Patrick Fitzgerald's Disgrace

Posted: Mar 13, 2007 2:00 PM
Patrick Fitzgerald's Disgrace

The verdict is in: Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, should be pardoned. At least according to two of the jurors who found him guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice.

Asked about the possibility of a pardon, juror Ann Redington said, "I would like him to get one," and added, "I don't want him to go to jail." Asked how he would feel if Libby were pardoned, the ubiquitous juror Denis Collins said, "I would really not care."

The jarring spectacle of jurors expressing support for, or at least indifference toward, an executive act to wipe away the conviction that they just handed down is a damning statement about Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. It means that he had sufficient evidence to convince a handful of people drawn from Washington, D.C.'s liberal jury pool that Libby was guilty, but even they didn't believe Libby should have been in the dock in the first place.

Libby might have deliberately lied or might have had a memory lapse, given that practically every witness had memory problems. Fitzgerald's evidence against Libby was all he said/he said. In these circumstances, a judicious prosecutor would have committed an act of forbearance, and even moral courage: He would have let it go.

Fitzgerald couldn't resist the temptation of every Washington special prosecutor, which is never to close up shop without at least one obstruction-of-justice indictment. Fitzgerald's justifications for his pursuit of Libby have proven either false or tendentious.

At an October 2005 press conference announcing Libby's indictment, Fitzgerald said that Valerie Plame's employment at the CIA was "not well-known, for her protection." But Plame has not notably been endangered at any of her photo shoots since her "outing."

Fitzgerald said that "the first sign" of her cover being blown was the publication of her name in a Robert Novak column. Actually, the first sign was her husband writing about his trip to Niger in The New York Times — which inevitably led to questions of why such a Bush-hater was sent on the mission. (Answer: His wife worked at the CIA.)

Fitzgerald said he was like an "umpire (who) gets sand thrown in his eyes" when Libby testified that Cheney had told him about Plame, but that he had forgotten it until NBC's Tim Russert also told him. But Libby didn't keep Fitzgerald from learning anything about the case.

Fitzgerald said that "Libby was the first official known to have told a reporter" about Plame. In fact, Richard Armitage, a State Department official and Iraq War skeptic, spoke to a Washington Post reporter about Plame before Libby told anyone in the press.

Fitzgerald let himself become an instrument of political blood lust. Bush critics wanted Libby destroyed because he stood for "the case for war." But Libby is an individual, not an abstraction. The way to score points against "the case for war" is through advocacy, not through jailing one person. Time magazine says that Libby's conviction is "a rebuke to (the) hermitic power-sharing arrangement at the top of the White House." Again, the way to object to Dick Cheney's power is through political agitation, not through imprisoning his former chief of staff.

This is the very definition of the criminalization of politics. If the other party occupies the White House, each side in our politics is willing to embrace this criminalization, even if it means doing violence to its own interests and principles.

The anti-Bush press cheered on Fitzgerald, but The New York Times says that it will sustain "the most collateral damage" from the case, since the verdict establishes a precedent for other far-reaching leak investigations. Liberals delighted in the case, but David Greenberg of The New Republic noted that they usually favor government leaks and oppose overzealous prosecutors. "We should remember," he wrote, "our vision of an open, liberal society." Oh yeah, that!

Fitzgerald says he's going to go back to Chicago and his day job as a U.S attorney. He should have gone long ago.