In their whining, complaining, often maudlin closing arguments, Scooter Libby’s defense counsel averred that the prosecution had “cast a dark cloud over the White House” as if that was, in itself, a bad thing, and, in the current context, a very bad thing. Leading prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald, in his rebuttal, was quick to retort:
“There is a cloud over the vice president . . . And that cloud remains because this defendant obstructed justice. There is a cloud over the White House. Don’t you think the FBI and the grand jury and the American people are entitled to straight answers?”
Libby, Fitzgerald averred, “stole the truth from the justice system.”
Ah, but the truth is still out there, waiting to be recovered: the question is, has the trail gone cold? Well, not quite. We know what Fitzgerald’s method is: he goes after the underlings, convicts them, and then gets them to “flip” under pressure from a potentially long and arduous prison sentence. There is no doubt, in my mind at least, that that’s exactly what he intends to do in this case. After all, he didn’t go after one of the most powerful men in Washington just to get a cut-and-dried conviction on a few counts of perjury and obstruction. He’s after bigger game. In the hunt for who outed a covert CIA officer named Valerie Plame, Fitzgerald has lived up to his nickname of “Bulldog” and my guess is that he’s going after the big one. Dick Cheney, call your lawyer .
Okay, so Michael Isikoff disagrees: but, then again, he doesn’t know what Fitz knows, or what Murray Waas apparently knows and that is the existence of secret grand jury testimony implicating the vice president in the effort to “out” Plame.
“What is this case about?” asked Fitzgerald, in his closing arguments. “Is it about something bigger?”
It’s always been clear that something more than mere perjury and obstruction of justice is at the heart of Fitzgerald’s investigation. That was stated by Fitz from the beginning, when he went into his famous baseball analogy, and compared what Scooter had done lied to investigators and a grand jury to throwing sand in the umpire’s face. The vision of investigators was obscured: therefore, they couldn’t make a judgement about charging under the Espionage Act, or any other statute.
At the time of his indictment, it was clear, at least in these quarters, that Scooter was covering for his boss. Yet Fitzgerald never directly implicated Cheney, or Bush, as he did in his closing arguments, and this has got to be significant as a possible premonitory rumbling of the political earthquake to come.
It’s always been obvious that Scooter characterized as “Cheney’s Cheney” inside the Beltway acted in concert with Cheney. Through much of the trial the prosecution detailed Cheney’s personal involvement in directing the response to former Ambassador Joe Wilson, and there can be little doubt that the two of them conspired to expose his wife and her entire overseas operation.
The conventional wisdom about the alleged motive for revealing Plame’s CIA connection is that this information was supposed to somehow discredit Wilson’s contention that there was no evidence of an Iraqi attempt to procure uranium from Niger. After all, he had gone on a “junket” as the Vice President put it arranged by his wife, and the whole thing was an example of “nepotism.” Well, uh, maybe, but how does that discredit his conclusions? And what a junky “junket” an all-expenses paid trip to Niger is! If you’re going to go junketing, I say, do it in Buenos Aires, or perhaps someplace in Europe. But Niger?
“To them,” Fitzgerald said, “[Plame] wasn’t a person, she was an argument.” By “them,” clearly, Fitz means Libby and his boss, and that’s always been what this case has been about: that “something bigger” is the Vice President of the United States. In his summation, Fitz made a point of implicating Cheney by chiding Libby for conferring with his boss while the investigation was still in its early stages:
“He’s not supposed to be talking to other people. The only person he told is the vice president. Think about that.”
But what crimes, aside from concocting a cover story with his top aide, is he guilty of? Surely not just obstructing justice.
We are told that Cheney-Libby et al were so enraged by Wilson’s accusation that the administration had fabricated “evidence” of Iraqi WMD that they outed Plame as a retaliatory measure against her husband. But surely this seems like an over-reaction. After all, it is a serious crime to expose a CIA agent, especially one in such a sensitive position as Ms. Plame apparently was heading up the Agency’s counterproliferation unit, concerned with tracking down and presumably neutralizing loose nukes that could conceivably be used in a terrorist strike at the U.S. Her specialty, we are told, is Iran.
When Plame was exposed, it was a death-blow to the entire overseas operation run out of “Brewster-Jennings,” a “consulting company” that was in reality a CIA front. All the people she met with in her travels abroad were immediately endangered. A key component of our ability to detect dangers to the U.S. was taken out. And the Vice President of the United States had a hand in it.
This isn’t about perjury, or obstruction of justice: it’s about espionage. You’ll remember there was much speculation Fitz would charge Libby and perhaps others with violating the Espionage Act, which forbids the transmission of classified information to people not entitled to receive it. The prosecutor addressed that question in his October 28, 2005 press conference, and tried to explain why he didn’t so charge Libby:
“If national defense information which is involved because her affiliation with the CIA, whether or not she was covert, was classified, if that was intentionally transmitted, that would violate the statute known as Section 793, which is the Espionage Act. That is a difficult statute to interpret. It’s a statute you ought to carefully apply.
“I think there are people out there who would argue that you would never use that to prosecute the transmission of classified information, because they think that would convert that statute into what is in England the Official Secrets Act.
“ I don’t buy that theory, but I do know you should be very careful in applying that law because there are a lot of interests that could be implicated in making sure that you picked the right case to charge that statute.”
What would be the “right case”? Surely the prosecution of journalists publishing “leaks” concerning the real intentions, methods, and motives of policymakers is not what Fitzgerald has in mind. But what about a high official who uses his security clearance, and his unlimited access to our deepest secrets, to punish his enemies, and, in the process, poke a giant hole in America’s security shield? Wouldn’t Fitz want to make an example out of that official so as to deter any future miscreants from abusing their power?
Where the Fitzgerald investigation is taking us is anybody’s guess, but of one thing we can be sure: we haven’t heard the end of it with the closing arguments of the two sides. Everyone is saying: the president has the power to scotch the whole affair simply by pardoning the sure-to-be-convicted Scooter. Yet that doesn’t matter if, as Murray Waas avers, Fitz has something other than the possibility of flipping Scooter up his sleeve.
The Libby trial was a dress rehearsal for the main event: the trial of the vice president, and, perhaps, a number of others in his office. The other shoe, as they say, has yet to drop but if and when it does it is going to demolish the main headquarters of the War Party or, at least, that part of it that’s in the government and the sound of the crash is going to reverberate from one end of the planet to the other.
Dark clouds are hanging over this White House but, take heart, because the winds of change are blowing.