I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff, has been indicted for obstruction of justice, perjury (two counts) and making false statements (two counts) in the Plame CIA leak investigation. All are felonies and Mr. Libby has already resigned from his post.
I’m sure that there are a lot of people out there who haven’t been following this investigation due to its extremely confusing nature, so I’ll attempt to give a synopsis. Feel free to correct any error, and/or add any pertinent info since I’m recounting much of the particulars off the top of my head.
During President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address, he mention the (in)famous ‘sixteen words’: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” The type of uranium, nicknamed ‘yellowcake,’ can be used to as a key component of nuclear weapons.
Before that, in 2002, retired Ambassador Joseph Wilson had been sent by the CIA to Niger, in central Africa, to attempt to corroborate the findings of the Brits. Upon his return, Wilson disputed the findings, deeming as forgeries some documents supporting those claims--document which he did not personally see, by the way--and, separate from that, accusing the Bush Administration of possibly misleading the nation in order to justify going to war in Iraq.
Undoubtedly, the White House wanted to know who it was that was calling the president a liar, so they began digging. After finding out that Mr. Wilson wasn’t a CIA employee, they wanted to know how he got the job of corroborating (or disputing) the claims made by the British (and the Italians).
It turns out that Mr. Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame (Wilson) worked for the CIA and recommended her husband for the assignment. Now here’s where things get strange. At some time in her career, Ms. Plame has been a covert agent for the CIA and, according to the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, it is illegal, under certain conditions to divulge the identity of a covert agent. One of those conditions includes whether the person in question is considered a covert agent or not (see 'definitions').
On July 12 2003, columnist Robert Novak wrote an op-ed piece regarding Mr. Wilson’s trip to Africa. In it, he identifies Ms. Plame as an ‘Agency operative’:
Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counter-proliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him.
(Two senior administration officials: Libby and Karl Rove?)
That’s when all hell broke loose. Mr. Wilson began accusing the administration of deliberately publicizing his wife's name to get back at him for calling the ‘sixteen words’ bogus. (Later, before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, he contradicted the claim that the information was bogus. Additionally, the British still stand by their intelligence report concerning Saddam, Niger and ‘yellowcake.’)
It appears that the information links as to how Ms. Plame’s employment with the CIA became public are nearly impossible to untangle. The media types say the members of the Bush Administration told them who Ms. Plame was or they don’t say at all how they found out. (New York Times reporter Judith Miller even went to jail for withholding the identity of a source—Lewis Libby—who had given her permission to divulge his name a year before she went to jail. However, that’s a separate and very strange story in and of itself. Additionally, there seems to be no investigation of Mr. Novak.) But when the question came to Mr. Libby, he claimed—several times—that he got the information from other reporters. However, his own notes show that he received the information from Vice President Cheney. This is the reason that Mr. Libby is looking at fifteen years in a federal prison.
(Question: how did Special Counel Patrick Fitzgerald get ahold of Mr. Libby's notes?)
Karl Rove has also been investigated regarding this case, but Mr. Fitzgerald did not indict him for anything. It remains to be seen whether Mr. Rove will continue to be investigated.
Does anyone notice that there are no charges against Mr. Libby (or anyone else) for divulging Ms. Plame’s identity? If he lied about this thing, then he deserves what he gets. If he lied about something that isn't even a crime (divulging Ms. Plame's identity) then his error was a foolish one born of...arrogance? unnecessary secretiveness? protectiveness?
If found guilty, Mr. Libby should pay for his crimes. However, other than that, I'm forced to wonder what has been accomplished. Weren't the two years of Grand Jury investigation supposed to uncover the person who exposed Valerie Plame's identity? And do we even know whether that exposure is a crime in the first place? (And what about the fact that the Brits still stand by their yellowcake report? Wouldn't that remove the motive for some sort of backlash against Mr. Wilson?)
If Mr. Libby had been indicted for the exposure, I'd say that all of this stuff made sense, but he wasn't. The indictments, while legitimate, strike me as peripheral and pointless.
See Jeff Goldstein for more thoughts.
UPDATE: Jeff points out that since neither Libby nor Rove were indicted for outing Plame, that neither could have been Novak's source (a big 'duh' on my part).
UPDATE: Ace of Spades:
The Threshhold Question: The first question Fitzgerald needed to answer was whether or not there was even a possible crime committed, even assuming the facts to be the most harmful to Libby. [SNIP]Wasting time and money.
This question could have been, and should have been, answered in the first month of legal investigation, using no greater investigative resources than a law library.
And yet, two years later, Fitzgerald apparently finds there was no violation of the [Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982], the Espionage Act, or any act involving the dissemination of classified information.
And during those two years he's had people in jail for contempt and questioned many witnesses before the grand jury.
Why was he doing all that when month's work of legal research should have told him there wasn't a crime committed?