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"Tax" Is Not a Four Letter Word

Down in the Texas state capitol for the day, enjoying both the buzz of activity that comes with the legislature actually being in session (they only have regular sessions for five month, once every two years) and the good ole boy lobbyists stalking the halls, making deals. Just had an interesting interview with a Republican State Senator in which he raised an interesting point. Basically, he was complaining about how the conservative movement had essentially been reduced to one single, inviolable principle: never raise taxes ever. It's crazy he said. "I'm as much against having my taxes raised as anybody, but the the voters don't send us to the capitol just to make sure taxes don't get raised, they send us here to spend their money wisely. And if there's some program that can benefit the residents of the state, then we should fund it."

But instead, Grover Norquist's infamous no-tax pledge has created an untenable situation across the country, one in which state governments are increasingly resorting to gimmicks, tricks and the outright Russian-style auctioning off of state assets in order to fund government. This despite the fact, that, as this Republican legislator pointed out to me, spending on social programs is quite popular. "The notion that these are programs Democrats want and Republicans abhor may have been true thirty years ago, but I feel like there's been a shift. Now, everybody wants the programs, but one group [the Republicans] is unwilling to pay for them, and the other group [the Democrats] is unable to pay for them."

The only way this is going to change is if there's a) an organized lobbying effort on the part of citizens and interest groups to increase taxes b) some bold legislators vote for tax increases and find out that they won't necessarily get ridden out of town by angry voters. But I was amazed that this Republican legislator was so frank about the problem. And googling around I see that Republican presidential front-runners Rudy Giuliani and John McCain have both yet to sign the no new taxes pledge. It does suggest that the "tax revolt" may indeed be coming to a close.

The Clean Elections Challenge

My recent Nation article on Senator Max Baucus, "K Street's Favorite Democrat," has been a topic of discussion back in Montana, where Baucus is up for re-election in 2008.

Last night I talked about the article on Montana NPR's Evening Edition and Baucus went on after to respond. Host Sally Mauk said Baucus "laments the need for large corporate donations to his campaign."

Here's what Baucus said: "I've voted for every single campaign reform legislation that's been here. There's too many dollars in politics today. But you have to live with the system. And to live with the system you're gonna have to raise money, regrettably."

Later this month, Senator Dick Durbin will introduce a bill calling for publicly financed clean elections. If Baucus is serious about changing the system, he'll sign on as a cosponsor.

A Wasted War

Let's start with the obvious waste. We know that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have lost their lives since the Bush administration invaded their country in March 2003, that almost two million may have fled to other countries, and that possibly millions more have been displaced from their homes in ethnic-cleansing campaigns. We also know that an estimated 4.5 million Iraqi children are now malnourished and that this is but "the tip of the iceberg" in a country where diets are generally deteriorating, while children are dying of preventable diseases in significant numbers; that the Iraqi economy is in ruins and its oil industry functioning at levels significantly below its worst moments in Saddam Hussein's day--and that there is no end in sight for any of this.

We know that, while the new crew of American military officials in Baghdad are starting to tout the "successes" of the President's "surge" plan, they actually fear a collapse of support at home within the next half-year, believe they lack the forces necessary to carry out their own plan, and doubt its ultimate success. What a tragic waste.

We know that while the U.S. military focuses on the Iraqi capital and al-Anbar Province, the heartland of the Sunni insurgency, taking casualties in both places, fleeing Iraqi refugees are claiming that jihadis have largely taken over the city of Samarra, north of Baghdad, and renamed it "the Islamic Emirate of Samarra" -- a grim sign indeed. (Here's just one refugee's assessment: "that large areas of the farms around Samarra have been transformed into camps like those of Al-Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan.")

We know that, as the US military concentrates its limited forces and the minimal Iraqi units that fight with them, in a desperate battle to control the capital, for both Sunnis and Shia, the struggle simply spreads to less well-defended areas. We also know that the Sunni insurgents have been honing their tactics around Baghdad, their attacks growing deadlier on the ground and more accurate against the crucial helicopter support system which makes so much of the American occupation possible. Some of them have also begun to wield a new, potentially exceedingly deadly and indiscriminate weapon--trucks filled with chlorine gas, essentially homemade chemical weapons on wheels which can be blown up at any moment.

In other words, before the Bush administration is done two of its bogus prewar claims -- that Saddam's Iraq was linked to the Islamic extremists who launched the 9/11 attacks and that it had weapons of mass destruction -- could indeed become realities. What a pathetic waste.

We know that, while Americans tend to talk about the "Iraq War," with a few exceptions like the fierce battle with Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia in Najaf in 2004, it has actually been a remarkably unsuccessful pacification campaign against a Sunni insurgency alone; that is, a war against less than 20% of the Iraqi population (even if every Sunni supports some insurgent faction). We know that billions and billions of dollars have gone down the rat-hole of Iraqi "reconstruction"--with multimillions more simply stolen or utterly unaccounted for by American financial overseers--and that what reconstruction has been done is generally substandard and overpriced in the extreme. What a waste of resources.

We know, on the other hand, that a series of vast military bases have been built in Iraq of a permanency that is hard to grasp from thousands of miles away and that the largest embassy in the history of the universe has been going up on schedule on an almost Vatican-sized plot of land in Baghdad's highly fortified Green Zone to represent the United States to a government whose powers don't extend far beyond that zone. Talk about waste!

We know that we stand at the edge of a possible war with Iran. It could come about thanks to a Bush administration decision to launch a massive air attack on that country's nuclear facilities; or it could simply happen, thanks to ever more provocative U.S. acts and Iranian responses, leading to a conflict which would undoubtedly play havoc with the global energy supply, threaten a massive global recession or depression, and create untold dangers for the American military in Iraq, which might then have to face something closer to an 80% Iraqi insurgency. What a ridiculous waste.

[Part 2 of this series, "Wasting Our Soldiers' Lives," will appear Friday at The Notion.]

Left Forum 2007

One of the country's premiere progressive events, this weekend's Left Forum brings together activists and intellectuals from across the globe to share ideas for understanding and transforming the world.

An outgrowth of the former Socialist Scholars Conference, the Left Forum was started in 2005 after a factional split over strategy and personalities led to the resignation of seven SSC board members and the formation of a similar annual conference but with a greater emphasis on activism, organizing and practical politics.

With close to one hundred panels and three major cultural events, this year's Forum will tackle Big Questions like can the Left advance an alternative vision capable of capturing the popular imagination, and is reform the farthest possible horizon for our hopes?

Featuring a roster of dynamic speakers including Nation writers Gary Younge, Liza Featherstone, Doug Henwood, Christian Parenti and Dave Zirin as well as Frances Fox Piven, Cornel West, Dennis Brutus, Marion Nestle and many more, this year's Forum should be an invaluable opportunity for progressives to trade notes, numbers and ideas.

The conference's opening plenary (chaired by Featherstone) takes place this Friday, March 11, at 7:00 at Cooper Union at 7 East 7th Street (at 3rd Avenue) in Manhattan. The panels and events take place all day on both Saturday and Sunday. Various panels will also be streamed and archived online. Check the Left Forum site this weekend for details.

Check out the full program, including info on a special, free Saturday night series of readings from Howard Zinn's Voices of a People's History of the United States by Amy Goodman, Anthony Arnove, Staceyanne Chin, Brian Jones, Deepa Fernandes, and Erin Cherry. Click here for info on registering, getting there and anything else you might need to know.

Time for Celebration and Protest

A few nights ago, after putting the baby to bed, I watched The L-Word, then lay on the sofa and read Jennifer Baumgardner's excellent new book, Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics, which quotes veteran Second Wave feminist and writer Alix Kates Shulman on how relations between the sexes have improved since the fifties and sixties. "It's so different nowadays that it's almost impossible for someone like you to comprehend," Shulman tells Baumgardner. Drinking a glass of Cabernet while my husband made dinner, I had to agree.

It's International Women's Day, so let's give the global feminist movement props for the progress that women have made in recent decades. It's also a good time to call attention to the considerable work that remains. Two sobering reports released yesterday bear witness to some horrifying realities. Promising Democracy, Imposing Theocracy: Gender-Based Violence and the US War on Iraq, written by Yifat Susskind, communications director of MADRE, a women's human rights organization, shows that women in Iraq are being exposed to "unprecedented levels" of assault, honor killings, and other forms of gender-based violence. Another report, released by a coalition called Women Won't Wait, finds that international agencies -- the U.S. President's Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief, Global Fund, UN AIDS and others -- are failing to address the relationship between gender-based violence and the spread of HIV.

So, both celebration and protest are in order this International Women's Day, and you can find festivities and political actions here (at this writing, over 422 events in 41 different countries).

Hold Dick Cheney to Account

The conviction of Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff on charges of obstruction of justice, perjury and lying to the FBI confirms the suspicions that millions of Americans have had for years about the lawlessness of this administration.

And the focus of the Libby trial on a particular aspect of that lawlessness -- the determination of the administration to punish critics of the manipulation of intelligence to make the "case" for invading and occupying Iraq – means that these convictions go to the heart of the current debates about how to end that war and about how to hold those responsible for it to account.

Make no mistake about what has happened: An essential member of the Bush-Cheney administration has been convicted of attempting to undermine a Federal Bureau of Investigation inquiry into scheming by the vice president and others to punish former Ambassador Joe Wilson for revealing that statements made before the start of the war by the president and others were in conflict with intelligence that had been provided to the White House.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, got it right when he said: "It's about time someone in the Bush Administration has been held accountable for the campaign to manipulate intelligence and discredit war critics."

Reid got it right, as well, when he said, "(The Libby) trial revealed deeper truths about Vice President Cheney's role in this sordid affair. Now President Bush must pledge not to pardon Libby for his criminal conduct."

But Reid and other Congressional leaders have their own responsibilities now.

The Libby trial revealed stunning details about Cheney's direct and aggressive involvement to attack Wilson. In the course of the trial, it was revealed by Catherine J. Martin, who served as the vice president's top press aide in 2003, that Cheney dictated detailed "talking points" for Libby, and others on how they could impugn Wilson's credibility

The vice president ordered press aides to closely track press coverage of Wilson and ordered Libby to begin making behind-the-scenes contacts with reporters covering the story. So engaged with the "get-Wilson" initiative was Cheney that, while he and Libby were traveling on Air Force Two, the vice president personally prepared materials to be slipped to a Time magazine reporter who was on the story.

That level of involvement by the vice president in an effort to discredit a former ambassador of the United States who was participating legally and appropriately in a national debate about how the war in Iraq began begs the question: Will Cheney be held to account?

"This case doesn't end with Mr. Libby's conviction," says Congressman Maurice Hinchey, D-New York, the House's most consistent and aggressive critic of Cheney. "Testimony in the Libby trial made it even more clear that Vice President Cheney played a major role in the outing of Mrs. Wilson's identity. It is time to remove the cloud hanging over Vice President Cheney and the White House that Special Counsel (Patrick) Fitzgerald so aptly described in his closing remarks and expose all of the lies that led to the outing of Mrs. Wilson's identity."

Hinchey says that, "The question which has always needed to be addressed is why Mrs. Wilson's CIA position was revealed to the press. The answer is that the administration was attempting to undermine and weaken the credibility of her husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson, who publicly disclosed his findings that Iraq never sought uranium from Niger for a nuclear weapon. Ambassador Wilson publicly proved that the administration's case for war -- that Iraq had an active weapons of mass destruction program -- was false. He demonstrated that multiple senior administration officials, including President Bush himself, deliberately made false and misleading statements to win congressional approval and public support for an invasion of Iraq."

Hinchey's right. Fitzgerald, who says there is a cloud hanging over the office of the vice president, should pursue the matter of Cheney's wrongdoing. But so, too, should Congress, where House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chair Henry Waxman, D-California, is reportedly talking with House leaders about dusting off his 2005 proposal that issues related to the scandal should be the subject of congressional hearings. "It's ridiculous that Congress should stay out of all of this and not hold hearings," Waxman said at the time.

It is even more ridiculous to think that, with Libby now convicted, and with so much new evidence of Cheney's inappropriate activity now in the public domain, the House and Senate would fail to open hearings.

At issue is the most fundamental of all questions in a republic: Can a member of the executive branch of the federal government, perhaps the dominant member, deliberately deceive the legislative branch, then set out to use to punish Americans who expose those lies, and get away with it?

That is not just a legal question for prosecutor Fitzgerald, it is a Constitutional question for Congress.

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Investigating Attorneygate

The Nation's Washington intern, Stephanie Condon, reports on yesterday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the dismissal of eight US attorneys by the Bush Administation:

Senators at a Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday tried to get to the bottom of whether the Bush administration inappropriately fired eight federal attorneys for political reasons.

If so, the GOP plan has backfired: at least two Republican lawmakers could be mired in scandal, and the administration, having lost eight faithful and proficient public servants, finds itself in another PR disaster.

The reasons for the firings have continued to evade the former attorneys, as well as lawmakers. There is "no accountability in the Department of Justice," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Instead, he said, there has been a "series of shifting explanations and excuses from the administration."

"Not since the Saturday Night Massacre have we witnessed anything of this magnitude," Leahy said, referring to the series of resignations and a dismissal during Watergate.

DOJ initially claimed the firings were performance related. Then it came out that seven of the eight attorneys had received glowing performance reviews. Now the administration claims that they did not meet certain department priorities.

The latest rationale seemed "awfully convenient" to Sen. Russ Feingold and the testifying attorneys.

"Why would I be a political liability when just a few years ago I was a political asset?" David C. Iglesias, the former U.S. Attorney for the district of New Mexico, said he wondered after his dismissal. He is convinced that his forced resignation was not performance related.

Carol Lam, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California, spoke of her success in meeting the administration's expectations for immigration trials. "Our immigration trial rate more than doubled from 2004 to 2005," she said.

When she inquired why she was fired, she was told by the DOJ that they "didn't think that information would be useful to me."

The unstated reason may have been that Lam, like four of her fellow prosecutors, were leading corruption investigations into Republicans at the time of their dismissal.

Prosecutors looking into instances of Democratic corruption, like Iglesias of New Mexico, were pressured by GOP lawmakers to produce indictments before the November elections. Rep. Heather Wilson, who found herself in a tight re-election race, asked Iglesias on Oct 16, "What can you tell me about sealed indictments?" Sen. Pete Domenici asked him: "Are these going to be filed before November?" When told no, Domenici replied, "I'm sorry to hear that."

"I felt sick afterwards," said Iglesias. It now appears that both Wilson and Domenici violated Congressional ethics rules by pressuring a prosecutor in an ongoing legal investigation.

The plot gets even thicker inside Congress. Ed Cassidy, the chief of staff to Washington Rep. Doc Hastings, called dismissed prosecutor John McKay of Seattle to inquire about an investigation into voter fraud in the 2004 gubernatorial election. McKay said he cut the call short. In February 2005, Hastings became Chairman of the House Ethics Committee. Cassidy is now a top staffer to House Majority Leader John Boehner.

Yesterday's hearings deserve to be the first of many. It's becoming more and more obvious that attorneygate reaches into the upper echelons of Congress and the administration.

Vermont Votes to Impeach Bush/Cheney

When Vermont Governor Jim Douglas, a Republican with reasonably close ties to President Bush, asked if there was any additional business to be considered at the town meeting he was running in Middlebury, Ellen McKay popped up and proposed the impeachment of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

The governor was not amused. As moderator of the annual meeting, he tried to suggest that the proposal to impeach -- along with another proposal to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq -- could not be voted on.

But McKay, a program coordinator at Middlebury College, pressed her case. And it soon became evident that the crowd at the annual meeting shared her desire to hold the president to account.

So Douglas backed down.

"It became clear that no one was going home until they had the chance to discuss the resolutions and vote on them," explained David Rosenberg, a political science professor at Middlebury College. "And being a good politician, he allowed the vote to happen."

By an overwhelming voice vote, Middlebury called for impeachment.

So it has gone this week at town meetings across Vermont, most of which were held Tuesday.

Late Tuesday night, there were confirmed reports that 36 towns had backed impeachment resolutions, and the number was expected to rise.

In one town, Putney, the vote for impeachment was unanimous.

In addition to Governor Douglas's Middlebury, the town of Hartland, which is home to Congressman Peter Welch, backed impeachment. So, too, did Jericho, the home of Gaye Symington, the speaker of the Vermont House of Representatives.

Organizers of the grassroots drive to get town meetings to back impeachment resolutions hope that the overwhelming support the initiative has received will convince Welch to introduce articles of impeachment against Bush and Cheney. That's something the Democratic congressman is resisting, even though his predecessor, Bernie Sanders, signed on last year to a proposal by Michigan Congressman John Conyers to set up a House committee to look into impeachment.

Vermont activists also want their legislature to approve articles of impeachment and forward them to Congress. But Symington, also a Democrat, has discouraged the initiative, despite the fact that more than 20 representatives have cosponsored an impeachment resolution.

"It's going to be hard for Peter Welch and Gaye Symington to say there's no sentiment for impeachment, now that their own towns have voted for it," says Dan DeWalt, a Newfane, Vermont, town selectman who started the impeachment initiative last year in his town, and who now plans to launch a campaign to pressure Welch and Symington to respect and reflect the will of the people.

It is going to be even harder for Governor Douglas, who just this month spent two nights at the Bush White House, to face his president.

After all, Douglas now lives in a town that is on record in support of Bush's impeachment and trial for high crimes and misdemeanors.

For the record, Middlebury says:

We the people have the power -- and the responsibility -- to removeexecutives who transgress not just the law, but the rule of law.

The oaths that the President and Vice President take binds them to"preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."The failure to do so forms a sound basis for articles of impeachment.

The President and Vice President have failed to "preserve, protect anddefend the Constitution" in the following ways:

1. They have manipulated intelligence and misled the country to justify an immoral, unjust, and unnecessary preemptive war in Iraq.

2. They have directed the government to engage in domestic spyingwithout warrants, in direct contravention of U.S. law.

3. They have conspired to commit the torture of prisoners, in violation of the Federal Torture Act and the Geneva Convention.

4. They have ordered the indefinite detention without legal counsel,without charges and without the opportunity to appear before a civiljudicial officer to challenge the detention -- all in violation of U.S. law and the Bill of Rights.

When strong evidence exists of the most serious crimes, we must useimpeachment -- or lose the ability of the legislative branch to compelthe executive branch to obey the law.

George Bush has led our country to a constitutional crisis, and it isour responsibility to remove him from office.

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Libby Trial: CIA Leak Case Ends with Guilty Verdict

Several minutes after noon on Tuesday, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby sat in a crowded Washington court room and somberly watched as the forewoman of the jury in his obstruction of justice trial pronounced the verdict. "Guilty," she said, regarding Count One. She moved on to the other counts and repeated that word three times. The jury had found Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff guilty on four out of five counts. Libby stared straight ahead. He showed no reaction.

Eleven Washingtonians had convicted a former senior Bush White House aide of lying. The case was narrow. It was not about who had leaked classified information outing Valerie Wilson as an undercover CIA officer; it was not about whether the Bush administration had manipulated the prewar intelligence to whip up public support for the invasion of Iraq; it was not about the war. Still, Libby had been on trial for having deliberately misled government investigators to protect himself--and perhaps the vice president--from a criminal inquiry that had come about because the White House had not been straight with the public about the war. In the face of criticism that the administration had hyped the prewar intelligence, the White House in June and July 2003 went on the offensive and mounted a campaign that included passing information to the media about a high-profile critic, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Cheney's office conducted a push-back operation of its own. In this swirl of damage-control and finger-pointing, administration officials leaked Valerie Wilson's CIA identity. And that leak beget the criminal investigation that caused Libby to lie.

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald charged that Libby obstructed justice, committed perjury and made false statements when he told FBI agents and the grand jury investigating the leak that he had possessed no official knowledge of Valerie Wilson and her CIA connection in the days before the leak appeared in Robert Novak's July 14, 2003 column. Libby acknowledged to the investigators that Cheney had told him weeks before the leak occurred that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. But Libby claimed that he completely forgot this and that when Meet the Press host Tim Russert told him days before the leak happened that all the reporters in town knew Wilson's wife was CIA, he believed he was learning this information "anew" as gossip. He then, Libby maintained, passed along this scuttlebutt to two reporters--Judith Miller, then of The New York Times, and Matt Cooper, then of Time--only as unconfirmed rumor.

In Libby's telling, he had not disclosed any official and classified information to journalists. (Valerie Wilson's employment with the CIA was classified.) And a government official cannot be prosecuted for sharing chitchat he or she picked up from journalists. Such a story would take Libby (and any official who had passed him information on Valerie Wilson) out of the line of fire. But only if it were true.

Libby's account, Fitzgerald charged, was a cover story designed to remove him and the vice president from a leak investigation that was targeting the White House. At the trial, Fitzgerald methodically presented a series of witnesses who testified that weeks before the leak they had told Libby that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA: Marc Grossman, who had been undersecretary of state for policy in 2003; Robert Grenier, a former top CIA official; and Cathie Martin, who had been Cheney's communications director. Craig Schmall, Libby's CIA briefer at the time, testified that Libby had discussed Valerie Wilson with him. Schmall also testified that after the leak occurred, while he was briefing both Cheney and Libby, they asked him what he thought about the leak scandal. Noting that some commentators had dismissed the leak as "no big deal," Schmall explained that he considered it a "grave danger." He explained to Libby and Cheney that foreign intelligence services could now investigate everyone who had come into contact with Valerie Wilson when she had served overseas. "Those people," he said, "innocent or otherwise, could be harassed...tortured or killed

Fitzgerald also called Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary, as a witness. Fleischer, who had struck an immunity deal with Fitzgerald in return for his testimony, testified that on July 7, 2003--the day after Joseph Wilson published an op-ed piece accusing the White House of having twisted the prewar intelligence--Libby disclosed Valerie Wilson's CIA link to him at lunch and said this information was "hush-hush." The conversation Fleischer recalled, was "odd." (Fleischer also testified that he had leaked information to two reporters about Valerie Wilson--although it was unclear whether he had done anything more than egg on these reporters to discover her CIA connection. Later in the trial, Washington Post reporter testified that Fleischer had disclosed Valerie Wilson's CIA connection to him.)

Fitzgerald presented three journalists as witnesses who contradicted Libby. Judy Miller claimed Libby had told her about Wilson's wife in three different confidential interviews, beginning with a meeting on June 23, 2003. Matt Cooper testified Libby had confirmed for him the leak about Valerie Wilson he had received from Karl Rove. Russert said there was no way he could have been Libby's source for any information on Valerie Wilson because he knew nothing about her before reading about her in the Novak column.

It was a powerful case. All these witnesses--except Russert--said they had spoken to Libby about Wilson's wife prior to the leak. Three said they had provided Libby information about her. (And Libby had conceded that Cheney had done so, too.) Libby, though, had told the FBI and the grand jury he had known nothing concrete about her at the time of the leak. And his explanation was convoluted: yes, Cheney had told him that Valerie Wilson worked at the CIA; but he had forgotten that the vice president had done so; he then heard about her from Russert and believed this was the first time he was learning about her. This defense--I knew, I forgot, I learned it anew and was surprised--was implausible.

Ted Wells, a tall and charismatic attorney leading Libby's defense, tried to convince the jury that these witnesses were unreliable (and all were similarly misremembering similar events that had not happened). He attempted to make the case seem bigger and deeper than it was. It's a twisted, complicated and dark tale, he said during opening arguments, one of conspiracies, bureaucratic infighting, turf wars, backroom deals, terrorist plots (involving nuclear weapons and anthrax) against the United States, and assorted memory lapses, convenient and accidental. Libby merely had engaged in no-harm-intended forgetfulness about a few "snippets" of conversation, Wells insisted. Moreover, Libby had been "set up" as a "sacrificial lamb" in a White House melodrama starring Cheney, who supposedly was defending Libby from a White House effort designed to protect Rove at all costs. "The case is far more complex than what you heard," Wells told the jurors. He suggested that he would bring Cheney to the stand--and Rove and Libby.

But Wells did none of that. He let Cheney off the hook. (Fitzgerald had prepared for a cross-examination that would last hours.) Rove, too, was not called--even though Libby had claimed he had told Rove about his call with Russert right after it happened. If that had been true, testimony from Rove presumably could have corroborated Libby's version of the Russert phone call--and could have blown a big hole in Fitzgerald's case. A sharp-eyed juror could have read Rove's absence from the witness stand as a sign that Libby had lied. And Libby himself stayed mum during the trial. His lawyers decided it would not be useful to place Libby in the position of having to repeat the same rhetorical acrobatics he had performed during his grand jury appearances. The defense ended its presentation without submitting any evidence to support its dramatic contentions that Libby had been set up by the White House, the CIA, the State Department or NBC News.

The jurors did not appear to have much trouble cutting through all the clutter tossed up by Libby's defense. They spent a week reviewing and organizing all the testimony and evidence (on 34 pages of poster-size paper) before assessing whether Fitzgerald had proved his case. They convicted Libby on the single obstruction of justice count, two perjury counts (regarding his testimony to the grand jury) and one false statement count (stemming from an FBI interview). The jury acquitted him on the weakest count in the indictment--a false statement count related to what he had told the FBI about his conversation with Matt Cooper.

Libby said nothing as he left the courtroom. He looked neither resigned nor surprised. Minutes later, he appeared with his lawyers in front of reporters and camera crews outside the courthouse. Wells declared his client was "totally innocent" and that they would continue to fight. He said he would file a motion for a new trial and that if that motion is denied, he will file an appeal. "Mr. Libby will be vindicated," he proclaimed. Libby made no comment.

After Libby and his lawyers walked off, Fitzgerald strode toward the microphones. He noted he was "gratified" by the verdict and explained that he had had no choice but to pursue Libby once he suspected that Cheney's former chief of staff had lied under oath. "It's every prosecutor's duty," he asserted. He declined to say what the verdict and case said--if anything--about the White House and the vice president's office. During the trial, he had declared that Libby's lies had placed a "cloud" over the vice president. Was such a cloud still present? he was asked. Fitzgerald refused to answer the question, but he said that by lying to the grand jury and the FBI, "Mr. Libby had failed to remove that cloud....Sometimes when people tell the truth, clouds disappear. Sometimes they do not."

Fitzgerald defended his decision to subpoena reporters--and to imprison Judy Miller for 85 days--stating that he had to question journalists in order to determine if Libby had lied to the investigators. But he cautioned that other prosecutors ought to be "very careful" when considering whether to chase after journalists as witnesses. He added that he did not expect to file any further charges. His investigation was done.

The trial was not a satisfying end to the leak case. Fitzgerald's mission was not to discover the whole truth of the saga and reveal all to the public (as he pointed out when speaking to reporters today). He was on the hunt for a crime--and for criminals. He ultimately concluded he could not prosecute the leakers--Rove, Libby, and then Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage--for having disclosed information regarding Valerie Wilson. (The law prohibiting government officials from intentionally revealing information about clandestine intelligence officials requires a prosecutor to prove the leaker knew the officer was undercover.) So his criminal investigation focused on whether Libby lied. (He also investigated Rove for having possibly lied to the grand jury but ultimately decided not to indict him.) Consequently, only information from his investigation related to the Libby cover-up became public. What else Fitzgerald uncovered remains a secret. And per the rules governing criminal cases, it will stay a secret, he told reporters.

After the verdict was delivered, only one juror, Denis Collins, a Washington Post reporter in the 1980s, spoke to the press. He noted that jurors more than once asked, Why was Libby here, not Rove, not someone else? "Where are these other guys?" he said. The jurors were convinced, he noted, that Libby was guilty as charged (on four of the counts). But the jurors also believed he had been ordered by Cheney to talk to reporters as part of the White House's spin operation. In other words, some White House wrongdoers or conspirators (if not conspirators in the strict legal definition of the word) had gotten off. But there was nothing the jurors could do about this, he said: "It was not a question of who we could punish about going to Iraq." What about the prospect of a presidential pardon? one reporter asked Collins. Will you feel cheated if Bush pardons him? No, Collins replied: "He's been pilloried. We found him guilty." (Conservatives have already started a campaign for a Libby pardon.)

Scooter Libby, once Cheney's top aide and one of the chief architects of the Iraq war, is now a criminal. He is the first White House official convicted of a crime since the Iran-contra scandal that tarred the administrations of President Ronald Reagan and the first President Bush. He is also a symbol of an administration that has lost credibility. How Bush and Cheney misrepresented the case for war and their disingenuous and dishonest post-invasion assertions about the war are more serious matters than the lies of the leak case. But the leak affair represents how this White House has done business and how it has mugged the truth. Libby is not only a fall guy for Cheney; he's a poster-child for the Bush administration. The guilty verdict applies only to Libby, but the guilt extends beyond.

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DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.