by Kagro X
I had a law professor -- though like Judy Miller, I can't recall who it was -- who once opened a class with a variant of a classic joke. "A conservative is a liberal who's just been mugged," he began, reciting the line in its customary and shopworn form. Then came the twist. "A liberal, however, is a conservative whose friend has just been indicted."
William Kristol has finally jumped in with both feet. And as so often happens when one intervenes too quickly on behalf of friends accused of bad acts, he's gone in over his head.
Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, Scooter Libby and Karl Rove have all, Kristol says, been unfairly targeted by overzealous prosecutors, the practice of (conservative) politics itself having been criminalized as part of a Vast Left Wing Conspiracy to
get tough on crime undermine their efforts to govern as conservatives.
I'm sorry. Could you repeat that? Did you say, "govern?" As "conservatives?"
Step out of the car please, sir. Hey officer, I detect the strong odor of... bullshit.
The first and most glaring omission from Kristol's trial balloon: Jack Abramoff. I suppose he could always argue that Jack wasn't trying to "govern," although as you know, I don't accept that assumption as being valid with respect to any of the named targets, either.
But ask whether Jack Abramoff and/or Tom DeLay paid for the Republican dirty tricks in New Hampshire on Election Day 2002, as Democratic State Party Chairwoman Kathy Sullivan has in this AP article, which I found via Elwood Dowd's Daily Kos diary on the subject.
Then, in the spirit of my "big lie" question, ask yourself what exactly is the crime here? Not in the Richard Cohen sense, but rather in one which asks how big the crime is. That is, what is its true scope?
On October 28, 2002, two of Jack Abramoff's client Indian tribes -- the Agua Caliente tribe, based in California, and the Mississippi Choctaws -- sent $5,000 each to the New Hampshire State Republican Party. Four days later, DeLay's ARMPAC sent $5,000, for a total of $15,000. Four days after that, the State GOP paid Virginia-based Republican consultantcy GOP Marketplace $15,6000 to jam the phone lines of the New Hampshire Democratic Party headquarters on Election Day, disrupting the Party's critical Get-Out-the-Vote efforts. By day's end, Republican John Sununu had won a narrow victory over Democratic candidate and former Governor Jeanne Shaheen.
Think about that next time someone spooks you with nuclear option talk.
What went on in New Hampshire, possibly at DeLay's behest, is not "just politics." It's the very opposite of it. "Just politics" is what the New Hampshire Democratic Party wanted to get done that day. "Just politics" is what would have resulted from a hard fought and clean election. "Criminality" is what the Republicans engaged in to stop it, and two of the GOP's three hitmen from this job sit in the clink right now to prove it.
The notion that the Plame outing is "just politics" is equally galling, for reasons previously stated:
Ordinarily, there would be a strong presumtion against seeing in bureaucratic or political infighting between political appointees and career professionals a serious effort to "impair or impede the foreign intelligence activities of the United States." It is, after all, something that happens all the time. Something that's easily dismissed as "just politics." The question, though, is whether it's ever risen to the level of "dismantling" the established intelligence vetting process, whether any other administration would have characterized the intelligence community's bureaucratic intransigence as an effort to "deliberately and maliciously" keep information from them, and whether an active program of "flooding the zone" with challenges to good information in order to keep intelligence operatives too busy to combat bad information might not be just what we're looking for [in order to prove criminality]: impairment and impeding of the foreign intelligence activities of the United States.
So, again, what is the big lie? Frank Rich joins us on the other side of the looking glass today:
Now, as always, what matters most in this case is not whether Mr. Rove and Lewis Libby engaged in a petty conspiracy to seek revenge on a whistle-blower, Joseph Wilson, by unmasking his wife, Valerie, a covert C.I.A. officer. What makes Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation compelling, whatever its outcome, is its illumination of a conspiracy that was not at all petty: the one that took us on false premises into a reckless and wasteful war in Iraq. That conspiracy was instigated by Mr. Rove's boss, George W. Bush, and Mr. Libby's boss, Dick Cheney.
And here we are, asking the same question as before:
Is the administration covering up the lengths to which it went to prevent the exposure of its mistaken reliance on bad intelligence? Or is the administration covering up the lengths to which it went to promote intelligence developed by its own, parallel intelligence structure, a plan which required the simultaneous undermining and the destruction of the credibility of the country's established (read: authorized and legitimate) intelligence structure, which refused to give them what they wanted?
The answer to that question is the difference between "just politics," and "we're not kidding when we whisper the word 'treason.'"
Rich poses the same problem in his own way:
Whether or not Mr. Fitzgerald uncovers an indictable crime, there is once again a victim, but that victim is not Mr. or Mrs. Wilson; it's the nation. It is surely a joke of history that even as the White House sells this weekend's constitutional referendum as yet another "victory" for democracy in Iraq, we still don't know the whole story of how our own democracy was hijacked on the way to war.
What worries me is that the bigger joke of history is likely to be the one that goes, "Did you hear about the guys who disassembled the United States' functional intelligence community in the name of 'security,' and the ones who laundered extorted casino money to pay for election rigging and nobody could come up with an indictible crime for them?" Ba-dum, ching!
Well, what do you call it when someone sets out to subvert the Constitution? And if you think I'm limiting the question to Bush, Cheney and the White House Iraq Group, think again. Because I'm talking about the 17th Amendment, too.
And I think I've had just about enough of the "everybody does it" excuse, too. Because you just know what that leads to:
I've gotta believe that they believe that this will all end up on the scrap heap of history, alongside Iran-Contra, as one of those nasty imbroglios about which the bulk of the American people retain darkish, vague memories, but no real resentment, because after all, nobody really did anything wrong or they'd be in jail. Nevermind that they were all pardoned by the president who oversaw and orchestrated their subversive activities.
Just as Abramoff's antics came into sharper focus once we changed perspectives on what he was doing, so a similar shift must take place in order to understand why we need to punish the Bush cabal for their transgressions (and please, let us not forget how fully bound up Abramoff's are with their own). I once again indulge in the venal crime of quoting myself, by way of tying my own disparate thoughts together:
I don't think they were prepared for Fitzgerald, because his greatest achievement has not been investigative, but imaginative. They thought they were involved in "politics as usual." Hardball, to be sure, but just politics as usual. A paradigm in which the "administration" is given a wide berth to redirect policy and reorient intelligence programs. So what if they took a few shortcuts? Surely people would understand their "decisiveness" in fighting the "global war on terror." And enemies are enemies, whether foreign or domestic.
I don't think they thought they had done anything wrong. I think they thought they were entitled to do these things. I think they thought that the level at which they were pulling these stunts entitled them to protection -- that their policy decisions (and that's how I think they regarded the Plame outing) were beyond the reach of the courts and the law. Not because they "owned" them, but because what they were doing was "political" and not justiciable.
You can be sure that like DeLay, the Bush "administration" will be complaining that the prosecutor is trying to "criminalize politics."
Well, here it is. Bill Kristol wants to legalize it. And he'll be trying to sell it to you over your Cheerios this Sunday.