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.