The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 69/No. 44           November 14, 2005  
White House official faces
30 years in jail for perjury
Case shows growing factionalism among rulers
(front page)
Following a two-year investigation, a federal grand jury indicted Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff to U.S. vice president Richard Cheney, charging him October 28 on five counts including “obstruction of justice,” making false statements to agents of the FBI, and perjury while testifying before a grand jury. The charges combined carry a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1.25 million fine.

The indictment and the tone of the debate it has generated among Democratic and Republican politicians and in the big-business media are another expression of the increasingly factional character and coarsening of bourgeois politics in the United States.

The stated purpose of the investigation was to determine if White House officials had violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act when they revealed to several reporters that Valerie Plame, the wife of a diplomat who was critical of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy, was a CIA agent. That 1982 law made it a crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for anyone with access to classified information to intentionally reveal the identity of a covert U.S. government spy.

In February 2002 Plame’s husband, Joseph Wilson, a former U.S. ambassador in Central Africa, was sent by the CIA to the West African nation of Niger. On July 6, 2003, Wilson wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times stating that during his trip he found no evidence of the Saddam Hussein regime’s pursuit of material for building nuclear weapons as alleged by the Bush administration. Wilson himself admitted that his conclusion was based on “eight days drinking sweet mint tea” with dignitaries.

Eight days later, syndicated columnist Robert Novak wrote an article on Wilson’s trip. He identified Plame—apparently based on conversations between reporters and White House officials—as a CIA agent, specializing in “weapons of mass destruction,” who had proposed her husband for the trip.

Democratic critics of the Bush administration immediately alleged that the name of a covert CIA agent had been revealed, and demanded action. Instead of the case being handled by federal prosecutors, the Justice Department appointed a “special counsel,” Patrick Fitzgerald.  
Polarization sharpens in ruling class
Democrats have used the “Plame affair” in their increasingly factional disputes with the Republican administration. They have seized on the fact that no “weapons of mass destruction” were found in Iraq to assert that they would have conducted the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq more effectively.

Appearing on CNN’s “Larry King Live” October 28, Democratic senator Barbara Boxer applauded the Libby indictment, saying that if the White House had listened to its liberal critics and avoided the argument about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, “we could have…gone in there with the whole world instead of what we’ve done.”

The lead editorial in the October 29 New York Times, on “The Case Against Scooter Libby,” concluded, “The big point Americans need to keep in mind is this: There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”

The Times ran an accompanying editorial making it clear its argument was not whether but how to conduct a war policy. Under the title “A Demagogue in Iran,” it urged Washington to intensify its political and military pressure on Iran.

Referring to the Libby indictment, the Financial Times of London in an October 29-30 editorial remarked, “Republicans can argue that the Plame affair reflects a trend toward criminalising honest policy differences, in this case the rationale for going to war against Iraq. It is indeed a worrisome development.”

Nonetheless, after a two-year inquiry by the federal grand jury, the FBI, and a special prosecutor, no one has been charged with the original sin of revealing the identity of a spy.

Instead, vice presidential aide Libby faces a sentence three times greater for alleged inconsistencies in his interviews with the FBI, and then for accepting those statements as fact under oath before the grand jury.

The other top administration official involved—“Official A” in the indictment—is assumed to be Karl Rove, the president’s senior adviser. Rove has not been charged at this point. He has acknowledged talking to the press about Plame’s CIA connection, but has argued that he didn’t break the law because he drew his knowledge not from secret documents but from other reporters.

The current dispute in Washington has been accompanied by increasingly uncivil discourse, as seen in the flap around New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who spent 85 days in jail for refusing to testify before the grand jury. Miller was ostensibly protecting the source—allegedly Libby—who leaked Plame’s identity to her.

After publicly defending one of their lead reporters while she was in jail, the Times editors have scrambled to distance themselves from Miller. In an October 21 memo, Times executive editor Bill Keller stated that he would have been more careful in defending Miller if he had known of her “entanglement with Libby.”

Times columnist Maureen Dowd penned an October 25 column attacking Miller’s personal character under the heading “Woman of Mass Destruction.” While criticizing Miller’s pre-Iraq war reporting, she wrote, “Judy’s stories about W.M.D. fit too perfectly with the White House’s case for war.”

In subsequent public interviews Dowd has gossiped that Miller’s career and her objectivity as a reporter were ruined in part by her “history of dating powerful men.”

New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser described this comment as an “obscenely personal” insult, saying Dowd ripped into her colleague “for having a slutty reputation that Dowd claims warped her reporting.”

In an October 25 article expressing concern about the destabilizing effects of this factionalization within bourgeois politics, Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, no friend of the White House, wrote, “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,” Kristof wrote. “That was true particularly of Kenneth Starr’s fanatical pursuit of Bill Clinton.” He was referring to the salacious sex scandal that led to Clinton’s impeachment by Congress in his second term.

In an October 29 op-ed article in the Washington Post, two former Justice Department lawyers, David Rivkin and Lee Casey, warned about the powers of the special prosecutors that have been appointed since the Watergate scandal led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974. “For special counsels, as under the code of the samurai, once the sword is drawn it must taste blood,” they wrote. “With the law books filled with a great assortment of crimes, a prosecutor stands a fair chance of finding at least a technical violation of some act on the part of almost anyone.”

Special counsels are “deprived of normal constraints such as resource limitations,” they continued. “Another vital missing ingredient is supervision. Normally federal prosecutors have political superiors who review their decisions…. Fitzgerald was specifically excused from even this minimal check on his power and as a consequence was accountable only to himself.”

The current political storm registers the crisis of confidence within U.S. ruling circles, as they march toward an increasingly unstable future of depression, wars, and class conflicts. Republican pundit Peggy Noonan touched on this mood of unease in an October 27 column in the Wall Street Journal. She said there was a widespread sense that “in some deep and fundamental way things have broken down and can’t be fixed…any time soon.”

Noonan emphasized that she was not just “talking about ‘Plamegate’ ” but about “the whole ball of wax.… I believe there’s a general and amorphous sense that things are broken and tough history is coming.”
Related articles:
Patrick Fitzgerald helped convict Lynne Stewart, too
The pornographication of politics
New hero of liberals: frame-up expert  
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