“It was payback -- cheap political payback by the administration for an article I had written contradicting an assertion President Bush made in his 2003 State of the Union address. Payback, not just to punish me, but to intimidate other critics as well.”
-- Former Ambassador
It’s weird that the reaction to the Fitzgerald investigation has been so upbeat. After all, it only produced one measly indictment. Typically, that would have put Bush critics on the ledge teetering towards the street.
Alas, there’ll be no looming guillotine on the White House lawn and no firing squad on Pennsylvania Ave. The iniquitous trio of Cheney, Rove and Libby won’t be seen edging through the Rose Garden in manacles and prison pinstripes, just the well-groomed Scooter staring ahead impassively as he speeds away in his chauffer driven limo.
So, where’s the frustration? I would have expected a collective sigh of grief across the leftist web sites like the air hissssing out of a punctured tire. But, not this time. Instead, all eyes are fixed on America’s new protagonist, Patrick Fitzgerald, and the stream of details that appear on a daily basis.
“Truth is the engine of our judicial system,” Fitzgerald opined, in his best Gary Cooper drawl.
It’s been a while since the public has had a champion of secular values like Fitzgerald. He seems to have slipped on to center stage just as confidence in American justice had hit rock bottom. The Bush era has produced its share of gulags and torture chambers, but nothing vaguely resembling evenhandedness or fair play.
But, it’s the case itself that is driving public interest, not Fitzgerald. The workings of the Bush White House read like a Mario Puzo screenplay with plenty of backroom deals and shadowy intrigues.
The details of the indictment underline this point. For example:
“On or about June 12, 2003, Libby was advised by the Vice President of the United States that Wilson's wife worked at the Central Intelligence Agency in the Counter-proliferation Division. Libby understood that the Vice President had learned this information from the CIA . . . . On or about July 12, 2003, Libby flew with the Vice President and others to and from Norfolk, Virginia, on Air Force Two. On his return trip, Libby discussed with other officials aboard the plane what Libby should say in response to certain pending media inquiries, including questions from Time reporter Matthew Cooper.”
In the days immediately following this flight, Libby discussed Plame’s identity with Matt Cooper of Time and Judith Miller of the New York Times, which suggests that the VP was directly involved in the conspiracy to leak classified information. Libby has already admitted that Cheney was one of the White House officials who revealed Plame’s identity and her role at the CIA to him.
Fitzgerald’s indictment alleges that Libby was involved in a 2-year-long campaign to thwart the investigation. It also shows that Cheney, who knew that Libby was lying to the FBI and the Grand Jury, decided to remain silent, making him a co-conspirator in the in the obstruction of the investigation. We can expect that Fitzgerald is continuing to pursue this angle.
The worst-case scenario for Cheney is also the most likely (given what we know of his character): that he intentionally lied under oath and that he was the driving force behind the leak. His animosity towards Joseph Wilson is not questioned by anyone close to the case. It also seems improbable that Libby would have engaged in such a career-threatening endeavor as “outing” a CIA agent’s without first getting the approval of his boss, Cheney.
So, Cheney is up to his axels in the Plame scandal, and the testimony of key officials John Hannah and David Wurmser (both of whom are cooperating with Fitzgerald) could seal the deal.
Saturday’s New York Times editorial helps shed light on another of the thorny issues surrounding the case. It reads:
“Yesterday's indictment, which followed a two-year investigation, contained only one reference to Mr. Novak, who has refused to say whether he testified or cooperated in any other way with Mr. Fitzgerald's grand jury. A single cryptic paragraph in the 22-page indictment refers to an unnamed senior White House official (called Official A) who told Mr. Libby a few days before Mr. Novak's column appeared that he had spoken to the columnist and discussed with him Mr. Wilson, his wife, her job and her involvement in Mr. Wilson's trip. Karl Rove has admitted talking to Mr. Novak on the telephone about the issue, and he is still under investigation by Mr. Fitzgerald.”
Yes, but if Rove talked to Novak, why hasn’t he been indicted? And why is Novak’s role given minimal attention? There’s something troubling about this excerpt that gets to the heart of the investigation, but “what it is” is still uncertain.
The dearth of information about Novak suggests that his testimony may be critical in reeling in other members of the administration -- the really big fish. So, we can either take Fitzgerald at his word that the bulk of the investigation is over or assume that he is carefully putting the final touches on a case that will implicate as many as six other co-conspirators including Vice President Cheney.
Whether Fitzgerald nets Cheney or not, there is reason to hope that the dogged Columbo from Chicago will knock the administration off kilter in a way that will upset critical parts of their foreign policy agenda. Bush has been an effective pitchman for the administration’s criminal conduct, but the pressure of the investigation is wearing on his fragile psyche. This could mean big trouble for his larger, global strategy. Bush won’t perform well with the sword of Damocles suspended above the Oval Office and bad news gushing from the headlines day after day.
As for Dick Cheney, the spectral twin of long dead John Mitchell, he’ll stonewall until he’s clapped in leg irons and carted away in the paddy wagon. No doubt he’ll impart one final fiction with his last gasp. There’s really no chance that a serial liar like Cheney will change his stripes and seek absolution when things finally come undone.
All in all, things are looking a bit brighter for White House foes. The lights have dimmed, the bunker has been sealed, and Queeg is pacing alone in the wheelhouse. The next three years foreshadow greater scrutiny, antipathy and indictments, the excruciatingly pleasant prospect of death by 1,000 cuts. The longer it takes to sort through the mountain of lies, the better off we are.
Carry on, Patrick Fitzgerald.
Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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