Friday, July 24, 2009

On the Battlefield

Say what you will about former Vice President Dick Cheney, he takes care of his friends regardless of what they did or the consequences of their actions. I suppose that’s an admirable quality, but it makes you wonder what’s more important to him; keeping Scooter Libby employed and his legacy intact, or seeing justice done. Time magazine has a look into the final days of the Bush administration and the battle between Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney over whether the president should pardon Mr. Libby.

Hours before they were to leave office after eight troubled years, George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney had one final and painful piece of business to conclude. For over a month Cheney had been pleading, cajoling, even pestering Bush to pardon the Vice President’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby. Libby had been convicted nearly two years earlier of obstructing an investigation into the leak of a covert CIA officer’s identity by senior White House officials. The Libby pardon, aides reported, had become something of a crusade for Cheney, who seemed prepared to push his nine-year-old relationship with Bush to the breaking point — and perhaps past it — over the fate of his former aide. “We don’t want to leave anyone on the battlefield,” Cheney argued.

The battlefield metaphor is interesting, seeing as how Mr. Cheney managed five deferments during the Vietnam war, citing “other priorities,” and it’s also an insight as to how he views the way things work in Washington; as a war rather than the give and take of politics and policy.

What comes through in this article is Mr. Cheney’s obsession with shaping the legacy of the administration he steered, either overtly or behind the scenes, into the war in Iraq and making sure that anyone who dared to challenge him was dealt with swiftly and ruthlessly. It also shows that he and his supporters have a rather flexible definition of what is pardonable and what isn’t. Ten years ago the Republicans and the right wingers drove the Congress and Senate to impeach and put on trial President Bill Clinton for doing exactly the same thing that Mr. Libby was convicted of: lying to a grand jury. The nation could not stand it if someone in the White House lied about getting a blow job. But after the Libby conviction, the righties’ meme was that it was a “technicality” and that lying under oath was no big deal. (In a perverse way, some commentators blamed Mr. Clinton for Mr. Libby’s plight; it a president could get away with it, why couldn’t he?) The irony is so thick you can stand a spoon up in it.

The facts of the Libby case are pretty well known: someone in the White House leaked the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame to Robert Novack as part of the retaliation for her husband writing an op-ed piece in the New York Times that called into question the veracity of one of President Bush’s reasons for going to war in Iraq. The trail led to the White House; specifically to the office of the vice president and Karl Rove. When Mr. Libby was questioned by a grand jury about his role in the leak, he lied to them. He was put on trial for perjury and convicted in March 2007. Several months later when he was sentenced, the president commuted his sentence, but did not grant him a pardon. This demand for exoneration became a cause celebre among the conservatives: Scooter was being punished for doing his job of keeping the evil lefties from ruining their war. But, to his credit, President Bush did not feel that Mr. Libby had met the criterion of earning a pardon; he didn’t admit to his guilt, he didn’t show remorse, and he hadn’t served time — something the president took care of with his commutation. Having ridden into office on the coattails of the Marc Rich pardon kerfuffle by President Clinton, even Mr. Bush saw the double standard staring him in the face. On the last weekend in the White House, Mr. Bush decided that Mr. Libby didn’t deserve a pardon.

He called Jim Sharp, his personal attorney in the Plame case, who had been present when he was interviewed by Fitzgerald in 2004. Sharp was known in Washington as one of the best lawyers nobody knew. A savvy raconteur from Oklahoma who had represented a long list of colorful clients — from Nixon pal Charles G. (Bebe) Rebozo to Sammy Sosa — Sharp had worked quietly for the President for a while before anyone even knew about it. In the meantime, the two men had become friends, spending hours chatting over cigars and near beer. On the Sunday before he left office, Bush invited Sharp to the executive mansion for a farewell cigar.

While packing boxes in the upstairs residence, according to his associates, Bush noted that he was again under pressure from Cheney to pardon Libby. He characterized Cheney as a friend and a good Vice President but said his pardon request had little internal support. If the presidential staff were polled, the result would be 100 to 1 against a pardon, Bush joked. Then he turned to Sharp. “What’s the bottom line here? Did this guy lie or not?”

The lawyer, who had followed the case very closely, replied affirmatively.

Bush indicated that he had already come to that conclusion too.

“O.K., that’s it,” Bush said.

To this day, Mr. Cheney still carries his torch for Mr. Libby; in response to the Time article, he released a statement:

Scooter Libby is an innocent man who was the victim of a severe miscarriage of justice. He was not the source of the leak of Valerie Plame’s name. Former Deputy Secretary of State, Rich Armitage, leaked the name and hid that fact from most of his colleagues, including the President. Mr. Libby is an honorable man and a faithful public servant who served the President, the Vice President and the nation with distinction for many years. He deserved a presidential pardon.

This would all be rather ordinary were it not for the fact that it points out that Mr. Cheney’s priority in the matter wasn’t whether or not an agent of the CIA was compromised, whether or not the country knew the truth about the lies being told to get us into a war that has killed thousands of soldiers and civilians and decimated our honor and fortune, or whether or not Mr. Libby received a fair trial and justice was done. All that mattered was that his friend was able to work as a lawyer again and that his reputation was somehow restored by the stroke of the president’s pen. Even President Bush, who had the most to gain or lose by the outcome of the Libby/Plame case, felt that justice had been done, that Mr. Libby was guilty and without remorse, and that he was doing the right thing — finally — by standing up to Mr. Cheney. (It also makes you wonder why Mr. Cheney is so determined to clear Mr. Libby. It’s almost as if there was some really compelling reason to keep him happy… and silent.) It’s also a little tragic that the one time when Mr. Bush went against the advice and strong persuasion of Mr. Cheney, its outcome was less than consequential; what if he had said no to the war in Iraq? There are a lot of people still left out on that battlefield.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Short Takes

California Bust — A budget deadlock and $41 billion deficit may lead to a layoff of 10,000 state employees and loss of services.

State Support — Unlike many of their Congressional counterparts, G.O.P. governors support Obama and the stimulus plan. It might have something to do with actually running a state.

Not Just Public Institutions — University of Miami, a private school, considers layoffs and budget cuts.

Cheney Pushed for Libby Pardon — “In the waning days of the Bush administration, Vice President Dick Cheney launched a last-ditch campaign to persuade his boss to pardon Lewis (Scooter) Libby – and was furious when President George W. Bush wouldn’t budge.”

Paranoia Big Business — Gun shops report big sales as gun owners stock up based on rumors.

Does it really matter
what kind of clothes Michelle Obama wears? Didn’t think so.

Strange Pets — Next time, get a goldfish.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

McClellan Tells What Happened

A teasing little tidbit from former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan’s forthcoming book What Happened:

“I stood at the White house briefing room podium in front of the glare of the klieg lights for the better part of two weeks and publicly exonerated two of the seniormost aides in the White House: Karl Rove and Scooter Libby,” McClellan wrote.

“There was one problem. It was not true.”

McClellan then absolves himself and makes an inflammatory — and potentially lucrative for his publisher — charge.

“I had unknowingly passed along false information,” McClellan wrote.

“And five of the highest ranking officials in the administration were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice president, the president’s chief of staff and the president himself.”

McClellan says he was in that position because he trusted the president: “The most powerful leader in the world had called upon me to speak on his behalf and help restore credibility he lost amid the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”

Whether or not this leads to anything more than something to argue about with your crazy right-wing uncle over the turkey carcass remains to be seen. For what it’s worth, the right wing is already letting slip loose the dogs of smear against Mr. McClellan:

What Republican remembers him, let alone would want to buy a book he wrote? We were spoiled with Ari, bored to tears by Scott, and then watched with pride as Tony gave as well as he got from the Press Corps.

A few people are asking why Mr. McClellan waited until he was out of the White House and writing a book before he dropped this little bomb. It’s pretty simple: a book deal gets you an advance, but a subpoena can be expensive.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

What Will We Tell the Children?

Back when Bill Clinton was being impeached for having an extramarital affair, the pious and the sanctimonious of the right wing carried on and clutched their pearls about how hard it would be to explain to their children why the president was in trouble. How, they fretted, will we explain to our dear little ones that the president is being put on trial for receiving a consensual act of … oh dear…! It was intolerable, they said; we cannot have a man in the White House who so degrades the office that we can’t even mention what it was that got him in trouble.

The Republicans pronounced themselves as the bastions of purity and truth. We will restore honor and dignity to the Oval Office, they said. Never again will the Rule of Law be flouted so shamelessly, they promised. Never again will there be privileges for the few or will the law of the land be cast aside so that those in power can get away with horrible crimes that defy description. Lawbreakers will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, and Americans will know that their leaders stand for truth, justice, and the American way.

Unless, of course, someone truly evil comes along to embarrass the president and writes an op-ed that calls into question one of the foundations of the reason the president started a preemptive war against a sovereign nation that never attacked us in the first place. Then all bets are off. The White House will let slip the dogs of war and no one — not even a covert CIA agent — will be safe because no one is allowed to question the rightness of the president. Anyone who steps up to the plate and does the bidding of the White House can rest assured that even if they break the law and do such things as lie to a grand jury and the federal prosecutor, they will be protected.

So Scooter Libby never really had to worry about going to jail. His defenders said that there was never a crime to cover up in the first place; the prosecutor never brought a charge against anyone for leaking the name of Valerie Plame to Robert Novak, so it’s terribly unfair to charge Mr. Libby with lying about something that no one was indicted for. (The fact that Mr. Libby was put on trial for succeeding with the cover-up seems to escape these people.) And once the court case was over, there was never any doubt that if Mr. Libby was convicted, the right wing would fly to his defense and demand that he be pardoned because there was a greater good at stake here: the good name and the reputation of the president, the vice president, and the fictions that got us into the war are far more important — they are a higher calling — than something as petty as telling the truth about the real story behind going to war.

Giving the right wing the benefit of the doubt and assuming for the sake of argument that Mr. Libby was prosecuted on a bullshit charge and that he was the scapegoat for the liberals’ demand that the Bush administration be held accountable for their conduct leading the nation into war, granting Mr. Libby a commutation of his “excessive” prison term seems like a strange way to respect the rule of law. After all, eight years ago we were told ad nauseum that justice must be allowed to run its course. The impeachment and trial of William Jefferson Clinton must go forward; how else could the people of this country trust their leaders to do the right thing if the most powerful man in the free world is allowed to escape the bar of justice? It would be a larger crime if the House and Senate did not attempt to prove that no man is above the law. Let the trial go forward! So why doesn’t the same standard apply this time around? Why, even before the appeal of the original conviction is heard, does Mr. Libby know that he will never spend a day in prison, and that his $250,000 fine will be paid for by the legal defense fund that was set up the day he was indicted? Why will he never lack for employment, even if he is disbarred? It’s because John Edwards is right when he says there are two Americas: the America where people are arrested, tried, and face their punishment, and then there’s the America where privilege and connections get you a free pass and your friends will bring all the political pressure to bear to get you home in time for cocktails and dinner. (It’s not for everybody; Randy “Duke” Cunningham is wondering if his commutation somehow got lost in the mail.)

So how do we explain to the children why Scooter Libby, a man who was tried and convicted by a jury, doesn’t have to go to jail for breaking the law? Why is it that the rule of law seems to apply to everybody else except the ruling class? Why is it that justice is blind except when it’s manipulated for the friends and the faithful servants of the people who are supposed to have sworn an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the laws of the United States only when it suits them? I’m looking forward to hearing how that’s an example of fairness — a concept children seem to grasp with amazing insight — and have it make sense to them.

It would probably be easier to explain to them what a blow job is.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Bush: Rule of Law My Ass

From the New York Times:

President Bush spared former White House aide I. Lewis ”Scooter” Libby from a 2 1/2-year prison term on Monday, issuing an order that commutes his sentence.

The next time I hear some Republican carry on about The Rule of Law, I’m going to find something rather large with a lot of splinters on it — an industrial-strength fencepost comes to mind — and plant it in them where the sun does not shine.

Jesus H. Christ in a birchbark canoe.

But then again, what the fuck did you expect.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Scooter Is a Casualty of the War?

I’ve heard some lame-ass reasons for pardoning or cutting back on Scooter Libby’s sentence, but this column by Richard Cohen takes the cake.

An unpopular war produced the popular cry for scalps and, in Libby’s case, the additional demand that he express contrition — a vestigial Stalinist-era yearning for abasement. No one has yet explained, though, how Libby can express contrition and still appeal his conviction. No matter. Antiwar sanctimony excuses the inexplicable.


I don’t expect George Bush to appreciate this. He is the privileged son of a privileged son, and he fears nothing except, probably, doubt. But the rest of us ought to consider what Fitzgerald has wrought and whether we are better off for his efforts. I have come to hate the war and I cannot approve of lying under oath — not by Scooter, not by Bill Clinton, not by anybody. But the underlying crime is absent, the sentence is excessive and the investigation should not have been conducted in the first place. This is a mess. Should Libby be pardoned? Maybe. Should his sentence be commuted? Definitely.

The underlying crime is absent because people lied about it, including Karl Rove, and Mr. Libby was either too stupid or egocentric to think that he could get away with it. That he took the fall for others and is going to jail while others are not is not a virtue; it’s testimony to the fact that he’s a loyal crony and now expects mercy because he’s shielding higher-ups.

There are plenty of people who are rotting in jails for lesser crimes who do not get the sympathy and op-eds of the Washington Post, but that’s because they’re not rich white hacks. And if Mr. Libby is going to jail because of a revulsion against the war and the lies and machinations that got us there and for his role in enabling the administration to not only get us into Iraq but to demonize and endanger the life of a CIA covert agent in retaliation for politically embarrassing the White House, well, it’s about damn time someone did.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Pardon Pressure

Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times looks at the pros and cons of pardoning Scooter Libby in terms of the politics and the Bush legacy.

Already, major conservative and neoconservative organizations, magazines and Web sites are expressing vexation that Mr. Bush has not granted clemency to Mr. Libby, who they say was unfairly railroaded for an initial leak that has now been traced to Richard L. Armitage, the former deputy secretary of state.

“I don’t understand it,” said David Frum, a former speech writer for Mr. Bush who is now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research group with close ties to the White House. “A lot of people in the conservative world are weighted down by the sheer, glaring unfairness here.”

Maybe that’s because most if not all of these conservatives have no sense of irony. As previously noted in this space, these were the same people who went into Wagnerian paroxysms of rant over Bill Clinton.

A former senior administration official with his own ties to the case said Mr. Libby had failed to meet the general standard for a pardon by not showing contrition or serving any time. This official also noted that Mr. Libby had also been found guilty of lying to investigators, the same offense that led to the impeachment of Mr. Clinton.

The former official, who requested anonymity to speak frankly about the president, said: “It would show a deep disregard for the rule of law if he was to do it right now, when there has been no remorse shown by a convicted felon and no time has been served. How’s this going to fit in his long-term legacy?”

The question of the Bush administration’s regard for the rule of law has never really been in doubt: they have none if it goes against whatever it is they want to do, like wiretap with warrants or poke through banking records.

As for how it fits into Mr. Bush’s long-term legacy, I’m willing to bet that when it’s put up against the war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, and all the other outrages foisted upon the nation and the world, whether or not Mr. Bush pardons one of his loyal minions won’t really be the crowning jewel on top of Mount Trashmore.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Beg Pardon?

From the Washington Post:

I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, was sentenced today to 30 months in prison and fined $250,000 for lying to investigators about his role in leaking the identity of an undercover CIA officer.

“Evidence in this case overwhelmingly indicated Mr. Libby’s culpability,” U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton said moments before he handed out the sentence. The judge said he was sentencing Libby “with a sense of sadness. I have the highest respect for people who take positions in our government and appreciate tremendously efforts they bring to bear to protect this country.”

At the same time, Walton said, “I also think it is important we expect and demand a lot from people who put themselves in those positions. Mr. Libby failed to meet the bar. For whatever reason, he got off course.”

Just before Walton pronounced the sentence, Libby briefly appealed to the judge. After thanking Walton for the court’s courtesy and kindness during the lengthy proceedings, Libby said: “It is respectfully my hope that the court will consider along with the jury verdict my whole life. Thank you your honor.”

Well, the Orcosphere now all has something to weep, wail, gnash their teeth, and generally get all pissy over, and the on-line petitions to the White House to pardon Mr. Libby are in the works, I’m sure. The underlying and overarching claim will be that that what Mr. Libby did — obstruction of justice — isn’t really a crime here; all he did was forget to tell the federal prosecutor a few details about his role in the outing of Valerie Plame.

My, my, how times have changed; the right wing certainly has become liberal in their thinking about the Rule of Law. Why, it was just 1998 — nine short years ago — that they impeached Bill Clinton and brought the government to a screeching halt based on the accusation that Mr. Clinton had obstructed justice and forgot to tell the federal prosecutor a few details about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Oh, but that was about a blow job, not outing a covert CIA agent. That makes all the difference, see? It was about sex, and of course that is the most important thing in the world.

The catch in getting a pardon is that in accepting it, Mr. Libby thereby admits to the crimes he’s being punished for. Then all the wind goes out of the argument that what he did wasn’t a crime — you can’t be pardoned for being innocent — and therefore the righties will thereby be making the case that Yes, Scooter did break the law. You can’t have it both ways.

Oh, wait…these are Republicans.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

She Was Too

Remember how one of the biggest right-wing talking points in the Plame case was that Valerie Plame, whose identity as a CIA operative was revealed by the White House in an effort to exact political revenge against her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, wasn’t really a covert agent for the spy agency and therefore she was in no danger when Robert Novak, doing the bidding of the White House, revealed that fact?


An unclassified summary of outed CIA officer Valerie Plame’s employment history at the spy agency, disclosed for the first time today in a court filing by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, indicates that Plame was “covert” when her name became public in July 2003.

The summary is part of an attachment to Fitzgerald’s memorandum to the court supporting his recommendation that I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Cheney’s former top aide, spend 2-1/2 to 3 years in prison for obstructing the CIA leak investigation.


The unclassified summary of Plame’s employment with the CIA at the time that syndicated columnist Robert Novak published her name on July 14, 2003 says, “Ms. Wilson was a covert CIA employee for who the CIA was taking affirmative measures to conceal her intelligence relationship to the United States.”

As Larry Johnson notes, the righties will have some ‘splaining to do for trashing Ms. Plame in their flailing attempt to justify the actions of Libby, Rove, and any one else who had a hand in it.

Of course, if they had any integrity, they would apologize. Yeah, right; don’t hold your breath.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Perils of A Pardon

In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, George Lardner, Jr. notes that if President Bush pardons Scooter Libby, it won’t be the free pass that both the critics and the advocates for a pardon think it is.

Here’s why: If Mr. Libby were to accept a traditional presidential pardon — a “full and unconditional” grant of clemency — he would be admitting that he was guilty of the crimes of which he was convicted: obstructing justice, perjury and lying to the F.B.I. Perhaps it shouldn’t be that way, but it is — no ifs, ands or buts about it. So, while many who have been pardoned like to claim they have been “exonerated,” that simply isn’t so.


What all this means for Mr. Bush is that he can’t win. If he gives Mr. Libby a traditional pardon, one of his administration’s most powerful officials has to admit to wrongdoing — a remarkable event for an administration that seems pathologically averse to apologizing or even admitting mistakes.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Beg Pardon?

So the question comes down to not if the president will pardon I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby but when. Betting pools are already being set up (guess the date and win a T-shirt!) and of course the wingers are taking over the talk shows and op-ed pages saying that Scooter is a nice guy who got caught up in the moment; the charges were trivial and there was no “real” crime, and according to Rush Limbaugh, the Wilsons “set up” the Bush administration to trap them in a lie (which makes you wonder who’s been watching a little too much of 24).

As Newsweek notes, it may be harder for Bush to pardon Libby than all the weepers want; that is, if he follows the regulations set up by the Justice Department.

Those regulations, which are discussed on the Justice Department Web site at, would seem to make a Libby pardon a nonstarter in George W. Bush’s White House. They “require a petitioner to wait a period of at least five years after conviction or release from confinement (whichever is later) before filing a pardon application,” according to the Justice Web site.

Moreover, in weighing whether to recommend a pardon, U.S. attorneys are supposed to consider whether an applicant is remorseful. “The extent to which a petitioner has accepted responsibility for his or her criminal conduct and made restitution to … victims are important considerations. A petitioner should be genuinely desirous of forgiveness rather than vindication,” the Justice Web site states.

Of course, the president doesn’t have to follow those guidelines, and there is no evidence that he has ever paid attention to the pesky little rules that apply to everyone else. That would be in violation of the Right Wing Prime Directive: Conservatives Never Make Mistakes and A Republican Is Never Wrong. As Digby notes,

Republican administrations always break the law and when they are caught they always pardon their own. I guess we’ve just become so used to it now that people don’t even find it shocking anymore.

If this happens, from this day forward, Republican administrations know they have no obligation to uphold the law while in office, ever. Why should they?

There are some, I’m sure, on the GOP side who would see the Libby pardon as bad news for them in that it would basically hand the Democrats the 2008 election. After all, how can candidates for the House and Senate go out on the campaign trail and not only have to defend the arrogance, lawlessness, incompetence, and sheer audacity of the last eight years but ask the voters to trust them again? How can they do that and not get their head handed to them? But then, the president really doesn’t care all that much about what happens to other people unless it directly effects him. So what if the Democrats win 60 seats in the Senate? He’ll be out of office and playing with his X-Box.

In the larger scheme of things, the pardon of Mr. Libby will be a relatively small item; after all, when you put it up against the invasion of a sovereign country based on misguided, misinterpreted and invented intelligence, the trashing of the Constitution, the cronyism, the demonization of science in favor of mythology, the politicalization of the Justice Department, the efforts to relegate the gay population to second-class citizenship, and Hurricane Katrina, the prospect of Scooter Libby spending a few years in the joint doesn’t measure up to the other calamities. All it does is affirm being a Bushie means never having to say you’re sorry.

Shorter Libby Op-Ed’s

David Brooks:

Scooter is a nice guy who got caught up in a “White House consumed by a feverish sense of mission.”

That’s what they said about Albert Speer.

Maureen Dowd:

Way cool! I went to high school with the juror on “Countdown”!

That’s all she’s got. You’ve heard all the rest before.

Robert Novak:

Me! Me! Me! Me! Me!

Bonus: George F. Will:

Memo to Conservatives: McCain, Giuliani, and Romney are the best we’ve got, so if you want to cling to power, you’re going to have to suck it up and do it without looking desperate.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Just Say No

Back in the days of the Clinton administration, America was treated to a daily lecture by the GOP and the right wing about how important it was to be a person of high moral character and that there was no worse crime than to be someone who treated the laws and the people who work for you as the tools for your nefarious goals. “Character Counts” billboards dotted the landscape, and a lot of jowly finger-waggers like William Bennett and Pat Buchanan made a pile of money writing pious tomes about virtue and how much better they were than all those hillbillies that had taken over the West Wing. We endured lecture after lecture from Jerry Falwell and the evangelicals about the evils of tolerance, singling out gays and lesbians as the scourge of the world. Of course we later found out that Mr. Bennett used his income from his writings to gamble in Atlantic City and one of leaders of the evangelical movement had a well-built boy on the side, but of all the moral standards that these modern-day Elmer Gantrys preached about, the dangers of hypocrisy was not one of them.

The worst crime, however, was lying. Nothing was more an affront to the dignity and the honor of the country than knowingly committing perjury, and anybody who did it or allowed it to happen had no right to hold a position of trust in the public service. Rep. Ileana Ros Lehtinen (R-FL) summed it up:

Lying under oath is an ancient crime of great weight because it shields other offenses, because it blocks the light of truth in human affairs. It is a dagger in the heart of our legal system, and indeed in our democracy. It cannot, it should not, it must not be tolerated.

Those were the words she used to justify the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 for lying about sex.

So it makes you wonder where have all the moralists gone? We now have the conviction of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby before us, convicted on four counts of perjury and obstruction of justice, and the jury said that it didn’t stop there. Where’s Rove, they asked. Why weren’t the people who instigated this incident on trial? What about Vice President Cheney, the man who ordered Mr. Libby to do his dirty work? Why did Mr. Libby have to face fine and imprisonment for being the fall guy?

Those are all good questions, but what really bothers me is that why did Mr. Libby allow himself to be caught up in this in the first place? According to the men and women who promised to restore honor and dignity to the Oval Office, Mr. Libby was a dedicated and talented public servant who sacrificed much in the service of his country. Apparently he also sacrificed his sense of morality as well, because when Vice President Cheney told him to go out and leak the name of Valerie Plame to reporters in revenge for her husband’s embarrassing the president about the uranium from Niger, he did it. He didn’t have the courage or the moral fiber to say, “No, sir, that’s wrong, and I’m not going to do it.”

He probably would have lost his job and Mr. Cheney would have doubtless found someone else to do it — Mary Matalin comes to mind — but it would have spared Mr. Libby the last two years of public humiliation and the inevitable first line of his obituary, not to mention the endless jokes about his nickname. But he would have done exactly what those sanctimonious morality-mongers were telling us was the most important thing in the world: having the courage to Just Say No. Hey, it was supposed to work with drugs, so why not for sex and lying under oath?

There will be those, I’m sure, who will find some way to wiggle out of this: Mr. Libby was railroaded and the justice system was perverted in order to get him and embarrass the Bush administration. But the stark reality is that those who preached and screeched the loudest about morality and virtue are the ones who need to learn their own lessons.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Libby Guilty

From the New York Times/AP:

Former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby was convicted today of obstruction, perjury and lying to the FBI an investigation into the leak of a CIA operative’s identity.

The “news alert” says they got him on four of five counts.

I’m guessing that he will start singing like a canary.

I suggest that Vice President Cheney and Karl Rove get on the phone to their lawyers now.

May I be so bold as to recommend one who knows how to get thugs off?

Monday, February 26, 2007

That Was Then; This Is Now

E.J. Dionne notes that the Bush administration — specifically Dick Cheney — is up to its old tricks.

Even as jurors pondered whether Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff should be convicted for lying about what the Bush administration did to smear one of its critics, there was Cheney accusing another adversary of doing the work of the terrorists.

The fabricate-and-smear cycle illustrated so dramatically during the case of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby explains why President Bush is failing to rally support for the latest iteration of his Iraq policy. The administration’s willingness at the outset to say anything, no matter how questionable, to justify the war has destroyed its credibility. Its habit of attacking those who expressed misgivings has destroyed any goodwill it might have enjoyed. Bush and Cheney have lost the benefit of the doubt.

Yet Cheney has learned nothing and forgotten nothing. His latest demon is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whom he accuses of validating al-Qaeda’s objectives.


The attack apparatus has now turned on [Patrick] Fitzgerald, whose record is that of a thoroughly nonpartisan prosecutor. Fitzgerald’s perjury rap against Libby, Cheney allies say, is a cheap attempt to criminalize politics.

Really? Here’s what Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) had to say about perjury: “Lying under oath is an ancient crime of great weight because it shields other offenses, because it blocks the light of truth in human affairs. It is a dagger in the heart of our legal system, and indeed in our democracy. It cannot, it should not, it must not be tolerated.”

Ros-Lehtinen made that statement not about Libby, but to justify the impeachment of Bill Clinton back in 1998. I have no idea where she stands on the Plame-Wilson case. But it’s certainly amusing that so many who were eager to throw Clinton out of office for perjury and obstruction of justice when he lied about sex are now livid at Fitzgerald for bringing comparable charges in a controversy over the rationale for war. Do they think sex is more important than war?

What a silly question; of course they do.

The attempt to smear Fitzgerald is laughable, especially when you compare his plodding and methodical work to that of Kenneth Starr, the special prosecutor who went after Bill Clinton. Starr made no secret of his contempt for Mr. Clinton and gleefully went after him with all the grace and dignity of the paparazzi, including leaking documents and intimidating witnesses. But that was okay for the Republicans because Starr was their guy, it was all about sex, and anything that could possibly destroy Bill Clinton was fair game.

So they’re trying the same tactics with Pelosi, Fitzgerald, and anybody else. What is amazing is that they didn’t learn from their past mistakes. They didn’t get Clinton, they destroyed the trust of the American people about the war, and now they’re trying it all over again.

Sometimes you just have to shake your head and say, “WTF?”

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

“I Feel a Great Disturbance in The Force”

Vice President Cheney was not happy about Joe Wilson.

In grand jury audiotapes played yesterday during Libby’s perjury trial, the vice president’s then-chief of staff said Cheney had been “upset” and “disturbed” by criticisms from former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV that Bush had twisted intelligence to justify the war. And Libby said that Karl Rove had been “animated” by a conversation with Robert D. Novak, in which the conservative columnist told Rove he “had a bad taste in his mouth” about Wilson and was writing a column about him.


Libby’s portrayal of the zeal to discredit Wilson’s claims, reaching to the White House’s highest echelons, reinforces Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald’s assertion that the criticism of war provoked such a political crisis among Bush’s top aides that it is unlikely the defendant simply forgot his role in the leak, as defense attorneys contend.

If, as the defenders of the Vice President and Mr. Libby have been saying all along, Mr. Wilson is a liar and a stooge for the C.I.A., why did they go to such efforts to discredit him? Lots of people come up with lots of wild and crazy stories about the people in the administration — any administration — and juicy gossip about the higher-ups and their nefarious doings are the currency in the outer inner circles in Washington, just like in any company town. So why did Ambassador Wilson’s op-ed piece, which has been called everything from fiction to libel by the White House, set off such a frenzy, and why did the Vice President and his staff and Karl Rove and his minions in the press set out to destroy Mr. Wilson and in the process expose his wife as a C.I.A. operative (and remember, Karl Rove said that Valerie Plame’s career was little more than collateral damage; he called it “fair game”)?

Could it have been because Ambassador Wilson was actually telling the truth?

In spite of all the irrelevant and ad hominem attacks against Mr. Wilson and his wife (“he lied to the Senate once” and “she wasn’t really undercover”) by the White House and the orcosphere, the fact remains that what Mr. Wilson wrote about in his op-ed piece in the New York Times was right; Niger wasn’t sending uranium to Iraq and the documentation that said it was was a forgery. Yet the Bush administration went forward with the claims — and the war — and set out to discredit anyone who had the temerity to suggest that maybe they got it wrong.

The vision of Vice President Cheney so obsessed with Wilson and his article — he had it under glass on his desktop — reminds us not only of the Dark Lord of the Sith on his neverending quest to seek out the young Jedi and eliminate him as a great threat to the Empire — but of the dark days of the Nixon administration when the president stalked the halls and made lists of enemies. Back then it was driven by paranoia. Now it’s driven by the fear that the truth will actually come out about why we went to war in Iraq.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Unraveling

The trial of Scooter Libby is taking on a life of its own that has some historical parallels.

First, former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer took the stand and said that Mr. Libby told him the identity of Valerie Plame over lunch three days before Mr. Libby says he learned that she was a CIA operative from NBC’s Tim Russert. Under tough cross-examination, Mr. Fleischer stuck to his story and pretty much torpedoed Mr. Libby’s defense.

Then Mr. Fleischer noted that among the reporters he tipped off to Ms. Plame’s identity was then-Time-now-Slate reporter John Dickerson, who was sitting in the courtroom and almost had a Perry Mason moment when he found himself and his story being entered as evidence in the case.

For those of us who remember Watergate, it wasn’t the “third-rate burglary” that brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon. It wasn’t even the hush money paid to the burglars or the dirty tricks planned at the hands of G. Gordon Liddy in order to undermine the Democrats in the 1972 election. It was the cover-up that did them all in; the lying to the FBI, lying to Congress, and the obstruction of justice in the investigations that did it. The initial incident was nothing compared to the attempt to kill the result.

The same is true here. The leak of Valerie Plame’s name, as odious and craven as it was in the attempt by the Bush administration to get back at someone for embarrassing the White House for calling them out on the infamous sixteen words, turns out to have been an inadvertant slip of the tongue by Richard Armitage, an innocuous public servant who, as far as anyone can tell, had no political motives when he did it. He just plain goofed. But given the paranoia and revenge-filled mindset of this White House, led by a president who can never make mistakes and enabled by willing toadys like Karl Rove within and the right-wing orcosphere without, it is not surprising that suspicion immediately fell on the higher-ups like Rove, Cheney, and even the president himself.

Their immediate response bore out those suspicions and followed the Nixon model as if they had gone to the National Archives and followed the script to the letter. First there was the dismissal of the claim that the leak came from the office of the Vice President; a dismissal issued by Mr. Fleischer’s successor. (Ironically, Mr. Fleischer’s last day at the White House was the day Robert Novak’s column appeared and launched the whole episode.) Then there was the claim that the White House was looking into the leak as vigorously as possible and would fire anyone connected with it if it proved to be true. Then when the Justice Department began an official investigation, the White House promised their complete cooperation – as long as it didn’t interfere with their duties. That’s White House-speak for “over my dead body.”

There was a great sigh of relief, not to mention some gloating, from the White House and their minions when Karl Rove wasn’t indicted in the case, and the attitude seemed to be that whatever happened to Mr. Libby, it wouldn’t reach the West Wing. The Nixon White House thought they had insulated themselves pretty well, too.

It seems ironic that the Bush administration, which came into power crowing that they would restore honor and integrity to the government, especially after the sleazy and unseemly affairs of their predecessor who had committed the capital offense of lying to a grand jury and deserved impeachment and all sorts of draconian punishment for it, is now in danger of having all of its inner workings and machinations exposed because one of their own – and someone they set up to take the fall – lied to a grand jury.

First Iraq and Vietnam, now Watergate and Scooter Libby. Haven’t we had enough of re-runs from the 1970’s?

Friday, January 26, 2007

Control Freaks

Dana Milbank gets in some observations as to the inner workings of the Bush White House.

Memo to Tim Russert: Dick Cheney thinks he controls you.

This delicious morsel about the “Meet the Press” host and the vice president was part of the extensive dish Cathie Martin served up yesterday when the former Cheney communications director took the stand in the perjury trial of former Cheney chief of staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

Flashed on the courtroom computer screens were her notes from 2004 about how Cheney could respond to allegations that the Bush administration had played fast and loose with evidence of Iraq’s nuclear ambitions. Option 1: “MTP-VP,” she wrote, then listed the pros and cons of a vice presidential appearance on the Sunday show. Under “pro,” she wrote: “control message.”

“I suggested we put the vice president on ‘Meet the Press,’ which was a tactic we often used,” Martin testified. “It’s our best format.”

For an administration that claims it doesn’t care much about polls — yeah right — they seem to be obsessed with controlling their image. Dick Cheney sounds like another Dick that served as vice presdient; Richard Nixon used to stay up nights worrying about how to control the message that came out of the White House, but compared to what the current occupants are doing, Nixon was an amateur.

It’s also interesting to note that the administration that took such pride in it’s efforts to restore “honor and dignity” to the White House is being run like a boisterous and rude frat house, and in trying to control their message, they are using some techniques that are so old and hackneyed that they’ve entered the realm of popular culture.

It is unclear whether the first week of the trial will help or hurt Libby or the administration. But the trial has already pulled back the curtain on the White House’s PR techniques and confirmed some of the darkest suspicions of the reporters upon whom they are used. Relatively junior White House aides run roughshod over members of the president’s Cabinet. Bush aides charged with speaking to the public and the media are kept out of the loop on some of the most important issues. And bad news is dumped before the weekend for the sole purpose of burying it.

With a candor that is frowned upon at the White House, Martin explained the use of late-Friday statements. “Fewer people pay attention to it late on Friday,” she said. “Fewer people pay attention when it’s reported on Saturday.”

That’s a technique known as “Take Out the Trash Day” as noted in an episode of The West Wing.

Every administration thinks they’re going to be the one to finally control the message. It’s never happened, it never will, but it sure makes things fun to watch as they try.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

And Your Point Would Be…?

No surprise here:

The chief defense lawyer for I. Lewis Libby Jr. told a jury today that his client was innocent of perjury and obstruction of justice charges and that White House officials had sought to make him a scapegoat in the investigation of the leak of a C.I.A. operative’s name to protect Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff.

In his opening statement, Theodore V. Wells Jr., said that the unnamed White House officials wanted to protect Mr. Rove because they believed his survival as President Bush’s political adviser was crucial to saving the Republican Party.


Mr. Libby is charged with five felony counts for lying to the grand jury on two occasions and also to agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who were investigating the leak of Ms. Plame’s name to Mr. Novak.

Mr. Wells, Mr. Libby’s chief defense lawyer, said that the charges against Mr. Libby amount to “a weak, paper-thin circumstantial case about ‘he said-she said’.”

Mr. Wells said that Mr. Libby complained to Mr. Cheney that he was being made to be the fall guy and the vice president wrote a note that read:

“Not going to protect one staffer + sacrifice the guy who was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others.”

He explained that Mr. Cheney’s note referred to the fact that the C.I.A. had allowed the White House to use inaccurate information in Mr. Bush’s state of the union speech about Iraq’s efforts to obtain uranium in Africa.

Sure, it’s a great “hey, look at the kitty!” moment for the cable news networks (will Cheney resign?), but what I don’t get is what does fingering Rove and Cheney have to do with defending Libby against charges that he lied to federal investigators?

Update: Josh Marshall at TPM suggests that this is Libby’s payback to the White House for not pardoning him and throwing him under the bus. Having the defense pin the blame on Rove and Cheney makes Libby look like the fall guy. Josh thinks “[p]erhaps they’re angling for some sort of politically-tinged jury nullification.”

Off-topic Trivia: According to Blogger, this is my 5,000th post. Wow.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Cheney On the Stand

Vice President Cheney will be a defense witness in the trial of Scooter Libby.

BAILIFF: Do you solemnly swear that the testimony you are about to give in the case before this court will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

WITNESS: Go fuck yourself.

JUDGE: Let the record reflect that the witness answered in the affirmative.

Blackstone would be so proud.