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Will There Be More Indictments?
Will There Be More Indictments?
Fri Oct 28, 2005 at 10:44:56 PM PDT
I've been playing things close to the chest, at the moment, content to post the various sometimes-well-sourced, sometimes-questionably-sourced reporting of various outlets. But the obvious question on everyone's mind is this: will we see more indictments?
That's a very, very difficult question. More difficult than I think the vast majority of people -- in the media, in the punditry, and on the blogs, and on both sides of the partisan divide -- are giving proper credit. The only proper answer is maybe, and anyone laying out odds in either direction is almost certain to be burned.
To shoot down a talking point: Fitzgerald has said, both a year ago and today, that the vast bulk of the investigation is over. There is no reason to doubt his word. However, saying that the investigation is largely over is not the same thing as saying the potential implications of that investigation are over.
From the text of the indictment itself -- and I, like everyone else, have been going over it with a finetooth comb -- it is very clear that the investigation was able to drill down into who knew what, and when, and in front of who, with perhaps more accuracy than the White House was willing to give them credit for. Fitzgerald has a very good idea of the surrounding facts of the case. He also, from reading between the lines of the indictment, has excellent witnesses as to the motives of various officials. And that likely happened very early in the investigation.
What Fitzgerald is saying, and no doubt correctly, is that the investigation has uncovered the facts of the case. But he also said, today, in no uncertain terms, that Libby's repeated obstruction has hampered further efforts to explore the underlying legality of the actions being investigated. He asserted quite clearly that the obstruction in this case has hindered investigative attempts to determine the applicability of statutes to those underlying, already known actions.
That's both an end to the investigation, and a fuse. It means the investigation is over, for the purposes of determining necessary motives and nuances of knowledge required by the IIPA or Espionage Act... unless something else comes along. And the tricky thing is that, in gathering evidence and testimony for public trial, the odds are very, very good that a "something else" may indeed appear. Indeed, the thoroughness of the indictment itself would seem to suggest that there is much, much more evidence perhaps not directly applicable to this indictment in the hands of the special counsel. How much of the rest of it may surface?
The indictment makes a compelling case that Libby himself was the (an?) original leaker, to Miller and others. But it only barely touches on what made other White House officials call other reporters in an attempt to maximize the damage of the leak. Are those actions by other White House officials crimes? Fitzgerald seemed to argue fairly openly that Libby's false testimony was a major factor in obstructing special counsel efforts to analyze any of those actions and find out.
Most importantly, Fitzgerald broadly suggested today -- through his "baseball" analogy and other statements -- that Libby's obstruction was most damaging to determining the intent of the White House leaks, and whether or not Plame's classified status was explicitly known by Libby and others at the time they made their statements, which likely pertains to not only the IIPA, but also to Espionage Act based charges. It seems hardly credible that Libby, and the others did not know that the information was classified, given the apparent sources of the information, unless we imagine a scenario in which classified information was routinely widely distributed and mishandled by the upper levels of the White House. Unfortunately, given what we already know about the handling of intelligence in this administration, that scenario does not necessarily seem farfetched.
The White House is largely forced -- though as of yet, remarkably few reporters are actually calling them on the implications of this defense -- to rely on a defense of wholesale, administration-wide incompetence in the handling of Plame's classified status, in which none of the administration figures with reporter contacts were aware of the provenance of the information they were so methodically sharing.
That's the defense. It's either widespread incompetence in the mishandling of a piece of highly classified information, or an overt conspiracy to distribute that classified information. So at this point, they're going with incompetence.
Today may be the first day that Libby's legal team has gotten any substantial taste of the evidence arrayed against their client's version of events. It is likely the first real glimpse they have gotten of the carnival of senior White House officials, reporters, and other administration officials who will be testifying against Libby's purported version of events. That, in turn, makes for a very volatile legal situation: they have to decide what to do next. As does the ominously titled "Official A" (Karl Rove), presuming he is so named as a nod to his ongoing legal jeopardy.
I don't want to oversell this, or overstate the odds. The odds may be very, very good that the indictments in this case will begin and end with Libby's obstruction. Certainly, the Republican mantra will be that Libby was a lone gunman, acting without approval or assistance from the rest of the White House. And that may very well be true, at least from the standpoint of the "original" first leak.
But there are certain hints -- good ones -- peppered throughout the previous reporting of this leak that suggest the underlying issues in this case are not about a single administration official, but about, at bare minimum, several. There are hints that the "outing" was a coordinated effort -- we've had anonymous "senior administration officals" saying as much to the press, even as far back as 2003. And I think we can have confidence that Fitzgerald has the cooperation of those same officials.
Will there be further indictments? Fitzgerald was very clear in telling the public to expect nothing. But in looking at the parameters of the indictment, at previous press reports, at the statements of anonymous lawyers involved with the case, and most importantly at the details of the very, very solid case that Fitzgerald laid out today in rebutting Libby's repeated testimony, I honestly believe that, at this moment, the decision is balanced on the head of a pin.
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