November 1, 2005
The Cover-Up Worked
J. Dionne Jr.
-- Has anyone noticed that the cover-up worked?
In his impressive
presentation of the indictment of Lewis ``Scooter'' Libby last
week, Patrick Fitzgerald expressed the wish that witnesses had
testified when subpoenas were issued in August 2004, and ``we
would have been here in October 2004 instead of October 2005.''
significance of the two dates: October 2004, before President
Bush was re-elected, and October 2005, after the president
was re-elected. Those dates make clear why Libby threw sand in
the eyes of prosecutors, in the special counsel's apt metaphor,
and helped drag this investigation on.
as Bush still faced the voters, the White House wanted Americans
to think that officials such as Libby, Karl Rove and Vice President
Cheney had nothing to do with the leak campaign to discredit its
arch-critic on Iraq, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.
the good soldier, pursued a brilliant strategy to slow the inquiry
down. As long as he was claiming that journalists were responsible
for spreading around the name and past CIA employment of Wilson's
wife, Valerie Plame, Libby knew that at least some news organizations
would resist having reporters testify. The journalistic ``shield''
was converted into a shield for the Bush administration's cover-up.
his disciples would like everyone to assume that Libby was some
kind of lone operator who, for this one time in his life abandoned
his usual caution. They pray that Libby will be the only official
facing legal charges and that political interest in the case will
tell the president worries this won't work because on Monday,
he did what he usually does when he's in trouble: He sought to
divide the country and set up a bruising ideological fight. He
did so by nominating a staunchly conservative judge to the Supreme
Alito is a red flag for liberals and red meat for Bush's socially
conservative base. Alito has a long paper trail as a 15-year veteran
of the Court of Appeals and a right-wing reputation so strong
that he has been nicknamed ``Scalito," after Justice Antonin
Scalia who is presumed to be Alito's philosophical soul mate.
All this guarantees a huge battle that will serve the president
even if Alito's nomination fails: Anything that ``unites the base''
and distracts attention from the Fitzgerald investigation is good
news for Bush.
why Senate Democrats -- and one hopes they might be joined by
some brave Republicans -- should insist that before Alito's nomination
is voted on, Bush and Cheney have some work to do.
indictment makes perfectly clear that the White House misled the
public as to its involvement in sliming Wilson and in talking
about Plame. Fitzgerald was especially eloquent in describing
the potential damage to our intelligence services when public
officials play fast and loose with classified material about individuals.
to tell the public -- yes, the old phrase still applies -- what
he knew about the operation to discredit Wilson and when he knew
it. And he shouldn't hide behind those ``legalisms'' that Republicans
were so eager to condemn in the Clinton years.
to come clean applies, big-time, to Cheney, who appears at several
critical points in the saga detailed in the Fitzgerald indictment.
What, exactly, transpired in the meetings between Libby and Cheney
on the Wilson case? It is inconceivable that an aide as careful
and loyal as Libby was a rogue official. Did Cheney set these
events in motion? This is a question about good government at
least as much as it is a legal matter.
has made clear that he wants to keep this case going if doing
so would bring us closer to the truth. Lawyers not involved in
the case suggest that the indictment was written in a way that
could encourage Libby, facing up to 30 years in prison, to cooperate
in that effort.
is a catch. If Libby, through nods and winks, knows that at the
end of Bush's term, the president will issue an unconditional
pardon, he will have no interest in helping Fitzgerald and every
interest in shutting up. If Bush truly wants the public to know
all the facts in the leak case, as he has claimed in the past,
he will announce now that he will not pardon Libby. That would
let Fitzgerald finish his work unimpeded, and we will all have
a chance, at last, to learn how and why this sad affair came to
2005, Washington Post Writers Group