Water Man Spouts

Sunday, July 09, 2006

No Pardon for Libby

"Study a question from all sides, and you will be sure to discover where error has crept in."
-- Kahlil Gibran

Part One: The Waas Article
On July 3, the National Journal published an interesting article by Murray Waas, titled "Bush Directed Cheney to Counter War Critic." The article tells how people close to President Bush and Vice President Cheney describe conversations between those two, as well as what Bush told Patrick Fitzgerald in their June, 2004 conversation about the Plame scandal.
The article confirms previous reports that both Bush and Cheney had been involved in the decision to declassify a NIE in order to defend the administration from allegations made by Ambassador Joseph Wilson. And it actually takes an important step forward in identifying a goal od discrediting Wilson.
Waas quotes one "senior government official familiar with the discussions between Bush and Cheney" as saying Bush told Cheney to "Get it out" or "Let's get this out." That, as Waas noted, is very similar to Libby's testimony to the grand jury that Cheney told him that their goal was to "get all the facts out."
We know, of course, that Cheney and Libby were not interested in getting "all the facts" about the Niger yellow cake forgeries out to the public. Doing so would have discredited the administration in general, and the OVP specifically. Instead, they had another agenda.
Waas notes that while "other White House officials were working through a formal interagency declassification process to make public" information about Iraqi weapons programs, Cheney and Libby were making plans for Scooter to talk to reporters on the sly. He writes that it is "unclear why Cheney and Libby were apparently acting without the knowledge of other senior government officials," and that Bush was "unaware that Cheney had directed Libby to leak classified information" to reporters.
Bush, according to Waas's source, told Mr. Fitzgerald that "he had never directed anyone to disclose the identity of then-covert CIA officer Valerie Plame, Wilson's wife. Bush said he had no information that Cheney had disclosed Plame's identity or directed anyone else to do so."
The article raises a number of interesting questions. An obvious one is: did President Bush know that Plame was a covert CIA officer? One assumes that Waas's source would know if Cheney told the president. Equally interesting is to consider who was Waas's source? And why would he or she share this information with Waas at this time?
Part Two: Countdown
On July 5, Keith Olbermann and guest Larry O'Donnell discussed the Waas article on MSNBC's Countdown. The segment was a wonderful example of how the media can be used to either focus on what is important in the article, or how it can be used to spin misinformation. O'Donnell is, of course, a perfect guest for doing just that, as he has been both accurate in breaking news on the case, and in error in predicting the direction the investigation is headed in. For example, in July '05, he was the first to publicly reveal that Karl Rove had been Matt Cooper's source on Plame. But then, in October, he reported on his blog that "we now know that Rove has received a target letter from Patrick Fitzgerald," and he predicted "at least three high level Bush Administration personnel indicted and possibly one or more very high level unindicted co-conspirators."
Olbermann noted in his opening of the segment that, "Niceties aside, the point was not just to rebut Ambassador's Wilson's allegations, but also to discredit him." O'Donnell notes correctly that, "It's all turning on one senior government official." He then promotes that one senior official's agenda by saying, "It is a generally helpful story for Scooter Libby's image in terms of what he was actually doing in talking to reporters."
Olbermann asks Gibran's questions, attempting to identify where the error has crept into Larry's reasoning: "How does it help anybody in the administration to have a line that starts with the president, goes through the vice president, and moves on to Scooter Libby? Would that not be somewhat troublesome, were it to be aired out at the trial of Mr. Libby?"
O'Donnell then delivers the senior official's message: "Well, if this goes to trial. But if what we have here is groundwork for a pardon after the congressional election, say a Christmas pardon, this story would actually be helpful, because this story would put Libby in a position of having been authorized, and, in effect, ordered to get out there, making the administration's case about Joe Wilson's claims ..." Larry continues to let errors creep into his thinking when he adds: "And, you know, there were some very legitimate things that the White House was interested in, in Joe Wilson's op-ed piece. One was the implication, for example, Keith, that the vice president ordered this mission, which the vice president, I think at this stage, very clearly didn't."
Once the error has infected O'Donnell's thinking, he reaches a foolish conclusion: "And then you're left with Libby, who doesn't really have much of a role in this story, except to look like a good and faithful servant who is executing the mission the president wants him to execute .... They wanted to put out another intelligence report that was the opposite of Joe Wilson's report."

Part Three: FindLaw's Errors
It's important to recognize that almost everyone who has covered the Plame scandal has made errors along the way. Larry O'Donnell is certainly not alone in this. Sometimes it is a result of a journalist reporting what a source told them; in October of '05, Waas reported information about what Rove told Bush regarding his role in the leak that was later shown to be inaccurate.
At other times, insightful people have made incorrect predictions. On October 21, '05, in an article on FindLaw, John Dean wrote could not "imagine any of them being indicted, unless they were acting for reasons other than national security. .... I can see this entire investigation coming to a remarkable anti-climax, as Fitzgerald closes down his Washington Office and returns to Chicago. In short, I think this frenzy is about to end -- and it will go no further."
There are others, of course, who purposefully spread misinformation. For example, there was a June 28, 2006 article on FindLaw by one Matthew Segal, that appears to have been coordinated with the OVP attempts to advocate for a presidential pardon of Scooter Libby. While one can disagree with someone like Dean, and still have great respect for him, I find it difficult to have anything but contempt for the preppie Mr. Segal's brown-nosed attempt to ingratiate himself with Cheney and Libby.
The title of his piece is, "Should the President Pardon Scooter Libby? Why Even Administration Critics Should Favor a Pardon." His goal, nor surprisingly, is to "argue that even if you're an Administration critic who thinks this investigation is serious business, you should still favor a presidential pardon for Libby."
Segal instead provides a strong case for the old argument that one in ten attorneys graduated in the bottom 10% of their class. He is either so unfamilar with the case that he should not speak about it, or he purposely is telling lies to promote an agenda. Consider but a few examples ..... starting with his claim that the case "against Libby alleges politically-motivated conduct..." His evidence that the case is political, rather than criminal, is based on quotes from Joseph diGenova and Bill Kristol. Thus, he attempts to convince us that Libby's actions are "at best an effort to discredit Wilson's conclusions and, at worst, simple revenge on Wilson."
That, of course, is very different from what Patrick Fitzgerald told us during his press conference last October. "I also want to take away from the notion that somehow we should take an obstruction charge less seriously than a leak charge. This is a very serious charge and compromising national security information is a very serious charge. But the need to get to the bottom of what happened and whether national security was compromised by inadvertence, by recklessness, (or) by maliciousness is extremely important. We need to know the truth. And anyone who would go into a grand jury and lie, obstruct and impede the investigation has committed a serious crime."
Segal's nonsense continues: "By contrast, prosecuting Libby might deliver nothing at all. .... We do know, however, that Libby is probably not the key figure here. Indeed, Libby is not even the key player in his own indictment." That's odd -- all of the pretrial motions and hearings have focused on Scooter Libby. Does Mr. Segal know something we don't? Should he send a "friend of the court" notice to Judge Walton?
"Who is 'Official A'?" he asks. Considering that it is no secret that Karl Rove is Official A, one wonders how this is a mystery to the young attorney. Why, he asks, "have the facts remained hidden?" He suggests "that the story has either been completely overblown in the press," or else the administration hasn't been fully honest. Perhaps he should take Fitzgerald's place? Consider this gem: "And even if other potential witnesses aren't protected by a Libby plea bargain, they aren't likely to say more at a trial than they did to a grand jury, which apparently was not enough to identify 'Official A'."
Segal concludes that "because the investigation has revealed precious few facts and resulted only in the indictment of one possibly minor player," justice would be best served if the president pardoned Libby. He ignores not only what Mr. Fitzgerald has said, but the fact that the federal judges who heard the appeals of Judith Miller and Matt Cooper all agreed that there were serious legal issues involved in the case. None of them believed the case involved politics rather than potential criminal behaviors by major players. Segal's willingness to ignore this is disgusting.

Part Four: Honest Journalism
In a July 6 article in The Guardian UK, Suzanne Goldenberg reported the truth: "The revelation that Mr. Bush instructed Mr. Cheney to personally oversee the campaign to discredit Mr. Wilson arrives at an inconvenient time for a White House vehement in criticising leaks."
And Dan Froomkin's July 5 article "What Bush Told Fitzgerald," in the Washington Post, was also on target. "Publicly, Bush has consistently portrayed himself as not only uninvolved with the leak of Plame's identity, but utterly in the dark about it -- and determined to punish any wrongdoers. But Waas's story suggests that Bush was directly responsible for the sequence of events that resulted in that leak. .... it certainly seems clear by now that Bush knows a lot more about this case -- and his White House's enthusiasm for discrediting its opponents -- than he's let on in public. Isn't it about time Bush stopped pretending ignorance about this story -- and came clean about his own role? Why should that information only be shared with criminal prosecutors?"
Froomkin's wonderful article goes on to quote a Barton Gellman - Dafna Linzer article in the April 9 Washington Post,that noted the information "Cheney and Libby selected to share with reporters had been disproved months before." More, he quoted Warren Strobel and Ron Hutchenson in the April 7 Knight Ridder Newspapers: "The revelation that President Bush authorized former White House aide I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby to divulge classified information about Iraq fits a pattern of selective leaks of secret intelligence to further the administration's political agenda .... Much of the information that the administration leaked or declassified, however, has proved to be incomplete, exaggerated, incorrect or fabricated."
It's rather difficult to see Bush's role in the scandal as justifying a presidential pardon for Libby. Quite the contrary: it is even more reason for citizens to demand the President honor the letter that Harry Reidand three other senators wrote to Bush in November of '05, requesting that he not deny justice in the case by pardoning Libby.
In fact, it provides strong evidence that the public needs to demand that the Plame scandal be a part of all this year's election debates. We need the House and Senate to begin investigations of the role that VP Dick Cheney played in the Plame scandal -- even if it leads directly to the role that George Bush played. That is why no one should consider talk of a pardon for Libby as anything other than part of a cover-up made necessary by the up-coming trial threatening to expose Dick Cheney as a criminal.


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