Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Scooting into Court

The political right may not be as blind as I thought. Scooter Libby has been indicted on five felony counts, all roughly equating to obstruction of justice or perjury, depending on how strictly you interpret the indictment. The conservative media has been more restrained than usual in their comments so far, exhibiting at least a rudimentary understanding of the “glass houses” principle.

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting approach. The WSJ made it crystal clear that lying under oath is wrong, and should never be condoned. Bu-u-u-u-t, they quibbled, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has shown no motive for the Scooter to perjure himself, so they remain skeptical.

This is disingenuous on two levels. This isn’t a murder case, where who did what first might be an issue and the best witness is dead. Perjury is a lot easier to prove. If he said A when he knew B to be true and Fitzgerald can prove it, Libby scoots off to jail. Motive is immaterial if the reasonable doubt threshold is met, much like no one really cares why Sam robbed the liquor store when they catch him red-handed. Libby may well have been caught in the act.

Another flaw in the Journal’s thinking hinges on their childlike innocence. They have no idea why their good friend Scooter would lie. To protect Dick Cheney, maybe. Telling Libby that Valerie Plame was an undercover operative probably isn’t a crime. Cheney may not have known how undercover she was, or had been; telling Libby isn’t the same as releasing the news to the media. It’s still embarrassing as hell for Dr. Strangelove, and Libby didn’t get his job by showing disloyalty to the people who could make or break him. Someone had to take this bullet for Cheney, and Scooter was in the right place at the right time.

Libby’s defense appears to be another insult to America’s collective intelligence: “I forgot.” Another example of naivety, similar to every child’s answer to such probing questions as “Why didn’t you brush your teeth?” or “Why isn’t this room clean?” Summon up an angelic face (a stray lock of hair across the forehead is always a nice touch), scratch your toe around in the dirt a few times, shove your hands into your pockets, and say, “I forgot.”

It’s not like Fitzgerald bumped into Libby on the White House elevator and said, “Hey, Scoot-man, where’d you hear about Valerie Plame?” thus catching Libby unaware. He was sent a formal invitation (doesn’t that sound much friendlier than “subpoena?”) and given plenty of time to prepare. These guys log everything, if only to defend against libel suits when their inevitable book comes out. What’s he going to say now, “Russert, Cheney, don’t you think they look like they were separated at birth?”

An article by two former Reagan staffers in Saturday’s Washington Post said Fitzgerald was a prime example of why special prosecutors are a bad idea. Their reasoning is based on him going back to his master and requesting permission to expand his investigative mandate to include possible perjury and obstruction charges. Well, duh! No one can run an investigation if the subjects or other “persons of interest” don’t have to tell the truth. That’s what investigations are supposed to do: find the truth, or as close as our system lets them get.

Libby did his job well. The old Reaganites also whined about how long Fitzgerald took on his investigation, conveniently forgetting Ken Starr kept his job longer than some Supreme Court justices. Fitzgerald said in his press conference that had it not been for the obstruction and delays by Libby (and possibly others as yet unnamed), the indictments could have come out a year earlier. For those keeping score at home, that would have been before the election. Maybe it would have made a difference, maybe not. As close as the election was, I think “maybe” is a good bet.

The editors of the Wall Street Journal are intelligent men; we can assume they’re too smart to believe half the crap they tried to pass off as valid points in their editorial. The problem is that truth is such a rare commodity in today’s political atmosphere it has almost become like the mysterious quark particles of physics, that can never be seen and must be assumed based on measurements and actions of the particles that contain them. Like a quark, truth cannot exist on its own in Washington; its mass is solely dependent on the spin exerted by outside forces.

Scooter Libby is entitled to a presumption of innocence. Given the state of politics in what passes for the world’s greatest democracy, maybe he should just get a presumption of “not guilty.” No one working in Washington today is innocent of the mess we’ve made.

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