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Plamegate Rears Its Ugly Head

Back in one of my first entries on this blog, in April '06, I predicted that Dick Cheney would "retire after the November elections in 2006, but before the new Congress takes its seats." Obviously, I was dead wrong. Not surprising, really, but Plamegate is all the news again, especially after the gut-wrenching testimony of Cheney's former communications director, Cathie Martin.

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Cathie Martin, who pulled back the curtain

The WaPo's heavy-hitter, Dana Milbank, has all the gory details in his column on Martin's testimony. In short, Martin testified how junior political aides bossed around Cabinet members, public-information officers in the administration were kept in the dark, bad news was dumped on Friday or Saturday ("Fewer people pay attention to it late on Friday," Martin said. "Fewer people pay attention when it's reported on Saturday."), reporters deemed unfriendly were purged from the press room, And finally, to quote Milbank:

"At length, Martin explained how she, Libby and deputy national security adviser Steve Hadley worked late into the night writing a statement to be issued by George Tenet in 2004 in which the CIA boss would take blame for the bogus claim in Bush's State of the Union address that Iraq was seeking nuclear material in Africa.

After "delicate" talks, Tenet agreed to say the CIA "approved" the claim and "I am responsible" -- but even that disappointed Martin, who had wanted Tenet to say that "we did not express any doubt about Niger."

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Dana Milbank, the WaPo's jaded journalist

Brutal stuff. And the testimony hurts Libby, who maintains he heard about Plame's identity as an undercover CIA agent from reporters. Martin says that she informed both Libby and Cheney about the leak.

Coming up Monday on the witness stand: former press secretary Ari Fleischer, who has demanded immunity for his testimony, a condition granted by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Should be plenty interesting. Yesterday's arguing ended on a discussion of Fleischer's immunity. To whit:

"4:46 p.m.: The jury—and Martin—has been dismissed for the day. It's time for a highly entertaining lawyer slap fight. It turns out Ari Fleischer will be the next witness, once court resumes Monday. (Damn, just missed him!) The defense team wants to note—for the jury's benefit—that Fleischer demanded immunity before he would agree to testify, because this might cast Fleischer's testimony in a different light.

And here Fitzgerald makes a nice little chess move: Fine, he says, we can acknowledge that Fleischer sought immunity. As long as we explain why. Turns out Fleischer saw a story in the Washington Post suggesting that anyone who revealed Valerie Plame's identity might be subject to the death penalty. And he freaked. Of course, if Fleischer was this worked up about it during the time period in question, that suggests Libby would have been, too. (Which again undermines the notion that Libby had much bigger fish to fry.)"

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"Don't Kill me!!!"


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But the trial is only one front in the War on Cheney. At the same time Martin was hemming, hawwing, sweating and scratching through her testimony, newly minted chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, was blasting the vice president. In this story by McClatchy's (the newspaper chain that owns the Miami Herald) Washington Bureau, Rockefeller explains how Cheney applied constant pressure on Sen. Pat Roberts, the chairman of the committee until the Democratic takeover, to not investigate whether the Bush administration over-hyped prewar intelligence in the lead-up to the Iraq War.

Of course, any platitudes from Cheney will now fall on Rockefeller's deaf ears.

Given both the Libby trial and the Senate Intelligence Committee's renewed desire to compare and contrast the administration's pre-war claims with the actual, top-secret intelligence -- something that, if Rockefeller is to be believed, Cheney wanted desperately to avoid -- it seems that the vice president is being surrounded on all sides.

I recall the end of Shakespeare's Richard III, as the deformed, murderous, manipulative king, surrounded on all sides by enemies at the Battle of Bosworth Field, screams to the heavens, "A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!"

With the Libby Trial serving as Lord Buckingham and Congress stepping into the role of the Earl of Richmond, what will come of Dick, dwelling now in the winter of his discontent?

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King Richard Cheney III

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