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 The Scooter Saga 

November 1, 2005 
The involved plot of “Scooter” Libby, Dick Cheney, and Karl Rove is, as Huck Finn would say, too many for me. Libby has been indicted for lying about something or other, under oath, to a grand jury, which the special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald assures us is a matter of national security and puts us all at risk. Today's column is "The Scooter Saga" -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.Libby and his lawyer say they are “confident” that he will be “exonerated,” though he has already resigned as Cheney’s man Friday. If convicted, Libby could face 30 years in prison and $1.25 million in fines — a stiff price for lying.

Rove may also be the unnamed “Official A” (as Fitzgerald calls him) who is still under investigation but hasn’t been indicted, at least not yet. It all has to do with who illegally leaked the fact that Valerie Plame Wilson was an undercover CIA operative. The Cheney circle, including Libby, were upset with her husband, the former diplomat Joseph Wilson, for publicly disputing one of its chief pretexts for war with Iraq, that Saddam Hussein was trying to get materials for nuclear weapons from an African government, that of Niger.

Such a high-level indictment is, of course, bad news for an administration whose war (not to mention its other initiatives) is going badly and whose rationales for war are now defended by few this side of Rush Limbaugh. Bush partisans contend that Libby did nothing seriously wrong, but that mere “policy differences” are being “criminalized” by all these frivolous indictments.

You’d think, to hear these folks, that “policy differences” were innocent opinions, like the debate over Shakespeare’s authorship, even if they are battles over life-and-death exercises of military force. Libby, even more than his boss Cheney, has been part of the neoconservative cabal that was hankering for war with Iraq long before George W. Bush was even a candidate for the presidency. It comes as no surprise that they should resort to underhanded tactics against anyone they regard as an enemy.

[Breaker quote for The Scooter Saga: Bush and the Cheney crowd]Nevertheless, it’s hard to see how Libby — or Cheney, or Rove — could have told any lie warranting an effective lifetime in prison. They have told really enormous lies to the public, but these aren’t criminal; at least not technically. Anyway, the indictments aren’t made for moral enormities, but for narrow violations of law. And Fitzgerald appears to be extremely scrupulous about that sort of thing. He avoids any suggestion of moral resonance or of his own views on “policy differences.”

What he has achieved, whether he meant to or not, is to strengthen the impression that the executive branch is being run by sneaky people. Bush himself reacted at once to Libby’s indictment by praising Libby for having “sacrificed much” in his country’s service, et cetera. Meanwhile, Bush said, “I got a job to do,” echoing Bill Clinton’s refrain, during the Lewinsky scandal, that he was determined to keep doing “the job the American people elected me to do.” At moments of crisis, our leaders always hear the call of duty summoning them away from the distractions of the moment.

Bush himself appears unlikely to be directly implicated in whatever his underlings were up to. The question is whether he was even aware of their mischief, or, to put it another way, whether they kept him informed of their furtive doings. Maybe not. It probably seemed to them, at the time, a matter of minor corner-cutting, without much consequence. If the boss wanted a war, well, so did they — did they ever! — and they were only too willing to see that he got one.

A little infighting, with timely leaks to punish Mr. Wilson, would just be part of the operation. Who knew it might blow up in their faces? Did Richard Nixon’s underlings see any great risk in a “third-rate burglary” of which the boss probably had no advance knowledge?

But minor crimes don’t always stay minor. Once Judge John Sirica started handing out tough sentences for that burglary, Nixon became guilty, so to speak, of being innocent of it. He was responsible for what his people did. When he realized that, he became more seriously guilty by trying to conceal it.

That was Nixon’s great mistake. I can’t see Bush repeating it. But he may make the opposite mistake of trying to remain innocent. In his position, there is no such thing as innocence.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2005 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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