Just Above Sunset
October 30, 2005 - A Liar Indicted, Resigns from the White House, But No Fat Lady Sings

Home | Question Time | Something Is Up | Connecting Dots | Stay Away | Overload | Our Man in Paris | WLJ Weekly | Book Wrangler | Cobras | The Edge of the Pacific | The Surreal Beach | On Location | Botanicals | Quotes

All day, Friday, October 28, the headlines were screaming about this (NY Times) –


I. Lewis Libby Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff and one of the most powerful figures in the Bush administration, was formally accused today of lying and obstruction of justice in an inquiry into the unmasking of a covert CIA officer.

A federal grand jury indicted Mr. Libby on one count of obstruction, two counts of perjury and two of making false statements in the course of an investigation that raised questions about the administration's rationale for going to war against Iraq, how it treats critics and political opponents and whether high White House officials shaded the truth. The charges are felonies.

Mr. Libby was not charged directly with revealing the identity of a CIA undercover operative, the accusation that brought about the investigation in the first place.


And he resigned.

The second key figure in the two-year-old investigation, Karl Rove, the man some refer to as "Bush's Brain" - his chief advisor and strategist and life-long friend - was not charged with anything at all - but may be in the future. And Libby wasn't indicted specifically for the leak. Just for lying. Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor in the matter, in his long news conference, said he was still working on matters, the facts of what happened.

So this was Scooter Libby's day. No more. No less.

The text of the indictment is here, and the video of the press conference here.  The Wall Street Journal has an hour-by-hour timeline of the day's events here.

From here, just above Sunset, all the information and commentary is just overwhelming. Instead of reading everything posted in the media everywhere and writing, your editor, and associate editor, Harriet-the-Cat, watched the news folks on television doing their speculating before the announcement of the indictment, watched the news break, watched Patrick Fitzgerald do the news conference, then, on and off, watched the political commentary on Fox, CNN and MSNBC.

Two points here - 1.) All these people on television are old political hands, in the news business for many years, many of them having been in middle of things politically as members of this administration or that, and some have been federal prosecutors or even targets of federal prosecutors, some are historians, and most personally know the key players, so they know far more about how these things work than some fellow in Hollywood, or his surly housecat, and 2.) The whole thing is a bit of a let down. All of the speculation - about this exposing Rove and Libby and maybe even the Vice President in some sort of loose conspiracy to not only break the law by exposing the secret agent to undermine the credibility of a troublesome critic of their effort to "sell" the war, but this even exposing a plot to lie to the American people to start a war - was all for naught.

All that conspiracy stuff may be quite true, and very plausible. But that's not what the issue was on Friday. This federal prosecutor announced he had indicted one key person at the White House for lying, in five felonious ways. He had misled the investigators and lied to the grand jury, and obstructed justice, as they say. This wasn't about the big issues, or even about the crime of exposing a covert agent. It was about a guy who "threw sand in his eyes" and, for now, kept the investigation from getting at what was going on.

Building on what Kevin Drum says here, the two "false statement" charges are that, first, this Libby fellow told the FBI that reporter-commentator Tim Russert told Libby about Valerie Plame - but Russert never told him this, and Libby knew about Plame's status long before that. Secondly, Libby told the FBI that he told Matt Cooper of Time Magazine that reporters had told him about Plame, and Libby said he then told Cooper he didn't know if it was even true - but Libby actually confirmed "without qualification" to Cooper that Plame worked for the CIA. The two perjury charges? Libby said the same thing to the grand jury. The obstruction of justice charge is based on the false statement and perjury charges.



Basically, the charges are that Libby consistently tried to mislead both the FBI and the grand jury about how he had learned of Plame's status. On multiple occasions he told investigators that he had learned about it from reporters in July, but the truth was quite different. In reality, Libby actively sought out information about Joe Wilson's trip to Niger starting in late May; learned from both State Department and CIA sources in early June that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA; and received the same information from Dick Cheney shortly after that. Libby subsequently discussed Plame with quite a few people within the White House, at one point admitting to his deputy that "there would be complications at the CIA in disclosing that information publicly," an indication that he knew perfectly well that the CIA didn't want Plame's status disclosed. He later told Ari Fleischer that the fact that Joe Wilson's wife worked at the CIA was "not widely known."

These are serious charges. Apparently Libby figured he'd never be caught out because the reporters would stay mum and go to jail on his behalf. He lost that bet.


Yes he did.  You can imagine Libby and Rove explaining to Cheney, and to the president, that, yeah, they did this – but the press will never, ever give up their sources.  They never do.  They're too frightened about losing the insider access that gets them big scoops.  No problem.  We're safe.  Deny it all.  We have the press in out pocket.


And the president reminded the press of just that, on October 8, 2003 -


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


Yep – remind them to keep quiet.  He knew.


There's much more on that idea, from Digby at Hullabaloo here


Well, Patrick Fitzgerald got his subpoenas, the Miller woman went to jail, and the press gave up their sources.


That nailed them, or Libby so far.  It should have worked.  Fitzgerald, however, got around the scam.


But this was not the big story everyone was expecting.

Of course, that the Chief of Staff to the VP, who is also National Security advisor to him and special assistant to the president, had to resign, is big news. He was lying about his efforts in this attempt to spread the word that Wilson's "secret agent wife" set this all up because the two of them hated Bush and wanted to expose the questionable rationale for the war. He got caught in the lying about the effort he was making, and not charged for the illegal effort itself.

It's a mess for the administration, but it could be worse. Think of it as being charged for lying about planning a successful bank robbery, but not being charged for the bank robbery.

And the indictment mentions one "Official A" who actually told Robert Novak about Wilson's "secret agent wife" setting up the trip, so that Novak would publish just that.  Patrick Fitzgerald said that wasn't his topic Friday. One assumes that's Karl Rove. Maybe.


The indictment mentions some "Under Secretary of State" who helped Libby track down information about Wilson's trip to Niger. Patrick Fitzgerald said that wasn't his topic today. One assumes that's John Bolton, our current UN ambassador. Patrick Fitzgerald said that wasn't his topic Friday.


Vice President Cheney told Libby about Wilson and his wife, which implies he might have set up the whole thing. Patrick Fitzgerald said that wasn't his topic Friday.

This was a very narrow scandal.


Was Libby guilty of any underlying crime in the case? Fitzgerald himself wasn't saying.


Kevin Drum suggests Fitzgerald did have the goods on Libby but just decided not to bother trying to prove it in court - the idea there is that "the public interest in punishing the leak is served regardless of what charges are brought, so why waste time trying to prove a complex and precarious case of espionage or mishandling classified data when there's a nice easy perjury case to be made instead? Either way, the bad guy does the time."

No fun, but it worked in the case of Al Capone - they got him for tax evasion. And many say Fitzgerald reminds them of Elliot Ness.

Fitzgerald: "When citizens testify before grand juries they are required to tell the truth. Without the truth, our criminal justice system cannot serve our nation or its citizens. The requirement to tell the truth applies equally to all citizens, including persons who hold high positions in government. In an investigation concerning the compromise of a CIA officer's identity, it is especially important that grand jurors learn what really happened. The indictment returned today alleges that the efforts of the grand jury to investigate such a leak were obstructed when Mr. Libby lied about how and when he learned and subsequently disclosed classified information about Valerie Wilson."

Bad stuff. He lied to the grand jury and disclosed classified information, or so he is charged. He should resign. With such charges, and we'll see how this goes in court, unless he pleads out.

But it's a bit of a letdown. On the right, Glenn Reynolds here: "There's not even a charge of 'outing' a covert agent ... If there's no more, this will probably do Bush little harm." Well, Rove is still at risk, but things seem to be winding down.

So what can be added here?  Just some observations.

First, this Patrick Fitzgerald is cool. He takes his job seriously, and, in spite of all the probing in the press conference, he explained, again and again, he would say no more. The principle is that what is presented to the grand jury, and what is investigated, must be secret. He cannot say anything else about anyone else he may or may not be investigating still - if the grand jury doesn't bring charges it's just not right to discuss what was investigated as a possible crime, because there was no crime. If there seems to be one, indictments will be handed up and made public. There will be charges. If there doesn't seem to be sufficient proof a crime may have been committed, you don't blab about what you were doing and mess with people's reputations. Good for him.

Now this may be fully justified –


Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said the CIA leak case is about how the White House both "manufactured and manipulated intelligence'' to boost its case for the Iraq war.

Reid also said Libby's indictment shows the Bush administration tried to "discredit anyone who dared to challenge the president."

Senator John Kerry, meanwhile, is calling the CIA leak case "evidence of White House corruption at the very highest levels." The former presidential candidate says that's "far from the honor and dignity" Bush pledged to restore when he was elected five years ago.


But that wasn't what Fitzgerald was dealing with. He said it wasn't his business.

And Rove is still at risk.


Note this from Jerry Bowles –


Like all fair-minded Americans, I'm disappointed that Karl Rove didn't get his comeuppance today, too. But, let's be honest. Scooter Libby is a much bigger fish than Rove. Libby's been at the epicenter of the whole let's invade Iraq movement since Bush Senior was booted out of office. He's a wall-to-wall neocon with real power to make policy. Karl is a bush (pun intended) league thug who got lucky, a Colonel Parker who found his Elvis and rode him into the big time. His symbolic worth in the eyes of us fair-minded Americans exceeds his true importance. And, cheer up; he may very well provide another occasion for celebration. Watching the prosecutor's news conference just now on CNN, I wouldn't want to be left to twist slowly, slowly in the wind with this guy Fitzgerald holding the rope.


One senses this is far from over.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....