Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Illiterate Men in Suits: Scooter Libby Edition

A lot of people are buzzing, at least on the internets, about the Bob Woodward bombshell that dropped in the Washington Post -- he was told about Valerie Plame's identity and position around the same time as indicted perjurer Scooter Libby by people in the administration. He's playing the same game as the reporters who eventually cracked: I won't reveal my sources, but here's how many heads you should be chasing. (In his case three, one of whom was Libby, according to his tell-all article.) Libby's lawyer has since used Woodward's article to try to get his client off the hook, which is an honorable thing to do since it's his job but leaves him in the unenviable position of Illiterate Man in Suit #2 on our list. (David Brooks was number one with a bullet, lo those many days ago.) He argued that Woodward's piece proves Libby was not the first person to reveal Plame's identity, contrary to what Fitzgerald said in his press conference, and that therefore Fitzgerald indicted Libby without having all the evidence. It sounds good until you realize it's totally false. Keith Olbermann has the details.
[Defense attorney Ted] Wells issued a statement at midday, the key passage of which concludes that Woodward’s "disclosure shows that Mr. Fitzgerald’s statement at his press conference of October 28, 2005 that Mr. Libby was the first government official to tell a reporter about Mr. Wilson’s wife was totally inaccurate."

But Fitzgerald never said that. The transcript of Fitzgerald’s news conference is not disputed — nobody from his office has called up trying to get it altered after the fact. On October 28, Fitzgerald actually said: "Mr. Libby was the first government official known to have told a reporter" about Ambassador Joe Wilson’s wife. "The first government official known to have
told…" is a huge difference from "The first government official to tell…"

Even if the idea that somebody else in the administration might’ve beaten Libby to the leaking punch is relevant to a trial on five counts of lying, the cornerstone of the Wells statement is erroneous — at best, a serious misinterpretation. Fitzgerald was clearly and meticulously leaving his case open in case an earlier leaker later turned up — as evidently he just did.

This is no one-word parsing nonsense. Not only does that meaning of "known" change entirely the meaning of Fitzgerald's statement, but its related root words (know, knowing, knowingly etc) have been the keys to whether or not anybody was indicted for revealing Plame's covert status at the CIA.

The problem, of course, is that such subtlety can shoot right past those who either want to miss it, or are in too much of a hurry to check the transcript.

It all sounds very inside and what-do-I-care, but the bottom line is that Libby isn't off the hook at all. Don't believe it if you hear it. In a court of law, flashy lawyers may make the big bucks but judges are paid to understand these nuances, and most of them aren't stupid.


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