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By Jason Leopold

From Truthout | Original Article

A federal court judge ordered the Justice Department
Thursday to release portions of an interview transcript
between former Vice President Dick Cheney and the
special prosecutor assigned to investigate the leak of
covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson and the role
Bush administration officials played in her outing six
years ago.

US District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan rejected
arguments by Obama Justice Department appointees that
releasing the transcript would discourage future vice
presidents from cooperating with criminal
investigations because their words could become "fodder
for The Daily Show."

At a federal court hearing in July, Jeffrey Smith, an
attorney in the Justice Department's Civil Division,
argued that the transcript of Cheney's 2004 interview
with special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald about the
CIA leak should remain secret for as long as ten more
years to protect Cheney from any political
embarrassment that would result from the transcript
being released.

"Any attempt to predict the harm that disclosure of
these records could have ... is therefore inherently,
incurably speculative," Sullivan wrote in his ruling.
"Accordingly, the Court concludes that DOJ has failed
to meet its burden of demonstrating that the records
were properly withheld."

Sullivan, however, did agree that the Justice
Department can keep under wraps, on national security
grounds, statements Cheney had made to Fitzgerald about
declassification discussions he had with George W.
Bush, conversations Cheney had with former CIA Director
George Tenet about Ambassador Joseph Wilson's February
2002 trip to Niger to investigate allegations that Iraq
was seeking to purchase yellowcake uranium, discussions
surrounding the 16 words in Bush's January 2003 State
of the Union address that asserted Iraq had attempted
to purchase the uranium, talks between Cheney and then
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and
conversations between Cheney and other Bush officials
about how to respond to media inquiries about the Plame
Wilson leak.

Court papers filed by Obama's Justice Department in
July revealed that Bush and Cheney were in contact
about the scandal, including what is described as "a
confidential conversation" and "an apparent
communication between the Vice President and the
President."

That court filing also revealed that Fitzgerald
questioned Cheney about his participation in the
decision to declassify parts of a 2002 National
Intelligence Estimate regarding Iraq's alleged WMD. It
ultimately fell to Bush to clear selected parts of the
NIE so they could be leaked as part of the White House
campaign to disparage Wilson.

"Judge Sullivan rightly rejected a Justice Department
interpretation of the [Freedom of Information Act] that
would have allowed the government to withhold virtually
any law enforcement record even where an investigation
has long since been concluded," said Melanie Sloan,
executive director of the government watchdog group
Citizens For Ethics and Responsibility in Washington
(CREW). The case stems from a FOIA lawsuit filed last
year by CREW.

"We are disappointed, however, that the judge allowed
DOJ to withhold portions of some records because the
American people deserve to know the truth about the
role the vice president played in exposing Mrs.
Wilson's covert identity. High-level government
officials should not be permitted to hide their
misconduct from public view," Sloan added.

A Justice Department spokesman said Sullivan's ruling
is under review. Unless the Obama administration
decides to appeal, the public may learn additional
details about Cheney's role in the leak of Plame
Wilson's covert identity by October 9, the deadline
Sullivan gave the Justice Department to release a
redacted version of Cheney's interview transcript.

Senior Bush administration officials disclosed Plame
Wilson's identity to several journalists in June and
July of 2003 amid White House efforts to discredit her
husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, for challenging
Bush's use of bogus intelligence to justify invading
Iraq.

Plame Wilson's CIA employment was revealed in a July
14, 2003, article by the late right-wing columnist
Robert Novak, effectively destroying her career. Two
months later, a CIA complaint to the Justice Department
sparked a criminal probe into the identity of the
leakers.

Initially, Bush professed not to know anything about
the matter, and several of his senior aides, including
political adviser Karl Rove and the vice president's
chief of staff I. Lewis Libby, followed suit.

However, it later became clear that Rove and Libby had
a hand in the Plame leak and that Bush and Cheney had
helped organize a campaign to disparage Wilson by
giving critical information to friendly journalists.

On June 24, 2004, Bush was interviewed by Fitzgerald
for 70 minutes about the Plame leak. The only other
member of the Bush team in the room during the meeting
was Jim Sharp, the private lawyer that Bush hired,
according to a press briefing by then-press secretary
Scott McClellan.

"The President ... was pleased to do his part to help
the investigation move forward," McClellan said. "No
one wants to get to the bottom of this matter more than
the President of the United States."

A couple of weeks earlier, Cheney had been interviewed
by Fitzgerald. Cheney retained a private attorney,
Terrence O'Donnell, to represent him in the matter.

Fitzgerald's criminal investigation led to Libby's
indictment in October 2005 and his subsequent
conviction in March 2007 on four counts of perjury and
obstruction of justice, which Bush later commuted.

During closing arguments at Libby's trial, Cheney was
implicated in the leak, as Fitzgerald acknowledged that
Cheney was intimately involved in the scandal and may
have told Libby to leak Plame's status to the media.

Fitzgerald told jurors that his investigation into the
true nature of the vice president's involvement was
impeded because Libby obstructed justice.

Libby's attorney, Theodore Wells, told jurors during
his closing arguments that Fitzgerald had been trying
to build a case of conspiracy against the vice
president and Libby, and that the prosecution believed
Libby may have lied to federal investigators and to a
grand jury to protect Cheney.

"Now, I think the government, through its questions,
really tried to put a cloud over Vice President
Cheney," Wells said.

Rebutting Wells, Fitzgerald told jurors: "You know
what? [Wells] said something here that we're trying to
put a cloud on the vice president. We'll talk straight.
There is a cloud over the vice president. He sent Libby
off to [meet with New York Times reporter] Judith
Miller at the St. Regis Hotel. At that meeting - the
two-hour meeting - the defendant talked about the wife
[Plame]. We didn't put that cloud there. That cloud
remains because the defendant obstructed justice and
lied about what happened."

Moreover, copies of Cheney's handwritten notes also
appeared to implicate Bush in the leak case.

Cheney's notes, which were introduced as evidence
during Libby's trial, called into question the
truthfulness of Bush's vehement denials about having
prior knowledge of the sub rosa campaign against
Wilson.

In an October 2003 note to then-press secretary
McClellan, Cheney demanded that the press office add
Libby to a list of White House officials being cleared
of any role in the Plame leak.

"Not going to protect one staffer + sacrifice the guy
that was asked to stick his head in the meat grinder
because of incompetence of others," Cheney wrote.
However, the note revealed that Cheney had originally
written "this Pres" before crossing that out and using
the passive tense "that was."

In other words, the original version suggested that
Bush had asked Libby "to stick his head in the meat
grinder," an apparent reference to dealing with the
Washington press corps.

Last year, Congressman Henry Waxman, then the chairman
of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee,
revealed in a letter sent to Attorney General Michael
Mukasey that, according to FBI transcripts given to
Waxman's committee, Libby told federal investigators
that Cheney might have told him to leak Plame's CIA
ties to reporters.

"In his interview with the FBI, Mr. Libby stated that
it was 'possible' that Vice President Cheney instructed
him to disseminate information about Ambassador
Wilson's wife to the press. This is a significant
revelation and, if true, a serious matter. It cannot be
responsibly investigated without access to the Vice
President's FBI interview," Waxman wrote.

 
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