I wasn’t on Scooter Libby’s jury, so I can’t say for certain that he was railroaded.
In “The Story: A Reporter’s Journey,” which hit book store shelves Tuesday, April 7, former New York Times reporter Judith Miller revealed in the final chapter that she now believes that she was induced by then-Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald to give false testimony in the 2007 trial of I. “Lewis” Scooter Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.
Given that Fitzgerald’s three-and-a-half year-long investigation and prosecution of Libby riveted the nation’s capital and generated vast news coverage implying, when not outright declaring, that the Bush administration lied the nation into war, one might think that recantation of testimony by a pivotal prosecution witness would command attention and excite controversy.
Miller’s assertions, which I wrote about last week in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, are fascinating—and important. In a more extensive online-only essay, I reexamined the entire trial and concluded that Fitzgerald’s theory of the case was fundamentally flawed and that his unscrupulous conduct was not limited to withholding exculpatory evidence from Miller and the defense; I believe it extended to other prosecution witnesses as well.
To remind you, Libby was convicted in 2007 of perjury, making false statements, and obstruction of justice. But his real crimes, to the bloodhound press, were serving Dick Cheney and being nicknamed Scooter. My impression of the case, if that’s the right word for something so flimsy and inconsequential, was that Libby’s sole error was in answering questions from memory. If he had said, “I don’t remember” (“recall” is also good), he would have made no false statements, committed no perjury, obstructed no justice.
Libby was the small fish, a minnow swimming among tiger sharks. The real quarry was Cheney himself, and even George Bush. And just as his trial was a mockery of justice, so was the greater crime, the so-called “outing” of CIA operative Valerie Plame in revenge for her husband, Joe Wilson’s critical op-ed in the New York Times. Except that Plame was no operative in any meaningful sense, her employer no secret, and no one knew or barely cared who Joe Wilson was. Oh yes, if her outing was a crime at all, it was committed by Richard Armitage, who was never charged—even though the prosecution knew he had done so while they were charging Libby.
You can see why Cheney was so pi**ed that Bush only commuted the sentence, and didn’t grant Libby a full pardon.
And now this:
Although I had no illusions that my interest would be matched by the left-liberal media, I did expect that Miller’s claims about giving false testimony—and the consequent corruption of the jury verdict that found Libby guilty of obstruction of justice, making a false statement, and perjury—would spark at least a few days of debate. Perhaps I gave the establishment media too much credit.
What I did not expect was that Miller’s revelation—along with the new reporting she did on the flawed evidence against Libby and the damage inflicted on American national security by Fitzgerald’s prosecution—would be given the silent treatment by the left-liberal media, beginning with the New York Times and the Washington Post.
In connection to United States v. Libby, journalists failing to do their jobs is nothing new. And journalists doing the jobs of politicians is old hat.
The trial record provided ample reason to conclude that the prosecution failed to meet its burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that, as Fitzgerald’s indictment charged, Libby lied about snippets of telephone conversations with NBC’s Tim Russert, Time magazine’s Matthew Cooper, and Judy Miller. That the prosecution’s case was anything but airtight, however, would have been difficult to glean from the standard media coverage.
In fact, serious memory errors afflicted every prosecution witnesses. And the errors were consistently of a certain sort. The prosecution witnesses’ memories of conversations with Libby changed significantly, always to Libby’s detriment, as time passed—from initial FBI questioning in the fall of 2003, through grand jury testimony in 2004 and 2005, to the trial in 2007—and as they were increasingly subjected to questioning by Fitzgerald, who was named to head the investigation in December 2003, and his team.
Despite his sly insinuations, Fitzgerald provided not a speck of evidence that Vice President Cheney had orchestrated a smear campaign. Moreover, the Times editorial writers appeared to be as ignorant as Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid of the high-level bipartisan investigations of 2004 and 2005, which found that that in making its case for war, the Bush administration relied in good faith on intelligence that was only discovered to have been faulty after the Iraq invasion.
A few journalists—outstanding among them Christopher Hitchens at Slate, syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, and syndicated columnist Thomas Sowell—understood the incoherence of Fitzgerald’s case and the flimsiness of his evidence.
By acknowledging her mistaken testimony in the Libby trial, Judith Miller has given the left-liberal media an opportunity to correct the profoundly flawed account it promulgated of Patrick Fitzgerald’s prosecution of Scooter Libby. The early indications at the New York Times and the Washington Post are not heartening. We could use more journalists with the guts and the integrity that Miller has displayed in setting the record straight.
Don’t hold your breath. We entrust the press with the crucial role of digging for the truth in a swamp of lies and obfuscations. Indeed, there they stand with their shovels and spades, but instead of digging it up, they bury the truth alive.
Miller herself was drummed out of the journ0list corps for reporting that maybe, just maybe, Saddam Hussein was pursuing weapons of mass destruction. From the front page and exalted status, she was kicked to the curb of West 43rd Street. She had to turn in her press pass and secret decoder ring. (It’s still not clear she was wrong—and since when a reporter get canned for getting a story wrong? The Times would look like a shopping circular if that were strictly applied.)
We owe George Bush and Dick Cheney a debt of gratitude, not least for entrapping the press to reveal itself as a pack of gibbering hyenas. They feast on the carrion of dead reputations, and leave the unburied carcasses to the flies and maggots of rumor and gossip.
Judith Miller was right, and Scooter Libby was innocent. Good luck trying to find that narrative anywhere in the public mind.