Today Scooter Libby was found guilty of lying to the Grand Jury. You can access to all Nina Totenberg’s NPR stories on the Libby trial here.
Joseph Wilson wrote a New York Times column on July 6, 2003 claiming that the White House had sent him (that’s important) to research (and eventually determine the illegitimacy of) former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s attempts to purchase uranium from Niger, Africa. The White House had made such claims about Saddam in the State of the Union, and it would have looked pretty bad if someone who was their own embassador had given them contrary information which they in turn denied. The White House knew it was patently false. But if the White House had not sent Wilson, who did? Libby on Vice President Cheney’s order had been investigating Wilson for several weeks, and had discovered that his wife Valerie Plame worked in the nuclear proliferation department of the CIA and that she had evidently sent him on this “fact finding trip.” So how could they get this vital piece of information to the media? Someone would have to leak it. Leaking the name of CIA operative is illegal. And it appears that Ari Fleischer, Richard Armitage, Karl Rove, and Libby himself all leaked this to the press.Not that he’s being tried for that. Once the press started revealing Valerie Plame’s work in the CIA and her relationship to Wilson, the CIA asked for an investigation. Libby is being tried for lying to that Grand Jury investigating the Valerie Plame leak; he is charged with perjury and obstruction of justice. And it appears, despite his claims to have a poor memory, that he did.
Ari Fleischer testified that he had a long lunch with Libby on July 7th, where Libby told him that Wilsdon was sent by his wife who was a CIA operative. New York Times reporter Judith Miller said that Libby told her about Plame two days before Libby said Tim Russert of NBC had revealed her connection to the CIA to him. Then Matthew Cooper of Time testified that Libby confirmed the rumor to him on July 12th. Most devastating of all was when Tim Russert himself testified that he had never even talked to Libby about Plame. The prosecution further showed that Vice President Cheney had told him about Plame’s relationship with Wilson a month before this, and that the office of the Vice President was obsessed with Joseph Wilson, desperate to discredit him.
Libby’s defense amounted to a number of other reporters who testified that Libby had not spoken with them about Plame and the testimony of a former assistant of Libby’s, John Hannah, who said that Libby had a really bad memory. Libby was the scapegoat, the defense said, so that other more prominent persons, namely Karl Rove, could go free. Moreover, Libby was under too much stress (from the war) to remember this kind of thing; he had forgotten this bit of trivia told him by the Vice President.
In his closing arguments, senior prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said,
There was a cloud over the white house and the Vice President’s office. Don’t you think that the grand jury and the American public deserved a straight answer about who leaked classified information and whether it was done intentionally? But Libby said, “I’m going to tell a story to make this go away.” He stole the truth from the judicial system. Give the truth back.
I am not sure whether or not the administration knew that leaking Plame was illegal. It certainly appears that they probably did (with the possible exception of Richard Armitage). One wonders if the office of the Vice President was so zealous for clearing their name that they were willing to commit a felony in the process.
Even so, man is often eager to lie and distort in order to protect himself. I, for one, am glad that the justice system has deemed it fitting to prosecute over “obstruction of justice,” a crime that many probably consider minor in the overall scheme of things. “Why not a prosecution in the actual leak?” some may ask. That is beside the point. If our justice system is going to function properly, it must demand truthfulness and candor at its core. Lying in the face of justice cannot be tolerated, no matter how minor the distortion or how important the liar. Libby took the liberty of telling a lie to the grand jury, presumably to protect himself. A justice system that would have permitted him to do this would be a mockery of end it has been established to secure.