Indictment Paints Grim Picture, But Only for Libby

As has been rumored, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and his grand jury have indicted Scooter Libby for perjury, making false statements to an FBI investigator, and obstruction of justice. You can read the indictment here.

As to Libby, the indictment is devastating. If the facts alleged are true–and they are evidently based on the testimony of a considerable number of witnesses–they can’t be chalked up to inadvertence, misstatement or differing recollections. The indictment alleges that Libby had a number of conversations with various people in the executive branch, from Vice-President Cheney on down, about the fact that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA. It alleges further that Libby had conversations with several reporters in which Plame’s CIA employment was discussed.

The indictment says that Libby misrepresented his conversations with the reporters to the FBI and the grand jury. As described by Libby, he only agreed with what reporters told him about Plame and said that he had heard about her from other reporters. It is unclear whether Libby denied the various conversations he allegedly had with members of the executive branch to the grand jury, but the indictment quotes testimony where he seems to reaffirm that at the time he spoke to reporters, he didn’t know anything about Plame other than what he had heard from public sources.

So, if the indictment is true, Libby told a story under oath which differs, not only materially but vitally, from that of close to a dozen other witnesses.

I can’t imagine how Libby could have been foolish enough to lie to the grand jury, if indeed that is what happened. As a long-time Washington insider, he must have realized how grindingly thorough this kind of investigation is. How could Libby not have foreseen that his story would be contradicted by every other executive branch employee who was interviewed by the FBI? And how could he not have realized that perjury would be far worse than the original alleged offense? Indeed, Fitzgerald appears to have concluded that Plame was not, in fact, a covert agent, since there is no count in the indictment alleging violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. So if Libby had told the truth, it appears that he would have been fine.

The remaining question is whether anything further will happen regarding Karl Rove. The investigation reportedly remains open as to him; the Washington Post reports rather weirdly that:

Rove provided new information to Fitzgerald during eleventh-hour negotiations that “gave Fitzgerald pause” about charging Bush’s senior strategist, said a source close to Rove. “The prosecutor has to resolve those issues before he decides what to do.”

This raised the possibility of a new grand jury getting the case because the term for the current grand jury expires today.

It is hard to imagine what Rove could have told Fitzgerald at the last moment that would change his mind about an indictment, or why, after two years, it would make sense for Fitzgerald to proceed against Rove with a new grand jury.

If Rove is not indicted, what we have here is a terrible human tragedy affecting one man, Scooter Libby, but not a serious problem for the administration. On the contrary, it is evident from the indictment itself that administration officials including Dick Cheney, Ari Fleischer, and others followed President Bush’s order to cooperate fully with the Plame investigation. But it’s premature to conclude that the administration is out of the woods until we find out what, if anything, happens to Rove. In the meantime, Libby is entitled to a presumption of innocence, notwithstanding the grim picture that the indictment paints.

UPDATE: Several lefties, probably inspired by one of their ignoramus web sites, have written to attack my statement that Fitzgerald apparently concluded that Plame was not a covert agent. They point to a statement in the Libby indictment to the effect that Plame’s status was “classified.” But this doesn’t mean that she was a “covert agent” for purposes of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, the statute that was the starting point for Fitzgerald’s investigation. The IIPA defines “covert agent” as follows:

(4) The term “covert agent” means—
(A) a present or retired officer or employee of an intelligence agency or a present or retired member of the Armed Forces assigned to duty with an intelligence agency—

(i) whose identity as such an officer, employee, or member is classified information, and

(ii) who is serving outside the United States or has within the last five years served outside the United States; or

(B) a United States citizen whose intelligence relationship to the United States is classified information, and—

(i) who resides and acts outside the United States as an agent of, or informant or source of operational assistance to, an intelligence agency, or

(ii) who is at the time of the disclosure acting as an agent of, or informant to, the foreign counterintelligence or foreign counterterrorism components of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; or

(C) an individual, other than a United States citizen, whose past or present intelligence relationship to the United States is classified information and who is a present or former agent of, or a present or former informant or source of operational assistance to, an intelligence agency.

It’s amazing how many abusive emails we get from people who have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about.

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