Feature

Libby

What the trial is really about.

Even in the Alice-in-Wonderland world of Washington politics, said Mona Charen in National Review Online, it's a curious scandal. We're three weeks into the perjury trial of Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, Scooter Libby, and it's already clear that the prosecution's case is 'œa farce and an outrage.' Libby stands accused of lying about whether he leaked the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame in 2003. Plame's husband, ex'“U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, had questioned the administration's rationale for the Iraq war, so the leak is presumed to have been a dastardly act of political revenge. But the man who has since admitted he first revealed Plame's identity to reporters, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, is not on trial. And the whole case against Libby rests on a half-dozen people's fuzzy memories of 'œwho said what to whom more than three years ago.' Ambitious special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald once hoped 'œPlamegate' might bring down the entire Bush administration, said John Podhoretz in the New York Post. But then his big scandal fizzled. So now he's trying to throw an innocent man in jail 'œsimply to justify his own pointless and lengthy investigation.'

It's true—the trial is really not about Scooter Libby, said Frank Rich in The New York Times. The real target is Cheney, who 'œpanicked' when Wilson revealed that Saddam Hussein had not, in fact, tried to buy uranium in Africa. According to testimony, the vice president directed Libby to discredit Wilson, and the campaign of 'œpress manipulation and high-stakes character assassination' culminated in the exposure of a CIA agent. The administration's overreaction is now understandable, said David Ignatius in The Washington Post. The White House feared that if Wilson's charge gained traction, Americans would discover that its leaders had hyped the evidence about Saddam's 'œweapons of mass destruction,' and ignored multiple indications that he had none. 'œThis trial is about a cover-up that failed.'

But that's not what trials are for, said Debra Saunders in the San Francisco Chronicle. We have elections and a free press to hold administrations accountable. Prosecutions are designed to determine one person's guilt or innocence, and Fitzgerald's case has been a travesty. To investigate leaks, he forced 2,000 White House staffers to produce records. He put reporter Judith Miller behind bars for 85 days, though she never wrote about Plame. And in the end, he never charged any of the officials who admitted they leaked Plame's name. Indeed, 'œif Cheney comes across as heavy-handed and drunk with power, he can share that honor with Fitzgerald.'

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