Administration critics are gloating over Scooter Libby’s conviction this week in the Valerie Plame leak case, but no one should be happy about this prosecution. The more we learn about the motivations of the federal prosecutor in this case and the attitudes of some jury members, the more it appears that justice has not been served.
Libby now faces up to 25 years in prison for lying to federal prosecutors and obstructing justice, but he was clearly a scapegoat for the man prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and at least some members of the jury wanted to put behind bars: Vice President Dick Cheney.
As one juror told The Washington Post after the verdict, "We’re not saying that we didn’t think Mr. Libby was guilty of the things we found him guilty of. But it seemed like he was . . . the fall guy."
Fitzgerald told the jury in his closing arguments that Libby’s lies had made it impossible for him to learn the extent to which the vice president was involved in trying to undermine Plame’s husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Wilson had written an op-ed for The New York Times on July 6, 2003, highly critical of the administration’s case for going to war against Iraq.
Joe Wilson, not his wife Valerie Plame, was the actual center of the maelstrom that engulfed Libby and others in the White House. He had long been a critic of the case for war against Iraq. But Wilson’s New York Times piece seemed to have added authority because it was based on information he said he learned when the CIA sent him to Niger to investigate whether Iraq had been trying to obtain yellowcake uranium.
It was Fitzgerald’s theory — one embraced by virtually everyone on the Left and much of the press — that Plame’s identity had been released to punish Wilson. But the allegation is preposterous on its face.
We now know, no thanks to Fitzgerald, that prosecutors were long aware of the source of the original leak. Richard Armitage, former deputy secretary of state and a dissident in the Bush administration, was the man who leaked CIA employee Valerie Plame’s name to syndicated columnist Robert Novak, who then revealed it in his column on July 14, 2003. That column, which exposed Plame’s role in sending her husband on the trip to Niger, sparked a hue and cry from Democrats, who charged that the leak of Plame’s name violated a 1982 law that made it illegal to knowingly reveal the identity of covert agents.
But Plame was not a covert agent — certainly not at the time her name appeared in Novak’s column — which is why Fitzgerald chose not to prosecute Libby under the statute. Nor did Fitzgerald seek to prosecute Armitage or any of the other administration officials who also talked to journalists about Valerie Plame.
Armitage told investigators what he had done shortly after the Justice Department announced its official investigation into the leak, but he did not come forward publicly to admit his role. His failure to do so when he could see that the federal investigation into the leak was quickly turning into a witch hunt speaks to his cowardice or his complicity in the vendetta against the vice president.
Armitage’s role in the affair only became public when Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff and The Nation editor David Corn revealed it in their book "Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War," published last fall. They noted that on Oct. 1, 2003, Armitage notified Secretary of State Colin Powell that he was Novak’s source, and that within days, that information was transmitted to the Justice Department.
Yet on Dec. 31, 2003, Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed to find out who leaked Valerie Plame’s name to Robert Novak and to determine whether the leak broke the law. It is clear that from the beginning, Fitzgerald’s only interest was in directly implicating the vice president in the leak. When he was unable to do so, he decided to punish Scooter Libby for protecting his boss.
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