“It’s not over.”
Out of Fitzgerald’s hour-long press conference, these three words had the most resonance. Before we get into that, however, let’s look at the man who has come out from behind the screen of this very closely-held investigation.
Fitzgerald’s debut at the press conference put on display a character who might have been imagined by a novelist. He seems to embody the principle of justice: the clear concise nature of his speech, his narrow application of his mandate [.pdf], his adamant refusal to be drawn into politics of any sort. If this is the man the White House thought they were going to characterize as partisan, they had better go back to the drawing board.
Precisely for this reason, however, his words carry an enormous political impact, and the War Party is reeling. They are staggering backwards against this tremendous blow to their credibility, because their methods and complete amorality are exposed in the bare facts laid out in the indictment [.pdf] and because they know Fitzgerald is not done with them.
The charges against I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of making false statements, and two perjury counts dramatize, in the stark prose style of a legal document, how the War Party does business. It shows how Libby had the lowdown on Valerie Plame-Wilson‘s CIA employment from Dick Cheney and State Department officials, how he leaked her name to the media, and then tried to “launder” the leak by making it appear as if he had heard it from reporters. They were out to retaliate against their enemies, and the national security of the United States was completely irrelevant.
I flat out expected Fitzgerald to press charges similar to those used in the AIPAC case, which is similar to the CIA leak case in many ways: both [.pdf] involve the dissemination of classified information to persons not entitled to receive it, and variations of this language are repeated throughout the indictment. Yet in explaining why he didn’t proffer charges of violating the Espionage Act the indictment states the grand jury was empanelled to investigate, in part, the possible violation of Title 18, Section 793 of the U.S. Code Fitzgerald made a point of explaining why not doing so in this instance doesn’t reduce the severity of the crime or erase the underlying crime. We don’t have an Official Secrets Act, he noted, and we need to balance national security and the First Amendment, and in deciding what to charge Libby with, his reasoning went something like this:
“Let’s say a pitcher winds up and hurls a fastball at a batter’s head, you have to ask, why did the pitcher do it? Was it an accident? Did he do it out of a grudge or did his fingers slip? Did he hit the target or did he aim for the chin and miss? You’d have to look beyond the field, find out what happened in the dugout, see if it might have been retaliation (did the batter trash-talk the pitcher’s mama?), or at the end of the day was it just a bad pitch, get over it?”
If the pitcher refuses to testify, however, and instead lies from the word go, there’s no way to know short of going into the dugout and hauling out half the team. Libby threw sand in the eyes of FBI investigators and the grand jury just like, I might add, he did to the general public in the run-up to war and obstructed them from discovering the truth.
“Truth is the engine of our judicial system,” Fitzgerald averred, in a flourish of aphoristic rhetoric that surely deserves to be cut into stone and placed over the entrance to every courthouse in America. We don’t know the truth, we don’t know why Libby outed Plame, and we sure as heck don’t know why he told such stupid lies. Fitzgerald, along with the rest of us, has more questions, and he asked some of them at his press conference:
“This wasn’t done to Valerie Wilson, it was done to all of us. Why was this information going out? Why did he tell Judith Miller three times? Why did he tell Mr. Cooper? What are the shades of gray? What his motives were I can’t tell you. Obstruction keeps us from making the judgments we need to make… anyone who will go before a grand jury and lie and obstruct the truth has committed a serious crime. It will vindicate the public interest in finding out what happened here.”
The public interest in protecting classified information and making sure its unlawful dissemination doesn’t become routine is served, Fitzgerald believes, by the charges proffered in the indictment. Yet his indictment not only implies a conspiracy to pass along classified information, it describes its history and all but names the conspirators: “an Undersecretary of State” and “Official A,” described as “a senior official in the White House,” apparently Bob Novak’s source.
The language of the indictment is, for the most part, as transparently objective and fact-oriented as the view through a freshly-cleaned windowpane. It is only when Fitzgerald details Libby’s grand jury testimony that he gets a bit more descriptive. In relating the acts of perjury, the indictment says Libby “did knowingly and corruptly endeavor to influence, obstruct and impede the due administration of justice,” and goes on to describe his interaction with the jury as a “corrupt endeavor.” A colorful phrase, that, and one which succinctly and trenchantly pinpoints the nature of the operation Libby and his boss headed up.
Libby was not alone in this “corrupt endeavor.” Fitzgerald clearly knows this, and he has a record of going after the underlings in an attempt to get the ringleaders as in his clean-up of corrupt practices in Chicago committed by the Democratic party machine, and his successful effort to “turn” F. David Radler, the former publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times and get him to testify against “Lord” Conrad Black, the neocon press magnate who looted over $500 million from his shareholders.
With a maximum of 30 years hard time staring him in the face, Scooter may want to consider making a deal and telling Fitz what he knew, when he knew it, and, more importantly, who else was involved. How likely that is, however, is a matter of pure conjecture: I suspect that the onetime novelist‘s sense of the dramatic may overwhelm ordinary common sense, and Libby may go down in history as the War Party’s first and foremost martyr. Like a suicide bomber who sacrifices himself to the cause, content in the knowledge that he’s serving a higher cause which, to the neocons, means getting us bogged down in Iraq. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the War Party attempt to valorize a man who is morally, if not legally, guilty of treason. That’s how “patriots” act in the Bizarro World reality we seem to have fallen into.
Speaking of the bizarre: Examine the blatant lies uttered by Libby, detailed in the very last section of the indictment [.pdf] Fitzgerald helpfully underlines them in his transcript of Libby’s testimony to the grand jury. Looking at these few pages one comes to the realization that these people are consummate liars, who consider the telling of falsehoods to be something close to a form of art. That is what’s really shocking. For example, in detailing his conversation with Russert, Libby says:
“Mr. Russert said to me, did you know that Ambassador Wilson’s wife works at the CIA? And I said, no, I don’t know that. And then he said, yeah yes, all the reporters know it. And I said again, I don’t know that.”
Yet Russert and Libby did not even talk about the Plame matter: Libby made that up out of whole cloth. Yet he very glibly goes into a lying riff, conjuring up an entire conversation much like a novelist would sit there and make up dialogue out of his head. Such talent! Perhaps Libby will make use of his prison time to start that long-delayed second novel or maybe he’ll start remembering that he’s an American, and give us some answers to Fitzgerald’s question:
“Why was this information going out?”
The pitcher hit the batter, and pretty hard but why? Why go to such lengths to knock Plame out of the spy game and compromise national security? The goal of the neoconservative cabal around Libby and the Office of the Vice President was to lie us into war, no matter what the cost, no matter who got hurt Valerie Plame, Scooter Libby, the national security of the United States. None of it mattered. They cherry-picked “factoids,” and, when that wasn’t sufficient, they fabricated “evidence” out of whole cloth, even resorting to forgery another subject Fitzgerald is said to be looking into.
The indictment shows Libby was aware of the risks he was taking: at one point, he is talking to his principal deputy on the phone, and the deputy asks him if he can go to the press with information about the Wilson-Plame matter. Libby says he can’t discuss it “on a non-secure line.” At this point, it’s useful to remember Scooter once told an acquaintance that he so loved his job as the VP’s chief of staff that he would stay on until “I’m indicted, or something.”
He knew this was a “risky scheme,” as Al Gore might put it. Yet the mission he was on overrode the possible consequences of getting caught. We still don’t know what that mission was. Was it to “out” a CIA agent to get back at Wilson, a critic of the war? Or was something or someone else being protected?
The outing of Plame led to the effective destruction of a CIA front company, the Boston-based Brewster Jennings and Associates, which was engaged in tracking rogue nukes and other WMD throughout the world. Libby’s betrayal forced them to close up shop, effectively blinding us, at least to some extent, to whatever danger is coming down the pike. I don’t know what Fitzgerald told a federal judge to convince him that it was absolutely necessary to subpoena reporters, and jail Judy Miller, in order to compel their testimony, but it is not pure speculation to imagine it had something to do with the damage done to our national security by Libby’s gambit.
“Special Counsel outlines in great detail the developments in this case and the investigation as a whole. The ex parte affidavit establishes that the government’s focus has shifted as it has acquired additional information during the course of the investigation. Special Counsel now needs to pursue different avenues in order to complete its investigation. The subpoenas were not issued in an attempt to harass the [reporters], but rather stem from legitimate needs due to an unanticipated shift in the grand jury’s investigation.”
In reviewing the classified information provided by Fitzgerald in his ex parte affidavit, Judge Hogan furthermore opined:
“Assuming, arguendo, that the DOJ guidelines did vest a right in the movants in these cases, this Court holds that the DOJ guidelines are fully satisfied by the facts of this case as presented to the court in the ex parte affidavit of Patrick Fitzgerald. Furthermore, assuming arguendo that this Court were to determine that the journalists did possess a qualified privilege a holding which this Court has explained is simply not supported by case law the ex parte affidavit has also established that Special Counsel would be able to meet even the most stringent of balancing tests.”
Hogan’s decision was upheld by the D.C. Court of Appeals. All of which implies there is more to this than just Libby. Which leads me to believe a number of unindicted co-conspirators are named, or not named, in this first indictment and that this isn’t the last indictment we’ll be seeing posted on Fitzgerald’s brand-new Website.
The “unanticipated shift” in the investigation occurred in mid-July, and is presumably why, as Fitzgerald put it, “it’s not over.” We may be a lot closer to the beginning than to the end. The prospect of more indictments and not just of Karl Rove is alive and well. Fitzgerald’s probe into the secretive cabal at the heart of our government continues.