A federal jury convicted Lewis "Scooter" Libby of obstruction, perjury, and lying to the FBI in the investigation into the leak of a CIA agent's identity.
The conviction of the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney is almost all there is to show after Federal Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald spent two years and more than $1.5 million investigating the 2003 leak of the fact that Valerie Plame was a CIA agent. The total reported cost of the investigation would be much greater, but the bean counters didn't include the salaries of FBI agents doing all the investigation's leg work
Plame is the wife of Bush administration critic, career diplomat, senior director for Africa policy for the National Security Council during the Clinton administration, and one-time official in John Kerry's failed presidential campaign.
The Wilsons complained that Plame's identity as a CIA agent was made public in retribution for the opinion piece Joe Wilson wrote for the New York Times in July 2003, nearly three months after the fall of Baghdad. In the Times article, Wilson complained that, on behalf of the CIA, he investigated and found "highly doubtful" the report that Saddam Hussein sought uranium from Africa in 2002. The famous sixteen words mentioned by President Bush in the 2003 State of the Union address. Thus started often refuted but never ending lie that we were "misled" into the War in Iraq.
A week after Wilson's article appeared in the Times, Robert Novak wrote that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA operative and that it was Plame who suggested sending Wilson to Niger. Two months later, after a CIA request, the Justice Department launched a criminal probe into the leak of Plame's identity. After another three months, more than six months after Wilson's article appeared in the Times, Attorney General John Ashcroft removed himself from the leak probe, citing an appearance of conflict of interest, and named Fitzgerald, to take over the investigation.
After a year long legal battle between Fitzgerald and the New York Times, Reporter Judith Miller was jailed by a federal judge for contempt of court. Miller's contempt was her refusal to humor Fitzgerald and testify before the grand jury regarding her source for the information that Plame was a CIA agent. Miller stayed in jail for twelve weeks until her source, Libby, called her in prison and released her from her pledge of confidentiality.
On September 7, 2006, more than three years after Novak published the fact that Plame was a CIA agent, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage publicly acknowledged that he was the source who first revealed Valerie Plame's identity to Novak. The Armitage revelation was not news to Prosecutor Fitzgerald. The prosecutor knew from his first day on the case that Armitage was the one who "leaked" that Plame was a CIA agent.
After Armitage finally came clean, the New York Times questioned the prosecutorial integrity of special counsel Fitzgerald:
Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the prosecutor, knew the identity of the leaker from his very first day in the special counsel’s chair, but kept the inquiry open for nearly two more years before indicting I. Lewis Libby Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, on obstruction charges.
Now, the question of whether Mr. Fitzgerald properly exercised his prosecutorial discretion in continuing to pursue possible wrongdoing in the case has become the subject of rich debate on editorial pages and in legal and political circles.
Richard L. Armitage, the former deputy secretary of state, first told the authorities in October 2003 that he had been the primary source for the July 14, 2003, column by Robert D. Novak that identified Valerie Wilson as a C.I.A. operative and set off the leak investigation.
Mr. Fitzgerald’s decision to prolong the inquiry once he took over as special prosecutor in December 2003 had significant political and legal consequences. The inquiry seriously embarrassed and distracted the Bush White House for nearly two years and resulted in five felony charges against Mr. Libby, even as Mr. Fitzgerald decided not to charge Mr. Armitage or anyone else with crimes related to the leak itself.
Moreover, Mr. Fitzgerald’s effort to find out who besides Mr. Armitage had spoken to reporters provoked a fierce battle over whether reporters could withhold the identities of their sources from prosecutors and resulted in one reporter, Judith Miller, then of The New York Times, spending 85 days in jail before agreeing to testify to a grand jury.
Back to Libby. Prosecutor Fitzgerald, got convictions on four of the five charges he brought against Libby:
Obstruction of justice when he intentionally deceived a grand jury investigating the exposure of Valerie Plame as a CIA operative;
Making a false statement by intentionally lying to FBI agents about a conversation with NBC newsman Tim Russert;
Perjury when he lied in court about his conversation with Russert;
A second count of perjury when he lied in court about conversations with other reporters.
Fitzgerald failed to get a conviction on a second count of making a false statement relating to a conversation he had with writer Matt Cooper, formerly of Time magazine.
The prosecutor didn't see fit to charge Armitage, or anyone else with leaking Plame's status as a CIA agent. As the Washington Post editorialized, it turns out that the person who exposed CIA agent Valerie Plame was not out to punish her husband:
But all those who have opined on this affair ought to take note of the not-so-surprising disclosure that the primary source of the newspaper column in which Ms. Plame's cover as an agent was purportedly blown in 2003 was former deputy secretary of state Richard L. Armitage.
It follows that one of the most sensational charges leveled against the Bush White House -- that it orchestrated the leak of Ms. Plame's identity to ruin her career and thus punish Mr. Wilson -- is untrue. The partisan clamor that followed the raising of that allegation by Mr. Wilson in the summer of 2003 led to the appointment of a special prosecutor, a costly and prolonged investigation, and the indictment of Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, on charges of perjury. All of that might have been avoided had Mr. Armitage's identity been known three years ago.
Nevertheless, it now appears that the person most responsible for the end of Ms. Plame's CIA career is Mr. Wilson. Mr. Wilson chose to go public with an explosive charge, claiming -- falsely, as it turned out -- that he had debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger and that his report had circulated to senior administration officials. He ought to have expected that both those officials and journalists such as Mr. Novak would ask why a retired ambassador would have been sent on such a mission and that the answer would point to his wife. He diverted responsibility from himself and his false charges by claiming that President Bush's closest aides had engaged in an illegal conspiracy. It's unfortunate that so many people took him seriously.
This tragedy isn't over. Mr. Libby will fight his conviction, first seeking a new trial, then if that fails, by appealing the convictions. Then there is the "civil" suit the Wilsons have brought to harass Mr. Libby and Vice President Cheney. The President's opponents will be able to keep this chapter of the politics of personal destruction going for the rest of the President's term, and beyond.
One other point that needs to be kept in mind as we continue to wallow through this absurd abuse of the legal system.
According to the Washington Post, Wilson's assertions about what he found in Niger and what the Bush administration did with the information were exposed for the lies that his claims are in a bipartisan Senate intelligence committee report:
The panel found that Wilson's report, rather than debunking intelligence about purported uranium sales to Iraq, as he has said, bolstered the case for most intelligence analysts. And contrary to Wilson's assertions and even the government's previous statements, the CIA did not tell the White House it had qualms about the reliability of the Africa intelligence that made its way into 16 fateful words in President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address.
[. . .]
The report turns a harsh spotlight on what Wilson has said about his role in gathering prewar intelligence, most pointedly by asserting that his wife, CIA employee Valerie Plame, recommended him.
[. . .]
The report may bolster the rationale that administration officials provided the information not to intentionally expose an undercover CIA employee, but to call into question Wilson's bona fides as an investigator into trafficking of weapons of mass destruction. To charge anyone with a crime, prosecutors need evidence that exposure of a covert officer was intentional.
The report states that a CIA official told the Senate committee that Plame "offered up" Wilson's name for the Niger trip, then on Feb. 12, 2002, sent a memo to a deputy chief in the CIA's Directorate of Operations saying her husband "has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity." The next day, the operations official cabled an overseas officer seeking concurrence with the idea of sending Wilson, the report said.
Wilson has asserted that his wife was not involved in the decision to send him to Niger.
"Valerie had nothing to do with the matter," Wilson wrote in a memoir published this year. "She definitely had not proposed that I make the trip."
Finally, think about the 25 years in jail faced by Libby, if he is unsuccessful in the efforts undo his convictions. Compare that to the slap on the wrist received by former National Security advisor to President Clinton, Sandy Berger.
Berger stole classified documents and lied about the theft. The Justice Department negotiated a guilty plea to a misdemeanor, a $10,000 fine and loss of security clearance for three years for Mr. Berger. A settlement which was so lenient it was rejected by the Judge Deborah Robinson and replaced by a $56,000 fine, two years probation, 100 hours of community service and loss of security clearance.
Then there is former President Clinton who was disbarred from the Supreme Court, had his Arkansas law license for five years, and paid a $25,000 fine for some of his lies.
It hardly seems just that Mr. Libby should face decades in prison and more than a million dollars in fines if his convictions stand. Yes he was convicted. Convicted for statements made in the course of a two year investigation that should have been over the day prosecutor Fitzgerald took it over.