During the long, dramatic lead-up to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's anticlimactic indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the left was getting electric with anticipation. On some of the more prominent Internet sites, liberal bloggers even started calling the expected thunderclap of justice "Fitzmas" - as in Merry Fitzmas, Fitzmastime is here, and so on.
After Fitzgerald's press conference, however, the prosecutor's office ought to have handed out official "All I Got For Fitzmas Was This Lousy T-Shirt" apparel. That way, Sen. Reid could have handed them out for his closed-door hissy fit on Tuesday.
One does not want to proclaim, with John Kerryesque gravity, that the future is still unknown. (Yes, that's why they call it "the future.") But it sure looks to me like this investigation is going nowhere. And judging from Senate Democrats' desperate attempt to make every day Fitzmas, they think so, too.
Let's go over the indictments as quickly as we can. First, Scooter Libby, the vice president's chief of staff and an aide to the president, allegedly lied to investigators and the grand jury about phone conversations he had in response to the Fitzgerald investigation. Libby claims he's completely innocent.
Second . oh wait, there is no second. That's it. The five indictments are all variations of the same charge. Fitzgerald claims Libby lied on multiple occasions, requiring multiple indictments. Libby claims he told the truth on multiple occasions. If Libby's lying about that, he should go to jail.
But whatever the truth may be in Libby's case, it offers absolutely nothing by way of corroboration that Bush "lied us into war." It reveals nothing about who the original leaker of Valerie Plame's identity was. The indictments provide no foundation for the preening martyrdom Joseph Wilson is wrapping himself in.
Let's take these one at a time. This saga begins when former Ambassador Joe Wilson took to the pages of the New York Times in 2003 to lambaste the administration for saying Iraq had sought uranium "yellowcake" in Africa. Wilson had been sent to Niger by the CIA to investigate the matter and came to conclusions at variance with the administration's yellowcake story. After peddling his opinions to journalists on background, Wilson picked up his own pen and attacked Bush for citing the Africa connection in his State of the Union address.
The problem: From the beginning, Wilson has had an uneasy relationship with the truth. Early on, when he was shopping his story anonymously to reporters, he led Walter Pincus of the Washington Post to believe that he'd seen the forged documents that prompted the intelligence in the first place. He hadn't seen them - and couldn't have at the time of his investigation, since they came to light later. He admitted later that he'd "misspoken."
Then there's Wilson's claim in the Times broadside that he'd closed the case on the Africa connection but that Cheney and the White House knowingly used the "16 words" about Iraq seeking uranium anyway. In fact, Wilson's own report was hardly definitive. Moreover, Cheney had never even seen it. And, by the way, most European intelligence agencies, including the Brits stand by their findings that Iraq sought African uranium.
The best you can say about Wilson is that he has a credibility problem. But the more important point is that the entire Iraq war did not hinge on anything having to do with Joe Wilson or Valerie Plame. If you want to say Bush lied us into war, go right ahead. But at least do some justice to the incredibly broad conspiracy of deceit that painted Saddam Hussein as a threat - it stretches from Bill and Hillary Clinton to Nancy Pelosi to the New York Times.
We have been told incessantly that antiwar columnist Robert Novak was used by the White House to punish Joe Wilson by exposing the identity of Valerie Plame, his CIA operative wife. At first, the more hysterical types insisted this was done explicitly to put Plame's life in danger. That will shut them up! Now the charge is that this was merely part of a "smear campaign" with the same intent.
Both charges are nonsense. Indeed, Fitzgerald knows who Novak's sources were and saw no need to file any charges on that front. As for the smear thing, please. Joe Klein writes in Newsweek of "how the White House reflexively dealt with unpleasant news: destroy the messenger." This from a defender of the previous president, who called Monica Lewinsky a stalker and who had a penchant for siccing private investigators on his opponents?
But let's be clear. Rebutting someone else's false charges is not a "smear." Indeed, when dealing with a feckless weasel like Wilson, who made these charges in bad faith, it is an obligation to rebut them. No one should deliberately out CIA agents. But, short of that, Wilson deserved everything he got.
Until the Senate meltdown, the liberal hope was that Libby's trial - if it ever gets to a trial - would unravel the Bush presidency. That was never likely, since both the prosecution and defense have no interest in going down that road. Sen. Reid seems to have realized this. And so, even though the Senate intelligence Committee has already investigated prewar intelligence, Reid wants a do-over to put some fizz back in Fitzmas.