A Window Into The White House Cesspool
Libby Indictment: A Window Into the White House Cesspool
By Bernard Weiner
The Crisis Papers
With Scooter Libby's indictment, the first shoe has been dropped in the Plamegate criminal case. Whether there will be other shoes is problematic.
Fitzgerald says the case is almost wrapped up, but that Rove is still not out of the woods yet. The fact that Rove and Cheney weren't also indicted Friday is disappointing, to be sure -- they are the real movers and shakers in the Bush Administration -- but we don't know what's going on behind the scenes.
Is Rove working out a plea bargain that will be announced in a few days? Could Fitzgerald simply not have all the ammo he needed by October 28 to bring charges against Rove and Cheney, but is rounding up that last-minute evidence? Did Fitzgerald present charge(s) to the Grand Jury against suspects other than Libby but the panel wouldn't indict? We simply don't know at this point (I'm writing this the same day as the indictment); maybe the inevitable leaks will help us understand more as the story unfolds.
What is clear is that Libby seems to have been caught redhanded concocting a false story and, under oath, sticking to those coverup lies in both his FBI interrogations and Grand Jury testimony. A definite no-no.
WILL THIS CASE GO TO TRIAL?
If Libby goes to trial, you can bet that the potential witness list will include Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld, Hadley, Rice, maybe Bush, and a whole host of high-ranking neo-con underlings (Wurmser, Hanna, Feith, et al.). Libby -- and Cheney and Rove -- definitely would not want that to happen. Testifying under oath in a criminal trial is a lot different than leaking your spin to the media, and you could wind up in the slammer easily on perjury charges.
Since Libby is Cheney's alter-ego (Rove = Bush), you know that Libby wasn't a solo cowboy in revealing Plame's identity; after all, as the indictment makes clear, Libby heard about Plame from Cheney. The ball of lies Libby concocted seemed designed to deflect attention away from his closest associates, so there is no way Libby would go to trial and put them in perjury-jeopardy by having them testify.
In short, this case is not going to court. As I see it, Libby has two options:
1. Libby cops a plea to one of the charges, and no trial takes place.
2. Bush pardons Libby "pre-emptively" before a trial begins. (Remember that Bush's father pre-emptively pardoned Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger before he even was charged, thus protecting Bush Sr.'s own liability in the Iran-Contra scandal. Like father like son?)
I suppose Libby could decide to go to trial; he falls on the sword and takes the sole blame, and every other endangered Administration witness called takes the Fifth. Bush then pardons Libby. But in all three instances, we find out little or nothing.
THE LARGER ISSUE OF THE WAR
Is Fitzgerald essentially closing up shop by charging only Libby, or could there be more indictments to come?
Fitzgerald, without giving anything away, said that if he needed to employ a grand jury for future indictments, he would do so. But he gave no indication in his press conference that he had anything major working. (But, earlier, he apparently told Rove that though he would not be indicted on Friday, the investigation is still open. Who knows, maybe he just wants to keep Rove in legal, and emotional, limbo while he finishes off the case.)
Any hope that Fitzgerald's probe would somehow touch openly on Administration manipulation of lies to take the country to war in Iraq was quashed by the Special Counsel at his news conference. He made it plain that his investigation would not go there, even though the "context," as Fitzgerald put it, certainly involved the Administration's selling of that war. But there was no mention by the Special Counsel of the role of the White House Iraq Group in the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson; Libby and Rove were key members of that group.
As is clear, Libby's actions are inextricably linked to the struggle to promote the attack on Iraq; after all, Ambassador Joseph Wilson's opposition to the war, which set off the Administrations' anger, involved the Bush cabal's lies about alleged Iraqi nuclear activity.
THE FOCUS IS VERY NARROW
Instead of looking wide and deep, Fitzgerald chose to focus very narrowly on provable facts relating only to this minute aspect of the coverup. The fact that Libby, a key principal to the events, chose to lie meant that the federal probers could not get a good handle on the motivations behind the outing of Valerie Plame. Fitzgerald made plain that he wasn't about to touch the third-rail issue of the war-lies; it will be up to those who feel strongly about the war issue to tie all the threads together and make that case.
(Even though we know that Fitzgerald was interested in the original forged Niger documents alleging an active Iraqi nuclear-program -- which is why Joe Wilson was sent to Africa in the first place, to check out that story -- the Special Counsel gave no indication that his investigators would continue to delve into that explosive issue, even though the forged-documents scandal is breaking open right now in Italy.)
But in a way, though the Special Counsel's narrow focus was disappointing, the full indictment, with all the detailed facts about Libby's bullshit cover story, opens up a window through which we can glimpse the moral cesspool that was (and is) the Bush Administration in its dealings then and now with regard to the Iraq War.
Even if Rove and Cheney and Bush escape indictment, their credibility is in tatters, their power diminished, their focus scattered. But, and this is a very big but, Bush&Co. still hold the reins of power and can do, and are prepared to do, a great deal of damage in their weakened, cornered state.
In short, the Administration has been bloodied badly, but not fatally wounded. An indictment of Rove probably would have been extremely helpful in delivering that coup de grace, but, for whatever reason, Fitzgerald didn't, or couldn't, go there, and Libby looks like the designated scapegoat.
If the Congress were to establish serious and high-level investigations of the entire Plame affair, or if the House were to pass an impeachment resolution -- thus putting Administration officials under oath during depositions -- that would be the beginning of the end of Bush&Co. power. But that's not about to happen right now in a GOP-ruled Congress, and Bush/Rove/Cheney, no matter how suspect and politically-damaged, still rule from the White House. That's important to keep in mind in the next weeks and months.
GOP SPIN-POINTS AGAINST INDICTMENT
The GOP spin against Fitzgerald started even before the Libby indictment was revealed. In the main, it's designed to make light of the charges -- none for the leak itself in espionage terms, rather only about "minor" matters like lying and perjury -- and to question Fitzgerald's "partisan" motives. (Of course, when Clinton was in the dock, lying and perjury were extremely grave matters to GOP leaders, anything but "minor.")
I thought Fitzgerald handled those charges rather deftly in his news conference, saying he has no party affiliation, he was given his authority by Bush's Justice Department, and that lies and perjury concerning national-security matters are not "minor" but go to the heart of protecting the lives and cover of our spies and those with whom they come into contact.
By sticking only to the facts of this one indictment and refusing to engage in surmise outside that narrow purview -- and by having no leaks emerging from his prosecutorial team, unlike Kenneth Starr's politically-charged probe of Clinton -- Fitzgerald gave rightwing critics little on which to hang their denunciations of his investigation.
THE REAL SCANDAL IS THE WAR
I'm as consumed as the rest of you with the Libby indictment, and whether other shoes will drop. But the broader scandal right now is not which official lied to government investigators, but the war itself. Hundreds and thousands are continuing to die because of Bush neo-con lies and deceptions that took us to war in Iraq, and yet and still, with the Republicans in charge of the Congress, there are no official investigations there of how Americans were bamboozled into attacking Iraq.
Remember that Republican Sen. Pat Roberts promised before the election that his Intelligence Committee would investigate how the White House used and perhaps abused the intelligence to take the country to war, but, after Bush was declared the winner, Roberts said there was now no reason to hold such a probe, even after the bombshell revelations of the Downing Street Memos and other proofs of Bush Administration duplicity and war-crimes.
That's the real scandal and the real danger when one party controls the three branches of government. Congressional oversight is effectively abandoned, and the timid Democrats, seemingly unfamiliar with the concept of "opposition party," barely make any significant noise. The Democrats, most of whom voted for the war and continue to fund it, are essentially silent.
In addition, there is the other major scandal that basically has been swept under the rug: the shoddy election and electronic vote-counting system we have in this country that appears to have resulted in manipulated election results in 2004. Again, the Democrats are basically silent, therefore the Republicans need do nothing to find out what happened and how to prevent such electoral corruption in the future. (And why should they want to find out? They benefit from the easily-manipulated system, which is run by Republican-supporting e-voting companies.)
If the Libby indictment can serve as a wedge to get to these larger issues, then the two-year-long Plamegate investigation may have borne good fruit. But, since Fitzgerald isn't going to speak openly about what he found -- the political and ideological slime and dirt he had to wade through over the past two years -- it's up to us to get those facts out to the American people.
In short, the Libby indictment is a small victory for justice, and does some damage to the power-mad Bush Administration, but if we truly want to get this crew's reckless, dangerous policies out of the White House, the ball is back in our court. No other way to say this: We've simply got to ratchet up our efforts. Organize, organize, organize.
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D, in government & international relations, has taught at various universities, worked as a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers ( www.crisispapers.org)