Libby Evidence Finds Place at School's Archives George Washington University's National Security Archive has compiled all of the exhibits of evidence from the Libby trial. What does the material tell us about the White House and the media?
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Libby Evidence Finds Place at School's Archives

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Libby Evidence Finds Place at School's Archives

Libby Evidence Finds Place at School's Archives

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Flip through the documents produced for this trial and you come across this one. Back in 2003, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times wrote a scathing column about the White House. It was about the changing Bush administration justifications for the war and it's called "National House of Waffles."

Somebody at the White House printed that article and covered it with handwritten notations about how to respond. This is one of several documents that show how the White House tried to manage the press. The National Security Archive has been sifting through them. Tom Blanton works for that private group in Washington. Good morning.

Mr. TOM BLANTON (Executive Director, National Security Archive): Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: You've called our attention to documents starting in 2003. The administration is about to acknowledge after the invasion of Iraq that it put up bogus information about Saddam Hussein looking for so-called yellow cake in Nigeria and Africa.

Mr. BLANTON: Except the vice president's office is still claiming it wasn't bogus. We were just relying on the intelligence.

INSKEEP: We have a statement here from the CIA. George Tenet, the director of CIA, is about to put it out. And there's one word written on this when a copy get sent to the White House.

Mr. BLANTON: The word is unsatisfactory.

INSKEEP: So they're not willing, even at that point, to admit error.

Mr. BLANTON: Here's the CIA getting up and saying, look, we really disserved to the president. We should have cut those words out of the State of the Union. We should have tried to get the truth out. We knew they were wrong. But for Vice President Cheney's office, this was bad. CIA was not protecting the administration.

INSKEEP: And they look at this as a public relations problem. You've given us another document here, which includes the word options. And it talks about different things to do. What did they consider doing here?

Mr. BLANTON: Well, their very first option is, really, this one was discussed a lot at trial because the "Meet The Press" host, Tim Russert, was the key witness in many ways against Libby. And what's fascinating about this set of notes is this is the inside the White House spin meeting. What do you do to get our message out?

And our options are, number one, put the vice president on "Meet The Press" and they have a little diagram out to the side, the pros and the cons of going on "Meet The Press," MTP, they say. The pros are you can control your message. The cons are a little down in the weeds, too defensive. What's fascinating here is here you are on the White House side of managing the press.

INSKEEP: And more on this handwritten memo here. It says another option is leak.

Mr. BLANTON: Leak. And they have a few of their favorite reporters. Now these are folks like David Sanger of The New York Times, Walter Pincus of the Washington Post, people known for pretty aggressive reporting. And yet here's the White House, this is a way to really get your message out and get it on the front page. Leaks. Sit down with them and give it to them.

INSKEEP: And they looked at a couple of other options, press conference or op-ed - somebody might write an article for the newspaper…

Mr. BLANTON: Exactly. In press conference, they want Condi - meaning Condi Rice - or Secretary Rumsfeld to go out to defend them. Number one option, "Meet The Press," best control your message.

INSKEEP: Although we know now that one of the things that was done was leak some information about Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador, who had given damaging information about (unintelligible).

Mr. BLANTON: And that's what's most fascinating to me, in many ways, about these documents is you have this window into the inside of the White House, into the black box, really the vice president's office - now known as probably the most powerful vice president maybe in U.S. history. And here you have in Vice President Cheney's own handwriting his strong reactions, his phone calls to his chief of staff. Wait a second; they're putting out bad information.

His handwritten notes on op-ed pieces in the New York Times saying, wait a second, isn't this about the guy's wife? Did she send him on a junket? And all of a sudden you see this sort of directedness, this obsessiveness, this almost over attention to their own press clubs. And that drove them all the way, we know now, to perjury.

INSKEEP: And just very briefly, one more document here. A statement is being drafted. This is a document that says the vice president has seen and stamped. People had made too much of the accusations against Karl Rove and Lewis Libby as the accusations get closer, and so they've drafted this statement for the White House spokesman. And you've identified this is the vice president's handwriting?

Mr. BLANTON: There at the bottom, the current chief of staff of the vice president, David Addington, testified on the stand that this was the vice president's own handwriting. And what's fascinating, not only is the vice president is saying, it's got to happen today; we've got to clear Scooter, just like they cleared Karl Rove.

INSKEEP: Scooter Libby?

Mr. BLANTON: Scooter Libby. But goes on to write not going to protect one staffer and sacrifice the guy, the pres - and then he crosses out the pres and turns it into a passive voice - that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder.

INSKEEP: Goodness. Tom Blanton of the National Security Archives. Thanks very much.

Mr. BLANTON: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: The archive is a private organization that collects and saves national security documents as they're declassified or released. He's been looking at papers from the trial of Lewis Libby, who has been found guilty. And you can find the documents we discussed at npr.org.

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