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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Did Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald Lie?

Posted 8/29/2006

Plamegate: Patrick Fitzgerald's three-year manhunt to track down who blew Valerie Plame's CIA "cover" has been exposed as a costly sham. He apparently knew all along that his man was not Scooter Libby.

When Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, was assigned the Plame case, he was hailed as a paragon of integrity. He'd helped convict Mafia boss John Gotti, the 1993 World Trade Center bombers and former Illinois Republican Gov. George Ryan, who'll be sentenced next month on 22 counts of bribery and racketeering.

But it's hard to see anything but politics as the motivation for Fitzgerald's handling of the Plame affair. The facts indicate that Fitzgerald knew early on that the original leaker was State Department official Richard Armitage. So why did Fitzgerald let a cloud hang over White House adviser Karl Rove's head for so long? And why is Fitzgerald continuing to hound Libby, the former vice presidential chief of staff?

The answer seems to be that Armitage, who is charged with nothing and brags that he hasn't even consulted a lawyer, was former Secretary of State Colin Powell's right-hand man and a critic of pre-emptive war in Iraq.

Libby, on the other hand, was an architect of that war strategy. Do doves get a pass in Fitzgerald's book, while hawks get an indictment?

The latest revelations raise a question of far more gravity: Did Fitzgerald publicly lie? Let's look at the facts:
• The indictment of Libby that Fitzgerald extracted from the grand jury states that "on or about June 23, 2003, Libby met with New York Times reporter Judith Miller. . . . In discussing the CIA's handling of Wilson's trip to Niger, Libby informed her that Wilson's wife might work at a bureau of the CIA."

• In the Oct. 28 press conference announcing Libby's indictment, Fitzgerald claimed that "in fact, Mr. Libby was the first official known to have told a reporter when he talked to Judith Miller in June of 2003 about Valerie Wilson."

• That assertion is apparently false. A soon-to-be-released book, "Hubris," by Newsweek's Michael Isikoff and The Nation magazine's David Corn, finds that Armitage revealed Plame's identity in a meeting with The Washington Post's Bob Woodward a week before the Libby-Miller meeting in June 2003. In a Newsweek preview of the book, Isikoff cites "three government officials, a lawyer familiar with the case and an Armitage confidant" as sources for when the Armitage-Woodward conversation took place.

• Armitage is also clearly columnist Robert Novak's primary source for his July 2003 column, which was the first piece to identify Plame. On Sunday's "Meet the Press," Novak complained that "the time has way passed for my source to identify himself."

• Isikoff notes that "Armitage himself was aggressively investigated" by Fitzgerald. So Armitage fessed up at the outset. Fitzgerald long ago knew whom Armitage talked to and when. And he knew it was Armitage, not Libby, who was responsible for outing Plame (whose status as a secret CIA operative was dubious at best).

• Fitzgerald's contention in October that Libby was "the first official known to have told a reporter . . . about Valerie Wilson" may therefore have been a lie.

Fitzgerald knew in the early days of his politicized witch hunt that no crime was committed. No one intentionally revealed the identity of a truly covert agent. Yet he made a reporter, Miller, spend nearly 90 days in jail for refusing to reveal her source.

Meanwhile, Fitzgerald refused to reveal to the public the true source. From top to bottom, this has been one of the most disgraceful abuses of prosecutorial power in this country's history. That it's taking place at a time of war only magnifies its sordidness.

We wouldn't be surprised if Fitzgerald ran for high elective office in the next few years — likely as a Democrat. The Plame case proves he can bend the truth with the proficiency of the slickest of pols.

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