Judy Miller has just spent three months in an Alexandria jail, so I'm not going to criticize her.

Whether you agree with the New York Times correspondent or not -- and she is controversial, particularly because of her erroneous WMD reporting -- she did a courageous thing. She stood up for her beliefs. She was willing to be separated from her husband, and incarcerated, because she felt that to testify in the Valerie Plame case was to betray a promise she made to a source.

But now Miller is out, has cut a deal with the prosecutor and will testify today -- and with her release comes a passel of questions.

Miller got a waiver to testify from Scooter Libby, Vice President Cheney's top staff guy. The strange thing is, she could have had that same deal months ago -- the very same deal taken by Time's Matt Cooper -- and stayed out of jail.

I asked her lawyer, Floyd Abrams, about this more than once. I knew and reported that Miller and Libby had had breakfast in 2003, days before Bob Novak outed Plame as a CIA operative. Floyd wouldn't really discuss the details, but indicated that Miller wasn't convinced a Bush administration official could grant a voluntary waiver.

But Libby had specifically agreed, with Cooper's lawyer, that he was granting a waiver specifically for Cooper. Now Miller has talked to Libby, from jail, and gotten the same assurance.

Maybe, after her testimony, she can explain why the deal wasn't okay then and is okay now.

Plenty of folks will also want to know why she never wrote a story about Valerie Plame.

Miller's motivation was that prosecutor Pat Fitzgerald was making noises about either charging her with criminal contempt or impaneling another grand jury, which could have extended her stay in Alexandria. But I'm glad, for her sake, that she's out.

Of course, with this grand jury's term coming to an end, could Fitzgerald be ready to unload any indictments against an administration official or two? That would get Tom DeLay off the front page.

Here's the NYT | http://nytimes.com/2005/09/29/politics/29cnd-court.html?hp&ex=1128052800&en=ab3e643986deb5a5&ei=5094&partner=homepage account:

Miller "said the source had made clear that he genuinely wanted her to testify. That source was I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, according to people who have been officially briefed on the case. Ms. Miller met with Mr. Libby on July 8, 2003, and talked with him by telephone later that week . . .

"The agreement that led to Ms. Miller's release followed intense negotiations between Ms. Miller; her lawyer, Robert Bennett; Mr. Libby's lawyer, Joseph Tate; and Mr. Fitzgerald. The talks began with a telephone call from Mr. Bennett to Mr. Tate in late August. Ms. Miller spoke with Mr. Libby by telephone earlier this month as their lawyers listened, according to people briefed on the matter. It was then that Mr. Libby told Ms. Miller that she had his personal and voluntary waiver.

"But the discussions were at times strained, with Mr. Libby and Mr. Tate asserting that they communicated their voluntary waiver to Ms. Miller's lawyers more than year ago, according to those briefed on the case. Mr. Libby wrote to Ms. Miller in mid-September, saying that he believed her lawyers understood that his waiver was voluntary.

"Others involved in the case have said that Ms. Miller did not understand that the waiver had been freely given and did not accept it until she had heard from him directly."

Could it really have turned on that? Say you really, really mean it?

"Bill Keller, the executive editor of The New York Times, said that Mr. Fitzgerald had assured Ms. Miller's lawyer that 'he intended to limit his grand jury interrogation so that it would not implicate other sources of hers.'"

What about her role? "Mr. Keller, the newspaper's executive editor, has declined to say whether she was assigned to report about Mr. Wilson's trip, whether she had tried to write a story about it, or whether she ever told editors or colleagues at the newspaper that she had obtained information about the role played by Ms. Wilson."

John Roberts, meanwhile, got 78 votes:

"John G. Roberts Jr. is in. Tom DeLay, at least temporarily, is out," says Ron Brownstein | http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-gop30sep30,0,1808856.story?coll=la-home-headlines in the L.A. Times. "That contrast encapsulates the uneven advance of Republican Party efforts to build a lasting conservative majority in U.S. politics . . .

"Even as poll numbers sag for the GOP, Republicans continue to entrench their control of federal power -- a progression spotlighted by Thursday's lopsided Senate confirmation of Roberts, who as chief justice may tilt the Supreme Court rightward for a quarter century or more. These dueling developments capture a Republican ascendancy that looks enduring from some angles and fragile from others -- like concrete that hasn't quite set."

Not all Republicans are happy with the deck-shuffling that followed DeLay's ouster, says the Boston Globe | http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2005/09/30/cracks_seen_in_gop_front_on_delay/:

"The united front Republicans built to support ousted House majority leader Tom DeLay showed signs of crumbling yesterday, with conservatives threatening a leadership challenge and some moderate Republicans saying they don't think DeLay, facing criminal conspiracy charges in Texas, will ever come back to House leadership.

"Members of the conservative Republican Study Committee, upset with Congress's spending, said they are prepared to challenge some of House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's top lieutenants if the case against DeLay isn't resolved by year's end."

The New Republic | http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=20051010&s=editorial101005 issues a political indictment of the Texas congressman:

"Throughout his Washington career, there is little wrong that DeLay hasn't done. He has transformed the House Republican majority into an arm of corporate special interests that benefit from an unprecedented 'pay to play' culture of rewards for political donations. As symbolized by his well-known chumminess with the oleaginous Jack Abramoff, he has unapologetically blurred the lines between officeholders and lobbyists, deeply integrating K Street into his party's political and legislative strategy and treating it like a House Republican patronage machine. And DeLay, more than anyone, has been responsible for running the House of Representatives like a one-party dictatorship, both shutting out the Democratic minority (even denying them simple meeting space) and militantly smothering intraparty dissent . . .

"He has allegedly threatened K Street firms that failed to hire Republican lobbyists in sufficient numbers. He was admonished last year by the House ethics committee for essentially selling access to energy-industry executives just as Congress was wrapping up a major energy bill. The ethics committee also slapped DeLay for offering to endorse the candidate son of Republican Representative Nick Smith in exchange for Smith's vote in favor of a GOP Medicare bill. Then the ethics committee rebuked him a third time for his wildly inappropriate enlistment of the Federal Aviation Administration to hunt for a group of awol Texas legislators back in 2003."

Other than that, he's a great guy.

National Review reruns a Byron York | http://nationalreview.com/york/york200509290811.asp piece about DeLay's prosecutor:

"Ronnie Earle, the Texas prosecutor who has indicted associates of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay in an ongoing campaign-finance investigation, dropped felony charges against several corporations indicted in the probe in return for the corporations' agreement to make five-and-six-figure contributions to one of Earle's pet causes.

"A grand jury in Travis County, Texas, last September indicted eight corporations in connection with the DeLay investigation. All were charged with making illegal contributions (Texas law forbids corporate giving to political campaigns). Since then, however, Earle has agreed to dismiss charges against four of the companies -- retail giant Sears, the restaurant chain Cracker Barrel, the Internet company Questerra, and the collection company Diversified Collection Services -- after the companies pledged to contribute to a program designed to publicize Earle's belief that corporate involvement in politics is harmful to American democracy."

The WSJ | http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110007330 editorial page also rips Earle:

"Who knows what a jury will decide, but the four-page indictment isn't much to go on. Mr. DeLay is accused with two associates of using corporate money to fund state legislative campaigns in violation of Texas campaign-finance laws. The indictment includes a copy of a check that it claims was money laundered through a political action committee. But the charge is for conspiracy, which because of its vagueness can be the easiest indictment to bring but the most difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt . . .

"The Majority Leader also deserves the presumption of innocence because of Mr. Earle's guilty past. A liberal Democrat, he has a history of indicting political enemies, Democrat and Republican, on flimsy evidence that didn't hold up in court. In the mid-1980s, he indicted Attorney General Jim Mattox, a rival of his ally Ann Richards, on bribery charges. Mr. Mattox was acquitted and won re-election.

"In 1993, he indicted Kay Bailey Hutchison, who'd just been elected to the U.S. Senate, on charges of misconduct and records tampering. Mr. Earle was forced to drop the case even before it went to trial."

Josh Marshall | http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/index-old.php is in the end-of-an-era camp:

"The whole DeLay political machine has been built on the compliance, cooperation and cooptation of big corporations and trade groups who have little ideological truck with DeLayism. It's a business decision -- partly a protection racket. It's not only paying in big sums of money but also hiring DeLay soldiers on instruction.

"With DeLay swirling down the tubes, who's going to start calling out those companies, the ones who've followed orders to hire and pay big salaries to DeLay operatives? Is it still good for business to be funding DeLay's operation? Especially when the spotlight falls on particular companies?"

Not surprisingly, libs are mostly trashing DeLay and righties are slamming Earle. But conservative NYT columnist David Brooks (sorry, it costs to read him now) refuses to march in lockstep:

"The DeLay Era would be marked by one word: partisanship. Far from being a conservative ideologue, DeLay was a traditional Tammany Hall politician who would do whatever it took to put more Republican fannies in House seats. DeLay was never the ruthless tyrant news media reports made him out to be. He's actually a modest, decent and considerate man. But he is willing to sacrifice all else for the team.

"Social conservatism helped the team, so DeLay exploited it. Money from lobbyists could help the team, so DeLay merged K Street and his operations. If federal spending could help the team buy votes, DeLay was willing."

On the other hand, liberal Jeralyn Merritt | http://talkleft.com/new_archives/012538.html writes after DeLay hired attorney Dick DeGuerin:

"Dick has also been a very good friend of mine for 20 years . . . That means I'll be reporting the news on the case and analyzing it legally, but I won't be slamming DeLay any more. Sorry, folks, but loyalty is loyalty. Just thought I'd be up front about it."

The dangers of prognostication:

"Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle's two-year campaign-fund-raising probe is expected to wind down soon without bringing charges against the House majority leader, according to lawyers close to the case who declined to be identified because of legal sensitivities."--Mike Isikoff, Newsweek, Sept.19 issue.

Rita has been kinder and gentler to Bush than Katrina:

"President Bush's response to Hurricane Rita won overwhelming approval in a USA TODAY | http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2005-09-29-bush-poll_x.htm/CNN/Gallup Poll, a marked contrast to his low marks on handling Hurricane Katrina.

"Overall, 71% of those polled said they approve of Bush's response to Rita, which included presidential trips to the region before, during and after the storm."

Of course, a thousand people didn't die from the Rita storm, and no major city was flooded.

"Just 40% said they approved of the president's handling of Katrina, which was marred by a slow federal response after the storm. Except for a brief flyover in Air Force One, Bush made his first trip to the affected area five days after Katrina had passed.

"The approval of his handling of Rita also affected his overall job-approval rating. In the latest poll, that rating was 45%, up from 40% a week and a half ago."

The Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes | http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/006/133mmdsn.asp is usually optimistic about the Republicans' chances when it comes to, well, just about anything. But now he's getting nervous about '08, saying that "Republicans better start worrying about it now. The 2006 midterm election? Republicans are likely to hold onto the Senate and House. But 2008 is another story. In the midst of a Republican era, Democrats stand a good chance of taking the White House then. Even Senator Hillary Clinton of New York -- or perhaps I should say especially Hillary Clinton -- has realistic prospects of winning.

"What's the problem for Republicans? There are at least five of them. The field of Republican candidates is weak. Democrats will have an easier time than Republicans in duplicating their strong 2004 voter registration and turnout drive in 2008. Democrats, despite their drift to the left and persistent shrillness, barely trail Republicans at all in voter appeal. Besides, they may sober up ideologically in 2008. And the media, unless John McCain is the Republican nominee, will be more pro-Democratic than ever . . .

"The strongest potential Republican candidates are Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. None of them is running and Cheney and Rice are downright adamant about it. I've asked Cheney about 2008 on three separate occasions. He gives absolutely no indication of changing his decision not to run. And he says his health isn't the reason. He just doesn't want to be a candidate and won't do it, he insists, even if President Bush asks him to . . .

"That leaves the Republican party with a lesser field of candidates: McCain, Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Virginia Senator George Allen, and a few others. All of them have distinct handicaps. McCain's is that many Republican loathe him. Giuliani is a social liberal. Allen and Romney are inexperienced at the national level. Frist has a soft and blurred image . . .

"Finally, there's the media, more aptly called the Republican-hating media. We've already seen what they are willing to do to protect Hillary Clinton. They trashed a perfectly respectable, though highly critical, biography of Hillary by veteran newsman Ed Klein. It got so bad that conservatives, too, began attacking his book. If this is happening in 2005, imagine what lengths the press will be willing to go to in 2008 on Hillary's, or another Democrat's, behalf."

First of all, numerous conservatives, including Joe Scarborough, also trashed the Klein book, which is filled with lurid and unsubstantiated allegations about Hillary's personal life. Second, to say that journalists "hate" Republicans is silly. Third, isn't McCain a Republican, and doesn't he get terrific press?