Pardon Libby and end the debacle

If George W. Bush really wants to strike a blow for justice he should pardon I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby now before his prosecution costs the taxpayers one dime more. It is really time to put an end to one of the most bizarre and disruptive politically inspired cases in recent memory.

Libby, as most Americans know, is the scapegoat for a non-crime that involved the public identification of a one-time undercover operative of the CIA, Valerie Plame, the wife of a small time diplomat, Joseph Wilson, who tweaked the White House over its claims that Saddam Hussein was seeking nuclear material in Africa. Plame, the White House claims, had a hand in the agency’s assigning her husband to investigate the claims, which were among those contentions used to justify the invasion of Iraq. Wilson found the claims unsubstantiated.

In the backlash over Wilson’s report, Plame’s identity as a CIA employee and her role in her husband’s selection was leaked to a national columnist, Robert Novak. The CIA demanded an investigation into whether the disclosure violated an obscure law prohibiting the outing of an undercover agent. A special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, was named by the Justice Department. Fitzgerald knew the source of the leak about Plame from the outset and determined rather rapidly the law had not been violated. The original source of Plame’s identification, by the way, was not Libby but Undersecretary of State Richard Armitage.

Now we are at the beginning of a senseless, albeit sensational trial brought about by Fitzgerald’s decision to find someone in the White House to bring to ground despite his own discovery that no crime had been committed. He settled on Libby, an aide to Vice President Richard Cheney, whom he charged with lying to the FBI and a grand jury and obstructing justice in the pursuit of answers he (Fitzgerald) already had. Libby said he first heard about Plame from a television personality, Tim Russert, but Russert denies the claim even as he concedes he talked to Libby.

Libby says his naming Russert as a source was a mistake brought about by a busy schedule that made it difficult to remember from whom he received what. Under normal circumstances, a prosecutor might be willing to accept this explanation, particularly since Libby is a lawyer of proven merit who would understand the consequences of deliberately lying to a grand jury. It is almost inconceivable that he would lie, particularly since he knew his statement could be checked easily. But Fitzgerald, known as the Boy Scout of federal prosecutors, was as relentless as if he had just read “Les Miserables” and was a fan of the French police inspector.

There is some indication that he really wanted to nail the president’s chief political advisor, Carl Rove, but settled finally on Libby, who is not known as an ideologue or even wildly political. His wife, who also is a lawyer, is in fact on the other side of most political issues, according to reports.

The effort to choose a jury this trial already has shown signs of being more a debate on Bush’s Iraq policy than an effort to find justice. Those facing empanelment have been asked their feelings about the president and several have been dismissed for voicing their animosity. Shades of things to come as the testimony of everyone from Cheney to a handful of prominent journalists and TV stars begins in earnest.

This is the inside the Beltway kind of circus this town loves. It is a travesty with some long-lasting consequences from which no one emerges unscathed — not the press, the prosecutor, the White House, the CIA, Wilson and Plame (the darlings of the Georgetown dining out set) and certainly not Libby, whose reputation as a tough, quiet but decent person already has been severely maligned. There is no constitutional crisis in this — nothing of great national import took place. No harm was done by the disclosure that Plame, who hadn’t been undercover for years, worked for the CIA.

Severe damage, however, has been done to the First Amendment by an over zealous prosecutor who, among other things, insisted on jailing a reporter for not revealing her source for a story she never wrote, undercutting a policy and tradition that has been a bulwark of press freedom since the beginning of the nation. The result is a chilling impact on the role of the Fourth Estate as the watchdog of democracy.

So, Mr. President, it is time you exercised your own constitutional prerogatives and ended this nonsense immediately. Even if an impartial jury could be selected, which is highly doubtful in this venue, the trial is an injustice.

(Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.)


  1. Bryan J.

    Thank you, Mary.
    The world, as you say, is not a black and white place. How boring it would be if it were.
    I would humbly add that if we become so afraid that all we can see is a narrow view of the world than we can never have real security.
    I would expand a tad on your hunch: The Bush Administration also would like a pardon so it can protect its own class of “patriot” — the lying, conniving, treasonous and cowardly snakes-in-the-grass that would turn their mothers in for power and money.
    These backstabbing “patriots” want us to think that all of their dirty little secrets deserve the shield of national security. So when these dirty secrets see the light, they puff their undeserved patriotic pride and point bloated, bloody fingers at the real Patriots who would have the temerity to expose their lies and deceit. They have no shame.
    With the stroke of an auto-signature machine, this White House gang orders citizen soldiers to fight and die for a lie of a war and — without blinking a tear — sends condolence letters to newly-minted service widows.
    I know such so-called “patriots.” They call others unchristian and unpatriotic while cuddling their weapons industry stock options and not having served a day in harm’s way. They have the nerve to call themselves Patriots!
    I served in Korea and Vietnam. To this day I feel a strange mix of guilt and gratitude for the chance to even be writing something … anything. Many of my brothers might have had this opportunity if the dirty secrets of the Johnson and Nixon administrations had been spilled sooner … much sooner.

    Bryan Raymond

  2. Mary

    Seal, in some ways you are right, but there is a long and complex history of leaking classified information.

    Following your definition of treason and classified information, many more government workers would be in jail for leaking. Leaking or whistleblowing is a complicated issue, not simply black and white. Some actually think it is their patriotic duty to leak classified information when they see unwise policy decisions. Look at what is coming out of the Pentagon these days. Are you familiar with the phrase “the ship of state leaks from the top”?

    In this case, the outing of an undercover CIA agent was anything but patriotic. Rather it was done to discredit Wilson who blew the whistle on the administration’s hyping of a nonexistant Iraq nuclear threat. This nuclear scare was instrumental in taking the country to war. The administration did not want it revealed that there was no basis for it.

    In Wilson’s case, was he guilty of leaking classified information? That’s where it gets complicated. When do leaks become truth telling in the national interest and when are they leaks not in the national interest? IMHO, Wilson’s leaks were in the national interest, while the WH leaks about Plame were not.

    It is my hunch that this matter of leaking is why many in the media, like Thomassan, want the case dismissed. They do not want to jeopardize their future supply of leakers and whistleblowers.

  3. SEAL

    I’m amazed at how everyone has missed the simple basic perspective in all of this. Every citizen, regardless of their position or distinction, has a duty to protect their counrty. It isn’t something that has to be assigned nor is it an obligation only when elected or appointed. It doesn’t come with a job. Any US citizen that has information that could damage the country is duty bound to treat that information properly. Any act that would result in that information being exposed where it should not be exposed is guilty of treason.

    It was an act of treason for public officials to expose the information about Plame to reporters. Are we to believe that veteran reporters would not consider releasing information about a CIA operative or any CIA employee should not be cleared with the proper authority? Doing so without authorization is treason. Any citizen given that type of information must immediately report it to the proper authority.

    What the hell is the matter with everyone? Every person involved in releasing the information or who was not authorized to have it but was given the information and failed to report it is guilty of treason. Anyone who knew the information had been exposed and failed to report it is guilty of treason. That is the reality regardless of any laws, rules, or other subversions of what is right and wrong. Every citizens first and last duty is to protect the country.

  4. John

    Even a dog knows the difference between being kicked and tripped over. I submit that a competent prosecutor knows the differnce between lying and forgetfulness and so do juries!! Its about time someone in DC grew a pair. The real culprit here is Novak who knew exactly what he was doing and knew he was safe since the Congress didnt have any balls among them and crafted the law so that the press was exempt. Anyone, including the press, who outs our intelligence agents or who attempts to out or assists or abets in outting should be punished. The price these agents pay far exceeds any expense of a trial. Can anyone tell me why there were any exceptions to the confidentiality law? Certainly the Press can do more harm than some gossiper at a cocktail party.

  5. Bryan Raymond

    Dear Bob Short,
    Thank you for your service to America and to Radio Free Europe. You are so dead on with your commentary.
    It’s so good to know that Doug has such a large and eclectic following of well-placed, knowledgeable and, as for myself, no so knowledgeable but interested readers.
    I believe this trial will be painful be for America. The truth and justice that would flow out of the trial is too important to be short circuited by a politically motivated pardon. This trial is a painful but necessary antidote of truth that would expose the lies that rot the core values of this land, its people and and its precious Constitution.
    This trial is unlike the Clinton trial. President Clinton, who for all intents and purposes did the job for which he was elected, just couldn’t keep his sex drive under control. He could be trusted with doing the right thing with government but one might not trust him with one’s girlfriend. So sad.
    On the other hand, what the Bush Administration has done is much more serious and dangerous to America than having a sex in the White House. His actions strike at the very center of what brings real security to this country. Without the eyes and ears of the intelligence community we are truly at the mercy of our enemies.
    The Bush Administration’s unpatriotic behavior is coupled with reckless aggression abroad that has harmed others who now hate us and act against us outside our notice. That is scary.
    We must show the world that now we know that our leadership has not always acted in our best interest. The world must we made to understand that we are willing to learn the hard truths about our leaders and take them to task, as painful as it might be to our collective American self-image. We must take our own inventory, come out of denial and change our behavior. We need to rebuild our self-respect and earn the respect of others by becoming again a nation amoung nations, a good neighbor among neighbors. Now … in this regard, I would say, to use a recently misused Bush Administration mantra for war — “failure is not an option.”
    Bob, thank you so much so much for your continuing service to our country, both in and out of government.


  6. Mary

    I hope that CHB forwards these responses to
    Thomasson. Some of the posters have valuable professional knowledge of the intelligence field.

    Thomasson is not the first journalist to call for dismissal of this case. Bob Woodward and Richard Cohen, to name two, have written that it is all about nothing and should be dismissed. I believe the journalists’ motives are professional in that they want to protect their system of leaking sources.
    Understood, but there are larger principles here. I don’t necessarily think that revenge was the reason Plame was outed, but I do think the WH was out to discredit anyone who dissented from their march up to the Iraq war. Wilson did that and in order to diminish his impact, the WH came up with “well he was sent on the mission by his CIA wife and is not credible.”
    They may not even have known that Plame was or had been a NOC.

    I think they just fumbled the whole operation as they do almost everything else they touch.
    However, as has been said, those who put themselves at risk and live the hardships of a NOC need to know, they will not be outed by members of their own government. Bush SR. knew that.

  7. Helen Rainier

    My reaction to reading this is that the pundits who are defending Libby, Cheney et al don’t understand two of the most basic rules of access to classified material. I am a former Army Intelligence Analyst who held a TS clearance.

    Two prevailing rules of having a Security Clearance:
    1. You must have an appropriate level of clearance to access it.

    2. You do not disclose it to anyone who does not have the clearance level commensurate with the information.

    3. If you don’t know the classification of the material you shut your mouth about it.

    The impact of what happened with the revealing of Plame’s identity has dangerous ramifications that many people don’t even consider. The primary thing is the subversive effect the leak has on young people who may have been or are considering a career as a CIA undercover agent.

    With as long as Cheney, Libby et al have been in and out of Beltway politics to believe they didn’t know what they were doing is naive at best.

    Even worse, IMHO, is that they were entrusted with highly classified material and betrayed the trust and confidence that was granted to them by having a security clearance.

    This is appalling and disgusting beyond belief, and IMHO constitutes acts of treason against this country.

  8. Neil Sagan

    In BushCo, deception and retribution are means to the end. NB Saddam’s Nukes, Hecuva Job Brownie, Uniter not a Divider, If someone in my administration is leaking I want to know who.

    Kudos to the many other commentors here who disagree with a pardon “to save taxpayers money.” Right on! How about a pardon to save face, when based on evidence presented in the court of law, it becomes perfectly clear to everyone that this improglio was caused by the mean spirited instinct to make Joe Wilson pay for his public criticism of Bush’s factual basis for attacking Iraq.

    Dicrediting and punishing Wilson came at at steep price, a CIA NOCs career and all of the assets associated with her career over he life of her career. Libby lied to protect Cheney and quote likely Bush too and that is why Libby is facing 20 years in jail, if he gets a fair trial. I can’t wait to see Fitzgerald cross examine Dick Cheney. Listen for the “if you will” it’s a dead-eye dick tell.

  9. pardon me

    What is the motivation, to save money? LMAO. You have got to be kidding, right? Billions gone missing in Iraq, and you care about the pittance here? Please, spare us the crap about 1st Amendment protections of the press. That’s transparent BS in a country where habeas corpus is gone, and the President can decide just who is an enemy combatant in a Star Chamber of one. Spare us the WATB.

    No .. there is the possiblity of other criminal activity, that other people to be implicated. This is the real motivation behind these ‘opinions’ by “professionals”. I wonder how much money this one was paid to pen this sorry piece of garbage.

    Something is very very rotten in DC. At least Fitzgerald smells something putrid, even if he is on the wrong track, he should keep sniffing.

  10. Ted

    Pardoning a crime before a conviction … absurd.

    First convict or acquit Libby of a felony. If a conviction results Bush can pardon him, grant a congressional Medal of Freedom and then give him another position in the Bush administration where he will fit in perfectly with the other convicted-pardoned felons on Bush’s staff.

    Bush is doing a heck of a job, like Browny the FEMA Director during Katrina.

  11. Judy DiGennaro

    I agree witht the comments about the dangers involved in “outing” an undercover agent. Sometimes they are “running” double agents and certainly as the first writer wrote, anyone who has been associated with them is now in danger.
    I do like the idea of Bush’s pardoning libby if only because of the potential backlash. On the other hand, this guy manages to elude responsibility for almost everything and the Libby trial could bring forth some interesting revelations. I am no longer rational about Bush. Perhaps my judgment is impaired.

  12. Red Ruffian

    Obviously Dan Thomasson does not get what is at stake here. Maybe he is confused. He certainly is in a tizzy about saving Scooter Libby by throwing up a smoke screen with so called first amendment issues. If Libby had not lied to the Prosecutor and attempted to obstruct justice he wouldn’t be charged now. It is that simple.

    As to the motives of Libby and Cheney and their press enablers, the backstabbing low methods used by these two cowards was an example of pure effeminate Byzantine style vengeance. Truly unworthy of any member of our government but typical of these so called hairy chested men who whisper behind people backs. Imagine ruining a valuable CIA, NOC asset for spite. What else can we expect from that old chicken-hawk bag of guano Cheney?

  13. Mary

    The CIA, the prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, and the judge in the case considered that harm had been done to a covert employee of the CIA.
    Also, there is little mention of the fact that not only was Valerie Plame compromised, but outed as well was the cover company set up by the CIA under which she operated.
    Others involved with the company would have been compromised and possibly harmed.

    I don’t know Thomasson’s politics but he is either very biased or wants to protect media informants at any cost. In this case, the cost is to those agents who make sacrifices to work undercover. They cannot trust their own government not to out them.

  14. Bob Short

    Dan Thomasson’s comments surprise me. Usually he is more logical in his digressions. Perhaps Rove, Bartlett or some of the other scandalous White House rouges have tainted his mindset with regard to his petition for a pardon of Scooter Libby.

    Considering that Cheney is expected to testify, and one can hope perjure himself, my opinion is the trial must go forward. Otherwise another chance will be lost to force the truth from that lying neo-con fascist bastard.

    Eight years of my 35 years of federal service was as Director, Information Services, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. My charter was to create a rapid response surrogate broadcast capability to neutralize, at that time, Communist propaganda emanating from both the former Soviet Union and its satellite East European countries. That task was pronounced successful on November 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall tumbled down and millions of East Europeans reclaimed their governments. I along with my contemporaries were elated that truthful broadcasting had such an effect on some 480 million souls incarcerated behind the Iron Curtain.

    Now that I have returned to the United States and subsequently witnessed the governmental garbage, both aired and presented in the print media, I feel it’s past time to create a Radio Free America to counter George Bush’s propagandists. My sense is that few Americans can sufficiently comprehend truth from fiction, especially when it comes down to the abject lying carried out by Bush and his renegades. And, broadcast by such as FAUX News

    Thomasson is out of bounds on this, the trial must go on. His comment: “No harm was done by the disclosure that Plame, who hadn’t been undercover for years, worked for the CIA” is one of the worst statements in his entire op-ed piece. Insurmountable damage was done, but covered up by all bureaucrats involved.

  15. Dave

    “Libby is a lawyer of proven merit who would understand the consequences of deliberately lying to a grand jury.”
    Well, gee whiz. I’m sure the Roman Centurions who fell on their swords after disgracing the emperor understood the consequences of deliberately dying. Nice try, jack.

  16. Dennis

    “It is almost inconceivable that he would lie, particularly since he knew his statement could be checked easily?”

    You gotta be kidding Mr. Thomasson! BUSCO has based their entire administration on lies… all caught on tape!

    If Bush pardons anybody, it should be those two American border agents who were unjustly convicted in the shooting of a Mexican drug smuggler!

  17. Caroline Carson Mintzer

    You’ve got to be kidding, Dan! Every move that’s made in Washington is “politically inspired” and that it’s disruptive, we all note, barely made a wave or ripple in the pond of neanderthals in business suits in DC! And yes it most assuredly WAS criminal — regardless of what angle you view the outing from . . . And as to nailing Karl (achtung!) Rove, I’m sure Fitzgerald wanted to do just that because the pattern and MO of the leak are soooo Rovian/Machevellian in their manifestation. Personally, I was hoping that Fitzgerald would strap on some balls and go for the jugular of Rove, but he needed some leverage and may have hoped Scooter would provide just that — but alas, too little too late for any real accountability on this one! Unfortunately, all witnesses seem to be saying “I don’t know” as a whining cop-out. Too bad Fitz didn’t act sooner in this foolish game, but prosecution was unquestionably essential. Appears to you as foolish, but so did White Water to me, and believe me Dan, THAT cost a helluva’ lot more that this piddling inquiry! So, let’s not “strain at a gnat and swallow a camel” as Jesus so aptly put it. Can’t have it both ways in your republican lite, centrist world . . .

    Furthermore, if impeachment isn’t put BACK on the burner by the dems, the people may have to act independently on that because the impeachable offenses are overwhelming in bring our country to this critical and idiotic point! Time to walk forward instead of being forced into our six-year series of backward leaps!!!

  18. John Blonsick

    Perhaps Richard Nixon should have pardoned himself in the midst of the Watergate hearings to spare the nation the divisiveness of his abuse of power and crimes? Maybe Sadam Hussein should have been pardoned to prevent secular violence in Iraq? Or the Nuremburg trials should have ended in pardons to reunify post-war Germany?

    Accountability of wrong-doing by leaders is fundamental to our concept of justice in a democracy.

    The real perpetrators will never be held accountable for the crime of exposing 100s of intelligence personnel and their contacts to danger and retaliation.

    Given the politics of plausible deniability, we will have to settle for a smaller fish – and if he is found guilty, should be executed as a traitor to his nation. The choice to use an intelligence asset – active or not – as a pawn in a dirty political game of discrediting a critic (one who may have slowed or prevented the rush to an ill-conceived war) needs the ultimate punishment for the thousands of lives lost.

  19. ron kay

    …this author is a schmoe just like the rest of the neo-cons…’d you Blue Guys let this jerk sneak in here…..send him over to an Oxy party with Rush.

  20. adam russell

    That would be like Agnew pardoning Nixon, which was done more to save the Republican Party than to help Nixon or the Country.

  21. Steve Horn

    Jay asked “Who pays for Valerie Plame” – well – we all do, Jay. The entire global community pays for the absolute disregard for law that this administration has demonstrated. The world is paying for in blood, violence and insecurity, and as a nation, America is paying for it in loss of respect, loss of freedom, loss of life, loss of what “America” once was – we’ll be paying for it for years to come. With hard work we may actually be able to recover some of what “America” once meant both here and abroad, but the lives sacrificed and careers ruined by the actions of this administration can never be righted.
    Valerie is just one sad example, there are over 3000 other examples, sacrificed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  22. Old Curmudgeon

    I find it interesting that most overlook the important aspect of what Ms. Plame was doing. They were responsible for keeping an eye on the Iranians and their desire to acquire nuclear weapon technology. Now, no one is watching or is able to verify whether what the Bush Administration is saying is true. Kind of like what happened in 2003…But that’s just this old curmudgeon’s opinion.

  23. Steven Horn

    As Libby was on the staff of VP Cheney, he (Cheney) should bear the responsibility for the leaked communication, not Libby. The Vice President should be, as most managers are, responsible for the action or inaction of those under him.
    So fine, pardon Libby, charge Cheney. I could live with that. (you could really say that Cheney works for Bush, so Bush should be on trial, but personally I can’t dream on that grand a scale any longer)
    Whatever happens, someone from this administration, eventually, needs to be taken to task for the total disregard for the laws of this land that they, under George W. Bush, have demonstrated.

  24. Fred P

    I disagree with most of the above comments. I suspect that Dan is merely over-reacting to misreading much of the legal minutia (unfortunately, the misreadings are broadcast much more generally in the media than accurate interpretations). The primary one that sticks in the craw of reporters who don’t have strong legal backgrounds is exemplified by the following:

    “Severe damage, however, has been done to the First Amendment by an over zealous prosecutor who, among other things, insisted on jailing a reporter for not revealing her source for a story she never wrote, undercutting a policy and tradition that has been a bulwark of press freedom since the beginning of the nation.”
    – the legal question was not if her testimony would impinge on first amendment rights; it was if the first amendment rights in this instance were more important than the testimony of the sole witness to an (alleged) crime. The judge decided that they weren’t.

    To put it another way, the reporter was not jailed for refusing to reveal her source; she was jailed for failing to testify as the sole witness to a crime.