Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Rules Only Apply When We Want Them To Apply

Here's the column that ran this past Sunday. One interesting editing note is that I went to great lengths not to use the outed CIA agent's name in the column--but then the editor's headline used her name anyway. I guess it's old news at this point, but it seemed somehow indiscreet to refer to her by her maiden/professional name, even if it's all part of the fun-and-games now. I also don't quite understand the main headline and don't think it fits the column, but maybe that's why I'm not an editor. Anyway, due to being out of town I filed late, so my editor didn't have the usual amount of time to figure out how to describe what I'm saying in 10 words or less.

For those of you still interested in the previous week's column about flat-out-wrong legal reasoning that County Attorney Andrew Thomas used to justify Patrick Haab's behavior as a citizen's arrest, the Arizona Republic today carried an above-the-fold front-page story describing how contrary to Haab's self-description, he never served in Iraq, and he was "on the verge of being removed from the military because he was paranoid, threatened to kill himself and pulled a knife in an altercation with fellow soldiers." So we have faulty legal reasoning being used to justify an aggravated assault by a paranoid and a liar. Hooray for the Arizona ADL chapter in backing Thomas on this one! They sure choose their heroes well. Why bother speaking truth to power when you can suck up to a right-wing officeholder instead? It's so much more fun!

The Valerie Plame Affair

East Valley Tribune, July 31, 2005

An anonymous angry Republican wrote in response to my column 2 weeks ago about Karl Rove and his disclosure of the covert CIA agent’s identity by saying, basically, “Nyah, nyah, what about Sandy Berger?”

So let’s recall how Berger, President Clinton’s National Security Advisor, violated rules on handling classified information -- and it’s worth recalling, if only for the story’s weirdness.

In 2003, to prepare for his testimony before the 9/11 Commission, Berger went to the National Archives Annex to review classified documents from his time in office. Berger removed five copies of classified documents, hiding them in his briefcase, jacket, and (most strangely) his pants, and later destroyed three of the copies at his office. He also took his handwritten notes with him, which also violated classified information rules. Berger returned his notes, along with two copies, to Archives staff after they confronted him, but initially denied having destroyed the other three copies.

Even without the hiding-secret-documents-in-his-pants part, Berger’s behavior was bizarre and pointless. Berger received only copies and never had the originals; anyway, as that’s how a bureaucracy functions, there were other copies anyway. He also forgot that everyone working in the classified Archives facility is monitored, and that employees kept track of each piece of paper he touched, and thus had an exact paper trail of Berger’s violations.

Berger’s initial stonewall crumbled and, faced with the evidence, he admitted his fault, pled guilty to a misdemeanor, and took his punishment, which included a $10,000 fine and revocation of his security clearance for 3 years. But he did take his medicine.

You didn’t get orchestrated media attacks on the Archives employees as secret Republicans out to embarrass anyone associated with the Clinton administration, or pundits claiming that the copies Berger took really weren’t classified, or planning Senate hearings to argue that they shouldn’t have been classified originally.

You didn’t have the liberal equivalent of The Wall Street Journal editorial page arguing that by destroying the extra copies Berger was really acting in the national interest by reducing paperwork, for which he should get an award.

I certainly could argue that what Berger did wasn’t as serious as what Karl Rove and Lewis Libby did in leaking the covert CIA agent’s name -- which would let anyone with access to Google track her back to any foreigners she had worked with or to any current CIA activities still using the “Boston consulting firm” she used as cover. Berger destroyed copies of documents; as the originals and other copies of the documents still existed, the three destroyed copies were easily replaced and no information was lost. Berger also didn’t leak the document to selected members of the media, putting classified information into public circulation.

So even if what Rove and Libby did was arguably worse than Berger’s bizarre behavior, I’d settle if they settled for the same plea agreement as Berger. If Rove and Libby each admit fault, pay a $10,000 fine, and lose their security clearances for 3 years, we’ll call it even. But of course, we won’t; rather than ever admit a mistake, much less pay the price for a mistake, we instead get the usual Rove Formula: Deny, delay, distract, and demonize.

Maybe the CIA agent’s husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, is a self-important, self-promoting, blowhard -- but that’s hardly a valid criticism from supporters of J.D. Hayworth. And ultimately, the argument shouldn’t be over personalities, but rather over whether Iraq really was “reconstituting” its nuclear programs and seeking to purchase uranium from Niger -- and on the substance (does anyone still care about substance?), Joe Wilson was right and the Bush administration was wrong. Maybe Wilson was lucky, but he was right -- and the Bush administration could have argued its case against Wilson’s conclusions without ever mentioning his wife’s name.

Remember when you could fight a political battle without needing to smear the guy’s wife? That used to be off limits; no more. Maybe we shouldn’t worry so much about the effects of Grand Theft Auto on teenagers, and more about the effects of Karl Rove on adults.


Anonymous said...

I am not sure what Rove or Libby have done. The Grand Jury is still obtaining the facts. Until I hear it from the jury, I am less inclined to believe the hype that Rove has committed a crime. You appear to want his confession without those facts. I cannot be so judgemental. But I am glad to read your last paragraph.

"Remember when you could fight a political battle without needing to smear the guy's wife? I hope you feel that way today while the NY Times is trying to get the adoption papers of Judge Roberts unsealed.

Anonymous said...

Actually, you won't hear facts from a grand jury--testimony before a grand jury, because it's compelled and without counsel present, is supposed to remain secret. The disclosures have come from witnesses before the grand jury, like Time reporter Matt Cooper, because witnesses are allowed to disclose what they told the grand jury. They just can't disclose anything else other than their testimony. (There also have been pretty clearly leaks from counsel for Rove and Libby, which aren't allowed. The prosecutor in this case is doing a pretty good job of not leaking. Ken Starr could learn a thing or two from this guy.)

So we have Cooper's report of his testimony, published in Time, in which he reports what he said and how it happened, which is quite different than how the White House had previously described things. You can evaluate those facts now, without deciding whether a law has been violated. And if you re-read the original column, my point (before I got sidetracked into discussing Sandy Berger, but the documents-hidden-in-his-pants thing was too much fun to pass up) was that regardless of what the prosecutor decides to do, and what a jury eventually does with that, it's clear that the White House was no passive consumer of WMD hype from the CIA, but instead was actively seeking to push its viewpoint and, as in this case, to discredit anything or anyone that had the temerity to disagree with the White House conclusion.

As for waiting to pronounce guilt, I think I've done that--but I'll check with Sandy Berger as to when it's OK to jump to conclusions. As to attacking the family in politics--let me consult with Hillary and Chelsea Clinton and find out how they feel about it.

Anonymous said...

The press was not on Mr. Berger everyday month after month. OK conservative talking heads were thats normal but it died, Burger plead guilty & recieved his penalty, although it was quite light. Air America goes 24/7 with it. I understand there ratings are falling, it's worn out thats why. I wish they'd move on to something like the developing scandal at Air America. Isn't that ironic stealing public money from poor children & elderly people. Maybe you could do a column on it. I agree with the previous commentor. Lets see what the special prosecutor comes up with. Then we can make judgenet on penalties.

Tedski said...

Nice column, Sam. Funny how when you point out the ironies of conservatives all of a sudden wanting us to wait for all the facts to come out when the president's name isn't Clinton, they want to change the subject to Air America.

Say, if they want to talk about shaky investment practices at Air America, can we talk about Fife Symington? Just wondering, I mean, we can change the subject too.