Saturday, October 29, 2005

Iraq War on Trial

Okay, so we finally have an indictment, is it over? Not even close. I find it fascinating that the 5 counts Libby was charged with by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald all stem directly from the investigation itself, rather than the allegations of an intent to expose the identity of a CIA operative and compromise national security. There are so many other questions that have yet to be answered, and perhaps never will. For this reason, I don't think this will become a significant scandal like Watergate, or Lewinksy-gate was.

The main question I have is who are columnist Robert Novak's sources, and why hasn't there been more discussion of his direct involvement in this case? We have heard so much about Matt Cooper, Judith Miller, Tim Scooter Libby, and Karl Rove, yet precious little about Novak. Why is it that this man has managed to escape the level of scrutiny the others involved have endured the last 2 years? In the indictment papers released by Fitzgerald of Libby, Novak is mentioned as having 2 sources both described as a "senior white house official" and one with the conspicuous label "Official A." There is much speculation already that "Official A" is actually Karl Rove, but that does not mean he is guilty of a particular crime, although it remains to be seen if Fitzgerald will also indict Rove. However, it seems unlikely anymore indictments are pending despite Fitzgerald’s claim that the investigation is not over. Perhaps the Libby trial will prove to be more forthcoming in revealing the facts surrounding this extremely complex case.

In any event, it is impossible to talk about the CIA leak investigation without getting into a discussion about the justification for the War in Iraq. Libby, Cheney, Rove, and others in the Administration were outspoken about their support of the statements made by the president in his State of the Union Address prior to the Iraq invasion which claimed Saddam had attempted to purchase uranium yellowcake from Niger. The Bush Administration later expressed regret for using the infamous 16 words in the 2003 State of the Union Address only after it had been determined to be from a highly dubious source, an assertion previously made by Wilson after his investigative trip to Niger. If the White House had simply criticized Joe Wilson directly about his editorial piece on his finding in Niger, instead of going about it in such an indirect fashion by exposing the identity of his wife, this whole mess could have been avoided. Instead, they felt they needed to undermine his credibility, because Wilson had made a claim that his trip to Niger was approved by the Vice President's office, as is standard procedure. Eventually, Novak prints an article that asserts that Wilson was sent to Niger in part because of his wife's recommendation at the CIA, not the Vice President's office, as Wilson had understandably claimed.

The bottom line is the Administration could have simply corrected Wilson by pointing out that the Vice President's office did not recommend his trip to Niger, and that the CIA was solely responsible for the recommendation. There was no reason to mention that Wilson had a wife who worked in the CIA, whether or not she was in fact a covert agent. If this was an intentional act, with full knowledge of a breach of national security, there should be much more severe consequences for some "senior white house official," or "Official A." Unfortunately, intent is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to prove in court.

Although I do believe Libby lied to either cover for others, or at least mislead the investigators, I do not believe that there was any conspiracy to intentionally breach national security on the part of this administration. The fact that Libby was charged with making false statements, perjury before the grand jury, and obstruction of justice does not necessarily imply a larger plan to expose a CIA operative, who may or may not have been covert. Libby's lawyer says he will make the case that a poor memory contributed to his false testimony. However, that carries little weight, because the statements he made were on very specific questions of well documented and publicized conversations, especially the one with Tim Russert on "Meet the Press." Libby could have easily reviewed his past statements before meeting with the Grand Jury to jog his memory. Instead, he lied and perhaps delayed the conclusion of the investigation by a year. Stay tuned Karl Rove, you may weasel your way out of this yet.

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