Much has been made of the irony of Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s indictment.
He’s charged with lying to cover up an ostensible non-crime, the leaking of a covert CIA agent’s identity. And that’s a fair assessment. It’s questionable that his out-of-school media prattling about Valerie Plame could survive the parsing of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 or the 1917 Espionage Act.
But this isn’t, as partisans and some pundits would have it, merely a case of “criminalizing politics.”
Perjury is serious, felonious stuff, as Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald took pains to point out. Whether it’s a “truck driver paying bribes in Chicago” or powerful Washington insiders dropping character-assassination dimes. It’s not some prosecutorial consolation prize or a “technicality,” he underscored, unless right and wrong, lying and truth-telling are fundamentally immaterial to our system.
But the Libby “lying” is not classic irony. It’s classic presidential administration – any administration – hardball politics and blind loyalty. The dark side of Capitol culture. It’s G. Gordon Liddy with a better pedigree.
Liddy, the Watergate expediter, once explained what it was all about.
It’s about “power,” he declaimed, and what you do to “get it” and what you do to “keep it,” because your partisan cause and your country are worth it. It’s true believers and power trippers not taking prisoners if they don’t have to.
It’s an amoral context at the top, where dirty tricks are a given, some dirtier than others. In Liddy’s case, from compromising opposition candidates with call girls to assigning burglars to the Watergate headquarters of the Democratic Party chairman. Co-opting any chance of a McGovern Administration was worth any price. If America had to be saved from itself, so be it. It’s no quantum leap to blindsiding those denouncing a key rationale for war.
The ends justified the means, however unethical, however sleazy, however, if necessary, criminal.
It didn’t start with Liddy; it won’t end with Libby.