Friday, March 23, 2007

Scooter, Scuttled

Lewis “Scooter” Libby has been found guilty. Asking the random passer-by what he has been found guilty “of” elicits some interesting responses.

Some say, “He ‘out’ed’ Valerie Plame as a covert CIA operative, endangering her and in violation of law.” Actually no—that was Richard Armitage.

Others state that, “He leaked classified information to the press for political purposes.” Armitage once again, I’m afraid. In fact, Mr. Armitage actually admitted this to Patrick Fitzgerald (the Special Prosecutor in the case) quite early on in the investigation. One would have thought Case Closed! But alas, not. Mr. Fitzgerald had some more investigating to do, it seems.

Harry Reid (D), the current Senate majority leader, said that someone was finally being held accountable for the “campaign to manipulate intelligence and discredit war critics.” (1) What? I will double check, but I am rather certain that there is not a crime delineated in that chunk of political rhetoric—true or not.

The most common claim I seem to hear and read is that Scooter Libby was just the convenient “fall guy” for Dick Cheney (et al) and that they are the ones who really committed the crimes. Even the jury thought as much during the trial and deliberations. One jury member (coincidentally a former employee of The Washington Post) said in an interview, “We wish we weren’t judging Libby…This sucks.” (1)

When trying to determine exactly what Mr. Libby was convicted of we are faced with the uncomfortable realization that federal courts have determined that no crime occurred at all (this ruling survived several appeals and re-filings). The courts determined that Valerie Plame was not a covert CIA operative at the time her name was mentioned. Further, they determined that Richard Armitage revealed her name to reporter Robert Novak by accident in a fit of piqued bravado and that no violation of any state or federal law had occurred. What then of Mr. Fitzgerald’s investigation and multiple grand juries? Well, Richard Armitage is no friend of the Bush administration and a bit of a buffoon—there is no sport in chasing him. But I am sure he found something for the investigators and juries to do.

So, while Mr. Libby sits in some half-darkened room with his attorneys vigorously preparing an appeal while contemplating the significance of his unfortunate nickname upon daily prison life, I ask you: What was he convicted of?

The answer is that he was found guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice—serious crimes, to be sure. It seems that when the feces was hitting the fan (actually, more like the ACME Turbo Feces Flinger), Mr. Libby panicked a bit, dithered, obfuscated, delayed, laid claim to failed memory, and—the Granddaddy of all political parsing—“did not recall” as he strived to be loyal to those around him and figure out what to do. Turns out the paper trail and witnesses could reasonably testify that he should have recalled quite a bit. Thus, the jury is in and Mr. Libby leaves Washington….in stripes, pending appeal.

Even Handed Justice
Assuming the jury took to heart the task at their feet, we will trust that they were as fair as they could be. If the verdict holds, Scooter should by all rights scoot-off to the big house with our thanks for that which he did well, and the even-handed punishment justice delivers for his criminal failings. Hmmm…..Even handed Justice?

As Democrats and Liberals celebrate this verdict as a political victory, they would do well to remember the charge and conviction—perjury—as they cast their eyes up to the podium to see Bill Clinton standing at the side of their candidate Hillary….with Sandy Berger in the shadows, his pockets stuffed anew.

Be Well,

(1) The Economist, March 10th-16th, page 27

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