The media are now keenly aware that it is not just Scooter Libby on trial; he is also the proxy for a Vice President whose credibility and reputation, already damaged, are being destroyed by one revelation after another. Last night, the major networks/cable channels covered this as a lead story, and PBS' News Hour devoted a large segment to it.
With ironic justice Chris Matthews devoted an entire hour to discussing the Libby trial and its implications for Vice President Cheney. After all, it was Matthews' July 2003 Hardball segment questioning Mr. Cheney's role in the Bush Administration’s WMD deception that provoked an angry phone call from the VP's Chief of Staff to NBC’s Tim Russert. Cheney was angry at any suggestion that he may have known about Joe Wilson's Africa trip, and it was Scooter’s job to express the Vice President's displeasure to Russert and NBC. But it was this phone call that may now determine whether Libby goes free or to jail, and if the latter, whether we head down a path that could lead inexorably to Dick Cheney’s resignation. We are almost there, but not quite.
In Tuesday's op-ed, NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof challenged Dick Cheney to "Tear Down This Wall" (Times Select), laying out a set of questions involving Cheney’s involvement in the Plame outing that now demand answers from the Vice President. The questions and the emerging facts behind them are damning:
Mr. Vice President, did you push Mr. Libby to dig into Joe Wilson’s background and discredit him?
What did you mean when you wrote, in a note to Scott McClellan that has been entered into evidence, "not going to protect one staffer PLUS sacrifice the guy
the Pres.that was asked to stick his head in the meat grinder because of incompetence of others."
When you discussed Joe Wilson with Mr. Libby on Air Force Two on July 12, 2003, what instructions did you give him?
Mr. Cheney, on that plane, did you specifically tell Mr. Libby to leak to reporters the fact that Mr. Wilson's wife worked at the C.I.A.?
During the leak investigation, were you aware that Mr. Libby was telling the F.B.I. apparently false information? You rode to work with him nearly every day in your limousine, and the issue never came up? Or did you ask Mr. Libby to protect you because you didn’t want it known that in fact you were the one who had told him about Ms. Wilson? Was there some other information you wanted kept secret?
Were you trying to cover up your own reliance on misinformation about Iraqi W.M.D. by blaming the C.I.A. and anybody else within range, like Mr. Wilson?
So when are you going to come clean?
Of course, we have only heard half the trial. The jury, not we, will determine whether Fitzgerald has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Scooter Libby is guilty of the crimes with which he is charged. But I am certain of one thing: we already know that Dick Cheney and his WH helpers are responsible for a serious breach of national security, and it is only a matter of time before the media begins to couple reporting of the "smoking guns" revealed in the Libby trial with the obvious and damning evidence that has been staring them in the face the whole time.
After three years of investigations, two weeks of testimony, dozens of exhibits, hours of Grand Jury testimony and innumerable news articles fed and spun by the White House, Karl Rove’s attorneys and the President's and Vice President's press agents, we now have mountains of evidence that Dick Cheney and his White House allies worked as hard as they could to discredit Joe Wilson for suggesting that the Administration had knowingly misled the country into war. But that is not the most damning evidence.
Like the case of the dog that didn't bark, there has always been an important piece of evidence that went directly to the Vice President's integrity and fitness for office. Dick Cheney didn't care about the dedicated intelligence people who help protect our national security. In fact, he had these loyal Americans confused with the enemy.
The evidence is compelling that the OVP learned early on about Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA official involved with the most sensitve issues of WMD proliferation, but they then did nothing to protect her. Upon realizing her position it was their sworn duty to shield her from disclosure, but instead the Vice President and other members of the Bush Administration, including the National Security Adviser, repeatedly invited reporters to uncover her role in collecting national security intelligence. Whatever their specific intents regarding the nation's criminal statutes, it is irrefutable that they wanted her role in Wilson's efforts to collect intelligence exposed to public view. It is irrefutable that in the process of discrediting Joe Wilson, they outed Valerie, ending her career and exposing and shutting down her cover operation. Whether or not Libby lied, the Vice President and every member of the Administration who played any role in the effort to discredit Wilson and haul Valerie Plame into the public eye are responsible for that result.
It is also seems virtually certain that her public outing disrupted and adversely affected her Counter-Proliferation Division's classified and highly sensitive efforts to acquire critical intelligence on the status of WMD development in Iraq and Iran. It is hard to imagine any intelligence issues more sensitive and vital to US security. Whether through carelessness, recklessness or design, that intelligence capability was harmed, not only by Plame’s outing but perhaps more so by the intimidating message her outing sent to every other person working in the US intelligence community.
We have had to listen repeatedly to the most dubious and pernicious claims by this Administration that mere debate about the President's failed war policies is "helping the enemy." But can there be any doubt that serious harm was done to the national security of the United States through the reckless outing of a CIA agent? At a time when the quality and credibility of foreign intelligence are vital to US security, can there be any doubt that the resulting intimidation of every US intelligence official who might dare speak the truth to this Administration has and continues to cause serious harm to our national security? Is there any doubt that those who are asked to risk their lives to gather intelligence for the US will think twice about reporting information that they know might undermine some fantasy of the people who occupy the White House? Every member of the intelligence community knows that this Administration has not held a single person accountable for the damage they have done.
Throughout this sordid history, the Vice President has remained defiant, arrogant, and seemingly unconcerned about the mess he’s made of US security interests, never mind the plight of a CIA agent and her operations. Like Karl Rove, who once told Chris Matthews that a CIA agent was "fair game," the Vice President still holds security clearances and openly bragged of his authority to declassify the nation’s secrets (and its agents?) at will. But except for Fitzgerald's indictment of Libby, none of the senior WH officials who urged the media to seek out and expose Valerie Plame has been removed from positions that affect vital national security interests. No sane government would tolerate such an indifference to its own security.
Even if we ignore all the accumulated evidence of calculated intent, and simply take the best excuse the Administration has offered — that Valerie Plame's outing was an inadvertent consequence of an Administration's clumsy attempt to get the truth out — we must face this fact: As the chief architect of the nation’s security plans, Dick Cheney should have been the first to bark when Valerie was outed and her team compromised. But there was nothing but silence. Why? How can we possibly trust this man, and those who helped him in his scheme, with our national security?
Whether Scooter Libby is convicted or acquitted, the Vice President and those who helped carry out his vindictive and reckless scheme remain proven security risks. It is time to hold Dick Cheney and everyone who pointed a finger in the direction of Valerie Plame to cover up their duplicity accountable for the damage they have done to this country.
I’m not accusing you of committing a crime. But there are serious questions here, and you owe the nation not legalisms, but that "stiff dose of truth." If you continue to stonewall, then you don’t belong in office and you should resign.