Senate majority leader Harry Reid’s reaction to the Libby verdict perfectly illustrates the fantasy version of events that has marked the Valerie Plame Wilson leak investigation since its earliest days. Reid railed, “It’s about time someone in the Bush administration has been held accountable [sic] for the campaign to manipulate intelligence and discredit war critics.” If that’s what Harry has been waiting for, the Libby verdict shouldn’t satisfy him. Libby was charged neither with manipulating intelligence nor with discrediting critics of the Iraq War.
Libby’s conviction followed from two sentences he uttered in two conversations with two individuals, and neither sentence had anything to do with manipulating intelligence or discrediting a run-of-the-mill war critic. When the words “Valerie Plame” passed the lips of White House aides, it was only to set the record straight after a dishonest partisan accused the Bush administration of lying.
Because Bush’s stubbornly ill-informed political opponents persist in basing their attacks on discredited statements from the discredited Joe Wilson, a brief recounting of the facts is necessary yet again. New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof wrote on June 13, 2003, that President Bush’s claim that Saddam Hussein had sought uranium in Africa “had already been flatly discredited by an envoy investigating at the behest of the office of the Vice President.” In fact, the claim wasn’t discredited by the envoy, who wasn’t sent at the behest of the vice president. These two old, false assertions form the basis of the accusations Harry Reid leveled yesterday.
Reid doesn’t have to take our word for it. At the recent trial it was revealed that Valerie Plame recommended that her husband be sent to Niger before the vice president even inquired whether there was any additional intelligence about the uranium claim.
As for manipulating pre-war intelligence, Senator Reid should run his poisonously partisan version of events past his former colleague, Sen. Chuck Robb. In its March 2005 report on pre-war WMD intelligence, the Silberman-Robb commission wrote, “The United States government asserted that Saddam Hussein had reconstituted his nuclear weapons program, had biological weapons and mobile biological weapon production facilities, and had stockpiled and was producing chemical weapons. All of this was based on the assessments of the U.S. Intelligence Community.”
The commission found no evidence that policymakers pressured intelligence analysts, but did find that the unpressured analysts poorly served policymakers. According to the commission, the intelligence community failed to explain to policymakers “how much its assessments were driven by assumptions and inferences rather than concrete evidence.”
In his closing statement, Patrick Fitzgerald talked darkly about “a cloud over the vice president.” Fitzgerald has his weather patterns wrong. It is Joseph Wilson and the partisans echoing his lies who should have a cloud over them. They manufactured a case that the Bush administration manufactured WMD intelligence. The administration understandably tried to defend itself by explaining that Joe Wilson wasn’t on a mission from Vice President Cheney, and by declassifying a National Intelligence Estimate so that the rest of us could see the legitimate if faulty intelligence they had relied on.
These appropriate efforts gave rise to the appointment of a special counsel, and the travesty of a case Harry Reid now touts as vindication of his partisan fantasy.