Cheney and Libby: Lying about Lying

Marcy Wheeler

This copy of Joseph Wilson&#8217;s <i>New York Times</i> op-ed, marked by Vice President Dick Cheney, was introduced into evidence at the Libby trial.

Here is the real news from the I. Lewis Scooter” Libby trial: Evidence released during the case indicates that not only did Libby lie to the grand jury (the crime for which he was convicted) but that the Office of the Vice President (OVP) – specifically Vice President Dick Cheney, Libby and Cathie Martin, Cheney’s press secretary – tried to cover-up the Bush administration’s original lies to Congress and the American people about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction with more lies. 

This second round of lies began after Joseph Wilson published a July 6, 2003 op-ed in the New York Times, in which he said that his 2002 fact-finding mission found no evidence that Saddam Hussein had bought yellowcake uranium from Niger. Recall that President George W. Bush in his 2003 State of the Union (SOTU) address used this story about Niger yellowcake as proof that Saddam was trying to develop a nuclear arsenal.

One piece of evidence introduced at the trial was a Jan. 24, 2003 CIA document – a document that Martin, in a note submitted at the trial, described as a restatement” of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) claim that Saddam was trying to acquire uranium. Faced in the summer of 2003 with accusations from Wilson and journalists that OVP had knowingly put erroneous uranium claims in President Bush’s 2003 SOTU address, OVP tried to declassify the NIE and the Jan. 24 restatement. By declassifying both, OVP hoped to prove that the CIA supported the Niger claim in October 2002 – and still supported it in January 2003, when it formed the basis for the 16 words” Bush uttered in the SOTU. 

This was patently untrue, but that didn’t stop Libby and Cheney from attempting to make this argument several times. The two men tried unsuccessfully to have the NIE restatement included in then-CIA director George Tenet’s July 11, 2003 public acknowledgement of responsibility for the false uranium claim in the SOTU. They included it in a talking points memo drafted in response to Tenet’s statement. And, using Paul Wolfowitz as the leak, they released it to the press. 

On July 17, 2003, a Wall Street Journal editorial proclaimed: Regarding the supposedly discredited Niger story, the NIE says that a foreign government service reported that as of early 2001 Niger planned to send several tons of pure uranium” (probably yellowcake) to Iraq.’ ” The Journal editorial then asserted that the same information was used – via the Jan. 24 document – in preparation for the State of the Union: But we are told that language identical to what was in the NIE is what the CIA presented to the White House last January 24 in preparation for President Bush’s State of the Union address.”

This last bit is key: Every time OVP raised the Jan. 24 document in their talking points during that frantic week of damage control in July 2003, they claimed the document was used in preparation for the State of the Union. In fact, however, the document was submitted to the White House after the CIA had already removed references to Niger from the SOTU.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report on Iraq states that the NIE document was submitted to the White House to use in preparation of Colin Powell’s Feb. 5, 2003, speech to the United Nations, not the SOTU. The cover sheet on the document itself bears this out – it was faxed to the White House Situation Room for the Saturday work session on Powell’s speech, and it was faxed to (among others) Libby, who claims not to have worked on that part of the SOTU. 

There’s one other detail revealed by the OVP talking points memo introduced at the trial. The OVP used the Jan. 24 document to counter a July 23 explanation by Tenet and Condoleezza Rice that Alan Foley, then-head of the CIA’s Weapons, Intelligence, Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Center, forced Bob Joseph, a staffer at the National Security Council, to remove some details from the SOTU. Foley testified before the Senate that one of those details was the word Niger.”

But the OVP’s talking points memo reveals that Foley made Joseph remove the word Niger before the Jan. 24 document was created. The memo states:

Director Tenet’s statement cites an oral conversation between CIA [Foley] and NSC staffers [Joseph] shortly before the State of the Union, but not the equally or more authoritative Jan. 24 submission that was sent by the CIA officer responsible for the NIE, that reached some or all of these same NSC staffers within two days of the oral discussion and that reaffirmed the Intelligence Community’s conclusions in the NIE.

The conversation in which Foley instructed Joseph to remove the word Niger occurred two days before the Jan. 24 document was created! The CIA told Joseph not to include Niger in the SOTU, and a day or so later, someone at the White House requested – and Libby and Joseph received – that section of the NIE that supported the uranium claim. 

Not only did OVP lie about what speech the Jan. 24 document pertained to – but that lie was made worse by the timing. The Niger reference had already been removed from the SOTU by the time this document was created. 

In July 2003, when confronted with their lying, the administration acted indignant, responded with another lie and then tried – again – to cook the evidence. 

Marcy Wheeler is the author of Anatomy of Deceit--a primer on the CIA leak and the dicey intelligence claims the administration used to justify the war. She was a key liveblogger of the Scooter Libby trial and blogs regularly at The Next Hurrah. She received a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and works as an independent business consultant in Michigan.
Democratic Rep. Summer Lee, who at the time was a candidate for the state House, at a demonstration in Pittsburgh for Antwon Rose, who was killed by police, in 2018. Lee recently defeated her 2024 primary challenger.
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