Wednesday, June 20, 2007

More Thoughts on Richard Cohen

Check out the conversation with Richard Cohen over at the Washington Post blog.

One point that I have to comment on. Cohen, like a lot of folks on the right, make comparison to Bill Clinton, a comparison which superficially makes some sense, but which falls apart upon reflection. Yes Clinton was accused of perjury and obstruction of justice, as was Scooter Libby. The argument from the left was that there was no underlying crime, which the right is echoing with regard to Libby. But there is no mystery why Clinton lied to the country and misled the court and later the Grand Jury. He was covering up a personal and politically embarrassing, but in no way criminal, affair. So, not only do we not have a specific crime that Clinton was supposed to have committed, and was covering up. We have abundant evidence that there was a perfectly plausible, non-criminal reason for his dishonesty.

The case of Scooter Libby is different. We have clear evidence, indeed sufficient evidence to return a verdict of guilty in a court of law, that he had systematically lied to the FBI and a Grand Jury and acted to obstruct justice. No one on Libby's side of this debate has put forth any plausible reason for him doing so. There is no embarrassing, but non-criminal, affair that he was covering up, no non-criminal reason to lie offered up at all. From Richard Cohen we get the likes of
In Libby's case, I don't know the reason for the crime. I don't know whether or not he was telling the truth and simply forgot he leaked this information -- it's a remote possibility, but I don't buy it. I don't know if he was covering up for someone else's political embarrassment. But I don't think that's the same thing as actually committing a crime.
If he lied to a grand jury it wasn't because he made money illegally or took bribes or some other crime, it was because he was covering up for embarrassment or because he mistakenly thought he had committed a crime.
In which he admits that he does not know why Libby committed his crimes, but offers up some absurd possibilities. Libby lied because he thought he had committed a crime. Libby himself was a lawyer and did not check with any other lawyers before he entered into a long series of perjuries and acts obstructing justice because he thought he might have committed a crime. I don't think so. Alternately, he simply forgot and did not make sure what was what before testifying before the Grand Jury. Again, this is a silly explanation. Libby systematically lied to the Grand Jury and obstructed justice. One simple, straight-forward and typical reason for doing this is to cover up actual criminal activity. And in spite of the claims from the likes of Richard Cohen the systematic effort to get the name of a covert CIA operative to the press is very likely to involve breaking the laws of the United States of America. It is also perfectly plausible that, as Fitzgerald has indicated, Libbey's perjury succeeded in thwarting the investigation into that illegal activity. Being successful at obstructing justice is not a reason for leniency in sentencing.

Beyond the silly reasons given by Richard Cohen, he does also express his belief that Libby was covering up some vague and unspecified "political embarrassment", but he cannot specify what exactly that might be. His dismissal of criminal reasons for Libby's obstruction of justice is just so much hand waving. Arguing that Libby did not commit the underlying crime, in no way discounts the possibility that he was covering for those who did commit the crime. Given the CIA referral, the recusal from the case by Ashcroft, the appointment of a prosecutor, the court's support of jailing Cooper and Miller and the general background of the case (a covert CIA operative's name was made public) it is very likely that some laws were broken and very likely that Libby's perjury protected the criminals from prosecution.

So in the Clinton case we have abundant evidence that his dishonesty was to cover up non-criminal behavior. In Libby's case we no non -criminal reason for his dishonesty and substantial reason to believe that he was dishonest in order to cover up serious criminal acts. These are the reasons for treating the two cases differently.

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