Sep 15 2006

Elendil’s Plame Review

Published by at 10:30 am under All General Discussions,Plame Game

The following is an extensive comment posted by reader Elendil regarding the Plame Game. Some have recommended linking this on other sites so I am posting it as a separate post to make linking possible (since we have not added links to comments yet on this site. Now over to Elendil

The Path to Plamegate: A Docu-Drama

The overall context of Plamegate has been largely, if not ignored, not taken with sufficient seriousness. The context is/was the war on terror, and more specifically the invasion of Iraq. Politically, there was what Byron York has called a “war” within the Administration regarding the legal aspects of the war on terror. CIA, as is well known, was at war against the Administration. That war involved nonsense like sending Joe Wilson to Niger and leaking constantly to the MSM. But the State Department, under Secretary of State Colin Powell and his Deputy Richard Armitage, with William Taft IV as their legal flack, was also at very serious at odds with the Administration–and, if we are to credit Lanny Davis’ statement on the Michael Medved Show, Armitage & Co. reserved their major wrath for VP Cheney’s office and staff. Last but far from least, Justice was also at war with the Administration. The legal hot button issues for all of these bureaucratic combatants included: “torture” and interrogation, FISA and the Patriot Act, and the NSA Program (obviously related to FISA). Keeping this in mind, let’s turn to the development of Plamegate.

It was in this context that political operatives at CIA and the New York Times, with a little help from a friend who had been an ambassador (and maybe another friend at State), staged a disinformation operation that they hoped just might bring down a president. The precise details may remain murky, but the general outline is clear enought. At this stage the Plame kerfuffle was still a bit of a tempest in a teapot, but then Armitage blundered into the mix, “outing” Valerie Plame’s role in sending her husband Joe Wilson to Niger.

I’m willing to assume that Armitage’s motive for leaking to Novak about the Plame/Wilson connection had to do with CIA and a former ambassador stepping on State’s toes in this matter. He may well have felt that these clowns were trespassing on Department of State turf. But, probably very much to Armitage’s surprise, far from being taken aback by the revelation of their plot, the Wilsons and their fellow plotters saw in this turn of events a golden opportunity. They could now charge the White House–their original target, after all–with a crime, however inherently dubious the charge and misguided the target.

The very dubious nature of the Wilson’s claims assured that the buildup would be gradual. We have to assume that CIA knows who their “covert” officers are at any given time–after all, CIA has to provide elaborate backstopping to maintain their officers’ cover as well as security. So it’s a given that CIA knew there was no crime, since Plame clearly did not fit the legal criteria for coverage under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Nevertheless, CIA twice referred the Plame matter to Justice and, finally, at Tenet’s personal insistence, Justice agreed to investigate, on 9/30/2003. We can only speculate as to Tenet’s motives; we can assume that the goofball Wilsons quite possibly thought they truly had Karl Rove in their sights, that Rove really was responsible for the “leak.” Unfortunately for inquisitive minds, the CIA’s actual referral letter appears to be the single most leakproof document in the entire government.

Once word got out about the DOJ investigation, Armitage quickly consulted with Powell and Taft, and the three of them ran off to Justice–to have Armitage confess, if we’re to believe Isikoff/Corn. Let’s pause for a moment to admire the adroitness of this maneuver. The President of the United States had been loudly and publicly demanding that the “leaker” come forward. So what did Powell do? Call President Bush and say, “Y’know that Plame leak business? Well it turns out that Deputy Dick over here really stepped on his whatchamajigger.” Nooooo. He called the President and said, “Oh, something happened over here and we’re going to cooperate with DOJ’s investigation.” Now, what was the President supposed to do at that point? Demand that Powell hustle his ass over to the White House and tell all? Bush surely knew that any such move would be immediately leaked by State and trumpeted far and wide as proof that Bush was going to try to tamper with the investigation–or so the White House would have feared. So Powell and Armitage were free to go over to Justice with Taft.

Who is William Taft IV?

Taft has had a fairly long history in Republican administrations, but in the second Bush administration Taft, as Colin Powell’s legal counsel, was involved in all the important intra-Administration legal debates concerning the war on terror (as noted by John Yoo). Taft was vociferously opposed to the legal structure of the GWOT, as it had been formulated by David Addington (Cheney’s counsel), as well as by John Yoo (and a few others) at Justice, supervised by Alberto Gonzalez, who was then White House counsel. John Yoo has recently described Taft (charitably) as very “accommodating” to the internationalization of US law–certainly a disposition that Yoo does not share. Here’s a sample of Taft’s attitude, from an article by Jane Mayer:

“The State Department, determined to uphold the Geneva Conventions, fought against Bush’s lawyers and lost. In a forty-page memo to Yoo, dated January 11, 2002 (which has not been publicly released), William Taft IV, the State Department legal adviser, argued that Yoo’s analysis was “seriously flawed.” Taft told Yoo that his contention that the President could disregard the Geneva Conventions was “untenable,” “incorrect,” and “confused.” Taft disputed Yoo’s argument that Afghanistan, as a “failed state,” was not covered by the Conventions. “The official United States position before, during, and after the emergence of the Taliban was that Afghanistan constituted a state,” he wrote. Taft also warned Yoo that if the U.S. took the war on terrorism outside the Geneva Conventions, not only could U.S. soldiers be denied the protections of the Conventions—and therefore be prosecuted for crimes, including murder—but President Bush could be accused of a “grave breach” by other countries, and be prosecuted for war crimes. Taft sent a copy of his memo to Gonzales, hoping that his dissent would reach the President. Within days, Yoo sent Taft a lengthy rebuttal.

“Others in the Administration worried that the President’s lawyers were wayward. “Lawyers have to be the voice of reason and sometimes have to put the brakes on, no matter how much the client wants to hear something else,” the former State Department lawyer said. “Our job is to keep the train on the tracks. It’s not to tell the President, ‘Here are the ways to avoid the law.’ ” He went on, “There is no such thing as a non-covered person under the Geneva Conventions. It’s nonsense. The protocols cover fighters in everything from world wars to local rebellions.” The lawyer said that Taft urged Yoo and Gonzales to warn President Bush that he would “be seen as a war criminal by the rest of the world,” but Taft was ignored. This may be because President Bush had already made up his mind. According to top State Department officials, Bush decided to suspend the Geneva Conventions on January 8, 2002—three days before Taft sent his memo to Yoo.”

You get the picture. Taft, in early 2002, had fought with the White House (and not least Cheney’s staff) and lost. And in Taft’s mind the White House was a train that was off the tracks, espousing legal “nonsense”, an administration of war criminals. Wow.

So this was the Taft who went with Powell and Armitage over to Justice. Why go to Justice in the first place? As is well known, Attorney General John Ashcroft was embittered against the Administration, his ego slighted. He thought he should be the most important legal voice in the Administration but Bush consistently favored people like Gonzalez, and Ashcroft’s deputies were pushed aside by Cheney’s aggressive counsel, Addington, who had even tried to get John Yoo into a key legal policy position at DOJ: head of the Office Legal Counsel. That threat was headed off by getting Jack Goldsmith, a determined opponent of the Addington/Yoo crowd, into OLC. But how to fight back on the day to day level, to get off the defensive and carry the battle to the enemy, i.e., the White House and Cheney’s shop? Answer: get a junk yard dog of a prosecutor as Deputy AG, Jim Comey, slayer of Martha Stewart, specialist in super creative and aggressive tactics like–prosecuting for procedural crimes (perjury, obstruction, etc.) in the absence of substantive offenses. Comey was nominated on October 3, 2003, and unanimously confirmed in December, 2003.

We don’t know who the folks from State met with–apparently Isikoff considered that an unimportant detail–but let’s just suppose that Powell, Armitage and Taft called ahead and arranged a meeting. I doubt whether Powell was about to deal with flunkies, Ashcroft’s secretary or the duty AUSA. No, he must have met with some pretty high up people over at Justice, because this was a sensitive matter concerning the career of his best friend. Taft, of course, would have had allies at Justice, careerists like himself who had sided with him (and lost) in the legal debates over managing the war on terror. I’m guessing that the State delegation got a very sympathetic audience at Justice. “In a little trouble, Dick, Colin? Worried about bad press, loss of credibility with a White House that has no sense of humor about leaking? Not to worry, these are all manageable problems.” Powell, Armitage and Taft may not have realized at first how this would be managed, but with their decided dislike for the Administration they ostensibly served, they would have been receptive to a solution that not only kept them off the hook but caused the Administration a little grief into the bargain. That must have seemed like killing two birds with one stone to them. The “pissants” so detested by Armitage–prominently including Lewis Libby, one of the architects of Middle East policy–would get their come-uppance while Deputy Dick skated.

Is it credible that a cabinet secretary (Powell), his deputy (Armitage) and his legal counsel (Taft) came to Justice to be debriefed on a potentially explosive scandal, and that Ashcroft was unaware? I have to say: no. If that was indeed the case, and Ashcroft knew of Armitage’s role in the Plame affair, what followed amounted to a political decision on Ashcroft’s part to cut the President off at the knees.

What came from this conference or–may we guess–series of conferences? Well, Armitage didn’t bother retaining counsel, so he must have felt very, very reassured after talking to the folks at Justice. At the beginning of October, 2003, Fitzgerald wasn’t on board yet to instruct Armitage that mum was to be the word, but since the FBI (at Justice’s direction) quickly began to interview White House employees (possibly that same week), it’s reasonable to assume that someone at Justice asked Armitage not to inform the President. Consider the alternative: we tell the President that Armitage had ‘fessed up and then send the FBI in to grill the White House staff about the non-crime in which they had no involvement–not likely! After talking the matter over with Justice, Taft was selected or volunteered to handle Gonzalez. That was a necessary step. Taft undoubtedly knew that Gonzalez didn’t trust the leakers at State or Justice, so Gonzalez could be easily maneuvered into declining to demand the nitty gritty details because he would have wanted to avoid any appearance of manipulating the investigation–which he had every reason to believe would surely have been leaked by State, Justice, or both. With that, Plamegate began in earnest. But other things quickly began to happen at Justice.

With the Plame investigation under way, clearly targeting Justice’s key antagonists at the White House, Justice went on the offensive against the legal GWOT, seeking to avenge the series of stinging defeats it suffered in the aftermath of 9/11 (the Silberman decision on the Patriot Act/FISA, a slap from OIG, etc.). Goldsmith began reviewing the GWOT legal memos in October 2003. Also in October, FBI agents began interviewing White House officials about Plame, despite the fact that Armitage had turned himself in and Justice knew that no one but Armitage had any responsibility for the non-crime. In December things began happening fast: Comey was confirmed, Goldsmith told DOD that they could no longer rely on Yoo’s GWOT opinions, Ashcroft recused himself from Plamegate–exactly why? given that he knew the identity of the leaker?–and Comey appointed his butt buddy Fitzgerald, a slavish imitator of Comey’s own abusive prosecutorial techniques, as Special Prosecutor with a mandate that put Fitzgerald beyond any hint of supervision and accountability.

The rest is history: Rove, Libby, Addington, Gonzalez, etc., etc. They were all dragged in front of the grand jury through the Spring and Summer of 2004 and grilled about a non-crime, and all along Justice/Fitzgerald knew who the responsible party was. But Comey had cleverly exempted Fitzgerald from virtually any supervision or need to follow DOJ guidelines. This was a fishing expedition like no other: the President of the United States, in time of war (and in the run up to a hotly contested Presidential election), was grilled in the Oval Office about this non-crime, while Armitage, Powell, Taft, Comey, Fitzgerald, Ashcroft and others laughed up their sleeves because they knew that President Bush had no involvement whatsoever. Of course, later Comey and Fitz submitted their famous affidavits in which they claimed that they had an unwritten, unspoken, unsmoke-signalled, understanding that Fitz was under DOJ supervision–blowing smoke in the face of an utterly fatuous federal judge. Remarkable. The enormity of all this is simply remarkable.

All the while, Comey continued the legal offensive against the White House’s GWOT policies:

In Feb – March 2004 OIPR targeted the post Patriot Act FISA rules once again, trying (in collusion with Judge Kollar-Kotelly) to do an end run around Silberman’s “in re Sealed Case” decision.

In March 2004 Comey and Goldsmith threatened to shut down the NSA Program entirely, unless concessions were made [per a Newsweek article, but also alluded to by Victoria Toensing on the Bill Bennet Show].

In June 2004 the “torture memo” was leaked, and Goldsmith formally repudiated it–as the MSM trumpeted another defeat for the President (and the rest of us).

But the Bushies fought back as best they could–in between multiple GJ appearances, conferences with lawyers, compliance with a blizzard of subpoenas, press outcries and slander. A corner was undoubtedly turned when, at the beginning of President Bush’s second term, Alberto Gonzalez became the AG. Goldsmith and Comey saw the handwriting on the wall and left for cushy adademic sinecures.

What am I suggesting? Simply this: I suspect that there was a conscious decision within the Department of Justice (but with the willing collusion of officials at State and the CIA) to use Plamegate as a tactic to neutralize the Administration’s GWOT policy, at least as that involved the legal interpretation of sensitive issues. What other explanation could possibly make sense of the known facts? This neutralization would be accomplished not through argumentation but by knowingly abusing the criminal justice system to tie key members of the Administration in knots, using Fitzgerald, the FBI and, above all, Fitzgerald’s grand jury. Plamegate was a political-ops put up job from start to finish–at least once the CIA/State/Justice cabal got their hands on it. But because it used the FBI and a Federal GJ to hound persons who the cabal knew had committed no crime or misconduct whatsoever, it was also a gross and knowing abuse of the criminal justice system, and that’s an important matter that deserves far wider publicity than it has yet received. This goes far beyond just one overzealous prosecutor. Moreover, this entire prosecutorial style, championed by the likes of Comey, Fitzgerald, needs to be subjected to serious scrutiny.

What then is to be done? How about this: a criminal investigation into the entire handling of the Plame matter. Call a grand jury, subpoena all relevant records, interview, interview, interview. Ashcroft, Powell, Taft, Comey, Tenet, Fitzgerald, and lots of alios. Oh yeah. Turn this whole thing inside out and issue a report. Let justice be done.

Now, some might ask: just how plausible is all this. To which I respond, is it more or less plausible than the following proposition: I know beyond a reasonable doubt that Lewis “Scooter” Libby obstructed justice, because his recollection of a purely innocent conversation differs in a minor respect from a reporter’s recollection. Uh huh. Uh huh.

10 responses so far

10 Responses to “Elendil’s Plame Review”

  1. granitroc says:

    Okay, all this sounds great, now who is Elendil and why should we believe this? I’m not disputing what was said, I just would like to know why all of the above should be given credence.

  2. az redneck says:

    That was my reaction too!

  3. clarice says:

    He knows what he’s talking about. I vouch for that for what it’s worth. Before AJ did this, I sought ELendil’s permission and got it to post this as a comment on FR, noting it had first been posted here.

    He has been keeping a sharp eye on the DoJ and the opposition there to the OVP’s more aggressive stand on the WOT.

  4. elendil says:

    I titled this piece a docu-drama for what, I hope, are obvious reasons. It is an interpretive presentation, but it has a solid basis of known facts. Like many others to this blog, I was interested in Plamegate as well as the controverseys over legal aspects of the War on Terror: the Patriot Act and the FISA/NSA disputes. As I read articles and posts on these topics I realized that, not surprisingly, the same people played leading roles in both. The entire spectrum of political opinion agrees that the legal disputes were intensely, even bitterly, contested. To see the (arguably) losing side leading an inquiry into Plamegate against those they viewed as dangerously unhinged would not necessarily have been troubling, although it would certainly call for scrutiny. However, the circumstances surrounding that inquiry were clearly such as to raise serious doubts about prosecutorial overreach right from the beginning. And the more facts that became known the more it began to look like outright prosecutorial misconduct. Victoria Toensing has covered most of those areas with far better than I could in her OpinionJournal piece. Where I, perhaps go beyond Toensing, is in asking what others perhaps have only silently wondered: if Fitzgerald knew about Armitage, who else knew. The obvious answers to that question should be highly troubling. Suffice it to say, that in the circumstances there are so many highly questionable aspects that are pretty much beyond doubt that, while I may not be able to swear to the absolute truth of every statement in my interpretive presentation, I think a detailed explanation is called for.

    As I say, my interpretive presentation has a solid basis in fact. Most of it is readily documentable, and anyone with access to Google can do so on their own. I mention Newsweek and Jane Mayer’s “New Yorker” article as well as Hubris, and I should also have credited Chitra Ragavan. But there is plenty more solid information both at anyone’s fingertips on the internet as well as in books that are beginning to appear that discuss these matters. There is no “insider” information here. The only imaginative or dramatic parts to the presentation are the recreations of what happened at meetings at which I obviously wasn’t present and the attribution of motives. That Justice’s offensive against the Administration’s legal policies coincided with the development of Plamegate is fact. That the same players were involved throughout is fact. This interpretation flows naturally and logically from these known facts and, in the circumstances, an explanation is called for. Certainly investigative reporters should find worthwhile leads in this interpretation.

    I notice that Colin Powell was on front pages this morning, continuing his war against the Bush Administration. Doing so in public is honorable, if done for the right motives. What took place during the period of Novak’s silence–enforced by Armitage–was… Well, let’s leave it at: less than honorable.

  5. zipit says:

    The highlight for me was when Fiztpatrick did the victory lap around Plame’s house to see if the neighbors knew she was covert. This was highly orchestrated. The pressure has to be on the powers that be to get this investigated. Good as usual AJ

  6. Barbara says:

    This post has ansered a lot of questions I had about all the events. I knew State and CIA were at war with the administration, but had no idea Justice was also involved. The idea that Powell and Armitage did not inform the President of this knowledge is appallingbut of course, we all knew that they ad not long ago. It is extremely disloyal of them and shows their ulterior motive.

    These kind of people brought down another president. They fail to understand that what they believe has no bearing on policy or future events. The President is elected by the people and it is he who drives foreign policy. One of Powell’s assistants complained to the media a year or so ago that the President was messing up their foreign policy. I thought this was quite arrogant on the part of this complainer at that time. There should be a lot of firings at State, Justice , CIA and maybe Defense to weed out and clean out these departments. Were these the kind of lawyers in Defense that refused to let Able Danger provide the FBI with their information on terrorists in 2000?

  7. ordi says:


    Over at JOM you wrote: I’m hearing drums along the Potomac which indicate his tsuris is far from over.

    I asked if you would explain, your answer was: The drums are saying…let me stick my head out the window and listen….something about Armitage but I can’t make out quite what it is..LOL

    Is elendil docudrama on the same sheet of music as the drums you have been hearing?

  8. agnolobronzino says:

    i just have trouble believing armitage when he says it took him until oct2003 to realise he was the source of novaks july column. and i keep wondering about colin powells role in all of this—- did this all happen under his watch[in his blissful ignorance]– or was he more actively aware of the events?

  9. elendil says:

    Be sure to read Clarice’s article over at Weekly Standard (sorry, I’m not sure how to link on this forum). It will give you plenty of food for thought. What to my mind comes through loud and clear is that the view that this is simply a matter of one overzealous prosecutor fails to take the overall context seriously. There’s an important story waiting to be told, and Clarice makes a fine start. An essential read.

  10. elendil says:

    Belated thanks to AJ for hosting my remarks in such an hospitable fashion.