5 Myths About Scooter and the Slammer
Judge Reggie B. Walton, who sentenced I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby to 30 months in prison last week for lying to federal investigators about his role in the leak of a CIA officer's identity, received 373 pages of letters about the high-profile convict whose fate he had to decide. Many argued for leniency on behalf of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, whom former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld called a "dedicated public servant" and "strong family man." But some less famous writers were outraged about the example Libby set; one letter from "An Angry Citizen" demanded the longest prison term possible.
Around here, I'm the one who gets both kinds of letters. While covering this case for The Washington Post from the beginning of Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's investigation in December 2003, I've received a steady stream of mail, most of it fuming -- some because the writers think a tireless patriot is being persecuted by a runaway prosecutor, others because they think a ruthless traitor is getting off easy after jeopardizing national security.
In fact, neither caricature is fair -- let alone accurate. But even now, four years after Valerie Plame's name hit the papers, the public still has some startling misconceptions about this fascinating, thorny case.
1. Valerie Plame wasn't a covert operative.
Wrong. She was.
Granted, this wasn't so clear at the start of Fitzgerald's grand jury investigation, so Libby's allies argued that the beans he spilled weren't that important to begin with. In fact, many of the officials who knew about her classified CIA status kept mum, which let Libby's pals jump to assert that she wasn't an undercover operative at the time of the leak.
But a CIA "unclassified summary" of Plame's career, released in court filings before Libby's June 5 sentencing, puts this one to rest: The CIA considered her covert at the time her identity was leaked to the media. The CIA report said that Plame had worked overseas in the previous five years and that the agency had been taking "affirmative measures" to conceal her CIA employment. That echoes the language used in the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which makes it a crime to reveal the identities of covert CIA officers.
When Libby was convicted, some conservative pundits complained that Fitzgerald had presented no compelling evidence at trial that Plame was covert. But that wasn't for lack of evidence; it was because Libby's lawyers convinced the court to bar any mention of her status during the trial, arguing that evidence suggesting that her job was classified would have been "unfairly prejudicial" to their client.
The CIA isn't famous for its clarity, but it's being pretty blunt on this issue: Langley says she was covert. Which other spook bureaucracy do you need to ask?
2. Karl Rove would have been indicted in the Plame case if it hadn't been for all the destroyed evidence.
You'll find this conspiracy theory all over left-wing blogs. The main cause of the hyperventilating is a series of missing White House e-mails, supposedly containing marching orders from President Bush's top political adviser in which Rove told his troops to out Plame and punish her husband, former ambassador Joseph I. Wilson IV, for having poured cold water over reports that Saddam Hussein had sought uranium in Africa.