Saturday, March 10, 2007

Scooter Libby by the Numbers

This from Victor Davis Hanson's blog - Works and Days - "The Washington DC press corps and high-ranking officials talk, spin, and network 24/7. Trying to sort out anything among any of them is impossible. These are the grunt soldiers with no rules of engagement in a vast ideological battle between the mainstream media and conservative administrations. "...How true. This is warfare by the criminalization of politics, and we'd better arm ourselves, in the immortal words of Clint Eastwood..T

You try to think of the right adjective—Kafkaesque, Orwellian, surreal?—to describe the Libby fiasco. I don’t know Mr. Libby, but met him on two occasions at dinners in Washington DC.

Both times he seemed to me the most widely read and affable in the room; he was also polite and well spoken, which is rare among the powerful in Washington. Despite all the mess, this much is clear.

1. During the lead-up to the war, one Joe Wilson, a sort of DC gadfly and has-been blowhard, was nominated to go to Niger by some in the CIA, most probably on the prompt of his own wife, to investigate reports of sales of yellowcake to Saddam Hussein. His selection is inexplicable, because the very idea of a Joe Wilson, on a government-sanctioned trip, to inquire, in discreet fashion, about sensitive transactions, is itself Orwellian.

2. He comes back, announces loudly and erroneously that he was on a mission chartered under the auspices of the VP—and that there is no evidence that there was any Iraqi interest in raw nuclear materials. This assertion, as Christopher Hitchens and others have written, was probably false.

3. The VP’s office and others are furious that this buffoon is lying about the circumstances of his trip, so they begin doing background on him, and discover the spousal connection and perhaps suspicions that he is staking out a partisan career. Almost immediately all sorts of reporters and government officials gossip about Valerie Plame’s CIA affiliation to explain his inexplicable selection. Her position, it turns out, is not covert—a fact that may or may not have been known at the time.

4. Apparently Richard Armitage is the first to disclose to a reporter the process how Wilson was chosen, in an interview with Robert Novak. No doubt he wanted to illustrate the conflict of interest involved in the Wilson selection, inter alia, to paint Wilson as either a showman or a partisan or both. As the national mood changes, given the absence of WMD caches in Iraq and the growing insurgency, Wilson sees an opening and suddenly becomes a cry-in-the-wilderness hero to the anti-war Left. I met him in this period in the Fox DC greenroom once, and heard him speak later at UC Berkeley at a journalism conference. Both times I came away thinking with friends like these, the Left didn’t need any more enemies. No wonder that Wilson was quickly let go from the Kerry’s 2004 campaign as a “consultant.”

5. A general allegation is made that government officials violated the law for partisan advantage by disclosing the identity of a covert CIA operative. The Left sees traction here in the storyline that the pro-war Republicans are shorting their own beloved CIA, irony given that past CIA whistleblowers who disclosed top-secret informatio lionized for it by liberals.

A special prosecutor is appointed. Fitzgerald immediately discovers that (A) Richard Armitage first disclosed Ms. Plame’s identity to Mr. Novak, and (B) there was apparently no crime in doing so. But he continues to ask questions from various reporters and officials about the nature of this feeding-frenzy, much of it caused by Mr. Wilson himself who seized the moment, as they say, by publicizing his own wife’s status, glamour, and anger, doing a book deal, magazine spread, and joining the Kerry campaign.

6. Fitzgerald apparently concludes that he has no proof of wrongdoing concerning the original charter of his special prosecutorship, given that Ms. Plame’s status was not covert. He also feels no need to or cannot prosecute Mr. Armitage or others either for violating federal statutes about CIA confidentiality or lying. His highest-ranking target, Mr. Libby, apparently alone will justify his original mandate, albeit on different charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. After hours of testimony from Mr. Libby, contradictions between his recollections and those of others are established, although it seems there is no common truth. Nearly all those interrogated at some point contradicted someone else.

7. Libby alone is charged. If his defense tactics were culpable, it was largely in the initial suggestion that Libby was a fall-guy. That suggested some sort of conspiracy where there was none. The defense had a right to be angry at Armitage, Ari Fleischer, and others who had talked to reporters about Plame, but none had done so in a conspiratorial fashion, and had simply cut their own deals without orchestration. Libby was culled out because he was the highest-ranking target that might justify the prosecutor’s time and expense, and because he either would not or could not strike some deal in the fashion that others had, formally or informally.


1. We now have a new branch of government—a symbiosis between a special prosecutor and the Washington DC judiciary. Given the available jury pool and justices in DC, together with the high-stakes, high-publicity of a special prosecutorship, any prominent conservative is fair game. An innocent or hung verdict spells financial ruin, a guilty one the destruction of a career.

All this is much like the ancient Athenian notion of ostracism, in which the prominent could be exiled and ruined simply by a populist vote on their high-profile stature that was felt to be a danger to an egalitarian Athenian ethos.

2. The Washington DC press corps and high-ranking officials talk, spin, and network 24/7. Trying to sort out anything among any of them is impossible. These are the grunt soldiers with no rules of engagement in a vast ideological battle between the mainststeam media and conservative administrations.

3. There is no sense of proportion or morality involved. One example: Richard Armitage comes off quite negatively. He knew he was the most culpable given the initial directive of the Special Prosecutor, and yet stayed quiet while the searchlight went on to others. This was especially reprehensible given his prior carefully crafted voice of conscious as a luke-warm supporter of the war.

4. We will never know all the power-plays, ego-trips, and vested reputations in all this. But apparently Fitzgerald had a lot on the line by going after Libby, and was willing to apply to him a standard not applied to others in or out of government. This does not mean necessarily that Libby’s testimony was not inconsistent, only that a degree of scrutiny was applied to it in a manner not done elsewhere.

5. All this reminds me again of wisdom from my late mother, a California superior and appellate court justice. She used to remind me that the most powerful people in government are not judges, not juries, not even legislators or executives—but state and federal attorneys, who act as judge and jury of sorts in selecting whom to prosecute. I say that because in the modern age, an indictment ipso facto can spell financial ruin and irrevocable loss of reputation. Our prosecutors must be above any hint of partisanship or grudge-holding, and must not see their offices as platforms for wide-ranging, Les Miserables obsessions.

Sadly, in this case, Mr. Fitzgerald got his one conviction, but in the process lost his own reputation as well.
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