Mr. Fitzgerald’s Unanswered Questions

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According to this week’s Newsweek, the nation enjoyed two historic moments last Friday. The first was special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s press conference outlining his perjury case against "Cheney’s Cheney," I(rve) Lewis “Scooter” Libby. The second – occurring simultaneously – was that "in the small dining room adjoining the Oval Office, [President Bush] was doing something uncharacteristic: watching live news on TV." Apparently, the president only watched the first 20 minutes or so of the press conference, but for a guy who famously avoids both print and broadcast news, any small step toward engagement with the "reality-based community" may be a giant step for mankind.

Alas, Fitzgerald’s press conference proved a disappointment to many, in part owing to the attending reporters’ inability to ask him questions he might be likely to answer. Fitzgerald repeatedly declined to speculate about where his ongoing investigation might lead, and made clear early on that he wouldn’t discuss certain topics, but numerous reporters appeared more intent on creating sound bites than in garnering whatever information might be available, and instead, inspired repeat after repeat of the special prosecutor’s non-response.

Since Fitzgerald has said he has no intention of issuing a final report about this complicated matter, it remains the responsibility of the reporters themselves to fill in the many holes he left in the story. Americans still need to know just what kind of conspiracy was launched here – not merely to attack the credibility of Joe Wilson and blow the cover off his CIA agent wife, but also to fool the nation into going to war. Here are just a few of them:

Where’s Dick?

As The Washington Post’s Bart Gellman reported in his excellent exegesis of the known story so far, "Libby and Cheney made separate inquiries to the CIA about Wilson’s wife, and each confirmed independently that she worked there. It was Cheney, the indictment states, who supplied Libby the detail ‘that Wilson’s wife worked . . . in the Counterproliferation Division’ – an unambiguous declaration that her position was among the case officers of the operations directorate." The question we still need to ask is, "Do we know the extent of Cheney’s involvement in his subordinate’s decision to leak classified information and lie about it to a Grand Jury?" We know part of the answer from the indictment itself, and as Josh Marshall pointed out, "Libby had consulted with Cheney about how to handle inquiries from journalists about the vice president’s role in sending Wilson to Africa in early 2002."

What’s more, on the now-infamous July 12, 2003 Air Force Two flight from Washington to Norfolk, Virginia, according to the indictment, "LIBBY discussed with other officials aboard the plane what LIBBY should say in response to certain pending media inquiries, including questions from Time reporter Matthew Cooper." Who, exactly, are these "other officials?" Is one of them the vice president? As Gellman wrote in the Post, on that flight "the vice president instructed his aide to alert reporters of an attack launched that morning on Wilson’s credibility by Fleischer, according to a well-placed source." The question we need to answer is: What else did Cheney "instruct his aide" to do? And are any of these actions indictable? Has Anybody Pled Guilty?

Another thing we still don’t know is if anyone pled guilty in the case. As TNR’s Ryan Lizza reported over the weekend, he asked Fitzgerald’s spokesman Randall Samborn just that question. Samborn partially dodged the question, telling Lizza that there was no "public record" of any pleas. Not satisfied, Lizza put the question to "a white collar criminal defense attorney," who told him that "Guilty pleas can be taken under seal – and often are – when the person entering the plea is cooperating with the government and they do not want to tip off the other targets or there is a safety concern. Also, plea agreements could have already been reached but not formally entered in court." Where’s Phase II?

All this was wrought, in the end, by the administration’s use of faulty intelligence to justify its invasion of Iraq in March 2003. In a bit of crystal ball gazing this past Sunday, Frank Rich wrote in The New York Times about the Senate Intelligence Committee’s failure to issue the "Phase II" section of its report on the administration’s use of that intelligence, calling it a "scandal in its own right." It is, although it has largely been ignored until Murray Waas reported in The National Journal last week that Cheney and Libby were refusing to hand over to the committee certain documents, which included "the Libby-written passages in early drafts of Colin Powell’s notorious presentation of W.M.D. ‘evidence’ to the U.N. on the eve of war." As we know, Harry Reid threw this in the face of the nation on Tuesday, when he invoked Rule 21 and forced Senate Republicans to agree to form a bipartisan committee to find out why we haven’t seen this "Phase II" report.

Where’s Novak?

Enough said.

Will we ever have fully satisfactory answers to questions that initially inspired the Fitzgerald investigation, as well as those it has raised in its wake? Likely not. But if reporters and news organizations decide to invest the time and money in trying to find the answers to these and other key questions, they might at least make a start at making amends to their readers, viewers and listeners for accepting administration claims at face value in the first place, and allowing the nation to be led by lies into war.

Just one request to Bill Keller and the folks at the Times, however: Could you please keep Judy Miller off the story? She’s done her part….

Eric Alterman is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and the author of six books, including most recently, When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences, just published in paperback by Penguin.




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Eric Alterman

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