At the heart of the obstruction case against Scooter
Libby is a cover-up involving co-conspirators from the White House Iraq Group.
And they're hiding something far more damaging than the vindictive outing of
a war critic's undercover wife, as this chilling timeline reveals:
Sept. 8, 2002: Vice President Dick Cheney and then-National Security
Adviser Condoleezza Rice go on the Sunday talk shows to warn the nation that
Saddam Hussein is "actively and aggressively" trying to acquire nuclear
weapons. They cite a front-page New York Times story planted with neocon
tool Judith Miller. Rice even draws the specter of a "mushroom cloud"
Sept. 9: Following the kickoff of the propaganda campaign against Hussein,
Rice's deputy Stephen Hadley meets with Italy's intelligence chief, Nicolo Pollari.
Oct. 1: The U.S. intelligence community sends a 90-plus page dossier
on Iraq to the White House. Italian rumors of an Iraq-Niger uranium deal are
not credible enough to make the report's "Key Judgments" section.
They do not rise anywhere close to the top of the report the executive
summary read by top decision-makers like the president. In fact, they are called
"highly dubious" in footnotes contained in Annex A.
Oct. 5 and 6: The CIA warns Rice and Hadley that the uranium
allegation is dubious, and advises them to pull it from a draft of President
Bush's planned speech in Cincinnati. They reluctantly agree.
Oct. 9: An Italian journalist working for a magazine owned
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi provides the U.S. Embassy in Rome with
copies of documents alleging an Iraq-Niger uranium deal. Berlusconi later
joins Bush's "coalition of the willing" to attack and occupy Iraq.
October: Later in the month, the State Department receives
the Niger documents from Italy, which had also provided them to the British
government. Copies are shared with CIA officials around the middle of the
Dec. 19: State releases a "fact sheet" on Iraq
accusing it of hiding
"efforts to procure uranium from Niger."
Dec. 19: Seeing the alarming charge, the IAEA, a watchdog
conducting nuclear inspections in Iraq, makes a formal request to State to
see any "actionable information" underlying its uranium allegation
so it can
confront Baghdad with it.
Jan. 28, 2003: Bush, in making a case for war in his State of the Union
address, cites evidence that Iraq "recently" tried to buy uranium
from Africa a charge that, when combined with his twin charge that Iraq
is trying to obtain aluminum tubes to help process the uranium, makes it seem
as if Saddam Hussein is one step away from making a nuclear bomb. Of the litany
of charges in the speech, they were the freshest and most shocking.
Jan. 29: IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei casts doubt on Bush's uranium claim
in a Washington Post interview: "Niger denied it, Iraq denied it,
and we haven't seen any contracts." He also shoots down the tubing claim.
Feb. 4: After a long struggle, IAEA's Iraq Nuclear Verification
Office finally obtains copies of the documents it requested from the
administration alleging contacts between Iraq and Niger officials.
Feb. 5: Secretary of State Colin Powell makes the case against Iraq
to the UN, but leaves out the uranium charge.
Feb. 14: IAEA officials make a preliminary finding that
documents are forgeries, based on the identification of several crude errors
overlooked by the Bush administration for months.
March 7: The IAEA, in a report to the UN Security Council, formally
announces the Iraq-Niger letters were faked.
March 19: The U.S. strikes Baghdad.
July 6: Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson reveals in an explosive New
York Times op-ed that he shot down the Iraq-Niger rumors back in March 2002
following a CIA-sponsored fact-finding trip to Niger prompted by Cheney's intense
interest in the rumors. Wilson at the time had reported back that the rumored
uranium deal was "highly doubtful." The CIA circulated his findings
in a report to the White House and other agencies.
July 7: The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee releases
findings of an investigation into the merits of Britain's dossier on Iraq,
and among other things, they reveal that the CIA had tipped the British
government off to the Niger uranium hoax the previous year.
July 8: The White House releases a prepared statement expressing regret
for the State of the Union charge, admitting for the first time: "We now
know that documents alleging a transaction between Iraq and Niger had been forged."
July 12: Cheney devises a scheme with his top aide Libby to attack Wilson
and control the fallout from his New York Times bombshell. Later that
day, Libby calls pal Miller of the Times, along with Time magazine
reporter Matthew Cooper, to discuss Wilson's wife and how she works at the CIA.
July 21: Bush and Rice meet with Italy's Berlusconi at the
president's ranch in Crawford, Texas.
July 22: Bush's communications director Dan Bartlett calls
press conference at the White House to brief reporters on Bush's discredited
uranium charge after news of the CIA's earlier warnings find their way into
the press. It turns out they are memorialized in at least two CIA memos to
the White House. At the lengthy briefing, Hadley takes the blame for the
radioactive 16 words finding their way back into the president's speech. His
explanation: he simply forgot the CIA had previously tried to wave them off
the charge (even though CIA analysts had raised new objections when they saw
it resurface in the State of the Union drafts they were clearing). Hadley is
not fired for serving the president poorly. Nor is he demoted or
reprimanded. Far from it, the president subsequently promotes
to Rice's position after she replaces Powell at State.
As you can see, this chronology reveals an unsettling juxtaposition of
events. And it begs a number of questions the Republican-controlled Senate
Intelligence Committee should demand answers to now that it has been
publicly shamed by Democrats into finally investigating the administration's
political manipulation of prewar intelligence.
For starters, why did the White House delay telling Congress and the
American people that the president's uranium charge was spurious until after
the war, when it knew it was underpinned by counterfeit documents before the
war? Was it conspiring to defraud Congress and the American people?
Why did the administration delay sharing the Iraq nuke documents with the
IAEA until after the president's State of the Union speech? Was it afraid
the nuke watchdog would expose them as fakes to the world, and knock out a
key charge in Bush's war speech?
The IAEA, using "open-source information" available on the Internet,
the Niger letters as frauds within 10 days. Officials there said they were
easily identified as forgeries. So why didn't CIA and State Department
officials do the same after having them in their hands for months? Why
didn't they beat IAEA to the punch?
Or did they? Did they in fact expose them as forgeries, thereby forcing Bush
in the final drafts of his speech to cut the transparently bogus reference
to "500 tons," couch "Niger"as "Africa," and take
the highly unusual step of
sourcing a key charge in an American-led war to foreign intelligence "the
British government" the same government his own intelligence agency
to set straight on the issue?
Did the president know the information was bad and use it anyway in an
historic speech to Congress? Did he use the Brits as political cover? Did he
clear this with Tony Blair?
And why didn't Powell correct the Iraq "fact sheet" his department
issued in December 2002, which included the bogus uranium charge especially
when Powell left it out of his own speech? And why did he leave it out
of his speech?
Congress needs to find out by calling Powell and his aides, as well as White
House and CIA officials, to testify in formal and open hearings, while at
the same time subpoenaing all White House copies of the two CIA memos,
drafts of the State of the Union and the NIE report unless, of course, it
plans to forfeit its oversight powers along with its power to declare war.
If that's the case, then it's incumbent upon the people to remind their
representatives of their constitutional responsibilities by teaching them a
painful lesson in the coming congressional elections.