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The Never-Ending Story By: Byron York
The Hill | Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Do you believe Democrats will be swept into control of the White House, the House, and the Senate next year on a wave of public outrage over the CIA leak affair?

Neither do I. Democrats might indeed win it all in 2008, but Plamegate won’t be the reason.

Nevertheless, some are still trying to wring the last drops of political benefit from the CIA leak saga, still acting as if the public is hungry for one more retelling of the story.

The latest retelling came last Wednesday, when House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) held a hearing entitled “The Use and Misuse of Presidential Clemency Power for Executive Branch Officials.”  

The subject wasn’t the CIA leak matter as a whole, but President Bush’s commutation of former Cheney aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s 30-month sentence for perjury and obstruction of justice in the case.

Among those testifying was the U.S. pardon attorney, plus a noted academic expert on presidential clemency.

But who was the star witness?  None other than that noted pardon authority, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

When Conyers called on him, Wilson told his story one more time. Perhaps you weren’t interested, but there are supporters out there who never tire of hearing it.

These days, however, there’s just a tinge of defensiveness in Wilson’s version of the tale. He has grown tired of Libby’s defenders pointing out that no one was charged with, much less convicted of, leaking his wife’s identity.

As Wilson sees it, that just shows how enormous the crime was.

“Who is he protecting?” Wilson asked of Libby.  

You get one guess. “The president, at the very least, owes the American people a full and honest explanation of his actions and those of other senior administration officials in this matter,” Wilson said, “including, but not limited to, the vice president.”

Of course. Libby, and President Bush, and everyone else in the administration is protecting the source of all wrongdoing in this case: Dick Cheney.

Why else would Libby have lied about the CIA leak matter, if not to protect the vice president? It’s all so clear.

Except that it’s not. At the Libby trial, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and his deputies laid out their evidence on whom Libby was protecting.

And their conclusion was: He was protecting himself.

“Let’s look at Mr. Libby and his motive to lie,” deputy prosecutor Jeffrey Zeidenberg told the jury in closing arguments.
(This is a condensed version of Zeidenberg’s hour-long presentation.)“He knew that there was a criminal investigation into the possible unauthorized disclosure of classified information.

“He knew that he signed an agreement that says you can’t even be negligent in handling this type of information.

“Recall what the White House spokesman said: ‘If someone in this administration leaked classified information, they will no longer be part of this administration.’

“Now, there’s no question that Mr. Libby had reason to think he’s going to be fired — at a minimum. [So] he decided to lie. He made up a story.”

Now Libby, of course, maintained that he didn’t lie, that he just got a bunch of related events mixed up. At the least, he showed that his accusers sometimes got things mixed up, too.

But in any event, it’s fair to say that Fitzgerald and his staff knew a bit more about the events of the CIA leak affair than Joseph Wilson.

But it’s no fun to say that Libby was just trying to protect himself. It’s much more entertaining to allege some sort of deep, dark, unknown conspiracy.

“In commuting Mr. Libby’s sentence, the president has removed any incentive for Mr. Libby to cooperate with the prosecutor,” Wilson said. “The obstruction of justice is ongoing …”

Maybe Wilson doesn’t remember that Libby testified twice before Fitzgerald’s grand jury, and all eight hours of his recorded testimony were played in public during Libby’s trial.

He hasn’t been silent. And the two conversations he was convicted of lying about, one with NBC’s Tim Russert and the other with Matt Cooper, then of Time magazine, hardly contained the keys to the CIA leak case.

Still, there are people who just know there’s a secret out there that, if they can just get to it, will blow the roof off the Bush White House.

So they keep believing and keep telling the story, over and over again.

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