Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the Plame leak investigation this week, through a grand jury, indicted Lewis “Scooter” Libby on five counts related to the cover-up and obstruction of this investigation.
Fitzgerald, whom I had never seen speak in public before, gave a masterful everyman performance at the press conference he held announcing the indictment. Some tidbits:
At the end of the day what appears is that Mr. Libby’s story that he was at the tail end of a chain of phone calls, passing on from one reporter what he heard from another, was not true.
It was false. He was at the beginning of the chain of phone calls, the first official to disclose this information outside the government to a reporter. And then he lied about it afterwards, under oath and repeatedly.
Now, as I said before, this grand jury investigation has been conducted in secret. I believe it should have been conducted in secret, not only because it’s required by those rules, but because the rules are wise. Those rules protect all of us.
We are now going from a grand jury investigation to an indictment, a public charge and a public trial. The rules will be different.
But I think what we see here today, when a vice president’s chief of staff is charged with perjury and obstruction of justice, it does show the world that this is a country that takes its law seriously; that all citizens are bound by the law.
But what we need to also show the world is that we can also apply the same safeguards to all our citizens, including high officials. Much as they must be bound by the law, they must follow the same rules.
So I ask everyone involved in this process, anyone who participates in this trial, anyone who covers this trial, anyone sitting home watching these proceedings to follow this process with an American appreciation for our values and our dignity.
Let’s let the process take place. Let’s take a deep breath and let justice process the system.
I also want to take away from the notion that somehow we should take an obstruction charge less seriously than a leak charge.
This is a very serious matter and compromising national security information is a very serious matter. But the need to get to the bottom of what happened and whether national security was compromised by inadvertence, by recklessness, by maliciousness is extremely important. We need to know the truth. And anyone who would go into a grand jury and lie, obstruct and impede the investigation has committed a serious crime.
I will say this: Mr. Libby is presumed innocent. He would not be guilty unless and until a jury of 12 people came back and returned a verdict saying so.
But if what we allege in the indictment is true, then what is charged is a very, very serious crime that will vindicate the public interest in finding out what happened here.
As someone who appreciates a strong prosecutor who will investigate and do what it takes to seek justice, I have a huge appreciation for men like Fitzgerald who has stopped at nothing to get to the bottom of this case. I respect him even more having watched his press conference.
As for Libby, well, why you would lie to the FBI and the Grand Jury is completely beyond my scope of understanding. It doesn’t look like any underlying offense is going to be charged here – so had he told the truth he would have probably walked away from this without an issues. Instead he’s looking at thirty years in federal prison if he is convicted. Idiot.
Where are your ethics?
There’s also been alot of mud thrown in the general direction of Fitzgerald from many criticizing his subpoenas issued to reporters in this case. I think Fitzgerald is entirely on-point with his response to that question from the press conference:
QUESTION: In the end, was it worth keeping Judy Miller in jail for 85 days in this case? And can you say how important her testimony was in producing this indictment?
FITZGERALD: Let me just say this: No one wanted to have a dispute with the New York Times or anyone else. We can’t talk generally about witnesses. There’s much said in the public record.
FITZGERALD: I would have wished nothing better that, when the subpoenas were issued in August 2004, witnesses testified then, and we would have been here in October 2004 instead of October 2005. No one would have went to jail.
I didn’t have a vested interest in litigating it. I was not looking for a First Amendment showdown. I also have to say my job was to find out what happened here, make reasoned judgments about what testimony was necessary, and then pursue it.
And we couldn’t walk away from that. I could have not have told you a year ago that we think that there may be evidence that a crime is being committed here of obstruction, that there may be a crime behind it and we’re just going to walk away from it.
Our job was to find the information responsibly.
We then, when we issued the subpoenas, we thought long and hard before we did that. And I can tell you, there’s a lot of reporters whose reporting and contacts have touched upon this case that we never even talked to.
We didn’t bluff people. And what we decided to do was to make sure before we subpoenaed any reporter that we really needed that testimony.
At the end of the day, I don’t know how you could ever resolve this case, to walk into you a year ago and say, “You know what? Forget the reporters; we have someone telling us that they told Mr. Cooper and Ms. Miller that they didn’t know if this information were true, they just heard it from other reporters, they didn’t even know if he had a wife,” and charge a person with perjury only to find out that’s what happened, that would be reckless.
On the other hand, if we walked away and said, “Well, there are indications that, in fact, this is not how the conversation would happen, there are indications that there might be perjury or obstruction of justice here,” but I were to fold up my tent and go home, that would not fulfill our mandate.
I tell you, I will say this: I do not think that a reporter should be subpoenaed anything close to routinely. It should be an extraordinary case.
But if you’re dealing with a crime and what’s different here is the transaction is between a person and a reporter, they’re the eyewitness to the crime; if you walk away from that and don’t talk to the eyewitness, you are doing a reckless job of either charging someone with a crime that may not turn out to have been committed — and that frightens me, because there are things that you can learn from a reporter that would show you the crime wasn’t committed.
What if, in fact, the allegations turned out to be true that he said, “Hey, I sourced it to other reporters, I don’t know if it’s true”?
So I think the only way you can do an investigation like this is to hear from all the witnesses.
I wish Ms. Miller spent not a second in jail. I wish we didn’t have to spend time arguing very, very important issues and just got down to the brass tacks and made the call of where we were. But I think it had to be done.
I wouldn’t want to have had to subpoena a reporter into court and deal with the 1st Amendment ramifications of doing so — but if they were a key witness to a crime, aren’t they obligated to do so? I think so. And the courts held so in this case repeatedly.
I’m not a fan of a reporter’s shield law for cases like this either. Believe me, I understand the role of the press and want them to have those freedoms – but when there’s a crime committed, there’s a higher cause to be considered here….
In terms of aftermath of this indictment, there’s much in the mainstream media this weekend about the White House in turmoil and so on. While waiting on the press conference on Friday, I saw a couple liberal columnists on CNN talking about how this was similar to the investigation of Bill Clinton that led to his impeachment in the 1990’s.
And I laughed.
I’m sorry, but even though Libby was a key aide to the VP and the President, this is nowhere near the same as the President of the United States getting blown by a intern in the White House.. then lying about it.. then misleading (or “lying”, pick your poison) to the grand jury.. then lying to your staff (including the cabinet) and having them go out and defend you against these allegations.. and on and on…
I believe that in the end, justice will be done in this case. Libby will be convicted.