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Indictment(s)

Friday, October 28, 2005, 20:32 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

A federal grand jury has indicted Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, on charges of obstruction of justice, perjury, and making false statements in the investigation over who leaked the identity of former CIA operative Valerie Plame.

[Special Prosecutor Patrick] Fitzgerald said Libby is the first person known to have passed that information along to a reporter. He said Libby is trying to make it appear that he was “at the tail end” of a chain of phone calls. But Fitzgerald said Libby was, in fact, at the beginning of that chain — and that he repeatedly lied about it under oath.

If there is evidence that Mr. Libby was in fact “at the beginning of [the] chain”, that would seem to suggest that he leaked the information about Plame. Why, then was he not indicted for the actual leak? And if, on the other hand, there is insufficient evidence that he was in fact the leaker, what proof is there that he lied?

I have only skimmed the indictment, but it sounds as if the prosecutor was able to impugn some of Libby’s testimony but could not (yet) trace the leak to him. As a result, the investigation is “not over”, according to Mr. Fitzgerald.

Further complicating the matter is the contention by two lawyers who helped draft the law of which violations are being investigated that the identification of Plame was not illegal under that law.

At the threshold, the agent must truly be covert. Her status as undercover must be classified, and she must have been assigned to duty outside the United States currently or in the past five years. This requirement does not mean jetting to Berlin or Taipei for a week’s work. It means permanent assignment in a foreign country. Since Plame had been living in Washington for some time when the July 2003 column was published, and was working at a desk job in Langley (a no-no for a person with a need for cover), there is a serious legal question as to whether she qualifies as “covert.”

But their take on what the law “means” may be of no consequence if that meaning isn’t explicit in the wording of the law. That question may be addressed on the way to trial.

In any event, this one is far from over. I’ll resist the partisan temptation to either (left) presume Libby and all his associates at the White House guilty without trial, or (right) downplay the indictment as inconsequential and not worth the paper it’s printed on.

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