Debra J. Saunders

You cannot look at Lewis "Scooter" Libby without seeing Bill Clinton.

Like former President Clinton, Libby apparently thought that he was so clever that he could perjure himself -- by lying to FBI agents and a grand jury probing the leak of CIA agent Valerie Wilson's identity. In their arrogance, both men were steamrolled by a truth any idiot in Washington can tell you. To wit: The cover-up is worse than the crime.

Both Libby's boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Clinton were overzealous in using the White House to discredit critics, which made their detractors more powerful than they would have been if ignored. Had Cheney and Libby not aimed to discredit Wilson's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, Wilson would not be a hero of the left today. Clinton could have refused to be deposed in the Paula Jones' sexual-harassment case, or even (if you can imagine it) tell the truth, but instead he chose to lie. Enter Kenneth Starr. You know the rest of the story.

After the verdict, juror and former Washington Post reporter Denis Collins referred to Libby as "a very sympathetic guy." Still, jurors apparently believed that Libby concocted a story about learning that Wilson worked for the CIA from "Meet the Press" moderator Tim Russert, so the jury found him guilty of four out of five counts of perjury and obstruction of justice.

As Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald later told reporters, "We cannot tolerate perjury." Fitzgerald is right to argue that the legal system suffers when high-level officials decide they don't have to tell the truth.

But if Fitzgerald believes that a special prosecutor has to go after any official misdeed he sees, you have to wonder why he failed to charge anyone -- not Libby and, most notably, not the initial leaker, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage -- for leaking Wilson's identity. If the answer is, as I suspect, that the leak was a crime only if administration officials knew that Wilson was a covert agent -- and it is not clear she was covert -- then why can't Fitzgerald simply say so?

Such honesty would highlight the utter folly of Libby's claim of Russert as his cover. Libby had every right to tell journalists that Cheney, contrary to news reports, did not send Wilson to check intelligence that suggested Iraq had tried to procure uranium from Niger. Also, if the Bushies did not know Valerie Wilson was covert, they would have had some reason for telling reporters about Wilson's role in the CIA's decision to send her husband to Niger -- although one would hope that seasoned aides would know enough to check around before disclosing any intelligence information.

Debra J. Saunders

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