It's the Coverup, Not the Crime
Lewis "Scooter" Libby, chief of staff to Dick Cheney (who in turn is Halliburton's regional sales manager for the Middle East and, incidentally, also Vice-President of the United States), plainly is beyond being "a person of interest" to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald of Chicago. He's a good ol' fashioned criminal suspect in the Valerie Plame Affair.
If my guess is right, it looks like Mr. Libby soon could be scooting off to jail. Don't pass "go." Don't collect your $200 from Fox as a 'commentator' -- at least not until you've been paroled.
As the Associated Press reports it:
In an order issued July 20 but not made public until yesterday, U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan ruled that Time's Matthew Cooper and "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert must testify "regarding alleged conversations they had with a specified executive branch official." NBC News issued a statement saying Russert was interviewed under oath about a July 2003 phone conversation he had with Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
Over at the usually perspicacious Talking Points Memo, John Marshall is doing a lot of hand-wringing about the ethics and finer legal points of forcing reporters to divulge their sources. He doesn't think that the government should be able to make reporters kiss and tell on their informants. So he has "a lot more respect for Cooper's actions [in refusing to testify] in this matter than Russert's."
That is to say, Josh assumes Cooper is refusing on principle to divulge what his sources told him and that Russert has come to some sort of accommodation on the same issue. Cooper's a hero for going to jail; Russert's a goat.
You can agree with me that Russert generally is an ass, and you can agree with John Marshall's principles, too, yet still understand why Russert's testimony in itself doesn't make him a goat. It likely was not a breach of journalistic ethics. Nor did it breach his given word to a confidential source.
Simply put, the principles underlying the two instances of Cooper and Russert may not be the same.
I am speculating here, not reporting or commentating. But I think what Fitzgerald probably is doing with Russert is asking him to testify about something very different than what his sources told him. I think he's asking Russert to testify what he, Russert, said to his source. And that is a very different kettle of fishiness.
We know the neocon apologists in the Bush administration have been peddling the dubious defense that under the federal statute involved, 50 U.S.C. Sec. 421, it can't be a felony to divulge a CIA agent's identity if that information had already been learned by spies for our adversaries, for then "the information so disclosed" cannot be said to 'identify' "such covert agent."
Suppose that Fitzgerald, as has been widely speculated, nailed Libby as one of the two sources whom Robert Novak relied upon as he outed Plame. Suppose Scooter Libby panicked and in his own defense served up to FBI agents or the prosecutors themselves a concocted tale that he learned of Ms. Plame's CIA undercover agent status in a conversation with Russert, meaning to imply that Russert told Libby Plame was a spy.
Naturally, a truly independent prosecutor would ask Russert if he mentioned anything along those lines to Libby and if at the time he knew of Plame's covert status. That doesn't invade any reporter's privilege I know of. If Russert's answer is no, that he had no idea Plame was a spy before he talked to Libby, then Scooter has a new problem -- and it's the age old Washington one. He's been caught covering up. He lied. He did a Martha Stewart by impeding federal law enforcement officers in the course of a criminal investigation.
How deliciously apropos that all of this happened to be released in the same week, as Steve Soto reminds us, that we celebrate the 30th anniversary of Nixon's resignation for the Watergate cover-up.