Guilty on four of five counts: Was Scooter Libby the key to a culture of corruption in the Bush White House, or just a victim of the perjury trap? All this week, Byron York and Jeff Lomonaco will be debating the Libby trial and the many ramifications of the leak brouhaha. Yesterday, York and Lomonaco discussed the roots of the case. In the days to come, they will take on the culture of D.C. journalism, the suspect loyalty of the Bush Administration, and Plame/Wilson superstardom.

We're lookin' at you, Dick!

Byron,

I've always been more interested in what the CIA leak investigation revealed about what happened in 2003 and even 2002 than in the specific question of who would be charged with what and what the outcome would be. One of the imperfections of relying on criminal investigation for government oversight that it focuses on the question of who gets indicted and convicted, so that objectionable conduct that is not prosecuted ends up looking more acceptable by comparison.

Be that as it may, there can be no question that the verdict in the Scooter Libby trial has consequences beyond the obvious and immediate legal ones for Libby himself. If Libby had been judged not guilty, it would obviously bring the investigation to a close under a cloud of illegitimacy, serving effectively to vindicate the conduct of the administration in responding to Joe Wilson, regardless of the fact that the investigation and the trial have revealed that no fewer than four senior administration officials—Richard Armitage, Libby, Ari Fleischer and Karl Rove—were blowing Plame's cover by leaking to reporters in June-July 2003, and as far as we know none of them suffered any consequences from the Bush administration itself.

But Libby has now been convicted on four of five counts, including the obstruction of justice charge. (It turns out that he was acquitted on Count 3, the count everyone felt was the weakest and the count the jury asked the most questions about, suggesting in the end that the jury was not confused but least confident of guilt precisely where everyone else was.)

So what are the consequences of the verdict beyond the obvious legal consequences for Libby himself? The main one, it seems to me, is that given the evidence adduced at the trial and, especially, the way Patrick Fitzgerald raised the stakes in his closing rebuttal (which can now, I believe, be read pretty much in its entirety here—a normally useless joke of a website), the cloud of suspicion that hangs over Vice President Cheney will darken. Fitzgerald suggested Cheney both directed Libby to leak Plame's CIA identity in July 2003 and countenanced Libby's expressed intention to mislead investigators in fall 2003 as to Cheney's own role. Fitzgerald obviously was not going to make the claim stronger than a suggestion, because then he would have opened himself up to the claim that Fitzgerald had not proven that beyond a reasonable doubt, and there was no reason for Fitzgerald to do so. But he also introduced a good deal of evidence, both in witness testimony and in documents, indicating not just that Cheney was deeply involved in responding to Joe Wilson (whose criticism of him apparently infuriated him) but that Cheney was well aware, throughout the relevant period, that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and considered that an important part of the pushback against Wilson. Cheney was of course also Libby's first source of the information about Plame. Fitzgerald also introduced evidence from Libby's grand jury testimony itself that Cheney was in a position to know what Libby's story to investigators would be, and was in a position to know that it was false. And yet he did nothing when Libby recounted it to him before going to talk to investigators, beyond simply taking it in.

Fitzgerald has just said that he does not expect to file any more charges and that the investigation is now inactive, barring any new information. That means that Fitzgerald has no intention of pursuing Cheney himself on any possible charges. Beyond that, however, given his constrained, literal-minded interpretation of the checks on his power (nicely illustrated in Jane Mayer's seminal New Yorker profile of Cheney's chief of staff and legal genius David Addington) and his immunity to public opinion, Cheney's own response to a Libby conviction and the cloud of suspicion over him is likely to be...nothing. So, putting aside entirely the larger questions about Cheney's follies past and present and whether he is, in Josh Marshall's intemperate if memorable phrase, "a screw-up and a moron of historic proportions" the question is: will there actually be any consequences for Vice President Cheney himself from the facts that have been revealed and the trial and conviction of his main advisor for obstructing an investigation that focused, to no small extent, on Cheney's own role in directing Libby to leak Plame's identity to reporters? The question, I presume, goes to Congress if it goes anywhere.

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.
High hopes, getting lower

Jeff,

I got the impression reading your post that you began writing in hopes that the CIA leak investigation would go on with new energy, and midway through, you read Fitzgerald's comments.

"I do not expect to file any more charges," Fitzgerald told the group of reporters outside the federal courthouse early this afternoon. (I was there, trying to unfreeze the ink in my pen.) The investigation is "inactive," Fitzgerald said, and had been for quite a while before the Libby trial began. You could sense a lot of anti-Bush hopes falling as he uttered those words.

Still, Fitzgerald said that he could not rule out further action if he received new information. The administration's critics certainly hope that the newly-convicted Libby will provide that information. While Fitzgerald would not comment on that, he seemed to express a genuine desire to get back to his "day job."

So where does it go now? If Fitzgerald is correct, beyond the appeals for Libby, the criminal investigation goes nowhere. The CIA leak investigation, which began nearly three and a half years ago, is over. The only real possibility of it going on—besides the much-anticipated Joe and Valerie Wilson movie, starring Alec Baldwin, and an actress to be named later—lies with Democrats in Congress.