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John Amato makes a very good catch over at Crooks & Liars today of Bill Kristol bashing Patrick Fitzgerald on Fox News (you can watch the tape here):

Kristol: The leak story is absurd, but I now think the whole prosecution is absurd. I now think it’s a politically motivated attempt to wound the Bush administration …He is now out to discredit the Bush administration.

This is new.  We haven’t seen much of this before — most of Barbara Comstock’s extensive opposition research on Fitzgerald has been placed in small, under-the-radar places (and yes it does exist, I just don’t link to it for obvious reasons).  Many people have assumed that BushCo. hasn’t gone into smear mode because of their previous praise of Fitzgerald, to which I say balderdash.  They’d frame Mother Theresa for pedophelia if it suited their purposes.  It’s what they know how to do.

I’ve been convinced all along that they haven’t taken this tack because Fitzgerald has Rove dangling like a spider over a Jonathan Edwards-style flame, a "sinner in the hands of an angry God."  He knew Fitzgerald had the power to end his political career at any minute by indicting him and since Rove himself is the king smear merchant, he didn’t want to piss him off.  

All of this must have been endlessly exasperating for Scooter.  Not only did the White House refuse to release his carefully self-penned exoneration from the Plame matter, they have steadfastly resisted unloading the full power of their artillery on Fitzgerald himself.  

But that restraint apparently ended this week as President Prickly Ego felt himself directly under attack. Kristol sent up a trial balloon today.  It’s a very risky strategy, considering that they don’t know what Fitzgerald has, and he’s proven himself quite capable of sending them into a political tailspin by lobbing a public grenade.  No amount of inoculation on Kristol’s part is going to be able to soften the landing if further evidence of BushCo. culpability in the Plame affair is revealed.

With an excess of concern I would refer them to this article in The Economist:

Saint Patrick

Oct 27th 2005
From The Economist print edition

Republicans should think twice before trying to demonise the White House’s tormentor

Before they start shouting any louder, conservatives might study what happened to the liberal noise machine when it took on Mr Fitzgerald. Few organs on America’s tattered left have as much heft as the New York Times, which decided to put the full weight of its authority behind one of its star reporters, Judith Miller, when she refused to divulge her sources to Mr Fitzgerald. Editorials hammered him for mounting a “major assault” on journalistic freedom. Both the editor, Bill Keller, and the publisher, Arthur (“Pinch”) Sulzberger, accompanied Ms Miller to court; and, when she was incarcerated, the newspaper thundered that she was “surrendering her liberty in defence of a greater liberty, granted to a free press by the Founding Fathers so journalists can work on behalf of the public without fear of regulation or retaliation from any branch of government.”

The affair has ended with the Times looking as if “the runaway Chicago prosecutor” has reversed over it repeatedly. Not only did Ms Miller end up testifying about her breakfasts with Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, but the Times‘s use of its “great liberty” is under attack from all sides. Mr Keller has now circulated a memo accusing Ms Miller of “misleading” her boss about her relationship with her sources and of being “entangled” with Mr Libby. (Ms Miller calls this memo “ugly” and “inaccurate”.) Byron Calame, the paper’s public editor, has penned an article entitled “The Miller mess”. In a notably catty column, Maureen Dowd described her colleague as a “woman of mass destruction”—a mild rebuke compared with what Times people say in private.

This should serve as a powerful warning to the Republicans. After all, the Times could claim it was defending a grand constitutional principle. The White House has fewer options. (The right to leak confidential information to the press? The right to smear a critic of your policies? The right to tell half-truths to a grand jury?)

(snip)

Mr Fitzgerald embodies everything that conservatives ought to admire. He is the son of Irish immigrants who worked his way through Amherst and Harvard Law School (his doorman father found him work as a doorman). He is a workaholic who made his reputation prosecuting gangsters and terrorists, starting with the Gambinos. (In good Godfather fashion, he even had a witness flown in from Sicily.) He convicted Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman of the 1993 World Trade Centre bombings, travelled to Africa to investigate the embassy bombings of 1998 and brought the first American indictment of Osama bin Laden.

The third handicap for Republicans is that their arguments during the Lewinsky affair may be thrown back in their faces. How can they moan that Mr Fitzgerald has broadened his inquiry well beyond the original leak, when they supported Mr Starr’s leap from dodgy land deals to oral sex? How can they say that perjury and obstruction of justice are technicalities when, during the Lewinsky affair, they declared that “perjury and obstruction of justice are high crimes and misdemeanours” (Senator Bill Frist) and that “perjury and obstruction of justice are crimes against the state” (Senator Sam Brownback)?

One of the golden rules of politics is to choose your enemies wisely. So far, Mr Bush has been lucky or skilful in this regard. Mr Fitzgerald is somebody who can do Mr Bush great harm; but conservatives attack him at their peril.

Now take away the absurd notion that the New York Times is in any way "the liberal noise machine" and the points still stand.  This is a PR dog.

And just as a matter of general principle — I wouldn’t overplay a weak hand by pissing this guy off.  Very bad idea.