Fiat justitia, ruat coelum.
“Let justice be done, though the heavens fall.”
The above Latin quotation usually attributed to Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, a Roman statesman and Julius Caesar’s father-in-law succinctly summarizes both prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald‘s view of the law and the possible consequences of its application in the case of the CIA leak investigation.
In Washington, D.C., the heavens will surely fall on the heads of several prominent players, including not only the vice president’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, but also the president’s top national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley; John Hannah, the vice president’s chief national security adviser; and David Wurmser, the VP’s chief of Middle Eastern affairs. The fate of the more high-profile Karl Rove is in some doubt: he’s probably looking at obstruction of justice and/or perjury charges, but the others including, perhaps, a number of unindicted co-conspirators are looking at some real jail time. The number of the indicted is likely more than just these few, however, especially as rumors that Fitzgerald’s investigation has widened considerably harden into near certainty. It wasn’t for nothing that Fitzgerald’s people posted on their brand-new Web site a letter [.pdf] from the Justice Department making clear that the special counsel has “the authority to investigate and prosecute violations of any federal criminal laws related to the underlying alleged unauthorized disclosure.” This isn’t just about the “outing” of deep cover CIA agent Valerie Plame anymore, if it ever truly was. Scooter-gate is about one of the biggest and most brazen lies used by this administration to drag us into an unjustified [.pdf] and reckless war: the Niger uranium forgeries.
No sooner had I written about this in my Wednesday column of last week than it was confirmed a couple of days later by MSNBC, which reported that Fitzgerald’s investigation has led him to ask for the Italian parliamentary report on the Niger uranium forgeries, which, I am told, points directly at the identity of the forgers.
There are plenty of violations of federal law to be found around the Niger uranium forgeries, and I expect Fitzgerald has found most if not all of them by now. When the president made his 2003 State of the Union address, and referred to Iraq’s efforts to procure uranium in “an African country,” the source of his allegation was a cache of documents that had been turned over to the American embassy in Rome under mysterious circumstances. Less than a month after the president’s speech, these documents were proved to be fakes, crude forgeries that could have been debunked by an amateur with a few hours to spend on Google.
Whoever forged these documents and introduced them into the American intelligence stream is guilty of violating this law:
“Whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully (1) falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact; (2) makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or (3) makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry; shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.”
And this law:
“If two or more persons conspire either to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”
Furthermore, the conspiracy charge applies equally to the unauthorized dissemination of classified information to persons not entitled to receive it as in the AIPAC spy case in which longtime pro-Israel lobbyist Steve Rosen, his sidekick Keith Weissman, and former Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin are charged [.pdf] with passing classified information to Israeli “diplomats.” Add to this charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, and the total number of the indicted and their prospective years in the hoosegow begins to add up. What also begins to add up is the rationale for this case, which has been only vaguely understood from the very beginning (and I include myself as being among those unclear on the concept).
Until now, I have never understood why, in the name of all that’s holy, Scooter and his cabal went after Valerie Plame, the wife of the man they supposedly sought revenge on. It seems remarkably petty and small-minded, even for a neocon. To begin with, they must have known that such a course was risky, and out of all proportion to its possible benefits to their cause. As much as Scooter and his pals berated the CIA for not taking enough risks, it is unlikely they would have outed Plame without having a very good reason. A hissy fit on Scooter’s part doesn’t quite qualify. There is, on the other hand, another possible explanation, less emotional and more cold-blooded, one that in the context of recent developments makes a certain amount of sense
Remember, the forgeries were exposed in early March 2003. The New York Times published Wilson’s now famous “What I Didn’t Find in Africa” op-ed on July 6, 2003 and we now know that Scooter and the gang were homing in on Wilson even before his piece appeared. We also know that Ms. Plame wasn’t the only deep-cover CIA agent outed by Scooter and the Cheney-ites: she worked through a CIA front company, Brewster Jennings & Associates, engaged in anti-proliferation work, whose activities were aborted by Plame’s exposure. In one fell swoop, an entire group of undercover CIA experts on nuclear weapons proliferation was neutralized.
The CIA, after all, hadn’t even gotten their hands on a copy of the forgeries until February 2003 a year after the administration began citing them as “proof” of Saddam’s nuclear ambitions. It would have been well within the purview of Brewster Jennings & Associates to trace the origins of the Niger uranium documents back to the forgers: surely they weren’t sitting on their hands in the months before columnist Robert Novak printed Plame’s name and sparked a furor.
Everyone assumes Libby and his co-conspirators were really after Wilson, but this now seems unwarranted, especially in light of Fitzgerald’s reported focus on the Niger uranium forgeries. If this question of the forgeries is now within Fitzgerald’s purview, it opens up the possibility that the conspirators really were after Plame on her own account. If Plame and her associates were hot on the trail of whoever forged the Niger uranium documents, by neutralizing Brewster Jennings & Associates the Libby cabal closed one possible route to uncovering their schemes and opened up another one.
This drama is playing out in two theaters, one domestic and the other overseas. In Washington, the heavens are falling even before Fitzgerald issues so much as a single indictment, but they’re also threatening to take a tumble in the Middle East. The U.S. is ratcheting up its campaign against Syria, even as the principal proponents of confronting Damascus Libby, Hadley, Hannah, Wurmser, et al. find themselves in Fitzgerald’s sights. In effect, the prosecutor is running a race with the War Party: can they provoke a war with Syria before he brings charges? For the sake of the country, I dearly hope Fitzgerald’s staff has writer’s cramp by now from furiously tapping out indictments.
The War Party has its own prosecutor, UN “investigator” Detlev Mehlis, currently trumping up charges against the next candidate for “regime change” in the Middle East: Syria. Mehlis operates under none of the constraints of the U.S. legal system that keep Fitzgerald’s inquiries and the testimony before the grand jury under lock and key. The UN’s grand inquisitor has published his findings midway through his investigation into the question of who killed Lebanese politician-entrepreneur Rafik Hariri. His report here is full of uncorroborated testimony from unknown witnesses of unknowable veracity, and in places reads more like a political polemic than a legal document. I defy anyone to read it and come to any definite conclusion other than that Lebanon is one vast snakepit we would do well to stay out of.
Yet drawing American troops into the Levant is precisely what the neocons are counting on to distract the American people from their treason, in a “wag the dog” scenario so bold it leaves one breathless. According to Joshua Landis, the respected scholar of Syrian politics and culture who resides in Damascus, the very people who fear indictments the most are behind this new push for war:
“I have it on good authority that Steven Hadley, the director of the US National Security Council, called the President of the Italian senate to asked [sic] if he had a candidate to replace Bashar al-Assad as President of Syria. The Italians were horrified. Italy is one of Syria’s biggest trading partners so it seemed a reasonable place to ask! This is what Washington has been up to.”
The War Party is in a hurry. Even as they prepare to take indictments and fight the charges of a conspiracy to lie us into war, the neocons and their allies in the media are laying the groundwork for the next war. We’re on the Middle Eastern escalator, as I’ve said before: there is no way to contain the conflict we’ve unleashed in Iraq. Michael Ledeen, named by a former CIA operations officer as the chief conduit of the Niger uranium forgeries, continually urges this administration to go “Faster, please!” and there are ominous indications that the foot is off the brake. The neocons know they’re running a marathon, desperately trying to outrun the consequences of their own trail of deception. Will the truth catch up with Hadley, Ledeen, et al., before they can do any more damage to American interests in the Middle East and spill more blood?