Saturday, October 15, 2005

If You Can't Beat the Right . . .

You Must Indict!

The Daily Standard, the online edition of The Weekly Standard, features two columns about legal problems facing the Republican leadership - and, for a change, I am not referring to Harriet Miers.

In Criminalizing Conservatives, editor Bill Kristol writes that the investigation of Bill Frist, the indictment of Tom DeLay, and potential indictments of Karl Rove or Lewis "Scooter" Libby pose serious threats to the conservative agenda. In The White House, the CIA, and the Wilsons, Stephen F. Hayes reconstructs the chain of events in the "Plame affair" from Joe Wilson's trip through the release of the bipartisan Senate Select Intelligence Committee's report, which contradicted nearly every public assertion Wilson made on the subject but is omitted from all mainstream media accounts, including the New York Times timeline that appeared alongside its July 22, 2005 version of the same story.

Today the New York Times published My Four Hours Testifying in the Federal Grand Jury Room by Judith Miller. Miller writes, "My notes do not show that Mr. Libby identified Mr. Wilson's wife by name. Nor do they show that he described Valerie Wilson as a covert agent or 'operative,' as the conservative columnist Robert D. Novak first described her in a syndicated column published on July 14, 2003."

In the weeks preceding publication of the Novak column, Miller and Libby spoke three times and discussed Wilson, who wrote his own misleading Op-Ed for the New York Times during this period. Either before or during their third conversation, which took place over the phone just two days prior to Novak's scoop, she had written down Plame's name erroneously as Victoria Wilson. Although she couldn't remember exactly why she had the wrong name among her notes, she testified to Fitzgerald that she may have deliberately used a false name to see if Libby might corrrect her.

She had also written down Valerie Flame in the same notebook but in a part separate from her Libby notes. She testified that she thinks she may have gotten that second misnomer from another source whose name she cannot recall.

Special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald inquired whether Libby intimated that Vice President Cheney was aware of what he was telling Miller - her answer was "no" - and if Libby shared classified information with her - she thought so but wasn't sure.

Fitzgerald had her read to the grand jury the final three paragraphs of the September 2005 letter she received from Libby when she was in jail. Here is her bizarre account:

Mr. Fitzgerald asked me to read the final three paragraphs aloud to the grand jury. "The public report of every other reporter's testimony makes clear that they did not discuss Ms. Plame's name or identity with me," Mr. Libby wrote.

The prosecutor asked my reaction to those words. I replied that this portion of the letter had surprised me because it might be perceived as an effort by Mr. Libby to suggest that I, too, would say we had not discussed Ms. Plame's identity. Yet my notes suggested that we had discussed her job.

Mr. Fitzgerald also focused on the letter's closing lines. "Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning," Mr. Libby wrote. "They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them."

How did I interpret that? Mr. Fitzgerald asked.

In answer, I told the grand jury about my last encounter with Mr. Libby. It came in August 2003, shortly after I attended a conference on national security issues held in Aspen, Colo. After the conference, I traveled to Jackson Hole, Wyo. At a rodeo one afternoon, a man in jeans, a cowboy hat and sunglasses approached me. He asked me how the Aspen conference had gone. I had no idea who he was.

"Judy," he said. "It's Scooter Libby."

According to his letter, none of the other reporters testified that they discussed Valerie Plame's name or identity (as a CIA employee) with Libby. I think it's pretty clear that Miller did not get Plame's name from Libby either, but they did discuss Mrs. Wilson's CIA employment, although not in any covert capacity. As Miller assumed Plame was just an analyst until she read Novak's column, obviously Libby did not tell her otherwise. However, Miller claims that Libby cited the specific unit, WINPAC, in which Wilson's wife worked. If that was classified information, Miller does not say so and did not draw such a conclusion at the time.

If Fitzgerald is prosecuting any other leak of classified information, it's hard to believe that Miller's vague testimony can help much. If the case against Scooter Libby is so skimpy that Fitzgerald is reduced to divining subliminal messages sent to Miller ostensibly to influence her testimony, an indictment of Libby on such flimsy charges would be a low blow worthy of Ronnie Earle.

Furthermore, Libby is a genuinely good writer, so much better than Harriet Miers. That bit about the aspens turning in clusters is sheer romantic prose. My wedding anniversary is Tuesday and I might have to borrow the line for my husband's card.

Seriously though, either Libby's letter was encoded - an incredibly stupid move if true - or Miller is irresistibly ingratiating. His letter, written in a familiar tone that hints at an unexpectedly personal rapport, began, "Your reporting, and you, are missed." I wonder if Fitzgerald, who may harbor a grudge against Miller, made her read the excerpts aloud to embarrass her.

Apparently Judy and Scooter spent time together bonding on the Iraq WMDs issue - enough to make her go to jail to cover for her friendly source? On the contrary, I agree with the Power Line crew that Miller's incarceration gambit was intended to limit the scope of her testimony to her conversations with Libby, excluding unfinished business, and she succeeded.

I guess we'll have to wait until Miller's book is published - or at least until she deposits the advance - for her explanation as to what they were both doing in Jackson Hole, apart from the rodeo, and how Libby knew she attended the Aspen conference. Tom Maguire at Just One Minute owns this story and I eagerly await his insight.

P.S. My son, channeling the late Johnnie Cochran, thought up the title of this post.

October 16, 2005 Update:

Be sure to read Tom Maguire's interpretation at Rove on the Bubble, Libby in Trouble. If Tom is right and Libby is likely to be indicted, will Judith Miller write him a letter asking, "Scooter, how's your aspen?"

Andy McCarthy at NRO is inclined to bet against a Libby indictment. Mark Levin contends that WINPAC was not classified.

The full text of Scooter Libby's letter to Judith Miller can be read here in PDF format (Adobe Reader required), along with correspondence between Libby attorney Joseph Tate and Miller attorney Floyd Abrams.