When President Ronald Reagan was asked about Iran-Contra, he replied that he did not remember whether he had authorized two illegal arms sales to Iran in 1985. Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales stated “I don’t recall” or similar phrases 64 times in one memorable day of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee — a performance so memorable that it has since been set to music as a cantata.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney may now have joined their illustrious company, with the release of a redacted summary (pdf) of his May 8, 2004 interview by the FBI concerning the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame in July 2003.
The summary was released on Friday afternoon in response to a Freedom of Information request from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. It consists, however, almost entirely of things that Cheney asserted he either did not know or could not recall.
Cheney advised the FBI, for example, “that he has no idea who may have made the unauthorized disclosure” of Plame’s identity, that he did not know of any other reporters besides Robert Novak who might have received the information, and that no one had ever confided to him that they had passed information about Plame to reporters. Cheney also claimed that to the best of his knowledge no one had ever told him about discussing the issue with reporters, even after Novak’s column outing Plame appeared on July 14, 2003.
In fact, by his own testimony, Cheney took almost no interest in either Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger in 2002 to check out claims that Saddam Hussein had attempted to purchase uranium there or the outing of Wilson’s wife in 2003. Cheney said the first he knew of Wilson’s trip was when he read about it in a New York Times by Nicholas Kristof in May 2003 — and that he took almost no interest in the matter even after that point.
Cheney also said he “could not remember any reaction he had to the Kristof article at the time it was published,” did not follow subsequent newspaper coverage of Wilson’s claims, was not aware of whether reporters were asking his office about the trip, and only discussed the matter with Central Intelligence Director George Tenet once by phone.
When asked about Wilson’s New York Times editorial of July 6, 2003, Cheney stated that he was “relatively certain he spoke to someone about the article, but he cannot recall exactly who it was.” Even when shown a copy of the editorial with notes in his own handwriting in the margin, he indicated “he has no specific recollection of when he wrote the notes” and that “he cannot recall if he discussed the underlined portions of the editorial with any one.”
When Cheney was asked about specific members of the Bush administration with whom he might have discussed Wilson or Plame, he consistently replied that he did not have, was not aware of having had, or did not recall any such discussions. At one point, Cheney “stated that the identity of Valerie Wilson and her employment was not high on his radar screen and her employment with the CIA and relationship with Joe Wilson did not figure prominently in his thinking.”
Even when Cheney was shown a document with Joseph Wilson’s name written in his handwriting in the margin in his own handwriting, he insisted that “he has no specific memory of this document, and recalls no reason why he kept it.
In response to one very specific question, “the Vice President advised he has no idea what Scooter Libby knew about Valerie Wilson on 7/12/03. he does not recall if he told Scooter Libby about Mrs. Wilson and her employment at the CIA, or if Libby revealed to the Vice President his independent knowledge about that fact.”
When shown a set of “media talking points pertaining to Joe Wilson,” Cheney “acknowledged that they appeared to have been written by Scooter Libby” and that “the talking points in the notes resemble something he would have said to Libby, but he cannot remember the specifics of the conversation.” The summary states that “the Vice President is not sure if Mr. Libby followed up with the media on these notes and talking points as he does not recall whether Libby reported back to him the results of any contact with reporters.”
Cheney, in fact, insisted that “during the period from the publication of Robert Novak’s column on 7/14/03, until the Department of Justice investigation was announced in late September, he does not recall much, if any, discussion about former ambassador Wilson and the trip to Niger.”
When can we expect the cantata?