Saturday, April 9, 2011

2005: The Plame Scandal

Just a little reminder about the kinds of folks we're dealing with here...

A criminal conspiracy at the heart of the White House: just like Watergate, that’s what the Traitorgate scandal is all about. At this writing, “Scooter” Libby, Chief of Staff to the Vice-President and a senior assistant to the President, has become the first sitting White House official to be indicted in over 130 years.

The 5-count indictment charges that Libby did “conspire” to obstruct the investigation into the disclosure of a covert agent. Conspiring is not something you can do alone, and Karl Rove (presumably identified as “Official A” in the indictment) is still under investigation. Rove is the most malevolent thug to serve in the executive branch since J. Edgar Hoover. He may or may not end up doing time over his role in this case, but based on what is already known, he has brought everlasting disgrace to this administration.

But that shame goes beyond this shameless White House. It flows–like a spilled wine glass to the carpet–into the roles of both the media and the electorate in enabling these criminals.

The impetus for the special prosecutor’s mandate is that Libby, Rove and their co-conspirators put politics above national security, in blowing the cover of Valerie Plame for cheap revenge against her husband. Then, as the prosecutor describes it, they threw sand in the eyes of the umpire to prevent the truth about that matter from being exposed. But their motivation in smearing Plame and her husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson, was to cover up an even larger crime: the lies that led this country into the Iraq War.

That crime, and those lies, took place not only behind closed doors at the White House, but on our televisions every day. It was not Scooter and Karl who lied us into this devastating war, but their bosses, Bush and Cheney, along with their allies Rumsfeld, Rice and Powell.

They used a process known in the intelligence trade as “stovepiping.” Any raw data that might help build a case for going to war, whether it was rumor, myth, conjecture or fabrication, was piped directly to the top of the government. In so doing, it bypassed the usual channels of analysis, the intelligence professionals who could weigh the information and try to determine its value before presenting it to policymakers. At the same time, any contrary information was suppressed, and anyone who tried to dissent from this reckless rush to war (like Ambassador Wilson), was attacked.

To the shame of our nation’s press corps, a parallel process of stovepiping took place. As the White House leaked out their “intelligence,” falsely linking Iraq to al-Qaida and WMDs, the media also marginalized dissent. There were plenty of informed experts, inside and outside the government, who were making the case that Iraq was not a threat, and that diverting resources away from the struggle against al-Qaida would be a huge mistake. Many warned that overthrowing Saddam might be easy but that the occupation would be bogged down in an ongoing guerilla insurgency, and that we lacked enough resources to secure the country.

The people who made that case inside the White House were fired. The people who made that case in the media were relegated to page B17. And sadly, too many of the consumers of those media were all too willing to believe what they were being told–by a proven pack of liars. Even sadder, some of those media consumers were sitting members of the US Senate, who, based on those lies, voted to give the President the authority to go to war.

Just as Libby and Rove were willing to put politics above national security, their apologists will now try to minimize the seriousness of their crimes. They will try to argue that perjury and obstruction are not serious charges, even though they tried to impeach the last president over that. They will argue that there were no indictments under the Espionage Act or the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, ignoring the fact that Scooter and Karl conspired to obstruct just such a prosecution. They will imply that any of the White House conspirators who are not indicted are somehow off the hook.

They must not be allowed to get away with this.

These are people who put their party ahead of their country. The rest of us must get to the bottom of these crimes, not to get revenge against our own political opponents, but to make sure we are never again dragged into a quagmire on such specious grounds.

If Rove walks, if Cheney survives in office, if Rice salvages what reputation she has–these things are irrelevant. We have to understand the larger conspiracy. The crimes and scandals of Nixon, Reagan, Bush the Elder, and Clinton were all investigated more thoroughly because they had serious opposition in Congress and in the media. Right now all we have is one honest prosecutor, and he will never succeed in uncovering how many laws were broken in this White House. Too much sand has been tossed up.

But our job is to uncover the crime against our national honor, one that was committed right under our noses. Most of the evidence is already on the public record. The voters, the press, and the politicians who helped to make it possible need to address their own role in the process. Many of them will not want to.

Al Franken said that if the Democrats are to take advantage of the mess in the White House, then they have to “deserve it.” And by that he meant by articulating a responsible alternative on energy policy, health care, taxes and the like. But any opposition to this administration has to offer a credible alternative on the number one issue in this nation: this misbegotten war. That includes articulating the enormity of the crime involved in rushing us into war on false pretenses. To cover up this larger crime, Libby and Rove were all too willing to violate federal statutes, and to compromise our national security.

Watergate was about more than a break-in; it was about the subversion of our electoral process, and the subsequent subversion of the judicial process in order to cover that up. Contragate was about more than creative accounting; it was about the subversion of our foreign policy, and the subversion of the Constitution in order to cover that up. Zippergate, in contrast, was about one man’s desperate attempts to cover up his personal indiscretions. His conduct was reprehensible, but was not reflective of his administration or its policies.

Traitorgate, as the name implies, is the most serious of all presidential scandals. For generations to come, all of us will pay the price for their war. And in the midst of that war, they violated the cover of a covert intelligence officer, putting her life, her colleagues, and her mission at risk. And what was that mission? To help prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction–the very heart of the fraudulent case for taking us to war in the first place.

What all of us deserve now is a political party that will articulate the reasons why playing politics with our national security must never be allowed to happen again. We all deserve a clear explanation of how this momentous crime came to pass. And instead of holding our breath waiting for that to happen, all of us, whether we supported or opposed the war, should look at what has happened and how we can prevent its reoccurrence.

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