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November 2, 2005

The Other Liars


by Paul Sperry

The White House is spinning Scooter Libby's indictment for systematic lying under oath as an isolated affair.

But the special prosecutor's probe has made a liar of more than just Libby. Indeed, it's exposed a far broader pattern of deceit involving almost all the president's men, starting with the vice president.

"I don't know Joe Wilson," Dick Cheney told NBC's Tim Russert after the CIA leak scandal broke in 2003, a denial that echoes Libby's own before the grand jury. "I have no idea who hired him and it never came [up]."

But notes Libby took of a chat with Cheney just three months earlier put the lie to that story. In their June 12 conversation, Cheney told Libby that Wilson's wife was employed by the CIA, which had hired former ambassador Wilson in 2002 to check out what turned out to be false rumors that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger.

Wilson soon found himself on the White House enemies list for exposing its prewar distortions. And he says blowing his wife's cover was a way to get even, while making it look as if his African trip had more to do with nepotism than substance.

It's not the first time Cheney has peered into the camera and dissembled about Iraq war issues on Russert's top-rated Sunday show.

In a Dec. 9, 2001, interview, Cheney asserted that a fictional meeting between lead 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence officer had been "pretty well confirmed." In fact, the Prague meeting had never been confirmed.

Then on Sept. 8, 2002, a skeptical Russert followed up by asking the vice president if the CIA found the Prague rumor credible. "It's credible," Cheney replied. But in fact, as early as late spring of 2002, well before that statement, the CIA was skeptical that the meeting had taken place. In June 2002, the CIA issued a then-classified report that found the information about the meeting contradictory.

It now turns out that in January 2003 – still a couple of months before the White House launched its invasion of Iraq – the CIA published a then-classified report that said the following: "Some information asserts that Atta met with [Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir] al-Ani [the Iraqi intelligence officer]. But the most reliable reporting to date casts doubt on that possibility."

So as the CIA was warning in classified briefings circulated to the White House that the most reliable reporting to date casts doubt on the Prague rumor, Cheney was spouting it as fact on the talk shows.

He's still dissembling over the Prague hoax, only now he's denying he ever insisted there was much truth to it.

Pat Fitzgerald plans to call Tricky Dick to testify – under oath – in his aide Libby's trial. Hopefully, he'll have better luck pulling the truth out of him than Russert did.

Karl Rove: "No." That's how President Bush's deputy chief of staff answered an ABC News correspondent when, on Sept. 29, 2003, she asked if he had "any knowledge" of Wilson's wife or if he'd leaked her name to the press. Of course, he was not truthful in denying it, because we now know he discussed his wife with at least syndicated columnist Bob Novak and Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper months earlier.

And Rove failed to disclose his contact with Cooper to the grand jury in his first appearance. He swore only to a conversation he had with Novak a few days before the pro-Bush columnist unmasked Wilson's wife. When asked generally if he had conversations with other reporters, he answered, once again, no.

But as it happens, Rove had memorialized his conversation with Cooper in an e-mail he sent to top national security aide Stephen Hadley. Rove swore his phone chat with Cooper had simply slipped his mind. But faced with the e-mail, he quickly regained his memory.

Scott McClellan: Asked in 2003 if Rove was involved in the Wilson scandal – specifically if he'd talked to any reporters about his CIA wife – Bush's press secretary snapped: "I've made it very clear, he was not involved, that there's no truth to the suggestion that he was."

Pressed, McClellan said he was certain because he had asked Rove himself. "I've had conversations with him previously," he said at the same Sept. 29, 2003, White House briefing. "I'm going to leave it at that."

And good thing. He'd done enough lying for one day.

Condi Rice: Another forked-tongued member of the war cabinet, she told reporters quite a fib during a July 11, 2003, press briefing. Asked about Wilson's famed trip to Niger, in which the ambassador debunked reports of Iraq uranium purchases, Rice stated: "That mission was not known to anybody in the White House."

Really? As early as March 9, 2002, the CIA circulated a memo summarizing Wilson's inconvenient findings to the White House.

Fabricating stories seems to come naturally to this gang. And the biggest whopper of all was the one Bush himself told on the eve of war: "Saddam Hussein and his weapons are a direct threat to this country [and] to our people."

Looking back, who's the real threat?

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Sperry, formerly Washington bureau chief of Investors Business Daily, is a Hoover Institution media fellow and author of Crude Politics: How Bush's Oil Cronies Hijacked the War on Terrorism (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003).

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