Wednesday, July 04, 2007


Chaff was the name given to shreds of aluminum foil tossed out of aircraft to fool radar during WWII. Chaff is what we are seeing from the administration and its corps of apologists as they attempt to distract us from the truth.

Unfortunately, the misconceptions are not confined to White House flacks and their allies (such as David Brooks in the NYT). Sailorcurt posted a comment to my post on the commutation echoing much of the rhetoric of Libby's defenders. A friend of mine who is not a Republican and no fan of George W. Bush expressed many of the same sentiments.

Clearly, the right-wing propaganda machine has managed to get the message out beyond its acolytes. If we're not careful, the deniers will succeed in undermining the truth about what really happened in l'affaire Libby. In an effort to do our small part to make clear what really happened, let's look at some of the most common red herrings out there:

1. Libby should never have been prosecuted because no one was prosecuted for revealing Valerie Plame's identity, the leak that initiated the special prosecutor's investigation. It's pretty common for perjury cases to be brought where there is no underlying crime charged. Effective perjury, after all, may make such a prosecution impossible. In this case, it's now clear that the first person to reveal Plame's identity was Richard Armitage, and he was not charged. That's not relevant to what Libby did, however. For one thing, Cheney, Libby et als engaged in a cover-up, whether it was criminal or not. (Apparently, prosecution of the second leaker, even if he or she didn't know of the first is not possible.) Nor is it necessary for there to be an underlying crime: One can perjure himself to cover up something that is not criminal. Libby might have done just that--covering for a political offense, not a crime. It seems likely that the Cheney-orchestrated smear campaign against Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, was independent of Armitage's revelation. It is possible that Libby and his bosses were not even aware of what Armitage had done.

2. That Libby should not have been prosecuted, because Bill Clinton was not charged with a crime for his perjury. First, the fact that one person gets away with a crime does not provide an defense for someone else to avoid the consequences of his acts. More important, the quality of the acts was different. While Clinton was the President and Libby only a special assistant to a President (oh, and chief-of-staff to the VP), Clinton lied about an affair, and he did so in a civil deposition. You could count the number of perjury cases brought for lying in civil cases without taking off your shoes. Scooter's perjury, in contrast, came in front of a grand jury that was investigating possible wrongdoing by some of the highest officials in our government. Libby's lies obstructed justice. Clinton's perjury had nothing--beyond casting his credibility into deep shadow--to do with the office he held. Libby's falsehoods were made in the course of his official duties.

(Clinton may not have been prosecuted, but he was impeached--only the second President to have been so treated; some might consider that condign punishment.)

3. Libby's sentence was disproportionately severe. To begin with, that is simply untrue; the sentence was within the federal guidelines. Indeed, on June 21st the Supreme Court, in a case entitled Rita v. US, upheld a more severe sentence for perjury. Also, if Bush really thought that the sentence was too stiff, he could have reduced it--he did not have to cancel it entirely.

For six-and-a-half years, W and his administration have consistently lied to the American people. They depend on the good will of their opponents--the assumption that we will presume a certain good faith on the part of high government officials--to lend themselves credibility that they do not deserve. Let's not permit ourselves to be sold yet another bill of goods.

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