- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 3, 2005

At entrances to Washington, D.C., there are signs welcoming visitors to the nation’s capital. Above those a new one should be added: “Beware of the cover-up.” This way, those coming to Washington to take jobs in the government or currently working here will be reminded that in every administration, the cover-up gets people in trouble as much and often more than the underlying crime. Here we go again with I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

How Libbygate will play out depends on the personalities and individuals involved just as Watergate depended uniquely on John Dean. On one side we have Patrick Fitzgerald, a smart, hard-working, experienced savvy prosecutor. His assignment was to determine whether there had been a violation of a federal statute that makes it illegal for a government official to knowingly disclose the identity of a confidential government agent. A single individual can be charged with a violation of this statute, or there could be a conspiracy among several government officials to violate the statute.

Mr. Fitzgerald has demonstrated that he is very deliberate in how he proceeds. He appears to have been ready to indict Karl Rove. At the last minute he held back when Mr. Rove submitted new documents purporting to show that he simply forgot his conversation about former Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife with Time magazine reporter, Matthew Cooper.

On the other side, we have Mr. Libby, educated at Yale University and Columbia Law School. Mr. Libby was successful in private law practice before he entered the government to take the job as Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff and assistant to President Bush. From people who know Mr. Libby, he is careful, thoughtful and meticulous about what he says. Taking this job in government meant an enormous financial sacrifice for Mr. Libby, who has two young children and a wife who resigned her job as a Democratic staff lawyer on the Senate Judiciary Committee and chose to stay home with their children.

At this point, no one other than Mr. Libby and perhaps others in the administration know precisely what occurred in this sordid affair. The key issue is Mr. Libby’s motive in his disclosure to the reporters. There are a number of obvious possibilities. One is that Mr. Libby, on his own, and without any consultation with Mr. Cheney or anyone else in the administration, disclosed Valerie Plame’s name to reporters either as idle chatter, because he personally was angry at Mr. Wilson for his statements or because he decided to punish the CIA for its lack of support to the administration in the pre-war days. A second possibility is that Mr. Libby’s disclosure to reporters came after consultation and as part of an agreed-upon strategy with the vice president or others in the administration for dealing with Mr. Wilson and the CIA. The indictment says Mr. Cheney told Mr. Libby about Mrs. Plame’s job. And a third possibility is that some of these discussions included Mr. Bush. At this point, all of these are theoretical possibilities.

However, it does seem clear that Mr. Fitzgerald is intent on ascertaining and publicly disclosing where the truth lies. Mr. Fitzgerald’s move of indicting Mr. Libby alone and only for perjury and not the underlying crime was a brilliant tactic. The issue now is how Mr. Libby, who is shopping for a sophisticated white-collar criminal lawyer, will respond.

Mr. Libby can simply plead guilty and take his sentence of years in prison and a hefty fine. Or Mr. Libby could go to trial on the perjury charges. In that event, we might learn the truth of what actually happened, and who else, if anybody, was involved. A third possibility is that Mr. Libby will cut a deal with Mr. Fitzgerald. In return for a lesser plea, or perhaps no jail time, he will tell the prosecutor everything that happened and who else from the administration was involved in discussions with him relating to Mr. Wilson and Mrs. Plame.

On this latter point, Senator John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said Sunday on ABC “I think what we found out this week is that any alleged wrongdoing is really confined to a single individual.” That may be wishful thinking or a premature judgment. More likely, we’re only at the beginning, not the end, of a complex legal process. If others were involved besides Mr. Libby, I doubt that this intelligent lawyer with two small children will go down alone without giving the entire story.

Allan Topol is a lawyer and the author of several novels, including the bestseller “Enemy of My Enemy.”

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