Nothing Has Been Settled

by Clifford D. May

The Wall Street Journal notes there has been no evidence of the conspiracy that was alleged:

The indictment of Libby is “not for leaking the name of Valerie Plame to Robert Novak, which started this entire “scandal,” but for contradictions between his testimony and the testimony of two or three reporters …. about what he told them, when he told them, and what words he used … If this is a conspiracy to silence Administration critics, it was more daft than deft. The indictment itself contains no evidence of a conspiracy, and Mr. Libby has not been accused of trying to cover up some high crime or misdemeanor by the Bush Administration. The indictment amounts to an allegation that one official lied about what he knew about an underlying “crime” that wasn’t committed. … [Wilson was] a critic of the Administration who was lying to the press about the nature of his involvement in the Niger mission and about the nature of the intelligence that it produced. In other words, Mr. Libby was defending Administration policy against political attack, not committing a crime.

Mr. Fitzgerald has been dogged in pursuing his investigation, and he gave every appearance of being a reasonable and tough prosecutor in laying out the charges yesterday. But he has thrust himself into what was, at bottom, a policy dispute between an elected Administration and critics of the President’s approach to the war on terror, who included parts of the permanent bureaucracy of the State Department and CIA. Unless Mr. Fitzgerald can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Libby was lying, and doing so for some nefarious purpose, this indictment looks like a case of criminalizing politics.

The Washington Post’s editorial this morning at least acknowledges that:

The public record offers no indication that Mr. Libby or any other official deliberately exposed Ms. Plame to punish her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV. Rather, Mr. Libby and other officials, including Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff, apparently were seeking to combat the sensational allegations of a critic. They may have believed that Ms. Plame’s involvement was an important part of their story of why Mr. Wilson was sent to investigate claims that Iraq sought uranium ore from Niger, and why his subsequent — and mostly erroneous — allegations that the administration twisted that small part of the case against Saddam Hussein should not be credited. To criminalize such discussions between officials and reporters would run counter to the public interest.

But, predictably, The New York Times echoes the old refrains and accusations:

As for Mr. Libby’s case, the charges suggest that White House officials did, in fact, use Mrs. Wilson’s classified C.I.A. job as a weapon against a critic of administration policy – to smear his reputation or to warn off other dissenters. A jury will determine whether Mr. Libby broke the law as a result of that campaign. But it seems clear that he and other officials violated the public trust.

And as absorbing as this criminal investigation has been, the big point Americans need to keep in mind is this: There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

As the Times must know: There were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The mystery is what Saddam Hussein did with them.

The Times also asserts that not all leaks are created equal:

At one point, according to the indictment, Mr. Libby accosted Mr. Cheney’s C.I.A. briefer to complain that C.I.A. officials were making critical comments to the press about Mr. Cheney’s office, and mentioned Mr. Wilson’s trip to Niger and his wife. This deeply improper harassment occurred a month before Mr. Novak’s column appeared.

In other words, in the view of the Times, leaks from the CIA designed to damage the president are good leaks, even if those leaks contain falsehoods.

Complaining about those leaks is “improper harassment.” And leaking the truth about a partisan and unqualified CIA contractor spreading lies is criminal—which it indeed may be. Among the ironies here is that there may have been no way to set the record straight without revealing that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA. It is not to be ruled out that Wilson may have set a kind of trap: He may have realized that he could say whatever he pleased and his critics would either have to bite their tongues or risk indictment.

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