Will Pitt: Nothing Shakin' on Shakedown Street?
Nothing Shakin' on Shakedown Street?
By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Tuesday 01 November 2005
Don't tell me this town ain't got no heart. You just gotta poke around.
-- The Grateful Dead
Confession time: I missed the whole Libby-indictment thing almost completely. I wasn't writing a book or researching a story, nor was I interviewing people in the know about this or that. Nope. I was in Vegas, splitting my time between a poker table in Mandalay Bay and the Vegoose Music Festival out on the edge of the desert. The trip had been planned months before, and I spent all those days leading up to last Friday hoping Fitz would drop the hammer so I could bug out in good conscience.
Didn't happen. I was on the plane Thursday night, shaking my head at the timing. You just had to wait until the last day, didn't you? Well, it wasn't a total loss. I spent a couple dozen hours out there under the mountains listening to bands like Moe, Phil Lesh & Friends, the North Mississippi All-Stars, Umphrey's McGee (the set of the weekend, by the way), and managed in between to take down a few fat pots off the felt when I was back on the strip.
It was a good weekend, all told, but I just absolutely missed the whole Fitzgerald train. Yes, I caught the press conference on Friday. After that, however, I was in the ozone, away from televisions and computers and newspapers. I got back home on Monday night, and have spent every waking minute since playing catch-up.
Here's what I have so far.
Mr. Libby is in deep dung. Fitzgerald absolutely nailed his hide to the shed, detailing lie after lie after lie. From what I am given to understand, Libby intends to offer a "faulty memory" defense when he gets dropped into the skillet. Given the incredibly detailed breakdown offered by Fitzgerald in the indictment, however, one wonders how far any kind of "Duh, I forgot" argument will fly. The ball starts rolling on Thursday, when Scooter gets arraigned. Watch for a plea agreement to be made at the behest of the White House on this; the last thing George and the boys want is for all their dirty laundry to be aired before a jury of ordinary Americans. If no plea is reached, however, we may see a fight over Executive Privilege come up to keep folks like Mr. Cheney from testifying under oath and in open court. Paging Archie Cox.
With or without that testimony, Dick Cheney is smack-dab in the middle of this thing. Nicholas Kristof, whose my-sister-my-daughter-my-sister-my-daughter routine on the pages of the Times has become unutterably tiresome, managed to cough up some salient questions for the Vice President: Did you ask Scooter Libby to undertake his inquiries about Ambassador Joseph Wilson? Why did you independently ask the CIA for information about the Wilsons? Did you know that Mrs. Wilson was a covert officer? Did you advise Mr. Libby to leak information about Mrs. Wilson's work in the CIA to journalists? When Mr. Libby made his statements in the inquiry - allegedly committing perjury - were you aware of what he was saying? Was Mr. Libby fearful of disclosing something about your behavior in the summer of 2003?
"When Richard Nixon was a candidate for vice president and embroiled in scandal," concludes Kristof in his column, "he addressed the charges in his Checkers speech: 'The best and only answer to a smear or to an honest misunderstanding of the facts is to tell the truth.' (Mr. Vice President, any time a columnist quotes Nixon to you in an exhortation to be honest, you're in trouble.) Even when Spiro Agnew was embroiled in a criminal investigation, he tried to explain himself, repeatedly. Do you really want to be less forthcoming than Dick Nixon and Spiro Agnew? So, Mr. Cheney, tell us what happened. If you're afraid to say what you knew, and when you knew it, then you should resign."
Finally, and most importantly, this thing is not over by a long chalk. A great many chicken-little liberals cried foul when they heard Libby was the only one to be indicted. A great many so-called pundits in the mainstream called the whole thing a waste of time now thankfully concluded. Neither assessment is anywhere near accurate. The Libby indictment came because Fitzgerald's grand jury was at the end of its string. "Courthouse officials said he is likely to 'borrow' a grand jury already convened to investigate additional crimes if needed," reports the Washington Post, "and could wrap up his investigation in less than two weeks."
Mr. Libby's travails may only be just beginning. Attorney Marty Aussenberg, columnist for the weekly Memphis Flyer, broke down the situation adroitly: "The fact that Libby wasn't indicted for any of the possible classified-information-related offenses doesn't mean he still can't be, since the special prosecutor has the prerogative of getting a superseding indictment from the grand jury which is to follow (not unlike what the prosecutor in Texas did in Tom Delay's case). Thus, Libby is still technically under the gun, and the indictment itself is rife with indications that there is another shoe yet to drop, something Fitz also strongly foreshadowed in his responses to reporters' questions during his press conference. And, of course, neither Rove nor any of a variety of other characters whose participation was described in shadowy terms are, as yet, off the hook."
Karl Rove, it seems, remains in the hot seat. "Rove remains a focus of the CIA leak probe" continues the Washington Post. "He has told friends it is possible he still will be indicted for providing false statements to the grand jury. 'Everyone thinks it is over for Karl and they are wrong,' a source close to Rove said. The strategist's legal and political advisers 'by no means think the part of the investigation concerning Karl is closed.'"
Another Washington Post article reports, "Two legal sources intimately familiar with Fitzgerald's tactics in this inquiry said they believe Rove remains in significant danger. They described Fitzgerald as being relentlessly thorough but also conservative throughout this prosecution - and his willingness to consider Rove's eleventh-hour pleading of a memory lapse is merely a sign of Fitzgerald's caution. Another warning sign for Rove was in the phrasing of Friday's indictment of Libby. Fitzgerald referred to Rove in those charging papers as a senior White House official and dubbed him 'Official A.' In prosecutorial parlance, this kind of awkward pseudonym is often used for individuals who have not been indicted in a case but still face a significant chance of being charged. No other official in the investigation carries such an identifier."
In an article I wrote on October 17 titled "The Heart of the Matter," I said, "However important Rove and Libby may be to this administration, neither represents the end of the story. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, with deliberation and intent, took this country to war in Iraq based on false premises, inflated intelligence and bald-faced scare tactics. They used September 11 against their own people to get what they wanted. That is the heart of this matter. If Fitzgerald's investigation ends at Rove and Libby, it will have ended too soon. The Office of Special Plans to the White House Iraq Group, Cheney to Langley and Bush with his Executive Order, a war to get paid and cash money, honey, for Halliburton and friends. Rove and Libby are small fish. If and when they get fried, the stink may well fill the Oval Office. If George and Dick come out of this unscathed, Mr. Fitzgerald may as well have stayed in Chicago."
At first blush, the indictment of Libby gets nowhere near the center of the issue: the lies that led to war, and the outing of a covert CIA agent to cover those lies. Yet it feels very much as if this indictment was only the first salvo in a larger barrage to come.
At a minimum, the indictment managed to wake up the Democrats. Senator Harry Reid threw down a scathing condemnation of the Bush administration and the war in a statement he read on the Senate floor on Tuesday. "This past weekend, we witnessed the indictment of I. Lewis Libby, the Vice President's Chief of Staff and a senior Advisor to President Bush," said Reid. "Libby is the first sitting White House staffer to be indicted in 135 years. This indictment raises very serious charges. It asserts this Administration engaged in actions that both harmed our national security and are morally repugnant. The decision to place U.S. soldiers in harm's way is the most significant responsibility the Constitution invests in the Congress. The Libby indictment provides a window into what this is really about: how the Administration manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to sell the war in Iraq and attempted to destroy those who dared to challenge its actions."
"When General Shinseki indicated several hundred thousand troops would be needed in Iraq," continued Reid, "his military career came to an end. When then OMB Director Larry Lindsay suggested the cost of this war would approach $200 billion, his career in the Administration came to an end. When U.N. Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix challenged conclusions about Saddam's WMD capabilities, the Administration pulled out his inspectors. When Nobel Prize winner and IAEA head Mohammed el-Baradei raised questions about the Administration's claims of Saddam's nuclear capabilities, the Administration attempted to remove him from his post. When Joe Wilson stated that there was no attempt by Saddam to acquire uranium from Niger, the Administration launched a vicious and coordinated campaign to demean and discredit him, going so far as to expose the fact that his wife worked as a CIA agent. This behavior is unacceptable."
Senate Democrats followed this up with a meaty threat: they will shut down the Senate every day until these issues are addressed fully and completely. Stay tuned. The next two weeks will almost certainly determine how this whole thing shakes out.
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.