Fitzgerald Explains Indictment
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PATRICK FITZGERALD: A few hours ago, a federal grand jury sitting in the District of Columbia, returned a five-count indictment I. Lewis Libby, also known as “Scooter” Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff.
The grand jury’s indictment charges that Mr. Libby committed five crimes. The indictment charges one count of obstruction of justice of a federal grand jury, two counts of perjury, and two count of false statements.
Before I talk about those charges and what the indictment alleges, I’d like to put the investigation into a little context. Valerie Wilson was a CIA officer. In July 2003 the fact that Valerie Wilson was a CIA officer was classified. Not only was it classified, but it was not widely known outside the intelligence community. Valerie Wilson’s friends, neighbors, college classmates had no idea she had another life. The fact that she was a CIA Officer was not well known for her protection or for the benefit of all of us.
It’s important that a CIA officer’s identity be protected, that it be protected not just for the officer but for the nation’s security.
Valerie Wilson’s cover was blown in July 2003. The first sign of that cover being blown was when Mr. Novak published a column July 14, 2003 but Mr. Novak was not the first reporter to be told Wilson’s wife, Valerie Wilson, Ambassador Wilson’s wife, Valerie, worked at the CIA.
Several other reporters were told. In fact, Mr. Libby was the first official known to have told a reporter when he talked to Judith Miller in June of 2003 about Valerie Wilson.
When it was clear that Valerie Wilson’s cover had been blown, an investigation began and in October 2003, the F.B.I. interviewed Mr. Libby. Mr. Libby is the vice president’s chief of staff; he’s also an assistant to the president, and assistant to the vice president for national security affairs.
The focus was interview was what was it that he had known about Wilson’s wife, Valerie Wilson, what he need about Ms. Wilson, what he said to people, why he said it, and how he learned it.
And, to be frank, Mr. Libby gave the FBI a compelling story. What he told the FBI is that essentially he was at the end of a long chain of phone calls. He spoke to reporter Tim Russert, and during the conversation Mr. Russert told him that, hey, do you know that all the reporters know that Mr. Wilson’s wife works at the CIA.
He told the FBI that he learned that information as if it were new and it struck him. So he took this information from Mr. Russert, and later on he passed it on to other reporters, including reporter Matthew Cooper of Time magazine and reporter Judith Miller of the New York Times. And he told the FBI that when he passed the information on, on July 12, 2003, two days before Mr. Novak’s column, that he passed it on understanding that this was information he had gotten from a reporter, that he didn’t even know if it was true.
And he told the FBI that when he passed the information on to the reporters, he made clear that he did not know if this were true; this was something that all the reporters were saying, and in fact, he just didn’t know. He wanted to be clear of that.
Later, Mr. Libby went before the grand jury. On two occasions, in March of 2004, he took an oath and he testified, and he essentially said the same thing. He said that in fact he had learned from the vice president earlier in June 2003 information about Wilson’s wife, but he had forgotten it and that when he learned the information from Mr. Russert during his phone call, he learned it as if it were new, and when he passed the information on to reporters Cooper and Miller late in the week, he passed it on thinking it was just information he received from reporters, and that he told the reporters, that in fact he didn’t even know if it were true; he was just passing gossip from one reporter to another, the long end of a chain of phone calls.
It would be a compelling story that would lead the FBI to go away if only it were true. It is not true, according to the indictment. In fact, Mr. Libby discussed the information about Valerie Wilson at least half a dozen times before this conversation with Mr. Russert ever took place, not to mention that when he spoke to Mr. Russert, Mr. Russert and he never discussed Valerie Wilson or Wilson’s wife. He didn’t learn it from Mr. Russert and if he had, it would not have been new at the time.
Let me talk you through what the indictment alleges. The indictment alleges that Mr. Libby learned the information about Valerie Wilson at least three times in June of 2003 from government officials. And let me make clear there was nothing wrong with government officials discussing Valerie Wilson or Mr. Wilson, or his wife in imparting the information to Mr. Libby.
But in early June, Mr. Libby learned about Valerie Wilson and the role she was believed to play in having sent Mr. Wilson on a trip overseas from a senior CIA officer on or around June 11, from an undersecretary of state on or around June 11, and from the vice president on or about June 12.
It’s also clear as set forth in the indictment that some time prior to July 8, he also learned it from somebody else working in the vice president’s office. So at least four people within the government told Mr. Libby about Valerie Wilson, often referred to as Wilson’s wife, working at the CIA and believed to be responsible for help organize a trip Mr. Wilson took overseas.
In addition to hearing it from government officials, it’s also alleged in the indictment that at least three times, Mr. Libby discussed this information with other government officials. It’s alleged in the indictment that on June 14, 2003, a full month before Mr. Novak’s column, Mr. Libby discussed it in a conversation with a CIA briefer, in which he was complaining to the CIA briefer his belief that the CIA was leaking information about something or making critical comments, and he brought up Joe Wilson and Valerie Wilson.
It’s also alleged in the indictment, that Mr. Libby discussed it with the White House press secretary on July 7, 2003 over lunch. What’s important about that, is that Mr. Libby, the indictment alleges, was it telling Mr. Fleischer something on Monday that he claims to have learned on Thursday.
In addition to discussing it with the press secretary on July 7, it was also a discussion on or about July 8, in which counsel for the vice president was asked a question by Mr. Libby as to what paperwork the Central Intelligence Agency would have if an employee had a spouse go on a trip.
So there were at least discussions involving government officials prior to the day when Mr. Libby claims he learned this information as if it were new from Mr. Russert. And, in fact, when he spoke to Mr. Russert, they never discussed it.
But in addition to focusing on how it is that Mr. Libby learned this information and what he thought about it, it’s important to focus on what it is that Mr. Libby said to reporters. And the account he gave to the FBI and to the grand jury is that he told reporters Cooper and Miller at the end of the week on July 12 that what he told them was that he gave them information that he got from other reporters.
Other reporters were saying this and Mr. Libby did not know if it were true, and, in fact, Mr. Libby testified that he told the reporters he did not even know if Mr. Wilson had a wife.
And in fact, we now know that Mr. Libby discussed this information about Valerie Wilson at least four times prior to July 14, 2003: On three occasions with Judith Miller of the New York Times and on one occasion, with Matthew Cooper of Time magazine.
The first occasion on which Mr. Libby discussed it with Judith Miller was back on June 23, 2003, just days after an article appeared on line in the New Republic, which quoted some critical commentary from Mr. Wilson.
After that discussion with Judith Miller on June 23, 2003, Mr. Libby also discussed Valerie Wilson on July 8, 2003. And during that discussion, Mr. Libby talked about Mr. Wilson in a conversation that was on background as a senior administration official, and when Mr. Libby talked about Wilson, he changed the attribution to a former Hill staffer. During that discussion, which was to be attributed to a former Hill staffer, Mr. Libby also discussed Wilson’s wife, Valerie Wilson, working at the CIA and finally again on July 12.
In short — and in those conversations, Mr. Libby never said this is something that other reporters are saying. Mr. Libby never said this is something that I don’t know if it’s true. Mr. Libby never said I don’t even know if he had a wife.
At the end of the day, what appears is that Mr. Libby’s story that he was at the tail end of a chain of phone calls, passing on from one reporter what he heard from another was not true. It was false. He was at the beginning of the chain of the phone calls, the first official to disclose this information outside the government to a reporter, and that he lied about it afterwards under oath, and repeatedly.
REPORTER: Mr. Fitzgerald, this began as a leak investigation, but no one is charged with any leaking. Is your investigation finished? Is this another leak investigation that doesn’t lead to a charge of leaking?
PATRICK FITZGERALD: Let me answer the two questions you asked in one. Okay, is the investigation finished? It’s not over, but I will you this: Very rarely do you bring a charge in a case that’s going to be tried and would you ever end a grand jury investigation. I can tell you the substantial bulk of the work in this investigation is concluded. This grand jury’s term has expired by statute. It could not be extended but it’s an ordinary course to keep a grand jury open to consider other matters and that’s what we’ll be doing.
Let me then answer your next question — why is it a leak investigation that doesn’t result in a charge? As you’re sitting here now asking he what his motives were, I can’t tell you; we haven’t charged it. So what you’re saying is the harm in an obstruction investigation is it prevents us from making the very fine judgments we want to make.
I also want to take away from the notion that somehow we should take an obstruction charge less seriously than a leak charge. This is a very serious matter. And compromising national security information is a very serious matter. But the need to get to the bottom of what happened and whether national security was compromised by inadvertence, by recklessness, by maliciousness is extremely important.
We need to know the truth, and anyone who would go into a grand jury and lie, obstruct, and impede the investigation has committed a serious crime. I will say this: Mr. Libby is presumed innocent. He would not be guilty unless and until a jury of 12 people came back and returned a verdict saying so.
But if what we allege in the indictment is true, then what is charged is a very, very serious crime that will vindicate the public interest in finding out what happened here.
REPORTER: Mr. Fitzgerald, do you have any evidence that the Vice President of the United States, one of Mr. Libby’s original sources for this information, encouraged him to leak it, or encouraged him to lie about leaking it?
PATRICK FITZGERALD: I’m not making allegations about anyone in our charge in indictment. Let me back up because I know what that sounds like to people if you’re sitting at home. We don’t talk about people that are not charged with a crime in the indictment. I would say that about anyone in this room who has nothing to do with the offenses. We made no allegation that the vice president committed a criminal act; we made any allegation that any other people who provided or discussed with Mr. Libby committed any criminal act.
But as to any person, you ask me a question about other than Mr. Libby, I’m not going to comment on anything.
REPORTER: Is Karl Rove off the hook, and are there any other individuals who might be charged? You say you’re not quite finished.
PATRICK FITZGERALD: All I can say is the same answer I gave before. If you ask me any name, I’m not going to comment on anyone named because we either charge someone or we don’t talk about them. And don’t read that answer in the context of the name you gave me.
REPORTER: A lot of Americans, people who are opposed to the war, critics of the administration, have looked to your investigation in hope in some way, and might see this indictment as a vindication of their argument that the administration took the country to war on false premises. Does this indictment do that?
PATRICK FITZGERALD: This indictment is not about the war. This indictment is not about the propriety of the war, and people who believe fervently in the war effort, people who oppose it, people who have mixed feelings about it, should not look to this indictment for any resolution of how they feel or any vindication of how they feel.
This is simply an indictment that says in a national security investigation about the compromise of a CIA officer’s identity that may have taken place in the context of a very heated debate over the war, whether a person, whether Mr. Libby lied or not.
The indictment will not seek to prove if the war was justified or unjustified. This is stripped of that debate and this is focused on a narrow transaction and I think anyone who is concerned about the war and has feelings for or against shouldn’t look to this criminal process for any answers or resolution of that. They will be frustrated, and, frankly, it would just — it wouldn’t be good for the process and the fairness of a trial.