More on the White House?

Previously, York and Lomonaco discussed the roots of the case, reacted to Tuesday's guilty verdicts, discussed whether anyone else in the Bush administration blocked Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation, and tussled over who coordinated with whom.

As disappointing as Starr was to Whitewater junkiesBy Byron York
Jeff,

In May 1998 I wrote a story for the American Spectator entitled "Where Starr Stands." At the time, everyone was waiting for the Starr Report, and there were a number of conservatives who were speculating that, in addition to the Lewinsky matter, it would include damning information about Whitewater, Filegate, Travelgate, and a host of other Clinton scandals.

After a lot of reporting, I wrote that it wasn't going to happen. What we knew of as the Whitewater investigation was winding down, was essentially over, when the independent counsel's office learned about Monica Lewinsky. Whitewater, Filegate, Travelgate, billing records, Webb Hubbell -- you name it -- it was all over. There just wasn't going to be any more.

I think it's fair to say that there were a number of conservatives who just didn't want to hear what I had learned. They chose to keep hope alive, speculating about big, big things right up until the moment the Starr Report was delivered -- with nothing about all those other Clinton scandals.

I sometimes think about that time when I read the hopeful words of the Plameologists about the CIA leak affair. OK, they concede, we've had a big, long investigation, nobody was charged with an underlying crime, and we've heard a lot of evidence in the Lewis Libby trial. But there could be more -- a lot more! Dick Cheney could have said this. Libby could have said that. This might have happened. That might have happened. This investigation is far from over!

Maybe they're right. Maybe there will be some great revelations ahead as Democrats in Congress re-investigate the CIA leak investigation. But I doubt it. Still, we have learned a lot of things in the Libby trial, and as I close out this week, I want to point to just two of them.

The first is that Valerie Plame Wilson was always an important part of the story. Despite all the talk about the administration somehow smearing Joseph Wilson by revealing his wife's identity, everybody knew that you couldn't understand Wilson's trip to Niger without knowing about his wife. The first question many people asked, when Wilson began attacking the administration, was, who sent this guy to Africa? Certainly Libby wanted to know. And so did other people. Just look at what former CIA official Robert Grenier said when he told the court how he responded to Libby's inquiries about the Wilson trip.

"I believe I said something to the effect that Ambassador Wilson's wife works there, and that is where the idea [for his taking the trip to Niger] came from," Grenier testified.

"Why was it you felt that that was a piece of information that should be passed on to Mr. Libby?" asked prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg.

"To me, it was an explanation as to why we had found this Ambassador Wilson and sent him off to Africa," Grenier said. "I thought that was germane to the story."

"How was it in your mind germane to the story?"

"Because not only was she working in the Counterproliferation Division, she was working in the specific unit that had decided to sent Ambassador Wilson," Grenier answered. "There was some question of why -- and the reason of why was because his wife worked there."

Grenier was right. She was part of the story.

My second point is that we've learned some new things about what Joseph Wilson did and didn't find in Africa. We've now seen the CIA write-up of Wilson's oral report on his trip, and what we learned was that reasonable people could read the report in completely different ways.

One way, the way Wilson chose, was to emphasize that Iraq had not bought any uranium in Niger. The other way, the way the vice president's office chose (once it finally found out about the report), was to emphasize Wilson's finding that, just two and a half years before he arrived in Niger, Iraq had apparently made inquiries about buying uranium in Niger.

In his attacks on the administration, Wilson claimed that his findings were definitive. That just wasn't accurate.

So the bottom line is, the administration had a good case against Joseph Wilson, and it included his wife. They had a right to push back against a guy who was kicking them in the shins in the pages of the New York Times and on "Meet the Press." And a zealous prosecutor investigated them for three years and, with the exception of Libby, never charged anybody with anything.

But there's always hope.

Byron York is White House correspondent for National Review. His coverage of the Libby trial can be read at nationalreview.com.


Stop deflecting, start investigating By Jeff Lomonaco
Byron,

I've been frankly disappointed by our exchange this week, as it seems to me you're more interested in deflecting attention from the administration's conduct than in genuine intellectual exchange on the Scooter Libby case.

You have an opportunity to remind your fellow conservatives of basic facts of the case that they are in as deep denial and self-deception about as you say they were about Ken Starr's investigation, yet instead you decide to go after the Wilsons once again. Too bad. I certainly agree that the administration had every right to push back against a critic like Wilson. And it is progress to see conservatives acknowledging that for the Office of the Vice President, Wilson's wife was an important part of the story. (But you misuse Robert Grenier's testimony to try to show that Plame was a legitimate part of the story; Grenier immediately felt guilty for revealing a CIA officer's identity when he didn't have to.) This was, of course, one of the many things Libby lied under oath about in front of the grand jury, and it formed one of the backbones of the defense rejected by the jury.

Congressional hearings certainly would not be the most important ones—as you pointed out in your inimitable way the other day, hearings on Iraq would be much more important—nor would they likely hold dramatic new revelations on a grand scale. We know the basic shape of things now: At least four administration officials blew Plame's cover in June and July of 2003 as part of pushing back against Wilson.

Yet oddly, on some things you seem to hold two contradictory positions.

On the one hand, you say, we know what there is to know. Yet you seem to deny what I think is clear: Vice President Cheney directed Libby to disclose Plame's CIA identity to one or more reporters. Or you don't exactly deny it—you mock it or evade it. Do we know that or don't we?

There are other things we don't know. For instance, it would be worth knowing, in light of President Bush's pledge to fire anyone involved in leaking about Plame, when he learned that Rove was involved, and what made him decide to break his pledge. Or is the answer so obvious that we don't need hearings?

Convicted of obstructing an investigation into himself and Dick Cheney, Libby obviously now faces an uncertain and unpleasant future. I don't have a firm view on whether President Bush will forgive him with a pardon any time soon—depriving Libby of the opportunity for vindication—or later or at all.

Well, there's an old saying, you can learn from anyone. It's been instructive, Byron.

Best,

Jeff

Jeff Lomonaco is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Minnesota, where he specializes in political theory. He has been doing analysis of the Libby trial for The American Prospect Online.

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