The indictment special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald unveiled the day his grand jury expired focused on four instances when Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, allegedly lied to FBI agents or grand jurors about his role in the CIA leak affair. Fitzgerald outlined serious charges but did not address the central issues of the scandal, such as which Administration official initially outed Valerie Wilson, née Plame, to columnist Bob Novak; how the leaker learned of her CIA position; why that person disseminated this classified information to one or more reporters; what Bush, Cheney and other officials knew about the leak (before and after it occurred); and why Bush and others at the White House at first denied Karl Rove and Libby were “involved,” though both were (Rove reportedly confirmed the leak for Novak). The indictment did expose, without elaboration, Cheney’s part in an effort to undermine Valerie Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had challenged the Administration’s misleading claim that Saddam Hussein had been shopping for weapons-grade uranium in Niger. So now there are more questions than before the indictment. No one, though, has been given the job of filling in all the blanks. And this is a miscarriage of justice.
As Fitzgerald explained at his dramatic press conference, he is a prosecutor, not a public investigator. Under the law he can only release information he has gathered through a grand jury proceeding if it appears in an indictment or is used in a trial. He is not permitted to disclose other details he has unearthed. And he is not obligated–as were independent counsels of the past–to issue a final report. In fact Fitzgerald, citing Justice Department rules, said he did not have the authority to write such a report.
If the Libby case goes to trial, significant information may emerge. After all, the two most tantalizing portions of the indictment involve Cheney. On June 12, 2003–weeks after Joseph Wilson confidentially told a New York Times columnist about his trip to Niger and weeks before he revealed this CIA mission in a Times op-ed–Cheney informed Libby, as the indictment puts it, “that Wilson’s wife worked at the Central Intelligence Agency in the Counterproliferation Division.” The indictment says Libby “understood that” Cheney “had learned this” from the CIA. The Counterproliferation Division is a unit in the agency’s clandestine service. This passage suggests that Cheney and Libby had reason to believe–or suspect–that Valerie Wilson was an undercover employee. It also reveals that while Libby was gathering information on the Wilsons, the first indication he received that Valerie Wilson might be a covert officer came from Cheney. Why was he rooting out material on Valerie Wilson on his own? Who at the CIA told Cheney about her, and what did he or she say about her position? Did Cheney know that Libby would be talking to reporters about her? The indictment does not address any of this.
In the other intriguing reference to Cheney, the indictment reports that on July 12, 2003–six days after Wilson published his op-ed–Libby and Cheney apparently discussed how to respond to media inquiries about the controversy Wilson had generated, a brouhaha bolstering the charge that Bush, Cheney and other officials misrepresented prewar intelligence on WMDs to whip up support for war. What did Cheney tell Libby to do? Did he and Libby talk about using information about Valerie Wilson to undermine Joseph Wilson? The indictment does not say.
The public deserves a full explanation of the leak, which derailed Valerie Wilson’s career, endangered her family and possibly harmed national security. Two years ago Bush asked anyone with information on the leak to “speak out.” (Rove/Libby/Cheney ignored that command.) Shortly before the Libby indictment White House mouthpiece Scott McClellan said Fitzgerald should “determine the facts and then outline those facts for the American people.” But Fitzgerald says that’s not his job. For months the White House claimed it could not discuss the leak while Fitzgerald’s investigation was under way. Although it is still open (and will likely stay so through any Libby trial), now is a fine time for Bush & Co. to start answering questions. Bush and Cheney could hold press conferences and candidly reply to queries about the scandal. Bush could commission an independent-minded lawyer or investigator to conduct an inquiry that would make public its findings. (The model is the Tower Commission report on Iran/contra, which was incomplete but revealed key parts of the story.) But–let’s be real–there will be no rush at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to do any of the above, just as the Republican-controlled Congress has also put partisan loyalty above duty and refused to examine the scandal. Similarly, the GOP-run Senate Intelligence Committee put off completing its promised Phase II report evaluating the Administration’s prewar assertions about WMDs. But after Democrats, deploying a little-used Senate rule, suddenly forced the Senate into a closed meeting for nearly three hours–no visitors, no reporters, no TV cameras–to protest the delay of the report, Republicans agreed to establish a bipartisan panel to review the status of the Phase II inquiry by mid-November.
Fitzgerald’s investigation has not been the appropriate vehicle for discovering and disseminating the truth. Much more is needed. Democrats can call for Rove’s dismissal. He did violate government rules on handling classified information and Bush’s self-proclaimed ethics standards by sharing Valerie Wilson’s CIA employment status with at least two reporters (Novak and Time’s Matt Cooper). But Bush has stuck with Rove through thick and slime. Besides, firing him would be easier for Bush than disclosing the entire truth about the leak and the war.
The leak scandal has revealed the Bush crew’s dishonesty and hypocrisy. Solving the remaining mysteries would likely confirm this. That’s why Bush can be expected to break his word and do nothing to bring the truth, which Fitzgerald has under lock and key, into the open.