Fitzgerald, Scooter and Us

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Fitzgerald, Scooter and Us

Post by Corlyss_D » Wed Jun 07, 2006 5:22 pm

Fitzgerald, Scooter and Us
The special prosecutor wants to use our editorial as evidence. Sorry.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006 12:01 a.m.

"One of the mysteries of the recent yellowcake uranium flap is why the White House has been so defensive about an intelligence judgment that we don't yet know is false, and that the British still insist is true. Our puzzlement is even greater now that we've learned what last October's national intelligence estimate really said."

Those words appeared in this column on July 17, 2003, under the headline "Yellowcake Remix." Three years later they show we were right about Joe Wilson and his false allegation that President Bush lied in that year's State of Union address about Iraq seeking nuclear materials in Africa.

So imagine our surprise when Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald declared his intention last month to use that editorial as part of his perjury and obstruction case against former Vice Presidential aide Scooter Libby, who had also questioned Mr. Wilson's claims. It suggests that his case is a lot weaker than his media spin.

Mr. Libby wasn't a source for our editorial, which quoted from the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate concerning the Africa-uranium issue. But Mr. Fitzgerald alleges in a court filing that Mr. Libby played a role in our getting the information, which in turn shows that "notwithstanding other pressing government business, [Libby] was heavily focused on shaping media coverage of the controversy concerning Iraqi efforts to obtain uranium from Niger."

The prosecutor comes close here to suggesting that senior government officials have no right to fight back against critics who make false allegations. To the extent our editorial is germane to this trial, in fact, it's because it puts Mr. Libby's actions into a broadly defensible context that Mr. Fitzgerald refuses to acknowledge.

In the summer of 2003, Washington was abuzz with the allegations of Mr. Wilson, a former ambassador who had been to Africa on a fact-finding mission for the CIA. Mr. Wilson served as the then-anonymous source for several articles alleging deliberate inaccuracies in the Bush Administration's case for war with Iraq, before making the case himself in a July 6, 2003, New York Times op-ed. Mr. Wilson asserted that the now famous 16 words--"The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa"--were false. And, he wrote, Mr. Bush would have known they were false because he knew Mr. Wilson had already debunked the story.

Those allegations were serious indeed, and the White House had every right--even a duty--to answer them. Mr. Libby appears to have played a significant role in this effort, but that can hardly be considered a crime. Enter our July 17 editorial, which pointed out that far from debunking the Niger-uranium story, the information presented by the intelligence community to President Bush tended to support it.

Quoth the NIE: "Iraq also began vigorously trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake"; and "A foreign government service reported that as of early 2001 Niger planned to send several tons of 'pure uranium' (probably yellowcake) to Iraq. . . . We do not know the status of this arrangement." We ran the editorial to give readers a more complete understanding of the yellowcake debate, and of Mr. Wilson's claims, than they were getting in other media accounts.

A year later the 16 words were declared to be "well-founded" by Britain's high-level Butler inquiry, as well as by a bipartisan report from the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee. To the extent Mr. Libby helped the actual contents of the 2002 NIE find their way into the public debate--as opposed to Mr. Wilson's fantasy version--he performed a public service.

Regarding our editorial, Mr. Fitzgerald does at least note that he "will not contend that the defendant's actions in this regard were criminal or otherwise unauthorized." But he also seems to imply that those actions suggest a pattern of malfeasance and a motive for the perjury and obstruction he alleges. Yet Mr. Fitzgerald has not indicted Mr. Libby, or anyone else, for leaking the CIA identity of Mr. Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame--which was his original mandate from the Justice Department. His actual charge of obstruction comes down to the fact that Mr. Libby and several reporters have different recollections of their conversations.

All of this matters because it suggests that Mr. Fitzgerald is scrambling even now to explain why a seasoned attorney such as Mr. Libby would lie to a grand jury. The prosecutor's original indictment doesn't mention a motive. And his mention of our editorial suggests he's now trying to invent a motive out of Mr. Libby's attempt to defend the White House from Mr. Wilson's manifestly false allegations at the onset of a Presidential election campaign. (Mr. Wilson joined the Kerry campaign until he was dropped after the official probes destroyed his credibility.)

There is all the difference in the world between seeking to respond to the substance of Mr. Wilson's charges, as Mr. Libby did, and taking revenge on him by blowing his wife's cover, which was the motive originally hypothesized by Bush critics for the Plame exposure. The more of Mr. Fitzgerald's case that becomes public, the more it looks like he has made the terrible mistake for a prosecutor of taking Joe Wilson's side in what was essentially a political fight.

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Post by Ralph » Wed Jun 07, 2006 7:00 pm

Can't wait for the trial.

"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."

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