By: Sydney Schanberg
Day by day, witness by witness, exhibit by exhibit, Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor in the trial of Dick Cheney’s man, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, is accomplishing what no one else in Washington has been able to: He has impeached the Presidency of George W. Bush.
Of course, it’s an unofficial impeachment, but it will also, through its documentation, be inerasable. The trial record—testimony, exhibits, the lot—will be there, in one place, for investigators, scholars, reporters and Congress to pore over. It goes far beyond the charges against Mr. Libby. It is, instead, a road map to the abuses of power that Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney and their shadow government of neoconservatives have committed as the neocons carried out what they had been planning for years: an invasion of Iraq—and other military excursions—for the purpose of expanding American dominion.
From the start, when he was named special prosecutor in late 2003, Mr. Fitzgerald seemed to understand and embrace this much wider significance.
Yet he was careful not to overreach, crafting the indictment of Mr. Libby narrowly: He had lied to a grand jury, and to F.B.I. agents, about leaks he had given his favorite media people to discredit a vocal critic of the war.
The critic was former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Mr. Wilson, whose diplomatic service had included work in Africa, was asked in 2002 by the C.I.A. to investigate unconfirmed reports that Saddam Hussein had recently tried to purchase 500 tons of yellowcake uranium from Niger to be further refined to produce nuclear weapons.
Mr. Wilson went to Africa, consulted his sources, and found no meaningful evidence of such a plot. He reported these negative findings to the C.I.A. And further investigations by several parties, including the International Atomic Energy Agency, a U.N. body, established that the uranium story was phony. Yet Messrs. Bush, Cheney and others in the President’s close circle kept presenting the uranium story as part of the pressing rationale for a U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Even as the White House found itself apologizing for a January 2003 State of the Union address which continued to tout the uranium story and other known falsehoods about the Iraqi threat, it continued the push for war. The invasion began on March 20, 2003.
Mr. Wilson responded to the White House in a July 6, 2003, Op-Ed article for The New York Times, charging that the administration had manufactured evidence to win support for the war. It was this story, published in the country’s most influential news organ, that drove the White House into a frenzy—in particular Mr. Cheney, the administration’s leading hawk.
The smear campaign against Mr. Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame, went into high gear. Conservative pundit Robert Novak, a frequent conduit for White House whispers, wrote a column on July 14, 2003, attacking Mr. Wilson and outing Ms. Plame as a C.I.A. “operative.” The trial has since identified one of the unnamed senior administration officials Mr. Novak cited as his sources: Karl Rove, the advisor closest to the President.
The Justice Department responded to calls for an investigation into the leak by naming the U.S. Attorney for Chicago, Mr. Fitzgerald, as special prosecutor for the case.
Whether or not Mr. Fitzgerald gets a conviction, he has created a trial record that establishes the administration's guilt. Sprinkled throughout are the names of most of the neoconservatives who had been planning the current Iraq War ever since the 1991 Gulf War ended with Saddam Hussein still in power.
They came out in the open in 1997 when they formed a Washington think tank of their own—the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). Their first public act was a 1998 letter to President Bill Clinton, calling for the swift “removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime.”
Citing those still-undiscovered “weapons of mass destruction,” they said: “[W]e can no longer depend on our partners in the Gulf War coalition … to uphold the [U.N.] sanctions …. ”
Then, in 2000, just before Mr. Bush’s elevation to the White House by the Supreme Court, the PNAC war-seekers issued a lengthy manifesto calling for a major escalation of the country’s military mission. This 81-page document proposed a buildup that would make it possible for the United States to “fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theater wars.” The report depicted these wars as “large scale” and “spread across [the] globe.”
Iraq was named as a major threat.
Another aim of this escalation was as follows: “Control the new ‘international commons’ of space and cyberspace, and pave the way for the creation of a new military service—U.S. Space Forces—with the mission of space control.”
Perhaps the eeriest sentence in the document is found on page 51, conjuring up images of 9/11: “The process of transformation … is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event—like a new Pearl Harbor.” (The PNAC documents can be found online at newamericancentury.org.)
Among the 25 signatories to the PNAC founding statement: Dick Cheney, I. Lewis Libby, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Jeb Bush, Elliott Abrams, Zalmay Khalizad.
Most of these names echo throughout the Libby trial record. Besides the damning notes from Mr. Cheney, accounts of conversations between Mr. Cheney and Mr. Libby and Mr. Libby’s subsequent conversations with other pivotal administration officials, there is at least one document, in Mr. Cheney’s handwriting, that suggests the President had direct knowledge of the campaign to discredit Mr. Wilson.
The trial and its record was always all about the unnecessary war—a war created by massive and deliberate lying about an imminent security threat that wasn’t there. That’s why the President and his men were desperate to shut Mr. Wilson up.
He was the imminent threat—to their delusional empire-building.