I don't usually follow Washington scandals too closely, especially once I decide that no real legal controversy exists. This is because Washington scandals are almost universally phony and tilted by the media against conservatives and Republicans. Plamegate was no exception, and since learning that Valerie Plame was not a covert operative for the purposes of the identity shield laws I have only paid attention when a leftist has decided to make an ass of himself waiting for Karl Rove's much rumored "frog march".
Now the scandal has more or less settled with the revelation that former deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was the person who revealed Plame's identity to the press. The facts surrounding these reports illustrate what I mean when I say Washington scandals are phony: the really scandalous behavior gets ignored in favor of contrived controversy.
I take it as an obligation to understand what happens in the world. By that I mean I want the full story. I don't think I necessarily have an obligation to do anything about it: most problems we see as important are fleeting. But I still want to know the truth.
From the start, it was clear to me that the media and the various talking heads bloviating about this story in no way respected the obvious truths of the matter. The distance between what was known about the case and what people tried to argue was as vast as a sea. It isn't simply that known facts were spun, or even that known facts were dismissed; it seemed that even suggesting the existence of certain facts brought down wrath and fury.
In the Plame case, the two obvious truths that none of the anti-Bush crowd wanted to recognize were that it was Joe Wilson who lied about Saddam Hussein and Nigeri uranium, and that "outing" his wife Valerie Plame could not under the law be considered a crime. Thus, to me, the most important part of the story became how it was the scandal was sustained for so long.
We are much closer to knowing the answer to that question today than we were before Richard Armitage was revealed to be the leaker. At FOX News, Jack Kelly helpfully and succinctly explains the case:
In his 2003 State of the Union address, President Bush said: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
First in leaks to reporters, and then in his own op-ed in The New York Times, a retired diplomat, Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, said the president was lying. His claim to speak with authority was that in the spring of 2002, the CIA had sent him to Niger to see if Saddam had tried to buy uranium there.
Wilson's charge was important because it marked the beginning of the "Bush lied" meme about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But investigations by the Senate Intelligence Committee; the Robb-Silberman commission on prewar intelligence, and the British Butler commission all concluded it was Wilson who was not telling the truth. Saddam had indeed tried to buy uranium in Africa, as even Wilson himself had acknowledged to the CIA officers who debriefed him after his Niger trip.
This is the truth about Joe Wilson. Supposedly, despite the fact Wilson was lying, George Bush instructed his staff to silence Wilson by intimidating his wife.
The scandal that ensued was a procession of half-truths, insinuations, and pompous rants that never failed to overlook Wilson's lie. It has continued for well over three years now, and with the knowledge of many who had no interest beyond watching Karl Rove suffer. As Kelly notes:
Armitage, Powell, and Justice department officials knew the truth, but said nothing. Clarice Feldman, a Washington, D.C. lawyer, described Armitage's silence as "inexplicable and perfidious."
Fitzgerald knew in his first few days on the job that Armitage was the leaker; that the leak was inadvertent and that the Intelligence Identities Act hadn't been violated. Yet he has persisted in a sham prosecution.
Isikoff and Corn write: "The Plame leak in Novak's column has long been cited by Bush administration critics as a deliberate act of payback, orchestrated to punish and/or discredit Joe Wilson after he charged that the Bush administration had misled the American public about prewar intelligence."
They add, lamely, that: "The Armitage news does not fit neatly into that framework."
They don't mention that Isikoff and (especially) Corn have been among the journalists flogging this meme, and the time that it takes to research and write a book indicates they've known for quite some time that it isn't true. They're only willing to tell the truth, now, for money.
The behavior of Fitzgerald, Corn, Isikoff and others is the real story behind the Plamegate scandal. They are the bad actors in this preposterous drama, and we will be waiting a very long time before anyone tells that tale.