Monday, October 24, 2005

Kristof & Tierney on Fitzgerald

I really can't agree with either Nicholas Kristof OR John Tierney in Tuesday's NYT, but I do give them credit...they are willing to look at the grey areas involved and engage with the issues posed by the Fitzgerald hearings on a subtle level rather than taking an extreme position.

For your consideration, here they are:

The New York Times
October 25, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
Hurricane Fitzgerald Approaches the White House

Before dragging any Bush administration officials off to jail, we should pause and take a long, deep breath.

In the 1990's, we saw the harm that special prosecutors can do: they become obsessive, pouncing on the picayune, distracting from governing and frustrating justice more than serving it. That was true particularly of Kenneth Starr's fanatical pursuit of Bill Clinton and of the even more appalling 10-year investigation into inconsequential lies by Henry Cisneros, the former housing secretary.

Special prosecutors always seem to morph into Inspector Javert, the Victor Hugo character whose vision of justice is both mindless and merciless. We don't know what evidence has been uncovered by Patrick Fitzgerald, but we should be uneasy that he is said to be mulling indictments that aren't based on his prime mandate, investigation of possible breaches of the 1982 law prohibiting officials from revealing the names of spies.

Instead, Mr. Fitzgerald is rumored to be considering mushier kinds of indictments, for perjury, obstruction of justice or revealing classified information. Sure, flat-out perjury must be punished. But if the evidence is more equivocal, then indictments would mark just the kind of overzealous breach of prosecutorial discretion that was a disgrace when Democrats were targeted.

And it would be just as disgraceful if Republicans are the targets.

There is, of course, plenty of evidence that White House officials behaved abominably in this affair. I'm offended by the idea of a government official secretly using the news media - under the guise of a "former Hill staffer" - to attack former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. That's sleazy and outrageous. But a crime?

I'm skeptical, even though there seems to have been a coordinated White House campaign against Mr. Wilson. One indication of that coordination is that, as I've reported earlier, I received a call at the same time, in June 2003, from yet another senior White House official, who chided me for two columns in which I discussed Mr. Wilson's trip to Niger but didn't use his name.

My caller never said anything inappropriate or mentioned Mr. or Mrs. Wilson. But the White House was clearly on the warpath - even before Mr. Wilson went public in his July 2003 Op-Ed article - to defend itself from his allegations and from the idea that the administration had cooked the Iraq intelligence.

My guess is that the participants in a White House senior staff meeting discussed Mr. Wilson's trip and the charges that the administration had knowingly broadcast false information about uranium in Niger - and then decided to take the offensive. The leak of Mrs. Wilson's identity resulted from that offensive, but it may well have been negligence rather than vengeance. I question whether the White House knew that she was a noc (nonofficial cover), and I wonder whether some official spread the word of Mrs. Wilson's work at the C.I.A. to make her husband's trip look like a nepotistic junket.

That was appalling. It meant that any person ever linked to Mrs. Wilson or to her front company was at grave risk. And we in journalism have extended too much professional courtesy to Robert Novak, who was absolutely wrong to print the disclosure.

But there's also no need to exaggerate it. The C.I.A. believed that Mrs. Wilson's identity had already been sold to the Russians by Aldrich Ames by 1994, and she had begun the process of switching to official cover as a State Department officer.

To me, the whisper campaign against Mr. Wilson amounts to back-stabbing politics, but not to obvious criminality. And if indictments are issued for White House officials on vague charges of revealing classified information, that will have a chilling effect on the reporting of national security issues. The ultimate irony would come if we ended up strengthening the Bush administration's ability to operate in secret.

One can believe that the neocons are utterly wrong without also assuming that they are evil. And one can yearn for Scooter Libby's exit from the White House - to be, say, ambassador to Nauru - without dreaming of him in chains.

So I find myself repulsed by the glee that some Democrats show at the possibility of Karl Rove and Mr. Libby being dragged off in handcuffs. It was wrong for prosecutors to cook up borderline and technical indictments during the Clinton administration, and it would be just as wrong today. Absent very clear evidence of law-breaking, the White House ideologues should be ousted by voters, not by prosecutors.

The New York Times
October 25, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
And Your Point Is?

If you, like me, have been trying to figure out the point of Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation, Howard Dean has a couple of answers.

Neither involves the original reason for the special prosecutor's investigation - the accusation that White House aides deliberately outed a covert C.I.A. agent. Much of Washington now figures that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby didn't violate that law. But Dean, the Democratic Party's chairman, says we need to look at the larger lessons from this scandal.

"The problem, what got Rove and Libby in trouble was because they were attacking, which the Republicans always do, attacking somebody who criticized them and disagreed with them," Dean said on "This Week" on ABC. "A fundamental flaw in the Bush administration is the personal attacks on people for meritorious arguments."

Personal attacks! Can you imagine President Bush's critics ever sinking to that level? Dean himself may have occasionally faulted Republicans - using words like "liar," "brain-dead," "corrupt" and "evil" - but he must have meant them, like Dame Edna, in a caring and nurturing way.

The other supposed reason to care about the investigation of the C.I.A. leak is that it's really not about the C.I.A. leak, anyway. As Dean explained, "This is not so much about Scooter Libby and Karl Rove. This is about the fact that the president didn't tell us the truth when we went to Iraq, and all these guys are involved in it."

I have a hard time with this argument, and not because I'm a fan of the Iraq war. If I'd been in the Senate, I would have voted against it. The Bush administration's plan to quickly transform a Middle Eastern country struck me as terribly naïve. When I consulted experts in democratization, they predicted that American troops would be stuck in Iraq for at least five years, if not forever.

But I can't understand Democrats now gleefully suggesting that Libby and Rove are getting their just desserts for the "crime" of claiming that there were W.M.D. in Iraq. Yes, they were eager to embrace any bit of evidence for weapons there, but they had plenty of company in their suspicions, including Democrats like Bill and Hillary Clinton.

The problem was that intelligence agencies weren't sure what was going on in Iraq, just as they've rarely known for sure what's going on anywhere. They've often failed to detect new weapons programs, like the Iraq nuclear program that was unexpectedly discovered after the 1991 war. And because they hate to be embarrassed that way, the agencies routinely overcompensate by wildly overestimating an enemy's capabilities, like the Soviet Union's military and economic strength during the cold war.

After the 1991 surprise in Iraq, the C.I.A. had a special incentive to hawkishly point to every warning sign it could find of W.M.D. there. But like any bureaucracy with an instinct for self-preservation, it also hedged its bets by publishing dovish caveats about the uncertainty of the data.

The result, as Stephen Hayes has chronicled in The Weekly Standard, was an array of contradictory assessments by the C.I.A. before the war, and then a number of face-saving leaks after the war to blame the White House for overestimating the threat. One of the leakers was Joseph Wilson, who accused the White House of making claims about Iraq's intentions that he had already disproved.

The White House struck back by leaking its side of the story and disparaging Wilson - some of whose claims were indeed found to be false by a subsequent Senate investigation. It now looks as if the White House leakers were accurate in their warnings to reporters to be leery of Wilson's story.

You can argue that the leakers should be fired for carelessness in revealing that Wilson's wife worked for the C.I.A., but there's been no evidence yet that they realized it was illegal because of her status as a covert agent. You can argue that Libby should be fired for stupidity because of the letter he wrote to Judith Miller, the Times reporter, that sounded like a vaguely clunky - and unsuccessful - attempt to coach her testimony.

But no one deserves to go to jail for leaking information to reporters without criminal intent. The special prosecutor was assigned to look for serious crimes, not to uncover evidence that bureaucrats blame other bureaucrats when things go wrong.

No one deserves to be indicted on conspiracy charges for belonging to a group that believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Foreign policy mistakes are not against the law.


At 11:14 PM, Anonymous rose said...

When in doubt invade soverign nations and kill people? This is a foreign policy? I think that's been tried before, rather unsucessfully in the long term.

At 12:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If no law is broken by a public official then no illegal cover up is necessary. Yes the activities of Cheney and Libby stink, but when the president appoints a prosecutor to get to the bottom of something he deems to be possibly illegal, and directs his staff to fully cooperate, they better do so, dirty laundry and all. If they impede the progress of the investigative body appointed by the president THEY are responsible for the charges that follow. I disagree strongly with both Tierney and Kristof.

At 2:11 AM, Anonymous Paul said...

Tierney seems to be attacking a straw man. "No one deserves to be indicted on conspiracy charges for belonging to a group that believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction." Huh? What the heck is he talking about? How did it go from leaking national secrets to membership in a group? I'd guess Fitz is investigating little things like perjury and obstruction of justice.

"You can argue that Libby should be fired for stupidity because of the letter he wrote to Judith Miller ... that sounded like a vaguely clunky - and unsuccessful - attempt to coach her testimony." Oh, is that all it was, just a little attempt to coach a witness? Oh, I guess that's no big deal... Unbelievable.

At 10:12 AM, Blogger Lee said...

I'm shocked, even though i shouldn't be a this point, that both of these NYT columnists would be repeating the same "talking points" that were floated by Rsthugs this past weekend. Why are they carrying water for the neocons? It can't be that they actually believe the nonsense that has been disproved by all the facts now.

At the NYY, it seems we only have Frank Rich paying attention to all this, and the rest of the sheeple over there are on crack (supplied by the CIA).

At 12:01 PM, Blogger zak822 said...

I can only wonder if Kristoff and Tierney had the same view of perjury and obstruction of justice when President Clinton was being raked over the coals.

If not, they owe us an explanation of why and how their reasoning has changed.

At 12:38 PM, Anonymous MCJ said...

While Kristoff speaks on the merits of the original act (more moral than a BJ?), he doesn't make argument for the one reason not to bring the charge - innocence of no criminal misconduct.

Libby has a law degree from Columbia, I am sure he understands the legal ramifications better than just about anyone, when it comes to testifying. If he was lying to protect Cheney, or the administration, that may be the "noble" end of a misdead, but it certainly should not be consequence free.

Attacking Fitzgerald for doing his job as an officer of the court is unfortunate, and not a true argument.

At 1:38 PM, Anonymous catherine said...

What Kristof is doing is more insidious to me... not only excusing the criminal and immoral behavior of these thugs, but shifting the blame toward the "glee" of some democrats and liberals, like THAT is the real problem! And I have even read some comments by people on blogs tsking away about that as if the reaction is the problem. As if now the real shame is R-bashing, NOT treason! Haven't we seen this before?


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