Editorial Roundup for Friday — November 04, 2005

• White House scandal: The cancer of deception

White House scandal: The cancer of deception

St. Louis Post—Dispatch, October 3

The White House leak scandal is about truth — the truthfulness of a witness appearing before a grand jury, the truthfulness of a president standing before the nation on the brink of war.

I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff and a top aide to President George W. Bush, was indicted Friday for lying to FBI agents and a grand jury about his effort to discredit a critic of the war in Iraq. Mr. Libby has resigned.

Mr. Libby acted after newspaper and magazine articles challenged the truthfulness of the president’s misleading statement — the infamous 16 words — in his 2003 State of the Union speech in which he claimed that Saddam Hussein had sought uranium from Africa for a nuclear weapon.

The prosecution of Mr. Libby will not resolve the question of whether the president was truthful or the war just. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, the straight-shooting U.S. attorney from Chicago, stressed that antagonists on those issues will have to find their answers elsewhere.

The events outlined in the Libby indictment begin with Mr. Bush’s State of the Union speech on Jan. 28, 2003, and the questions raised about it the following spring. After a May 2003 New York Times column challenged the president’s claim about Saddam seeking uranium from Africa, Mr. Libby began poking into the background of an unnamed former ambassador cited in the column. The former ambassador, Joseph Wilson, had gone to Niger and concluded it hadn’t sold uranium to Saddam.

A top State Department official reported to Mr. Libby that Mr. Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, worked at the CIA and was involved in planning the Niger trip. Mr. Cheney told Mr. Libby the same thing.

After a New Republic article in mid-June accused the vice president’s office of mishandling intelligence to justify the war, Mr. Libby shifted into a higher gear. He talked to three reporters: Judith Miller of the Times, Matt Cooper of Time magazine, and NBC’s Tim Russert. Mr. Libby told the FBI and grand jury that the reporters had heard about Mrs. Wilson’s CIA connection before he spoke to them. Mr. Fitzgerald says that’s false, and that Mr. Libby damaged national security by leaking this classified information to the press.

The indictment of Mr. Libby leaves many unanswered questions: What was the role of Karl Rove, the president’s political guru? What did Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney know and when did they know it? Did the White House intentionally distort intelligence before the war ?

Mr. Fitzgerald’s continuing investigation may answer the Rove question. But a court of law is not the place to gather facts on the roles of other White House officials or on the potential misuse of intelligence. That would require a blue ribbon investigation on the model of the 9/11 commission.

Congress — which promised last year to look into intelligence manipulation but didn’t — has no appetite for an investigation. Nor will Mr. Bush face up to these questions. As he left for Camp David on Friday, he extolled Mr. Libby for working “tirelessly” and for having “sacrificed much” in “extraordinary times.” Then he changed the subject.

Mr. Bush should have pledged to rid his White House of the cancer of deception — and the deceivers. As Mr. Fitzgerald said Friday, “If you compromise the truth, the whole process is lost.”


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