*Shame on the Washington Post, Again*
By Robert Parry
Monday 19 February 2007
Just days before the perjury/obstruction trial of former White House
aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby goes to the jury, the Washington Post's
Outlook section published a bizarre front-page article by right-wing
legal expert Victoria Toensing suggesting that the prosecutor and one of
the chief victims in the case should be put on trial.
Beyond the absurdity - and dishonesty - of Toensing's arguments, the
Post illustrated the article with fabricated "mug shots" of U.S.
Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, an Iraq
War critic whose undercover CIA wife, Valerie Plame, was outed by the
In this lead opinion article for Washington's biggest-circulation
newspaper, Toensing, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Reagan
administration, cites Fitzgerald, Wilson and several other targets in
proposed "indictments," each of which begins: "This Grand Jury Charges ..."
Given the Post's prominence in the nation's capital and Toensing's
former position in the Justice Department, the article has the look and
feel of an attempt to influence the jury that will be judging whether
Libby committed perjury and obstruction of justice.
Though the Post's Outlook editors are sure to argue that the "mug
shots" were tongue in cheek, the Post has editorially supported the Iraq
War and disparaged American critics, especially Wilson who stepped
forward in summer 2003 as one of the first establishment figures to
accuse the Bush administration of "twisting" intelligence.
The Post also has bashed Fitzgerald for prosecuting Libby. So, there
is a pattern and a motive to the Post's behavior.
Toensing's article hinges largely on her false claim that Plame was
not a covert CIA officer involved with sensitive counter-proliferation
operations - and that therefore no real crime was committed when the
Bush administration leaked her identity.
To bolster that central lie in the article, Toensing argues that
Fitzgerald and the CIA may have described Plame's status as
"classified," but that the prosecutor "never introduced one piece of
evidence to support such status."
Toensing leaves out, however, that it has been Libby's defense
lawyers who have fought to exclude evidence of Plame's covert CIA status
because they regard the fact as likely to prejudice the jury against
their client. Plus, Plame's covert status has been judged mostly
irrelevant to a trial about whether Libby lied to investigators and the
Toensing is exploiting the limitations on evidence introduced at the
Libby trial - and the unwillingness of the CIA to unnecessarily expose
additional secrets relating to Plame's sensitive assignments.
Toensing also recycles other misleading Republican talking points
that have been used for three years to confuse the public and protect
the White House. For instance, part of Toensing's "indictment" of Wilson
cites his correct belief that Vice President Dick Cheney instigated the
investigation that Wilson undertook to Niger.
Ever since Wilson disclosed in 2003 that he found no evidence to
support Cheney's suspicions that Iraq was seeking yellowcake uranium
from Niger, the Republicans have made a big deal out of the fact that
Cheney didn't personally ask Wilson to go on the mission; Cheney asked
the CIA which recruited Wilson for the task.
Why this minor point of confusion is deemed significant has been one
of the curiosities of this sorry affair.
But it is stunning that the Post so values this argument that it
would let a partisan writer like Toensing include it in an "indictment"
of a citizen who undertook a difficult mission for the CIA, without pay,
and reported back correctly that the Niger-Iraq suspicions appeared to
Republicans also have condemned Wilson because he believed the
substance of his oral report on his mission was conveyed to Cheney's
office. Though Wilson was essentially right - the CIA repeatedly
intervened to strike Niger references from White House speeches - the
supposed contradiction here was that a formal report on Wilson's
findings was never sent to Cheney.
So, Toensing writes in her "indictment" that "This Grand Jury
charges Joseph C. Wilson IV with misleading the public about how he was
sent to Niger, about the thrust of his March 2003 oral report of that
trip, and about his wife's CIA status, perhaps for the purpose of
getting book and movie contracts." [Toensing's reference to "March 2003"
appears to be another factual error in her article, since Wilson
reported back to the CIA in early 2002.]
To back up her accusations, Toensing cites Wilson's comment on NBC's
"Meet the Press" that "the office of the vice president, I am absolutely
convinced, received a very specific response to the question it asked
[about the Niger uranium] and that response was based upon my trip there."
With a dramatic flourish, Toensing then adds, "But Cheney said he
had no knowledge of Wilson's trip and was never briefed on his oral
report to the CIA."
What Toensing ignores, however, is that Cheney and other White House
officials may not have known specifically about Wilson, but they were
aware that the CIA had checked out the Niger claims and judged them to
That was why White House speechwriters had to sneak around the CIA's
negative findings and attribute the Niger claims to the British
government in Bush's 2003 State of the Union Address. But none of that
detail finds its way into Toensing's "indictment."
In her "indictment" of Fitzgerald, Toensing accuses him of making
"one factual assertion that turned out to be flat wrong: Libby was not
'the first official' to reveal Plame's identity." But, again, Toensing
is playing games with a quote.
At his Oct. 28, 2005, news conference, Fitzgerald actually said:
"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."
In October 2005, Fitzgerald's comment was accurate. Libby was "the
first official known" to have divulged Plame's identity.
Only later did Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward reveal that he
had heard about Plame earlier from deputy Secretary of State Richard
Armitage. By editing out the full context of the quote, however,
Toensing succeeds in maligning Fitzgerald's honesty.
On and on Toensing goes, making one phony argument after another as
she "indicts" pretty much everyone who played any role in advancing the
case, from Fitzgerald to Wilson to the CIA to "the media" to the Justice
Department. She does throw in two ex-administration officials, former
press secretary Ari Fleischer and Armitage.
But Toensing leaves out of her "indictments" the principals who were
responsible for misusing the Niger intelligence to scare the American
people into supporting the Iraq War and who then organized the
anti-Wilson smears that ended up exposing his wife's clandestine work
for the CIA.
Cheney, for instance, isn't in line for a Toensing "indictment"
although he was the sparkplug behind the outing of a CIA officer. Nor
does George W. Bush merit an "indictment" although he issued misleading
statements about the Plame leak that could have been interpreted as
encouraging a cover-up.
Before Fitzgerald was appointed as special prosecutor - and when it
looked like the scandal could be contained - Bush disingenuously urged
his staff to cooperate.
"If there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it
is," Bush said on Sept. 30, 2003. "I want to know the truth. If anybody
has got any information inside our administration or outside our
administration, it would be helpful if they came forward with the
information so we can find out whether or not these allegations are true."
Yet, even as Bush was professing his curiosity and calling for
anyone with information to step forward, he was withholding the fact
that he had authorized the declassification of some secrets about the
Niger uranium issue and had ordered Cheney to arrange for those secrets
to be given to friendly reporters.
In other words, though Bush knew a great deal about how the
anti-Wilson scheme got started - since he was involved in starting it -
he uttered misleading public statements to conceal the White House hand
and possibly signal to others that they should follow suit in denying
Toensing also spares White House political adviser Karl Rove from an
"indictment" although he was another senior administration official
peddling Plame's identity to the press. One well-placed conservative
source told me that Rove was a close behind-the-scenes associate of
Armitage, and thus may have had a hand in coordinating Armitage's role
in the leaks. [See Consortiumnews.com's "New Clues in the Plame Mystery."]
*The Post's Role*
Yet, while it may be understandable why a right-wing operative like
Toensing would recycle these smears against Wilson and Fitzgerald at
this time, what is more shocking is that the Washington Post would give
her such prominence - as 12 Washington residents are about to be asked
to weigh the evidence on Libby impartially.
By presenting these pro-Libby arguments in such a high-profile
manner, including fabricated "mug shots" of prosecutor Fitzgerald, the
Post could be seen as joining in a last-ditch bid for jury nullification
to spare Libby from conviction.
While the Post's behavior may be surprising to some, it actually
fits with a long campaign by Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt to
undermine Fitzgerald's investigation and tear down Wilson. [See, for
instance, Consortiumnews.com's "Shame on the Post's Editorial Page" or
"Smearing Joe Wilson Again."]
Yet, regardless of the Post's editorial biases, there's no
justification for a newspaper publishing information that it knows to be
false or intentionally misleading, even if the deceptions are in its
Back in the late 1980s, I co-wrote a lead article for the Post's
Outlook section and the piece underwent intensive review for fairness
and accuracy. So the argument doesn't hold that the Post sees no problem
in publishing reckless charges in the Outlook section just because it
can be passed off as opinion.
Indeed, the Post editors never would have countenanced a similar
"indictment" article that actually made sense - one that presented the
criminal case against Bush, Cheney, Rove and, say, Fred Hiatt for
participating in a conspiracy that involved exposing a covert CIA
officer and then trying to cover up the disgraceful action.
/Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for
the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, /Secrecy &
Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, /can be
ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com <http://secrecyandprivilege.com>.
It's also available at Amazon.com
as is his 1999 book,/ Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press &