One Thousand Fifteen
On July 14, 2003, columnist Robert Novak, in his article entitled, "Mission to Niger," wrote the following words: "Valerie Plame is a [Central Intelligence] Agency operative. Two senior Administration sources told me..." In the White House press briefing of September 29, 2003, Press Secretary Scott McClellan said, "[T]hat is not the way this White House operates. The President expects everyone in his administration to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. No one would be authorized to do such a thing." Mr. McClellan later in that press briefing went on to say, "[T]here's been no information that has been brought to our attention, beyond what we've seen in the media reports, to suggest White House involvement," and he demanded of reporters questioning him, "Do you have specific information to suggest White House involvement?" None did at the time, although such evidence would ultimately surface in grand jury testimony, principally about the activities of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby and more recently in court filings that note the involvement of Vice President Richard Cheney and President George W. Bush in what might have been an effort to discredit Ms. Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, whose article in The New York Times disputed Administration claims that the regime of Saddam Hussein had sought to purchase unrefined, "yellowcake" uranium from Nigeria.
Mr. Novak outed Ms. Plame 1,015 days ago.
Based in part on a subsequent complaint filed by the Central Intelligence Agency, the Justice Department agreed to launch an investigation into who within the Bush Administration disclosed the name of a CIA agent. On December 30, 2003, then-Attorney General of the United States John Ashcroft announced at a news conference that he was recusing himself with respect to that investigation, and he publicly named Assistant Attorney General James Comey as Acting Attorney General to oversee the matter. Mr. Comey at that same news conference named Patrick Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, as the lead prosecutor and investigator.
That was 846 days ago.
Mr. Fitzgerald was given no independent budget, and his work was overseen by the office of Mr. Comey, a political appointee.
Mr. Libby, who served as an adviser to Vice President Cheney, was indicted on five counts in October of last year. Not one of those charges involved the disclosure of the name of Valerie Plame; all were instead because, as Mr. Fitzgerald said upon announcing the indictment, "[Libby] lied about it [the disclosure of Plame's name and status] afterwards, under oath and repeatedly."
To date, in the matter of the disclosure of the name of an American spy—a non-official cover (NOC) operative working through a front company tracking global trafficking in weapons of mass destruction—Mr. Libby is the only individual who has been indicted, and his indictment, again, had nothing to do with the disclosure of Ms. Plame's name and work. To date, the only individual to have served jail time was an employee, Judith Miller, of The New York Times, who was found in contempt of court for declining to reveal her journalistic source to a grand jury. In this latter side story, Mr. Fitzgerald's work has been to the entirely successful effect of ending the long-standing presumption among reporters that they had at least some affirmative defense against being compelled to violate confidentiality agreements with the sources for their stories, particularly with respect to government wrongdoing.
Mr. Libby will not go on trial until January of next year, and when he does, that trial will be before U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, perhaps best known for dismissing the case brought by FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds. Judge Walton in that case agreed with then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, representing the United States in defense against Ms. Edmonds' suit, that the need of the FBI to protect 'state secrets' superceded Ms. Edmonds' right to redress through the courts. This, of course, explains Mr. Libby's recent motions to compel discovery on literally thousands of government documents: should Judge Walton agree that a document critical to Mr. Libby's defense cannot be subpoenaed because of a government claim of state secrets privilege, the defense can immediately move for dismissal of charges.
From only months after Mr. Fitzgerald's appointment, the litany of rumors about indictments of senior Administration officials came and went. In the wake of the Libby indictment, the rumor mill began anew with fresh and fertile vigor: media outlets were speculating that Karl Rove might be soon be indicted, despite U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald's own statement that, "[T]he substantial bulk of the work of this investigation is concluded." The fact that Mr. Fitzgerald has subsequently brought matters related to this investigation before a new grand jury should not be interpreted as any indication that he plans to bring further indictments: Mr. Fitzgerald predicated his declaration that the bulk of the investigation had concluded by stating flatly, "[V]ery rarely do you bring a charge in a case that's going to be tried in which you ever end a grand jury investigation." In other words, the prosecutor was pointing out that, during a federal trial, it is standard procedure for the prosecution to have a grand jury readily available should the need arise during the course of the legal proceedings.
The speculation rages on to this very day, with major focus on Karl Rove, who was supposedly the subject as recently as last week of evidence presented by Mr. Fitzgerald to a grand jury.
The criminal justice system of the United States is motivated by three fundamental goals: certainty, severity, and celerity (swiftness). In plain English, if you break the law, you're definitely going to get punished, it's going to hurt like Hell, and you're going to get it right now. Failure in practice to achieve any one of these three goals corrodes the case under consideration and, more deeply, the confidence in and reliability of that system of criminal justice. That, at least in the United States, is why we allow prosecutors what sometimes appears to be abusive leeway (particularly in grand juries), why we legislate prison sentences that constitute significant percentages of human lives, and why we strive for speedy trials. Whether or not this is a good system is irrelevant: this is what we strive for in this country, and this is what we achieve every day of every year as we prosecute and punish thousands upon thousands of Americans.
Alleged crimes committed against the United States in the outing of Valerie Plame happened well more than a thousand days ago. Subsequently, further crimes may have been committed in covering up the principal crimes. I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby will stand trial nearly thirteen hundred days after the commission of the principal crime alleged by the CIA in its original complaint submitted to the Justice Department. Almost thirteen hundred days. This is the celerity of geological processes more so than that of an effective criminal justice system.
And yet, somehow, some mainstream media outlets and a number of bloggers still stand ready to declare with every court filing by Mr. Fitzgerald that further indictments are just days or hours away; and some of the attendant analyses have become increasingly at odds with basic reasoning. Perhaps the most stunning example of hope trumping forensic integrity in journalism was offered on April 19, 2006, by Sydney Blumenthal, writing for the Guardian Unlimited. Beginning in earnest with near-Armageddon terminology, Blumenthal launches into hopeful speculation about "...events that could truly shake the Bush White House to its foundation." Mr. Blumenthal moves on with that premise, starting with praise for Fitzgerald's recent conviction of former Illinois Governor George Ryan on 18 counts of corruption, a prosecution that ended the globe-threatening scourge of selling commercial driver's licenses to unqualified people. The fall of ex-Governor Ryan was attended by the return to power of the Illinois Democratic machine and its union allies, who together made systemic, massive corruption forever the world-renown landmark of Chicago. Current Governor Rod Blagojevich has already become embroiled in scandal the scale of which dwarfs that of his predecessor, as the Democrats sink their teeth ever further into one of the state's few remaining pools of money, the state's teacher retirement fund, giving every indication that they plan to suck it down to insolvency. Excellent prosecutorial work: nail a small-time corruption scandal and leave in its wake sleaze on stilts. And as an aside, little media attention ever came of the violent harassment of the lone dissenting juror in Ryan's trial, a woman who was eventually—perhaps because she wasn't going along with the Fitzgerald's pre-determined script—dismissed by the judge because she had previously had "brushes" with the law for which she was never convicted, but which she didn't note in a prospective juror questionnaire. Is that outrageous and unfair jurisprudence? Certainly not: it's Chicago jurisprudence; and the point is that a U.S. attorney can run an investigation, drag powerful politicians into a maelstrom of media lynching, and secure convictions at will when he wants to. God help anyone who ends up in the earnest gun sights of a federal prosecutor. The odds of surviving as a non-convict are truly miniscule.
That, of course, must be taken in the context of expenditures by the U.S. Attorney under consideration: in the first 15 months of Mr. Fitzgerald's investigation of the Valerie Plame scandal, he was reported to have spent $723,000. That works out to a daily burn rate on funds of about $1,600, which would cover a couple of attorneys, a handful of paralegals and other investigators, photocopying, and some meal expense vouchers at Mabel's 2Go Burger Trough. It does not work out to an Earth-shattering federal investigation of the Executive Branch of the government of the world's most powerful nation.
Blumenthal is undeterred by where the facts on the ground actually point: he hinges a possible impending indictment of Rove on Fitzgerald's recent filings in the Libby case, which reference Rove as a 'subject' of the on-going inquiry. Being a 'subject' in a criminal investigation is one step short of being a 'target' of investigation. Rove is not one of those unfortunate souls with the label 'target' on his forehead; and it is altogether disingenuous not to point out that prosecutors are more than willing to label anyone a 'subject' whose testimony might eventually be required. That's how law enforcers keep useful citizens compliant; but noting breathlessly that Rove is a 'subject' does not point the way to some pulsating beacon of hope for his immediate, or even eventual, indictment. It just doesn't.
More in-depth analysis by such journalistic resources as Editor & Publisher seems to indicate that Fitzgerald is building a case against Rove and perhaps others based upon grand jury testimony given by none other than I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, himself. The filings Mr. Fitzgerald has delivered to date are genuinely unclear with regard to his intentions beyond the prosecution of Libby. It is entirely reasonable to hope, however, that a seasoned federal prosecutor would not be seeking the conviction of an indictee on charges of obstruction of justice and perjury while at the very same time be planning to use that person's testimony in a case against others. Perjury is the express lane to eviscerated credibility in a court of law, and a convicted perjurer is completely and utterly destructible by opposing counsel. Fitzgerald may be gaming the media and the anti-Bush crowd, but he is most decidedly not stupid. Even so much as associating Libby with accusations against others could come back like an explosive boomerang were subsequent prosecutions to include allegations that a convicted Mr. Libby had made.
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is not the salvation of America from the Bush Administration, one of the few Presidencies in U.S. history that drifts perilously close to being a criminal enterprise. Mr. Fitzgerald has secured a five-count indictment against a man whose name three years ago would have been unfamiliar to all but the most serious policy wonks. That's all Mr. Fitzgerald has measurably accomplished in 846 days; and even if Mr. Fitzgerald were tomorrow to announce indictments of far better-known officials of the Bush Administration—men such as Karl Rove and Dick Cheney—along with a far lesser known host of minor, shadowy neo-conservatives, thugs, and common liars within the White House, the history of the future would not change materially. The war in Iraq has already become a part of the American experience for years to come, and some 2,500 American soldiers will not suddenly come back to life. The federal budget surpluses of the Clinton Administration have been squandered, and the national debt, instead of being paid down as it could have been, now threatens to push against a mind-numbing ten trillion dollars. A phony "debate" about the future of the Social Security Pension Fund prevented prudent, actuarially sound adjustments that would have ensured solvency of the Trust well into the second half of the century. The federal judiciary has been filled with judges some have described as a frightful cabal of Dominionists who will ensure that, generations after the current minions of neo-conservativism and theocratic enlightenment have been hanged, their policies will still be shaping the rule of law in the land. And the Supreme Court now has a density of extremists sufficient to guarantee that the civil rights and liberties long assumed to be a progressively more expansive part of the privileges of American citizenship will vanish over the coming years.
In other words, the rule of law was in the end no vanguard against the onslaught of those with a new vision of America, that shining beacon of liberty now and after this era the pious and corrupted land of the less-than-free, a nation felled by men and women no force on Earth could stop before they had wrought their destruction.
In the gathering and permanent night of America, the Dark Wraith has spoken.
This article is cross-posted from The Dark Wraith Forums. Other articles by the Dark Wraith on this topic:
◊ The Valerie Plame Scandal: Part I Part II Part III
◊ The Color of Whitewash