Posted on Wednesday, February 7, 2007
So here’s my question: Where’s Kenneth Starr when his country needs him?
The psalm-singing phony wasn’t much of a prosecutor. His team lost every
Whitewater trial but one; his insanely-detailed report on Bill Clinton’s
pecadillos made most Americans end up feeling sorry for the big dope.
Even so, Starr definitely knew how to put on a show. He kept the Beltway
press corps in a constant tizzy with phony leaks and theatrical grand
jury appearances. Compare Patrick Fitzgerald, the brilliant career
prosecutor currently grinding White House factotum Lewis “Scooter” Libby
to fine particles in the same D.C. courthouse. It’s the most important
criminal trial in Washington since Watergate, showing how the White
House campaigned against Ambassador Joe Wilson and his CIA agent wife,
Valerie Plame, after Wilson went public about the “intelligence” hyping
Iraq’s make-believe nuclear threat. Unfortunately, Fitzgerald goes by
the book. No leaks, no public grandstanding. No “off the record”
conversations with pundits. Alas, this bunch requires hand feeding.
Hence most Americans scarcely comprehend what’s at issue.
This even as the White House begins a second semi-hysterical propaganda
campaign advancing yet another “preemptive” war against Iran, a more
formidable foe that has never attacked the U.S. militarily and has no
real capacity to do so—a strategic blunder as foolhardy and dangerous as
President Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs fiasco.
The stakes couldn’t be higher, nor the evidence clearer. Plame’s
identity as a CIA operative—she’d headed the agency’s “Joint Task Force
on Iraq” —was leaked to reporters by White House officials to discredit
Also, as testimony by former New York Times reporter Judith Miller made
clear, to scare anybody else in the CIA who might turn whistleblower.
Mess with us? Goodbye career. Indeed, Plame may have been the White
House’s main target. Miller told about several conversations she’d had
with Libby in June 2003, only weeks after President Bush pranced around
an aircraft carrier in his Village People flight suit proclaiming
“Mission Accomplished” in Iraq.
Wilson’s bombshell New York Times column accusing the White House of
deliberately twisting the evidence about Iraq’s non-existent nukes
hadn’t yet appeared. But information the White House knew could only
have come from him had appeared in The New York Times and Washington
Post. Vice President Dick Cheney, chief imagineer, became furious.
Hence Libby’s conversations with Miller, the self-described “Miss Run
Amok,” whose front page exclusives about Iraq’s WMDs the Times has since
repudiated. He told her about one Valerie Plame (“ Flame,” she wrote in
her notes), which her editors found of no interest. During her
testimony, Miller described Libby as “agitated, frustrated and angry.”
He told Miller “that the CIA was trying to backpedal, to distance itself
from the unequivocal intelligence estimates through what he called ‘a
perverted war of leaks.’”
Libby’s account was complete rubbish. The record unequivocally shows
that the CIA had warned the White House off the specific tale Wilson
debunked—that Saddam Hussein sought to buy uranium in Africa—several
times, in writing. So had the State Department. The International Atomic
Energy Agency told the White House it was a hoax, based on crude
President Bush went with the African fable in his January 2003 State of
the Union speech anyway. Then, when the administration’s deceptions
threatened to become known, the vice president’s office panicked.
Several CIA, State Department and White House witnesses testified that
Libby had begun seeking derogatory information about the Wilsons in late
May when reporters’ inquiries first alerted them to the danger.
After columnist Robert Novak took the bait and “outed” Plame, the CIA
formally protested. An investigation began. New stories had to be
invented. Perhaps overconfident because Attorney General John Ashcroft
headed the probe, Libby claimed he’d learned Plame’s covert identity
from “Meet the Press” host Tim Russert. Alas, Ashcroft had sufficient
integrity to step aside, and the hard-nosed, incorruptible career
prosecutor Fitzgerald inherited the case.
Documents in Libby’s office showed he’d in fact learned Plame’s identity
from Deadeye Dick Cheney. So he alibied that he’d forgotten this trivial
fact, only to relearn it from Russert. Yeah, right. Testimony shows that
five different officials discussed Plame with him. Libby was going
around the White House with anti-Wilson/Plame “talking points” dictated
by Cheney himself. The vice president’s handwritten notes have been
introduced into evidence.
Defense lawyers have bizarrely argued that Libby was set up to take the
fall for fellow smear artist Karl Rove, who also participated. They’ve
hinted that when Libby and Cheney testify, all will become clear.
I’m betting neither man dares testify. Patrick Fitzgerald ain’t Wolf
Blitzer. He’s prosecuted mafia goons and terrorists; Cheney’s snarls
won’t scare him.
Too bad he’s not a bit more of a showman.
Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and recipient of
the National Magazine Award.