Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

A Tale of Two Commentators

This morning, for the umpteenth time, I watched David Brooks play apologist for the Administration on one of the Sunday shows. A few minutes later I reached his column (TimesSelect subscription required) in the New York Times, in which he wrote on the same basic theme summed up in the title: "The Prosecutor's Diagnosis: No Cancer Found."

Nicholas Kristof wrote, in a very different vein, under the title "Time for the Vice President to Explain Himself" (also TS). Regular readers will recall that I am no friend to either man, and frequently find their work objectionable for any number of reasons.

Today, however, I think Kristof is entirely on the ball. Furthermore, his column illustrates perfectly why Brooks is so utterly wrong.

Brooks, to put it simply, rolls out the cover-up-worse-than-the-crime meme to which I strenuously objected on Friday. He writes:

Patrick Fitzgerald has just completed a 22-month investigation of the Bush presidency. One thing is clear: there is no cancer on this presidency. Fitzgerald, who seems to be a model prosecutor, enjoyed what he called full cooperation from all federal agencies. He found enough evidence to indict one man, Scooter Libby, on serious charges.

I'm pretty sure the Vice President's Chief of Staff, also an inner-circle advisor to POTUS, in committing perjury as alleged doesn't count as "full cooperation." Furthermore, I'm pretty sure these allegations single out Libby as a "cancer on the presidency," co-opting John Dean's j'accuse of the Watergate culprits.

Why do I say that? Well, let's ask Kristof, who opens his column with a candid apology for invective he has leveled in the past against Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald:

Over the last year, I've referred to him nastily a couple of times as "Inspector Javert," after the merciless and inflexible character in Victor Hugo's "Les Misérables." In my last column, I fretted aloud that he might pursue overzealous or technical indictments.

But Mr. Fitzgerald didn't do that. The indictments of Lewis Libby are not for memory lapses or debatable offenses, but for repeatedly telling a fairy tale under oath.

Libby didn't tell this fairy tale for fun, or out of self-serving sloppiness. The reason cover-ups are so insidious is that, typically, no one is prepared to fall on his sword, to risk imprisonment (rare) and career suicide (far more common, but see Oliver North), to hide something that will make a brief splash and disappear under the waves. The fact remains, that somebody leaked Valerie Plame's name. Now, whether she was, in fact a clandestine operative qualifying for protection under the law criminalizing the release of information about an agent in the field, is as yet unclear. But the information got out, and it was no accident.

Brooks next falls back on a tried and true (but loathsome in a journalist) spin and wishful thinking tactic.

[Fitzgerald] did not find evidence to prove that there was a broad conspiracy to out a covert agent for political gain. He did not find evidence of wide-ranging criminal behavior. He did not even indict the media's ordained villain, Karl Rove.

Yet. He also hasn't signaled an end to his investigation. As for the first part of the excerpt, the release accompanying the indictment as well as the indictment itself suggest otherwise to anyone not willfully ignorant of its implications. Perhaps he's right that "political gain" wasn't the goal, but if not then it was retribution, which is perhaps even worse. People with the sort of power intrinsic to a United States presidential administration ought to rise above petty squabbling and schoolyard retribution. This administration, however, has never signaled any interest in the moral highroad.

Brooks continues in the same vein, only he abandons spin for sheer wishful thinking.

"There is mounting evidence," Nadler continued, "that there may have been a well-orchestrated effort by the president, the vice president and other top White House officials to lie to Congress in order to get its support for the Iraq war."

One may wish it, but that doesn't make it so. We do know that the White House lied about who was involved in calling reporters. But as for traitorous behavior, huge cover-ups and well-orchestrated conspiracies - that's swamp gas.

Like he says, wishing it doesn't make it so. The indictment suggests that there was something very like a well-orchestrated conspiracy, and the absence of indictments directly implicating one hardly ends the matter. Even if Fitzgeral packs up and goes home, it's pretty clearly not a blanket exoneration. Rove has proven himself disturbingly slippery in the past, and one needn't look hard to find strong evidence that wherever Rove goes well-orchestrated coonspiracies are sure to follow.

Kristof, far from being "hysterical," as Brooks describes pretty much anyone who dares to think this is bigger than just Libby, provides a sobering account of what one reasonably can infer from the face of the legal filings.

Mr. Rove escaped indictment, but he has been tarred. He apparently passed information about Valerie Wilson to reporters and then conveniently forgot about one of those conversations. He also may have misled the president, and the White House ended up giving false information to the public. It's fine for Mr. Rove to work as a Republican political adviser, but not as White House deputy chief of staff.

Even more important, Vice President Dick Cheney owes the nation an explanation. According to the indictment, he learned from the C.I.A. that Joseph Wilson's wife worked at the agency and told Mr. Libby that on about June 12, 2003. Why?

There may be innocent explanations. I gather from the indictment and other sources that Mr. Cheney and Mr. Libby were upset in May and June 2003 by a column of mine from May 6, 2003, in which I linked Mr. Cheney to Mr. Wilson's trip to Niger. If Mr. Cheney and Mr. Libby thought that my column was unfair, or that Mr. Wilson was exaggerating his role, they had every right to ask for a correction or set the record straight.


Since Mr. Libby is joined at the hip to Mr. Cheney, it's reasonable to ask: What did Mr. Cheney know and when did he know it? Did the vice president have any grasp of the criminal behavior allegedly happening in his office? We shouldn't assume the worst, but Mr. Cheney needs to give us a full account.

Instead, Mr. Cheney said in a written statement: "Because this is a pending legal proceeding, in fairness to all those involved, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the charges or on any facts relating to the proceeding."


At the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in August 2000, Mr. Cheney won adoring applause when he suggested that Bill Clinton's deceit had besmirched the White House. Mr. Cheney then pledged that Mr. Bush would be different: "On the first hour of the first day, he will restore decency and integrity to the Oval Office."

Mr. Cheney added of the Democrats: "They will offer more lectures, and legalisms, and carefully worded denials. We offer another way, a better way, and a stiff dose of truth."

You were right, Mr. Cheney, in your insistence that the White House be beyond reproach. Now it's time for you to give the nation "a stiff dose of truth." Otherwise, you sully this country with your own legalisms.

And this is the 800-lb. gorilla in the room: that the White House is in retreat and falling back in a case concerning the betrayal of national security on all the legalistic "what-is-is" bromides it so vituperatively attacked when the subject was an Oval Office blowjob.

Then, at least, there was an argument to be made: that the whole inquiry was inappropriate to begin with. In this situation, while one might argue that the investigation is based on unsusbantiable allegations, one cannot dispute that, if the allegations are true, there has been a serial and coordinated abuse of power emanating from the West Wing, with the apparent wink-wink complicity of at least the Vice President, and possibly the President himself (although that'll never stick, even if it's true).

On the sunny side of the street, Brooks offers his own unsubstantiated accusations:

The question is, why are these people so compulsively overheated? One of the president's top advisers is indicted on serious charges. Why are they incapable of leaving it at that? Why do they have to slather on wild, unsupported charges that do little more than make them look unhinged?


So some Democrats were not content with Libby's indictment, but had to stretch, distort and exaggerate. The tragic thing is that at the exact moment when the Republican Party is staggering under the weight of its own mistakes, the Democratic Party's loudest voices are in the grip of passions that render them untrustworthy.

If the Democrats are "untrustworthy" for seeing the writing on the wall, and recognizing that what Libby appears to have done was not done in a vacuum, but rather served the interests of his superiors and very likely was effectuated with their blessing if not at their inistence, if their indignation is "the grip of passions" that render them so, what does it say about a man as intelligent as Brooks that he can crop from the photo everything except Libby's profile and hold forth as though his alleged crime were some sexual peccadillo committed on Libby's personal time instead of an act that made a mockery of national security and of the law itself. Of course, when that precise description applied to a Democrat president, the GOP was as a kennel of rabid Rotweilers.

It's not as though hypocrisy and underhanded dealing are new issues with this Administration, or that anyone who has been paying attention and can think critically can pretend to be surprised that finally the house of cards fell in some consequential respect. The only people who are "unhinged" right now are those who would apologize for the cavalier yahoos running the country in direct contradiction of the evidence before them. And Brooks, evidently, is one of them. If the left is hysterical, Brooks is in "denial," an even more repellent malady when it afflicts the press.


Anonymous binky said...

One of the things that interests me about the whole thing is this: "He also may have misled the president, and the White House ended up giving false information to the public." Did they keep the POTUS in the dark or not? If they didn't, he's implicated. If they did, it will be fun and games guessing what other administration policy came out via the same path.

8:35 PM  

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