Friday, November 04, 2005

Leakers, Leakers and more leakers....

Fortunately, Scooter Libby has a second career to fall back on.

He’ll need one. The recently indicted former White House aide’s first novel, “The Apprentice,” was published in 1996. Set in Japan, it came billed as a creepy political thriller with exotic sexual overtones. Some reviewers found the sex a lot creepier than the intrigue, but that’s a matter of taste.

Libby’s present dilemma is less subjective. It should be obvious to anybody who’s seen three episodes of “Law & Order.” Basically, Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s got him by the—well, Scooter’s in an extremely vulnerable position, and the prosecutor’s squeezing him. Either he rolls over and tells the unvarnished truth about the White House scheme to leak the covert identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame or he’s looking at serious time in a federal penitentiary.

Fitzgerald’s running the thing like a classic organized crime investigation. Republican-oriented pundits, however, are playing dumb. On “Meet the Press,” former New York Times savant William Safire, who spent the Clinton years making futile predictions of Whitewater indictments, claimed that Fitzgerald had exonerated the White House.

“Everybody is walking around thinking, ‘Well, you see ? There was a conspiracy to undermine or uncover an agent.’ Well, there wasn’t,” Safire said. “And he said it very clearly. And so I think we ought to keep that in mind. This was a cover-up of a non-crime.”

Safire’s anything but dumb. He and other pundits mouthing the same line are merely hoping you are. In reality, the Libby indictment alleges anything but a technical offense. Comparing himself to a baseball umpire who had sand thrown in his eyes, Fitzgerald pointedly refused to say there was no underlying crime.

“I’ll be blunt,” he said. “That talking point won’t fly. If you’re doing a national security investigation, if you’re trying to find out who compromised the identity of a CIA officer and... [if ] it is proven that the chief of staff to the vice president went before a federal grand jury and lied under oath repeatedly and fabricated a story about how he learned this information, how he passed it on, and we prove obstruction of justice, perjury and false statements to the FBI, that is a very, very serious matter.”

He didn’t need to add that Libby was lying for a reason. Without saying so, the indictment spells out in far more detail than is really necessary the broad outlines of what a White House conspiracy to punish Plame’s husband, Iraq war critic Joe Wilson, by revealing her secret identity might look like if Libby would tell all.

Libby’s own notes show that none other than Vice President Dick Cheney first told him that “Wilson’s wife worked at the Central Intelligence Agency in the Counter-proliferation Division.” (Hence, secret by definition, as both men had to know. ) This happened after Wilson started talking to reporters probing pre-war intelligence failures, but before his July 6, 2003, New York Times article accusing the White House of twisting intelligence to justify invading Iraq.

In the meantime, Libby reportedly discussed Plame and her husband with others in the administration before talking about her to the press. If he goes on trial, those officials, including Cheney, will have to testify under oath in open court.

In retrospect, President Bush may have given the game away at the beginning.

“I have no idea whether we’ll find out who the leaker is,” he told reporters on Oct. 8, 2003, “partially because, in all due respect to your profession, you do a very good job of protecting the leakers. You tell me : How many sources have you had that’s leaked information that you’ve exposed or had been exposed ? Probably none.”

Less than a week later, Fitzgerald claims, Libby falsely told FBI agents that NBC newsman Tim Russert had told him about Plame’s CIA identity. But Libby was only half as clever as he thought. See, Fitzgerald didn’t need to make Russert testify about what a source told him, only what he told a source. No U. S. court would shield that from scrutiny. Risky, sure. But remember, these are the same geniuses who believed their own propaganda about a cakewalk into Iraq. The White House simply cannot afford to let Libby go on trial. Nor could Bush get away with pardoning him before the 2006 congressional elections at the very earliest. So look for Libby’s lawyers to employ every imaginable stalling tactic to postpone his day of reckoning as long as possible. Or he might roll over. Much tougher guys have flipped. As for Karl Rove, identified as the so far un-indicted “Official A,” who also spoke to the media about Plame, here’s the question : Did Rove lie if he told Bush he had nothing to do with it, or was Bush deceiving the American people when he denied knowing the guilty party ? Either way, why is Rove still working at the White House ?

—–––––•–––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and recipient of the National Magazine Award.

Is that a trick question? Uhhh, let's see.... Because Bush cannot do w/o his brain?

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