Thursday, March 08, 2007
The Fall Guy
March 7th, 2007 8:15 pm
Prosecutor says lies shielded Cheney
By R. Jeffrey Smith / Washington Post
WASHINGTON — In late March 2004, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald asked I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby three separate times whether his boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, had discussed telling reporters that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA in an undercover role.
Fitzgerald was unconvinced by Libby's response that even though he "may have" had such a conversation with Cheney, it probably occurred after Plame's identity as a CIA employee had been published in a newspaper column.
Almost three years later, Fitzgerald told the jury at Libby's trial that Libby's lies had effectively prevented him from learning about all of Cheney's actions in the administration's campaign to undermine Plame's husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, a critic of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Jurors on Tuesday convicted Libby of obstruction of justice, lying to the FBI and perjury for lying under oath to a grand jury. They acquitted him on another charge of lying.
More than he had previously, Fitzgerald made clear in his summation that his search for truth about Cheney was a goal of his investigation, and that his inability to get it was a key provocation for Libby's indictment. Although Cheney was the target, Fitzgerald's inquiry could not reach him because of Libby's duplicity.
Fitzgerald's summation explained, in part, why he brought charges based on imperfect evidence against Libby, even though Libby was not a source for Robert Novak, the author of the July 14, 2003, newspaper column that outed Plame as a CIA employee.
The jury's verdict addresses Fitzgerald's first conclusion — that Libby lied deliberately and did not misspeak from faulty memory. But the trial showed that the prosecutor finished his investigation with his mind made up that Libby's account was meant to hide his own involvement as well as to conceal the potential involvement of the vice president.
At the trial's close, Fitzgerald expressed his concern in unusually blunt terms. After Libby's lawyers complained that he was trying to put a "cloud" over Cheney without evidence to back it up, Fitzgerald told the jury on Feb. 20, "We'll talk straight."
There was, he said, "a cloud over what the vice president did" during the period before the publication of Novak's column, and it was created by testimony showing that Cheney directed Libby and others at the White House to give out information about Wilson and Wilson's criticisms.
"We didn't put that cloud there. That cloud remains because the defendant obstructed justice and lied about what happened," Fitzgerald added.
The notion that Libby was merely a courtroom stand-in for Cheney infuriated Libby's lawyers, who sought in their courtroom statement to defend both men. "Nobody in the office of the vice president is concerned about" Plame, Libby attorney William Jeffress Jr. said. "She never was part of the story they were trying to put out." (Editor's Note: Anyone else find it odd that Libby's Lawyers would try to defend the VP? They're supposed to be defending Libby, not Cheney.)
Fitzgerald disagreed. Suppose, Fitzgerald said, you were probing whether a pitcher had purposely beaned a batter, and if so, why?
"As you sit back, you want to learn why was this information going out. Why were people taking this information about Valerie Wilson and giving it to reporters?" Fitzgerald asked at a news conference in October. "What we have when someone charges obstruction of justice is the umpire gets sand thrown in his eyes. He's trying to figure out what happened, and somebody blocked their view."
Randall Eliason, a former chief prosecutor of public corruption and fraud in the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, said Fitzgerald "would not have been doing his job" if he had not brought the charges. If "witnesses believe they can lie to the FBI and lie in the grand jury and there will be no consequences, then it becomes impossible to investigate any criminal activity, from terrorism to shoplifting."