The oddest thing about the Scooter Libby affair isn’t that he committed perjury and obstructed an investigation or even that he leaked classified information about an undercover CIA agent; it’s that there were so many leakers.
It may be that in Washington the leaking of classified material is unexceptional. A lot of Republicans are busy splitting hairs over whether Valerie Plame Wilson was covert, undercover or should otherwise have been protected from public exposure. There is no acknowledgement and even less concern that her status was at the very least “classified.” Even Robert Novak’s original source, Richard Armitage, knew information about Plame was classified. That this was of such little consequence to him and others seems astonishing, but perhaps just to those of us outside the beltway.
Having absorbed the information Armitage had passed along Novak, an experienced newspaperman, sought a secondary source, so he called Rove for confirmation and Rove obliged. Far be it from a political hack like Rove, who knew precisely what Plame’s work involved, to ask Novak not to print a story about a CIA operative whose cover would be blown as well as that of her contacts around the world.
Remarkably, the Plame story seems to have been the subject of conversations with dozens of people both inside and outside government. It was as if the details of her life and work had become the most important news of the year. Libby lunched with Ari Fleischer, then press secretary, for the first time ever to let him in on the not-so-secret secret. He contacted Judith Miller at the NY Times and Matt Cooper at Time Magazine, and so it went. With publication of the Novak column Armitage in a moment of clarity worried that he may have opened a can of worms.
But why, in fact, were all these people talking about Plame at all? Why were Libby, Rove and others spreading her story, unless they intended it to eventually reach the public, destroy her career and, most particularly, undermine the credibility of her husband whose op ed in the NY Times disputed administration claims that Saddam Hussein had tried to purchase yellow cake from Niger. Certainly there could have been no innocent reason for exposing Plame and the nature of her work. Rather it just became another cog in the obsessive grinding wheel of propaganda propelling the nation to war in Iraq, a momentum the White House would not allow to be slowed.
The administration won that round of course. They got their war. War profiteering shifted into high gear, the national debt climbed and casualties mounted. The American people were told to be good little patriots. And while the armed forces fought and died in the streets of Baghdad, the rest of us were expected to help out by shopping and traveling. Dissent would be forgotten eventually they hoped and the embellishments that made the case for war seemed inconsequential as the country settled for believing presidential assurances that Iraq was just one step leading to victory in the war on terror.
But as it has turned out the war in Iraq hasn’t been going all that well, and some of the questions long overlooked have resurfaced. A majority of Americans have begun to believe the country was misled with faulty, deliberately misconstrued intelligence by an administration that mismanaged everything from troop deployments to the occupation and everything in-between. And so a story that seemed to have faded away has captured headlines once again with Libby’s perjury and obstruction of justice convictions.
Many have asked why in the world Libby would have concocted stories about the Plame incident that were patently false. Perhaps he thought reporters would never be compelled to testify against him at trial. Or perhaps he and others feared that outing an undercover agent could be more serious even than perjury. In the end the outing of Plame wasn’t at issue during the trial although it was certainly the elephant in the room. What did emerge in the course of the investigation and during the trial itself, however, was the kind of operation Cheney ran and the obstinate nature of an administration determined to chart a course closed to the airing of all divergent opinion.
Strangely, in the wake of Libby’s conviction many Republican observers, e.g. Kate O’Beirne at The National Review, John Fund at The Wall Street Journal and Lindsey Graham in the Senate have denounced the trial calling for a presidential pardon. Critics of the Libby outcome were adamant about impeaching President Clinton whose perjury involved personal behavior not affairs of state. O’Beirne says the Clinton perjury was an impeachable offense and Graham was a central impeachment advocate. What one wonders did these people make of the Constitution’s “high crimes and misdemeanors” grounds for impeachment? How did that definition fit Clinton and what has happened in the interim to Republican insistence that we are a nation of laws?
Fund said it was wrong for politics to be criminalized, an astonishing comment about the felonious behavior of a political operative in the White House. In truth politics only becomes criminalized when criminals are in charge of the nation’s business.

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