What the Fitzgerald Investigation is Really About: Truth & Accountability


After Fitzgerald’s announcement of five indictment charges against I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, I have to admit that I felt sick to my stomach about this whole affair. It is a great national tragedy to have someone of Libby’s stature fall from his post — but it is something that had to happen.
Some of the joy felt by those who have been sending notes of “Merry Fitzmas” to celebrate the coming of the Fitzgerald indictments was tempered by the fact that Karl Rove (or “Official A” in the Libby indictment materials) was not indicted for any crime, as of yet.
I have no idea whether mighty Karl Rove will be felled at a later time, though most who have watched Fitzgerald operate in Chicago suggest that they would not be surprised.
On the right, there have been comments by the likes of William Safire and David Brooks on “Meet the Press” this morning that Fitzgerald has demonstrated that there was no sinister cabal at work that conspiratorially sought to leak the name and covert role of Valerie Plame Wilson. Brooks has asserted that there is “no cancer on the White House.” Safire said that we should all note that the crime that Fitzgerald was sent out to investigate: a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, was not specified.
Taking this a step beyond Brooks and Safire, David Rivkin Jr. and Lee Casey suggest that there should be “No More Special Counsels” because what Fitzgerald has charged Libby with has arisen not from the core cause of the investigation — the outing of Plame-Wilson — but rather from the investigation itself: lying to investigators.
There will be many who dissect Patrick Fitzgerald’s every move. This blog will probably be among those because his work is essential for our democracy to be and “feel” democratic.
This White House has shown incredible disdain for the public’s right to know about what contributed to any number of important presidential decisions and behaviors — from the administration’s energy policy, to a focus on a non-existent Iraq nuclear WMD program, to the president’s and his team’s relationship with Kenneth Lay and Enron executives, to the decision to send men and women of our armed forces into Iraq with none of the core “nation-building” blueprints in hand.
What is tragic is that during the Clinton administration, the American public was appropriately miffed, in this writer’s view, with revelations of fundraising coffees inside the White House, with Lincoln Bedroom stays for top donors, and with the well-reported and now-cliched revelations about President Clinton’s illicit affair with Monica Lewinsky.
But compare all of that, at its worst, with Tom DeLay’s brand of pay-for-access-and-favors mega-fundraising from America’s wealthiest firms and individuals. Compare that to a hyping of intelligence estimates about Iraq’s danger to the world and to us that proved to be wrong and which have led to not only the death and injury of tens of thousands of people on both sides of this conflict. Compare that to the savage wounding of American mystique in the world, to showing America’s military and financial limits to enemies and friends. Today, American power and leverage is falling precipitously in the eyes of those who want America to be a strong, albeit benign, nation.
Scooter Libby had a tilting hand in the affairs that have trashed this nation’s status in the world. But he did not do it alone.
We should all fell sick about this. Out stomachs should churn with revulsion and anguish about what he has done — and we should be careful with too much joy over this victory for accountability.
Libby did not do his work alone. There are many other culprits who helped him, but it would be quite wrong to think that Patrick Fitzgerald alone can bring all to justice. It’s too big a problem when the President and Vice President cultivated a “culture” where Libby’s type of alleged skull-duggery was encouraged.
For some time, I have been arguing with moderate Republicans and progressives and liberals that the only way to knock back the White House from its outrageous behavior was to (1) embarrass those in power with the spotlight of media attention on their most irresponsible and wrong-headed decisions and (2) to sue them in courts.
It is a useful contrast to consider that during the Clinton administration, the Clinton White House was under legal siege from the moment it moved into 1600 Pennsylvania.
George Bush has had no such challenge (until recently) to his operation — not even against chief Congressional henchman Tom DeLay (for the first few years) despite DeLay’s grossly public displays of corruption. Democratic Congressman Barney Frank once told me in DeLay’s defense that his brand of corruption was “not self-dealing.” Since then, we have read of the fact that he dealt well to his family, but that is besides the point. We have had a modern day Tammany Hall emerging in Washington — this time in Republican circles — and very little response from the Democratic opposition and quite successful distraction from these matters because of the “time of war” we are in.
It will be interesting and important to see how Cheney and Bush respond. Will they admit missteps? Will they level with the American public? Men and women in Iraq and in the U.S. armed services — innocents there and innocents here — died because of decisions that this White House made based on evidence that prominent neoconservative adherent Scooter Libby and others were hyping.
When America’s system of checks and balances worked, on one level we should be pleased.
Knocking back the powers of a pretentious wannabe monarch is exactly what the founding fathers intended in our system of checks and balances. But no one said that it should “feel good” when it happened. It probably should feel terrible when the judicial, legislative, and executive branches grind ferociously at each other.
So, while I’m sick about what has happened this week, this is all about taking back the blank check and unconstrained power that the American public gave this White House because of the war.
To close, I just read the Los Angeles Times op-ed penned by Joe Wilson. It’s worth reading the entire piece which is very interesting — but the end really got me.
I excerpt it here:

The attacks on Valerie and me were upsetting, disruptive and vicious. They amounted to character assassination. Senior administration officials used the power of the White House to make our lives hell for the last 27 months.
But more important, they did it as part of a clear effort to cover up the lies and disinformation used to justify the invasion of Iraq. That is the ultimate crime.
The war in Iraq has claimed more than 17,000 dead and wounded American soldiers, many times more Iraqi casualties and close to $200 billion.
It has left our international reputation in tatters and our military broken. It has weakened the United States, increased hatred of us and made terrorist attacks against our interests more likely in the future.
It has been, as Gen. William Odom suggested, the greatest strategic blunder in the history of our country.
We anticipate no mea culpa from the president for what his senior aides have done to us. But he owes the nation both an explanation and an apology.

More later.
— Steve Clemons