Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Irresponsible Speculation and Predictions

We’ll set thee to school to an ant, to teach thee there’s no laboring i’ th’ winter. All that follow their noses are led by their eyes but blind men, and there’s not a nose among twenty but can smell him that’s stinking. Let go thy hold when a great wheel runs down a hill, lest it break thy neck with following. But the great one that goes upward, let him draw thee after.
— The Fool to Kent in the stocks, King Lear, 2.4, 66-72

(The Fool’s words are incredibly ironic, and demand a fuller post, but he’d still make one hell of a political advisor.)

While pundits and commentators exist who clearly embrace their apparent ideology, when it comes to the “chattering class,” their true love is almost always for a good political storyline above all else. Some tale or angle or event that will yield a strong column or some witty bon mots on the talk show circuit, that’s where it’s really at. Don’t you think Jay Leno wept when he had to say goodbye to Clinton and another thousand Lewinsky blow job jokes? (He still tromps them out from time to time.) Reagan might have argued that trees caused pollution and that ketchup and relish should count as vegetables in children’s school lunches, but even his detractors in the press would say he was a colorful character to write about. After George H.W. Bush was elected, Gary Trudeau in Doonesbury announced that political cartoonists were giving Bush a honeymoon week of no negative panels, “to give him a chance to get a handle on that ‘vision thing,’” and “as a way of formally thanking him for Dan Quayle.”

Many liberal bloggers are referring to tomorrow, the latest likely day for Fitzgerald to announce indictments, as Fitzmas. However, the truth is that it’s a bonanza for chatterers everywhere, with juicy material to last many a news cycle, to yield many a column or book, and to allow plenty of opportunity to posture as a sage insider on a news program. Granted, it’s a more fun time for liberals than conservatives (at least until Bush nominates another candidate for The Supreme Court). Consider the situation. Republicans hold power in all three branches of government. However, currently, the top aide to the President and the Vice President are facing possible indictment, the Vice President may face trouble as well, and at the least he appears to have publicly lied yet again. The House Majority Leader, Tom Delay, has been indicted. The Senate Majority Leader, Bill Frist, is being investigated for impropriety with his not-so-blind trust and has publicly lied. This is not to mention the indictments of Republicans Bob Noe in Ohio, super lobbyist Jack Abramoff (tight with Delay), and David Safavian. Add to this the Harriet Miers debacle and the truly shocking, shameful way Hurricane Katrina was mishandled. Oh yeah, and then there’s Iraq.

Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post aptly observed that the passions about Plamegate run so high because “We're re-fighting the war through this case.” (Slate’s Mickey Kaus agrees somewhat but adds several other reasons). Previous details of the path to war are coming out as a result of Fitzgerald’s inquiry. Normally the real story of an administration takes time to unveil. We know much more about Nixon now than we did even five years ago, and similarly, the full truth of the Bush administration may not come out until a decade or two later. However, we may now get to know much more, much sooner than anyone anticipated. While many of the statements and rationales for the war are currently being re-examined by chatterers, now the general public seems to be taking a greater interest as well.

Kurtz’s column of Thursday, 10/27/05 did a fantastic job of providing a timeline of some key leaks in the Plamegate case, and touches on why many of these leaks likely occurred. As he observes:

...virtually every bit of information, confirmed and alleged, comes from unnamed sources -- ironically, in an investigation of who anonymously outed a CIA operative -- who are trying to shape public understanding of a complicated narrative to someone's advantage.

The result is that after two years of near-total secrecy about the CIA leak investigation, a steady stream of sometimes-conflicting information is now flowing, invariably attributed to "lawyers close to the case" or similarly opaque sources.

As special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald nears a decision on whether to seek indictments of top White House officials, lawyers involved in the inquiry are using the news media to float bits of evidence or interpretations that are favorable to their high-level clients. The maneuvering makes clear that these lawyers are fighting a two-front war, trying simultaneously to avert criminal charges while seeking acquittal in the court of public opinion.

The rush of disclosures in the closing days of an investigation is a time-tested ritual of Washington scandals, and each time the questions are the same: Who leaked and for what reason?

As a mere blogger (and a tardy, intermittent one at that), currently ranked 775,745 by Technorati in terms of influence (sorry, I find it very funny), I can’t yet pretend to full membership in the chattering class. However, I certainly can join in the chatterer tradition of wild speculation and completely off-base predictions. In fact, this is an area where bloggers often outstrip the feeble Mainstream Media (tm), or MSM, as all oh-so-hip bloggers call it. The key word in opinion journalism is not journalism, it’s opinion. Did Novak admit he was wrong about his authoritative yet wildly incorrect statement on the exact date Rehnquist would announce his retirement? No! He came up with a new opinion for a new deadline. With chatterers chaffing at the bit for Fitzgerald’s likely announcement tomorrow, now is the deadline for irresponsible prognostication, and I cannot shirk my duty. (Until, of course, there’s a new deadline and we can all shamelessly offer new opinions.)


Most chatterers think it likely that Libby will be indicted on two to three counts: perjury, obstruction to justice, and possibly conspiracy. I’ll agree. He appears to have lied at least twice, but they are also likely compound lies. If news accounts are to be believed, it appears he lied to the grand jury about divulging Valerie Plame Wilson’s status as a CIA operative to reporters... he spoke about the matter three times with The New York Times’ Judy Miller. Most importantly, he spoke with her on the matter on June 23, 2003, before Novak’s now infamous column. Libby apparently claimed he learned of Plame’s identity from reporters, specifically NBC’s Tim Russert. Russert has publicly stated that there’s no way that could be the case, because he didn’t know Plame’s name until Novak’s column. While this is bad enough, The New York Times reported this week that Libby learned Plame’s identity from none other than Dick Cheney, about a month before Novak’s column. While Libby and Cheney would of course have the security clearance to discuss a CIA agent, they’re both experienced enough to at least say, wait, is she undercover or not? Unless, of course, anger clouded their judgment. Regardless, this would involve a compound lie from Libby... the obvious storyline would be, he tried to cover for his boss and blamed the leak on those irresponsible liberal reporters. If Cheney lied as well, then Libby had a clear motive for such action, and he wasn’t innocently mistaken... not that I find the massive memory lapses that have been claimed by many parties plausible in the first place.

In an online chat, Washington Post national political editor John F. Harris responded to a poster:

On this point, I tend to be more believing of the White House line. It has always seemed clear to me--and the evidence coming out over time has strengthened the point--that the White House motive in talking about Plame was not "to get back at Wilson." This was not about revenge. It was about trying to persuade reporters not to write about Wilson's allegations or take them seriously, because his mission to Niger was a low-level endeavor that had been cooked up lower down in the bureaucracy (with the assistance of his wife) and was not something that was done with White House knowledge. Remember, at the time, Wilson's suggestion was that of course the vice president knew about the results of his trip to Niger, because he had ordered it.

In the course of trying to knock down a damaging story--a routine activity in Washington--they obviously stepped over a line...quite possibly without fully appreciating that they were stepping across.

I think Harris nails one of the key reasons for the leak, but I feel he discounts the revenge angle too quickly. Judy Miller reports Libby as irate about Wilson. The current leaks about Libby also paint him as very upset, even obsessed. Many key members of the Bush administration, notably Rove and Cheney, are very much into the politics of revenge and retribution. If Rove did indeed tell Chris Matthews that Wilson’s wife was “fair game” (and was Matthews even subpoenaed?), then there’s a very different picture (Harris is also a bit imprecise above; Wilson never said that Cheney ordered his trip, he said that Cheney's request for more information was the reason the CIA sent him... but hey, it's a chat).

My take has always been that the Plame leak, in addition to being damage control as usual, was dirty politics as usual from the Bush administration. The problem this time is that, in addition to being unethical, this time their actions were actually illegal as well, and they got caught.

Rove. This one’s trickier. News reports state that on his fourth trip to the grand jury he told them he may well have heard Plame’s name from Libby. While this clearly seems like a move to save his own ass, this may also be a White House strategy... Libby is doomed, so let’s make him the fall guy, and blame everything on him. I would not be surprised if Rove was indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice. He did in fact reveal Plame’s identity to Time’s Matt Cooper, but I think at least a false statement charge is looming. Some folks feels he’s flipped on everyone, while others say he’s fighting the charges furiously and refused a plea bargain. Some say he won’t be indicted but he will continue to be investigated by Fitzgerald. Rove can claim faulty memory, but I don’t find that plausible... does the grand jury buy it? I feel one indictment at least is likely, but if indictments do not come, I would be surprised if he was not investigated further. I don’t think he sails through this clean legally (not in the short term, at least).

Rove has made many enemies over the years, who have dared not cross him further for fear of not working in the party anymore. If he topples, there will be a lot of buzzards. Large amounts of dirty laundry will come out if he is seen as through, or vulnerable. (And I’m sure I could mix in another overused metaphor if it weren’t so late now.) It sure would be nice to know if Rove was indeed directly involved with events such as the slanderous push-polling in South Carolina against John McCain.

Cheney. Some folks feel Cheney may be named as an unindicted co-conspirator. I find it hard to believe that Libby would undertake anything major without Cheney’s knowledge, but I also find it hard to believe that Cheney, despite his repeated disregard for the truth, would knowingly lie under oath if he knew he could get caught. News sources disagree as to whether his interview with Fitzgerald was under oath or not, and they also disagree about whether he met with Tenet or not. One story, from The New York Times, has Tenet telling Cheney about Plame, which would almost certainly mean Cheney requested the information. But MSNBC reported that Tenet denies he told Cheney this. So, my take is that Cheney’s hands are dirty, but may not be filthy, and he will likely not face any serious legal action. I do think his past misstatements will get some new scrutiny from the press, however.

There are other figures such as John Hannah, Stephen Hadley, Wurmer and the usual gang of Rice, Bolton, and all who also may be indicted, but this is all murkier. If someone flipped and went for a plea, it’s most likely a lower-rung (but perhaps central) person.

I would guess that one or two more people beside Libby and Rove would be indicted, although if reports are to be believed, they will not be in the White House proper, but instead from the Pentagon or even the State Department.

Is there further damning or exonerating evidence we don’t know about? Most definitely. It’ll be interesting to see how everything plays out, but more importantly... what the truth is.

To bring it back to Shakespeare, and fools and knaves... I have no doubt that while Cheney is a knave, Libby will fall on his sword to save him (as folks as Halliburton did for him before when it was discovered they were illegally dealing with America’s sworn enemy Iran). I’m less sure of Rove, and the next days, weeks, and months will be revealing. He’s always seemed like something of a craven bully to me. Supposedly he’s vicious when cornered, but would he go down for Bush? Maybe. But for Libby or Cheney? I don’t know, but I think that’s less likely. And I think Bush especially would want to save Rove, and other folks of course know that.

Regardless, no one seems "foolish" enough to be an "honest broker" with Bush, who accounts depict as increasingly angry and frustrated, blaming everyone around him. No one has said to him what he has so sorely needed, something in the spirit of:

See better Lear, and let me still remain
The true blank of thine eye.
— Kent to Lear, King Lear, 1.1, 161-162

(Wild Miers replacement speculation to follow shortly!)

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