"As I was walking up the stair/ I met a man who wasn't there./ He wasn't there again today./ I wish, I wish he'd stay away." -- Hughes Mearns
Mearns captures the spirit of Washington, D.C. We are in the midst of a criminal trial concerning the leaking of CIA covert operative Valerie Plame's name to the press. The man on trial did not do the leaking. The man who did the leaking is not on trial. The woman who is the subject of the fictional leak was probably not covert. The person who leaked her name did so in the course of gossip and almost certainly did not, as the law requires, "know that the government had taken affirmative measures to conceal" her identity (because if she wasn't covert, the government would have taken no such steps). Accordingly, there was no crime. And yet, a prosecutor presents evidence, a jury lobs questions and "Scooter" Libby may go to jail for 30 years. This charade competes with the Duke "rape" case for prosecutorial misconduct, brazen defiance of common sense and unbelievable jeopardy to the innocent.
To review: Bob Novak mentioned Plame's name in a 2003 column. Left-wing writer David Corn, together with Joe Wilson, charged that the White House had intentionally blown Plame's cover in order to punish her husband (Wilson) for criticizing the Bush administration. The press went into full battle cry demanding a criminal investigation (in the hope that a high White House official could be snagged). Washington D.C. went into one of its periodic spasms of investigatitis. The CIA referred the matter to the Justice Department. The Wilsons became the toast of the town, posing for the cover of Vanity Fair in a white convertible and granting interviews to the anointed.
Enter Patrick Fitzgerald, independent counsel. Fitzgerald does not even address the question of whether or not Plame was a covert operative (according to the New York Times, she had abandoned her covert status nine years before the Wilson op-ed). Fitzgerald spends hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on an investigation, interviews every famous name in Washington journalism and politics and sends reporter Judith Miller to jail for 12 weeks. The prosecutor accepted Wilson's "retaliation" theory from the start, looking for a White House conspiracy to harm Wilson. Fitzgerald tamely followed this line despite learning later that Wilson lied about how he was chosen for the mission to Niger (contrary to Wilson's hot denials, it was his wife's suggestion, according to a Senate Intelligence Committee report), lied about what he found there (his report actually tended to confirm, not deny, Iraq's uranium shopping) and lied about discrediting certain forged documents (they did not even appear until months after Wilson's trip). Yet Wilson's word was good enough for Fitzgerald.
More astonishing though is this: In late August 2006, the world learned that Robert Novak's source was actually former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Fitzgerald has known this since 2003.
Despite knowing that Armitage was The One, the principal leaker, Fitzgerald plowed on, calling Karl Rove and Libby to the grand jury again and again -- causing the media to salivate and the administration to cope as best it could with the stress and distraction. (On the morning of Libby's indictment, a leading talking head crowed privately that it was "Christmas morning!")
Libby's crime, according to Fitzgerald, is perjury and obstruction of justice. The grounds? People's memories of who said what to whom more than three years ago differ. Good Lord, may I never be subject to a grand jury inquest, as I forget appointments, names, faces, passwords, jokes, what I told my husband yesterday and whether or not I paid the phone bill last month.
Where, I wonder, are all the folks who worry about attracting good people to government service? Libby gave up a lucrative private practice to serve his country and now may lose everything, including his liberty, for the trouble.
This trial is a farce and an outrage.
(Full disclosure: My husband is with the same law firm as Libby's lawyer -- a fact I discovered when I proposed that we contribute to Libby's legal defense fund.)