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Dear Richard Cohen...
Dear Richard Cohen
This was my letter to Richard Cohen regarding this morning's column in the Washington Post:
Dear Mr. Cohen,
From this morning's column regarding Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation of the Plame Leak case, "Let This Leak Go":
The alleged crime involves the outing of Valerie Plame, a CIA operative whose husband, Joseph Wilson IV, had gone to Africa at the behest of the agency and therefore said he knew that the Bush administration -- no, actually, the president himself -- had later misstated (in the State of the Union address, yet) the case that Iraq had sought uranium in Niger.
Wilson made his case in a New York Times op-ed piece. This rocked the administration, which was already fighting to retain its credibility in the face of mounting and irrefutable evidence that the case it had made for war in Iraq -- weapons of mass destruction, above all -- was a fiction. So it set out to impeach Wilson's credibility, purportedly answering the important question of who had sent him to Africa in the first place: his wife. This was a clear case of nepotism, the leakers just as clearly implied.
Not nice, but it was what Washington does day in and day out. (For some historical perspective see George Clooney's "Good Night, and Good Luck'' about Edward R. Murrow and that most odious of leakers-cum-character assassins, Joseph McCarthy.) This is rarely considered a crime. In the Plame case, it might technically be one, but it was not the intent of anyone to out a CIA agent and have her assassinated (which happened once) but to assassinate the character of her husband. This is an entirely different thing. She got hit by a ricochet. [Emphasis added]
Mr. Cohen, please try to refrain from rendering legal opinions. You are quite clearly not qualified in this area.
For that matter, please give up the mind-reading act as well. You have no way of knowing what anyone's intent was in identifying Valerie Plame to the media. As the administration so often reminds us, we are engaged in a global war on terrorism. Identifying and revealing the names of covert agents is not the same as, say, identifying and naming who's gay and who's not in homophobic/Republican Washington, D.C. The information was not only marked "classified", but also marked NF (no foreign). In a time of war, to reveal this information may well be considered treason, regardless of the intent of those who leak the information, hence The Espionage Act.
If you have ever worked for the federal government and been given a SF312 clearance, then you know that it's virtually impossible not to know what you are doing is wrong at the time you are doing it. Further, if one member of the administration had participated, then it might be possible to cry innocence. With the number that is currently standing guilty, by their own admission, it is nothing short of intentional. What the objective of that intent was can only be inferred from their actions, but you cannot state it as fact, nor can I.
Finally, a word about conspiracy charges. As you are likely aware, the heart and soul of a conspiracy charge does not lie in the success or failure of the criminal enterprise agreed to, but that a crime was contemplated and agreed to at all. Why have this law ? Because for people to sit around and agree to commit a crime, even if that crime never happens, is an affront to decent law abiding citizens. It's saying to your neighbors and friends, screw you and your laws and values.
Laws are an expression of the minimum standard of decency we all agree to in order to live together peacefully, civilly and safely. Conspiracy is no different from sleeping with your neighbor's wife or stealing from the collection plate. It is a crime that hurts everyone by its overt disdain for the law. But by applying your logic and values, it seems there is different standard in force- a standard which says, "Hey, everyone does it, so it doesn't matter". Is that the moral and legal guidance we should apply to our own everyday behavior?
It does matter.
I am always amazed by standards of the man who would come to your house and never think of stealing money from your wallet, but thinks nothing of sleeping with your wife. And what you suggest, is merely the Washington version of that scenario.
There is not some special zone around Washington, DC which renders it free from the laws the rest of us must follow. A crime was reported and determined to have been committed. An agent's name was leaked in violation of a law. Once a crime has been committed, it's the job of law enforcement to investigate that crime and prosecute, whether it is "what Washington does day in and day out" or not.
Casey L Morris