- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 1, 2005

What a difference a president and a special prosecutor make. During the Clinton presidency, Democrat partisans James Carville and Paul Begala slandered Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr as a sex maniac with a political agenda — despite his selection by a three-judge panel and expansion of his powers by none other than Attorney General Janet Reno.

Much of the media approvingly and uncritically passed along the sliming of this decent man, asserting Mr. Clinton’s problems were about sex and “everybody” lies about sex. Thus, Mr. Clinton’s lies under oath about his affair with Monica Lewinsky were no big deal.

Though the law establishing the independent counsel expired in 1999, special prosecutors are still used to investigate corruption at high levels of government. The latest is Patrick Fitzgerald, who last Friday announced a five-count indictment against Vice President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, for obstruction of justice, perjury and false statements. The big media have characterized Mr. Fitzgerald as an apolitical straight-shooter and the definition of integrity. Translation: His charges against Mr. Libby must all be true.

Mr. Fitzgerald told reporters the case “is not about the war” in Iraq. Of course it has everything to do with the war. Those who lost the policy battle over going to war are now fighting a rearguard action to damage the Bush administration and win the political war before the 2006 congressional elections and certainly the 2008 presidential contest.

A jury will be asked to make an interesting choice: Who has more credibility: a top government official or reporters to whom Mr. Libby spoke about CIA operative Valerie Plame?

Mr. Libby is not being tried for “outing” Mrs. Plame, but for his statements about her to three journalists, what he said and when he said it. They have one recollection and he has another. For that he faces up to 30 years in prison? Try remembering what you told someone last week. Should you be indicted if your recollection is different from theirs?

The big media agenda can be discerned from the saturation coverage they gave Mr. Libby’s indictments and the short shrift given indictments of several Clinton administration officials.

When a multiple indictment was handed down against Clinton’s agriculture secretary, Mike Espy (later acquitted on all 30 charges), most broadcast networks relayed the news in a sentence or two. It was the same with Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros, indicted on multiple counts for misleading the FBI about payoffs to a mistress. Mr. Cisneros later plea-bargained to a single misdemeanor charge of lying to the FBI.

The Media Research Center noted then the Cisneros indictment generated 18 seconds on ABC’s “World News Tonight,” while the CBS “Evening News” didn’t get to it until the next day, then allocated it just nine seconds, choosing to focus, instead, on a two-minute report about how El Nino was affecting butterflies. Only NBC bothered with a full report the day of the indictment. The following morning, “Today” gave it a few seconds, but neither ABC’s “Good Morning America,” nor CBS’ “This Morning” mentioned Mr. Cisneros the day after the indictment.

By contrast, the Libby indictment story was treated as “Breaking News” and a “News Alert,” the same designations given terrorist threats.

After his acquittal, Mike Espy said the four years and $17 million spent by the government on his case (plus his own legal fees) was a waste and that the independent counsel process should be reformed. I agree with this Democrat.

Since the Independent Counsel Law was established in 1978 in response to the Watergate scandal — and currently provides for special prosecutors appointed by the attorney general or Congress — there have been scores of investigations, but few convictions. It has cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

Most of those indicted were either acquitted, won appeals judgments, plea-bargained to lesser charges, or were pardoned by the presidents they served. Those put through the legal wringer spent millions of dollars on lawyers and suffered enormous professional and personal stress.

Enough Democrats and Republicans have been forced to run this gantlet that perhaps a truly bipartisan solution can be found to end it. That Libby’s indictments are not about policy, but about who remembers what and when, ought to be the final straw in this ridiculous process.

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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