October 28, 2005
A federal grand jury indicted Lewis "Scooter" Libby on five felony counts, which could add up to 30 years of prison time, but none of the charges involve the alleged* leak of Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA agent. For details, see tomorrow's The Washington Post. Libby alleged lied to the grand jury about when he learned of Ms. Plame's identity, which would indeed be a crime if it was a willful misrepresentation of significant facts. As most Americans came to agree during the Clinton scandals, there can be no excuse for lying in a court of law. Based on what we know at this point, however, the discrepancy over facts could also be nothing more than someone's fallible memory about the chronology of events. We'll see. Patrick Fitzgerald's office has set up a Web site to disseminate information about the investigation.
* I say "alleged" because it is not clear that the information conveyed by any one official to any reporter or reporters on its own sufficed to pinpoint her identity. It may have been bits and pieces of information, innocuously relayed or not, that were subsequently put together by reporters to "solve the puzzle."
What about Karl Rove? He was the original prime suspect in all this, but may get off scot free. Dick Cheney may be subpoened to testify in Libby's trial, but there is no indication that he is himself a target. NBC's Pete Williams expressed doubt on PBS's "Washington Week" that there will be further indictments. Somehow, Robert Novak's name has vanished from this controversy without a trace.
The press conference this afternoon was the first chance most of us had to hear Patrick Fitzgerald speak. I was glad that he emphasized that his investigation is not connected to the war in Iraq, or the Bush administration's rationale for it. Fitzgerald had a reputation as a very bright, devoted, and ethical prosecutor, and comes across as one of those caricatured straight-laced, slightly nerdy characters, like the Sprint trench-coat guy. In fact, he reminds me a lot of Ken Starr in terms of both personality and professionalism. mediamatters.org offers a premature "preemptive refutation" of the myth that "Fitzgerald is an overzealous prosecutor who was out to get the Bush administration," but no such suggestions appear at gopusa.com or rushlimbaugh.com. The comments I've heard Rush make about Fitzgerald have been very guarded and reasonable in tone. Aside from Tom DeLay's complaint about the "criminalization of conservatism" and some sniping by the uppity Sean Hannity, there has been hardly any besmirching of Fitzgerald by conservative pundits or activists, which is quite a contrast to the hysteria that was directed toward Ken Starr during the investigation of Bill Clinton and his staff in 1998. It is also instructive to note the (literally) snotty remarks on leftist blogs such as Daily Kos and chortling, presumptuous tones on Web sites such as truthout.org. There may be further damage to the Bush White House, but I'm confident that Fitzgerald will wrap up his inquiry in a fair and professional way. I would almost wager that if there is any anger over the way this investigation concludes, it will be on the part of Bush critics.
Meanwhile, Josh Marshall is hot on the trail of the Italian connection to the Niger uranium ore forged (?) documents story. One of those involved is the current Italian ambassador in Washington. Wherever that may lead, it is important to recall that the reason why this scandal erupted in the first place was Joseph Wilson's high-profile campaign, beginning with the early 2003 article in The Nation and subsequent television appearances, to undermine the Bush administration's rationale for the war. Don't forget, folks, it was Wilson who invited the scrutiny and publicity in the first place. That doesn't excuse deliberate leaking, but it did make the revelation of his wife's identity almost inevitable. The original facts in this complex, obscure case may have long since been forgotten by most people, but fortunately, I'm one of those who keeps facts on file like a pack rat. Wilson's version of events was contradicted by the July 9, 2004 Washington Post. [See my original blog post.] According to an AP story dated July 18, 2004, furthermore,
Though Wilson reported to U.S. officials there was 'nothing to the story' that Niger sold uranium to Iraq, the CIA and DIA were intrigued by one element of his trip. Wilson had said a former prime minister of Niger, Ibrahim Mayaki, mentioned a visit from an Iraqi delegation in 1999 that expressed interest in expanding commercial ties with Niger, the world's third largest producer of mined uranium. Mayaki believed this meant they were interested in buying uranium.
Uranium accounts for the vast majority of Niger's exports, and most of it goes to France, which relies heavily on nuclear power to generate electricity. It doesn't mean that Iraq necessarily did purchase uranium ore from Niger, but it does provide a solid basis for believing that such was the case. In any event, we will all eventually have to live with the fact that full truth about this whole, comlicated mess may not become publicly known for many years, if ever. That is the nature of intelligence gathering.