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Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Turning Aspens and the Byzantine World of the Neocons

Slimy Creatures and their War

Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff "Scooter" Libby's trial for lying and obstructing justice in the CIA leak investigation brought out fascinating details of manipulation of media by the Bush Administration. One gets the impression that the journalists were often willing victims. They wanted fame and ready to pay the price for receiving tidbits from their "sources".

Judith Miller, who had played a role in promoting the non-existent WMD stories in NY Times, was on the stand yesterday. Howard Kurz in the Washington Post:

At a meeting in Libby's office in June 2003, Libby seemed "agitated and frustrated and angry," not to mention "annoyed," Miller said. He was concerned that the CIA, through a "perverted war of leaks," was distancing itself from its prewar intelligence about Saddam Hussein's illegal weapons.

So Libby would combat these leaks by leaking to Miller, she explained in a tone that indicated this was the most natural thing in the world. Miller said he told her that the wife of Joseph C. Wilson IV, the former ambassador who was challenging the administration's account that Iraq had tried to buy enriched uranium in Africa, worked for "the bureau" -- prompting Miller to put a question mark in her notes until she realized that Libby meant the CIA.

During a two-hour meal at the St. Regis hotel the following month, Miller said, Libby changed the ground rules and went "on deeper background," asking to be identified only as a "former Hill staffer."

Miller recalled that in a phone conversation from her home in Sag Harbor, N.Y., she told him she did not plan to write a story about Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, and "didn't think the New York Times was interested in pursuing it."

Why not? That has been one of the tale's lingering mysteries. Miller said she recommended to her boss, Jill Abramson, now the Times's managing editor, that the paper go after the Plame story, but "she seemed very distracted that day" and just said "mmm-hmm." Abramson has denied that Miller made such a recommendation.

They may have shared secrets, but Miller and Libby were not exactly friends. When she ran into Libby in the summer of 2003 in Jackson Hole, Wyo., she did not recognize him -- because, she said, he was wearing glasses, a cowboy hat and boots, a black T-shirt and jeans. But once she was incarcerated in 2005, Libby began to convince Miller that he would not hold her to her vow of secrecy. He wrote a poetic letter reminding her that "the aspens will already be turning" while she languished in jail.

After the Plame controversy blew up, Miller posted a letter on her Web site in response to a stinging piece by Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who said that Miller was not "credible" and had written "bogus" stories about nonexistent weapons. Recalling that yesterday, Miller said she told editors that "I did not think I had been a target" of a concerted White House leak campaign.

Miller turned hesitant under cross-examination, stumbling over her words and repeatedly gesturing with her right hand. She admitted that she had forgotten her June 2003 meeting with Libby until she found the missing notes of their conversation.

A frequent television guest, Miller got tripped up by one of her appearances. She stared at a monitor, transfixed and tight-lipped, as a program from last January showed her saying words that she had failed to fully recall a moment earlier: "It's really easy to forget details about a story you're not writing. . . . It was not important at the time."

The videotape provided another reminder of why reporters much prefer asking questions to answering them.

The day ended with legal wrangling about whether Miller could be asked to name other confidential sources. The issue, like the ambiguity of reporters' delicate dance with their informants, was not resolved.


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