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The Fall Guy

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’It was said a number of times, what are we doing with this guy here?” Denis Collins recalled his fellow jurors asking, as he spoke to the press immediately following the pronouncement that Scooter Libby was guilty on four of five felony counts. “Where’s Rove? Where are these other guys?

“I’m not saying we didn’t think Mr. Libby was guilty of the things we found him guilty of,” Collins added. “It seemed like he was, as Mr. Wells put it, he was the fall guy.'’

Collins is correct: it WAS Libby’s own lead defense attorney Ted Wells who had claimed weeks ago in his opening statement that his client was being made a scapegoat to protect key White House political operative Karl Rove, so as not to endanger President Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign. It was good that the jury reminded us – and also good that they paid such attention to detail, undertook such painstaking analysis of the evidence and ultimately came to the correct conclusion. But most of all it was good that they were still asking those many unanswered questions.

But before the rest of us join in the jurors’ “tremendous amount of sympathy for Mr. Libby,” let’s remember that the sword Libby has fallen on to protect his higher-ups will likely yet prove to be a blunt one.

After the verdict was announced, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, “It’s about time someone in the Bush administration has been held accountable for the campaign to manipulate intelligence and discredit war critics.” I agree. But is that really what has just happened? I think not – although ample evidence exists of such a campaign, the Libby trial was obviously (and properly) much more narrow in its scope, as both Judge Reggie B. Walton and chief prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald rightly kept the focus on the issue before them of whether or not Libby had lied and obstructed justice.

And it’s certainly true that the Libby trial “revealed deeper truths about Vice President Cheney’s role in this sordid affair,” as Reid concluded. But the likelihood that President Bush will act on Reid’s suggestion and “pledge not to pardon Libby for his criminal conduct” is so low as to be laughable. Ted Wells says he will submit a motion for a new trial, and that if that motion is denied, he will appeal. But Libby’s Presidential pardon is due to arrive sometime in January — long before his guilty verdict will ever be overturned on appeal.

Libby, of course, is the only person ever indicted after a multi-year investigation which ultimately reached deep inside the White House. The central issue in that investigation revolved around allegations that someone within that White House illegally disclosed classified information during the late spring and early summer of 2003, when it was revealed that Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had criticized the Iraq policy, was married to an undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame.

No one was ever charged with the leak — which turned out to have emanated originally not from the White House but from the State Department in the person of Richard Armitage — but the results of the investigation nonetheless involved both the administration and the lapdog Washington press corps, and told us much about the top-level nexus of Big Politics and Big Media, “casting a harsh light on the way power and information flows in Washington,” as the Washington Post put it, “the uneasy symbiosis between an elite tier of Washington journalists and their confidential sources inside the government.”

In particular, the trial demonstrated conclusively that Scooter Libby’s boss — Vice President Cheney — was far more involved in the campaign against Joseph Wilson than had previously been apparent. The prosecution showed that the vice president dictated specific talking points he wanted Libby and others to use to against Wilson, helped select journalists to talk to, and even had the president declassify secret intelligence reports to undercut Wilson’s criticism.

“There is a cloud over what the vice president did,” Fitzgerald told jurors in his closing argument. “That’s not something we put there. That cloud is not something you can pretend is not there.”

The fact is that this is the first trial of the criminal Bush/Cheney Iraq war – and unless Scooter is taken care of, it won’t be the last. That’s why the pardon is a certainty. If the sword Libby falls on doesn’t prove to be blunt, it could well reveal a double-edge –- and there’s no telling who might then be cut, or how deep those cuts would be.
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Filmmaker and journalist Rory O'Connor writes the 'Media Is A Plural' blog, accessible at www.roryoconnor.org.
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