Home/Daniel Larison/The Importance of Libby’s Indictment

The Importance of Libby’s Indictment

Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff to vice president Richard B. Cheney and assistant to the president, has been indicted for a cover-up.

As U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald made clear at the Oct. 28 press conference announcing Libby’s indictment, he believes Libby “went before a federal grand jury and lied under oath repeatedly and fabricated a story about how he learned this information, how he passed it on.” By obstructing Fitzgerald’s investigation, Libby has prevented Fitzgerald and the grand jury from finding out who leaked the name of the covert CIA agent, Valerie Plame, and why.

Libby did not lie, commit perjury and obstruct justice for no reason. As Fitzgerald made clear, these are serious crimes. For a high government official to commit such crimes, the crime being covered up must be very serious indeed. ~Paul Craig Roberts

To be exact, Fitzgerald, using a baseball analogy, said he could not indict Libby for outing Plame because he could not know for certain Libby deliberately revealed her identity, due to all the sand Libby threw in his eyes – i.e., all the lies he told. Thus, no one was indicted for the crime Fitzgerald had been appointed to investigate.

After 22 months, Pat Fitzgerald came in with a Martha Stewart indictment, though Libby, staring at years in prison for serial lying about something more serious than a stock transaction, may reject the simile.

This indictment is not about the war … People who believe fervently in the war effort, people who oppose it, people who have mixed feelings about it, should not look at this indictment for any resolution of how they feel or any vindication of how they feel. ~Pat Buchanan

These views of the Valerie Plame investigation are striking in how different they are, given that they are written by two men who are essentially in principled agreement on all major questions of public policy and who share, whether or not they regularly embrace the label, a common paleoconservative persuasion. I suppose we can take some pride in the knowledge that our common philosophical convictions need not, indeed should not, result in predictable, uniform attitudes across the board. It is nonetheless a little puzzling how Libby’s indictment and the entire Valerie Plame business can inspire such divergent responses. Both views can’t be right, can they? Well, both are right, but not entirely and not about the same things.

Mr. Roberts has taken his usual take-no-prisoners approach to the misdeeds of the Bush administration, and I find that his assessment makes more sense of what has always really been at stake in this investigation. But he is wrong in thinking that the indictment heralds any change or seriously threatens the administration. In this, Mr. Buchanan’s verdict that the indictment is basically irrelevant, in that it will have no more repercussions, is correct.

It does not make much sense that Libby perjured himself to hide a campaign to discredit Joe Wilson. Few people found this accusation to be incredible–it stood to reason that the administration would smear its political enemies, and administration supporters are glad that the White House engaged in such smears. What is a dirty tricks campaign for people who launch wars because they can and believe that all things are permitted in the cause of “defeating evil”? But concerning the reason for the investigation, it would appear that all of this was sound and fury signifying nothing. So Libby was not hiding the dirty tricks campaign (and the supposed “outing” of Plame was essentially a non-issue)–there was something else that he feared would get out and that had to be protected.

In this sense, however, Libby’s indictment is not a “Martha Stewart” indictment, because whatever Martha Stewart might have done (and did not actually do) in terms of insider trading she was the victim of an abusive state from start to finish. She was hunted down because of who she was, not because of anything she did–trading indiscretions, such as she was supposed to have committed (and did not commit), would not normally merit the sort of attention they received and would probably not have been considered worth a prosecutor’s time.

Poor Martha Stewart. Not only was she prosecuted frivolously to give a prosecutor a big-name conviction, but her name has now been linked forever to our ramshackle legal system as a byword for unchecked prosecutorial misconduct. But surely those who rose to Martha’s defense on the right would sympathise with the target of an indictment, especially when its sole purpose in real terms is to justify retroactively the existence of a special investigation? Well, no, in fact, as Mr. Roberts was a leading defender of Ms. Stewart from the beginning.

Mr. Roberts recognised quite correctly that there is a difference between a private, albeit prominent, citizen being railroaded by the government and who consequently makes the stupid, but basically innocent mistake of trying to hide something trivial from investigators, and a public official lying repeatedly under oath (and about a potentially serious crime at that). This is not some poor person who has been caught in a “perjury trap,” but a liar and villain who is trying to help his masters get away with something. I doubt that Fitzgerald cares what that something is, or that he will do anything about it, but I think Libby’s persistent demonstration of contempt for the law and the integrity (so to speak) of the legal process does offend him, as well it should.

In contrast to Martha Stewart, “Scooter” Libby is a tool of the abusive state, and his (alleged) obstruction of justice is, like that of President Clinton seven years ago, a symptom of the abuse of power that this entire administration has embraced as its modus operandi. It is contempt for the rule of law that saturates this administration. Why should they feel beholden to it? They routinely violate it, and they are not held accountable by anyone. Little wonder Libby thought he could brazenly lie to a grand jury. It is impossible to overestimate the arrogance of these people.

Mr. Roberts is very likely right about the significance of what Libby is covering up. It does not even make much sense that he perjured himself to hide the “outing” of Valerie Plame, if indeed she had still actually been a covert operative at the time and if indeed those who “outed” her knew she was and intended her harm (this is what would have to be proved to convict anyone under this idiotically written statute). Libby must have lied to conceal other crimes that Fitzgerald might have discovered in the course of his investigation. But assuming this is the case, Libby has taken a bullet for his masters and this will be the end of official prosecutorial scrutiny of this criminal administration. Opponents of this dirty administration ought to see this for what it is: yet another defeat in a long string of defeats. Bush may be on the ropes politically, which is mildly amusing, but he and his lackeys remain as unaccountable as ever. (The Senate Democrats are now going through pre-election motions of taking an interest in the war, which will likewise amount to nothing substantial.)

Fitzgerald’s investigation is not over, but he has shown no indication that his probe will be broadened to pursue anything else. In this sense, Mr. Buchanan is wrong when he says that neither side in the war debate has reason to be glad. Even though Libby’s indictment is a scandal and a political black eye for the White House, it is probably an escape for the architects of the war. They can breathe a sigh of relief. One of their number may go to jail, but it will not be on the charges they deserve: treason and other high crimes. The GOP and Bush may be repudiated in next year’s elections, in part because of the scandal and the general feeling of distrust generated by it, but it will not really be a repudiation of the war or the way that these people started the war. Neoconservatism can add one more indictment (and likely conviction) to its shabby history of recruiting amoral time-servers, but it will survive and live to destroy yet another country and with it whatever is left of the honour and reputation of this nation.

Mr. Roberts’ reading of Mr. Fitzgerald’s intentions and his belief that this is the beginning of the end for the villains in the administration are not convincing. I wish he were right, but it is a testimony to how little chance there is of a real backlash or “counterrevolution” (except potentially at the polls in ’06 for reasons that have little to do with Iraq) that the libertarian and conservative resistance to the GOP latches on to every shred of potentially damaging evidence (consider how many times there has been a mini-furore over ultimately insignificant things: the Niger forgeries! the “sixteen words”!, the Downing Street Memo!). Each time, we know that the game is rigged so well that things that ought to damage governments in a free society of self-governing citizens have no effect on modern voters.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

leave a comment