So Much for Journalist Shields

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The whole case against Scooter Libby turns on his conversations with Tim Russert, Matt Cooper and Judith Miller; most of the juiciest evidence against him appears to have come from Miller. I think Kevin Drum is right when he says: "Apparently Libby figured he'd never be caught out because the reporters would stay mum and go to jail on his behalf. He lost that bet."

Now, journalist-shield laws usually have some exemption for conversations that in and of themselves constitute a crime. But Libby's conversations with reporters (so far, at least) are not the criminal events; it was his lying to the FBI and under oath about the content of those conversations which was illegal. His only protection was promises of confidentiality by journalists he lied about under oath.

All of which to say is, whatever political oxygen was pumping up the idea of a federal shield law certainly got deflated today. Not only is there the reporter-friendly outcome of a key White House aide being charged with multiple felonies, but all indications point to a powerful sleazebag trying to launder his lies with journalism traditions exercised by despised reporters.

Speaking of which, I wonder if Judy still considers Scooter a "good-faith source," in light of his weasel-words in this Sept. 15 letter to her in jail: "[T]he public report of every other reporter's testimony makes clear that they did not discuss Ms. Plame's name or identity with me."

NEXT: Is It the THC That Makes It Mellower?

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  1. The “Martha Stewart” strategy strikes again…

  2. Libby may not have been charged in connection with his conversations with Miller, et al about Palme, but the fact remains that those conversations were they very potential criminal act that was being investigated. Miller was a witness to the act, not just a reporter. I don’t think that the journalist shield should apply in such a situation.

  3. I would really like to see the republicans set an independant prosecutor to investigate why plame is sending her huspand on taxpayer funded activities. And why she is sending partisan 60’s radicals to represent the government.

    I would also like to see some independand prosecutor go after the prosecutor that is going after Tom Delay, to find out why prosecutors are persecuting people for personal reasons.

  4. Fitzgerald claims that these reporters were “witnesses” to Libby’s conversations. Yes and Libby was a witness to the reporters conversations! So we have he said she said with no corroberation. Fitzgerald is a biased left-wing hack.

  5. Call me Cheney is impeached. Otherwise I can’t dredge up any interest whatsoever in this story.

  6. errr… “Call me WHEN…”

  7. RA,

    A biased left wing hack ?

    Fitzgerald was a Senator from Illinois.

    I have no idea if the charges against Libby are true, but if they are, he lied under oath and he deserves to be punished.

  8. YAWN. The CIA should be abolished. How about that?

    Then we wouldn’t have to worry about chit like this.

    And anyone named Scooter (except Phil Rizzuto) should be shot on GP. Jeeezus Chrysler, NOBODY names their kid Scooter.

  9. I supplement kwais’ plan sundae with some investigators to investigate his investigate his prosecutor investigators. I would then have the Plame and Delay prosecutors investigate the prosecutor investigator investigators that I have added here. That way we get a neat, economical loop.

  10. “plan sundae” should be –plan–. Its getting close to dinner.

  11. “His only protection was promises of confidentiality by journalists he lied about under oath.”

    This doesn’t make sense. Judith Miller (according to Mr. Welch, the apparent source of “the juiciest evidence against him”) didn’t sing to the grand jury until Libby assured her that he had released her from any obligation of confidentiality.

  12. Dave W,
    We can call it ‘Plan Sundae” if you want.

  13. Seamus — He was between a rock and a hard place. (Which actually supports Miller’s version of events, at least slightly.)

    Basically, he offered a lukewarm waiver, and she made it clear that she didn’t believe his heart was in it (while publicly he said “of COURSE she has my waiver!”) … and then her lawyers called his bluff, and demanded a more convincing waiver. So he wrote this bizarre letter, about the aspens and their roots, offering a waiver while giving the false impression that the other reporters had testified in the way HE wanted her to testify.

    And yes, this is full of speculation.

    But basically, he had no political wiggle-room left, and had to at least PRETEND to release her from the waiver, because of pressure from the public, or his boss, or whoever, and also from the logic of his previous lies. If he DIDN’T offer her a public waiver than obviously he had something to hide, right?

    So what he was hoping for, we can imagine, is that Miller would indeed read his smoke signals as indicating that, despite his literal words, he actually didn’t want her to testify. That balancing act ultimately became untenable.

  14. I will be the first to admit that the indictment is well niegh unreadable. That said, it appears to me that Libby is being charged with lying the FBI and the Grand Jury about his conversations with journalists. That comes down to Libby’s word versus the journalists’ word, unless there was another witness. Even if you believe the journalists’ version of events, you still have to prove that Libby intentionally lied and wasn’t just mistaken in his recollection. All and all, I seriously doubt Libby will ever be convicted of anything.

    As far as the prosecutor being a left wing hack. I don’t agree with that. I think he is a typical careerist prosecutor. He had to indict someone for something or he would have looked foolish and no prosecutor will ever stand for that even if it means indicting someone on a case he probably can’t prove. Also, since he indicted someone in the Bush administration, he gets to be invited to all of the good cocktail parties in Washington now.

  15. Ummm, let’s roll the tape back to the Clinton years.

    Yes, there’s the section I thought I remembered: a gaggle of Republicans saying that lying to a grand jury is a crime. So being consistent…

    (Though I’ll agree that the whole affair is stupid, and that Plame and Wilson are every bit as sleazy as Libby.)

  16. Slainte,

    I totally agree. If he lied to the grand jury, let him hang. I am just not convinced that there is any way to prove that.

  17. I would really like to see the republicans set an independant prosecutor to investigate why plame is sending her huspand on taxpayer funded activities.

    She didn’t “send” her husband anywhere. She didn’t have the authority. The idea that she did came from a Weekly Standard article, and the CIA has repeatedly denied that she had any part in his selection.

  18. Hey, this blog post & comments thread is linked at the NYT under “Blogger Reaction to Libby’s Indictment.”

    Just thought you’d like to know. Or not like to know…

  19. And I just noticed that the blog posts on either side are both about drugs!! Ha-ha!! Yup, drugs and journalist shield laws are what Reason is all about…

  20. She didn’t “send” her husband anywhere. She didn’t have the authority.

    Newt Gengrich is on tv right now saying that Plame did indeed send her husband, and that Wilson lied when he claimed that Cheney’s office sent him.

    Whey woulo they send that dude if not for his wife.

    If it wasn’t nepotistice malice that got him sent, it was total incompetence. Either one should be investigated.

  21. And anyone named Scooter (except Phil Rizzuto) should be shot on GP. Jeeezus Chrysler, NOBODY names their kid Scooter.

    I had a dog named Sally.

  22. Newt Gengrich is on tv right now saying that Plame did indeed send her husband

    Well. That settles that.

  23. Whey woulo they send that dude if not for his wife.

    He is a former Ambassador, you know. In fact, he was the acting Ambassador to Iraq during the run-up to the first Gulf War. It’s not like he managed the 7-11 until his wife got him an in with the CIA.

  24. Oh, and he also worked for the NSC setting Africa policy during the Clinton Adminstration. Which made him probably one of the few high-ranking people around who knew enough about both Iraq and Africa to be able to know what he was doing if sent to look for yellowcake in Niger.

  25. Why don’t these people just not talk to the FBI or the prosecutor? Is there a law that says refusing to answer questions is a criminal act?

    Why don’t they demand immunity for their testimony to a grand jury? Can they not “take the fifth” even if compelled to appear?

    I think Slick Willie, Martha and now Scooter were all so worried about looking kinda bad momentarily that they chose to look really bad and risk much greater consequences.

  26. A couple of clarifications.

    First, while special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is not a left-wing hack, he is also not a former GOP senator from Illinois. That was Peter Fitzgerald.

    Second, while there is some controversy on this point, the best available evidence suggests that Valerie Plame did indeed suggest to the CIA that her husband be sent to investigate the yellowcake story, of which she and others there were apparently already suspicious beforehand. The Weekly Standard is hardly the only source for this information. It was the conclusion, for example, of the Senate committee that investigated the matter. You can read more in The Washington Post here:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/10/AR2005081001918.html

    I would add that the choice of Wilson and the sloppy, less-than-secret way the mission was carried out were not among the CIA’s best moments. Embarrassing all around.

  27. the best available evidence suggests that Valerie Plame did indeed suggest to the CIA that her husband be sent to investigate the yellowcake story, of which she and others there were apparently already suspicious beforehand.

    which makes me wonder… plame’s outfit at cia, as has been noted by raimondo, would have been well within their mandate to investigate the yellowcake fraud. isn’t it just possible that she asked for someone she could trust to be sent because the possible implications of the findings could have been very serious? — meaning that plame’s team had found out, as the italian parliamentary report apparently has, that associates of the vice president’s office (namely, michael ledeen) had created or disseminated the yellowcake documents? and that, and not any simple revenge motive, was the reason behind the vp’s office outing plame — as a way to end her investigation into the yellowcake documents origins?

    it’s a far more rational and credible motive than revenge.

  28. Gaius:

    Help me out here. How is it possible for Plame & Co. to have sent Wilson to Africa in response to controversy about forged documents that did not materialize until well after the Wilson trip to Africa?

  29. there is a distinction between “sending her husband” and “suggesting her husband be sent” that few seem to be making

    there’s no dispute that Wilson was in the foreign service and served in both Niger and Iraq. that alone should tell everyone he’s qualified to investigate based on his likely contacts within those countries and his knowledge of those countries

  30. How is it possible for Plame & Co. to have sent Wilson to Africa in response to controversy about forged documents that did not materialize until well after the Wilson trip to Africa?

    Because it wasn’t nearly as cut-and-dry as you think it is. Had it been, the CIA wouldn’t have seen the need to send anyone. Somebody or more likely somebodies in the CIA already had suspiscions about the veracity of the yellowcake story prior to the mission and, consequently, felt the need to investigate the documents.

  31. John Hood writes: “Help me out here. How is it possible for Plame & Co. to have sent Wilson to Africa in response to controversy about forged documents that did not materialize until well after the Wilson trip to Africa?”

    Partial information from the forged documents started circulating in late 2001/early 2002. Actual full copies or facsimiles of the documents weren’t obtained by the US until late 2002, but summaries apparently were available much earlier.

    While the documents would be obvious fakes if seen in their entirety, a summary of their contents (or worse, the gist alone) could easily exclude much of the information by which the veracity could be judged.

    (For example, I could give you a summary of the information on my $100 bill -serial numbers, denomination, etc, but that wouldn’t let you know if it was genuine or counterfeit, unless I included the fact that it was printed on a doily using a potato stamp. You’d have to look at it to make that determination.)

    This partial information appears to be the reason there were questions about Niger which resulted in CIA asking Wilson to investigate.

  32. John writes: ” That said, it appears to me that Libby is being charged with lying the FBI and the Grand Jury about his conversations with journalists. That comes down to Libby’s word versus the journalists’ word, unless there was another witness.”

    He also contradicted his own notes.

    These aren’t small discrepancies, either. It’s a bit much to believe that he first heard about Plame from journalists, when his notes and other witnesses show he heard from FOUR different government officials even before he talked to journalists.

    “Also, since he indicted someone in the Bush administration, he gets to be invited to all of the good cocktail parties in Washington now.”

    He lives in Chicago, and I don’t think he gives a rat’s ass about cocktail parties. If he was the cocktail party type, DC’s probably wouldn’t impress him compared to the parties in Manhattan, where he used to work. Not as many supermodels, I should think.

    (Not that anyone would invite him. They’d probably be afraid he’d indict half the guests on drug charges. That goes for DC too.)

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