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Other Libby blogger responds: Plame outing result of 'casual and innocent mistakes'
Brian Beutler
Published: Monday February 26, 2007
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Last week, RAW STORY brought you an exclusive interview with Marcy Wheeler, one of the blogosphere's most comprehensive CIA leak followers. Wheeler, who approaches the controversy from the position that the administration criminally outed Valerie Plame, voiced her suspicion that the leak investigation would continue after a verdict is reached in I. Lewis Libby's case, as Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald pursues his ultimate goal: Vice President Dick Cheney.

Today, RAW STORY brings you the flipside of that interview. Tom Maguire, a conservative who blogs at JustOneMinute and who has been following the story just as closely, presents his view: that "this investigation is over," that "the Russert and Cooper counts will result in acquittals on reasonable doubt," and that Plame's outing was more of an "accident" than anything.

"Joe Wilson gave Nick Kristof an exaggerated account of the conclusions and importance of his trip, and in the course of pushing back guys at both State and the White House mentioned that his wife was involved," Maguire said. "The Plame outing was an accident based on the truth, rather than any kind of conspiracy."

But Maguire doesn't predict complete vindication for Cheney's former aide, Libby.

"As to Libby's broad story of 'I forgot, and was surprised when I learned it from Russert,' my hunch is that the jurors won't buy it, but that may be my natural pessimism," Maguire said, adding that "I don't think any serious observer believes he will get convictions on all five counts."

Maguire doesn't completely buy Libby's "I forgot" story, and believes that it's possible that the former vice president aide was just trying to keep his boss's involvement hidden.

"Personally, I think the single most probable scenario is that Libby uhh, shaded his testimony to keep Cheney out of the story," Maguire says.

Maguire compliments the "fascinating theories of varying degrees of plausibility" presented by Wheeler, himself, and other bloggers working the Plame beat, and has been blogging about the leak since July of 2003.

"Not many other righties were following the story back then, so I stayed with it, as some combination of hobby, duty, and Manifest Destiny," Maguire said. "If Libby is acquited I expect I will lapse back into well-deserved obscurity, but he has not been acquited... yet."

The conservative blogger was asked about his political leanings, and to provide his thoughts on the Bush Administration in general.

A Republican, Magure says, "I'm too old to switch, but let's say that I suspect [Bush] is creating many life-long Democrats."

Maguire agreed to be interviewed by email. The entire correspondence appears below:

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BB: If you had to characterize the evolution of all of this in a few sentences, what would your narrative look like?

TM: Wilson lied, Libby was tried! I'm kidding - based on new information from the trial the record is clear that Cheney's request for more info on the Niger story came in on Feb 13th, after Ms. Wilson had already written her memo endorsing or recommending her husband for the trip. However, proper bureaucrats always invoke the highest available authority, so Joe Wilson may well have been told there was Vice-Presidential interest in his trip.

That said, I think Joe Wilson gave Nick Kristof an exaggerated account of the conclusions and importance of his trip, and in the course of pushing back guys at both State and the White House mentioned that his wife was involved. So I think the Plame outing was an accident based on the truth, rather than any kind of conspiracy.

BB: What about the buildup to the outting? Do you buy the account--in Marcy Wheeler's book for instance--about the cooked Niger history? How would you tell that part of the story.

TM: Let's just say that Ms. Wheeler and others of my friends on the left have developed some fascinating theories of varying degrees of plausibility, as have I. However, when I encounter a five thousand word post titled "The Niger Forgeries, Part 8", my eyes glaze over and my knees buckle. Call it a character flaw. Can I wait for the movie?

BB: This question hinges on being answered before any news breaks, but here goes: You've said on your blog, "Well, predictions are always hazardous, especially about the future. However, Jeralyn Merritt had predicted that the jury nullification gambit would be set aside in favor of reasonable doubt and I had agreed." But you also said, "OK, I am bitter in expectation of a Libby conviction - there, I said it!" In light of the closing statements, do you have new predictions about the verdicts now?

TM: My current view is that the Russert and Cooper counts will result in acquittals on reasonable doubt. As to Libby's broad story of "I forgot, and was surprised when I learned it from Russert", my hunch is that the jurors won't buy it, but that may be my natural pessimism.

BB: Is the investigation over? How will a variety of combinations of verdicts affect what comes next?

TM: This investigation is over and my guess is that there were enough uhh, irregularities in the behavior of the prosecutor that he will not be left in charge of any appeals. I'll just mention one: if Fitzgerald had been interested in "the truth" rather than in building a case against Libby, he would have called Dickerson and Gregory to check out Ari's story about who he leaked to, especially after Pincus contradicted it. However, if all three reporters had said Ari was confused, Fitzgerald would have had a real problem presenting Ari as a witness against Libby, so Fitzgerald pursued his case rather than the facts.

And his sudden deference can't be because of a new-found respect for journalists - he subpoenaed Kessler, Pincus, Russert, Cooper (twice) and let Judy Miller sit in jail for 85 days.

Well - I am predicting a bit more oversight for this Too-Special Counsel going forward.

BB: What are your political leanings? Thoughts on the Bush Administration in general?

TM: I came of age politically during the Carter era, and have had a hard time taking Democrats seriously ever since. As to my thoughts on Bush? I'm too old to switch, but let's say that I suspect he is creating many life-long Democrats.

BB: In the same way that liberals are criticized for seeing more in the Plame affair than might be there because of their distaste for the president, how have your feelings about the president colored your interpretation of this controversy?

TM: I'm not sure it is just me or my politics, but - the howling from David Corn and Joe Wilson struck me as political opportunism from the outset; if my wife were in danger due to a loss of privacy, I am not sure I would have gotten on every television show to say so. And Walter Pincus, not a notorious righty, said something similar - he characterized the leak as "obnoxious" but not criminal, and pinned the opportunism on Senator Schumer and and Joe Wilson.

BB: On your blog JustOneMinute, you took issue with portions of the interview I conducted with Marcy Wheeler. Can you lay out what the issues in the case are that you disagree with her about, and defend your interpretation?

TM: In a thousand words or less? Hmm - she sees a broad conspiracy to out Valerie where I see a couple of casual and innocent mistakes made at both State and the White House in responding to Wilson. As to the "outing" conspiracy, it might have been gained a bit of traction if Fitzgerald had presented anyone from the CIA telling anyone else that Valerie Plame was actually important, or classified, or anything. Instead, neither Grenier nor Schmall can even remember what they said about her.

As to whether Libby is lying to cover Cheney, or cover himself, or whatever - I don't think she has the same level of doubt about his story as I do.

BB: At one specific point in your critique, you pointed to this bit of AP reporting:

Then-deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage met with Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in mid-June 2003, the same time the reporter has testified an administration official talked to him about CIA employee Valerie Plame. Armitage's official State Department calendars, provided to the Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act, show a one-hour meeting marked ``private appointment" with Woodward on June 13, 2003.

In your mind, is this enough information for Fitzgerald to peg Armitage as a leaker and begin questioning reporters about him?

TM: In my mind, it is enough for Fitzgerald to question Armitage about that, There is nothing to suggest that Fitzgerald went after State Department phone records and appointment calendars for June, even though he knew of the June INR memo and knew Armitage had leaked to Novak in July.

Had he asked for those records, he may have discovered Woodward a lot earlier (or he might have a strong case for perjury/obstruction against Armitage). He may also have discovered a "conspiracy" to protect Colin Powell, who may very well have leaked this info himself - after all, like Armitage, Powell had no reason to think it was a secret.

Reading the INR memo, it clearly is a CYA piece intended to argue that, although Wilson was a former Ambassador, he was not the State Department's guy in Africa. Clearly, State wanted to distance themselves from the Wilson controversy (and why did Armitage call Novak in June for a meeting after ducking him for over two years?), so Powell may well have had a chat with some reporters about the real genesis of the Wilson trip. And maybe one such chat was with his personal friend Andrea Mitchell, to whose wedding he had been invited back in the 90's.

Well - when I have had too many cups of coffee, I even drag Marc Grossman into this - he talked to Armitage before Armitage went to the Feds, and later told folks that he passed the spousal info to Libby, alone, no memo, no documentation. VERY convenient!

But Fitzgerald was not looking at State, so he didn't find anything. No cloud over State- nothing but blue skies.

BB: If it is enough information, why don't you think he went that route? Are reports of his investigative acuity overblown?

TM: I don't think he went after State because he was essentially handed a perjury investigation pointing at Rove and Libby, so that is what he pursued. But his sanctimonious rhetoric about Libby throwing sand in his eyes is absurd - Fitzgerald stuck his head in the sand and then blamed Libby for his vision problems.

As to his investigative acuity - if this was a serious leak investigation, how can it be that three years after his appointment, we still don't know whether John Dickerson and David Gregory will confirm or deny under oath that Ari Fleischer leaked to them?

BB: You've called the prosecution of Libby "unethical". From the moment of the Novak column forward, how should this story have played out? Whether or not you feel his prosecution was deserved, do you find his version of events credible?

Specifically this from your blog: "Libby testified that he learned about Ms. Plame from Dick Cheney, then promptly forgot it until he re- learned it a month later from reporters, specifically Tim Russert."

TM: Did I say "unethical"? Then I'm sure I meant it, although I prefer the word "disgrace". I think Fitzgerald's legacy is in two parts - first, he won a series of court rulings that have weakened the protections the press formerly imagined they enjoyed. Congratulations.

Secondly, Fitzgerald received an unprecedented level of cooperation from the Executive Branch. Bill Clinton invoked executive privilege, attorney-client privilege, Secret Service privilege, parking valet privilege, and pizza-delivery guy privilege while battling Ken Starr (I may have misremembered a few of those). With Bush, privilege was never invoked, no one took the Fifth, and where are we?

If Fitzgerald had brought a strong perjury/obstruction case that would be fine. But there is serious doubt as to whether he will get convictions, a hung jury, or acquitals and I don't think any serious observer believes he will get convictions on all five counts. This was a weak case with a parade of weak witnesses, and the result will be that no future Administration will try this experiment when accused of wrong-doing. Again, congratulations.

As to Libby's "I Forgot" story - my first reaction upon reading the indictment was that he should try for an insanity defense, and I still find his story somewhat unlikely. On the other hand, I find it unlikely that a high-priced Washington attorney could not invent a better cover story with about five minutes reflection - for example, if Libby is just making stuff up, why not say he had his moment of revelation with a call from Bob Novak - it fits the timeline, he knows Novak knew about Plame, why take a chance with Russert?

Instead, Fitzgerald asks us to believe that Libby made up the Russert story as a deliberate lie, and it was just Libby's dumb luck that Ari Fleischer may have leaked to David Gregory, Russert's colleague - oh, but that was never checked out by Fitzgerald, sorry to bring it up. My interpretation - Libby sincerely believes he got the Plame tip from Russert, and is either honestly confused or factually correct. But as a deliberate lie, it makes no sense.

Personally, I think the single most probable scenario is that Libby uhh, shaded his testimony to keep Cheney out of the story. But I also think there is room for reasonable doubt, and on that subject I will present some spin you have heard nowhere else - it may be that after the first mention in June Cheney truly and deliberately steered away from any mention of Joe Wilson's wife with Libby or anyone else. Why? Because Cheney hears every day (and twice on weekends) about things he did for the AEI because of his wife's role there, or things the AEI did for him because of his wife, and he knows it is almost always BS and he wasn't going to go down that road with Wilson. Dick Cheney, Mr. Sensitive, who knew? But Fitzgerald talked to Cheney and never called him, so presumably Cheney did not tell him that he discussed Ms. Plame repeatedly and emphatically with Libby.

BB: What are your thoughts on Cheney not taking the stand? Libby?

TM: I thought the defense was pretty sincere in saying they were shocked at how weak the prosecution witnesses were - Grenier, Grossman, Schmall, Fleischer, Cooper and Miller should get together and star in a gingko-bilboa ad.

Cheney could have helped Libby a lot of different ways, starting by saying "Please ask me about important topics; I don't remember a thing about Valerie Plame". And if Fitzgerald grilled him aggressively, it may have simply cemented the notion with the jury that the wrong guy was on trial.

As to Libby taking the stand, that would have been silly - the jury had eight hours of his grand jury tapes to absorb, so I think they had a good sense of his story and demeanor, for better or worse. And I am not sure how the defense puts up a witness with the goal of demonstrating his fallible memory - do they let Fitzgerald rip him apart so they can say, "See, he forgot all over again?" Puzzling.

BB: Tell me a little bit about how you became interested in this trial, especially vis-a-vis your blogging career.

TM: I happened to be following the Joe Wilson imbroglio back on July 14, 2003 when the Novak column hit. And somewhat unlike Tim Russert, I remember the date as well as my reaction. Not many other righties were following the story then, so I stayed with it, as some combination of hobby, duty, and Manifest Destiny. If Libby is acquited I expect I will lapse back into well-deserved obscurity, but he has not been acquited... yet.