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Monday, July 19, 2004

This Week in Wilsonia 

The potion is too weak! Perhaps the ingredients are impure . . . ? Zemblan patriot M.F. forwards, from the generally-reliable Dr. Jekyll section of the Wall St. Journal, an article so mystifyingly pointless it might be mistaken for the work of Mr. Hyde (who is usually to be found in the darker, danker environs of the editorial page). The general argument -- perhaps echoing some misguided speculation from Sue Schmidt of the Post (see below) -- is that John Ashcroft's Department of Justice might use the ongoing pissing match over Joe Wilson's veracity to delay indictments in the Plame case until after the election. Yet the article suggests no earthly pretext, legal or otherwise, upon which such a delay might be sought:
Even if charges are brought, the details in the Senate report about Mr. Wilson give the White House more ammunition to use against him, blunting the blow if someone in the administration is accused of being behind the leak.

Mr. Wilson says the question of whether his wife suggested him for the trip "is absolutely irrelevant" to the decision on bringing charges against whoever leaked her name. In his letter to the committee last week, he argued that his wife simply recited his credentials to CIA officials making the choice.

Yet Republican Party officials have seized on the Senate Intelligence Committee's findings in an effort to counteract the damage done to President Bush from the leak affair and, more broadly, from Mr. Wilson's criticism in dozens of speeches and television appearances over the past year of Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie in a statement calls Mr. Wilson "a liar" who has made "allegations against the president that have now been proven false." On CBS's "Face the Nation" yesterday, Mr. Gillespie said that Mr. Wilson "is an adviser to the Kerry campaign" who has been "entirely discredited."

That overstates the report's findings about Mr. Wilson. But whether it damages him or not, the report, in strictly legal terms, shouldn't have any effect on Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation into whether the White House violated a law that makes it a crime to disclose the name of a clandestine intelligence officer. At the same time, Mr. Fitzgerald must weigh whether to push his case all the way to its potentially messy end -- namely, indicting administration officials before the election.

Whatever action Mr. Fitzgerald takes will have political implications. "I think this [Senate report] was an effort on behalf of the Republicans to discredit Mr. Wilson by showing why the White House outed his wife and maybe head off an indictment. Nice try, but the law says you don't out a clandestine operative no matter what the reason," says Larry Johnson, one of a group of former CIA officers that has pushed for indictments in the case.
So what was the point again?

In related matters, William Safire -- the only living human still flogging the Mohammed-Atta-in-Prague whopper -- announces in today's NYT that Joe Wilson is a liar, and therefore the infamous "sixteen words" that even the White House conceded should not have been in the President's 2003 SOTU must have been gospel truth. Impressively, Safire needs only three paragraphs to make four glaring errors of fact. We are not at all certain whether it's anatomically possible to tear an asshole a new asshole, but if it is, Laura Rozen does it here.

Also: Josh Marshall got into a wee brouhaha with Post ombudsman Michael Getler over some unkind remarks Marshall made about Sue Schmidt's coverage of the Wilson story. Since Getler essentially concedes two of Marshall's three main criticisms and happens to be dead wrong on the third, we score the brouhaha for Josh.

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