When you already have a fall guy, use him–especially if he’s a dead man.
Could that be the legal strategy of I. Lewis Libby (a.k.a. Scooter), Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, in the Plame/CIA leak case?
The news of the day in this scandal is that New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who was imprisoned for refusing to cooperate with special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, is free. She and the Times cut a deal with Fitzgerald, after Miller had served 12 weeks for being in contempt of court. Under this arrangement, Miller agreed to testify before Fitzgerald’s grand jury and to hand over edited version of her notes.
This is not much of a noble denouement to Miller’s crusade for the First Amendment. Throughout this episode, she and her paper took what appeared to be an absolutist position against cooperating with subpoena-wielding prosecutors who yearn to poke around newsrooms–while other reporters accommodated Fitzgerald. Now Miller and the Times have also elected to cooperate. But what distinguishes her case is that it seems she went to jail because of a mistake.
Upon her release, Miller declared she had been imprisoned because “a journalist must respect a promise not to reveal the identity of a confidential source.” She added, “I am leaving jail today because my source has now voluntarily and personally released me from my promise of confidentiality regarding our conversations relating to the Wilson-Plame matter.” This source was Libby. But a lawyer for Libby, Joseph Tate, told The Washington Post on Friday that a year ago he had informed Floyd Abrams, an attorney for Miller, that Libby had waived confidentiality and that Miller was free to discuss her chats with Libby. (The New York Times account of this–which presumably was heavily lawyered–is rather convoluted; if you want to avoid a headache, stick to the Post piece.) Only a few weeks ago, Tate said, he was contacted by Robert Bennett, another Miller attorney, and was told that Miller had not accepted Libby’s waiver and was in jail protecting Libby. Tate claimed he and Libby were “surprised to learn we had anything to do with her incarceration.” The lawyers for Libby and Miller arranged a phone call between the two, in which Libby apparently assured Miller his year-old wavier was voluntary. Then she and the Times negotiated a deal with Fitzgerald.
This suggests that Miller ended up going to jail due to a miscommunication. Could she had avoided jail had the lawyers done a better job? Was she a martyr because of a mistake? Her position now is the same as the other reporters who are known to have cooperated with Fitzgerald: if the source waives protection, then a reporter can talk. Her crusade is over.
But back to the fall guy. The end of this sub-plot has caused Libby’s team to leak his defense to the media. The Post quotes “a source familiar with Libby’s account of his conversations with Miller.” The odds are that source is Libby or his attorney. This super-secret source says that on July 8, 2003, Miller and Libby talked. This was six days before columnist Bob Novak disclosed the CIA identity of Valerie Wilson and two days after former Ambassador Joseph Wilson wrote an explosive Times op-ed disclosing that his trip to Niger in February 2002 had led him to conclude that President Bush had falsely claimed that Iraq had sought weapons-grade uranium in Africa. In this conversation, Miller asked Libby why Wilson had been sent on this mission by the CIA. (Miller, whose prewar reporting had promoted the administration’s case that Iraq was loaded with WMDs, had a personal, as well as professional, interest in Wilson’s tale.) Libby, according to this source, told Miller that the White House was, as the Post puts it, “working with the CIA to find out more about Wilson’s trip and how he was selected.” Libby noted he had heard that Wilson’s wife had something to do with it but he did not know where she worked.