Investigating the CIA Leak, Libby and Armitage Mike Isikoff, investigative correspondent for Newsweek magazine, co-wrote Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War, which implicated Richard Armitage in the leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity.
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Investigating the CIA Leak, Libby and Armitage

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Investigating the CIA Leak, Libby and Armitage

Investigating the CIA Leak, Libby and Armitage

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

So one White House aide convicted of lying and obstructing justice - but what about the bigger picture? The cloud over the White House that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald referred to in his closing arguments, specifically, the role of Lewis Libby's former boss, Vice President Dick Cheney.

Michael Isikoff of Newsweek Magazine is with us to sort through what was revealed in the trial about that. Thanks for coming in.

Mr. MICHAEL ISIKOFF (Investigative Correspondent, Newsweek Magazine; Co-Author, "Hubris: The Inside story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War"): Good to be with you.

BLOCK: And, Michael, you could say this all started with a question from Dick Cheney to the CIA. This was before the invasion of Iraq. He wants more information about Iraq allegedly trying to get uranium from Niger - and he says to the CIA, check that out.

Mr. ISIKOFF: Right. There's this report, it looks interesting, it suggests that Iraq was seeking to purchase uranium from Africa, what can you tell me about it?

BLOCK: And that's where Valerie Plame comes in. Her husband, Joseph Wilson is sent to Niger in 2002. It's the next year that he writes that now famous op-ed piece, "What I Didn't Find in Niger." And Dick Cheney is outraged.

Mr. ISIKOFF: Correct because Joe Wilson took direct shots at the vice president and his office - saying, I got sent on this trip because of the vice president's question. I told them this wasn't true and yet they used it anyway. This is evidence that - of how the White House manipulated and twisted intelligence in the run up to the war in Iraq.

BLOCK: The prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald said in the trial, the question of who sent Mr. Wilson on his trip is the number one question on the vice president's mind in July of 2003. What was the evidence that this was the number one question on Dick Cheney's mind?

Mr. ISIKOFF: Well, if there was any major revelation at the trial, it was just how central Vice President Cheney was in the whole White House pushback in the Wilson controversy. It's Vice President Cheney who first tells Scooter Libby that Joe Wilson's wife works in the counter-proliferation division of the CIA. It's Vice President Cheney who tears out the newspaper clipping of Wilson's op-ed and writes, did his wife send him on a junket, thereby putting the junket nepotism charge in play.

Vice President Cheney monitors the press coverage, he dictates talking points, and he tells Scooter Libby to talk to Judy Miller of the New York Times - to disclose portions of the National Intelligence Estimate that the vice president's office would think help their case. But that is the meeting in which, according to Judy Miller, Scooter Libby told her about Valerie Plame.

BLOCK: Now, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, President Bush never testified, of course, at the trial, but they were all interviewed by the prosecutors. Do we know what they said in these interviews?

Mr. ISIKOFF: Only snippets, and that's one of the most frustrating things. I think for people at all sides of this controversy - how little we've learned on some of the central questions about what was known about Valerie Plame; what her status was at the CIA; was she covered by the Intelligence Identities Protection Act; and what exactly did Karl Rove say and know? How did he learn about Valerie Plame before confirming the information to Robert Novak and then volunteering it to Matt Cooper?

President Bush himself answered questions to Patrick Fitzgerald. Vice President Cheney did. We never got to see - nor is there - does it look like there's any prospect we're going to get to see what they had to say.

BLOCK: This is one of the things that can be confusing here. We now know that it wasn't just Lewis Libby revealing Valerie Plame's name. First it was Richard Armitage at the State Department, Karl Rove, Ari Fleischer at the White House. I don't know who I might have left out - but there was ultimately no charge about leaking her name. It just came down to this perjury investigation.

Mr. ISIKOFF: Right.

BLOCK: Why is that?

Mr. ISIKOFF: Patrick Fitzgerald is a by-the-book prosecutor. He brings cases in court in which he thinks he has a case. He clearly made a decision he didn't believe there was a prosecutable crime in the disclosure of Valerie Plame's identity. It's not clear what was in the minds of the people who did disclose her identity and what they could've known. So there's a lot of unanswered questions and that's a frustrating part of this case.

BLOCK: Michael Isikoff, thanks for coming in.

Mr. ISIKOFF: Thanks for having me.

BLOCK: Michael Isikoff is investigative correspondent for Newsweek Magazine and co-author of the book "Hubris: The Inside story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War."

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