With mounting scandals facing some of the most powerful Republican operatives in Washington, I’m reminded of Robert Duvall’s Wagner-blasting calvary officer in Apocalypse Now who says before bombing a Vietnamese hamlet: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”
Yesterday, Matthew Cooper revealed explicitly that his source for the Valerie Plame leak was Karl Rove. We still don’t know Judith Miller’s source though speculation throughout the blog world points to Lewis Libby, Dick Cheney’s chief of staff. If this is borne out later then a single scandal has enmeshed perhaps the two most powerful Republicans in the capital aside from George Bush and Dick Cheney themselves.
Now, it becomes more clear why Pat Fitzgerald, the intrepid special prosecutor that John Ashforth appointed to investigate the Plame leak (and right about now Ashforth is probably regretting his choice immensely as it appears that Fitzgerald has built up what may become a powerful and damning case against the leakers) has gone to such great lengths to secure Cooper’s and Miller’s full testimony. Fitzgerald knows he’s going up against not only two of the most powerful people in the federal government; he’s going up against two of the sharpest, nastiest and smartest operatives to boot. This too explains why he’s been so dogged in pursuit of Miller and Cooper. You can’t expect to bring down people like Libby and Rove unless your case is absolutely airtight and not a single piece of evidence is missing from the chain.
Judith Miller’s Wrong-Headed Defense
The New York Times quotes (on page 2 of the article) Miller’s statement to Judge Hogan in which she says rather fatuously:
“The freest and fairest societies are not only those with independent judiciaries,” she said, “but those with an independent press that works every day to keep government accountable by publishing what the government might not want the public to know.”
This was certainly true in the case of the Pentagon Papers. But the Plame case and her role in it represents precisely the opposite of what she claims it does: Miller allowed herself to be a conduit for a leak made by a senior government official uncovering the identity of a U.S. intelligence agent (making her at least a potential accessory to a crime). In her case, she would have those government figures she spoke with be held unaccountable for their leak to her. And, she was not contemplating publishing information that the government did NOT want us to know. She contemplated publishing information that the government (in the person of Rove or Libby) DID want us to know. And it was information that was criminally tainted at that.
So where does she get off and where does the Times get off strumming that holier-than-thou crap about fulfilling a duty to her conscience and posterity? Oh, and did you catch the puff piece about Miller which noted she’d bought a puppy for her elderly husband to keep him company while she was “upstate.” I guess they’re trying to humanize her (and Lord knows she needs it because her journalistic reputation sure has suffered in the lead up to the Iraq War and afterward). But “that dog won’t hunt.” The Times and Miller’s position is just not credible to many of us progressives who otherwise should be Miller’s first line of defense in a freedom of the press case such as this. The fact that many progressives are running from this case with their fingers holding their nose indicates that they’re [the Times and Miller] out there on a limb and not a very comfortable one at that.
It also amazes me that Bill Keller, Matt Cooper and others invested in this case would try to drum up support in Congress for a federal shield law to protect journalists from cases like this. This is absolutely the worst case to use as a basis to build support for such a law. The majority of the country, if they care at all, are against the Times’ position. So why would they think that anyone would be sympathetic to them or the shield law right about now? I predict it’ll go the way of the dodo bird in this session of Congress.
Tom DeLay’s Scandal Du Jour
And of course the last leg of the three-legged Republican scandal chair is Tom DeLay. It seems amazing to contemplate that the Plame affair and DeLay’s ongoing ethical mishaps could cook the goose of three of the most powerful Republicans in Washington. Just when the Bush Adminsitration and its Republican Congressional majority seemed unassailable and impregnable, the whole deck starts tumbling like a house of cards. After the Bush election victory, I felt in my heart of hearts that this was a bunch which would overplay its hand out of a sense of infallibilty and political meglomania. And that’s pretty close to what’s happened.
The Times and other publications have been running ‘delicious’ exposes of Tom DeLay’s literal “free lunches” at the hands of Jack Abramoff and his tony D.C. eatery, Signatures. Even though a member of Congress is not supposed to accept a gift over $50 from anyone (except “friends”), somehow the thousands of dollars of free meals enjoyed by DeLay and much of the Republican Congressional leadership there is an exception to the rule.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R.,CA) even tries to piss on our backs and make us think it’s rain (to quote the great line in the film, Hester Street):
Mr. Rohrabacher said he ate at Signatures at Mr. Abramoff’s expense once or twice a month and that the meals fell under the friendship exemption in House rules. He also said he tried to take Mr. Abramoff out regularly, paying for the lobbyist’s meals in return.
“Just because you are a member of Congress doesn’t mean you have to give up your friendships,” Mr. Rohrabacher said, adding that “it was dinner with a friend and I didn’t think of it as a gift.”
I see, Jack Abramoff was his personal friend and their relationship certainly had nothing whatsoever to do with business or politics. In fact, let’s ask whether we believe that if Abramoff wasn’t a powerful K Street lobbyist and whether Rohrabacher wasn’t a powerful Committee chair whether they’d be eating together at all? We all know the answer to that one. And further, I’m sure the fact that Rohrabacher tried to reciprocate by buying Abramoff a meal once in a while is a big winner as a defense against ethics charges which ought to be smacked on him in a heartbeat if there was a funtioning Ethics Committee to do it. Don’t you just feel so bad for Dana that serving in Congress seems to mean (at least to this ethically-challenged cad) he has to turn his back on his personal friends?
A final note of warning should be sounded. The investigations aren’t over, the trials (if there will be any) haven’t begun. Much can yet happen to spoil my joy at the Republican discomfiture. But I’m sure looking forward to following these stories. There hasn’t been this much to look forward to politically since Clinton left the White House.