Forget the aspens turning in clusters -- or, for at least the next couple of days, the prospect of indictments. (Nothing, it now seems, until next week.) The real story of last weekend's Judy Miller revelations is not what Scooter Libby may have told her about Joe Wilson's wife. It is how Libby clearly, and unequivocally, misrepresented the contents of the classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) about Iraqi WMD. Save for the estimable David Corn of the Nation, nobody has picked up on this. But it's huge. At a time when questions about the Bush administration's case for war were beginning to mount, Libby assured Miller: Don't worry, there's still secret stuff out there that will prove we were right all along. As a Washington reporter who frequently writes about intelligence matters, I can assure you, this is the way it always works: "Trust me," the high level government official will tell you, "if you knew what I knew-- if you could read the top secret reports I've read-- you'd know why we're doing this." Only in this case, we know what Libby told Miller at their two hour breakfast at the Ritz Carleton Hotel on July 8, 2003, wasn't true: "Mr. Libby," Miller wrote in last Sunday's New York Times account, "said little more than that the assessments of the classified estimate were even stronger than those in the unclassified version."
Unfortunately for Libby, and perhaps for Miller, excerpts of the classified NIE were released just ten days later. It didn't show that the pre-war intelligence was "stronger" than had been publicly released to date. It showed that the intelligence community was riddled with doubts -- especially about the claims (primarily by Vice President Dick Cheney) that Iraq was close to getting a nuclear bomb.
Along with my colleague Mark Hosenball, I chronicle the whole story in this week's installment of Terror Watch.