Wash. Post's Cohen on Libby trial, still defending admin officials with falsehoods about "silly case"

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

On Washington Post Radio, the Post's Richard Cohen falsely claimed that Joseph Wilson, in his New York Times op-ed, wrote that Dick Cheney sent him to Niger. In fact, Wilson wrote that "agency officials" from the CIA "asked if I would travel to Niger" and "check out" a "particular intelligence report" that "Cheney's office had questions about," so that CIA officials "could provide a response to the vice president's office."

On the January 30 broadcast of Washington Post Radio's morning news program, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen falsely claimed that former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, in his July 6, 2003, New York Times op-ed, wrote that Vice President Dick Cheney had sent him to Africa to investigate whether Iraq had attempted to purchase yellowcake uranium from Niger. Discussing what he called a "silly case," in which several administration officials allegedly leaked the identity of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA operative who purportedly set up her husband's trip to Niger, Cohen told Washington Post Radio hosts David Burd and Jessica Doyle that "all these [administration officials] were trying to do was get their story out, 'cause Joe Wilson had, in his New York Times op-ed piece, misrepresented the genesis of his trip to Africa. It was not Vice President Cheney who sent him, it was the CIA, and possibly his own wife." But, as Media Matters for America has repeatedly documented, Wilson, in his op-ed, did not say that Cheney sent him. Rather, Wilson wrote that it was "agency officials" from the CIA who "asked if I would travel to Niger" and "check out" a "particular intelligence report" that "Cheney's office had questions about," so that CIA officials "could provide a response to the vice president's office."

Cohen stated, "I find myself in the odd position of almost feeling sorry for Cheney on this one." Outing Plame was, according to Cohen, "just [Cheney] trying to get his story out in the conventional Washington way."

Media Matters previously documented how Cohen, in his October 13, 2005, Washington Post column on the Plame leak investigation, falsely suggested that prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald overstepped his authority as special counsel. Fitzgerald, Cohen wrote, should "[g]o home."

During his appearance on Washington Post Radio, Cohen also baselessly claimed that Plame's CIA employment was widely known. "Libby told a whole lot of people," said Cohen, "and a whole lot of people in Washington knew." After noting that then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage had told Washington Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward, and that two NBC reporters and a Time magazine reporter learned Plame's CIA identity as well, Cohen again stated that "this was not a tightly held secret." However, as Media Matters has noted, Fitzgerald, at his October 28, 2005, press conference announcing the indictment of Cheney's then-chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, said that "[t]he fact that [Plame] was a CIA officer was not well-known, for her protection and the protection of all [of] us." Moreover, as Media Matters noted, assertions in a July 19, 2005, Washington Times editorial -- later repeated in a July 26, 2005, editorial and news article -- that Plame's neighbors knew about her employment at the CIA were completely unsubstantiated, and neighbors quoted by The Washington Times denied having had any knowledge of her employment.

In addition, Cohen defended former New York Times reporter Judith Miller from questions about her credibility. When Doyle asked if Miller "has some credibility problems," Cohen, after separately addressing her credibility in the Libby case, responded, "I don't know what the credibility problem is that you're referring to with Judith. I mean she has [had], over the years, a lot of problems with her colleagues, and her reporting on Iraq turned out to be wrong," regarding "the build up of WMD [weapons of mass destruction]." Cohen continued, "But you could fill a very small telephone booth with the reporters who were right about it." But a May 26, 2004, New York Times' "editors' note" on that newpaper's pre-war Iraq WMD coverage specifically separated those stories that, as Cohen stated, "turned out to be wrong," from those that merited more criticism. While not naming specific reporters, the editors' note listed several Miller stories as examples of "a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been. In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged." This criticism was explicitly contrasted with "most cases," where the paper claimed that "what we reported was an accurate reflection of the state of our knowledge at the time, much of it painstakingly extracted from intelligence agencies that were themselves dependent on sketchy information."

From the January 30 broadcast of Washington Post Radio's morning news program:

BURD: Former White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer is telling a couple of stories this morning, and here to talk about that, Richard Cohen. Ari Fleischer's testifying for the prosecution, Richard?

COHEN: Yeah, and it tells you just about everything you need to know about this kind of, I think, silly case. Now, here's Ari Fleischer, who's testifying under a grant of immunity -- he's a witness who's been given immunity. And why's he been given immunity? It's because after he learned about the identity of Valerie Wilson, Joe Wilson's wife who had worked at the CIA, after he learned this -- and he peddled it to the press, which was, after all, his job -- way down the road, he says, "Uh-oh, I may have committed a crime." And the fact of the matter is almost no one involved in this thing, I mean, maybe no one involved in this, thought they were committing a crime.

What was going on here was standard operating procedure for Washington, which was the character assassination of Joe Wilson. Las Vegas does gambling, Washington does character assassination.

There was no one who thought a crime was being committed, and even after Bob Novak ran his column, which was several days after Ari Fleischer says he had been told by Scooter Libby the identity of the CIA agent, even afterwards nobody much paid attention. So nobody knew that there was a law being broken or that Valerie Plame was a deep-undercover or whatever the case was; all they were trying to do was get their story out, 'cause Joe Wilson had, in his New York Times op-ed piece, misrepresented the genesis of his trip to Africa. It was not Vice President Cheney who sent him, it was actually the CIA, and possibly his own wife. So that side of the story the White House was trying to get out.

I find myself in the odd position of almost feeling sorry for Cheney on this one, and I --

BURD: You feeling all right, Richard?

COHEN: No, I think I'm going to have to seek therapy later today.

But the guy, you know, I mean, he was just trying to get his story out in the conventional Washington way -- and it also tells you something else about this White House, that under the veneer of that time at least, we thought, of great expertise and precision and great management, was this place that was a mess. They couldn't get their story out, nobody knew what they were doing, there was great, sort of, rivalry going on. The White House spokesman, who appeared every day, who looked so authoritative, actually knew nothing except what he'd been told. They might as well have sent out a mannequin, I mean --

[laughter]

Sorry to Ari about that, he's a decent guy, but the fact is that, you know, going back to the Kennedy years, we've expected White House press secretaries to be in the know. And especially this press secretary wasn't in anything, except a good suit.

DOYLE: Well, you know, it's proven again that he has those skills as a good spokesperson, 'cause he, under questioning from the defense, he didn't say anything, he talked a lot, but he didn't say anything. He was pretty hostile.

COHEN: He knows how to stay on message. That is his great talent, and that's what he did very well at the White House, and that's what he did here.

But I think it's important, as I say over and over again, to understand that he testified under a grant of immunity. And ask yourself why he got that grant of immunity, because it was only afterwards that he thought, "Uh oh, I might have committed a crime."

What bothers me most about this whole case is, one, it really does represent the criminalization of politics. I mean, nobody thought they were doing anything criminal here. They were just playing politics. And the second thing is, the only person who's gone to jail for this is Judith Miller, who's a reporter for The New York Times, and it's totally unrelated to any crime, it has to do with the fact that she just would not reveal her sources.

BURD: Right.

COHEN: And so far, I think, she's the only one who's acted honorably.

BURD: Now she's expected to take the stand today, that's going to be kind of hot and heavy for her, considering she has spent some jail time. Do you see this turning into a circus today because Judith Miller is testifying?

COHEN: Well, Judy's second-greatest talent -- she's a good writer -- is to create commotion, and it may happen, but the fact of the matter is, here once again we pretty much know what she's going to say, because she testified before of the grand jury, ultimately, and that is that Libby told her as well the identity of the CIA agent -- Libby told a whole lot of people, and a whole lot of people in Washington knew. Armitage told people as well, he was at the State Department. He told Woodward. And the fact of the matter is, what's amazing to me, is that a lot of the people who were told said, "So what?" They didn't even think it was a story. Woodward didn't run around and say, "Hey, it's a story." Two NBC reporters learned about it and they didn't do anything about it. Time magazine reporter -- I mean, this was not a tightly held secret. And a lot of people, as I said, you know, looked at it when it came out and said, "So what?" It's just another way for the White House to play politics.

Now it's a crime, you got a special prosecutor, somebody can go to jail. I even feel sorry for Scooter Libby, who I don't think, at the time, was thinking he was committing a crime, or was risking his career, he was just peddling a piece of information, and then later, if I had to guess, said, "Oh my God, look what I've done, I might have committed a crime," and, so the allegation goes, lied to the prosecutor when asked about it.

DOYLE: Now to the topic of Judith Miller, she had some inconsistencies in her testimony to the grand jury. Do you think she has some credibility problems?

COHEN: Well, I don't know -you know, I don't think she has a credibility problem as to what Scooter Libby told her, because I think it's consistent with what everyone else has been saying.

I'm going to have to tell you, I don't know what the credibility problem is that you're referring to with Judith. I mean she has, over the years, a lot of problems with her colleagues, and her reporting on Iraq turned out to be wrong, but -- the build up of WMD. But, I mean, you could fill a very small telephone booth with the reporters who were right about it.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, Intelligence, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
The Washington Post
Person
Richard Cohen
Stories/Interests
CIA Leak Investigation
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