Republicans Spinning Possible Perjury Charges

With indictments against Karl Rove and Scooter Libby considered likely, some prominent Republicans are pulling a page from the Bill Clinton defensive playbook and arguing that perjury is a “technicality” used when an actual crime can’t be proven.

Republicans Testing Ways to Blunt Leak Charges (NYT)

With a decision expected this week on possible indictments in the C.I.A. leak case, allies of the White House suggested Sunday that they intended to pursue a strategy of attacking any criminal charges as a disagreement over legal technicalities or the product of an overzealous prosecutor. Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special counsel in the case, is expected to announce by the end of the week whether he will seek indictments against White House officials in a decision that is likely to be a defining moment of President Bush’s second term. The case has put many in the White House on edge.

Karl Rove, the senior White House adviser, and I. Lewis Libby Jr., who is Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, have been advised that they are in serious legal jeopardy. Other officials could also face charges in connection with the disclosure of the identity of an undercover C.I.A. officer in 2003.

On Sunday, Republicans appeared to be preparing to blunt the impact of any charges. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Republican of Texas, speaking on the NBC news program “Meet the Press,” compared the leak investigation with the case of Martha Stewart and her stock sale, “where they couldn’t find a crime and they indict on something that she said about something that wasn’t a crime.” Ms. Hutchison said she hoped “that if there is going to be an indictment that says something happened, that it is an indictment on a crime and not some perjury technicality where they couldn’t indict on the crime and so they go to something just to show that their two years of investigation was not a waste of time and taxpayer dollars.”

President Bush said several weeks ago that Mr. Fitzgerald had handled the case in “a very dignified way,” making it more difficult for Republicans to portray him negatively. But allies of the White House have quietly been circulating talking points in recent days among Republicans sympathetic to the administration, seeking to help them make the case that bringing charges like perjury mean the prosecutor does not have a strong case, one Republican with close ties to the White House said Sunday. Other people sympathetic to Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby have said that indicting them would amount to criminalizing politics and that Mr. Fitzgerald did not understand how Washington works.

Some Republicans have also been reprising a theme that was often sounded by Democrats during the investigations into President Bill Clinton, that special prosecutors and independent counsels lack accountability and too often pursue cases until they find someone to charge.

There is some irony in the Democrats suddenly finding perjury to be a big deal and Republicans arguing otherwise. But Michelle Malkin is right: “Perjury and obstruction of justice are serious crimes, whether committed by D’s, R’s, or otherwise. Period.”

Certainly, there are degrees of perjury and obstruction of justice. In the Martha Stewart case, I did indeed believe they were used precisely as Hutchinson suggests.

The Novak-Plame-Rove-Libby case has been dragging on for years now and is there have been so many twists and turns and so much idle conjecture that I do not have a clear picture in my mind of what happened. There seems to be serious doubt as to whether the original issue in question–the “outing” of a covert agent–in fact took place, in that Plame may no longer have been covert. And it is not entirely clear who told what to whom and in what sequence. I am, therefore, not at all sure that a crime was committed, serious or otherwise.

Fitzgerald’s reputation is sterling, however, and it seems unlikely that he would trump up charges for the sake of a “get.” With the veil of secrecy soon to be lifted, though, the facts of the case should become clear enough before much longer. Republicans should rally behind them if their actions were honorable. If Rove and/or Libby indeed committed crimes, they should be prosecuted, convicted, and punished in accord with the seriousness of the offenses and the high positions of public trust they occupied. In either case, the party that has run on “law and order” since at least 1968 should not try to undermine the system itself.

Politican Teen Ian Schwartz has a video montage of Plame soundbytes, including the Hutchinson appearance on MTP.

MSNBC has a transcript of the Hutchinson-Russert exchange, along with the rest of yesterday’s episode.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. spencer says:

    Why would you say that the senior CIA officials, the Justice Department and Fitzgerald did not know Plame’s cover status?

  2. odograph says:

    It is embarassing how many people blow in the wind, and judge the seriousness of a crime by the tribe (I mean Party) involved.

    I was thinking about tribalism this morning, with respect to how easily people of both parties accepted the idea that we must go to war in Iraq II. I was a stubborn outsider Republican, who argued against it, but the vast majority of the people I met (Democrat and Republican) were on board.

    Modern spin aside, I think the core issue is our human nature. “Our tribe right-or-wrong” absolutely must have evolutionary survival potential. If you stick with the tribe, even when they are wrong, you more likely to survive than if you branch out on your own.

    Sen. Hutchinson’s rationalization is just a microcosm of the tribalism that greased the rails on this war.

  3. ken says:

    There seems to be serious doubt as to whether the original issue in question–the “outing” of a covert agent–in fact took place, in that Plame may no longer have been covert.

    Doubtfull to who?

    Valerie Plame had no doubt about her covert status. She kept her true employment secret from her mother, her best friends and all casual acquaintences.

    The CIA had no doubt about her covert status as they referred the outing to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution.

  4. Bithead says:

    PLame had no doubt about her covert status because he engrandized her and made her and her Husbands polityical case. Without that status, she has no case, and she knows it. Simple enough to lie about it; who can release info on her status without repercussions? And plenty of political reason to… the perfect scam, for those so inclined… and Joe Wilson certain is that.

    And James:

    The Novak-Plame-Rove-Libby case has been dragging on for years now and is there have been so many twists and turns and so much idle conjecture that I do not have a clear picture in my mind of what happened.

    Precisely why the Democrats ahve been pushing for htis as long as they have. THe facts are not what’s driving the issue. They’re hoping that if the people hear about it long enough, they’ll simply assume guilt.

  5. odograph says:

    You know, the point about tribalism is to recognize it so you can rise above it, for the higher principle: truth in a democracy.

    I think Clinton did us a great disservice by making lies the public coin of politics, but it doesn’t look like this administration reversed course. It looks like they used the same coin to start a war.

    The “Plame was not covert” lie is just a lie to cover a lie, to cover a lie, to cover …

  6. McGehee says:

    The “Plame was not covert” lie is just a lie to cover a lie, to cover a lie, to cover …

    Just one problem: at the time of Novak’s column — and for some years before, according to news reports that the “D” tribe seems to have overlooked — Valerie Plame wasn’t covert. Prosecuting anyone for “outing” Plame in conjunction with Wilson’s Niger trip makes about as much sense, legally, as prosecuting them for treason in connection to the Niger trip. Which you may have noticed some people in the “D” tribe believe can and should happen.

    But I guess tribalism justifies labelling a fact as a lie, eh Odo?

  7. odograph says:

    “But I guess tribalism justifies labelling a fact as a lie, eh Odo?”

    All think links I’ve followed so far descended down to nothing, or were “partial evidence” in the first place.

    But sure, I can look at this in a rational and non-partison way. Give me your link.

  8. odograph says:

    BTW, I found this article by a spy-guy to be pretty convincing: link

  9. odograph says:

    Oh, and in response to the actual question .. I guess tribalism justifies labelling a fact as a lie, eh Odo?

    That is my point. Obviously it does for “human beings,” look around you.

  10. ken says:


    Your defense of this crime is like defending a car thief by saying that the keys were left in the ignition so stealing the car was not really stealing.

    If her status as a covert CIA agent was known by unauthorized people before the Novak article how does that excuses government officials from broadcasting that information even further?

    As long as her official status remained covert, no one with clearance was authorized to confirm, or otherwise disclose her true employment information, right? She had an official cover that should have been defended by government officials regardless of whatever rumors the public my have believed.

    And isn’t that the crime? Not so much that you are now also aware of it, but that white house officials, presumably with top secret clearance, gave information regarding the true employment status of Plame to Novak, and others, that Novak then told you.

  11. Hombre Rojo says:

    “There seems to be serious doubt as to whether the original issue in question–the ‘outing’ of a covert agent–in fact took place, in that Plame may no longer have been covert.”

    Not exactly. The issue is whether Plame was covered by the Intelligence Identities Protection Act at the time of the disclosure. Which, roughly speaking, means that she had to have served overseas under cover within, IIRC, the past five years and the CIA was still taking affirmative measures to protect her cover. (There are other important issues involving the IIPA that could still get Rove-Libby off on what Sen Hutchinson would probably call “technicalities”.)

    But more relevant is the process that led DoJ to undertake the investigation. First, the CIA legal office (OGC) had to send a “referral” to DoJ saying that there had been a possible violation of the IIPA and providing specifics — the first of which would be to demonstrate that Ms. Plame was covered by the IIPA. DoJ then examined the referral and, if it had questions about any part of it, would have gone back to the CIA for clarification. Again, Ms. Plame’s IIPA status would have been the first thing they nailed down before proceeding further: You don’t start an expensive grand jury investigation into a bank robbery if there isn’t significant going-in evidence a bank has been robbed.

    Note that CIA makes a few dozen referrals to DoJ each year and DoJ almost never decides to follow through with a grand jury. So it would seem that DoJ thought the initial evidence of a IIPA violation in the Plame case was pretty solid.

  12. DL says:

    There’s perjury and then there’s politics!

  13. odograph says:

    For what it’s worth, new data:

    The Plame leak is in itself evidence of how Bush administration officials failed to apprehend the most basic operations of intelligence. “I’ve talked with a number of people who knew [Valerie Plame Wilson] and worked with her,” said Burton Hersh, the author of The Old Boys, the groundbreaking study of the C.I.A.’s Cold War career. “And the whole idea that she [or] her undercover status was not that important is ridiculous. She was key to the effort to contain nuclear proliferation in the Third World. Once she’s taken out, her whole network of people can be exposed. That shows you a disconnect across the board. This was a network trying to keep jihadists from acquiring nuclear weapons …. You know, it’s hard enough to keep these people undercover. To lift that cover for short-term political advantage—that’s indefensible. And to punish Joe Wilson like this—it’s suicidal.”

    – more here