March 07, 2007

Bush's Libby Problem, Continued

"[W]e've had leaks out of the administrative branch, had leaks out of the legislative branch, and out of the executive branch and the legislative branch, and I've spoken out consistently against them, and I want to know who the leakers are." —George W. Bush, Chicago, Sept. 30, 2003.

Of course, in some ways it would be helpful if Bush could adopt some simplified lingua franca, like Swahili or Esperanto, to express himself while a seasoned translator stood by to put the gobbledegook back into English. As it is, we have to deal with the raw feed, and it's not easy. It can give you a severe headache. For example, Exhibit A above, in which Bush reveals his apparent ignorance that the "administrative" and executive branch refer to his own Executive Branch or "the Bush Administration," and are one and the same, and that it's not necessary to mention the legislative branch twice to make the point about leaks. This quote is from the same Q&A in which Bush made the careful comments quoted yesterday about his determination to do the "appropriate" thing for anyone found to have leaked "classified information." The contrast between the prefab phrasing and Bush's usual hopeless confusion is telling. When he's coached to thread the needle (to avoid jail time, for example) he can nail his lines.

What is also striking is Bush's professed ignorance, on September 30, 2003, of "who the leakers are." If he hadn't learned the identities of the leakers long before September 30, 2003, how could Bush's ignorance have continued past October 1, 2003? Karl Rove, who certainly monitors every word his balky student utters, knew who the leakers were on September 30, 2003, because he was one of them. Ari Fleischer was also one of the leakers and he met with Bush at least daily. And Dick Cheney, who confers with Bush constantly, could have told him about Scooter Libby, because it was Dick Cheney's idea for Scooter to leak like a water bed after a porcupine pot party.

The grounds for impeachment are there, if diligently developed. It seems apparent that the Democratically controlled Congress, led by faint hearts like La Diva and Mr. Mumbles, are too timorous to impeach Bush on the really big high crimes and misdemeanors, like torturing prisoners of war, denying due process to American citizens, spying in violation of the Fourth Amendment and the FISA law, spending money authorized for Afghanistan on illegal preparations for war in Iraq --all of this overwhelms them. Too big and scary to debate in the open, except for a few valiant souls like Russ Feingold, Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders. But delving into this mystery, smacking as it does of a whodunnit, of a who knew what when -- this seems always to be the kind of simplistic coverup which undoes the incumbent. Nixon might have attempted to subvert the Constitution by playing off the CIA against the FBI, but it was something much simpler, the tape-recorded proof that he knew about the break-in at the Watergate almost immediately after it happened, that drove him from office.

Pull on one end of this skein of deceit and misdirection and it will unravel. Fitzgerald has "finished his investigation." Congress can take it from here. Maybe the able John Conyers will pick up the twine and begin yanking on it. For one thing is certain: Bush knew that members of his own office and Dick Cheney's office were in on the ground floor of these ruinous leaks. He knew it either before it happened (as part of the planning for retaliation against Joseph Wilson), or he knew almost immediately after. And he certainly knew well before September 30, 2003. Squeeze the right people, make some deals, and the story will come out, and the unfinished narrative, in which the active participants detail the ways in which Bush was informed of the leaks as they happened will emerge, and that story can be compared to all of Bush's clumsy obfuscations before the mantra of "ongoing investigation" shushed him up.

Scooter Libby was a sacrificial lamb, given to the mob in expiation for greater misprision behind the scenes. The thinking was that the liberal media could be placated by conviction on a few minor felony counts for which Libby will never spend a day in prison. Unfortunately, as almost always, the conniving Cheney read his critics right. Cheney is almost never right in the real world, but in the realm of Washington politics, where he only has to intimidate the amazingly fainthearted Democrats, his calculations usually carry the day. There is only a slight chance the co-opted wusses of the Democratic centrist wing will rise to the challenge, but if they do, a means for removing both Bush and Cheney will emerge.

Bush's Current Libby Dilemma

George Bush has enormous problems with verb-noun agreement, as you may have noticed. Given that there's usually a 50% probability of getting it right, it's astounding how often he comes up with ungrammatical clunkers like "Is our children learning?" So it would not surprise me if his version of Bill Clinton's famous evasion, "It depends on what the meaning of is, is," were to come out, under Bush's brutal ministrations, "It depends on what the meaning of is, are."

We may soon see how adept GWB is at artful dodging. Take this quote:
"I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it, and we'll take the appropriate action." [Bush Remarks: Chicago, Illinois, 9/30/03]

From my own review, this is probably Bush's most definitive pronouncement on the Valerie Plame matter. There are others to choose from, and we could throw in the categorical denials from Scott McLellan that Libby or Rove was involved in talking to reporters about Valerie Plame. But McLellan is a serial, compulsive, unapologetic liar himself, and one step removed from Bush. Further, to avoid ratifying his mendacity, the Bushies retired McLellan from his job; he was useless at that point anyway, because he was fully depreciated during his handling of l'affaire Plame.

I've been a lawyer for a long time, and I've observed hundreds of witnesses in depositions and trials deal with critical, "jugular" issues in litigation. By that I mean the fulcrum point in a case. It might concern liability; it might concern state of mind; it might concern when someone first kenw some crucial fact. When opposing counsel is saddled with a witness or client who has a tendency to wander, to ad lib in disastrous ways, who's maybe not all that bright to begin with, he coaches his client to recite carefully prefabricated sentences to cover this critical ground. Bush certainly fits the description of such a client-control problem. Bush himself once inadvertently disclosed the exact content of one of his coaching sessions. As he finally, at long last, admitted that there was no connection between Iraq and 9/11, he stated, with evident pride, that he "was always careful to say that Saddam did not order the attacks on 9/11." On that one point, you can take him at his word.

With this as primer, review the quoted statement above. Notice anything peculiar about it?

Good for you. You either are, or would have made, a good lawyer. It's all in that phrase "leak classified information," isn't it? I used to be a State Bar grader, and for spotting that issue, I can almost assure you of a bar card. In this coached phrase, Bush does not actually talk about Valerie Plame's identity as an undercover agent for the CIA. This is not surprising, because it was critical, at the end of September, 2003, a full 2-1/2 months after Robert Novak's exposure of Valerie Plame to the general public, to leave Bush some wiggle room. Let us be realistic: does anyone actually believe that in late September, 2003, George Bush did not know that Karl Rove, his chief political apparatchik; Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff and also Assistant to the President; and Richard Armitage, Colin Powell's Man Friday in the State Department, had been singing like Heckel & Jeckel to anyone in the press who would listen?

Of course Bush knew. What we learned during the course of Patrick Fitzgerald's curiously circumscribed case was that the Bushies, in a hysterical rush to counter Wilson's damning disclosures in the New York Times, went so far as to declassify important intelligence information on the order of the President. That's the first clue. The second clue is the noise made by the Right Wing echo chamber attempting to establish that Valerie Plame was never covert or undercover at all, that her "classified" status was either nonexistent or had been rendered de facto nugatory.

Bush's handlers foresaw the day when Bush's denials could become severely problematic. So they created an out for him. Compare his first statements about Valerie Plame, in the immediate aftermath of the disclosure, with this lawyerly script. To avoid being tarred with an accusation (perhaps as an unindicted co-conspirator) of obstruction of justice with his misleading, and dishonest, characterizations of Administrative intent, Bush engaged in a parsing of words that created a loophole. We will see that loophole exploited in the coming weeks.

March 06, 2007

Scooter Libby's Tragedy

Even in the liberal euphoria over the conviction of I. Lewis Libby, I remain somewhat contrarian, because I am still of the opinion that he was, indeed, a sacrificial lamb. And a sacrificial lamb who was not nearly so culpable as the people higher up whose positions Libby decided to protect.

I'm sorry his lawyer didn't follow up on his good instincts; in his opening statement, he told the truth when he described Libby as a "fall guy," the one set up to take the rap for the misprisions of Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and George W. Bush. According to the account of the loquacious juror who has described the deliberations of the jury, Ted Wells's claim resonated with the jurors. That's the way they saw it too. They were waiting for evidence they could sink their teeth into. But in the final analysis, Wells blinked, or his client (following his inclinations toward omerta to the end) would not allow him to prove the claim. I don't know which it was. Clearly, the decision to portray Libby as a flunkie sent to do a dirty job and then abandoned when his journalist sources blew his cover story -- that's a major fork in the road. If you go down that road, if you take the Vice President, maybe the President, directly on, your life will never be the same. Wells knew that. I think that's why he sat, immobile, his face in his hands, while Fitzgerald tore his defense to pieces. The jury wasn't going to buy this "faulty memory" routine and Wells knew it.

He had a better case to make. His pitch was the time-honored strategem of jury nullification. Give the jury the red meat they want and they'll overlook the law. There was no doubt that Libby lied, several times. Yet it is also true, no matter how strenuously Fitzgerald argued to the contrary in his own press conference (he doth, in fact, protest too much), that the lies did not amount to a legal hill of beans. Who on God's green Earth cares whether Libby learned about Valerie Plame's job at the CIA on June 12 or on July 13? Fitzgerald again today would not answer one fundamental question: did anyone do anything wrong by disclosing classified information or the identity of an undercover agent in the summer of 2003? If so, why didn't you charge them? And if they didn't do anything wrong, if it was perfectly legal to tell anyone and everyone who our undercover agents working on weapons of mass destruction are -- if that's your position, Mr. Fitzgerald (and you won't tell us it isn't) then WHO CARES when one of the guys in the Bush Administration who's doing the blabbing also makes up a story about when he first heard about it? And this sanctimonious stuff about the integrity of the "system" and the search for justice, how it all depends on truth-telling, and the rest of it- please. A couple of hundred million 1040's will be signed under oath in the next six months or so. What's the over/under on instances of perjury in that pile of paperwork, Mr. Fitzgerald? Fifty million? One hundred million?

I don't think Scooter Libby is a bad guy. It's just my sense. I think he's a good and ethical man who was working for a bad and unethical man, and he threw his life away burning the trail which would have led back to Cheney's manipulations. Yet even in that misguided act of loyalty he failed completely. It all came out anyway. One thing that speaks well for Scooter Libby is that he's such a lousy liar. Under the oppressive heat of a federal investigation, all he could come up with was "I forgot." The thing he forgot was himself, who he once was, and for that he'll pay a terrible price.

March 05, 2007

Libby Jury Begins Second Year of Deliberations

from Washington Post, February 26, 2008
by Dana Priest, Post Senior Reporter

Jurors in the Scooter Libby trial began their second year of deliberations today, apparently still unable to reach a unanimous decision in the case. Court room observers indicated that the eleven remaining jurors are still in good spirits and remain confident they will be able to reach a verdict soon. Judge Reggie Walton again expressed his reluctance to declare a hung jury, given the hard work of the jurors over a time period now about twelve times longer than the trial itself; although, as often in the past few months, he displayed a note of asperity about the continuing requests for "clarifications" and "deliberation materials" which have become a distinctive feature of this jury's approach to the case. Judge Walton, who sequestered the jury in a local three-star hotel about six months ago to shield them from the continuing problem of exposure to media reports, indicated that the mounting expense of housing and feeding the jurors, as well as devoting his entire docket to this one case, was beginning to try his patience. While he applauded the meticulous attention to detail which has characterized this jury from the start, he sighed audibly and drummed his fingers at the latest list of questions, which included (according to a court room source) a question whether the "ment" at the end of "statement" (a reference to the false statement count, apparently) was significant in assessing guilt, and whether it was Louis the XIV or Louis the XVI who was King of France at the time of the Reign of Terror. This second question was apparently to settle a bar bet between two jurors.

The "materials" listed in the last requisition of the jury included a Nikon digital camera, four rolls of duct tape, an overhead projector, eleven leather ottomans, a 42" plasma television, a case of 2002 Pouilly-Fuisse, a box of Dove Bars, four calling birds and three French hens, and the complete works of Daniel Defoe. Judge Walton, in consultation with lead prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and Libby's counsel, Ted Wells, took the request under advisement.

Scooter Libby, meanwhile, who voluntarily submitted himself to confinement ten months ago ("to make better use of the time") is nearing the probable end, on the basis of credit for time served, of any sentence likely imposed following an unfavorable verdict.

In other news, the U.S. Congress passed a nonbinding resolution demanding that the President declare which of the four wars now raging, against Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and North Korea, was his favorite.

March 04, 2007

The Springer Green Room and the Reelection of George W. Bush

"America is the only country to go from barbarism to decadence without creating a civilization in between." Oscar Wilde

I confess that I am sometimes transfixed by fleeting glimpses of the "Jerry Springer Show." There I am, surfing through, when suddenly I see Jerry's industrial-chic set, the dull green colors, the propellers turning slowly in their cages behind the "guests" -- and some obese woman with long blonde hair, wearing a bad-idea short dress with a plunging neckline, is boo-hooing to Jerry about her no-good boyfriend who she strongly suspects has been sleeping with her aunt. For some reason the fat blonde with her blurred features and uncertain dentition has taken off her shoes, and her fat feet are flat on the floor, up there on the raised platform before the howling mob which is Jerry's studio audience. And of course next up is the aunt, who is an older version of the first slob, stringier hair maybe, and a bad dye-job at that -- she charges on to the stage, also wearing a short skirt, and then immediately shucks her shoes, and without preliminaries she charges the first gal, her niece, I guess the story line has it -- and they wrestle and throw each other to the floor while the body guards halfheartedly pull them apart, and black-out squares keep us from seeing the exposed tits and ass which the audience - now chanting "Jer-ry! Jer-ry!" --can see plainly, in all their immense immediacy. Every other screamed word from the brawling aunt and niece is bleeped, as they spit epithets at each other, call each other whores and sluts, all the while throwing wild punches and pulling the other's hair. And then, of course, the boyfriend himself, with his burr haircut and tattoos and a forehead two inches high, and his dentition only a distant memory -- he walks out to screams of excoriation from the crowd, who've gotten the word on this slimebag. The aunt hugs him nonetheless, says she loves him, and the betrayed niece, her face a ruin of tears and smeared mascara, starts screaming at him, why, why, why?

Why indeed? Often, in these stories, we hear there are one or two children involved, maybe the first tub o' lard and the boyfriend were blessed with issue, or maybe it was the aunt all along, and the first blonde has been, unwittingly, raising her own cousin, somehow mistaken about her own pregnancy and delivery.

In the Chronicle today, I read that the American nuclear family, for the first time in our history, has fallen below the 25% mark. People living as husband and wife with children in one home now number about 23% of the American populace. Increasingly, this kind of family life is the exclusive province of the well-educated and well-off. Marriage and children are luxuries which most young Americans simply can't afford, if they were inclined to consider the lifestyle in the first place. Children might happen willy-nilly, from any kind of union at all, long-term or in passing, maybe incognito. Maybe the first reunion of the family would happen in the Jerry Springer Green Room.

It's not all a waste of time, to spend ten minutes with Jerry & the trailer park folks. I'm convinced that more and more of us, those of us who consider ourselves educated, aware, well-read, walk around with a vision in our heads of a fantasy America which either never existed, or has been so transmuted by the last forty years that it may as well never have existed. The columnists in the few major newspapers left (the New York and Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post), the ever-shrinking major weeklies, like Time and Newsweek, pitch their stories to this fantasy America, one peopled by a vast population of well-educated, well-adjusted Moms and Dads in good-paying jobs, their children at sleek, high-functioning schools, with money in the bank and their finances under control, the car paid for, the lawn mowed, the house clean, their lives tidy. And then, lumbering to stage center, upsetting this idyllic reverie, is the 230 lb., 5 foot 2 inch harridan with the maroon tank top and jeans skirt hiked up over her thong, her dirty blonde hair flying as she throws her sister-in-law to the ground for sleeping with her toothless husband while the two of them were working the night shift at Wal-Mart and thought she wouldn't never hear about it -- well, now she knows, you whore, you skank, you slut, you god****, m************ b****, and you can have his scraggly ass 'cause I done changed the locks on the double-wide anyway!

When I gaze upon such things, I think: even if they don't exist quite that way, even if some of it is done for effect, these people are still so absolutely devoid of self-esteem, so clueless, so obtuse, they are willing to allow themselves to be portrayed as hopeless losers in front of a national audience for what probably isn't much money, even to them. And a calm tranquility descends upon my perfervid soul. For in such moments of Trailer Park Satori, I see it. I see my own delusions, the sociological maya of my imagining, why I beat myself up asking the same question as the skanky blonde fatso: why, why, why?

Bush was appointed in 2000, as we all know; he didn't win the popular vote, and his brother cheated down in Florida to put Bush in position to allow two members of the Supreme Court with serious conflict of interest problems to stop the recount before Gore could win the electoral count outright. We know that. But 2004 - Bush got millions of votes more than Kerry, and 53% of the total. And this happened after Bush had been in office for four years, and his incompetence, his clownish bungling, his intellectual and emotional ineptitude were obvious for all to see. He started a war on completely false information before the campaign for reelection was even underway. Well, all those residents of that fantasy America we conjure, that we pull out of the clear blue sky -- they surely could have seen it. And there is only one problem, the dilemma definitively, irrefutably, crushingly presented by November 2004 -- that America, if it ever was, could not possibly exist anymore. The great majority who returned Bush to office in 2004 believed that Saddam Hussein was the principal cause of 9/11. They thought the guy who allowed 9/11 to happen in the first place was the best guy to protect us from the terrors, which he described in his fractured English, still to come. They were enthusiastic about voting for a candidate, here in the 21st Century, who maintains "the jury is out" on whether evolution theory is accurate or not, who does everything he can to retard America's scientific progress, who has made the U.S.A. a worldwide pariah with his bestial approach to prisoners of war, who is almost singlehandedly responsible for America's benighted "response" to the looming catastrophe of climate change.

Oh yes, the Green Room has its cognates, its counterparts out there in the Real World of Modern America. Epidemic obesity and diabetes, plummeting literacy, a huge cohort who use America's emergency rooms as their primary care physician. People completely wrapped up in the business of scraping by with crap jobs and crappier living conditions. And the response of the Bushies, as always, is PR: to hide the steady growth of the underclass with misleading statistics which conceal the growing disparity between the Haves and the Havenothings.

America goes on changing nonetheless. There's a new show on now, and the Americans on the program inhabit the United States from sea to shining sea. The people who play are taking one last drag before stamping the butt on the Green Room floor, knocking back one more Red Bull to juice up for the combat ahead, fluffing the mullet before charging out the door to the arena. They're getting ready to kick off those shoes and have at it.