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.
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.