Political MoJo

Libby Defense Lawyer: Scooter Scapegoated, Culprit is Karl

| Tue Jan. 23, 2007 1:49 PM EST

The E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse, a dreary beige building in view of the Capitol, has seen its share of Washington scandals. The Watergate conspirators were tried here during the '70s, as was Oliver North, among other Iran-Contra figures, during the '80s. The late '90s brought the Lewinsky scandal and with it a press frenzy unlike any this court had ever seen. The plaza in front of the courthouse, then home to a huge media encampment, is still referred to as "Monica beach." This morning, with opening arguments set to begin in Scooter Libby's high-profile perjury and obstruction of justice case, Monica beach was a faint echo of its former self, with only a handful of reporters milling around a stand of TV cameras that were positioned to face the front of the courthouse. The real action was inside, where reporters, who had been confined to a makeshift press room during the 4-day jury selection process, massed in the hallway outside Judge Reggie Walton's courtroom awaiting the start of the trial.

Anticipating the media horde expected to attend, court officials have taken pains to bring some order to the inevitable mayhem, requiring journalists to apply for credentials to cover the trial and setting up an overflow room, where members of the public and the press can view the proceedings on a closed circuit feed. The proceedings are also viewable from the downstairs press gallery, where I've set up shop. Seated next to me is David Corn of The Nation, who is, somewhat ironically, the reporter who first spotlighted the leak of Valerie Plame's covert status in a July 16, 2003 article, raising the question of whether the leak had flouted the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. But, as Judge Walton stressed this morning, this case has nothing to do with whether the disclosure of Plame's identity broke the law. "What her actual status was and whether any damage would result from the disclosure of that status are totally irrelevant," he cautioned jurors. Rather, the case turns on the very narrow question of whether Libby lied to FBI investigators and a federal grand jury about his role in the leak.

In an opening statement that went on for more than an hour, Fitzgerald laid out his case against Libby, reconstructing the events leading up to and following the leak — events that first began to unfold, he told jurors, on January 28, 2003, long before Robert Novak's July 14 column outing Plame. That was the day when President Bush delivered his state of the union address and made the case for war with Iraq, including the infamous 16 words alleging that Saddam Hussein had sought uranium from Niger. Everything that transpired afterward, he said, flowed from that claim.

Fitzgerald zeroed on conversations, centering on Plame and her husband Joe Wilson, that took place between Libby and 5 administration officials in June 2003. These discussions seriously undercut Libby's claim to investigators that he first heard about Plame and her role at the CIA from reporters, in particular NBC's Tim Russert. At one point, Fitzgerald played the audio from Libby's grand jury testimony, in which he says, with apparent confidence, that Russert told him on July 10 "that Ambassador Wilson's wife works at the CIA and I was a little taken aback by that.... And I said, 'no, I don't know that.' And I said 'no, I don't know that,' because at that point I didn't not recall I had ever known this." (Russert, for his part, has said that this conversation, as Libby recalls it, never took place.) As Fitzgerald put it, "You can't learn something startling on Thursday that you were giving out on Monday and Tuesday."

Even though it seems pretty clear that Libby's statements to the grand jury are at odds with evidence that Fitzgerald has compiled, his lawyers will try to cast doubt on whether Libby lied, or, rather, failed to correctly recollect the details of conversations he'd had months before. "Scooter Libby is innocent," defense lawyer Ted Wells said in his opening statement. "He is totally innocent. He did not commit perjury. He did not commit obstruction of justice. He did not give any false statements to the FBI. He is an innocent man and he has been falsely accused." Wells also sought to cast doubt on the strength of Fitzgerald's case, saying, "This is a weak, paper-thin, superficial case about he-said she-said. No witnesses. No documents. No scientific evidence." More than a few times, Wells invoked a line that is clearly the mantra of Libby's defense: "This about words. This is about recollection. This about memory: Three calls. Three reporters. Three months later."

Wells did not dispute that Libby may have made false statements to investigators, nor did he dispute the fact that there had been a White House campaign to discredit Joe Wilson, saying that "some people at the White House... pushed reporters to write stories about Ms. Wilson." He added, "but Scooter Libby did not push any reporters to write a story about Ms. Wilson." Rather, Wells portrayed Libby as a scapegoat for another White House official (the man truly responsible for the leak, according to Wells), none other than "the architect" himself, Karl Rove. To this end, Wells produced a note allegedly penned by the vice president after a meeting with Libby held during the height of the Plame controversy in July 2003: "Not going to protect one staffer and sacrifice the guy that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others," the note read. "That one staffer was Karl Rove," Wells said. (The "meat grinder," by the way, appears to be Wells' euphemism for the press -- and the fact that Libby was forced to run damage control about the veracity of the Niger claim.) Before this trial is over, we're expected to hear directly from the vice president, who will testify in Libby's defense. Will he, too, blame Karl Rove?

Stay tuned. More as the trial resumes after a lunch recess.

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Need a Stiff Drink to Get Through a George Bush State of the Union? We've Got the Game For You

| Tue Jan. 23, 2007 1:41 PM EST

Political comic Will Durst created a State of the Union drinking game for us in 2006. We thought we'd throw it out for 2007. Highlights:

Whenever George W uses the phrases: national security, tax relief, activist judges or affordable health care, drink two shots of beer.
If George W speaks of Hamas and repeats his earlier statement that "its good to see people are demanding honest leadership," the first person to stop laughing gets to drink one shot of beer.
Whoever can correctly identify in advance the person giving the Democratic Response doesn't have to watch it.

You're going to need some friends: role-playing is involved. Good luck!

More on Bush's SOTU Global Warming Plans

| Tue Jan. 23, 2007 1:15 PM EST

The hot topic around here is what Bush will propose regarding climate change in his State of the Union. There have been rumors for weeks that Bush will announce something, possibly an increased commitment to the environmentally-dubious ethanol. I just wrote that with McCain an increasingly active supporter of action on global warming, the timing may be right to get a big push on the issue -- a big enough push might even give Bush something to salvage in his legacy.

CNN is now reporting that they have some details:

President Bush, in Tuesday's State of the Union address, will propose a plan to cut U.S. gasoline consumption by 20 percent while bolstering inventory in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, Republican sources say.
The president's plan to cut gasoline use includes tightening fuel economy standards on automakers and relying on alternative energy sources, such as hybrid cars, the sources say.

Read more from CNN here.

This Time, There Is Every Reason To Believe Michael Brown

| Tue Jan. 23, 2007 1:05 PM EST

Like an imprisoned drug dealer on a witness stand, Michael Brown is not exactly in a position to give credible testimony. But his latest so-called bombshell--that the White House decided to take federal control of Louisiana during the Katrina crisis in order to control and embarrass a Democratic governor--hits the target.

Anyone with a working knowledge of the Bush White House knew that the administration was playing games with Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco in the days after the storm hit. A smear job of the governor by the White House (most likely Karl Rove) of Blanco was very successful both in Louisiana and nationally. Blanco had won a close election against a former Bush staff member, Bobby Jindal, and many of her contituents readily jumped on a campaign to blame her for the entire Katrina disaster, rather than just for the mistakes she did make.

Brown told outrageous lies about Blanco and the state of Louisiana during the Katrina hearings, and when Blanco released all of her Katrina records, including emails, the lies became obvious (for those few who actually followed the story instead of listening to the White House statements, the lies were already obvious). Now, in light of Brown's recent statement, Blanco is calling for a federal investigation of the federal response to Katrina.

Here is where it gets sticky. Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana is a new member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Landrieu was an unrelenting and outspoken critic of Bush during the height of the Katrina disaster, and would no doubt like to see an investigation herself. During the original hearings, the Republican-controlled Congress would not subpoena records from the White House. At the time, Sen. Joseph Lieberman was highly critical of the White House for withholding information from Congress. However, Lieberman, who is now chairman of Landrieu's committee, says he is not interested in conducting a "witch hunt."

Unless there is serious pressure placed on Lieberman from both Landrieu and the citizens whom Congress is supposed to represent, the Bush administration will once again be successful in hiding evidence and obstructing the operation of government.

McCain Partners With Environmental Defense in Support of Action on Global Warming

| Tue Jan. 23, 2007 1:01 PM EST

If, as expected, President Bush makes an announcement in tonight's State of the Union pushing for action on climate change, it's likely that he'll have John McCain's support.

That's if a letter I recently got in the mail is to be believed. In a plea for donations, Environmental Defense, a non-profit that advocates market-based solutions to environmental problems, included a letter from McCain that begins:

I'll give it to you straight:
We have a growing crisis on our hands... one that seldom gets the attention it deserves.
I'm speaking about global warming.

McCain explains that if global warming is "left unchecked, we can expect glaciers and polar ice caps to melt, severe storms to become more frequent, prolonged droughts to devastate agricultural lands, sea levels to rise and entire ecosystems to be thrown out of balance." It's almost like he's reading Mother Jones!

For a summary of the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act, and a run-down of how it compares to competing bills in the Senate, see here.

PS - If McCain, king of the rightward shift, is embracing the idea of action on global warming, I think we can come close to saying the beast of global warming resistance has been slayed. There's more to be done of course, but with crazy old James Inhofe out as chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, presidential contender McCain positioning himself the way he is, Democrats pushing for action, and big business pressuring the president to act.... I'm just asking, if Bush comes out strong in favor of fighting climate change tonight, is it time to say, "Relax, celebrate victory"?

Bush to Pro-Lifers: Don't Stand So Close To Me

| Tue Jan. 23, 2007 11:00 AM EST

The President called in (literally) his support yesterday for his fellow anti-abortion cohorts from his vacation home in Camp David. Bush makes a call to this Washington-based anti-abortion rally each year on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and always from far away lands. I find this so amusing. Is this supposed to be politically saavy, maybe a pre-emptive maneuver so that just in case the pro-lifers do something radical (er... more radical), there are no pictures of Dubya nuzzled next to them? I don't really know why they do this every year. Neither does Political Animal blogger, Kevin Drum, who weighed in on this phenomenon yesterday.

"These guys (includes Reagan who used to do this as well) are so terrified of having their picture taken in the actual presence of people they supposedly support that they extend their vacations in order to generate some marginally plausible excuse for not showing up in person. Or is it something else they're terrified of? I've never been quite sure."

There were other fun events in Washington to honor the 34th anniversary of a woman's right to an abortion. Ann Friedman, an old Mother Jones coworker attended the Blogs4Life conference at the Family Research Council's headquarters. Her musings are here. The highlight -- apparently, pro-lifers think "abortion providers EAT FETUSES?!" Ann writes, "No, really! Jill Stanek told me so today."

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More Media Whores Claiming Gov't Persecution (Girls Gone Wild Edition)

| Mon Jan. 22, 2007 10:14 PM EST

Today is quite a day for scummy self promoters claiming they've be wronged by government prosecutors, the media, etc.

First there was Richard Hatch. (No, not this one -- aka Apollo. This one.) And now, that purveyor of good taste, "Girls Gone Wild" mogul Joe Francis, is bitching because he got slapped with heavier than expected fines and penalties for making obscene profits by getting drunk underage girls to take their shirts off for a bunch of late-night dorks too cheap to spring for real porn.

His fine is 200 hours of community service, two years probation, and $500,000. That's on top of 32 hours of CS per month for 30 months and $1.6 million in penalties he got in a related Florida case. That's 1,160 hours of community service in all.

Outside the courthouse, Francis said he was relieved the process was over and that he now felt free to say that he had been unfairly persecuted by the Justice Department. "Of course I've been unfairly targeted by the government," Francis said. "What better target than Joe Francis?"

What better indeed. Let's hope they make him clean stadium urinals or something else suitably nasty.


CNN Debunks "Madrassa" Smear Against Obama

| Mon Jan. 22, 2007 8:13 PM EST

We've been following the smear campaign against Barack Obama -- read background here and here. In short, a right-wing mag funded by the Moonies circulated a story last week asserting that Hillary's people had dug up and anonymously distributed damaging material on Barack Obama, specifically that he had been educated at a madrassa as a child growing up in Indonesia, that he was raised a Muslim and may still have Muslim sympathies (horror!), and that he was hiding his past from the American public. With all those juicy bits flying around, the hysterics came in short order, fueled by breathless coverage from Fox News.

Well, real journalists have stepped in.

...reporting by CNN in Jakarta, Indonesia and Washington, D.C., shows the allegations that Obama attended a madrassa to be false. CNN dispatched Senior International Correspondent John Vause to Jakarta to investigate.
He visited the Basuki school, which Obama attended from 1969 to 1971.
"This is a public school. We don't focus on religion," Hardi Priyono, deputy headmaster of the Basuki school, told Vause. "In our daily lives, we try to respect religion, but we don't give preferential treatment."
Vause reported he saw boys and girls dressed in neat school uniforms playing outside the school, while teachers were dressed in Western-style clothes.
"I came here to Barack Obama's elementary school in Jakarta looking for what some are calling an Islamic madrassa ... like the ones that teach hate and violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan," Vause said on the "Situation Room" Monday. "I've been to those madrassas in Pakistan ... this school is nothing like that."

Oh, and also:

A spokesman for Clinton, who is also weighing a White House bid, denied that the campaign was the source of the Obama claim.
He called the story "an obvious right-wing hit job."

So that ends that. The next attack should come up within a few days hours.

Rudy Says: "I Think Iraq is a Military Success"

| Mon Jan. 22, 2007 8:02 PM EST

A friend just emailed me with a note from the campaign trail.

Guiliani comment (right now) at a Miami conference I am attending: "I think Iraq is a military success." In context, he goes on to discuss that it has been a peacekeeping failure, blah, blah, blah.
Still, his entire speech has been spent wrapping himself in Ronald Reagan and 9/11. He's comparing our 'aggressive' strategy with terrorists now with Reagan's bold, visionary decision to put cruise missiles in Europe. He's going to be strong on the campaign trail and play well with a lot of segments of the population, but boy is he scary.

Blaming "peacekeeping" is really very clever. It's not exactly wrong, and on a subconscious level it shifts blame from GOP to UN/blue helmet/world's policemen-type wusses.

Plus, I'm sure Rudy will intimate that he'd be the toughest cop on the block. There's just one problem with that ("Guiliani Time" aside). Bernie Kerik. He's Rudy's former chief of police (and member of Guiliani Partners) who totally screwed up policing in Iraq. Here's the relevent entry from our Iraq War Timeline:

The U.S. Justice Department recommends 6,600 police advisers be sent to Iraq. The White House sends one man, former NYC police commissioner Bernie Kerik, who prepares for his job by watching A&E documentaries on Saddam Hussein. Kerik turns out to be an incompetent manager, holding only two staff meetings in his tenure, and leaves amidst failure saying, "I did my own thing."

Read more on Kerik here.

Chemotherapy by Numbers

| Mon Jan. 22, 2007 4:10 PM EST

A University of Michigan study has found that women with lower levels of education and/or income tend to get lower levels of something else—chemotherapy. Due to concerns or assumptions over how they will handle the side effects, doctors are three times more likely to give women with less education a reduced dose of chemotherapy.

The study, based on U.S. Census Bureau statistics and individual interviews, also found that women with less household income received less chemotherapy. The lead author of the study, Jennifer Griggs, said that doctors may have concerns over less educated patients' possible misunderstanding the side effects of their treatments.

"It may be that negotiating side effects and continued doses of treatment is easier when there is more shared culture," Griggs continued in a press release.

Doctors calculate chemotherapy doses based on height to weight ratio. Adjustments to the doses based on income or education can jeopardize survival rates for those patients.

"Simply put, this evidence shows that doctors are likely to reduce the chemotherapy levels for these women, even though there is no solid medical basis to do it," said Gary Lyman, M.D., M.P.H., principal investigator and director of the ANC Study Group, a project that studies cancer patients starting chemotherapy that is funded by the pharmaceutical company Amgen.

-- Caroline Dobuzinskis