Water Man Spouts

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Libby Conviction

"Now, something needs to be borne in mind about a criminal investigation. … Investigators do not set out to investigate the statute, they set out to gather facts. It’s critical that when an investigation is conducted by prosecutors, agents and a grand jury, they learn who, what, when, where and why. And then they decide, based upon accurate facts, whether a crime has been committed, who has committed the crime, whether you can prove the crime and whether the crime should be charged.

"Agent Eckenrode doesn’t send people out when $1 million is missing from a bank and tell them, ‘Just come back if you find wire fraud.’ If the agent finds embezzlement, they follow through on that. That’s the way this investigation was conducted."
--Patrick Fitzgerald; Libby Indictment Press Conference; 10-28-05

The indictment of Scooter Libby presented the Office of the Vice President with a number of serious problems. Before the indictments were even announced, people connected to the White House Iraq Group had announced plans for "attacking any criminal charges as a disagreement over legal technicalities or the product of an overzealous prosecutor." But then President Bush had told reporters that, "The special prosecutor is conducting a very serious investigation – he’s doing it in a very dignified way."

But it wasn’t just Patrick Ftzgerald who presented problems for the OVP. In many ways, he was the third in a series of individuals in the Plame scandal investigation who were proving difficult for the administration to deal with. And this was on top of the frustrations the OVP/WHIG had with what they believed to be a surprising reaction from progressive democrats, who had embraced Joseph Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame.

Progressive democrats, along with the rest of the country, are finding the jury selection for the Libby trial fascinating. The court has recognized the significance of bloggers – and the fact that much of the most important reporting on this scandal has been found on the internet – and the result is that we are treated to the impressions of a much wider range of reporters. I thank Judge Walton for honoring Amendment 1 of the Bill of Rights.

As we prepare for the trial to swing into higher gear with the opening statements, I thought it might be interesting to look closer at one of the less "well known," but most important people involved in the trial. He is someone who the OVP/WHIG does not want you to learn about in the context of this trial. His name is Jack Eckenrode, and he was the FBI Investigator who is responsible for having the Department of Justice name a special counsel for the CIA leak case.

Last year, John Shiffman reported that , "Eckenrode, 53, grew up in the Lehigh Valley, attended Bethlehem Catholic High School, and graduated from St. Francis College in Loretto, Pa. According to an FBI biography, Eckenrode joined the bureau as a budget analyst in 1974 and became a special agent in 1983, specializing in white-collar and public corruption cases.

"In addition to the Plame case, Eckenrode has led several sensitive and high-profile cases: an FBI task force on campaign-finance infractions from the 1996 presidential election and the investigation into who leaked classified National Security Agency intercepts related to 9/11 but not translated until Sept.12. Also, he directed the FBI’s operations center in New York after the Sept. 11 attacks wiped out the bureau’s headquarters there." (Phila.’s FBI chief, part of CIA-leak case, leaving; The Philadelphia Inquirer)

Isikoff and Corn call Jack a "dogged investigator who reminded some of the Tommy Lee Jones character in The Fugitive. (Hubris; page 330) His intensity in attempting to solve crimes had unnerved a number of people: he believed that in cases involving national security, that it was sometimes necessary to force reporters to testify in front of federal grand juries, and he was also willing to target high-ranking politicians of both parties when he suspected them of wrong-doing.

In September of 2003, he was assigned to investigate the CIA’s concerns about potential illegal activities connected to the administration’s leaking Valerie Plame’s identity to several reporters, including Bob Novak. It was Brave Bob who went on Meet the Press on October 5, 2003 and snarled, "I will not give up the source. If I were to give up that name, I would leave journalism."

On October 7th, Eckenrode and two other investigators met a quivering Bob Novak at his attorney’s office. They did not need to press Novak to give up his sources: they already knew that they were Dick Armitage and Karl Rove.

On October 10th, the investigators Karl Rove. He admitted that he had told Bob Novak that he had heard that Plame worked at the CIA. As Murray Waas has reported, the FBI had evidence that showed phone conversations between Novak and Rove after the investigation was announced, and they suspected the two may have agreed to a "cover story." (See "Rove-Novak Call Was Concern to Leak Investigators"; 5-25-06, by Waas; also, Corn & Isikoff, page 333.)

On October 14th, Jack Eckenrode interviewed Scooter Libby. Corn & Isikoff write, "Unlike Rove, Libby didn’t say he couldn’t remember how he had first heard about Valerie Plame. He offered the FBI a specific recollection. … with this account, Libby was keeping Cheney out of the picture. In Libby’s telling, Cheney was not a party to any plot to assail a critic. But at this point Libby’s defense already had one big potential flaw. He had identified two specific reporters with whom he had spoken …."

Jack Eckenrode believed that both Rove and Libby were being dishonest. He pushed the issue. Attorney General John Ashcroft was forced to recuse himself after what John Dean called "months of dillydallying" (Worse Than Watergate; page 173) because of Eckenrode’s investigation. Ashcroft put his deputy James Comey in charge of the investigation, and Comey delegated his authority to his friend Patrick Fitzgerald. The OVP/WHIG would come to believe that Comey had betrayed them; Eckenrode, Comey, and Fitzgerald are the three people they are unable to smear.

Comey has called Fitzgerald "Eliot Ness with a Harvard law degree and a sense of humor." Eckenrode had never met Mr. Fitzgerald before. Isikoff & Corn note the two met at the Justice Department in late December 2003, and Jack gave him a briefing on the case. Jack gave Patrick a huge file on the case, and then drove him to the airport. The two discussed their plans for New Year’s Eve.

"Eckenrode would be spending it with his family. Fitzgerald, a longtime bachelor, mentioned he had a date with a woman he’d been seeing. On New Year’s Day, Fitzgerald called Eckenrode at home. He wanted to talk about those (files). Fitzgerald had read them all. Having mastered the most obscure details, he started questioning Eckenrode about the interviews. He tossed out ideas – brilliant ones, Eckenrode thought – for moving the case forward." (Hubris; pages 342-3)
The grand jury investigation started shortly thereafter. Though Patrick had broken his New Year’s Eve date, he was prepared for something very important to this country. His investigation continued to be coordinated with Jack Eckenrode. The two were reported to have met with Rove’s attorney two days before the October 2005 indictments were announced.

People interested in the case will recall the opening of Mr. Fitzgerald’s press conference: "Good afternoon. I’m Pat Fitzgerald. I’m the United States attorney in Chicago, but I’m appearing before you today as the Department of Justice special Counsel in the CIA leak investigation.
"Joining me, to my left, is Jack Eckenrode, the special agent in charge of the FBI office in Chicago, who has led the team of investigators and prosecutors from day one in this investigation."

Now, I can appreciate that progressive democrats are concerned about the potential make-up of the Libby jury. But, I would remind them, that even law-and-order folks are likely to be impressed with "Eliot Ness" and "Lt. Samuel Girard."


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