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Plume of Smoke

12

In all the fervor to catch, create, or at the very least imply Bush administration transgressions, let’s not lose sight of the role of the special prosecutor.

Rampant leaks notwithstanding, no one but Patrick Fitzgerald knows all of the criminal evidence the special prosecutor is considering against senior White House officials. Our hope is that he also understands that the job of a prosecutor is not to settle what at bottom is a political and policy fight over the war in Iraq.

It’s easy to have the issues become cloudy and skewed with all the media frenzy and scent of Republican administration blood in the air.

Let’s stipulate that the law is the law, and if Bush Administration officials lied to a grand jury in the clear and obvious way that Bill Clinton did, they should be prosecuted. If Mr. Fitzgerald has evidence of a malicious attempt to expose a CIA undercover agent, as defined by the relevant statute, the same applies. But the fact that the prosecutor has waited as long as he has–until the last days of his grand jury–suggests that he considers this a less than obvious case. A close call deserves to be a no call.

Why the wait until the closing minutes of what has turned out to be quite an interesting game?

All the more so because this entire probe began and has continued as a kind of proxy for the larger political war about the Iraq War. In July 2003, Joseph Wilson used his insider status as a former CIA consultant to accuse the Bush Administration of lying about Iraq WMD as an excuse to go to war. A political furor erupted, and Mr. Wilson became an antiwar celebrity who joined the Kerry for President campaign.

Amid an election campaign and a war, Bush Administration officials understandably fought back. One way they did so was to tell reporters that Mr. Wilson’s wife, CIA analyst Valerie Plame, had been instrumental in getting him the CIA consulting job. This was true–though Mr. Wilson denied it at the time–as a bipartisan report by the Senate Intelligence Committee documented in 2004.

As it does many times each year following a press report with classified information, the CIA routinely referred this “leak” about Ms. Plame’s status to the Justice Department for investigation. Only after someone (probably at the CIA) leaked news of this referral to the media in September 2003 was there another political uproar and calls for a “special prosecutor.” Three months later, the panicky Bush Administration relented, and Mr. Fitzgerald was appointed.

At this juncture, it helps tremendously to go back to the beginning, retrace how we arrived at where we’re at today, and do a reality check for the sake of all those concerned.

Fitzgerald is reportedly going back to the 1917 Espionage Act, an obscure and rarely enforced law, in order to find something, anything, prosecutable.

Not saying where there’s smoke there isn’t fire, but how far should one go and how do we know that the smoke isn’t being misdirected by the fire investigators?

For a balanced evaluation of the situation, read the rest of the article.