Did Bush Lie to Federal Investigators in the CIA Leak Case?

Updated Nov. 23, 2007

On Tuesday, an excerpt from former Bush Press Sec. Scott McClellan’s upcoming book was released in which he accused George Bush, Dick Cheney and their three top advisors of conspiring to cover up their roles in the leaking of the covert identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson.

Martha Stewart went to jail for lying to federal investigators even though she was not under oath at the time. Scooter Libby was found guilty of one count of lying to the feds but, of course, Bush commuted his sentence and will pardon him late next year.

In the excerpt from his book, “What Happened,” McClellan wrote that he had “unknowingly passed along false information” that had exonerated Bush political operator Karl Rove and Cheney henchman Scooter Libby as sources of the leak of Agent Wilson’s secret identity, and that “five of the highest ranking officials in the administration … Rove, Libby, [Cheney], [Bush’s chief of staff Andrew Card], and [Bush] himself” had been involved in the conspiracy to deceive the public about the plot to forfeit Agent Wilson and her covert international assets in tracking terrorist sales of weapons of mass destruction.

Deceiving the public is par for the course with these guys but deceiving federal investigators is quite another matter. In fact, lying to the feds is a criminal act, even when the person being interviewed is not under oath.

To cite one recent example of this, in March 2004 Martha Stewart was sentenced to five months in federal prison for, among other charges, making false statements to federal investigators. Another more salient example: In October 2005, Scooter Libby was charged with two counts of making false statements when interviewed by agents of the FBI, along with one count of obstruction of justice and two counts of perjury in testimony to a federal grand jury.

The criminality of lying to investigators could come into play now if McClellan’s version of what Bush’s role in the apparent conspiracy differs from what Bush told U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald during an Oval Office “interview” — not under oath — on the morning of June 24, 2004, 11 months after Novak betrayed Agent Wilson’s identity.

At first, details of Bush’s answers to Fitzgerald’s questions that morning were tightly embargoed. Around noon that day, McClellan surprised the White House press gaggle with news that George Bush had been interviewed that morning by Fitzgerald, but as was his habit, McClellan gave them very little actual information about the interview:

MR. McCLELLAN: The President met with Pat Fitzgerald, the U.S. Attorney in charge of the leak investigation, as well as members of his team. The meeting took place in the Oval Office. It lasted for a little more than an hour, probably about an hour and 10 minutes …

[Bush] also recently retained a lawyer, Jim Sharp, who you all have reported about before.

I would just say that — what I’ve said previously, and what the President has said: The leaking of classified information is a very serious matter. The President directed the White House to cooperate fully with those in charge of the investigation. He was pleased to do his part to help the investigation move forward. No one wants to get to the bottom of this matter more than the President of the United States, and he has said on more than one occasion that if anyone — inside or outside the government — has information that can help the investigators get to the bottom of this, they should provide that information to the officials in charge.

And I think because this is an ongoing investigation that further questions are best directed to the officials in charge of the investigation.

Over the next 12 minutes, Scott repeated some variation of this statement 14 times:

Well, this is an ongoing investigation, John, and I’m going to direct further questions to the officials in charge of the investigation.

It wasn’t until two years later, in July 2006, that we learned — from Murray Waas reporting in the National Journal — the substance of what Bush told the feds that morning:

President Bush told the special prosecutor in the CIA leak case that he directed [Cheney] to personally lead an effort to counter allegations made by former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV that his administration had misrepresented intelligence information to make the case to go to war with Iraq, according to people familiar with the president’s interview.

Bush also told federal prosecutors … that he had directed Cheney, as part of that broader effort, to disclose highly classified intelligence information that would not only defend his administration but also discredit Wilson, the sources said.

But Bush told investigators that he was unaware that Cheney had directed [Libby] to covertly leak the classified information to the media instead of releasing it to the public after undergoing the formal governmental declassification processes.

Bush also said during his interview with prosecutors that he had never directed anyone to disclose the identity of then-covert CIA officer Valerie Plame, Wilson’s wife. Bush said he had no information that Cheney had disclosed Plame’s identity or directed anyone else to do so. [Emphasis added.]

The accusation by McClellan in his book excerpt that Bush was involved in the conspiracy calls that last assertion by Bush to the feds into question.

What Did Bush Know, When Did He Know it?

In the wake of McClellan’s accusations, a familiar question has arisen: What did the president know and when did he know it?

This question, which was first asked by Republican Sen. Howard Baker about Pres. Richard Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate scandal in the 1970s (and was repeated this week by both former Nixon White House counsel John Dean on MSNBC’s “Countdown” show and by Chris Matthews on his MSNBC show in relation to McClellan’s accusations) could become critical again now if the rest of McClellan’s version of events points to more hands-on involvement in the plot against Agent Wilson than Bush has previously admitted.

From the outset of this scandal, the Bush team has propounded a scenario that, despite the fact that it is extremely hard to believe, has routinely been accepted by the media: This is the idea that Bush was just as startled and outraged by the leaking of Agent Wilson’s identity as the rest of us.


The CIA Leak scandal erupted when rightwing propagandist Bob Novak published Agent Wilson’s name in his column on July 14, 2003. If Bush did not know who leaked the Wilson’s identity to Novak on the morning the story broke, logic dictates — even requires — that within hours, if not minutes, his chief of staff, Andrew Card, had gotten to the bottom of it and reported back the full details.

By lunchtime on that July 14, George Bush had to have had the full story — unless 1) the conspirators, including Bush, decided among themselves to withhold details from Bush in order to give him “plausible deniability.” Or 2) he already knew, and had been in on the plot from the beginning.

If there was a conspiracy, the motive of these conspirators was, obviously, to hide something. Indeed, obfuscating Bush’s knowledge of and involvement in the plot to out Agent Wilson was precisely the point of the conspiracy.

Other than protecting the president from impeachment — or at least from fatally damaging his prospects for reelection that fall — what other motivation could these five powerful men have had in going to the extremes they took to deceive the public and, quite probably, federal investigators working for Patrick Fitzgerald?

An Implicit Threat from Cheney to Bush

Among the circumstantial evidence that Bush was involved in the plotting is a cryptic note from Cheney that was introduced into evidence during Libby’s trial. The very existence of the note is strange because Cheney is famous for rarely writing anything down lest it come back as evidence against him later.

The note was written in the fall of 2003 after McClellan had exonerated Karl Rove as the leaker of Agent Wilson’s identity on two separate occasions from the White House press room podium.

This exoneration apparently did not sit at all well with Libby, at whose behest Cheney wrote the note in question to McClellan ordering him to give Libby that same public cleansing. In part, Cheney’s note read:

“Not going to protect one staffer & sacrifice the guy this Pres. [but “this Pres.” is struck through and replaced with “that was”] that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others.”

It is impossible to parse the strike-through of “this Pres.” as anything but a shot across the bow at Bush from Cheney.

It also brings up a couple of questions: Why was Libby asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder by “this Pres.” or anyone else? And whose incompetence led to Libby being put in that predicament.

Here’s how Libby’s attorney presented the note while taking testimony from Cheney’s then-attorney and now chief of staff, David Addington, during Libby’s trial in January 2007:

…Libby’s attorney Theodore Wells made a stunning pronouncement during opening statements of Libby’s trial. He claimed that the White House had made Libby a scapegoat for the leak to protect Karl Rove — Bush’s political adviser and “right-hand man.”

“Mr. Libby, you will learn, went to the vice president of the United States and met with the vice president in private. Mr. Libby said to the vice president, ‘I think the White House … is trying to set me up. People in the White House want me to be a scapegoat,'” said Wells.

Cheney’s notes seem to help bolster Wells’s defense strategy. Libby’s defense team first discussed the notes — written by Cheney in September 2003 for White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan — during opening statements last week. Wells said Cheney had written “not going to protect one staffer and sacrifice the guy that was asked to stick his head in the meat grinder because of incompetence of others”: a reference to Libby being asked to deal with the media and vociferously rebut Wilson’s allegations that the Bush administration knowingly “twisted” intelligence to win support for the war in Iraq.

However, when Cheney wrote the notes, he had originally written “this Pres.” instead of “that was.”

During cross-examination Tuesday morning, David Addington was asked specific questions about Cheney’s notes and the reference to President Bush. Addington, former counsel to the vice president, was named Cheney’s chief of staff – a position Libby had held before resigning.

“Can you make out what’s crossed out, Mr. Addington?” Wells asked, according to a copy of the transcript of Tuesday’s court proceedings.

“It says ‘the guy’ and then it says, ‘this Pres.’ and then that is scratched through,” Addington said.

“OK,” Wells said. “Let’s start again. ‘Not going to protect one staffer and sacrifice the guy …’ and then what’s scratched through?” Wells asked Addington again, attempting to establish that Cheney had originally written that President Bush personally asked Libby to beat back Wilson’s criticisms.

“T-h-i-s space P-r-e-s,” Addington said, spelling out the words. “And then it’s got a scratch-through.”

“So it looks like ‘this Pres.?'” Wells asked again.

“Yes sir,” Addington said.

Thus, Cheney’s notes would have read “not going to protect one staffer and sacrifice the guy this Pres. asked to stick his head in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others.” The words “this Pres.” were crossed out and replaced with “that was,” but are still clearly legible in the document.

The reference to “the meat grinder” was understood to be the Washington press corps, Wells said. The “protect one staffer” reference, Wells said, was White House Political Adviser Karl Rove, whose own role in the leak and the attacks on Wilson are well documented.

Furthermore, Cheney, in his directive to McClellan that day in September 2003, wrote that the White House spokesman needed to immediately “call out to key press saying the same thing about Scooter as Karl.”

The threat to Bush behind Cheney’s words is palpable. The fact that he let the strike-through of “this Pres” stand in the note he sent to McClellan — and thus for Rove and even Bush to see — says that if his guy Libby is taken down, and Cheney himself is thus left vulnerable, Bush would go down too.

The Precedent for Impeachment on Obstruction of Justice

Millions of Americans across the political spectrum have demanded the impeachment of Bush and Cheney for lying about the reasons they took the country to war. But proving these charges would be impossible because the most important evidence against them, the intelligence that was the basis of their war planning, is secret.

On the other hand, if McClellan’s charges hold up, there is a famous precedent for impeachment on charges of obstructing justice. On March 1, 1974, Nixon’s henchmen, known as the Watergate Seven — U.S. Attorney Gen. John Mitchell, White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, Asst. to the President John Ehrlichman, White House Chief Counsel Charles Colson, Haldeman’s aide Gordon C. Strachan, GOP political operative Robert Mardian and Nixon reelection campaign counsel Kenneth Parkinson — were indicted for conspiring to hinder the investigation of Watergate.

In late July 1974, the House Judiciary Committee passed articles of impeachment against Nixon for obstruction of justice, abuse of power and contempt of Congress. On the evening of August 8, Nixon announced that he would resign the following day.

If today’s “West Wing Five” conspired to obstruct justice in the CIA Leak scandal, as McClellan charges, it’s hard to see any reason impeachment would not have to come off Speaker Pelosi’s table.

Walking It Back

On Wednesday, predictably, McClellan’s publisher, Peter Osnos of PublicAffairs Books, tried walk back the most damaging charge in the excerpt — that Bush was in on the conspiracy to forfeit Agent Wilson.

Osnos told MSNBC that Bush misled Scott because Bush had also been deceived and that while Bush did pass along false information, he did so in good faith. Osnos also told Chris Matthews that Scott was not going to rat Bush out on his role in the CIA leak scandal. (He also exonerated Bush’s then-Chief of Staff Andrew Card.)

Conversely, and quite pointedly, Osnos also said McClellan would not clear Cheney, Rove or Libby of wrongdoing — that he would “leave it to the reader to decide” whether or not those powerful men had engaged in a criminal conspiracy.

But leaving it to readers is simply not sufficient, as others have pointed out.

The House and Senate judiciary committees should subpoena McClellan’s manuscript right away, before it can be tampered with, and then haul Scott in to testify in open committee under oath about what Bush told him about the leak and its subsequent cover-up.

And Fitzgerald must be compelled to release all the transcripts and notes he took during his interviews with Bush and Cheney.

Of all the evidence of criminality in this case, the starkest is the disposition of Scooter Libby’s sentence. On March 6, 2007, the jury convicted Libby on four of the five counts against him: two counts of perjury, one count of obstruction of justice in a grand jury investigation, and one of the two counts of making false statements to federal investigators –– and acquitted him on one count of making false statements. He was sentenced to 30 months in jail.

But Libby, as a member of the West Wing Five, had intimate knowledge of the depth of involvement by George Bush in the conspiracy to cover up the outing of Agent Wilson. In July 2007, Bush commuted his sentence, and there is no doubt whatsoever that Bush will give Libby a full and complete pardon before he leaves office.


  • Joseph S. Spiezio
    November 23, 2007 - 2:12 pm | Permalink

    There is plenty evidence available to proceed with congressional hearings, with McClellan sworn in, and questioned about everything that he knows about the outing of Plame. No matter who is implicated as the investigation proceeds, those persons should be indicted, prosecuted, convicted, and thrown into prison! Impeachment of Bush and Cheney should be allowed to proceed, and if Pelosi tries to stop impeachment, she should be removed as speaker, and indicted for violating her oath to uphold the constitution and rule of law! It’s time to hold this crooked administration accountable before they do further damage to this country!

  • NCBlueneck
    November 24, 2007 - 1:27 pm | Permalink

    “Smoking guns are off the table.” –Nancy Pelosi

  • Will
    November 24, 2007 - 1:30 pm | Permalink

    It’s time to stop talking and take action before an American constitutional disaster yet comes to pass. The following has been developed for your patriotic readers to copy and fax to Pelosi’s office:

    To the Speaker of the House of Representatives:




    1. Failing to protect the American people on 9/11/01 through appropriate military alertness after being briefed in writing of the terrorist dangers of airline hijacking by bin Laden on or about August 6, 2001.
    2. Suborning and facilitating escape of all members of the bin Laden family in the United States before being interrogated or briefed by the FBI in the immediate wake of 9/11/01 terrorist attack.
    3. Deceiving and intentionally terrifying the American people and the Congress with cherry-picked or otherwise false evidence of weapons of mass destruction and the imminent danger of nuclear war in order to engage in preemptive war in Iraq.
    4. Violating UN Charter by engaging in illegal, aggressive, and preemptive war in Iraq without a Security Council resolution.
    5. Feloniously disclosing and/or suborning through conspiracy the disclosure of the identity of a CIA operative and endangering the lives of her field contacts in order to politically destroy her husband who revealed the factual truth behind an aberrant policy; and then obstructing justice to cover it up.
    6. Violating the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights through (1) profiling, (2) arbitrary no-fly proscription lists, (3) torture, (4) rendition, (5) domestic voter fraud, (6) arbitrary and indefinite detention, (7) effectively denying and punishing 1st Amendment freedom of assembly (8) politicizating and packing federal public civil service and law enforcement employment, and (9) military destruction of Iraq; specifically the following articles:
    7. Violating the Geneva Convention and the Code of Military Justice by directly authorizing and inducing rendition, torture, and indefinite detention.
    8. Violating attorney-client privileges of 9/11 prisoners as a matter of policy.
    9. Violating the oath of office to faithfully execute duly enacted laws by issuing signing statements that disavow and emasculate enforcement.
    10. Intentionally failing to enforce federal bidding and contracting oversight laws and suborning the waste, mismanagement and fraudulent payment of hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to defense, military and government contractors both at home and in Iraq and Afghanistan for the covertly intended purpose of bankrupting the federal treasury and the American government.
    11. Willfully failing to warn, to protect, and then finally to reasonably, adequately, or substantively aid or favorably legislate for Hurricane Katrina victims during and years after the destruction of New Orleans in 2005 in order to facilitate the foreclosure and confiscation of the victims’ private property for the benefit of corporate political donors.
    12. Obstructing justice by first objecting and then failing to provide documents to the 9/11 Commission necessary in the determination of cause, liability, and culpability for murder of almost 3,000 American civilians.
    13. Obstructing justice by refusing to allow duly subpoenaed aides from testifying before Congress.
    14. Violating 4th Amendment and FISA by engaging in warrentless wiretaps.
    15. Violating 4th Amendment by ordering telecom companies to invade and accumulate personal records of millions of Americans and then supporting their immunity from federal prosecution and civil redress.
    16. Deceiving Congress to hastily enact and then signing the Patriot and Military Commissions Acts that abrogates the 800-year old Magna Carta right of habeas corpus for anyone arbitrarily designated an “illegal enemy combatant.”
    17. Knowingly engaging, legally immunizing and suborning Blackwater USA and International as contract mercenaries both before and after probable cause for the murder of numerous Iraqi civilians by the firm’s employees was found to exist.
    18. Ordering the war crime destruction in 2004 of the entire Iraqi city of Fallujah and much of its civilian population of 250,000 under the code name of “Phantom Fury” in revenge for the killing of 6 Blackwater employees wrongly placed in a hostile zone by their employer. Then targeting Al Jazeera in an attempt to obstruct justice by covering up this crime against humanity.
    19. Intentional failure to endorse the Kyoto Protocol which has exacerbated global warning to the “tipping point” that will seal the future deaths of millions including Americans.

  • James Martin
    November 24, 2007 - 5:03 pm | Permalink

    Impeach of get out of the way and let someone else take over the role of Speaker

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  • Vulture
    November 26, 2007 - 5:59 am | Permalink

    Never forget that the destruction of an entire covert very valuable CIA front company was the result of Plame’s outing, Brewster-Jennings. heney and Bush needed ethical Plame and her secret operation destrpyed so they could bang the Iranian war drums without some CIA agent calling their BS.

    Bushies are very forward thinking, insidious, and conspiratorial to the core.

    The whole wilson smear is Whitegouse crap. It came from them and is not to be believed. Do they have any credibility? Why would they risk treason to smear a war critic that they were never successful in doing? They were after Plame and Brewster Jennings from the start. The whole joe wilson thing is so phoney.

    There is NEVER an Excuse or Reason for committing Treason. Forget Joe Wilson and focus on the fact that they destroyed our nations BEST intelligence operation that took millions of our tax dollars to support and it took decades of work to create it. Brewster Jennings was our best source for nuclear weapon acquisition and development information in Iran. The Bushies needed it gone and that is why they outed Plame….WAKE UP PEOPLE!!! The CIA has already released a report that details the damage to our national security this caused. Operatives were killed as a result of the Plame outing.

    The number one enemy of the Bush administration is GOOD intelligence (this has been proven from the git go). This is TREASON in its most obvious and sickening.

  • insideman
    June 20, 2008 - 11:21 pm | Permalink

    You guys sound like a bunch of losers, I have looked at all the evidence and read McClellan’s Book.
    They are all laughing because it was a huge publicity stunt to make him millions. You guys need a life!

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