In the much-discussed legal brief he filed last week, Patrick Fitzgerald said that Scooter Libby had testified that he "understood that he was to tell" the New York Times' Judy Miller that "a key judgment" of the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate was that Iraq was "vigorously trying to procure" uranium. In a court filing yesterday, Fitzgerald says he got it wrong: What he should have said, he says, is that Libby understood he was to tell Miller about some of the key judgments of the NIE "and that the NIE stated that Iraq was 'vigorously trying to procure' uranium."
Is it a distinction with a difference? Sure. The Iraq-uranium story wasn't part of the NIE's "key judgments," and both the New York Times and the Washington Post -- among others -- have used Libby's supposed claim that it was as proof of the degree to which the Bush administration was misleading reporters about prewar intelligence by the summer of 2003. As the National Review's Stephen Spruiell writes today, the media now has some record correcting to do.
That said, the critical stories in the Times and the Post and elsewhere were built around more than just the "key judgment" issue. Even if Libby didn't tell Miller that the uranium tale was part of the NIE's "key judgments" -- and it's a little hard to tell from Fitzgerald's correction whether Libby didn't tell her that or just wasn't told to tell her that -- Libby apparently did tell Miller, Bob Woodward and maybe Matthew Cooper that Iraq was "vigorously" trying to procure uranium in Africa. What Libby apparently didn't say -- "key judgment" or no "key judgment" -- is that the uranium claim was the subject of deep dispute within the intelligence community and that the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research had already dubbed it "highly dubious."
Claiming that the uranium story was one of the "key judgments" of the NIE would have been a way for the Bush administration to bolster the disputed story it was spreading as fact. If Libby didn't do that, the record should be corrected to reflect as much. But in correcting the record, let's not conflate the words Libby may or may not have wrapped around the lie with the lie itself.