At long the last, the wait is over, at least partially. Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald handed down his indictments today in the Valerie Plame leak case and all five fell squarely on Vice President Dick Cheney's [now former] Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
From The Smoking Gun:
Vice President Dick Cheney's top aide was indicted today on perjury, false statement, and obstruction of justice charges in connection with a special counsel's probe into the leaking of a CIA officer's identity.
The 55-year-old Libby, a White House power and proponent of the Iraq war, allegedly committed the crimes when questioned by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald before a federal grand jury. During two appearances under oath, Libby was questioned extensively about his contact with several reporters prior to published disclosures about Valerie Plame Wilson, the CIA operative. While not charged today, Karl Rove, President George W. Bush's chief political adviser, remains under scrutiny by Fitzgerald, who reportedly plans to continue his probe of the 2003 leak (the original grand jury panel's term expired today). Libby today resigned his White House post as a result of the criminal charges, which were handed up in U.S. District Court in Washington.
Naturally, I have some thoughts on this.
First, I have to get this out there for everyone to read: today's indictments are not about Bill Clinton. Let me repeat that, so that all the Republicans, hate-wing radio jocks (I was subjecting myself to Rush at lunchtime), media pundits and, yes, even you, Paul Begala, can hear it loud and clear: This case is not about Bill Clinton! Stop talking about him. He ceased to be President 5 years ago. He was investigated and acquitted. Let's "Move On" already.
Second: Just because Fitzgerald didn't indict for the actual crime under investigation (leaking the name of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame) does not, ipso facto, mean Libby is being wrongly persecuted. No one has ever been prosecuted under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982. Ever. Yes, there has been at least one case where someone was threatened with prosecution under the Act, but the case was pleaded out. Moreover, no one, Libby included, commits perjury and obstruction of justice for no reason whatsoever. Plame's identity was still leaked by the White House; Fitzgerald wasn't able to get enough evidence to indict for that particular crime.
Third: Patrick Fitzgerald is a registered Republican, so no complaining from the Right that this is a partisan headhunt. Further, this case and these indictments have nothing whatsoever to do with Joseph Wilson. Period.
Fourth: "Scooter" Libby did not magically get this information out of thin air and it takes an amazing leap of faith to believe that he acted completely without the knowledge of any one else at the White House. That's why the investigation into Karl Rove is continuing. Particularly Dick Cheney cannot possibly make a credible claim that Libby acted alone. Even if he could, it is long past time that this administration take some responsibility for their political appointees.
Fifth and most important: What the Bush Administration has done here is compromise our national security for political partisanship. Valerie Plame's organization was a front company working to curtail black market nuclear weapon proliferation and the Bush Administration sacrificed that organization for a political cheapshot against an honest critic. Joseph Wilson was doing his patriotic duty by publicly exposing the dishonesty of the Bush case for war and both his wife and our security paid the price for it. Bush and Cheney have made it clear that they consider neoconservative hegemony more important than the safety and security of the American people and, now, the American people know it.
This investigation is going to hang like a dead albatross around the neck of the Bush Administration for next three years. Thanks to a Supreme Court decision during the Clinton witchhunt, it is legal for Wilson and Plame to sue the President and Vice-President and I have little doubt that they will. This will serve the vital function of keeping this ongoing investigation in the public spotlight well into the 2006 election season, and probably beyond.
Even better, certain Democratic lawmakers, John Conyers for one, have already begun calling for Congressional Hearings into both this matter and the larger issue of the Bush Administration's case for war. And well they should. This is a matter of national security and the American people, the people at whose pleasure Bush and Cheney serve, deserve to know the truth of what our government has been doing.
The old saying goes that "it's never the crime, but the cover-up" that escalates these sorts of scandals, and that remains as true today as it did during the Nixon debacle.