Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Figuring out what the Scooter verdict (guilty, guilty, guilty!) means

This article gives a decent report on the trial and even manages to summarize its significance pretty well: Guilty verdict reached in Libby case by Richard Schmitt Los Angeles Times 03/06/07:
The trial, the first of a senior White House official in more than a decade, attracted considerable attention. Its backdrop - the decision to go to war in Iraq - is one of the defining issues of the Bush presidency. And the case highlighted the cozy interactions between high-ranking officials and big-name journalists, who paraded into court to expose the sometimes sloppy way that information is traded in the nation's capital.

Schmitt's article also discusses some of the potential implications for the press.

Media Matters has provided us a helpful set of guidelines on what to look for as Republicans try to contain the fallout from the Scooter convictions in Libby's guilty verdict:
Media myths and falsehoods to watch for 03/06/07 . They list ten of them, each with accompanying explanations. I'm including only the bullet-points here of arguments we may be hearing from the Reps:

* No underlying crime was committed.
* There was no concerted White House effort to smear Wilson.
* Libby was not responsible for the leak of Plame's identity.
* Libby merely "left out some facts."
* Libby's leak was an effort to set the record straight.
* There is no evidence that the Plame leak compromised national security.
* Fitzgerald is a partisan prosecutor.
* Fitzgerald exceeded his mandate in investigating violations beyond the IIPA [Intelligence Identities Protection Act].
* Plame's employment with the CIA was widely known.
The Democratic Party doesn't have the kind of broad, lockstep message discipline that the Reps have. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi put out this brief statement soon after the verdict: Nancy Pelosi's statement: Libby Guilty Verdicts Not Solely About Acts of One Individual 03/06/07
Today’s guilty verdicts are not solely about the acts of one individual.

This trial provided a troubling picture of the inner workings of the Bush Administration. The testimony unmistakably revealed – at the highest levels of the Bush Administration – a callous disregard in handling sensitive national security information and a disposition to smear critics of the war in Iraq.

Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said after the trial that his office would not be pursuing the investigation further. But Christy Hardin Smith's reporting in
Fitzgerald Post-Trial Press Conference 03/06/07 puts it in a different light than that isolated statement would give the impression. I'm assuming since she didn't use quotation marks that these were her notes of the questions and Fitzgerald's responses:

If the Vice President were passing on a reported rumor, and not an official channel, thatwould be different in terms of decisionmaking for the prosecutor? We tried to ascertain how this was done.

If Congress does something on this, we will do what is appropriate.

Do you believe this investigation changes the relationship with reporters? What Libby was doing was not whistleblowing - the reporters were a witness to a potential crime. There is a difference. By placing the information in this case behind reporters, there was no other way to proceed in this case but to talk with the reporters in question. (CHS notes: They cannot be used as shields for guilt or innocence of conduct, in other words.)

Trial evidence? The judge made a ruling that the case would not be tried based on Valerie Plame Wilson's status. her relationship with the CIA was classified - I have 100% confidence in this information.

If reporters were eyewitnesses to a potential crime — we could not have gotten to the bottom of this without some discussion with those reporters.
Glenn Greenwald has already done an article for Salon on the Scooter verdict: Lewis "Scooter" Libby is a felon 03/06/07. He emphasizes that Scooter has been a major player in the neoconservative movement even before he became Dark Lord Cheney's chief of staff in the OVP (Office of the Vice President). Although I can't quite share his enthusiasm at the very end for what this shows about the health of our Constitutional system in general, he has a good point when he says this sends what should be a scary message to Cheney and Bush and their inner circle: "If Libby can be convicted of multiple felonies, then any Bush official who has committed crimes can be as well."

And he gives us a summary of how serious some of those potential charges are:

It is worth noting, perhaps most important, that there is a whole array of other pending judicial matters that, either directly or implicitly, entail accusations against high Bush officials, including the president himself, of engaging in serious criminal behavior. Last August, a federal district judge, Anna Diggs Taylor, ruled that President Bush's warrantless eavesdropping program violated not only the Constitution but also FISA, a criminal statute making it a federal felony to eavesdrop on Americans without judicial warrants and imposing punishments of five years' imprisonment for each offense and fines up to $10,000.

Also last fall, the U.S. Supreme Court in the Hamdan case rejected the Bush administration's principal defense for its violations of the Geneva Conventions not only with regard to military commissions, but also generally. By holding that Common Article 3 of the Conventions applies to all detainees, and by emphasizing that a failure to treat detainees in compliance with Common Article 3 constitutes "war crimes," the Supreme Court effectively found that Bush officials have authorized and engaged in what clearly could be construed to be felony violations of the War Crimes Act (18 U.S.C. sec. 2241), which makes it a federal crime to violate war treaties such as the Geneva Conventions. Though the administration succeeded in inducing the Republican-led Congress to enact the Military Commissions Act as a shield against retroactive criminal liability, the constitutionality of that law, and the efficacy of the criminal shield provisions, are far from certain. (my emphasis in bold)
Howard Fineman gives us his take at Newsweek Online in The Libby Verdict's Long Shadow 03/06/07:

The stunning, vehement verdict in the Scooter Libby trial — that he lied, repeatedly, big time — isn’t really about Scooter Libby at all. It is about how and why we went to war in Iraq, and about how Vice President Dick Cheney got us there. Loyalty is everything to President George W. Bush, and I don’t expect him to march into Cheney’s office to demand a resignation. But the veep is a liabiity as never before, and even Bush has to know that.
For Howard Fineman, that's pretty good. But I hear an undertone of GOP talking points in his comment that the verdict "isn’t really about Scooter Libby at all". You know, except for the four felony acts of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI on which he was convicted. He concludes his piece with:

But the biggest burden will fall on Cheney himself. His own Hobbesian view of the world — that life is nasty, brutish and short — is becoming all too personal. He had to be relieved that Prosecutor Fitzgerald described his investigation as "inactive." That would seem to mean that Cheney is in no legal jeopardy.

Unless Libby, facing serious jail time (and he might well be, given the breadth of the verdict), decides to change his story and tell us something about Cheney we don’t know—and that the president of the United States won’t want to hear.
Okay, his description of the risk to Cheney is accurate as far as it goes. But does Cheney really have a "Hobbesian view of the world"? Maybe he does. But Cheney's life hasn't exactly been "nasty, brutish and short". His war in Iraq has made life that way for many, many others. But that hardly describes Mr. Halliburton's biography.

Okay, my poli-sci geek side is coming out here. But I was curious about that Hobbesian reference. This sketch of Cheney does mention that he knows who Hobbes was:
The Cheney Factor by Kenneth T. Walsh US News and World Report 01/15/06. And this Maureen Dowd column (consider the source!) that is behind subsription apparently refers to friends of Cheney's saying he has a Hobbesian view of the world: Their Master's Voice New York Times 11/13/03.

According to this adoring Newsweek article
Cheney’s Long Path to War from the 11/17/03 issue by Mark Hosenball, Michael Isikoff and Evan Thomas:

Cheney, say those who know him, has always had a Hobbesian view of life. The world is a dangerous place; war is the natural state of mankind; enemies lurk. The national-security state must be strong, vigilant and wary. Cheney believes that America’s military and intelligence establishments were weakened by defeat in Vietnam and the wave of scandals that followed in Watergate in the ’70s and Iran-contra in the ’80s. He did not regard as progress the rise of congressional investigating committees, special prosecutors and an increasingly adversarial, aggressive press. Cheney is a strong believer in the necessity of government secrecy as well as more broadly the need to preserve and protect the power of the executive branch.
So it's looking like his staff or some Party PR people decided "Hobbesian" had a warlord-ish ring to it and tossed it out there.

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