The Bronx Blogger

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Wall Street Journal Misleads Readers About Libby Case

Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald announced yesterday that he had gotten a grand jury to produce indictments against Scooter Libby for obstruction of justice, perjury, and making false statements to a federal officer. Mr. Libby thereupon resigned his position as Chief of Staff for Vice President Dick Cheney.

I just read an article about the indictments at the Wall Street Journal commentary website, OpinionJournal, that seriously ticked me off.

Here is a link to the opinion piece: Obstruction for What? Libby is charged with lying about a crime that wasn't committed.

The piece argues that the substance of the indictments are fairly flimsy. Furthermore, since Mr. Fitzgerald never brought any charges directly related to the leak of classified information that he was investigating, the Journal story concludes that there is a strong possibility that Mr. Fitzgerald should never have pressed charges.

[DISCLOSURE: Mr. Fitzgerald is a good friend of someone in my family. I know him to be a person of impeccable honesty, diligence, work ethic, and judgement. He also went to the same high school as me, but he was not my contemporary there.]

The Journal article, which is unsigned, is perhaps the most tendentiously deceptive opinion piece I have ever read in the Wall Street Journal.

I salute the desire of the author(s) to rally to the defense of a person with a distinguished record of public service, and who has the right, as all defendants do, to a presumption of innocence. But that is no excuse for penning a misleading polemic in the pages of a great national newspaper.

Here's a passage from the article that seems to make an effort to create a false impression about the indictments:

... according to the indictment, Mr. Libby did a little digging, found out who Joe Wilson's wife was, and apparently told Judith Miller of the New York Times, who never wrote it up, and Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, who put it into print after Mr. Novak's column had run. What's more, he allegedly did not talk to Tim Russert of NBC about it, although he claimed that he had. Mr. Libby then didn't tell a grand jury and the FBI the truth about what he told those reporters, the indictment claims.

If this is a conspiracy to silence Administration critics, it was more daft than deft.

Here is the text of a letter to the editors that I submitted in response to the above points:

The indictment accuses Scooter Libby of lying under oath about talking to Tim Russert about Valerie Plame. He swore that he did, and the indictment says he didn't.

Not a big deal, right? We already know that Mr. Libby talked to Matthew Cooper and Judith Miller about Valerie Plame, so why should we care if Mr. Libby mistakenly includes Mr. Russert as well? What could Patrick Fitzgerald have been thinking? This sounds like a pretty gratuitous count of perjury.

Well, it would be gratuitous if Mr. Libby had claimed he was telling Mr. Russert about Ms. Plame. But he claimed nothing of the sort.

What he did claim is that it was Mr. Russert who told him about Valerie Plame, and that he, Mr. Libby, didn't realize the truth about Ms. Plame's status until Mr. Russert revealed it to him.

If Mr. Libby did indeed perjure himself over this point, his purpose is very clear indeed: he is pretending that he didn't learn Valerie Plame's covert status through official government channels. For if he did learn about it through official channels, then revealing it could potentially be a felony violation, since Ms. Plame's status at the CIA was classified information.

I am very disappointed that the Wall Street Journal, in an attempt to cast doubt on Mr. Fitzgerald's indictments, has left out these material facts about the significance of the discrepancies in Mr. Libby's testimony about Mr. Russert. Whether this omission arose through carelessness or a desire to confuse, it does not reflect well on whoever wrote this article.

There are other dubious points and curious omissions in the Journal piece. But rather than "fisk" (that is to say, conduct a point-by-point rebuttal of) the whole article, I encourage any of my readers who are familiar with the indictments to read the article and discover for yourself what I am talking about.

As always, I encourage and appreciate comments, both pro and con, so if you feel like sharing, please don't be shy.

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

Harriet Miers Drops Out

Last night, at 8:30 pm, Harriet Miers asked President Bush to withdraw her nomination to the Supreme Court. She cited the fact that the struggle for her nomination to gain traction among the president's supporters had become a burden on the White House.

I heard this on the radio station WQXR, the station of the New York Times, a few minutes ago. The report made mention of the speech she gave in 1993 that revealed her support of legalized abortion.

I guess this means I don't support her nomination anymore!

Update, 9:45 am Here's a link to Ms. Miers' letter of withdrawal:

"Dear Mr. President"

Link courtesy of Michelle Malkin and National Review Online.

Update, 10:06 am Senator Arlen Specter, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was just shown by CNBC saying, "The way Harriet Miers has been treated is really disgraceful." Senator Specter referred to her confirmation fight as "a sad episode" in a town (Washington, D.C.) that has its share of sad episodes.

Amen to that, Senator.

Update, 11:50 am I'm participating in a good discussion of the withdrawal over at Protein Wisdom:

"Democratic leader: Right wing killed Miers' nomination"

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I Support the Miers Nomination

President Bush nominated Harriet Miers to be Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court a few weeks ago.

On October 6th, I put up a post in response to Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal. Since then, I haven't blogged about it, but I have left several comments on various blogs that have been supportive of Ms. Miers nomination.

"The truth laid bear" website launched a blog poll the other day which has been tallying up a couple of hundred bloggers' positions on the Miers nomination: pro, con, or neutral. I had been technically neutral, but leaning heavily towards pro. But now I have decided to cast my vote: I support the Miers nomination.

I don't have time to explain my decision fully right now, so I will have to post an update. But in brief, I feel that Ms. Miers is currently undergoing a kind of pundit/blog lynching that cannot be reasonably justified. I'm still not a hundred percent comfortable with Ms. Miers (more on that later), but I have finally seen enough to convince me that she deserves my support and the support of most people who would generally align themselves with President Bush politically.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Good News from Iraq

Draft Constitution Adopted by Iraqi Voters

Report from Baghdad by Major E.

I was directed to the constitution story by Ed Morrissey of Captain's Quarters.

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Monday, October 24, 2005

President Bush, Ben Bernanke, and Alan Greenspan

President Bush just announced Alan Greenspan's replacement as chair of the Federal Reserve system. The President read a brief announcement from the Oval Office, with Mr. Greenspan and Mr. Bernanke standing by his side. Then Mr. Bernanke made some brief comments of his own.

Mr. Bernanke made a point of emphasizing that he would maintain continuity in policy and continuity in policy strategy with the policy and strategy of Mr. Greenspan. The only known difference in Mr. Bernanke's views on monetary policy from Mr. Greenspan's views is that he believes there should be an openly announced targeted inflation rate set by the Fed.

CNBC commentators and everybody else seem very pleased by the president's choice of Mr. Bernanke. He has impeccable credentials, a long record of distinguishied economic analysis, and highly relevant experience in the public sector and academia.

Well done, President Bush!

UPDATE, October 25th Here's a dissenting view on Mr. Bernanke:

The Scary Side of Ben Bernanke, by John Tammy

I was directed to Mr. Tammy's piece by Mumon, of Notes in Samsarra.

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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Peggy Noonan Dumps on President Bush for Picking Harriet Miers

Peggy Noonan is a very smart and very sensible columnist for the Wall Street Journal. Today she has written a piece which explains why President Bush made a big mistake in picking Harriet Miers as his nominee for Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Here's a link for Ms. Noonan's article: "The Miers Misstep, What was President Bush thinking?"

I e-mailed a reply to the article to the editors of the online Wall Street Journal editorial page, which is called OpinionJournal. The editors may choose to include my remarks in the response section when they post reader reactions later today.

Here is what I wrote:

President Bush nominated Harriet Miers to be Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court for two reasons.

First, Ms. Miers is eminently qualified.

She has a long and distinguished record of service in both the public and private sector. She was the president of a major law firm in Dallas. She has served as counsel to Bush, first when he was governor-elect of Texas, and then during his presidency.

The second reason President Bush has picked Ms. Miers is the fact that she is a staunch legal conservative who comes personally recommended by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid!

President Bush knows Ms. Miers better than almost anyone, and he is convinced that Ms. Miers is a constitutional constructionist. Apparently Senator Reid didn't realize that before recommending her. Conservatives should be rejoicing instead of complaining about alleged missteps on the part of the president.

In short, choosing Harriet Miers was a no-brainer.

The only real apparent objection is that Ms. Miers is a "crony" of President Bush. I'm sure the Senate Democrats will be sorely tempted to pick up this line of attack when they realize how badly President Bush has hoodwinked them.

Unfortunately for Senator Reid and company, a true crony has to be either incompetent or corrupt, and Ms. Miers is neither. Ms. Miers will be confirmed, and the Democrats will just have to grin and bear it.

I've cut and pasted the text of Ms. Noonan's article for when the link above goes bad. Here it is:

The Miers Misstep
What was President Bush thinking?
by Peggy Noonan

Thursday, October 6, 2005 12:01 a.m. EDT

It all depends on the hearings.

Barring a withdrawal of her nomination, it's going to come down to Harriet Meirs's ability to argue her own case before the Senate Judiciary Committee. If the American people decide she seems like a good person--sympathetic, wise, even-keeled, knowledgeable--she'll be in; and if not, not.

What everyone forgets about the case of Robert Bork in his confirmation hearings is that regular people watched him, listened to the workings of his fabulous and exotic mind, saw the intensity, the hunger for intellectual engagement, caught the whiff of brandy and cigars and angels dancing, noticed the unusual hair, the ambivalent whiskers, and thought, "Who's this weirdo?" They did the same thing with Arthur Liman in the Oliver North hearings. I am not saying Americans are swept by the superficial. I am saying Americans pick things up, and once they've picked them up, they don't easily put them down. Anyway, public opinion moves and then senators vote "no," or not.

So the administration can turn this around. Or rather Ms. Meirs can. In her favor: America has never met her, she'll get to make a first impression. Working against her: But they'll already be skeptical. By the time of the hearings she'll have been painted as Church Lady. There's a great old American tradition of not really liking Church Lady.

That having been said, the Meirs pick was another administration misstep. The president misread the field, the players, their mood and attitude. He called the play, they looked up from the huddle and balked. And debated. And dissed. Momentum was lost. The quarterback looked foolish.

The president would have been politically better served by what Pat Buchanan called a bench-clearing brawl. A fractious and sparring base would have come together arm in arm to fight for something all believe in: the beginning of the end of command-and-control liberalism on the U.S. Supreme Court. Senate Democrats, forced to confront a serious and principled conservative of known stature, would have damaged themselves in the fight. If in the end President Bush lost, he'd lose while advancing a cause that is right and doing serious damage to the other side. Then he could come back to win with the next nominee. And if he won he'd have won, rousing his base and reminding them why they're Republicans.

He didn't do that. Why didn't he? Old standard answer: In time of war he didn't want to pick a fight with Congress that he didn't have to pick. Obvious reply: So in time of war he picks a fight with his base? Also: The Supreme Court isn't the kind of fight you "don't have to pick." History picks it for you. You fight.

The headline lately is that conservatives are stiffing the president. They're in uproar over Ms. Meirs, in rebellion over spending, critical over cronyism. But the real story continues to be that the president feels so free to stiff conservatives. The White House is not full of stupid people. They knew conservatives would be disappointed that the president chose his lawyer for the high court. They knew conservatives would eventually awaken over spending. They knew someone would tag them on putting friends in high places. They knew conservatives would not like the big-government impulses revealed in the response to Hurricane Katrina. The headline is not that this White House endlessly bows to the right but that it is not at all afraid of the right. Why? This strikes me as the most interesting question.

Here are some maybes. Maybe the president has simply concluded he has no more elections to face and no longer needs his own troops to wage the ground war and contribute money. Maybe with no more elections to face he's indulging a desire to show them who's boss. Maybe he has concluded he has a deep and unwavering strain of support within the party that, come what may, will stick with him no matter what. Maybe he isn't all that conservative a fellow, or at least all that conservative in the old, usual ways, and has been waiting for someone to notice. Maybe he has decided the era of hoping for small government is over. Maybe he is a big-government Republican who has a shrewder and more deeply informed sense of the right than his father did, but who ultimately sees the right not as a thing he is of but a thing he must appease, defy, please or manipulate. Maybe after five years he is fully revealing himself. Maybe he is unveiling a new path that he has not fully articulated--he'll call the shots from his gut and leave the commentary to the eggheads. Maybe he's totally blowing it with his base, and in so doing endangering the present meaning and future prospects of his party.

Whatever the answer, history is being revealed here by the administration every day, and it's big history, not small.

Back to Ms. Meirs herself, and the merits of her nomination. What would she be like on the bench? I know the answer. So do you. It's: Nobody knows. It's all a mystery. In considering who will fill one of the most consequential power positions in the country we are all reduced to, "I like this, I don't like that."

I like it that she's run a legal practice: that she real-world experience, a knowledge of the flow of money in America, of how it's made and spent. I don't like it that she's never written an interesting thing about a great issue. I like it that she taught Sunday school. I like it that she's not Ivy League. I don't like it that she's obscure. I like it that she works so hard. But I don't like it if she's a drone. I like it that she's a woman. It doesn't matter much that she's a woman. Etc.

I don't think it's important to show loyalty to the president by backing his decision. This choice will live beyond his presidency. It's important to get a justice who will add to the wisdom of the court, who will make it more likely that America will get a fair hearing before the bench.

Would she? I don't know, you don't know, the president who appointed her doesn't know. Presidents are always being surprised by what losers they put on the bench.

I wonder in fact if Harriet Meirs knows what Harriet Meirs will be like on the court. I am referring to more than the fact that if confirmed she will be presented with particular cases with particular facts that spring from a particular context and are governed, or not, by particular precedents. And I'm referring to more than the fact that people change, in spite of the president's odd insistence that she won't. People do, for good and ill. Sometimes they just become more so. But few are static.

No one can know how the experience of the court will affect someone--the detachment from life as lived by the proles, the respect you become used to, the Harvard Law Review clerks from famous families who are only too happy to pick up your dry cleaning and listen to the third recounting of your boring anecdote. Everyone wants you at dinner. You notice that you actually look quite good in black.

And you become used to the idea that unlike everyone else in the country, you have job security. A lifetime appointment. When people have complete professional security they are more likely in time to show a new conceit. I don't know why this is, but I think it's connected to the fact that they're lucky, and it seems somehow hardwired in human nature that when people are lucky they come to think they deserve it: It's not luck, it's virtue. And since it's virtue my decisions are by their nature virtuous. I think I'll decree that local government, if it judges it necessary, can throw grandma out of the house and turn her tired little neighborhood into a box store that will yield higher tax revenues. Thus Kelo v. New London is born. I decree it.

But I'm thinking of something different. I've noticed that we live in an age in which judges and legal minds seem to hide their own judicial philosophy from themselves. And that might explain why a Harriet Meirs has reached the age of 60 and no one seems to know what she thinks.

Having a philosophy is all too big and too dangerous--paper trails, insights inadequately phrased that come back to haunt. Lawyers with ambition seem to have become adept at hiding their essential intellectual nature from themselves. They break the law down into tiny chewable pieces and endlessly masticate them. They break it down into small manageable bits, avoiding the larger abstractions. It's one of the reasons they're so boring.

In a highly politicized climate it's not really convenient for lawyers to know their deepest beliefs and convictions. Robert Bork, serious thinker and mature concluder, became bork, living verb. Or rather living past-tense verb.

Only reluctantly and only with time do lawyers now develop a philosophy. They get on the court, and reveal it to us day by day. And reveal it, one senses, to themselves.

And so the historical irony: Supreme Court justices are more powerful than ever while who and what they are is more mysterious than ever. We have a two part problem. The first is that no one knows what they think until they're there. The other is that they're there forever.

I find myself lately not passionately supporting or opposing any particular nominee. But I'd give a great deal to see Supreme Court justices term-limited. They should be picked not for life but for a specific term of specific length, and then be released back into the community. This would involve amending the Constitution. Why not? We'd amend it to ban flag-burning, even though a fool burning a flag can't possibly harm our country. But a Kelo decision and a court unrebuked for it can really tear the fabric of a nation.

Ms. Noonan is a contributing editor of The Wall Street Journal and author of "John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father," forthcoming in November from Penguin.

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Sunday, October 02, 2005

Lt. Gen. David Petraeus Gives Iraq Briefing at Princeton

The Tigerhawk blog reports on a speech given yesterday at Princeton by Lieutenant General David Petraeus, who until recently was a senior commander of the U.S. coalition forces in Iraq. Among other duties, he has been in charge of the NATO mission for training Iraq security forces.

You can read Tigerhawk's firsthand account of the speech here:

Lt. Gen. David Petraeus speaks at Princeton

If you browse the latest posts at Tigerhawk, you can also read his account of a speech delivered two days ago at Princeton by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

I was directed to Tigerhawk's account of the Petraeus speech by Instapundit.

Here are a few excerpts from Tigerhawk's report:

There are 115 Iraqi battalions in combat right now, and every single one of them has a ten man American training team. The American training team teaches the Iraqi officers how to lead and helps coordinate Coalition assistance in logistical matters and combat support. “A huge effort paying enormous dividends.”

So, what's the "bottom line up front?" Iraqi soldiers and special police are “very much in the fight,” as evidenced, “sadly,” by the casualties they have taken in combat, which are at least twice the American.

The most impressive thing about the Iraqi units is how tenacious they have become, notwithstanding early reports that they would cut and run. According to General Patraeus, since the January elections, from which the Iraqi security forces “took an enormous lift that still persists,” the Iraqi forces "have not run from a fight, they have not backed down." This strikes me, by the way, as enormously hopeful for the future of Iraq, the persistence of the counterinsurgency, and the power of democracy to motivate the fight against the war on terror. [Emphasis in original]

[ ... ]

Under NATO's auspices, the Iraqi military academy is open with entirely Iraqi instructors. It might have been opened much earlier with foreign instructors, but the Coalition felt that it was important to make it an Iraqi endeavor. General Patraeus noted later that he was very unhappy that this achievement got essentially no coverage in the media given its importance to success in Iraq.

[ ... ]

General Patraeus' discussion of metrics was very interesting, but I was only able to capture some of it. He did, however, explain the "readiness levels" that have so bedeviled the discussion of Iraqi preparedness.

There are 105,000 “trained and equipped” Iraqi forces through basic training and in the field under the Ministry of Interior Forces, which covers police, police commandos, highway patrol, dignitary protection, etc. These units are not “fully independent,” but they are getting there.

Ministry of Defense Forces Trained and Equipped 89,000, including the Iraqi Army, Special Operations, Air Force, Navy, and Combat Support.

“These are not people who have just walked across the stage. They are out there and in combat. For example, this number is about 12,000 fewer than the number of police trained, because some of them don’t make it.”

Soldiers are graduating every day. By the October 15 referendum on the constitution (which Patraeus predicted will pass), trained and equipped military and special police will total 200,000, and 300,000 by next summer.

The progress since the summer of 2004, when General Patraeus assumed command, has been considerable. Fifteen months ago, only six battalions of Iraqi army (less than 2,000 men) were in training, and none were "in the fight." Now, 14 battalions are in training, and 74 are operational and in the fight.

A year ago, there were no special police units. Now there are 27 battalions in the fight, and five more serving as border patrol and emergency response. These are all top-down units, none that have failed “like the homegrown Fallujah brigade.”

These units are all classified according to "readiness reports" that are very similar to those used for the American army.

[ ... ]

The other interesting question [from the audience] involved the "public relations" war. "Are we losing the PR war to the enemy? What are you doing on the marketing PR front?"

General Patraeus said that they have given the media an enormous amount of information, including countless important metrics for measuring progress, but that it is largely ignored. He observed that the enemy “On many days it is impossible to break through the steady drumbeat of sensational attacks occurring in Baghdad throughout the country. The opening of the new military academy got no coverage at all, even though it was a big event with the whole Iraqi government in attendance."

Patraeus is obviously extremely unhappy with the monomaniacal press coverage.

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