sought immunity because he feared he did something wrong by talking to reporters about Plame. If they can hint that Libby felt the same way, it would suggest a possible motive for him to lie to investigators.

Nobody was ever charged with leaking Plame’s identity. Libby is the only person charged in the case.


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WASHINGTON (AFP) – The White House has stood by President George W. Bush’s plan to send more troops to Iraq, despite growing public opposition and a chorus of criticism from lawmakers in Congress.

Vice President Dick Cheney said the United States needed to remain steadfast in the face of escalating violence in Iraq, defending the administration’s plan to deploy an additional 21,500 troops.

“People are trying to make a judgment on whether or not this plan is going to work I think far too early,” he said in an interview with Newsweek. “And I think in fairness to the Iraqis, they need to be given an opportunity to follow through on their commitments.”

He cautioned against the phased withdrawal backed by Democrats, saying Iraq would collapse into chaos and the United States would lose stature in the world.

“All of a sudden, the United States, which is the bulwark of security in that part of world, would I think no longer — could no longer be counted on by our friends and allies that have put so much into this struggle,” he said.

Congress is due to vote in early February on a non-binding motion criticizing the surge in troops, with Democrats and Republicans moving to prepare other draft resolutions even as the violence in Iraq claimed more lives with at least 61 killed across the country on Sunday.

Democratic Senator Charles Schumer (news, bio, voting record) predicted a large number of lawmakers in Bush’s Republican Party — possibly “even a majority” — would support the resolution condemning the proposed deployment.

“And that will send shockwaves through the White House and through the country,” Schumer told NBC.

Congress also appeared headed for a possible confrontation with Bush over requests for additional funds for the war, with Schumer and other lawmakers vowing to pile pressure on the president.

Bush has urged a skeptical US public to give his new strategy a chance and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (news, bio, voting record) told CBS that Senate Republicans were “not going to talk about failure” in Iraq.

“We’re going to talk about success,” he said. “But we don’t want to allow these places, to become once again where these elements like Al-Qaeda can operate with impunity and then be prepared to launch attacks on us again here in America.”

But the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, presidential hopeful Joe Biden, challenged the administration’s doomsday predictions.

“It’s not the American people or the United States Congress who are emboldening the enemy,” he told Fox News.

“It’s the failed policy of this president, going to war without a strategy, going to war prematurely, going to war without enough troops, going to war without enough equipment and lastly, now sending 17,500 people in the middle of a city of 6.5 million people with bullseyes on their back with no plan,” he added.

Biden vowed a “full-throated debate” on the plan in the Senate despite administration promises to move ahead in face of the opposition.

The president faces an uphill battle to gain support for his plan, with even loyal Republicans like Senator David Vitter (news, bio, voting record) of Louisiana calling it “clearly the final shot.”

“I think we should be stronger and clearer about benchmarks,” the senator said on NBC, adding his support for a regional conference that includes Iran and Syria.

“We need to go over and over and over the issue of, is this new troop level enough to make a difference. Because I think, clearly, we have been wrong in the past about the adequacy of troop levels,” he said.

Democrat-leaning independent Senator Joe Lieberman said Sunday he was working with Republican Senator John McCain (news, bio, voting record) on a text to try to bridge the divisions.

On Saturday, tens of thousands of protesters — including Vietnam War opponent US actress Jane Fonda — took to the streets of Washington to denounce the president’s plan and demand an end to the war.

In Iraq Sunday, US and Iraqi forces killed more than 250 gunmen in a raging battle north of Najaf in which two US soldiers also died when their helicopter crashed.


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Politics TV: The DC Rally

C-Span has been doing coverage of the DC anti-war rally all day.

PoliticsTV got video up on YouTube for those of us unable to attend.

It’s nice to see some Congresspeople at the rally, but the absence of every senator does not go unnoticed either.

Click for videos

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