An earlier version of this column incorrectly stated that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was convicted in February. He was convicted in March.
Fitzgerald Again Points to Cheney
Tuesday, May 29, 2007; 1:14 PM
Special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald has made it clearer than ever that he was hot on the trail of a coordinated campaign to out CIA agent Valerie Plame until that line of investigation was cut off by the repeated lies from Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
Libby was convicted in March of perjury and obstruction of justice. Fitzgerald filed a memo on Friday asking U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, who will sentence Libby next week, to put him in prison for at least two and a half years.
Despite all the public interest in the case, Fitzgerald has repeatedly asserted that grand-jury secrecy rules prohibit him from being more forthcoming about either the course of his investigation or any findings beyond those he disclosed to make the case against Libby. But when his motives have been attacked during court proceedings, Fitzgerald has occasionally shown flashes of anger -- and has hinted that he and his investigative team suspected more malfeasance at higher levels of government than they were able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
In Friday's eminently readable court filing, Fitzgerald quotes the Libby defense calling his prosecution "unwarranted, unjust, and motivated by politics." In responding to that charge, the special counsel evidently felt obliged to put Libby's crime in context. And that context is Dick Cheney.
Libby's lies, Fitzgerald wrote, "made impossible an accurate evaluation of the role that Mr. Libby and those with whom he worked played in the disclosure of information regarding Ms. Wilson's CIA employment and about the motivations for their actions."
It was established at trial that it was Cheney himself who first told Libby about Plame's identity as a CIA agent, in the course of complaining about criticisms of the administration's run-up to war leveled by her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson. And, as Fitzgerald notes: "The evidence at trial further established that when the investigation began, Mr. Libby kept the Vice President apprised of his shifting accounts of how he claimed to have learned about Ms. Wilson's CIA employment."
The investigation, Fitzgerald writes, "was necessary to determine whether there was concerted action by any combination of the officials known to have disclosed the information about Ms. Plame to the media as anonymous sources, and also whether any of those who were involved acted at the direction of others. This was particularly important in light of Mr. Libby's statement to the FBI that he may have discussed Ms. Wilson's employment with reporters at the specific direction of the Vice President." (My italics.)
Not clear on the concept yet? Fitzgerald adds: "To accept the argument that Mr. Libby's prosecution is the inappropriate product of an investigation that should have been closed at an early stage, one must accept the proposition that the investigation should have been closed after at least three high-ranking government officials were identified as having disclosed to reporters classified information about covert agent Valerie Wilson, where the account of one of them was directly contradicted by other witnesses, where there was reason to believe that some of the relevant activity may have been coordinated, and where there was an indication from Mr. Libby himself that his disclosures to the press may have been personally sanctioned by the Vice President." (My italics.)
Up until now, Fitzgerald's most singeing attack on Cheney came during closing arguments at the Libby trial in February. Libby's lawyers had complained that Fitzgerald was trying to put a "cloud" over Cheney without evidence to back it up -- and that set Fitzgerald off. As I wrote in my Feb. 21 column, the special counsel responded with fire: "There is a cloud over what the Vice President did that week. . . . He had those meetings. He sent Libby off to [meet then-New York Times reporter] Judith Miller at the St. Regis Hotel. At that meeting, the two-hour meeting, the defendant talked about the wife. We didn't put that cloud there. That cloud remains because the defendant has obstructed justice and lied about what happened. . . .
"That's not something that we put there. That cloud is something that we just can't pretend isn't there."
To those of us watching the investigation and trial unfold, Cheney's presence behind the scenes has emerged in glimpses and hints. (The defense's decision not to call Cheney to the stand remains a massive bummer.) But I suspect that people looking back on this story will see it with greater clarity: As a blatant -- and thus far successful -- cover-up for the vice president.
What little traditional media coverage there was of Fitzgerald's filing focused on sentencing issues.