Trial in Error

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By Victoria Toensing
Sunday, February 18, 2007

Could someone please explain to me why Scooter Libby is the only person on trial in the Valerie Plame leak investigation?

Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald charged Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff with perjury on the theory that Libby had a nefarious reason for lying to a grand jury about what he told reporters regarding CIA officer Plame: He was trying to cover up a White House conspiracy to retaliate against Plame's husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV. Wilson had infuriated Vice President Cheney by accusing the Bush administration of lying about intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war.

Fitzgerald apparently concluded that a purported cover-up was sufficient motive for Libby to trim his recollections in a criminal way. So when Libby's testimony differed from that of others, it was Libby who got indicted.

There's a reason why responsible prosecutors don't bring perjury cases on mere "he said, he said" evidence. Without an underlying crime or tangible evidence of obstruction (think Martha Stewart trying to destroy phone logs), the trial becomes a mishmash of faulty memories in which witnesses can seem as guilty as the defendant. Any prosecutor knows that memories differ, even vividly, and each party can be convinced that his or her version is the truthful one.

If we accept Fitzgerald's low threshold for bringing a criminal case, then why stop at Libby? This investigation has enough questionable motives and shadowy half-truths and flawed recollections to fill a court docket for months. So here are my own personal bills of indictment:

* * *

THIS GRAND JURY CHARGES PATRICK J. FITZERALD with ignoring the fact that there was no basis for a criminal investigation from the day he was appointed, with handling some witnesses with kid gloves and banging on others with a mallet, with engaging in past contretemps with certain individuals that might have influenced his pursuit of their liberty, and with misleading the public in a news conference because . . . well, just because. To wit:

· On Dec. 30, 2003, the day Fitzgerald was appointed special counsel, he should have known (all he had to do was ask the CIA) that Plame was not covert, knowledge that should have stopped the investigation right there. The law prohibiting disclosure of a covert agent's identity requires that the person have a foreign assignment at the time or have had one within five years of the disclosure, that the government be taking affirmative steps to conceal the government relationship, and for the discloser to have actual knowledge of the covert status.

From FBI interviews conducted after Oct. 1, 2003, Fitzgerald also knew that then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage had identified Plame as a CIA officer to columnist Robert D. Novak, who first published Plame's name on July 14, 2003.

· In January 2001, Libby was the lawyer for millionaire financier Marc Rich, whom President Bill Clinton pardoned shortly before leaving office. Fitzgerald, who was then an assistant U.S. attorney in the southern district of New York, and U.S. Attorney James Comey spearheaded the criminal investigation of that pardon.

· Fitzgerald jailed former New York Times reporter Judith Miller for almost 90 days for not providing evidence in a matter that involved no crime. Yet the two were engaged in another dispute: Fitzgerald wanted Miller's phone records, contending that by contacting an Islamic charity, she had alerted it to a government search the day before it happened.

· Fitzgerald granted immunity to former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer without ever asking what he would testify to; he permitted NBC News bureau chief Tim Russert to be interviewed in a law firm office with his lawyer present, while Novak was forced to testify before the grand jury without counsel present.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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