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'All the President's Men' Revisited?
The Libby indictment for perjury and obstruction
Ronda Hauben (netizen2)     Print Article 
Published 2006-04-10 14:09 (KST)   
On Saturday evening, April 8, in the New York area, the PBS TV featured a movie about the Watergate cover-up that brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon in the early 1970s. The film "All the President's Men" showed the investigation by two Washington Post reporters into a burglary in the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C.(1) The investigation went on for a sustained period of time and ultimately uncovered that the burglars were part of a secret organization established from the White House to deal with those the Nixon White House perceived as "political enemies."

The film was particularly relevant in view of the continuing investigation by Special Council, Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald into the source of the leak of classified information about the undercover status of CIA agent Valerie Plame. Plame's undercover identity at the time was leaked to reporters to try to discredit her husband Joseph Wilson's effort to demonstrate the inaccuracy of the pretext that the Bush administration was using to justify the invasion of Iraq.

The Watergate cover-up was exposed with the help of investigative reporters. Nixon resigned his office rather than face impeachment. The current investigation into a political cover-up by the Bush White House, however, is lacking a similar investigation by the press. Instead reporters like Robert Novack, helped the administration to expose Plame's undercover identity. Other reporters like Judith Miller of the New York Times, delayed the Prosecutor's investigation by refusing to reveal. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's conversations with her for almost three months in the name of protecting her sources.

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Once Miller did testify, it became clear that she as a reporter was being involved in corrupt activity by White House officials. Fitzgerald has charged Libby with perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements to federal investigators, which are criminal felonies under the law in the U.S.

While Libby's trial is set to begin in January 2007, his lawyers have filed requests asking the Prosecutor for copies of a large number of documents as part of the discovery process, many of which the Prosecutor has described as irrelevant to the charges. Most recently, the Prosecution filed a "Government's Consolidated Response to Defendant's Motions to Compel Discovery" and posted a copy at the Web site for official government documents in the case (PDF).

In response to the recent prosecution document, a number of newspapers are questioning whether the President or Vice President declassified the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) to make it available to reporters so as to discredit Joe Wilson's report that Iraq was not trying to buy uranium from Niger. The press is thus raising the issue of whether it is appropriate for the White House to declassify documents for such a purpose.

It is important, however, that such discussion not be a distraction from the facts that have been documented in Libby's case by the Prosecutor and the questions raised by these facts. Since Libby's request for documents from the Prosecution is presented as the source of the statement that the White House declassified the NIE, it is helpful to keep in mind that Libby is charged with perjury and obstruction of justice. He and his lawyers are unreliable as sources of information to help to get to the bottom of the issues in the investigation Fitzgerald is carrying out.

In the April 6 court document, Fitzgerald refers to Libby's contention that he was not doing anything illegal in disclosing the contents of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) to certain reporters and others.

Fitzgerald argues that this is not an issue relevant to the case he has brought against Libby. He explains:
"The question of whether defendant did anything improper in disclosing the NIE is not relevant to whether defendant committed perjury by lying about something else"..."To the contrary, proof that the disclosure was proper would not negate proof that he committed perjury by lying about something else."
Fitzgerald describes the perjury charge against Libby.
"He is charged with perjury for lying under oath when he testified that he thought he learned information about Wilson's wife as if it were new from Tim Russert [a TV reporter - Ed.] on July 8 when in fact the information was neither new to him (he was dispensing it the days before his conversation with Russert) nor was it discussed with Mr. Russert.
Fitzgerald also refers to the circumstances that Libby was in when he spoke with the FBI and other criminal justice officials.
"Defendant's request for discovery to show an absence of motive to lie or conceal his conduct overlooks the fact that even the materials defendant appended to his motion show that in early October 2003 (when defendant first gave his story) there would be great embarrassment to the administration if it became publicly known that defendant had participated in disseminating information about Ms. Wilson's CIA employment, and defendant would have had every reason to assume he would be fired if his true actions became known. Then National Security Adviser Dr. Condoleeza Rice publicly stated that she knew 'nothing of any such White House effort to reveal any of this, and it would certainly not be the way the president would expect his White House to operate'."
Fitzgerald provides the text of a handwritten statement from Libby to White House Press Secretary McClellan. Libby asked McClellan to say:
"People have made too much of the difference in how I described Karl and Libby. I've talked to Libby. I said it was ridiculous about Karl. And it is ridiculous about Libby. Libby was not the source of the Novak story. And he did not leak classified information."
In response to Libby's request. McClellan told reporters, "these individuals (referring to Rove and Elliot Abrams, and Libby) assured me that they were not involved in this."

Further, Fitzgerald's document explains:
"Thus, as defendant approached his first FBI interview he knew that the White House had publicly staked its credibility on there being no White House involvement in the leaking of information about Ms. Wilson and that, at defendant's specific request through the Vice President, the White House had publicly proclaimed that defendant was 'not involved in this'. The President had vowed to fire anyone involved in leaking classified information. In that context, defendant proceeded to tell the FBI that he had merely passed information from one reporter (Russert) to other reporters while disclaiming any knowledge of whether the information he passed was true, and certainly unaware that he knew this classified information from government channels. Once that die was cast, defendant repeated the story in a subsequent interview and during two grand jury appearances."
Fitzgerald has shown how the scene had been set at the White House for Libby to lie to law enforcement officials. To do the needed investigation into the source of the leak that the Special Council has been charged to carry out, however, requires getting beyond the lies and obstruction. Thus Fitzgerald has focused on the perjury and obstruction of justice charges in an effort to encourage witnesses to provide accurate information for the investigation he is conducting.

At the end of the April 6 court document, the Prosecutor requests help from the court to expedite the litigation. Libby's request, Fitzgerald explains, is to introduce 'thorny issues' that will complicate the litigation. In a similar way, can the U.S. press give support to the Prosecutor to expedite the investigation, or will it be diverted from the critical issues by Libby's introduction of "thorny issues"?
1) PBS, Saturday, 9 p.m., April 8, 2006.

"All The President's Men" (1976) (138')
"Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman star in this film about the Watergate investigation, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein."

They also showed:

"Thirty years later"
"This documentary reconsiders the Watergate scandal and the impact it had on so many facets of American life: the public's view of the presidency; the balance of power between the executive and the legislature; the relationship between politicians and journalists; and the role of the judiciary. The special brings together many of the Watergate protagonists, to recall the drama in which they played key roles and reflect on the repercussions for American public life."
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ronda Hauben

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