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By Bill Gallagher

DETROIT -- It is the holy of holies, the sanctum sanctorum, the secret underground bunker where Vice President Dick Cheney, the Bushevik Buddha, holds court, shares his wisdom and issues orders. It is also a crime scene. It's the dark cave where Cheney and other conspirators plotted the outing of an undercover CIA officer. And when their treasonous deed was exposed, they used this vile den to map their cover-up plan, which mounting evidence shows may well have included perjury and obstruction of justice.

President George W. Bush was certainly involved as the initiator of the crimes, and he bears the ultimate responsibly for the felonious behavior of his loyal followers. Given his short attention span, aversion to details and unwillingness to work long hours, the sordid task was delegated to others.

The president never saw the implications of selling the big lie that Saddam Hussein was seeking enriched uranium in Niger to use as fuel for an imaginary nuclear weapons program. First of all, Bush had sold so many lies -- as he does to this day, linking Iraq to 9/11 -- that he figured, no big deal about the Niger hoax.

And never forget, our "war president" only sees the world in clear, unequivocal terms. Saddam is "evil." We are fighting for "freedom." So if the president must exaggerate, deceive or flat-out lie to make his case, George W. Bush just shrugs.

When former ambassador Joseph Wilson went public and challenged the Bush administration's phony claims that Iraq was trying to acquire uranium for its nuclear program, the president may have cared little about the exposure, but men around him smelled big trouble.

They knew that, when Wilson told the truth, others might follow. Nip it in the bud. Punish Wilson and fire a warning shot to intimidate others. You talk, and you'll pay a price. While the president went to work in his own way -- trying to learn how to ride a new bike, pumping iron, playing video games and watching sports on TV -- three of his closest confidants knew what needed to be done and began the dirty work.

Karl Rove, Bush's "brain," relished the task. It involved his specialties: vengeance and destroying enemies. I can hear it now. The year is 2003. Rove, in the midst of a White House Bible-study class, ducks out for a minute and gets on the phone with Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the vice president's chief of staff.

Rove: "Scooter, did you read what that f----r Joe Wilson wrote in the New York Times? We'll f--k him like no one has ever f----d him."

Libby: "Right you are, Karl. We've got to break his legs and I know just how. His wife is in the CIA. I saw the State Department memo on her. She's been doing covert stuff for years. You'd never know it. She keeps a real low profile and does WMD analysis. She does her job and she's a babe."

Rove: "Scooter, I can't believe this. I'll bet she got the Africa assignment for Wilson and he got paid to go out and screw us over."

Libby: "No, she didn't, Karl. It was one of those other f---ks in Langley who tried to scuttle us at every turn. But she did know he was going over there. Her name is Plame, Valerie Plame. But she sometimes goes by Wilson."

Rove: "Does Dick know this?"

Libby: "Sure, he showed me the memo. He's down in his den. Let's check in with him."

Rove: "I'll be there in 10 minutes. I've got Cardinal Law on hold, and I've got to wrap up my Bible-study class."

The next scene takes place 10 minutes later in Cheney's secret bunker.

Cheney: "What's up, guys? Don't bring me any bad news and spoil my day. The price of sweet crude is going out of sight and Rummy just told me he ordered his auditors to lay off Halliburton and quit all this chicken-sh-t documentation stuff. Hell, we're at war. What's up?"

Libby: "Remember that State Department memo about Joe Wilson's wife?"

Cheney: "Of course. I still can't understand what she sees in that bastard Wilson."

Rove: "Dick, Scooter and I were sort of thinking out loud about that and one way to f--k Wilson and send a message to any other loudmouth liberal traitors might be to drop his wife's name and her connections on a few friendly reporters."

Cheney: "She's fair game, my friends. Who'd you have in mind?"

Rove: "Well, Bob Novak, of course. He'll do it in a minute. I thought about Brit Hume, but it's too obvious. We can't use Fox all the time. Maybe we should drop a dime on a few others to cover our tracks?"

Libby: "I could call Tim Russert. He's usually helpful, and he likes you, Dick."

Rove: "Matt Cooper from 'Time' would go for it, and we could ask Chalabi to slip it to Judy Miller at the Times. She'll repeat anything he tells her. Besides, we owe her for all those front-page stories."

Cheney: "Do it yourself, Karl. Chalabi will ask for money. Sounds like a plan. Let me know what happens."

Rove: "Any down sides to this?"

Cheney: "Don't get caught. But, Karl, remember, all we have to do is win another term and this will all be behind us."

Libby: "Besides, this is all about national security and we can use that to protect ourselves."

Rove: "Should I tell the president?"

Cheney: "I'll handle that, Karl. I'll tell him what we've decided."

Unfair? Implausible? No. This dramatic re-enactment creates scenes that portray the Busheviks just as they are -- ruthless apparatchiks willing to do and say anything to crush an enemy. Their actions were unlawful and treasonous. When they got caught in their treachery, they lied and broke more laws in an attempt to save their own hides.

While Karl Rove is usually viewed as the central figure in this blossoming scandal, Dick Cheney's dirty fingerprints are found everywhere in these serial crimes and deceptions.

Cheney, more than anyone else in the Bush administration, was eager to make the public case that Saddam Hussein was a dangerous threat to our national security and that the invasion of Iraq was the only way to stop him.

Since the facts didn't support those wild claims, Cheney was hell-bent to fabricate them any way he could. He had his old pal, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, set up his own operation in the Pentagon to cherry-pick, shape and "fix" intelligence to ramp up the case against Iraq.

Cheney would personally handle the troublesome CIA. He, Libby and others would pull up to CIA headquarters on Saturday mornings to review the work being done on the Iraq "threat." Like mafia heavies, they'd pull up in their big black cars, burst through the doors and oversee the intelligence-refining process.

Munching on doughnuts, they'd look over the shoulders of professional CIA intelligence analysts, looking for holes in their work and scouring for any scintilla of evidence that Saddam was planning to build nukes.

There wasn't much to go on. But when Cheney's thugs would find crumbs, they'd slip them over to Rummy's boys, who would try to make them into something more tasty for Lord Halliburton to chew on.

That's why Cheney went crazy when Joe Wilson blew the lid off their lies. If he got away with it, what about others at the CIA? This could open up floodgates at the Pentagon, the State Department and the National Security Council. Not to mention what the Brits might reveal about the phony reasons for war (See: Downing Street Memo).

So Cheney, Rove and Libby set out to discredit and harm Joe Wilson, a career diplomat George H.W. Bush had hailed as a "hero" when Wilson served as acting U.S. ambassador to Iraq during the first Gulf War. The slimy plot failed in part. They outed Valerie Plame, but her husband kept talking. We'll never know, though, how many others were driven into silence.

The plot began unraveling when former attorney general John Ashcroft, in a moment of forced candor, had to admit he had too many conflicts of interest to conduct a fair investigation into who leaked the identity of the CIA officer. The probe required a special prosecutor.

Now, Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor, is moving beyond the question of whether White House officials broke the law when they exposed an undercover agent into far more dangerous waters for the conspirators. The prosecutor is after the big sharks.

The Los Angeles Times and Washington Post are both reporting that Fitzgerald's team is looking at possible perjury in Rove and Libby's statements to FBI agents and in their testimony before a federal grand jury. The two most powerful White House staffers are also suspected of obstructing justice by trying to cover up their prominent roles in leaking Plame's identity.

Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, told the Los Angeles Times his client "has, from the beginning, been candid, forthcoming and accurate." Matt Cooper, of "Time" magazine, says he phoned Rove to discuss Plame's CIA job and that Rove confirmed she worked at the agency. It turns out Rove never mentioned this conversation during his first interview with the FBI. Candid? Forthcoming? Accurate?

The Washington Post reports Libby testified that he learned about Plame from NBC's Tim Russert. But Russert flatly denies that story. In a written statement, the Post reports Russert "told the prosecutor that 'he did not know Ms. Plame's name or that she was a CIA operative' and that he did not provide such information to Libby in July 2003." Someone committed perjury and I don't think it's that fine Irish-Catholic lad from Buffalo.

People in the intelligence community are outraged over Plame's outing and the administration's cavalier attitude.

James Marcinkowski is a former CIA operations officer and was a classmate of Plame's when they trained for service in the agency.

Marcinkowski now works as an attorney for the city of Royal Oak, Mich., and we have had several conversations about the scandal. He told me the identities of covert officers have been revealed in the past, but said, "Never in the history of the CIA has the White House been responsible and that's what makes this so outrageous."

Scene: Cheney's secret bunker, last Thursday night, 8 p.m., just before the president's bedtime.

President: "Hey, Dick. What's all this stuff about ole Turd Blossom and Scooter being in deep sh-t? They can't really send them to jail. What the hell did they do wrong? Ya know, I'm a war president. You're my vice president. We're up against evil. We're being strong leaders."

Cheney: "Well, sir, that's right, but they might have some problems. That's why we have the best lawyers anywhere lined up. In the worst-case scenario, if Karl and Scooter are convicted, all you have to do is pardon them. I'll explain what you have to do when the time comes. I feel terrible about this."

President: "Me too, Dick. Hey, I got an idea. I'll give 'em both Presidential Medals of Freedom. I like doing that and it does make people feel better when they really f----k-up big time. I was wonderin', though -- Laura mentioned this -- are me and you in any trouble on this thing?"

Cheney: "No, sir, not in the least. We cannot be charged with crimes while in office. The only way they can get at us is through impeachment and we control the Congress."

President: "That's good. But I hate to think people would start talkin' impeachment about trivial things, like that stuff we said about Saddam, the war and what we did to that liberal traitor Wilson."

Cheney: "No, sir. Don't worry. Impeachment is for grave, serious matters. Good night, Mr. President."

President: "You bet, D.C. Dick. By the way, can't tell ya enough what a great job yer doin' fur my administration."

Cheney: "Thank you, sir." (Muttering under his breath) "Go f--k yourself."

Bill Gallagher, a Peabody Award winner, is a former Niagara Falls city councilman who now covers Detroit for Fox2 News. His e-mail address is gallaghernewsman@sbcglobal.net.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com July 26 2005