Thursday, March 22, 2007


scooter libby
The A. G. Has a Different Responsibility than a D. A.

By Thomas F. Roeser

An article for The Wanderer, the oldest national Catholic weekly (with some updating).

CHICAGO—For people here sick of bipartisan political corruption spawned by an unholy alliance of liberal Republicans and Daley Democrats, there has been one local hope for changing it all around. And the hope wasn’t born here but in Brooklyn. He is an Irish Catholic named Patrick Fitzgerald, the son of an Manhattan apartment house doorman who scored the highest grades at Our Lady Help of Christians grammar school and again at Jesuit Regis high school, won a full scholarship to Amherst for economics and mathematics and another full scholarship to Harvard Law.

He went on to become probably the greatest federal prosecutor since Thomas E. Dewey who convicted Waxey Gordon, warded off an attempt by Dutch Schultz to assassinate him, sent Lucky Luciano to jail on charges of being a pimp, convicted the head of the New York Stock Exchange and sent Nazi leader Fritz Kuhn to jail for embezzlement all before the tender age of 36.

Now we hear from the Bush Justice Department that Fitzgerald, our U.S. attorney, has been rated as “mediocre.” If convicting one of the biggest phony liberal Republican governors ever to hold public office in Illinois, a man who as secretary of state remained impassive while his appointees took bribes from illiterate truck drivers enabling them to be hazards on the roads is mediocre, Chicagoans pray earnestly for more of the same. If racking up impressive wins in drug trafficking cases and assisting in the New York prosecution of Mafia figure John Gotti, boss of the Gambino crime family, is mediocre, if probing Osama bin Laden before he became well-known and serving as chief counsel in prosecutions related to the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassy buildings in Kenya and Tanzania, the nation must discover how this mediocrity can be bottled.

Mediocre, huh? In addition to convicting a Republican ex-governor of Illinois, Fitzgerald expanded the investigation, turning over the rug to find a swarming nest of bribers and political gift-givers, producing more than 60 indictments, Fitzgerald indicted a number of top aides to Mayor Richard M. Daley on charges of mail fraud, corruption in hiring practices and is looking into phony contracts pushed by the Democratic governor of Illinois plus funny business with the Illinois Toll Authority and indicting Barack Obama’s good friend and patron Antoin Rezko. Then he convicted the former Chicago City Clerk, James Laski for pocketing nearly $50,000 in bribes for steering city business to two trucking companies. President Bush has expressed high regard for Daley and nobody knows why since Daley and his associates run a city and Cook county governments that churn up an avalanche of Democratic votes, turning Illinois from a swing state to the deepest hue of blue.

Now he’s prosecuting a big-shot publisher, Conrad Black (or more formally: Conrad Moffat Black, Baron Black of Crossharbour, PC, OC, KCSG) on eleven counts of allegedly milking the company that owned the Chicago Sun-Times of at least $7 million. The indictment puts a kingpin of Illinois Republican and “Combine” politics in the soup—James R. Thompson who was the chairman of the company audit committee that approved Black’s financial transactions. Thompson has been the uncrowned head of the GOP-Dem hybrid which has been running Illinois for many years. Conservatives can be pardoned if they believe Fitzgerald’s “mediocre” rating has to do with the powerhouses he has prosecuted.

Be that as it may, the “mediocre” label was hung on Fitzgerald by Justice before he prosecuted and convicted Lewis (Scooter) Libby, a Bush-Cheney favorite but it is doubtful that the Bush people are inclined to award him a gold star for the effort. Still, it’s not too bad being called “mediocre” by a department headed by Alberto Gonzales who can’t keep his story straight and earlier agreed he was negligent in not knowing what the FBI was doing on national security issues—yet it is an interesting question as to whether the Justice Department toyed with an idea of firing Fitzgerald in the first place.

There’s an age-old political ploy in lumping everybody together and firing them in order to get rid of just one. The original idea hatched by Harriet Miers, Bush’s personal counsel had all 90-plus DAs being fired in one fell swoop. Bill Clinton did that after he was reelected. And the stratagem apes a precedent of 1964 when Lyndon Johnson didn’t want anything to do with the possibility of running with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. Johnson announced that he was disqualifying all of his cabinet members from consideration for vice president—which led Kennedy to tell his colleagues: “I’m sorry you were all thrown overboard because of me.”

Was Miers acting for herself or Bush when she proposed getting rid of all the U.S. attorneys? No one really knows. What is clear is that every president has the right to dismiss any or all U. S. attorneys at any time and for any reason. Firing all of them was changed in favor of dropping a handful for failure to prosecute vote fraud. Democrats who attack Bush for firing the handful are out of line because of the Clinton precedent and others. But the Bush people are not helping themselves by refusing to be gutsy enough to spotlight vote fraud which is a favorite route by which Democrats win elections here in Chicago and elsewhere. The weird thing is why the president and the attorney general insist on acting guilty leading the country to imagine they are. The guilty look on both their faces leads people in this city to imagine that, yes, with the original Miers idea they were thinking of getting rid of Fitzgerald.

Conservatives are no different than anyone else. When a prosecutor goes after Democrats, they cheer. But when he goes after a conservative, that’s dirty pool. By indicting and convicting Scooter Libby, Fitzgerald, who was the darling of conservatives, suddenly started being called a “zealot”—especially when the one who leaked Valerie Plame’s CIA status `fessed up: Richard Armitage, an under-secretary of state to Colin Powell and a factional opponent of Bush-Cheney. Why when Armitage `fessed up did Fitzgerald tell him to shut up about it and ultimately continue his probe leading to the prosecution of Libby for perjury? There are 21 points many of which liberals and conservatives either are tempted to forget or gloss over.

Like most administrations (Lincoln’s included), the Bush administration (1) is factionalized. The Powell people were dovish and reluctant to go to war; the Bush-Cheney people saw a Wilsonian vision to democratize the Middle East in order to forestall terrorism. (2) The CIA has become an armed camp against the Bushies because it has felt the sting of charges of incompetence to the point where it doesn’t want to hear them anymore and is determined to swing back whenever such charges are lurking. The CIA has long suspected the Bush people wanted to gin up a bogus reason to go to Iraq and clean Saddam Hussein’s clock because of a personal score between George W. and the man who sought to assassinate Bush’s father. (3) There is an outfit which receives little publicity called the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) in the Pentagon. Because Cheney is a former secretary of defense and has been critical of the CIA, Central Intelligence believes the bad stuff about it is coming from its competitor the DIA.

(4) One day in January, 2002, the beauteous Valerie Plame, an employee of Central Intelligence, was sorting through reports when she came upon one from the DIA that said the government of Niger had just signed an agreement to sell 500 tons of uranium to Baghdad. She called the report “crazy,” said she suspected that if there were any records of such a sale they were forged (allowing the implication to fall that the forgeries may have had a U. S. origin) and wrote a memo to her superiors suggesting that the goofy report be knocked down. (5) Knocked down by whom? Valerie suggested her husband, a former ambassador to Niger be sent over there for a look-see. Which the CIA did without apparently telling any higher-ups. (6) Coincident with this but not related to it, Cheney asked the CIA to verify whether or not the sale of uranium was made. Wilson’s trip was not requested or linked to the vice president.

(7) Wilson returned, suggested his trip was made at the behest of Cheney (which it was not) and made an oral report of his trip. (8) In the CIA’s write-up of his oral report, Wilson doesn’t debunk anything; he never saw any “forged” documents; indeed he had reported 2-1/2 years earlier there was evidence Iraq had approached Niger officials to buy uranium. (9) But rumors of the uranium buy still percolated and in January, 2003 Bush uttered the now famous 16 words in his State of the Union address: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” (10) Then a few anonymous reports began to appear in the New York Times and Washington Post that the approach was bogus and documents were forged to show a uranium purchase. (11) Condeleeza Rice, then national security director, said on Meet the Press that neither she or any other administration source knew about the Niger forged-documents story, adding “maybe someone knew down in the bowels of the agency [CIA] but no one in our circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions that this might be a forgery.”

Her comment got Joe Wilson mad because he did not want to be dismissed as somebody “in the bowels” when he had touted himself at Washington cocktail parties as having been sent by high authority on many missions so he (12) leaked to the press, charging that the administration was hyping intelligence, asserting something that had been flatly contradicted by an envoy “investigating at the behest of Vice President Dick Cheney”—a falsehood because Cheney never asked him to go. Following which (13) everybody in the Bush administration went ape: CIA against the Cheney people; Cheney people against the CIA; the media against the Cheney people; Cheney people against the media. Then (14) Joe Wilson went public with an Op Ed in the New York Times followed by an appearance on Meet the Press. After which the vice president’s office (15) got its story out—saying it never sent Wilson to Africa; it never got a report of Wilson’s trip and adding ominously—we don’t know how he was picked for the trip (a private thrust at Valerie Plame, his wife).

Now along comes (16) Robert Novak, nationally syndicated columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times who on July 14, 2003 wrote that Wilson was sent as result of a suggestion from Valerie Plame, Wilson’s wife whom Novak described, wrongly, as “a CIA operative”—because in CIA lingo, “operative” implies covert. Then (17) everything hit the fan because it is a federal crime to “out” a covert CIA intelligence officer since this could get him/her killed which led the CIA director George Tenet to (18) request of Justice a probe to get Novak’s leaker. Right here stop: The CIA acting on its own without Bush coordination asks Justice to probe? That means the Bush White House was out of the loop. Attorney General Ashcroft recused himself because he was a friend of Libby and Ashcroft’s deputy, looking across the entire spectrum of prosecutors, picked, of all people, Pat Fitzgerald to make the probe…as if Fitzgerald didn’t have enough to do.

Soon the Fitzgerald probe centered on (19) Libby who told investigators he first heard of Plame’s CIA employment from journalist Tim Russert and that Libby had forgotten that Cheney had already told him this information. Then (20) on October 28, 2005 Fitzgerald indicted Libby on five felony counts—one count of obstruction of justice, two of making false statements and two counts of perjury. Libby was not charged with “outing” Plame. What drove conservatives nuts happened on August 30, 2006 when the New York Times reported that Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state was the leaker. Conservatives emitted a sigh of relief believing that with Armitage’s disclosure, Libby’s actions whatever they might have been were inconsequential.

But (21) not so Patrick Fitzgerald who had told Armitage to shut up about the disclosure but pursued Libby because in the maneuvers, twisting and contortions of testimony, Fitzgerald insisted Libby lied to the FBI and the federal grand jury repeatedly and he, Fitzgerald, could not ascertain Libby’s guilt on the “outing” charge because Libby had obstructed justice. Libby became the highest ranking White House official convicted in a government scandal since National Security adviser John Poindexter in the Iran-Contra affair whose convictions were reversed on a legal technicality.

How did the jury ascertain that Libby lied? It found that when Liddy told the FBI that he first heard of Plame’s CIA employment from Russert and had forgotten that Cheney had already told him the information was false because Libby had many conversations about Plame’s CIA employment before talking to Russert. Russert did not tell Libby about Plame’s CIA employment; Libby knew for a certainty that Plame was employed by the CIA. The “false statements” language in the Libby indictment stem from the finding that he made repetitive claims to the FBI the perjury charges from his repeating the claims to the grand jury; the “obstruction” charge from the fact that Libby made the statements to prevent the grand jury from uncovering the truth.

Many—not all—conservatives believe Fitzgerald is a zealot for prosecuting Libby despite Armitage’s admission. Many if not all liberals insist that a crime is a crime and Fitzgerald was right to go after a perpetrator. My own view is four-fold. First, Fitzgerald was right to go after a crime if he was sure one was committed. But second, the Bush administration out of self-protection vowed to stay away from the trial either because they despise “the ways of Washington” or wanted to protect Dick Cheney and Karl Rove from being drawn into it—either way a breakdown of staff management. Third, Libby is a patriot, has made an enormous contribution in skill and advice to maintenance of national security in many other ways—which requires from a moral sense that he be granted a full and complete pardon by the president.

Fourth, Patrick Fitzgerald’s job is still in question. There is little or no likelihood that he will be fired. But something stranger may happen to him. Like being kicked upstairs to Attorney General to succeed the incredibly flailing Gonzales--in order to get Fitzgerald out of Chicago. As AG with a direct reporting relationship to the president, he also would have a somewhat different responsibility. Instead of going where the truth leads, as a political officer he must follow the lead of the president. In that role, he may well find it tougher to prosecute the Daley-GOP combine than he would at first imagine. So those who urge his promotion might very well think it over if they want justice to triumph at long last in Chicago and Illinois.

1 comment:

  1. Do you mean that C Black is a Knight Commander of St Gregory?

    There aren't too many of them around.