A longer front-page story in Sunday's New York Times on Dick Cheney's role in the Bush administration is disappointing in its refusal to describe the dynamics of the power relationship between the president and the vice president.  --  But another piece in Sunday's Times by Douglas Jehl, on the vice president's office, points out that Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby clarifies certain details about its workings.  --  Cheney's office has been a key operational unit of the "Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal" denounced on Oct. 19 in a speech by Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell's top aide.  --  Jehl points out that the 22-page indictment gives details of "a far more active, earlier effort by the vice president's office to gather information about [Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV] and his wife [Valerie Plame, a CIA agent]" than was previously known.  --  The real importance of the case against Libby, it should be stressed, is not that it involves the leak of the name of a CIA agent, but that it involves the unravelling of the administration's rationale for war and the steps that were taken to buttress it in the period when the non-existence of WMDs was becoming apparent to all -- revealing the fact (still unmentionable in U.S. mainstream media) that the U.S. attack on Iraq constitutes an illegal war of aggression that constitutes a war crime under the principles of the first Nuremberg trial of 1945-1946.  --  The importance of the vice president's office in the Bush administration's conspiracy to plan and execute this war of aggression has long been clear.  --  Indeed, it is a theme of Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack (Simon and Schuster, 2004), which was a first take on how the war was planned, based on accounts by a few of the insiders.  --  But key figures mentioned in Jehl's article like David Addington, Cheney's counsel, John Hannah, deputy national security adviser, Catherine Martin, Cheney's press secretary, and Marc Grossman, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, go unmentioned in Woodward's book, and Joseph Wilson is only mentioned briefly once, on page 202.  --  "Many questions remain unanswered in the indictment" as well.  --  The trial of Scooter Libby should prove to be a vehicle to bring more of the relevant details to light....

The Vice President's Office

By Douglas Jehl

New York Times
October 30, 2005
Section 1, Page 18


WASHINGTON -- Over a seven-week period in the spring of 2003, Vice President Dick Cheney's suite in the Old Executive Office Building appears to have served as the nerve center of an effort to gather and spread word about Joseph C. Wilson IV and his wife, a C.I.A. operative.

I. Lewis Libby Jr., the vice president's chief of staff, was charged Friday in an indictment that provides a rare glimpse inside a vice presidential operation that, under Mr. Cheney, has been extraordinary both for its power and its secrecy. The indictment also leaves unanswered some questions about the way the vice president's office responded to Mr. Wilson and his criticism of the administration's case for going to war in Iraq.

Mr. Libby is the only aide to Mr. Cheney who has been charged with a crime. But the indictment alleges that Mr. Cheney himself and others in the office took part in discussions about the origins of a trip by Mr. Wilson to Niger in 2002; about the identity of his wife, Valerie Wilson; and whether the information could be shared with reporters, in the period before it was made public in a July 14, 2003, column by Robert D. Novak.

The indictment identifies the other officials only by their titles, but it clearly asserts that others involved in the discussion included David Addington, Mr. Cheney's counsel; John Hannah, deputy national security adviser; and Catherine Martin, then Mr. Cheney's press secretary.

Mr. Addington and Mr. Hannah in particular were powerful forces within the administration, and like Mr. Cheney and Mr. Libby, they had often been at odds with the C.I.A. before the war in Iraq.

Mr. Hannah, Mr. Addington, and Ms. Martin have all declined to comment, citing legal advice. The fact that they were not named in the indictment suggests that they will not be charged, but all can expect to be called as witnesses in any trial of Mr. Libby, setting up a spectacle that could be unpleasant for the administration, in part because their own actions could be questioned.

That Mr. Cheney and his office sparred with the C.I.A. before the invasion of Iraq has never been a secret. Mr. Cheney and Mr. Libby made repeated trips to C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Va., in the months before the American invasion in March 2003, and Mr. Libby was often on the phone with senior C.I.A. officials to challenge the agency's intelligence reports on Iraq. A principal focus, former intelligence officials say, was the question of whether Al Qaeda had had a close, collaborative relationship with Saddam Hussein's government, an argument advanced publicly by Mr. Cheney but rejected by the C.I.A. intelligence analysts.

The antipathy felt by Mr. Cheney and Mr. Libby toward Mr. Wilson, in the aftermath of the invasion, has also long been known. But the events spelled out in the 22-page indictment suggest a far more active, earlier effort by the vice president's office to gather information about him and his wife.

The indictment tracks a period in the spring of 2003, at a time when the American failure to find illicit weapons in Iraq meant that the administration's rationale for war was beginning to unravel, and when early reports about Mr. Wilson's 2002 trip, which had not yet identified him by name, raised questions about whether the White House should have known just how weak its case had been, particularly involving Iraq and nuclear weapons.

By any measure, the indictment suggests that Mr. Libby and others went to unusual lengths to gather information about Mr. Wilson and his trip. An initial request on May 29, 2003, from Mr. Libby to Marc Grossman, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, led Mr. Grossman to request a classified memorandum from Carl Ford, the director of the State Department's intelligence bureau, and later Mr. Grossman orally briefed Mr. Libby on its contents.

Later requests appear to have prompted C.I.A. officials, on June 9, to fax classified information to Mr. Cheney's office about Mr. Wilson's trip, which Mr. Wilson made on behalf of the C.I.A. to investigate reports that Iraq had struck a deal to acquire uranium from Niger for use in its nuclear weapons program.

Mr. Cheney himself is alleged to have shared details about the nature of Ms. Wilson's job with Mr. Libby, on June 12. The indictment says that Mr. Libby first shared information about Mr. Wilson's trip with a reporter, Judith Miller of the New York Times, on June 23; but it also describes discussions involving Mr. Libby, Mr. Addington, Mr. Hannah, Ms. Martin, and White House officials, about whether the information could be shared with reporters.

Among the discussions, the indictment says, was one in mid-June, in which Mr. Libby is said to have told Mr. Hannah that there could be complications at the C.I.A. if information about Mr. Wilson's trip was shared publicly. It is not clear how Mr. Cheney may have learned "from the C.I.A." that Ms. Wilson worked in the agency's counterproliferation division, a fact that meant she was part of the C.I.A.'s clandestine service, and that she might well be working undercover.

Lawyers in the case say that notes taken by Mr. Libby indicate that detail was provided to Mr. Cheney by George J. Tenet, who was the director of central intelligence at the time, but several former intelligence officials say they do not believe that Mr. Tenet was the source of the information.

Many questions remain unanswered in the indictment. The special counsel, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, said that Ms. Wilson's affiliation with the C.I.A. had been classified, but he did not assert that Mr. Libby knew that she had covert status, something the prosecutor would have had to prove to support a charge under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.

It is not clear, for example, what guidance, if any, Mr. Cheney gave to Mr. Libby about whether or how to share information about Mr. Wilson's trip with reporters. Among their discussions, lawyers in the case have said, was one on July 11, 2003, on a trip to Norfolk, Va., that preceded by a day what two reporters, Ms. Miller and Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, have said were conversations in which Mr. Libby mentioned Mr. Wilson's wife.

Beyond Mr. Cheney's office, some of the government officials involved in the discussions have yet to be identified. It is not clear from the indictment, for example, who faxed the "classified information from the C.I.A." about Mr. Wilson's trip to the vice president's office on June 9, or which "senior C.I.A. officer" provided further information to Mr. Libby on June 11.

Another question is whether Mr. Libby made appropriate use of the top-level briefings provided to him by the C.I.A. The indictment says that Mr. Libby complained to a C.I.A. briefer on June 14 that C.I.A. officials were making comments critical of the Bush administration, and that he mentioned, among other things, "Joe Wilson" and "Valerie Wilson" in the context of Mr. Wilson's trip to Niger. Also still unclear is how Ms. Martin, the press secretary, may have learned in June or early July that Mr. Wilson's wife worked at the C.I.A. The indictment says that Ms. Martin learned the information from "another government official" and shared that information with Mr. Libby.

Mr. Grossman, who served under Colin L. Powell, left the government in January and is now a private consultant. Mr. Addington, still Mr. Cheney's counsel, has been a major participant in debates within the administration about the treatment of terror suspects, and whether those held at the American facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, should face military tribunals. Mr. Hannah, a Middle East specialist, was a main liaison between the vice president's office and Ahmad Chalabi, who as an Iraqi exile was a major force in urging the administration toward war.

Mr. Hannah and Mr. Libby were also the main authors of a 48-page draft speech prepared in January 2003 that was intended to make the administration's case for war in Iraq before the United Nations. The draft was provided to Mr. Powell before his speech to the Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003. But most of its contents were cast aside by Mr. Powell and Mr. Tenet, who ultimately rejected many claims related to Iraq, its weapons program and terrorism as exaggerated and unwarranted.