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Ensor: Lowdown on documents in CIA leak case

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CNN's David Ensor

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Lewis Libby
Iraq
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Vice President Dick Cheney told his top adviser in 2003 that President Bush had authorized the leaking of pre-war intelligence on Iraq, according to court papers released this week.

I. Scooter Libby -- who is charged with five counts of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to FBI agents -- is seeking classified papers from prosecutors about his case involving the leak of a CIA agent's name to reporters.

CNN anchor Jim Clancy spoke to national security correspondent David Ensor on Thursday about what is in the legal documents.

CLANCY: What do the court papers actually say?

ENSOR: What is actually going on, Jim, is a struggle between the defendant, who is I. Lewis Libby, Scooter Libby, the former chief of staff of the vice president, and the prosecutor over how much information the defense can get declassified to use in the case.

Mr. Libby wants access to PDBs, presidential intelligence documents that he gets every day. He wants access to quite a few of them in order to show something about Mr. Libby's pace of work and so forth and help defend himself against the charge that he may have concealed information about this case from a grand jury.

What the most recent document and the one that we're talking about here is the government's response to the defendant, Mr. Libby's request for an effort to get these documents out. And in it -- and I'm going to quote here -- the government says that "the vice president thought" -- Vice President Cheney -- "thought that it was very important for the key judgments of the NIE" -- and that's the National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction -- "to come out."

"The defendant further testified that he had first advised the vice president that he could not have this conversation with reporter Miller" -- that would be Judy Miller of The New York Times -- "because of the classified nature of the NIE. The defendant testified that the vice president later advised him that the president had authorized the defendant to discuss the relevant portions of the NIE."

So what's involved here, Jim, is that this document from the government says that the vice president informed Mr. Libby that the president himself had authorized Mr. Libby to leak certain information or give out certain information that came out of this document, this National Intelligence Estimate, on what the intelligence community thought Iraq had in the way of weapons of mass destruction.

So, it had nothing to do with Valerie Plame-Wilson's name. It was simply about this matter of intelligence in the lead-up to the war.

And in that matter, the president, according to this document, authorized Mr. Libby to give out some information to Judy Miller.

And by the way, he is legally entitled to do so.

If the president decides to declassify information, he has that legal right. So, it's not about a law being broken here, and it's not about Valerie Plame-Wilson's name. But it does show us the first evidence that the president himself wanted some of this information put out in the media.

CLANCY: Well, at the time, if you go back to that period in time, there was a clamor from not only the media but from a lot of Americans that wanted more information, more details about what were, up to that point, rather vague statements at times by diplomats trying to assess just what was the threat there. So this was seen -- would this be normal business in Washington, really?

ENSOR: I'm afraid so, yes. And, you know, after all, the -- Ambassador Wilson -- [former] Ambassador [Joseph] Wilson being Valerie Plame-Wilson's husband -- had put out a piece [a July 2003 editorial in The New York Times] in which he said -- in which he attacked the administration for suggesting Iraq was going after uranium in Africa.

The administration wanted to highlight certain parts of this until-then-classified document that suggested that Iraq was aggressively pursuing some aspects of a nuclear weapons program, was looking for ways of getting uranium.

And so, they wanted to have that evidence out there to help their case in the run-up to war. Selective leaking authorized at the highest level, that's -- I'm afraid that is business as usual in Washington. It's been practiced by Republicans and Democrats alike.

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