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Bush/Cheney Transcripts Subpoenaed
A House committee has subpoenaed FBI transcripts of interviews with President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney regarding their possible roles in the exposure of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, issued the subpoena on Monday to Attorney General Michael Mukasey in the latest chapter of a standoff over what Bush and Cheney told a special prosecutor about the case in 2004.
Earlier this month, the Justice Department denied Waxman’s request for a voluntary release of the interview transcripts on grounds that it “raises serious separation of powers and heightened confidentiality concerns.”
Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has turned over to Waxman’s committee “FBI 302 reports” of interviews with CIA and State Department officials and other individuals involved in the CIA leak, Waxman said in a letter to Mukasey last December.
But “the White House has been blocking Mr. Fitzgerald from providing key documents to the Committee," including transcripts of Fitzgerald’s interviews with Bush and Cheney, Waxman said.
On Monday, Waxman set a June 23 deadline for Mukasey to comply with the committee subpoena.
Senior Bush administration officials disclosed Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to several journalists in June and July of 2003 amid White House efforts to discredit her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, for challenging Bush’s use of bogus intelligence to justify invading Iraq.
Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA employment was revealed in a July 14, 2003, article by right-wing columnist Robert Novak, effectively destroying her career. Two months later, a CIA complaint to the Justice Department sparked a criminal probe into the identity of the leakers.
Initially, Bush professed not to know anything about the matter, and several of his senior aides, including political adviser Karl Rove and the vice president’s chief of staff I. Lewis Libby, followed suit.
However, it later became clear that Rove and Libby had a hand in the Plame leak and that Bush and Cheney had helped organize a campaign to disparage Wilson by giving critical information to friendly journalists.
On June 24, 2004, Bush was interviewed by Fitzgerald for 70 minutes about the Plame leak. The only other member of the Bush team in the room during the meeting was Jim Sharp, the private lawyer that Bush hired, according to a press briefing by then-press secretary Scott McClellan.
”The President … was pleased to do his part to help the investigation move forward,” McClellan said. “No one wants to get to the bottom of this matter more than the President of the United States.”
A couple of weeks earlier, Cheney had been interviewed by Fitzgerald.
According to sources knowledgeable about the vice president’s testimony, Cheney was specifically asked about conversations he had with senior aides, including Libby, and queried about whether he was aware of a campaign led by White House officials to leak Plame’s identity.
It is unknown how Cheney responded to those questions. Cheney retained a private attorney, Terrence O’Donnell. Neither O’Donnell nor Sharp returned calls for comment on Monday.
Three years ago, Waxman called for congressional hearings to determine if there was a White House conspiracy to unmask Plame's covert status in retaliation for the criticism Wilson leveled against the administration's use of a bogus claim that Iraq had obtained uranium from Niger.
"I think that the Congress must hold hearings, bring Karl Rove in, put him under oath, and let him explain the situation from his point of view," Waxman said during an interview with “Democracy Now” in July 2005.
"Let him tell us what happened. It's ridiculous that Congress should stay out of all of this and not hold hearings."
At the time of Waxman's comments, Fitzgerald’s criminal investigation was still underway, leading to Libby’s indictment in October 2005 and his subsequent conviction in March 2007 on four counts of perjury and obstruction of justice.
During closing arguments at Libby’s trial, Cheney was implicated in the leak, as Fitzgerald acknowledged that Cheney was intimately involved in the scandal and may have told Libby to leak Plame's status to the media.
Fitzgerald told jurors that his investigation into the true nature of the vice president's involvement was impeded because Libby obstructed justice.
Libby's attorney, Theodore Wells, told jurors during his closing arguments that Fitzgerald had been trying to build a case of conspiracy against the vice president and Libby and that the prosecution believed Libby may have lied to federal investigators and to a grand jury to protect Cheney.
“Now, I think the government, through its questions, really tried to put a cloud over Vice President Cheney," Wells said.
Rebutting Wells, Fitzgerald r told jurors: "You know what? [Wells] said something here that we're trying to put a cloud on the vice president. We'll talk straight. There is a cloud over the vice president. He sent Libby off to [meet with New York Times reporter] Judith Miller at the St. Regis Hotel. At that meeting - the two-hour meeting - the defendant talked about the wife [Plame]. We didn't put that cloud there. That cloud remains because the defendant obstructed justice and lied about what happened."
Moreover, copies of Cheney’s handwritten notes also appeared to implicate Bush in the leak case.
Cheney's notes, which were introduced as evidence during Libby's trial, called into question the truthfulness of Bush's vehement denials about having prior knowledge of the sub rosa campaign against Wilson.
In an October 2003 note to then-press secretary McClellan, Cheney demanded that the press office add Libby to a list of White House officials being cleared of any role in the Plame leak.
"Not going to protect one staffer + sacrifice the guy that was asked to stick his head in the meat grinder because of incompetence of others," Cheney wrote. However, the note revealed that Cheney had originally written "this Pres" before crossing that out and using the passive tense, "that was."
In other words, the original version suggested that Bush had asked Libby “to stick his head in the meat grinder,” an apparent reference to dealing with the Washington press corps.
Over the past few weeks, interest in the CIA leak case was revived by former White House press secretary McClellan’s memoir which also suggests Bush and Cheney played a larger role than they have admitted publicly.
Two weeks ago, Waxman sent a letter to Mukasey stating that, according to FBI transcripts given to the committee, Libby told federal investigators that Cheney might have told him to leak Plame's CIA ties to reporters.
"In his interview with the FBI, Mr. Libby stated that it was ‘possible’ that Vice President Cheney instructed him to disseminate information about Ambassador Wilson's wife to the press. This is a significant revelation and, if true, a serious matter. It cannot be responsibly investigated without access to the Vice President's FBI interview," Waxman wrote.
McClellan is scheduled to testify about the Plame case before the House Judiciary Committee later this week.
Jason Leopold has launched a new Web site, The Public Record, at www.pubrecord.org
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