But the reality which is relevant again amid the probe into the outing of a CIA officer is that a principal official is almost always lurking somewhere in the background of the original crime, sending signals or pulling strings with the expectation that, if caught, a subordinate will take the fall.
So now, much like the historical arguments over whether the Watergate break-in was approved by Richard Nixon or which Iran-Contra dealings were green-lighted by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, the new question is whether Dick Cheney and George W. Bush winked at their top aides leaking the identity of Valerie Plame as retaliation for her husband exposing a deception used to take America to war in Iraq.
The Plame-gate probe has focused on Vice President Cheneys chief of staff I. Lewis Libby and President Bushs deputy chief of staff Karl Rove. Based on whats now publicly known, it appears that Libby and Rove at minimum misled investigators about how they learned of Plames identity and how they disseminated that information.
If so, based on history, one of two outcomes would seem likely: either a constitutional crisis would result, with at least one of the top two U.S. executive officers implicated in a felony conspiracy, or a conveniently truncated investigation would follow, not getting much higher than Libby and Rove.
The past two major Republican scandals Watergate and Iran-Contra represent those two alternatives, the first leading to Nixons resignation and the second to the protection of Reagan and George Bush Sr. Conceivably, Plame-gate could end in some middle ground if, say, Cheney were forced to resign but not George Bush Jr.
Already, the emerging evidence has linked Cheney to the leak case. The New York Times reported that more than a month before Plame was outed in a July 14, 2003, column by Robert Novak, the vice president was told about Plames identity by then-CIA Director George Tenet.
At the time, Cheney was angry that Plames husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, was challenging a chief rationale for the invasion of Iraq.
Wilson was telling reporters that he had been sent by the CIA to check out reports of Iraq trying to buy enriched uranium from Niger and had concluded that the claims were false. But the White House had used the Niger allegations anyway in making its terrifying case that Iraqs Saddam Hussein was on course to build a nuclear bomb.
Tenet divulged to the irascible Cheney that Wilsons wife worked for the CIA and had a hand in arranging Wilsons fact-finding trip to Niger information that Cheney then passed on to Libby in a conversation on June 12, 2003, according to Libbys notes as described by lawyers in the case, the New York Times reported.
The notes do not show that Mr. Cheney knew the name of Mr. Wilson's wife, the Times wrote. But they do show that Mr. Cheney did know and told Mr. Libby that Ms. Wilson was employed by the Central Intelligence Agency and that she may have helped arrange her husbands trip. [NYT, Oct. 25, 2005]
For instance, on June 23, 2003 11 days after the Cheney-Libby conversation Libby briefed New York Times reporter Judith Miller about Wilson and may then have passed on the tip that Wilsons wife worked at the CIA. Libby added more details in a second meeting with Miller on July 8, 2003, when he told Miller that Wilsons wife worked at a CIA unit responsible for weapons intelligence and non-proliferation, the Times reported.
It was in the context in those July 8 notes where Miller wrote down the words Valerie Flame, an apparent misspelling of Mrs. Wilsons maiden name, although Miller said she couldnt recall who gave her that name.