Sunday, July 16, 2006

“Go ahead! Who will believe you?”

* earlier i quoted a small bit of pdaly's comment at emptywheel's place. here's the full comment:

There is something about the following timeline that bothers me. The Bush Administration often has been slow to respond to breaking news stories, but then here's this event:

July 6, 2003 the New York Times prints former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's op-ed "What I Didn't Find in Africa." On the same day Mr. Wilson is on TV and speaks about his trip on Meet the Press with Andrea Mitchell.

The NEXT day (July 7, 2003), faster than it could say "Oh my God Brownie, New Orleans is under water! Those poor people... Let's DO something!" the White House admits that intelligence claiming Iraq sought yellowcake from Niger was incorrect. The White House tries to dodge but finally admits as well that Iraq seeking yellowcake from 'African countries' was also incorrect, being based on the false Niger yellowcake intelligence. On 7/7/03 the White House reminds reporters it learned of and publicized the fact that intel on yellow cake from Niger was subsequently deemed to be false, but the White House never before this day admitted Bush's State of The Union contained a false statement about Iraq seeking yellowcake from 'African countries.'

Since the White House claims they didn't know about Wilson's trip (and/or had forgotten about being informed earlier of the findings of his trip) until his very public NYT op-ed 7/6/03, their taking less than one day after news from such a whistleblower to make a concession about the inaccuracy of the President's State of the Union speech is a dramatically fast response time. To my mind, only the nighttime letter of resignation by Porter Goss as the CIA director for reasons that include (well, let's just say "there were reasons") is as festinate.

Was the Administration running scared from something and needed to come clean quickly? (Scared of what I cannot say, since the Administration seemed pretty pleased with itself while sitting through all the public ire about NSA spying on Americans and liberals and terrorists alike). Did Ari make a mistake by agreeing Niger was the only intel standing in for 'African countries'?

Of course we know now the Administration had started its 'work up' of Wilson before July 6, 2003. Why didn't they inform a democratic public of their yellowcake-in-the-Speech mistake sooner? Why didn't they preempt Wilson with the news/apology? Could one assume the White House was waiting for Wilson to go public? especially since after immediately agreeing with Wilson, they then attacked him (and her).

it was this last para that i quoted previously - but it deserves fuller context. i left a comment in response that was apparently new news to some, so I'll repeat it for you guys, too. The egadministration did have a heads-up, and even issued some sort of invitation and/or challenge to Wilson to go ahead - which puts pdaly's comment into further contrast.

This from Ray McGovern (for example) in April 06:

"Fast forward to January 2003, when President Bush’s State of the Union address pulled out all stops in beating the drums for war. As Joe Wilson watched the speech, he found it puzzling to hear the president repeat the story about Iraq seeking uranium from Africa. There must be new intelligence on this, thought Wilson, but he quickly learned it was the same sorry story. He quietly sought to persuade the White House to issue a correction, but was given the brush off. Wilson persisted, and in the end warned then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that, as a matter of conscience, he would be forced to tell the American people that the uranium story was bogus. The reply, through a Rice intermediary: “Go ahead! Who will believe you?”"

I'll note that Condi's purported “Who will believe you?” appears to be interpretation on McGovern's part. It's not exactly clear, to me, what the tone of Condi's response was - e.g. we don't know whether she was challenging Wilson as McGovern suggests, or if she was being dismissive as in 'you can do what you want, we don''t care' etc.

I haven't been able to find the 'source' of this story, but it has been floating around for a while. One of Wilson's channels to Condi is widely presumed to have been Scowcroft.

On Friday, Jason Leopold described it thusly:
""I had direct discussions with the State Department, Senate committees," Wilson said in April in a speech to college students and faculty at California State University Northridge. "I had numerous conversations to change what they were saying publicly. I had a civic duty to hold my government to account for what it had said and done."

Wilson said he was rebuffed at every instance and that he received word, through then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that he could state his case in writing in a public forum. And that's exactly what he did."
Note that "Rice said that he could state his case in writing in a public forum" is different to “Go ahead! Who will believe you?”

I can't find the transcript of that speech, so it isn't clear whether Wilson mentioned the Condi thing in that speech, or elsewhere - and without finding the original source (from Wilson) it's a bit difficult to get a grip on the actual context.

In July 05, McGovern wrote:
"It is a safe bet that Joseph Wilson suspected this kind of skullduggery. He nevertheless played it straight. After hearing the bogus Iraq-Niger story repeated in the president’s January 28, 2003 state-of-the-union address and ascertaining that it was based primarily on the original report, Wilson began to approach administration officials suggesting that they retract the story or he would in conscience be compelled to make public what had happened. He was told, in effect, Go ahead; who will believe you? So he did."
(note the mcgovern doesn't mention Rice here)

I'll put aside pdaly's bit about 'informing a democratic public' - but why didn't they at least manage the news better with a pre-emptive strike to flatten/inoculate the story?

Did they really not think that Wilson would take his concerns public? Did they speak to the NYT in advance of "What I didn't find in Africa"? We know that the NYT held onto, say, Risen's NSA story for a year - is it likely that in the immediate aftermath of the invasion (july 03) that the NYT would have published Wilson without first running it past the egadministration?

As pdaly notes, the following day they had their mia culpa ready. Surely it would have been smarter for them to pre-empt it on the Friday evening, for example, or use any of their other famous 'deflating' techniques. Of course the IAEA debunked the actual forgeries way back in March, so they had ample 'excuse' to stand-down from the SOTU claims whenever they chose - why did they wait till after Wilson's op-ed? The million dollar question is whether they knew it was coming or not - given Condi's 'invitation' to Wilson, and given that we've had substantial evidence to suggest that the NYT consults in advance with the egadministration on similar matters (although perhaps there's a difference with an op-ed rather than 'news'), it's easy to believe that it was at least possible that they did know it was coming.

Did Judy know that the piece was forthcoming? Would she have reported this info back to Scooter? As pdaly notes, Wilson was on MTP that same day - did MTP book him because they knew that his piece was coming out? Or was that just a lucky break? (unlikely).

I'm not sure that I'd necessarily agree with pdaly that the egadministration "has been slow to respond to breaking news stories," however he is right to note that "their taking less than one day after news from such a whistleblower to make a concession about the inaccuracy of the President's State of the Union speech is a dramatically fast response time." Perhaps they had it all pre-packaged, just in case, and simply rolled it off the line?

perhaps it would have saved them some trouble if they'd got out ahead of wilson...

update, EW has this :

Here's what Wilson says in his book (332):

The next day, I called a former government official who knew Dr. Rice and expressed my disgust at her continuing refusal to tell the truth. He replied that the interview had not been one of her finest moments. A call to a senior official in the administration elicited the suggestion that I might have to write the story myself.

I've always suspected the "former government official" is Scowcroft, who would be a logical person to call (and a logical person to be disappointed in her).

That 'next day' was June 9.

I wonder who the 'senior official' was.

Incidentally, this from page 331:
"Rice belatedly acknowledged that the NSC had been informed that the intelligence did not support the Iraq-Niger uranium charge, but that in the three months between the October speech in Cincinnatti and SOTU in January, "she forgot.""

updated again, emptywheel went to the source and asked Wilson himself. she has the details at her place:
emptywheel: Did you speak directly to Condi, or just through a go-between?

Wilson: I spoke with somebody who was close to the Administration. Whether that person relayed the conversation I do not know.

emptywheel: Was the discussion a response to Condi's MTP appearance?

Wilson: There were several discussions, but the one I refer to came after her appearance on MTP.

emptywheel: If you spoke to the go-between was he or she repeating what Condi had said, that you could, should, or wouldn't dare to publish this publicly, or was he or she adding color to what Condi said?

Wilson: This was a different conversation, directly with a senior official at the State Department. In response to my saying that if the government didn't correct the record I would be obliged to go public with the story, he said that if I wanted the record corrected, I would probably have to correct it myself. There was nothing in that conversation that suggested that nobody would believe me. It was a straightforward exchange, no threats, no hidden agendas, nothing.
The bottom-line significance appears to be that a) the egadministration probably knew that something was probably coming, and b) they presumably knew the essential thrust of the piece.

(emptywheel adds some more in the comments downstairs)


emptywheel said...


Also in his book Wilson describes the booking for MTP (333):

The night before [July 5], at about 10:30 P.M., the piece hit the New York TImes Web site. At 10:32 P.M., I received a call from a New York Post reporter looking for a quote from me. At 10:34 P.M. a producer for Meet the Press called to invite me on the show the next morning to defend my article.

The feed usually sends out stories slightly before they are put on websites, so probably late Saturday evening, MTP saw the column and arranged to get him on the show.

Two more data points: Libby got authorization to leak what he says was the NIE on July 2. Obviously, it wasn't the NIE that got authorized--if it was leaking Plame's name, does that mean they knew of the upcoming op-ed? And who was the other journalist Libby met with on July 2? Was he named Novak? Did Libby mention anything about Plame then?

And, finally, remember that July 6 is the last day of the three-day July 4 weekend. Dick was apparently in Jackson Hole for the weekend. So their response on July 7 may have changed slightly after Dick got back into DC.

lukery said...

you are amazing.

separate to you being amazing, i was aware of the timeline that you had developed which proved that libby's 'authorization' was about something other than the NIE (ie plame) - although i'd missed the fact that that this actually happened *prior* to wilson's WIDFIA.

question: given that they had been fussin about wilson for months, and given that they *may* have known in advance that WIDFIA was coming out, and given that cheney's marginalia were followed like a bible - can we presume that those talkingpoints/marching orders were pre-determined?

a separate question - one element of cheney's annotations to that document that got ignored was the fact that he also underlined certain parts of the op-ed. it's obviously much easier to refer to his specific comments, but i suspect there might be some value in trying to analyze his other notations. i had a quick look and didnt see anything of specific interest, but if his marginalia didnt exist, i suspect that people would have spent a lot of time trying to read those tea-leaves, and may have actually found something.

emptywheel said...

Keep in mind, they may have known ABOUT Wilson's op-ed (though this is by no means clear, and it might have come via Safire rather than Miller if they did know about it). But they wouldn't have known what he was going to say. So I suspect Dick's annotations are a great expression of his petulent anger as he sat in his estate in Jackson Hole, furious that a mere human could hamper his plans.

lukery said...


post updated.

given that a) they had been stressing over wilson and b) he apparently tried to get them to correct that particular part of the story, at this point, the presumption would appear to be that they had a general sense what the op-ed piece would be about.