When I arrived at the coffee shop last week, Al was rattling around the pantry and muttering to himself. “They ought to throw him in jail,” he said to no one in particular.
“Who?” I asked. “Did Cheney finally hole up in a duck-blind with his shotgun, yelling, ‘Come and get me, copper!’? Or did Carl Rove finger John Bolton as British agent 008, licensed to kill?”
But Al wasn’t laughing. “I mean Patrick Fitzgerald,” said Al. “They ought to kick his butt across town. The guy is a disgrace. At the very least, what he did was unethical.”
“But wasn’t he just doing his job?” I asked. “He was supposed to find out who spilled the beans about Valerie Plame being a CIA agent, and if that was done to punish her husband, Joe Wilson.”
The background is that Joseph C. Wilson, a minor ex-diplomat, was sent to Africa by the CIA in 2002 to find out if Iraq had tried to buy “yellowcake” purified uranium ore (1) from Nigeria. He then made headlines by claiming Iraq had not done so and that Mr. Bush “lied” about it to get us into war. (This made him the darling of the anti-Bush camp and gave him 15 minutes of fame.)
Published reports said Mr. Wilson’s wife, CIA employee (and sometime agent) Valerie Plame, had “recommended” him for the investigation. But Mr. Wilson claimed Vice President Cheney had sent him. He said Miss Plame’s CIA status was deliberately exposed to punish him for countering the Bush line about the uranium. Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed special prosecutor in December 2003 to see if a crime was involved, but he found nothing indictable on the central issue. In July 2006, Miss Plame announced that she would sue Mr. Cheney (and undisclosed others) for revealing her covert identity and damaging her CIA career.
Mr. Fitzgerald started his investigation cleanly, but evidence now shows he learned almost immediately that the original leak of Miss Plame’s CIA status came from Assistant Secretary of State Richard Armitage (2). Mr. Armitage recently admitted (publicly) that he mentioned Miss Plame’s status to reporter Robert Woodward in June 2003 and to columnist Robert Novak a month later. Mr. Novak’s publication of that information in his column of July 14, 2003, triggered the Plame-secret-agent controversy.
“As soon as Fitzgerald knew about Armitage, he should have folded the investigation,” said Al. “There was nothing more to investigate.” Indeed, Mr. Fitzgerald has admitted that disclosure of Miss Plame’s status involved no crime because her CIA positions and service – which remain somewhat obscure – do not match definitions within the national security statute that prohibits disclosing a covert agent’s status.
Al’s complaint is that much damage was done between the time of Mr. Armitage’s “gossip” (as some have termed it) and his recent admission of being the long-sought culprit. The most telling complaint is that the investigation was used to smear Mr. Cheney, Mr. Rove and the entire Bush Administration by innuendo. Democrats had high hopes of bringing down Mr. Bush with a Watergate-like scandal. It was great fun while it lasted, but some damage cannot be undone. Lewis “Scooter” Libby has been indicted, and he has resigned as Mr. Cheney’s chief of staff. This is great news in certain quarters, but thoughtful Americans are disquieted by such devious use of a three-year investigation of a non-crime. (Mr. Fitzgerald should be embarrassed.)
It is worth noting that several premises of the Plame case – originally accepted at face-value by the major media – have now been disproved:
 The Yellowcake controversy, which has been at the heart of the “Bush lied” campaign, has evaporated. It all started with sixteen words in Mr. Bush’s 2003 State of the Union message:
“The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”
While Bush-haters still call this line a “lie”, the evidence says otherwise. Christopher Hitchens’ article “Case Closed: The truth about the Iraqi-Niger ‘yellowcake’ nexus” (3) documents an Iraqi delegation’s visit to Niger in February 1999. It was headed by “…Saddam Hussein's ambassador to the Vatican, diplomat Wissam al-Zahawie…a very experienced Iraqi envoy for nuclear-related matters.” Mr. Zahawie was essentially called out of retirement to head the delegation. He professed ignorance of Nigerian yellowcake, but Mr. Hitchens calls his claim “absurd”, since refined uranium is practically Niger’s only export. There could be no plausible reason for Mr. Zahawie’s leadership of the Niger mission except his nuclear expertise.
Mr. Hitchens writes that Mr. Zahawie’s “…identity was not noticed by Joseph Wilson, nor emphasized in his “report” to the CIA, nor mentioned at all in his later memoir.” He utterly failed to grasp the import of Zahawie’s participation, says Mr. Hitchens. Also, “…mysteriously forged documents claiming evidence of an actual deal made between Zahawie and Niger…”, which Mr. Wilson loudly denounced, were known fakes. The British report carefully said that Mr. Zahawie had “sought” uranium in Niger, not that he had actually acquired it. Mr. Bush echoed this.
 The Wilson assignment resulted directly from Miss Plame’s personal recommendation to the CIA. This is established in a letter she wrote to her superiors. Mr. Wilson’s claim that the vice president sent him to Niger is unsupported. His motive for concealing Miss Plame’s role can be inferred as self-promotion to emphasize his own importance. For reasons which can only be surmised, Mr. Wilson tried to smear Mr. Bush’s case for war against Iraq. That attempt, along with others, will cause the “Bush lied” mantra to haunt Mr. Bush’s presidency for years. Even the Washington Post sheepishly said it was “unfortunate” that so many took Mr. Wilson seriously.
 The Plame “secret agent” story – i.e., that she was an “active” CIA operative – has been debunked by Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald. He declined to prosecute Richard Armitage for exposing Miss Plame on grounds that she was not an active agent within the meaning (and time-stipulations) of applicable national security law.
 Carl Rove’s involvement in the Plame case – much salivated over by Mr. Bush’s enemies – has also been refuted. Mr. Fitzgerald declined to indict him. Bush-haters fondly hoped to see Mr. Rove “frog-marched” out of the White House in handcuffs, but this has not happened. It is not going to happen. Mr. Fitzgerald might be ambitious – insiders affirm this – but he’s not stupid. There is no case against Mr. Rove.
Legal beagles are waiting for the other Libby shoe to drop. Mr. Libby was indicted in October 2005 on five counts of false statements, perjury, and obstruction of justice related to statements he made to a grand jury. Inasmuch as it was all about a non-crime, one might presume that these charges will be dropped. But one might be wrong, since that would leave the investigation barren and Mr. Fitzgerald with legal egg on his face. If his continued investigation of a non-crime, whose perpetrator was already known, was not brazenly unethical, he has certainly spent a lot of money with very sparse results. Those taxpayer dollars could have had a better use.
The indictments were meant to arm-twist Mr. Libby into implicating Mr. Cheney or Mr. Rove. This failed. The charges are the equivalent of being accused of forgetting that you ate a ham sandwich on June 15, 1962, and of mistakenly saying the mustard was yellow, not brown (aha!). Mr. Fitzgerald says the integrity of the legal system is at stake here. I agree, but not in the way he means. If Mr. Libby can be indicted for mis-remembering who told him what, on what date, then anyone can be indicted if a prosecutor wills it. (Some integrity.) Every use of the legal system for political theater like this erodes the public’s trust a little more. It is as much a scandal as judges making up law as they go along. We need to quit doing this.
Mr. Armitage’s failure to come forward at the outset of the Plame controversy is swinish. It was clearly unethical, even if not actionable. Mr. Bush will do well to see that Mr. Armitage’s government career is over. If he wants to gossip, let him write a gossip-column.
A vast career of writing and lecturing about his invented universe awaits Joe Wilson. The left will pay him well to bash Mr. Bush. But no more government service in a Republican administration.
Al is right. This putrescent investigation should have been scotched long ago. It smells like road-kill left out in the sun too long. Get the hook (and the deodorizer).
(1) Yellowcake is purified uranium oxide (U3O8) produced from natural uranium ore which typically contains high levels of impurities. Yellowcake production precedes “enrichment” – i.e., separation of the highly fissionable uranium isotope, U-235.
(2) Mr. Armitage served at State, 2001-‘05.
(3) See Mr. Hitchens’ article at http://www.slate.com/id/2146475/