Wednesday, July 21, 2004

All Becomes Clear 

On Monday we wondered why Dr. Jekyll's half of the Wall St. Journal had run a news analysis arguing that the Justice Department should not use the ongoing rhubarb over Joe Wilson's credibility to delay indictments in the Plame case; it seemed rather bizarre to us, since the issue of Joe Wilson's credibility has no relevance to the outing, allegedly by White House officials, of his CIA-operative wife, and would offer no legal pretext for such a delay.

Yesterday, however, we realized what Dr. J had been up to: he'd known all along what was coming down the poop chute. He was warning us to gird our loins for Mr. Hyde's Tuesday editorial proposing that the Justice Department use the ongoing rhubarb over Joe Wilson's credibility to dismiss -- not just delay, but dismiss -- indictments in the Plame case:
Number one: The winner of last year's Award for Truth Telling from the Nation magazine foundation didn't tell the truth when he wrote that his wife, CIA officer Valerie Plame, "had nothing to do with" his selection for the Niger mission. Mr. Wilson is now pretending there is some kind of important distinction between whether she "recommended" or "proposed" him for the trip.

Mr. Wilson had been denying any involvement at all on Ms. Plame's part, in order to suggest that her identity was disclosed by a still-unknown Administration official out of pure malice. If instead an Administration official cited nepotism truthfully in order to explain the oddity of Mr. Wilson's selection for the Niger mission, then there was no underlying crime. Motive is crucial under the controlling statute.

The 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act was written in the wake of the Philip Agee scandal to protect the CIA from deliberate subversion, not to protect the identities of agents and their spouses who choose to enter into a national political debate. In short, the entire leak probe now looks like a familiar Beltway case of criminalizing political differences. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald should fold up his tent.
It's a truly jaw-dropping line of defense the feces-flingers are tossing out here -- rather on the order of sure, I shot her dead, but it wasn't murder. My intent was not to kill her. I wanted to shoot the guy behind her and she was in the way. On top of which, after I shot her, the guy behind her called me a crazy motherfucker. So Case Dismissed, right?

David Corn elucidates:
Much is wrong in this short paragraph [the second one cited above -- S.]. First, Wilson did not deny "any involvement at all on Plame's part." He denied that she had specifically recommended him to be an envoy for the CIA. He has said she was involved in bringing him to a meeting at the CIA that led to his assignment. But Wilson and his detractors are now arguing over the details of this minor matter. But if there is going to be a nitpickfest, the Journal should be careful to get its facts straight.

Second, did Wilson deny his wife's involvement so he could suggest the leak was done out of pure malice? I doubt it. His family was hit hard by the leak. He didn't need to downplay--if that is what he did--his wife's participation to accuse the leakers of thuggish behavior. He would have had a strong argument even if she had signed his travel orders. His trip was no junket. He was not paid for it. Her involvement--in any capacity--did not justify the leak.

Third, there was nothing odd about the CIA dispatching Wilson on an informal mission to Niger to check out the allegation that Saddam Hussein had been shopping for uranium there. Wilson, an old African hand who had worked for both Democratic and Republican administrations, had the experience and the contacts in Niger to do what he was asked. (By the way, at the time of the trip, he was no Democratic or anti-Bush partisan. He had even made a political contribution to George W. Bush during the 2000 primaries.)

Fourth, the Journal's claim that the leak was legal if Wilson's wife was involved in his trip is--to be kind--wacky. Here's what the law says:

"Whoever, having or having had authorized access to classified information that identifies a covert agent, intentionally discloses any information identifying such covert agent to any individual not authorized to receive classified information, knowing that the information disclosed so identifies such covert agent and that the United States is taking affirmative measures to conceal such covert agent's intelligence relationship to the United States, shall be fined not more than $50,000 or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both."

It does not say it is okay to identify a CIA officer if that officer engaged in an act of nepotism (as if sending your spouse to Niger for a no-pay job is an act of nepotism). Motive, contrary to the editorial, is not addressed in the above passage. Intentionality does matter, as does the state of knowledge of the offender (regarding the status of the covert officer). But surely the geniuses of the WSJ know the difference between motivation and intentionality. Whether the leakers outed Valerie Wilson to undermine Wilson's credibility (his wife sent him, so how much could he really know about this stuff?) or to punish him for challenging Bush's claim that Hussein had been caught trying to buy yellowcake uranium in Africa, the law applies just the same.
More from Josh Marshall here, and from Joseph Wilson himself here.

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