Cheney leaves country in midst of Libby trial

1806.jpg

Commentary

In his Washington Post column, Eugene Robinson writes, “If you’ve been following the … Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby perjury trial, I can understand how you might confuse Dick Cheney with Tony Soprano. Cheney’s office is beginning to sound a lot like the Bada Bing, minus the dancers.”

Libby was Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff during and after the build up to the Iraq war. Most of us believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the Bush administration knowingly used lies and distortions to fabricate rationales for this immoral war and went after anyone who contradicted them with a vengeance. The complexity sewn into this crazy quilt of deception is formidable.

The organized crime analogy to Cheney, though, brings visions of Al Capone to my head. After all, Capone was brought down on tax evasion, not murder charges. Perhaps G-man Patrick Fitzgerald could start a similar chain of events with a successful prosecution of Libby for perjury.

In a nutshell, Libby is being tried for perjury and obstruction of justice in the investigation of a leak that exposed a war critic’s wife as a CIA agent. Valerie Plame Wilson was an undercover CIA operative working on the prevention of the spread of WMDs. In 2002, her husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson, had been dispatched to Africa by the CIA to check out intelligence that Iraq had an agreement to acquire uranium “yellowcake” from Niger. Wilson had concluded that there was no such arrangement. Wilson wrote of his findings in a New York Times opinion piece titled “What I didn’t find in Africa” on July 6, 2003.

According to prosecutor Fitzgerald, there was “concerted action” by “multiple people in the White House” to use classified information to “discredit, punish or seek revenge against” a critic of President Bush’s war in Iraq. This included illegally “outing” an undercover CIA agent.

Libby is not on trial for exposing Plame. He is on trial for lying to the grand jury during the Plame-leak investigation.

For me, this trial has legs beyond Libby. With the political changes in Washington and the inquiries and hearings on Iraq — from pre-war intelligence to contractors’ corruption — this trial could be the undoing of Cheney.

Libby’s defense went after FBI agent Deborah Bond, who testified that during her investigation Libby said he may have talked with Cheney about going after Plame. Introduced into evidence were Cheney’s handwritten notes that implicate the president in the outing and smear campaign, something Bush has vehemently denied.

NBC news analyst Craig Crawford said the trial “seems destined to serve as an unofficial impeachment of Cheney’s integrity.” And while last November Democrats made an election promise not to impeach the president, “they did not close that door for the vice president,” he speculated.

When Libby was indicted last year, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) said it “represents the beginning but not the end of the process of holding the Bush administration accountable for its conduct in foisting a pre-emptive war on this country.” Conyers now chairs the House Judiciary Committee, whose oversight plan includes investigating abuses of executive power.

Libby’s defense attorney announced Feb. 13 that neither Libby nor Cheney would take the stand. The announcement about Cheney may be due to his being out of the country. Apparently the president asked Cheney to go to Japan and Australia next week for 10 days “to thank these two allies for their efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.” As Saturday Night Live’s Church Lady always said, “How convenient.”

Teresa Albano (talbano @ pww.org) is editor of the People’s Weekly World.