Posted By Carpetbagger On 25th July 2005 @ 09:03 In General | 4 Comments
Yesterday, the New York Times' Frank Rich reminded a lot of the political world that there was lengthy gap between when the Plame investigation began and when the White House started preserving documents related to the probe. My concern, however, is that the gap is even worse than Rich made it out to be.
As White House counsel, [Alberto Gonzales] was the one first notified that the Justice Department, at the request of the C.I.A., had opened an investigation into the outing of Joseph Wilson's wife. That notification came at 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 29, 2003, but it took Mr. Gonzales 12 more hours to inform the White House staff that it must "preserve all materials" relevant to the investigation. This 12-hour delay, he has said, was sanctioned by the Justice Department, but since the department was then run by John Ashcroft, a Bush loyalist who refused to recuse himself from the Plame case, inquiring Senate Democrats would examine this 12-hour delay as closely as an 18½-minute tape gap.
"Every good prosecutor knows that any delay could give a culprit time to destroy the evidence," said Senator Charles Schumer, correctly, back when the missing 12 hours was first revealed almost two years ago. A new Gonzales confirmation process now would have quickly devolved into a neo-Watergate hearing. Mr. Gonzales was in the thick of the Plame investigation, all told, for 16 months.
As much as I appreciate Rich bringing the 12-hour-gap question back to the forefront, his characterization was understating the case.
On Friday, Sept. 26, 2003, the CIA directed the Justice Department to launch a criminal probe into the leak. Three days later, on Monday, Sept. 29, 2003, the WH counsel's office was formally notified about the investigation. And then 12 hours after that, Gonzales told White House staff to preserve materials. In other words, the amount of time Bush aides were given to, perhaps, discard and destroy relevant evidence after the DoJ began its work wasn't just 12 hours; it was several days.
It's not as if the Gonzales notification — on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2003 — told Rove & Co. something new. MSNBC told the world about the investigation that Friday night. This means Rove & Co. learned on Friday night that they were being investigated, but weren't formally told to start securing relevant materials until Tuesday morning. In case the MSNBC report wasn't clear enough, a front-page article was published in the Washington Post about the Justice Department's criminal investigation a full 48 hours before WH staffers were told to preserve potentially incriminating evidence.
There are new questions about when Gonzales told WH Chief of Staff Andy Card about the investigation, but this seems largely irrelevant. Card and the rest of the Bush gang didn't need word from the WH counsel's office on Sept. 29, 2003, to know that an investigation was underway; they, like the rest of us, learned about the probe days before hand.
The Bush gang didn't have 12 hours to cover their tracks — they had a whole weekend.
It's also important to note that Rich's discussion of the 12-hour gap, while important, isn't new. Senate Dems tried to raise hell about this two years ago, but no one — in Congress, the administration, or in the media — listened.
I appreciate Patrick Fitzgerald's reputation and believe him to be a credible prosecutor, who appears to have run a fair and thorough investigation. That's not the problem here. The question is whether Fitzgerald's probe has had access to all the information it should have received.
As Sens. Daschle, Biden, Levin, and Schumer said in October 2003, "We are at risk of seeing this investigation so compromised that those responsible for this national security breach will never be identified and prosecuted."
A scary prospect, indeed.
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