Commentary Magazine


Topic: Patrick Fitzgerald

Don’t Let Door Hit You on Way Out, Pat

No sad farewell to Patrick Fitzgerald here. Nothing good the man did in his years as U.S. attorney in Chicago and assistant U.S. attorney in New York could ever make up for the appalling miscarriage of justice he perpetrated against Scooter Libby.

In case anyone has forgotten, Mr. F. went after Mr. Libby relentlessly, with what can only be described as a vengeance, as special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame case. NOT for “leaking” the lady’s name and status as a CIA covert “operative” to Robert Novak. Fitz couldn’t get Scooter for that because he knew perfectly well that the leak came from then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. And because he knew perfectly well that he didn’t have a case to make on a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act – which is why Armitage was never charged with anything.

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No sad farewell to Patrick Fitzgerald here. Nothing good the man did in his years as U.S. attorney in Chicago and assistant U.S. attorney in New York could ever make up for the appalling miscarriage of justice he perpetrated against Scooter Libby.

In case anyone has forgotten, Mr. F. went after Mr. Libby relentlessly, with what can only be described as a vengeance, as special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame case. NOT for “leaking” the lady’s name and status as a CIA covert “operative” to Robert Novak. Fitz couldn’t get Scooter for that because he knew perfectly well that the leak came from then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. And because he knew perfectly well that he didn’t have a case to make on a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act – which is why Armitage was never charged with anything.

But hey, a special prosecutor’s gotta do what a special prosecutor’s gotta do: indict someone for something. In this case, the anointed ham sandwich was Scooter Libby, indicted and then convicted for perjury and obstruction of justice — the “crime” of giving investigators an account of a conversation he’d had years earlier with Tim Russert that differed from Russert’s recollection.

Putting away Rod Blagojevich and a bunch of New York Mafiosi won’t make up for that. Nor will the conviction of the blind sheik.

So, as Mr. Fitzgerald goes off to a lucrative future in a fancy law firm, or even possibly to a status stint as FBI director, we should bid him goodbye and good riddance.

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Scooter Libby Has His Say

Quin Hillyer of the Washington Times provides essential reading: an interview with Scooter Libby — the first time Libby has gone on the record to discuss his conviction and President Bush’s refusal to grant him a complete pardon. It should be read in full to appreciate how ludicrous was the decision to prosecute and how shaky was the evidence that Libby intentionally lied about hearing Valerie Plame’s name from Tim Russert. The key graph:

Never mind that Mr. Russert’s own memory had proved flagrantly untrustworthy in a previous instance. Never mind that equally famous journalist Bob Woodward testified that his own notes of a near-simultaneous conversation with Mr. Libby indicated that Mr. Woodward might have said to Mr. Libby what Mr. Libby remembered being told by Mr. Russert — in other words, that the conversations easily and innocently could have become conflated in Mr. Libby’s mind. And never mind that Mr. Libby was never shown to have a motive for lying about his conversation with Mr. Russert.

When considered with another solidly reported piece on the topic, one is left mystified as to how he could have been convicted, let alone denied a pardon. In his masterful analysis, Stan Crock explains:

Even at the end of the long ordeal, poor memory — and irony — continued to played a role. Libby called White House counsel Fred Fielding as the clock was winding down on Bush’s term to ask if he could meet with the president to make his case for a pardon. Fielding mentioned he had received a call from a senator who had defended Libby. That surprised Libby, who knew the senator but had not considered him an ardent supporter. And Libby suggested it might have been another senator who Libby knew had spoken to Fielding.

Libby, who answered questions for this article, asked Fielding three times if he was sure it was the senator Fielding mentioned, and Fielding insisted that it was. But a little later, Fielding realized that he had made a mistake and that the senator Libby had mentioned was the one who had called. “Fred,” Libby said wryly, “you could be indicted.” The incident evidently didn’t convince Fielding that Libby may have made a similar memory error. Fielding didn’t return calls seeking comment.

After reading through these and contemporaneous accounts of the trial and investigation (and when we consider Patrick Fitzgerald’s overzealousness, revealed in his most recent trial flop), one cannot but agree that something went terribly wrong. Or, put more bluntly: “And to Fred Fielding, wherever you are: Shame, shame, shame!”

Quin Hillyer of the Washington Times provides essential reading: an interview with Scooter Libby — the first time Libby has gone on the record to discuss his conviction and President Bush’s refusal to grant him a complete pardon. It should be read in full to appreciate how ludicrous was the decision to prosecute and how shaky was the evidence that Libby intentionally lied about hearing Valerie Plame’s name from Tim Russert. The key graph:

Never mind that Mr. Russert’s own memory had proved flagrantly untrustworthy in a previous instance. Never mind that equally famous journalist Bob Woodward testified that his own notes of a near-simultaneous conversation with Mr. Libby indicated that Mr. Woodward might have said to Mr. Libby what Mr. Libby remembered being told by Mr. Russert — in other words, that the conversations easily and innocently could have become conflated in Mr. Libby’s mind. And never mind that Mr. Libby was never shown to have a motive for lying about his conversation with Mr. Russert.

When considered with another solidly reported piece on the topic, one is left mystified as to how he could have been convicted, let alone denied a pardon. In his masterful analysis, Stan Crock explains:

Even at the end of the long ordeal, poor memory — and irony — continued to played a role. Libby called White House counsel Fred Fielding as the clock was winding down on Bush’s term to ask if he could meet with the president to make his case for a pardon. Fielding mentioned he had received a call from a senator who had defended Libby. That surprised Libby, who knew the senator but had not considered him an ardent supporter. And Libby suggested it might have been another senator who Libby knew had spoken to Fielding.

Libby, who answered questions for this article, asked Fielding three times if he was sure it was the senator Fielding mentioned, and Fielding insisted that it was. But a little later, Fielding realized that he had made a mistake and that the senator Libby had mentioned was the one who had called. “Fred,” Libby said wryly, “you could be indicted.” The incident evidently didn’t convince Fielding that Libby may have made a similar memory error. Fielding didn’t return calls seeking comment.

After reading through these and contemporaneous accounts of the trial and investigation (and when we consider Patrick Fitzgerald’s overzealousness, revealed in his most recent trial flop), one cannot but agree that something went terribly wrong. Or, put more bluntly: “And to Fred Fielding, wherever you are: Shame, shame, shame!”

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In Defense of Karl Rove

Over at Hotair.com, Ed Morrissey and Allahpundit provide some balance and reason to those conservatives who are savaging Karl Rove, in response to his critical comments on Tuesday night about Christine O’Donnell. Morrissey links to Rove’s appearance on Fox this morning, where Karl rightly reminds people of his support for Tea Party candidates like Sharon Angle, Marco Rubio, Kelly Ayotte, and others.

It’s worth recalling that, just a few weeks ago, Rove the Conservative Heretic and Establishment Republican was sitting in for Rush Limbaugh on Rush’s radio program — and several weeks before that he attended Rush’s wedding. In a recent interview with Jonathan Rauch, Rove named Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative as one of his five most important books and testifies to the importance it played in his life. So the notion that Rove has suddenly become an “establishment Republican” and a traitor to the conservative cause simply isn’t plausible. It is, in fact, risible.

Karl has one take on O’Donnell; other people have another interpretation. Rove thinks she hasn’t adequately responded to charges about her finances; others think they are non-issues or unfair attacks. The differences are real enough and they’re worth debating. But to use those differences to go after Rove with hammer and tongs, with fury and venom, doesn’t reflect well at all on those hurling the charges.

Of course, I have an advantage over some of Rove’s harshest critics. I know him and worked with him and for him in the Bush White House. He is a person of deep conservative convictions, a brilliant political and policy mind, and a wonderful human being. He’s also tough as nails, as I saw firsthand when he was the target of Patrick Fitzgerald’s criminal investigation into the Valerie Plame matter (the investigation turned out to be a colossal waste of money and deeply unjust). In circumstances when most other people, including me, would have curled up in a fetal position under their desks, Karl continued to work as if he didn’t have a concern in the world. So he’ll handle this latest dust-up just fine.

Those who have read his book Courage and Consequence — subtitled, it’s worth noting, “My Life as a Conservative in the Fight” (full disclosure: I assisted him with the book) — know Rove is a person who has faced and overcome enormous challenges over the years. He has also devoted his life to the Republican Party and the conservative cause. For some conservatives who disagree with Rove over Christine O’Donnell to now demand an auto-de-fé is terribly unfortunate, unwise, and unmerited.

Over at Hotair.com, Ed Morrissey and Allahpundit provide some balance and reason to those conservatives who are savaging Karl Rove, in response to his critical comments on Tuesday night about Christine O’Donnell. Morrissey links to Rove’s appearance on Fox this morning, where Karl rightly reminds people of his support for Tea Party candidates like Sharon Angle, Marco Rubio, Kelly Ayotte, and others.

It’s worth recalling that, just a few weeks ago, Rove the Conservative Heretic and Establishment Republican was sitting in for Rush Limbaugh on Rush’s radio program — and several weeks before that he attended Rush’s wedding. In a recent interview with Jonathan Rauch, Rove named Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative as one of his five most important books and testifies to the importance it played in his life. So the notion that Rove has suddenly become an “establishment Republican” and a traitor to the conservative cause simply isn’t plausible. It is, in fact, risible.

Karl has one take on O’Donnell; other people have another interpretation. Rove thinks she hasn’t adequately responded to charges about her finances; others think they are non-issues or unfair attacks. The differences are real enough and they’re worth debating. But to use those differences to go after Rove with hammer and tongs, with fury and venom, doesn’t reflect well at all on those hurling the charges.

Of course, I have an advantage over some of Rove’s harshest critics. I know him and worked with him and for him in the Bush White House. He is a person of deep conservative convictions, a brilliant political and policy mind, and a wonderful human being. He’s also tough as nails, as I saw firsthand when he was the target of Patrick Fitzgerald’s criminal investigation into the Valerie Plame matter (the investigation turned out to be a colossal waste of money and deeply unjust). In circumstances when most other people, including me, would have curled up in a fetal position under their desks, Karl continued to work as if he didn’t have a concern in the world. So he’ll handle this latest dust-up just fine.

Those who have read his book Courage and Consequence — subtitled, it’s worth noting, “My Life as a Conservative in the Fight” (full disclosure: I assisted him with the book) — know Rove is a person who has faced and overcome enormous challenges over the years. He has also devoted his life to the Republican Party and the conservative cause. For some conservatives who disagree with Rove over Christine O’Donnell to now demand an auto-de-fé is terribly unfortunate, unwise, and unmerited.

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Pack It Up, Inspector Javert

Not only witty conservative bloggers are calling for Patrick Fitzgerald to hang it up. In the wake of Blago’s largely hung jury, it has dawned on many more that the prosecutor is more persecutor and a menace to the justice system. The Wall Street Journal reminds us of Fitzgerald’s presser two years ago:

Then, the U.S. Attorney spoke of “what we can only describe as a political corruption crime spree” and accused Blagojevich of “the most appalling conduct” that would have “Lincoln roll over in his grave.” It was “a truly new low,” Mr. Fitzgerald told the world. … As the former Justice Department lawyer Victoria Toensing noted in these pages at the time, Mr. Fitzgerald violated prosecutorial ethics by speaking “beyond the four corners of the complaint,” to use the criminal law vernacular for the facts at issue, thus possibly tainting the jury pool.

As the WSJ editors point out, this is not an isolated occurrence. There is a pattern at work here — smear and intimidate, throw whatever charges you can at the vilified defendant, and see what the jury will buy:

At a 2005 press conference, Mr. Fitzgerald implied that Mr. Libby had obstructed his investigation into who leaked the former CIA analyst’s name, even though he knew from the start that the real “leaker” was Richard Armitage.

Then there was the railroading of Conrad Black, the conservative newspaper baron who was convicted in 2007 using the infinitely malleable “honest services” fraud law. The Supreme Court junked much of that law earlier this year, leading to Mr. Black’s release from prison. The jury had earlier dismissed nine of the 13 charges Mr. Fitzgerald filed.

Fitzgerald is lacking in the very qualities we must demand of prosecutors: discretion and restraint. The Washington Post editors recognize this in their well-taken objection to Blago’s retrial:

Mr. Fitzgerald is entitled under the law to drag the ex-governor back into court. He has the resources to do so and the motivation: The Blagojevich brand of politics is repugnant, beyond any doubt. It perverts democracy and puts moneyed interests over the common good. But the prosecutor took his shot and lost. He should stand down before crossing another fine line — the one that separates prosecution from persecution.

Because Fitzgerald can’t or won’t recognize the difference between the two, it’s time for him to pack it in, albeit much too late for Scooter Libby and Conrad Black. One final thought: had the extent of Fitzgerald’s abuse of power been clear at the time, would President Bush have withheld a full pardon from Libby? We don’t know, but all this is further evidence of the need to rethink the notion of “special prosecutors,” who by definition are freed from the restraints that prevent ordinary prosecutors from running amok and abusing their power.

Not only witty conservative bloggers are calling for Patrick Fitzgerald to hang it up. In the wake of Blago’s largely hung jury, it has dawned on many more that the prosecutor is more persecutor and a menace to the justice system. The Wall Street Journal reminds us of Fitzgerald’s presser two years ago:

Then, the U.S. Attorney spoke of “what we can only describe as a political corruption crime spree” and accused Blagojevich of “the most appalling conduct” that would have “Lincoln roll over in his grave.” It was “a truly new low,” Mr. Fitzgerald told the world. … As the former Justice Department lawyer Victoria Toensing noted in these pages at the time, Mr. Fitzgerald violated prosecutorial ethics by speaking “beyond the four corners of the complaint,” to use the criminal law vernacular for the facts at issue, thus possibly tainting the jury pool.

As the WSJ editors point out, this is not an isolated occurrence. There is a pattern at work here — smear and intimidate, throw whatever charges you can at the vilified defendant, and see what the jury will buy:

At a 2005 press conference, Mr. Fitzgerald implied that Mr. Libby had obstructed his investigation into who leaked the former CIA analyst’s name, even though he knew from the start that the real “leaker” was Richard Armitage.

Then there was the railroading of Conrad Black, the conservative newspaper baron who was convicted in 2007 using the infinitely malleable “honest services” fraud law. The Supreme Court junked much of that law earlier this year, leading to Mr. Black’s release from prison. The jury had earlier dismissed nine of the 13 charges Mr. Fitzgerald filed.

Fitzgerald is lacking in the very qualities we must demand of prosecutors: discretion and restraint. The Washington Post editors recognize this in their well-taken objection to Blago’s retrial:

Mr. Fitzgerald is entitled under the law to drag the ex-governor back into court. He has the resources to do so and the motivation: The Blagojevich brand of politics is repugnant, beyond any doubt. It perverts democracy and puts moneyed interests over the common good. But the prosecutor took his shot and lost. He should stand down before crossing another fine line — the one that separates prosecution from persecution.

Because Fitzgerald can’t or won’t recognize the difference between the two, it’s time for him to pack it in, albeit much too late for Scooter Libby and Conrad Black. One final thought: had the extent of Fitzgerald’s abuse of power been clear at the time, would President Bush have withheld a full pardon from Libby? We don’t know, but all this is further evidence of the need to rethink the notion of “special prosecutors,” who by definition are freed from the restraints that prevent ordinary prosecutors from running amok and abusing their power.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Patrick Fitzgerald gets beaten by Blago 23-1. Well, if the prosecution biz isn’t going so well, “[t]here’s always Armitage International, where Rich Armitage and his band of fixers ply their trade. After all, Armitage owes him one—a big one.”

Michael Kinsley gets just about everything wrong in his column with lines like this: “Some people say that tact or respect for the survivors of victims of 9/11 should dissuade these Muslims from building their center [Michael, it is a mosque] on this particular spot. This argument avoids both the constitutional question and the issue of bigotry.” No, you really can have objections that aren’t legal ones and aren’t based on prejudice (even Muslims now object to it). And it’s nice to know he favored letting the Carmelite nuns keep their spot at Auschwitz, but that’s really not a argument that’s going to gain him support, not even 29%.

The picture gets bleaker for Democrats every day: “With today’s ratings changes in 10 House districts, The Cook Political Report is now raising its House forecast from a Republican net gain of between 32 and 42 seats to a gain of between 35 and 45 seats, with the odds of an outcome larger than that range greater than the odds of a lesser outcome. A turnover of 39 seats would tip majority status into Republican hands.”

William Galston gets no applause from his party for honest analysis like this (registration required): “All signs point to major losses for the Democratic party in the US midterm elections this November. The recovery is slowing, while recent job figures have all but ended hopes that unemployment will fall fast enough to change voter’s minds. But for President Barack Obama it really does not matter whether his party loses its congressional majority, or merely a large number of seats. In either case, the days of single-party government in Washington will be over.” And Obama’s grip on it as well.

Steven Calabresi gets to the nub of Obama’s problem: “President Obama gets in trouble in unscripted moments because at some level he does not really know America very well nor does he thoroughly identify with it. … Unscripted moments are deadly for Obama because they reveal the vast disconnect between his world view and that of people living in the Midwest, the Plains and Rocky Mountain states, and the South.” And Manhattan too!

The White House gets a warning from Harry Reid when he’s going to embarrass Obama, but Democrats get no such courtesy from the president.

Tim Pawlenty gets in another jab at Obama: “Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty — a likely GOP presidential candidate in 2012 — is stepping up his rhetoric against President Obama, saying the commander-in-chief is ‘clueless’ when it comes to the economy and lacks common sense on the controversial mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero. … First of all he is clueless on a number of key issues on our time, including our economy. … And then, No. 2, he doesn’t have the depth of experience to run a large complex organization particularly in a time of crisis and its getting away from him.” I’m thinking there isn’t going to be too much GOP disagreement about that.

The administration never gets the message that civilian courts are not the place to put enemy combatants: “A judge on Tuesday dismissed piracy charges against six Somali nationals accused of attacking a Navy ship off the coast of Africa, concluding the U.S. government failed to make the case their alleged actions amounted to piracy.”

It gets clearer all the time that isolationism is what binds the far right and far left. (That, and bashing Israel.) “Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) are urging lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to push the President’s Commission on Deficit Reduction for cuts in military spending, as they seek signatories to a letter circulated Tuesday.”

Patrick Fitzgerald gets beaten by Blago 23-1. Well, if the prosecution biz isn’t going so well, “[t]here’s always Armitage International, where Rich Armitage and his band of fixers ply their trade. After all, Armitage owes him one—a big one.”

Michael Kinsley gets just about everything wrong in his column with lines like this: “Some people say that tact or respect for the survivors of victims of 9/11 should dissuade these Muslims from building their center [Michael, it is a mosque] on this particular spot. This argument avoids both the constitutional question and the issue of bigotry.” No, you really can have objections that aren’t legal ones and aren’t based on prejudice (even Muslims now object to it). And it’s nice to know he favored letting the Carmelite nuns keep their spot at Auschwitz, but that’s really not a argument that’s going to gain him support, not even 29%.

The picture gets bleaker for Democrats every day: “With today’s ratings changes in 10 House districts, The Cook Political Report is now raising its House forecast from a Republican net gain of between 32 and 42 seats to a gain of between 35 and 45 seats, with the odds of an outcome larger than that range greater than the odds of a lesser outcome. A turnover of 39 seats would tip majority status into Republican hands.”

William Galston gets no applause from his party for honest analysis like this (registration required): “All signs point to major losses for the Democratic party in the US midterm elections this November. The recovery is slowing, while recent job figures have all but ended hopes that unemployment will fall fast enough to change voter’s minds. But for President Barack Obama it really does not matter whether his party loses its congressional majority, or merely a large number of seats. In either case, the days of single-party government in Washington will be over.” And Obama’s grip on it as well.

Steven Calabresi gets to the nub of Obama’s problem: “President Obama gets in trouble in unscripted moments because at some level he does not really know America very well nor does he thoroughly identify with it. … Unscripted moments are deadly for Obama because they reveal the vast disconnect between his world view and that of people living in the Midwest, the Plains and Rocky Mountain states, and the South.” And Manhattan too!

The White House gets a warning from Harry Reid when he’s going to embarrass Obama, but Democrats get no such courtesy from the president.

Tim Pawlenty gets in another jab at Obama: “Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty — a likely GOP presidential candidate in 2012 — is stepping up his rhetoric against President Obama, saying the commander-in-chief is ‘clueless’ when it comes to the economy and lacks common sense on the controversial mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero. … First of all he is clueless on a number of key issues on our time, including our economy. … And then, No. 2, he doesn’t have the depth of experience to run a large complex organization particularly in a time of crisis and its getting away from him.” I’m thinking there isn’t going to be too much GOP disagreement about that.

The administration never gets the message that civilian courts are not the place to put enemy combatants: “A judge on Tuesday dismissed piracy charges against six Somali nationals accused of attacking a Navy ship off the coast of Africa, concluding the U.S. government failed to make the case their alleged actions amounted to piracy.”

It gets clearer all the time that isolationism is what binds the far right and far left. (That, and bashing Israel.) “Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) are urging lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to push the President’s Commission on Deficit Reduction for cuts in military spending, as they seek signatories to a letter circulated Tuesday.”

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Did Terrorist Detainees’ Lawyers Endanger CIA Agents?

Eli Lake reports:

Covertly taken photos of CIA interrogators that were shown by defense attorneys to al Qaeda inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison represent a more serious security breach than the 2003 outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame, the agency’s former general counsel said Wednesday.

John Rizzo, who was the agency’s top attorney until December, said in an interview that he initially requested the Justice Department and CIA investigation into the compromise of CIA interrogators’ identities after photographs of the officers were found in the cell of one al Qaeda terrorist in Cuba.

Recall that Guantanamo detainees — some of whom may now have been released back to their home countries (and returned to the battlefield, given the rate of recidivism) — were shown pictures of CIA agents by their attorneys. The danger to these public servants is acute:

“Well I think this is far more serious than Valerie Plame,” Mr. Rizzo said after a breakfast speech. “That was clearly illegal, outing a covert officer. I am not downplaying that. But this is far more serious.”

“This was not leaked to a columnist,” he added. “These were pictures of undercover people who were involved in the interrogations program given for identification purposes to the 9/11 [terrorists].”

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is now investigating the matter. At this stage, we know that “the photographs appeared to have been taken by private investigators for the John Adams Project, which is jointly backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.” As Lake notes, serious violations of law may have occurred:

One possible crime would be the “disclosure of classified information, being the faces of these people, to an enemy foreign power,” Mr. Rizzo said.

Mr. Rizzo said the other possible law the pro-bono attorneys may have violated would be the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA), the same law Mr. Fitzgerald initially investigated in Mrs. Plame’s case. No one in the Plame case was prosecuted under that statute. A former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr., was convicted of lying to investigators and later partially pardoned.

We will see what Fitzgerald turns up. But the potential that lawyers illegally disclosed materials to terrorists and thereby endangered CIA agents should remind us of the mentality of those who claimed to be defending our “values” as they litigated against the U.S.

Eli Lake reports:

Covertly taken photos of CIA interrogators that were shown by defense attorneys to al Qaeda inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison represent a more serious security breach than the 2003 outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame, the agency’s former general counsel said Wednesday.

John Rizzo, who was the agency’s top attorney until December, said in an interview that he initially requested the Justice Department and CIA investigation into the compromise of CIA interrogators’ identities after photographs of the officers were found in the cell of one al Qaeda terrorist in Cuba.

Recall that Guantanamo detainees — some of whom may now have been released back to their home countries (and returned to the battlefield, given the rate of recidivism) — were shown pictures of CIA agents by their attorneys. The danger to these public servants is acute:

“Well I think this is far more serious than Valerie Plame,” Mr. Rizzo said after a breakfast speech. “That was clearly illegal, outing a covert officer. I am not downplaying that. But this is far more serious.”

“This was not leaked to a columnist,” he added. “These were pictures of undercover people who were involved in the interrogations program given for identification purposes to the 9/11 [terrorists].”

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is now investigating the matter. At this stage, we know that “the photographs appeared to have been taken by private investigators for the John Adams Project, which is jointly backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.” As Lake notes, serious violations of law may have occurred:

One possible crime would be the “disclosure of classified information, being the faces of these people, to an enemy foreign power,” Mr. Rizzo said.

Mr. Rizzo said the other possible law the pro-bono attorneys may have violated would be the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA), the same law Mr. Fitzgerald initially investigated in Mrs. Plame’s case. No one in the Plame case was prosecuted under that statute. A former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr., was convicted of lying to investigators and later partially pardoned.

We will see what Fitzgerald turns up. But the potential that lawyers illegally disclosed materials to terrorists and thereby endangered CIA agents should remind us of the mentality of those who claimed to be defending our “values” as they litigated against the U.S.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Jane Hamsher or Bill Kristol? “This bill will mandate that millions of people who are currently uninsured purchase insurance from private companies, or the IRS will collect up to 2% of their annual income in penalties. … The bill was written so that most Wal-Mart employees will qualify for subsidies, and taxpayers will pick up a large portion of the cost of their coverage. … In 2009, health care costs were 17.3% of GDP [but] in 2019 [under the] Senate bill [they’ll be] 20.9% of GDP. … This bill does not bring down costs.”

The end of the Blue Dogs: “The party made a concerted effort in 2006 and 2008 to recruit candidates that could win moderate or GOP-leaning districts. That’s a key reason why Democrats won such big congressional majorities. But after forging a big-tent caucus, Speaker Pelosi has not governed that way. Instead, she pushed Blue Dog and other moderate Democrats to vote as if they represented her San Francisco district.” When the Republicans did this, I think the media narrative was that the party was risking majority support for ideological extremism.

Quin Hillyer channels the anti–Bart Stupak anger: “And if he thinks he will be ever live it down or be allowed to forget it, well, maybe he doesn’t think very well.”

How incompetent is NPR to get duped by a fake AIPAC release saying the group favors a settlement freeze? Doesn’t public radio know anything about AIPAC? Your tax dollars at work.

Marco Rubio is crushing potential opponents: “Former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio for now runs well ahead in a three-way race for the U.S. Senate in Florida, should Governor Charlie Crist decide to run as an independent. The first Rasmussen Repots telephone survey of a potential three-candidate Senate race finds Rubio earning 42% support from likely voters in the state. Democrat Kendrick Meek picks up 25%, and Crist runs third with 22%. Eleven percent (11%) are undecided.”

Gov. Bob McDonnell on ObamaCare: “[T]his massive and complex piece of legislation allows the federal government to exercise control over one-sixth of the United States economy. … Most disconcerting is the provision mandating that every American must purchase health insurance or face a monetary penalty. … Just a few days ago I approved a bill, passed on a bipartisan basis, which prohibits mandatory insurance purchases for Virginians. Virginia’s Attorney General has rightly chosen to challenge the constitutionality of the federal mandate. I anticipate that he will be joined by a number of other states.” It now becomes an issue in every state race.

Yuval Levin on the latest regarding the Cornhusker Kickback: “That kickback was of course offered as an enticement to win the vote of Senator Ben Nelson, and to help him forget about his pro-life principles. Well lo and behold, Nelson has now announced that he opposes the reconciliation bill and will vote against it. Apparently it taxes and spends too much. It really renews your faith in politicians, doesn’t it?”

Not just a headache or fodder but potential grounds for prosecution: “The formidable Patrick Fitzgerald is leading a probe of Guantanamo Bay defense lawyers whom the CIA accused of giving detainees photos of CIA agents in an attempt to identify interrogators. … The investigation could be a headache for the Justice Department, and fodder for the attacks from Liz Cheney and others on the Guantanamo Bay lawyers.”

Perhaps Obama picked a fight on the wrong issue. Most Israelis think Bibi Netanyahu was aware of the decision to approve additional housing units in Jerusalem, but “most of those asked by the survey supported the view that construction in east Jerusalem should be treated like construction in Tel Aviv, despite the harsh criticism launched at the government over the recent diplomatic dispute with the US. Only a quarter of those polled believe the construction project should not have been approved, with 41% saying that only the timing was wrong. The number of people supportive of the construction in Ramat Shlomo neighborhood is twice that of its objectors.”

ABC staffers are grumbling over the hiring of Christiane Amanpour for This Week. Well, if it’s any consolation to the eminently qualified Jake Tapper, the criterion used was apparently “celebrity.” It certainly wasn’t objectivity. Or accuracy. Remember this one.

Jane Hamsher or Bill Kristol? “This bill will mandate that millions of people who are currently uninsured purchase insurance from private companies, or the IRS will collect up to 2% of their annual income in penalties. … The bill was written so that most Wal-Mart employees will qualify for subsidies, and taxpayers will pick up a large portion of the cost of their coverage. … In 2009, health care costs were 17.3% of GDP [but] in 2019 [under the] Senate bill [they’ll be] 20.9% of GDP. … This bill does not bring down costs.”

The end of the Blue Dogs: “The party made a concerted effort in 2006 and 2008 to recruit candidates that could win moderate or GOP-leaning districts. That’s a key reason why Democrats won such big congressional majorities. But after forging a big-tent caucus, Speaker Pelosi has not governed that way. Instead, she pushed Blue Dog and other moderate Democrats to vote as if they represented her San Francisco district.” When the Republicans did this, I think the media narrative was that the party was risking majority support for ideological extremism.

Quin Hillyer channels the anti–Bart Stupak anger: “And if he thinks he will be ever live it down or be allowed to forget it, well, maybe he doesn’t think very well.”

How incompetent is NPR to get duped by a fake AIPAC release saying the group favors a settlement freeze? Doesn’t public radio know anything about AIPAC? Your tax dollars at work.

Marco Rubio is crushing potential opponents: “Former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio for now runs well ahead in a three-way race for the U.S. Senate in Florida, should Governor Charlie Crist decide to run as an independent. The first Rasmussen Repots telephone survey of a potential three-candidate Senate race finds Rubio earning 42% support from likely voters in the state. Democrat Kendrick Meek picks up 25%, and Crist runs third with 22%. Eleven percent (11%) are undecided.”

Gov. Bob McDonnell on ObamaCare: “[T]his massive and complex piece of legislation allows the federal government to exercise control over one-sixth of the United States economy. … Most disconcerting is the provision mandating that every American must purchase health insurance or face a monetary penalty. … Just a few days ago I approved a bill, passed on a bipartisan basis, which prohibits mandatory insurance purchases for Virginians. Virginia’s Attorney General has rightly chosen to challenge the constitutionality of the federal mandate. I anticipate that he will be joined by a number of other states.” It now becomes an issue in every state race.

Yuval Levin on the latest regarding the Cornhusker Kickback: “That kickback was of course offered as an enticement to win the vote of Senator Ben Nelson, and to help him forget about his pro-life principles. Well lo and behold, Nelson has now announced that he opposes the reconciliation bill and will vote against it. Apparently it taxes and spends too much. It really renews your faith in politicians, doesn’t it?”

Not just a headache or fodder but potential grounds for prosecution: “The formidable Patrick Fitzgerald is leading a probe of Guantanamo Bay defense lawyers whom the CIA accused of giving detainees photos of CIA agents in an attempt to identify interrogators. … The investigation could be a headache for the Justice Department, and fodder for the attacks from Liz Cheney and others on the Guantanamo Bay lawyers.”

Perhaps Obama picked a fight on the wrong issue. Most Israelis think Bibi Netanyahu was aware of the decision to approve additional housing units in Jerusalem, but “most of those asked by the survey supported the view that construction in east Jerusalem should be treated like construction in Tel Aviv, despite the harsh criticism launched at the government over the recent diplomatic dispute with the US. Only a quarter of those polled believe the construction project should not have been approved, with 41% saying that only the timing was wrong. The number of people supportive of the construction in Ramat Shlomo neighborhood is twice that of its objectors.”

ABC staffers are grumbling over the hiring of Christiane Amanpour for This Week. Well, if it’s any consolation to the eminently qualified Jake Tapper, the criterion used was apparently “celebrity.” It certainly wasn’t objectivity. Or accuracy. Remember this one.

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The Free Flow of Classified Information Act

Given his particular set of credentials in national security, it is not a surprise that John McCain understands the critical need for secrecy in the conduct of foreign and military policy.  He has, for example, sharply criticized the New York Times for its December 2005 decision to reveal the National Security Agency’s Terrorist Surveillance Program, the highly classified effort to intercept the international telephone and email communications of al-Qaeda terrorists.  “I understand completely why the government charged with defending our security would want to discourage that from happening and hold the people who disclosed that damaging information accountable for their action,” McCain told an audience in Arlington, Virginia, on April 13.But exactly how is the government to uncover who the disclosers are? One way would be for it to issue a subpoena to the journalists who broke the story and ask them before a grand jury, under pain of a contempt citation, to disgorge the names of their confidential sources. That is precisely what the special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald did in issuing a subpoena to Judith Miller of the New York Times as he investigated the leak of the identity of the ostensibly undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame. Miller spent 85 days in jail refusing to comply with the subpoena before she changed her mind and identified Scooter Libby as her source.

A bill now before Congress would exempt journalists from having to testify in such cases. The bill is called the Free Flow of Information Act, but a better name might be the Free Flow of Classified Information Act. By making it almost impossible to apprehend leakers in government, the flow of highly secret information, already substantial, is likely to grow into a flood.  Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are both supporting this legislation. So, also, is — of all people — John McCain. In addition to criticizing it sharply–he has called it “a license to do harm, perhaps serious harm,” he has also performed a pirouette to praise it as “a license to do good; to disclose injustice and unlawfulness and inequities; and to encourage their swift correction.”

McCain’s effort to have it both ways is either evidence of serious intellectual confusion or shabby political calculation. For its part, the New York Times is insisting that without the law, the flow of news will slow and the public’s “right to know” will be seriously impaired.

I have sought to explain some of the problems with this contention in several articles: Why Journalists Are Not Above the LawA License to Leak and Not Every Leak is Fit To Print. Whatever one makes of my conclusions, the assertion by the Times that the news will dry up without a shield law is a ridiculous position for a newspaper that is currently in the process of slashing its staff by a hundred editors and reporters. Unless its newsroom is currently populated by a forest of deadwood, those cuts will limit its ability to report the news far more than the purely hypothetical loss of stories caused by the absence of a shield law.

Given his particular set of credentials in national security, it is not a surprise that John McCain understands the critical need for secrecy in the conduct of foreign and military policy.  He has, for example, sharply criticized the New York Times for its December 2005 decision to reveal the National Security Agency’s Terrorist Surveillance Program, the highly classified effort to intercept the international telephone and email communications of al-Qaeda terrorists.  “I understand completely why the government charged with defending our security would want to discourage that from happening and hold the people who disclosed that damaging information accountable for their action,” McCain told an audience in Arlington, Virginia, on April 13.But exactly how is the government to uncover who the disclosers are? One way would be for it to issue a subpoena to the journalists who broke the story and ask them before a grand jury, under pain of a contempt citation, to disgorge the names of their confidential sources. That is precisely what the special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald did in issuing a subpoena to Judith Miller of the New York Times as he investigated the leak of the identity of the ostensibly undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame. Miller spent 85 days in jail refusing to comply with the subpoena before she changed her mind and identified Scooter Libby as her source.

A bill now before Congress would exempt journalists from having to testify in such cases. The bill is called the Free Flow of Information Act, but a better name might be the Free Flow of Classified Information Act. By making it almost impossible to apprehend leakers in government, the flow of highly secret information, already substantial, is likely to grow into a flood.  Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are both supporting this legislation. So, also, is — of all people — John McCain. In addition to criticizing it sharply–he has called it “a license to do harm, perhaps serious harm,” he has also performed a pirouette to praise it as “a license to do good; to disclose injustice and unlawfulness and inequities; and to encourage their swift correction.”

McCain’s effort to have it both ways is either evidence of serious intellectual confusion or shabby political calculation. For its part, the New York Times is insisting that without the law, the flow of news will slow and the public’s “right to know” will be seriously impaired.

I have sought to explain some of the problems with this contention in several articles: Why Journalists Are Not Above the LawA License to Leak and Not Every Leak is Fit To Print. Whatever one makes of my conclusions, the assertion by the Times that the news will dry up without a shield law is a ridiculous position for a newspaper that is currently in the process of slashing its staff by a hundred editors and reporters. Unless its newsroom is currently populated by a forest of deadwood, those cuts will limit its ability to report the news far more than the purely hypothetical loss of stories caused by the absence of a shield law.

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Off With Libby’s Head?

When he is sentenced this coming Tuesday, Scooter Libby may be sent directly to jail. If so, this would be grossly unfair since he stands an excellent chance of having the verdict against him overturned on appeal. But it would also be the moment for President Bush to pardon him immediately.

Back in March, when he was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice by a jury in federal court in Washington D.C., I explained why I thought the case “represents a terrible injustice.” The federal prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, had insisted to both the public and the jury that the disclosure of the identity of the CIA operative Valerie Plame—which was the underlying action he had been appointed to investigate—was in fact a crime. But this was a point that had never been established or even formally alleged. Fitzgerald’s overreaching on this colored the jury’s thinking about the gravity of the issues at stake, suggested a motive for Libby to lie that did not reside in proved facts, and conflicted with the judge’s ruling that the case would not hinge on Plame’s status.

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When he is sentenced this coming Tuesday, Scooter Libby may be sent directly to jail. If so, this would be grossly unfair since he stands an excellent chance of having the verdict against him overturned on appeal. But it would also be the moment for President Bush to pardon him immediately.

Back in March, when he was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice by a jury in federal court in Washington D.C., I explained why I thought the case “represents a terrible injustice.” The federal prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, had insisted to both the public and the jury that the disclosure of the identity of the CIA operative Valerie Plame—which was the underlying action he had been appointed to investigate—was in fact a crime. But this was a point that had never been established or even formally alleged. Fitzgerald’s overreaching on this colored the jury’s thinking about the gravity of the issues at stake, suggested a motive for Libby to lie that did not reside in proved facts, and conflicted with the judge’s ruling that the case would not hinge on Plame’s status.

Now Fitzgerald has been back in court, arguing that when Libby is sentenced on Tuesday, the judge should throw the book at him precisely on the grounds that he committed the underlying crime-that-was-not-a-crime. Fitzgerald approvingly cites Judge David S. Tatel’s ruling in the Judith Miller case that “because the charges contemplated here relate to false denials of responsibility for Plame’s exposure, prosecuting perjury or false statements would be tantamount to punishing the leak.”

But this a vicious circle. Convicted on the basis of something that was never proved or even formally alleged, is Libby now to be punished on the same basis? With Fitzgerald continuing to overreach, the case for a presidential pardon is growing stronger by the day. If Libby is imprisoned, will Bush do the right thing?

Meanwhile, in closely related news, Senator Kit Bond of Missouri, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wants Valerie Plame to be re-interviewed. Back in March, in a dispatch entitled Lying Liars and Their Lies, I asked whether Plame was under oath when she testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and declared that she played no role in sending her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, on a fact-finding trip to Niger. “I did not recommend him. I did not suggest him. There was no nepotism involved. I did not have the authority,” she said.

Plame was under oath, and Senator Bond has pointed out that she has put out three separate versions of the circumstances under which her husband was sent to Niger. According to USA Today‘s summary, they are:

*She told the CIA’s inspector general in 2003 or 2004 that she had suggested Wilson.

*Plame told Senate Intelligence Committee staffers in 2004 that she couldn’t remember whether she had suggested Wilson.

*She told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in March that an unidentified person in Vice President Cheney’s office asked a CIA colleague about the African uranium report in February 2002. A third officer, overhearing Plame and the colleague discussing this, suggested, “Well, why don’t we send Joe?” Plame told the committee.

Which of these is the real story? Is Plame telling three versions of the truth, or is she a lying liar, or even worse, a perjuring perjurer? Bond would like to find out.

But the Intelligence Committee is now under the control of the Democrats who have no interest in calling attention to the antics of the Plame-Wilson provocateurs. Stay tuned, in other words, for the cover-up of the cover-up.  

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The Libby Verdict

I met Scooter Libby once or twice in the early 1990’s, when he held a high-ranking post in the Defense Department. On the last occasion, I had just returned from a visit to North Korea, and I told him of my intuition that Kim Il Sung might unveil a nuclear weapon on his upcoming birthday. I remember Scooter scribbling down a note but not saying a word in response to my—as it turned out, non-prescient—observation.

I haven’t seen Scooter since, but I’ve followed his career over the years and watched his trial closely. I didn’t hear all the evidence the jury heard, which led them to their conclusion that he is guilty of four out of the five counts with which he was charged.

But when one compares what he was indicted for—lying to the FBI and to a grand jury—with what the special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed to investigate—the leak of the name of a CIA officer whose covert status has yet to be established and the disclosure of which may therefore not even have been a crime—one cannot help being appalled that this case ever came to trial. And when one considers that, as we now know, the identity of the real leaker—Richard Armitage—was clear to the special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald almost as soon as he was assigned the case, the whole affair, involving the hounding of a public servant working tirelessly to protect the country from a second September 11, takes on another coloration altogether: another case of the wanton criminalization of policy disagreements, another case study of a special prosecutor run amok, a terrible injustice. Let the appeals begin.

I met Scooter Libby once or twice in the early 1990’s, when he held a high-ranking post in the Defense Department. On the last occasion, I had just returned from a visit to North Korea, and I told him of my intuition that Kim Il Sung might unveil a nuclear weapon on his upcoming birthday. I remember Scooter scribbling down a note but not saying a word in response to my—as it turned out, non-prescient—observation.

I haven’t seen Scooter since, but I’ve followed his career over the years and watched his trial closely. I didn’t hear all the evidence the jury heard, which led them to their conclusion that he is guilty of four out of the five counts with which he was charged.

But when one compares what he was indicted for—lying to the FBI and to a grand jury—with what the special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed to investigate—the leak of the name of a CIA officer whose covert status has yet to be established and the disclosure of which may therefore not even have been a crime—one cannot help being appalled that this case ever came to trial. And when one considers that, as we now know, the identity of the real leaker—Richard Armitage—was clear to the special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald almost as soon as he was assigned the case, the whole affair, involving the hounding of a public servant working tirelessly to protect the country from a second September 11, takes on another coloration altogether: another case of the wanton criminalization of policy disagreements, another case study of a special prosecutor run amok, a terrible injustice. Let the appeals begin.

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Ball Three

What is the Scooter Libby trial really about?

In announcing the indictment of the vice-presidential aide in October 2005, the special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald attempted to make it all perfectly clear, using a baseball analogy:

If you saw a baseball game and you saw a pitcher wind up and throw a fast ball and hit a batter right smack in the head and it really, really hurt them, you’d want to know why the pitcher did that. And you’d wonder whether or not the person just reared back and decided, “I’ve got bad blood with this batter, he hit two home runs off me, I’m just going to hit him in the head as hard as I can.”

You also might wonder whether or not the pitcher just let go of the ball, or his foot slipped, and he had no idea to throw the ball anywhere near the batter’s head. And there’s a lots of shades of gray in between. You might learn that you wanted to hit the batter in the back, it hit him in the head because he moved; you might want to throw it under his chin but ended up hitting on the head.

And what you’d want to do is have as much information as you could. You’d want to know what happened in the dugout. Was this guy complaining about the person he threw at? Did he talk to anyone else? What was he thinking? How does he react? All those things you’d want to know. And then you’d make a decision as to whether this person should be banned from baseball, whether he should be suspended, whether you should do nothing at all and just say, “Hey, the person threw a bad pitch; get over it.”

After nearly a week of testimony the case is not much clearer than this botched analogy, the forensic equivalent of a “wardrobe malfunction.”

The Washington Post described Judith Miller’s testimony yesterday as “potentially damaging” to Libby. And this is surely accurate if one focuses on the word “potentially.” But her testimony was also even more potentially helpful to the defense.

Libby’s lawyers are expected to maintain that his “false” statements to the FBI and to a grand jury were the product of a faulty memory. So far, a number of prosecution witnesses have given testimony that differs significantly from what Libby told FBI investigators and the grand jury. But more importantly they have been shown to have strikingly deficient memories themselves.

Judith Miller had 85 days in the Alexandria jail in which to refresh her recollections about the sequence of events that brought her there. But no sooner was she released and brought before the grand jury, than she was compelled to acknowledge that she had entirely forgotten a critical meeting with Libby in June of 2003. If she could forget such a vital detail, will the jury convict Libby for lying, when the possibility that he simply forgot has been powerfully sketched by Miller and others in the witness parade?

It is possible that Scooter Libby is lying through his catcher’s mask. But my bet is that, if the jury takes seriously the meaning of the words “reasonable doubt,” Patrick Fitzgerald will have been judged to have pitched four balls, and Scooter, now up at bat, will get to walk.

To see key exhibits in the Scooter Libby case, click here.

To see key exhibits in the Baseball Hall of Fame, click here.

What is the Scooter Libby trial really about?

In announcing the indictment of the vice-presidential aide in October 2005, the special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald attempted to make it all perfectly clear, using a baseball analogy:

If you saw a baseball game and you saw a pitcher wind up and throw a fast ball and hit a batter right smack in the head and it really, really hurt them, you’d want to know why the pitcher did that. And you’d wonder whether or not the person just reared back and decided, “I’ve got bad blood with this batter, he hit two home runs off me, I’m just going to hit him in the head as hard as I can.”

You also might wonder whether or not the pitcher just let go of the ball, or his foot slipped, and he had no idea to throw the ball anywhere near the batter’s head. And there’s a lots of shades of gray in between. You might learn that you wanted to hit the batter in the back, it hit him in the head because he moved; you might want to throw it under his chin but ended up hitting on the head.

And what you’d want to do is have as much information as you could. You’d want to know what happened in the dugout. Was this guy complaining about the person he threw at? Did he talk to anyone else? What was he thinking? How does he react? All those things you’d want to know. And then you’d make a decision as to whether this person should be banned from baseball, whether he should be suspended, whether you should do nothing at all and just say, “Hey, the person threw a bad pitch; get over it.”

After nearly a week of testimony the case is not much clearer than this botched analogy, the forensic equivalent of a “wardrobe malfunction.”

The Washington Post described Judith Miller’s testimony yesterday as “potentially damaging” to Libby. And this is surely accurate if one focuses on the word “potentially.” But her testimony was also even more potentially helpful to the defense.

Libby’s lawyers are expected to maintain that his “false” statements to the FBI and to a grand jury were the product of a faulty memory. So far, a number of prosecution witnesses have given testimony that differs significantly from what Libby told FBI investigators and the grand jury. But more importantly they have been shown to have strikingly deficient memories themselves.

Judith Miller had 85 days in the Alexandria jail in which to refresh her recollections about the sequence of events that brought her there. But no sooner was she released and brought before the grand jury, than she was compelled to acknowledge that she had entirely forgotten a critical meeting with Libby in June of 2003. If she could forget such a vital detail, will the jury convict Libby for lying, when the possibility that he simply forgot has been powerfully sketched by Miller and others in the witness parade?

It is possible that Scooter Libby is lying through his catcher’s mask. But my bet is that, if the jury takes seriously the meaning of the words “reasonable doubt,” Patrick Fitzgerald will have been judged to have pitched four balls, and Scooter, now up at bat, will get to walk.

To see key exhibits in the Scooter Libby case, click here.

To see key exhibits in the Baseball Hall of Fame, click here.

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It’s a Lemann

The Scooter Libby case is very complicated. Nicholas Lemann, the dean of the Columbia University School of Journalism, has now offered a brief account of its origins in the New Yorker that makes it even more so.

Lemann explains that during the run-up to the second Gulf war, the White House, in the grip of an “obsession with finding hard evidence for what it already believes,” came up dry in its search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and thereafter “the search had to be conducted with a little more creativity.” Toward that end, writes Lemann,

the White House dispatched former Ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger, in February of 2002, to find proof that the country had shipped yellowcake uranium to Iraq. Wilson not only came up empty-handed; he said so publicly, in a Times op-ed piece that he published five months later. The administration then went on another search for evidence—the kind that could be used to discredit Wilson—and began disseminating it, off the record, to a few trusted reporters.

The origins of Wilson’s trips to Niger were examined exhaustively in 2004 by the Senate Intelligence Committee in its report on the “U.S. Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq.” Although parts of the report remain classified, the unclassified sections are quite plain. They state that interviews and documents provided to the Committee by officials of the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division (CPD)

indicate that [Wilson’s] wife, a CPD employee, suggested his name for the trip. The CPD reports officer told Committee staff that the former ambassador’s wife “offered up his name” and a memorandum to the Deputy Chief of the CPD on February 12, 2002, from the former ambassador’s wife says, “my husband has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity.” This was just one day before CPD sent a cable [DELETED] requesting concurrence with CPD’s idea to send the former ambassador to Niger. . .The former ambassador’s wife told Committee staff that when CPD decided it would like to send the former ambassador to Niger, she approached her husband on behalf of the CIA.”

The report goes on to make clear that the White House was completely in the dark about the CIA plan. At no point did it intervene to send Wilson anywhere or even have knowledge that a mission to Niger by the former ambassador was under way. Even Patrick Fitzgerald’s indictment of Libby confirms this, stating unequivocally that “the CIA decided on its own initiative to send Wilson to the country of Niger to investigate allegations involving Iraqi efforts to acquire uranium yellowcake.”

Lemann concludes that the “problem with the Bush administration is not that it is uninterested in hard facts” but resides rather in “the way in which the administration goes about marshalling those facts.”

But what exactly are the facts and with what kind of care, to turn things around, has Lemann himself marshaled them? It will be a most interesting twist if Lemann, or the New Yorker’s highly vaunted fact checkers, have information contradicting the Senate report and Fitzgerald’s indictment on this central point. My bet is that they do not. Rather, in striving to demonstrate that the Bush administration was in the grip of an “obsession” about weapons of mass destruction, they appear to be in the grip of an obsession of their own. Pursuing it evidently demands a bit of “creativity.”

To contribute to the considerable costs of defending Scooter Libby, send a check to:

Libby Legal Defense Trust
2100 M Street, NW Suite 170-362
Washington, DC 20037-1233 

To contribute to the even more considerable costs of running the Columbia University School of Journalism, send a check to:

The Columbia University School of Journalism
2950 Broadway
New York, NY 10027 

 

The Scooter Libby case is very complicated. Nicholas Lemann, the dean of the Columbia University School of Journalism, has now offered a brief account of its origins in the New Yorker that makes it even more so.

Lemann explains that during the run-up to the second Gulf war, the White House, in the grip of an “obsession with finding hard evidence for what it already believes,” came up dry in its search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and thereafter “the search had to be conducted with a little more creativity.” Toward that end, writes Lemann,

the White House dispatched former Ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger, in February of 2002, to find proof that the country had shipped yellowcake uranium to Iraq. Wilson not only came up empty-handed; he said so publicly, in a Times op-ed piece that he published five months later. The administration then went on another search for evidence—the kind that could be used to discredit Wilson—and began disseminating it, off the record, to a few trusted reporters.

The origins of Wilson’s trips to Niger were examined exhaustively in 2004 by the Senate Intelligence Committee in its report on the “U.S. Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq.” Although parts of the report remain classified, the unclassified sections are quite plain. They state that interviews and documents provided to the Committee by officials of the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division (CPD)

indicate that [Wilson’s] wife, a CPD employee, suggested his name for the trip. The CPD reports officer told Committee staff that the former ambassador’s wife “offered up his name” and a memorandum to the Deputy Chief of the CPD on February 12, 2002, from the former ambassador’s wife says, “my husband has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity.” This was just one day before CPD sent a cable [DELETED] requesting concurrence with CPD’s idea to send the former ambassador to Niger. . .The former ambassador’s wife told Committee staff that when CPD decided it would like to send the former ambassador to Niger, she approached her husband on behalf of the CIA.”

The report goes on to make clear that the White House was completely in the dark about the CIA plan. At no point did it intervene to send Wilson anywhere or even have knowledge that a mission to Niger by the former ambassador was under way. Even Patrick Fitzgerald’s indictment of Libby confirms this, stating unequivocally that “the CIA decided on its own initiative to send Wilson to the country of Niger to investigate allegations involving Iraqi efforts to acquire uranium yellowcake.”

Lemann concludes that the “problem with the Bush administration is not that it is uninterested in hard facts” but resides rather in “the way in which the administration goes about marshalling those facts.”

But what exactly are the facts and with what kind of care, to turn things around, has Lemann himself marshaled them? It will be a most interesting twist if Lemann, or the New Yorker’s highly vaunted fact checkers, have information contradicting the Senate report and Fitzgerald’s indictment on this central point. My bet is that they do not. Rather, in striving to demonstrate that the Bush administration was in the grip of an “obsession” about weapons of mass destruction, they appear to be in the grip of an obsession of their own. Pursuing it evidently demands a bit of “creativity.”

To contribute to the considerable costs of defending Scooter Libby, send a check to:

Libby Legal Defense Trust
2100 M Street, NW Suite 170-362
Washington, DC 20037-1233 

To contribute to the even more considerable costs of running the Columbia University School of Journalism, send a check to:

The Columbia University School of Journalism
2950 Broadway
New York, NY 10027 

 

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