No Easy Answers

Monday, January 22, 2007

Scooter Libby - Scamming the Sham

I don't often inject essays into this space, but this subject doesn't fit in the Senate review blog. For some reason, maybe being tired of viewing the details of legal maneuvering, maybe from reading 20 or 30 Plame-related press briefings in a row, maybe a combination of the two, the idea expressed below popped into my head.

I doubt I'm the only person to have this idea, but I don't recall reading it elsewhere. It's more of a "big picture" of how I view the Scooter Libby affair. Bound to displease both sides of the Scooter Libby debate chorus, for reasons that will be clear if you read to the end.

Scooter Libby - Scamming the Sham

I personally think the public disclosure that Mr. Wilson's wife had a hand in sending him on a fact-finding mission to Niger was beneficial to the country. I don't believe Valerie Plame was undercover, or that the "leak" harmed our intelligence gathering activities. But the White House and George Bush have an additional stake in the affair, that being to maintain a reputation for clean politics and no leaks.

The leak of "Wilson's wife had a hand in sending him to Niger" was almost certainly a legal act, yet some would cast the leak as "the politics of personal destruction." The political stakes were raised higher by the Democrats, with false accusations that the White House outed a covert agent.

Rather than admit to this legal act and suffer whatever damage results from accusations of "politics of personal destruction," the administration sought a clean bill of legal health (a certainty, as there was no illegal leak), which would prove the false accusation wrong, and that could be parlayed into an inference that the White House did not leak at all. In effect, extending the legal conclusion into a political or ethical conclusion. And as events played out, while leaks did come from Libby and Rove, the leak that made it into the press came not from the White House, but from Richard Armitage at the State Department. This fact pattern -- which would be the only one that would emerge from a "no crime" report from the investigator -- would perfectly reinforce the false conclusion that the White House did not leak at all.

The White House had every confidence that its plan would work. Press briefings on the leak subject are rife with carefully-phrased denials -- studiously using the phrase "no leak of classified information." Sometimes, closely following the carefully-phrased denial, the press secretary (and President Bush), uttered a more general "we don't do that," which means whatever the listener imputes. The desired effect of the general statement is for the listener to conclude "the White House doesn't leak or engage in 'dirty tricks,' period." To this day, with the Scooter Libby trial nearly ready to start, the denials and defense are strongly confident. But when properly parsed (this reminds me of Bill Clinton) the confidence is clearly limited to "We didn't do anything wrong, there was no leak of classified information."

It's not the Sham - it's the Coverup

While I don't object to telling the public that Wilson's wife works at the CIA and suggested him for a vacation assignment to Niger, using the legal process to provide cover for a purely political act is tacky, at best, and is dishonest at its core. Not only does such use demean the legal system, it is wasteful, and it is an attempt to play you and me and every other person in the public for a chump. The leak investigation was expected to be a sham from the get-go. The legal outcome was supposed to be whitewash cover for political action.

Scooter Libby and Karl Rove took calculated risks that misleading the sham investigation would not result in legal jeopardy. In hindsight, Mr. Libby made a bad gamble. Now, instead of a clean bill and the beneficial (yet false) inferences that would flow from it, the White House is accused of leaking and lying, the "outed a covert agent" meme lives on, and Mr. Libby faces the possibility of a criminal conviction for lying about a legal leak. And still, rather than admit making false denials to investigators, the White House and its political defenders are livid that Patrick Fitzgerald pressed charges -- they rationalize that absent an illegal leak, there should be no legal fallout, regardless of what the leakers told investigators. "We didn't do anything wrong, Scooter had no motive to lie, there was no leak of classified information."

Understandably (they are human, after all), the White House and its defenders are angry that their sham investigation failed to meet expectations. "Fitzgerald should have found there was no leak of classified information, and given us a clean bill." "We didn't do anything wrong, Scooter had no motive to lie, there was no leak of classified information." "Going after Libby is a waste of taxpayer money." The target of their anger is Patrick Fitzgerald, and mark my words, he will pay for his decision to indict and prosecute Mr. Libby for trying to scam their sham investigation -- and a first step is to see to it that the investigation becomes Mr. Fitzgerald's sham.


For Prosecutor, Libby Verdict May Mean Vindication or Political Taint
By Carol D. Leonnig - Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 23, 2007; Page A03

Former senator Fred Thompson said that win or lose, Fitzgerald will be judged as a prosecutor run amok who chased petty political crimes "to the ends of the Earth."


Perverse Libby trial was revealing
By Mark Steyn - Chicago Sun-Times Columnist
Sunday, March 11, 2007

So, even if it's not within the purview of the jury, his question is relevant to the wider world: How did this cloud get there and stay there even though it had no meaningful rainfall?

Answer: Patrick Fitzgerald.

Sorry, but it didn't displease me.

Far too insightful and thoughtful for that.

Once again, I appreciate your commentary.

Of course, even if not displeased, I still disagree--Scooter should not be found guilty, even though he likely will.
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