Public Nuisance

Random commentary and senseless acts of blogging.

The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Monday, October 13, 2003
Calpundit is rather too kind to this Times editorial on the Plame scandal. Kristof is harsh on attempts to spin the crime, noting that, "Republicans have inexcusably tried to whitewash it". But he tries to balance that with a criticism of Democrats for, "engaging in hyperbole when they describe the White House as having put Mrs. Wilson's life in danger and destroyed her career". But the truth is that the exposure does cause some personal danger to Ms Wilson and her family, and any such added risk, although small, is inexcusable. The very public nature of the exposure makes them a potential target not just for foreign intelligence organizations, but also, probably a greater concern, for generalized nut jobs, such as the man who broke into the home of Clinton associate Cody Shearer, vandalizing property and threatening visitors with a gun, after Shearer was falsely accused on talk radio of having threatened Kathleen Willey.

Democrats have consistently emphasized the national security aspects of this story from the beginning. Here is the first statement by any prominent Democrat I know of, Shumer's call for an FBI investigation:"Leaking the name of a CIA agent is tantamount to putting a gun to that agent’s head. It compromises her safety and the safety of her loved ones, not to mention those in her network and other operatives she may have dealt with. On top of that, the officials who have done it may have also seriously jeopardized the national security of this nation." This early treatment by Josh Marshall similarly is more concerned about security implications, although it does suggest, perhaps incorrectly, that ongoing activities of Plame personally were damaged.

Kristof also states:

Moreover, the Democrats cheapen the debate with calls, at the very beginning of the process, for a special counsel to investigate the White House. Hillary Rodham Clinton knows better than anyone how destructive and distracting a special counsel investigation can be, interfering with the basic task of governing, and it's sad to see her display the same pusillanimous partisanship that Republicans showed just a few years ago.

First, Hillary Clinton has no particular knowledge of special counsels. Ken Starr and his cohorts were special prosecutors, appointed under a law that no longer exists, and with a diffenent status than special counsels. Special counsels go back a long way. The first President to hire one - and to fire one - was Ulysses S Grant. Special counsel investigations, not conducted under the Special Prosecutor Act of 1978, have an extensive history, and have generally been more successful than otherwise. It's true that this is a subtle distinction missed by most people, but that's no excuse for a writer in the NY Times making such a mistake.

Kristof also entirely ignores some facts which weaken his case considerably. Karl Rove, a major potential target of this investigation, has close ties not only to Ashcroft's boss, but to Ashcroft himself. Worse, Ashcroft has not merely kept the investigation within normal DoJ channels, he has so far not taken the obvious step of recusing himself. There are legitimate arguments against a special counsel, but recusal is a routine action which should have been immediate and uncontroversial.

One point which nobody seems to have made: one new piece of information in the editorial is that over the past several years, some of Plame's primary duties have been in "liaison roles with other intelligence agencies". Such work would almost certainly have involved foreign travel, which would mean that Plame is covered under the "5 year" provision of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.

In general, Kristof spins the story a standard partisan food fight, with both parties failing to live up to the magisterial ethical standards of the Times. Kristof succeeds in leaving the impression that the malfeasance on each side is about equal, although in one case it involves a premeditated crime involving grave damage to national security and a lack of interest bordering on coverup in prosecuting that crime, on the other is a slightly excessive emphasis exaggerating one aspect of the harm done by this act and a call, which Kristof doubtfully labels as premature, for an independent counsel. Along with some journalistic self-gratification, this closely corresponds to the current Republican approach. David Corn gives an illuminating example of that spin in action.