With the indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, President Bush is now in line with several past multiple-term presidents who have faced scandal in the White House.
From Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s attempt to expand the Supreme Court to Richard Nixon resigning over the break-in at Democratic National Committee offices to the Iran-Contra scandal that caused Ronald Regan’s top aides to resign, it is a common sight to see second-term presidential administrations marred by some scandal.
In the latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, President Bush’s job approval rating is at 40 percent, just above its all-time low of 38 percent. The indictment of Libby puts another blemish on the Bush Administration.
Libby, who is being indicted on felony charges of obstruction of justice, making false statements to the Grand Jury and perjury, has not been charged with the actual outing of a CIA agent.
However, the CIA Leak itself is the controversy behind Bush’s second-term, with a storm of lies, corruption and deceit that has plagued the oval office for the past few years.
The scandal began early 2002, when according to Newsweek, Vice President Dick Cheney received a CIA briefing that claimed Saddam Hussein was attempting to build nuclear weapons. Cheney, who was looking for evidence to support an Iraq invasion at the time, was especially interested in a report that claimed Hussein attempted to purchase uranium from Niger. In turn, the CIA sent Ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate the uranium claims.
Wilson was believed to have good connections within Niger and stayed one week in Africa, where he then reported to CIA debriefers that he was convinced the earlier CIA claim was bogus.
Word of Wilson’s debunking did not reach the Cheney’s ears since the Vice President claimed never to have received the report. Records indicate Wilson’s report was likely to have been blended with the other hundreds of other reports that are filled in through the bureaucracy.
The White House backed its call for war, one that Cheney pushed for immensely, that Hussein was determined to get nuclear weapons, by referencing the supposed uranium acquisition from Niger. Even in George W. Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address, the African-uranium claim was made.
“The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa,” said Bush in 2003. “Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production.”
Two months after Bush’s State of the Union Address, the U.S. led coalition invaded Iraq.
Wilson, who was agitated that the White House used the Africa-uranium claim as evidence to go to war, went public about his Niger trip with his New York Times column, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa.”
“Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war,” wrote Wilson, “I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.”
Because Wilson’s column was seen as an act of hostility against Bush and Cheney, someone within the oval office told Robert Novak and other reporters that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was an undercover CIA operative. In his July 14, 2003, syndicated column, Robert Novak stated, “Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior Administration officials told me Wilson’s wife suggested sending him to Niger.”
Three days after Novak’s claim, Matthew Cooper, who writes for Time Magazine’s website, claimed that government officials told him Wilson’s wife was a CIA official monitoring weapons of mass destruction.
In September of 2003, two months after the initial claims, Wilson accused the White House of leaking his wife’s status as a CIA agent in an attempt to discredit him and his criticism on the war in Iraq. Soon there were requests by the CIA to appoint a special counsel to investigate the outing of Valerie Plame, but those requests were turned down by Attorney General John Ashcroft.
In December, the Justice Department appointed Patrick Fitzgerald as a special counsel to look into the CIA Leak while Ashcroft insisted that he had had nothing to do with the leak itself.
A grand jury issued subpoenas for both Matthew Cooper and Time Inc. in May of 2004, seeking testimony and documents for proof of who leaked Valerie Plame as an undercover CIA agent. Time Inc. asserted that it would resist the subpoena.
Soon thereafter, New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who gathered material for a story on the Leak, but never wrote one, was subpoenaed by the Grand Jury. The New York Times vowed to fight the subpoena.One month later, Miller was held in contempt of court. A couple days later, so was Cooper and Time Inc. They both stressed the importance maintaining confidentiality of sources so that they can feel secure giving information without losing their jobs or status.
In early July of 2005, U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan ordered Judith Miller to go to prison for refusing to reveal her source. Cooper agreed to testify to the grand jury after being released from his promise of confidentiality by his source, who was then revealed to be Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove.
This caused a flurry of outcries amongst democrats, some wanting President Bush to hold Rove accountable for outing Plame, others seeking to amend the Homeland Security bill to revoke the security clearance of any federal employee who discloses confidential information, including the name of an undercover CIA agent. These actions were not taken.
In late September of 2005, after spending 85 days in jail, Judith Miller was released from jail after she agreed to speak to a grand jury. She revealed her source for the CIA Leak as Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Chief of Staff for Vice President Dick Cheney.
With Libby now out of the White House and preparing to go to court, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Cheney named longtime counsel David Addington as his new Chief of Staff and John Hannah as National Security Advisor. Both were questioned in the Libby Indictment.
It is believed that Cheney will be called as a witness to verify and recount a conversation in early 2003 between Libby and Cheney, where Cheney allegedly told Libby that Plame worked in the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division.
Karl Rove remains under investigation, and if he is indicted Bush will lose his most influential advisor. Rove could be indicted on providing false statements to the Grand Jury.
Wilson has made many media appearances, calling for President Bush to fire Rove.
“As Americans, we should all be appalled by this sort of behavior from the senior reaches of this administration,” said Wilson. “I believe that this is a firing offense.”