Friday, November 04, 2005

The Fitzgerald Fishing Trip


On Friday, October 31, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald held a press conference to announce five charges against Scooter Libby, Chief of Staff for Vice-President Dick Cheney.

Since the Liberal Wing has been driving the Rumor Industry into overtime with conspiracy theories and hopes that this will somehow lead to the End of the Bush Era And the Return of Liberal Dominance in U.S. Government, I think it is useful to translate the press conference Mr. Fitzgerald held into plain English for the service of regular people. The text is provided by the Associated Press:

FITZGERALD: “Good afternoon. I'm Pat Fitzgerald. I'm the United States attorney in Chicago, but I'm appearing before you today as the Department of Justice special counsel in the CIA leak investigation.”

Self-explanatory introduction.

FITZGERALD: “A few hours ago, a federal grand jury sitting in the District of Columbia returned a five-count indictment against I. Lewis Libby, also known as Scooter Libby, the vice president's chief of staff. The grand jury's indictment charges that Mr. Libby committed five crimes. The indictment charges one count of obstruction of justice of the federal grand jury, two counts of perjury and two counts of false statements.”

Five charges, essentially claiming that Libby lied to the FBI, then the Grand Jury.

FITZGERALD: “I'd like to put the investigation into a little context. Valerie Wilson was a CIA officer. In July 2003, the fact that Valerie Wilson was a CIA officer was classified. Not only was it classified, but it was not widely known outside the intelligence community…It's important that a CIA officer's identity be protected, that it be protected not just for the officer, but for the nation's security.”

Note that Fitzgerald does not address the fact that Plame was not a covert agent, nor was she sent undercover on assignment in this matter, nor was Libby demonstrated to be responsible for publication of her identity. It would appear such concerns should have been directed towards Joe Wilson and the media, but no action against any of these parties appears to have ever been considered, much less enacted.

FITZGERALD: “Valerie Wilson's cover was blown in July 2003. The first sign of that cover being blown was when Mr. Novak published a column on July 14th, 2003.”

Note that Libby never gave that information to Novak, nor was ever accused of such. In this statement, Fitzgerald tacitly admits that the person(s) directly responsible for release of that information which led to the investigation were never charged, and there is no evidence to support Wilson’s claim that the White House was engaged in any such effort against him or his wife.

FITZGERALD: “I recognize that there's been very little information about this criminal investigation, but for a very good reason. It may be frustrating when investigations are conducted in secret. When investigations use grand juries, it's important that the information be closely held.”

After two years, the lack of progress would seem to indicate there was no substance to the charges, yet Fitzgerald passes off the lack of information as a need for secrecy. The indictments produced were not only very thin for the amount of effort which went into the investigation, it needs to be repeated that the original reason for the investigation produced no evidence of wrong-doing to support the claims.

FITZGERALD: “It's critical that when an investigation is conducted by prosecutors, agents and a grand jury they learn who, what, when, where and why. And then they decide, based upon accurate facts, whether a crime has been committed, who has committed the crime, whether you can prove the crime and whether the crime should be charged.”

I would like to think this was simply a mis-statement by Fitzgerald, but a Grand Jury is not where you determine ‘who, what, when, where and why’. By the time it goes to a Grand Jury, the facts should be clear and the case presented. An open-ended fishing expedition, as Fitzgerald seems to be admitting he had here, is worrisome on a number of levels, as it demonstrates something less ideal than a search for truth.

FITZGERALD: “That's the way this investigation was conducted. It was known that a CIA officer's identity was blown, it was known that there was a leak. We needed to figure out how that happened, who did it, why, whether a crime was committed, whether we could prove it, whether we should prove it. And, given that national security was at stake, it was especially important that we find out accurate facts.”

In that statement, Fitzgerald admits there was nothing to the original investigation, so they had to look for something else. Also, there has been no evidence that National Security of the United States was ever compromised because Joe Wilson’s lies were exposed and the facts made known.

FITZGERALD: “It's especially important in the national security area. The laws involving disclosure of classified information in some places are very clear, in some places they're not so clear.”

Actually, the laws in this case are pretty clear. This is why many legal experts see the indictments as a ploy, rather than strong cases on the merits. Libby’s actions, while unwise if true to the indictment, do not meet the conditions or definitions described in intelligence statutes, which is why he was charged only under generic charges.

FITZGERALD: “And in October 2003, the FBI interviewed Mr. Libby. Mr. Libby is the vice president's chief of staff…The focus of the interview was what it that he had known about Wilson's wife, Valerie Wilson, what he knew about Ms. Wilson, what he said to people, why he said it, and how he learned it.”

Notice that Fitzgerald begins with where Libby worked, as if beginning with a presumption that the White House was attacking Wilson. That’s not exactly unusual for prosecutors, but it demonstrates that the image of impartiality is not actually valid.

FITZGERALD: “Later, Mr. Libby went before the grand jury on two occasions in March of 2004. He took an oath and he testified. And he essentially said the same thing.”

This means that Libby was consistent in his stories. This is important, because that means the indictments all come down to whether one accepts what Libby claims, or what someone else claims. Libby did not contradict himself or change his story. This tells us that Fitzgerald chose to disbelieve Libby, not that the evidence proved he lied.

FITZGERALD: “Let me make clear there was nothing wrong with government officials discussing Valerie Wilson or Mr. Wilson or his wife and imparting the information to Mr. Libby.”

OK folks, this is a money line. It basically says that while Fitzgerald went after Libby for whatever he thinks Libby did wrong, he does not see other White House officials in the same light.

FITZGERALD: “In addition to hearing it from government officials, it's also alleged in the indictment that at least three times Mr. Libby discussed this information with other government officials. It's alleged in the indictment that on June 14th of 2003, a full month before Mr. Novak's column, Mr. Libby discussed it in a conversation with a CIA briefer in which he was complaining to the CIA briefer his belief that the CIA was leaking information about something or making critical comments, and he brought up Joe Wilson and Valerie Wilson. It's also alleged in the indictment that Mr. Libby discussed it with the White House press secretary on July 7th, 2003, over lunch. What's important about that is that Mr. Libby, the indictment alleges, was telling Mr. Fleischer something on Monday that he claims to have learned on Thursday. In addition to discussing it with the press secretary on July 7th, there was also a discussion on or about July 8th in which counsel for the vice president was asked a question by Mr. Libby as to what paperwork the Central Intelligence Agency would have if an employee had a spouse go on a trip.”

OK, now read that carefully. This is a White House employee doing his job, finding out the specifics about what happened and why. Everyone in the White House holds a Security Clearance, so there’s no crime at all in discussing confidential-level classified material in this way. Also, as Wilson’s lies have been exposed, it is obvious now that the White House employees were asking the logical questions which should have concerned Fitzgerald, like why anyone would be sent by the CIA on a trip because his wife wanted him to go, why Wilson was not held to nominal CIA security procedures, and why an issue that truly involves National Security (the Iraq War) would be publicly discussed by a man intent on thwarting national policy for his own ego’s sake? Once again, the question needs to be asked by Fitzgerald was not interested in the security violations by Joe Wilson, if indeed National Security was his focus? I can only conclude that National Security was not, in fact, Fitzgerald’s focus, but tangible results from his intended pursuit.

The Washington Post includes statements made by Fitzgerald from the question and answer session:

QUESTION: “Mr. Fitzgerald, this began as a leak investigation but no one is charged with any leaking. Is your investigation finished? Is this another leak investigation that doesn't lead to a charge of leaking?“

FITZGERALD: “I can tell you, the substantial bulk of the work in this investigation is concluded.”
FITZGERALD: “This grand jury's term has expired by statute; it could not be extended. But it's in ordinary course to keep a grand jury open to consider other matters, and that's what we will be doing.”
FITZGERALD: “And the damage wasn't to one person. It wasn't just Valerie Wilson. It was done to all of us.”

QUESTION: “Mr. Fitzgerald, do you have evidence that the vice president of the United States, one of Mr. Libby's original sources for this information, encouraged him to leak it or encouraged him to lie about leaking?”

FITZGERALD: “We make no allegation that the vice president committed any criminal act. We make no allegation that any other people who provided or discussed with Mr. Libby committed any criminal act.”

QUESTION: “Can you say whether or not you know whether Mr. Libby knew that Valerie Wilson's identity was covert and whether or not that was pivotal at all in your inability or your decision not to charge under the Intelligence Identity Protection Act?”

FITZGERALD: “Let me say two things. Number one, I am not speaking to whether or not Valerie Wilson was covert. And anything I say is not intended to say anything beyond this: that she was a CIA officer from January 1st, 2002, forward. I will confirm that her association with the CIA was classified at that time through July 2003. And all I'll say is that, look, we have not made any allegation that Mr. Libby knowingly, intentionally outed a covert agent.”
FITZGERALD: "The grand jury, by its terms, can serve -- was an 18-month grand jury. By its statute, to my understanding, can only be extended six months. That six months expired."

Here are the basics we can confirm:

[] Libby said something to the FBI and Grand Jury which was consistent, but which Fitgzgerald considered lies.
[] Someone leaked the name to Novak. It wasn’t Libby, but whoever it was, they were not pursued.
[] The White House became concerned when it became clear that Wilson was lying about his Africa trip, that his wife set him up for it, and normal CIA security procedures were ignored. Again, Fitzgerald chose not to pursue these issues, even though they were relevant to the investigation and National Security.
[] Libby was not charged for anything specifically related to the purpose for which the Grand Jury was convened. In fact, no one was.
[] Fitzgerald tacitly admitted he found no reason to believe the White House acted in the manner accused by Joe Wilson, or lied about the Iraq War.

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