Worse than Watergate
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It's getting hard to keep track of all the lies we've been told. Here's a quick cheat sheet:
We now know that Cheney lied to the American people about his involvement in the effort to smear Joe Wilson.
Three months after reportedly receiving a briefing about Wilson's trip to Niger from George "Slam Dunk" Tenet, and then telling Scooter Libby that Plame may have helped arrange her husband's trip, the Vice President went on national TV and told Tim Russert he didn't have a clue about the situation: "I don't know Joe Wilson ... I don't know who sent Joe Wilson ... I have no idea who hired him and it never came up."
We now know that Karl Rove lied about his involvement, too.
Back in September 2003, when Rove was asked if he had "any knowledge" about the Plame leak, he answered with an unambiguous "No."
Since then, we've learned that Rove was actually up to his Turd Blossom in Plamegate, discussing Plame and her role at the CIA with Matt Cooper and Bob Novak, and taking part in what a source familiar with his four visits to the grand jury characterized as "an aggressive campaign to discredit Wilson through the leaking and disseminating of derogatory information regarding him and his wife."
We now know that Scooter Libby also lied about his involvement.
Libby told Pat Fitzgerald that he first learned Plame's identity from Tim Russert. But his own notes show that it was actually his boss, Dick Cheney, who first clued him in about Plame. (Russert, of course, has said he learned of Plame's identity by reading Novak's column, but that's a conundrum for another blog!).
And we now know that Rove and Libby also lied to Scott McClellan, who then -- knowingly or not -- lied to reporters about the two men's involvement.
When pressed today about the fact that in October 2003 he had "categorically" assured reporters that Rove and Libby "were not involved" in the Plame leak, McClellan made it clear that he was just passing on "the assurances that I had received on that." In other words, I only lied to you because they lied to me.
Potential Bonus Presidential Lie: In June 2004, when asked whether he stood by his promise to fire anyone found to have leaked Plame's identity, President Bush (taking a cue from Rove) answered with an unambiguous "Yes." But the New York Daily News reports that Bush knew that Rove was involved in the leak two years ago. So why, a year later, was he still acting like he had no idea who'd been involved?
Let's put aside the legal arguments for a moment and just focus on this glut of lying. Clearly, these guys knew that what they were up to should be kept in the shadows. Hence Rove's desire to have his conversation with Cooper be kept on "double super secret background," his self-assessment that he'd "already said too much" to Cooper, and Libby's request that Judy Miller identify him as a "former Hill staffer" instead of the usual "senior administration official."
Cheney, Rove, and Libby obviously felt that their actions had to be covered up.
But what they were covering up was much more than the outing of Valerie Plame. They were covering up the way the White House had used lies and deception to lead us into a war that was reckless and unnecessary -- what Lt. Gen. William Odom, National Security Agency director under Reagan, has called "the greatest strategic disaster in United States history."
The reason why Cheney, Rove, and Libby were so aggressive in attacking anyone who questioned their rationale for war is because, by the summer of 2003, it was becoming embarrassingly clear how wrong they had been about Iraq -- wrong about WMD, wrong about flowers thrown at our feet, wrong about the cost of the war. Had their incompetence not been so grotesquely manifest, there would have been no need for the attack on Wilson -- and the resulting coverup -- that has now landed them all in such legal hot water.
If Rove and Libby are indeed indicted (adding Cheney to our Merry Fitz-mas gift list would just be getting greedy), I believe it will shake up our government in a way we haven't seen since Watergate.
To borrow a phrase from that era, let me make myself perfectly clear: I'm not saying that Plamegate is the same as Watergate. I'm saying it's worse. Much, much worse. No one died as a result of Watergate, but 2,000 American soldiers have now been killed and thousands more wounded to rid the world of an imminent threat that wasn't.
Could there be anything bigger?
After getting a fumbling cipher like George W. Bush elected president, the powers-behind-the-throne must have believed they were untouchable and could get away with anything -- including lying about WMD, outing a CIA agent, and, perhaps, lying to a special prosecutor.
Like Nixon, their mindset was "if you try to get in our way we'll destroy you." (See how quickly those keep-us-safe national security guys were willing to jeopardize an intelligence asset in the name of covering their asses.) And their hubris caused them to over-reach.
Like my old Greek pal Icarus, they flew too close to the sun... and now it looks like they, and their multitude of lies, are about to come crashing down.