With all the news in recent days over the pardon of former vice-president Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby and his alleged campaign of “outing” former CIA Operations Officer Valerie Plame to the press and thus creating a dangerous situation, not only for her, but for other members of the CIA then-currently operating throughout the world.
As the subject of the 2003 Plame affair, also known as the CIA leak scandal, Plame had her identity as covert officer of the CIA leaked to the press by members of the George W. Bush administration and subsequently made public. In the aftermath of the scandal, Richard Armitage in the State Department was identified as one source of the information, and I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Chief of Staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was convicted of lying to investigators. After a failed appeal, President George W. Bush commuted Libby’s sentence, and in 2018 President Donald Trump pardoned him. No one was formally charged with leaking the information.
On July 14, 2003, Robert Novak, journalist for The Washington Post, using information obtained from Richard Armitage at the United States Department of State, effectively ended Valerie Plame’s career with the CIA (from which she later resigned in December 2005) by revealing in his column her identity as a CIA operative. Legal documents published in the course of the CIA leak grand jury investigation, United States v. Libby, and Congressional investigations, established her classified employment as a covert officer for the CIA at the time when Novak’s column was published in July 2003.
In his press conference of October 28, 2005, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald explained in considerable detail the necessity of secrecy about his grand jury investigation that began in the fall of 2003 — “when it was clear that Valerie Wilson’s cover had been blown” — and the background and consequences of the indictment of then high-ranking Bush Administration official Scooter Libby as it pertained to her.
Fitzgerald’s subsequent replies to reporters’ questions shed further light on the parameters of the leak investigation and what, as its lead prosecutor, bound by the rules of grand jury secrecy, he could and could not reveal legally at the time. Official court documents released later, on April 5, 2006, reveal that Libby testified that “he was specifically authorized in advance” of his meeting with Judith Miller, reporter for The New York Times, to disclose the “key judgments” of the October 2002 classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). According to Libby’s testimony, “the Vice President later advised him that the President had authorized defendant to disclose the relevant portions of the NIE [to Judith Miller].” According to his testimony, the information that Libby was authorized to disclose to Miller “was intended to rebut the allegations of an administration critic, former ambassador Joseph Wilson.” A couple of days after Libby’s meeting with Miller, then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice told reporters, “We don’t want to try to get into kind of selective declassification” of the NIE, adding, “We’re looking at what can be made available.” A “sanitized version” of the NIE in question was officially declassified on July 18, 2003, ten days after Libby’s contact with Miller, and was presented at a White House background briefing on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq. The NIE contains no references to Valerie Plame or her CIA status, but the Special Counsel has suggested that White House actions were part of “a plan to discredit, punish or seek revenge against Mr. Wilson.” President Bush had previously indicated that he would fire whoever had outed Plame.
Eleven years have gone by since the scandal and subsequent hearings happened. In those years people forget, it passes into the vague file-cabinet of history, and the mention of “Scooter” Libby in the context of the Presidential Pardon caused many to try and remember what this was about.
Here is a one-hour excerpt from the original hearings, as they took place, starting on March 16, 2007 – as a reminder and a refresher course in current history.