The fall guy

March 07, 2007

The vice president's chief of staff lied, made a false statement and obstructed an investigation. Those acts may have prevented prosecutors from getting to the bottom of the Valerie Plame Wilson case. They strongly suggest that he was attempting to divert the investigation - because there was something to hide, and someone to protect.

One of the jurors who convicted I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Jr. yesterday spoke on the courthouse steps after the verdict had been delivered. He described how the jury had been frustrated at having to stand in judgment of Mr. Libby when it was clear that others had also been involved in revealing Ms. Wilson's identity as a CIA agent, in what was plainly an attempt to lash back at her husband, Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV. The issue was Iraq. This case, first and foremost, is about the war.

And it is about the role of Vice President Dick Cheney. Mr. Libby's crimes tell us that there was something he didn't want the FBI, or prosecutors, or a grand jury - or the public - to know. It's immaterial that the prosecutor in his case, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, has decided there are no criminal charges he can bring over the outing of Ms. Wilson itself. Mr. Libby was willing to commit a series of felonies rather than tell the truth about the goings-on inside Mr. Cheney's office.

The legal question, having to do with perjury and related charges, has been settled - for now, at any rate. The larger question has to do with the government's conduct during the winter and spring of 2003, when it decided that going to war with Iraq was such an excellent idea. Mr. Cheney was the most enthusiastic proponent of the war, and he seemed to take a peculiar, grim satisfaction in issuing the direst and darkest warnings about Iraq's malevolent capabilities - all of which proved to be fantasies of the most insubstantial sort. When Mr. Wilson challenged the bogus claim that Iraq had sought "yellowcake" uranium in Africa, Mr. Cheney's office, as the trial testimony made clear, coordinated the effort to undermine him. But there's much more that is still not clear.

Congress has the means and the obligation to pursue the truth obscured by Mr. Libby's crimes. The legal proceedings have offered a revealing, but far from complete, glimpse of a reckless and dishonest administration plunging the country into war. Mr. Libby may be going to prison, but the buck doesn't stop with him.

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