Sunday, October 30, 2005

Has Fitzgerald just corked his bat, with the Libby indictment

Gadfly is Marty Aussenberg, a columnist for the weekly Memphis Flyer. Marty is a former SEC enforcement official, currently in private law practice in Memphis, Tennessee. (A full bio is below the fold.)

The indictment of “Scooter” Libby, ONLY Scooter Libby, and ONLY on investigation- related charges (perjury, obstruction of justice, lying to investigators), is bound to be misinterpreted (read: spun), by ideologues on both sides of the political spectrum. Lefties (in addition to being disappointed that their favorite bête noire, Karl Rove, has seemingly evaded the prosecutor's net) will feel like some of the wind has been knocked out of their sails because no crime was charged in connection with the underlying revelation of Valerie Plame's identity (a key element in their assertion that such revelation was motivated by the need to discredit a vocal critic of administration's casus belli for the war--Iraq's possession or acquisition of nuclear weapons capability). And righties will revel in that same fact (i.e., since no crime was committed by the Plame outing, the outing was nothing more than a legitimate defense against the attack on the motivation for the war--in other words, politics as usual).

But, to continue Patrick Fitzgerald's somewhat tortured baseball analogy, there is no reason either for joy or sorrow in Mudville. Mighty Casey (a/k/a Fitzgerald) has, in essence, taken a base on balls, four (or, in Libby's case, five) lousy pitches, none of which he could really swing at, much less hit out of the park. And, just like a base on balls doesn't count as an at-bat, in some ways Fitz still hasn't stepped up to the plate. But, I suggest that what he may have done is to cork a bat for his next up.

Yesterday's indictment was dictated by time more than anything else. With the grand jury's term expiring today, if any indictment was going to be returned, this was the day, and I, for one, don't question Fitzgerald's statement that Libby's obstruction of the investigation prevented him from getting to the truth about the so-called “underlying” charges (e.g., those associated with outing a CIA operative). Indeed, the obstruction charged against Libby prevented the prosecutor from furnishing the one element of the underlying crimes that may be the most difficult to prove: mens rea, as it's known in the criminal law (i.e., a culpable state of mind). But, be assured: the last out in this game is still to come, and the indictment is a shot across the bow for a whole host of characters in this unfolding drama that should indicate to them sighs of relief would be premature.

First, we know that Fitz intends to continue the investigation, albeit with a new grand jury. That's no big deal, since the evidence that was presented to the first grand jury will be available, word-for-word and page-for-page, to the next one for their examination and, if necessary, for further elaboration or elucidation either by the prosecutor or by additional witnesses. In other words, the new grand jury won't be starting from scratch---not by a long shot.

Second, even the fact that Libby wasn't indicted for any of the possible classified-information-related offenses doesn't mean he still can't be, since the special prosecutor has the prerogative of getting a superseding indictment from the grand jury which is to follow (not unlike what the prosecutor in Texas did in Tom Delay's case). Thus, Libby is still, technically under the gun, and the indictment itself is rife with indications that there is another shoe yet to drop, something Fitz also strongly foreshadowed in his responses to reporters' questions during his press conference. And, of course, neither Rove nor any of a variety of other characters whose participation was described in shadowy terms are, as yet, off the hook.



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