“Scooter” Libby?

As almost anyone with a functioning television set knows by now, Lewis “Scooter” Libby has been found guilty of four out of five counts of lying to a grand jury, lying to the FBI and obstruction of justice.

Would a top aide in the office of Vice President Dick Cheney lie about who leaked the identity of a CIA agent to the media? I’m not going there. Hasn’t anybody asked: why is it that we still don’t know who leaked the name? It doesn’t take too many spy movies to figure out that having your name leaked as a CIA agent can be fatal – self-evidently, a most serious offense.

So the FBI and the government prosecutors didn’t get their man
. What they did get is some sap who didn’t know when to keep his mouth shut. So should he have just taken the Fifth?

What we’ve read in previous cases is that you can’t take the Fifth in Congressional hearings, because they can grant you specific “immunities” which compel you to testify against yourself. Was this the case here? I don’t know.

The sentencing phase of the Libby trial hasn’t taken place yet, but expert speculation is that he’s good for three years in the slammer, and maybe up to 25. A PBS subject matter expert mentioned that this judge is known to take the long view on prison sentences.

I don’t think that you should lie to a Grand Jury, or to Congress, or the police, or to your own mom. The jury clearly felt the man had lied, and they took a long time in deliberations. But honestly, if he was bound and determined to screw up, wouldn’t Libby have been better off robbing a bank? With a good defense and legal team, a bank robbery could net him rehab at a minimum security country club.

And some say – hey, let’s not go there – that enough money and a celebrity defense team can get you off on a murder rap.

What bugs me is the smell of hypocrisy here. The government wasn’t able to convict anybody of the root crime, which still goes unsolved and unanswered. Libby, did you do it? If he answers “yes”, that should be good for 25 years, and I’ll volunteer to be the one to throw away the key.

When a defendant says “No, I didn’t do it”, a team of forensic and legal experts take his whole life apart, phone call by phone call, and grill him about his conversations and whereabouts. Catch him in denial or failure to tell the truth, and the public is told, hey, we’ve got our man after all.

Judges and prosecutors like to remind us that the government takes lying very seriously. Unless, of course, the liar has Congressional Immunity. Try lying to a grand jury yourself, or just refusing to testify, and see what it gets you. I wish somebody could explain why there doesn’t seem to be any Fifth Amendment issue here.

Last I heard, taking an issue very seriously wasn’t a consideration in constitutional or statute sentencing provisions.

The other things that bugs me: I can’t remember the last time a federal or other government official got a term in federal prison for giving false or misleading information to the general public, or for withholding vital information we have a legal right to know.

Nobody likes defending a liar, and I can’t see a civil rights angle for Libby, but I’m looking very hard for a sense of justice and completion in this case. And I’m not seeing it. Somebody has still gotten off scot free. Are you sleeping a little better each night knowing that the government has secured the conviction of this Libby character?

Libby partisans say their man is innocent, of course. They charge this was just a “showcase” trial. Showcase or not, doesn’t it smell like one? Are we ready to accept that the source of the leak may never be discovered and convicted, but that the government’s Libby trial offering is an equal-value substitute?

Some will speculate that Libby was the “smoking gun” in the spy name scandal. Let’s not forget that he wasn’t convicted of that – he wasn’t even charged with it.

If they want to hang someone in high office for lying, there’s not a reader among you, regardless of political conviction, who couldn’t rattle off at least half a dozen more eligible names without blinking. I say, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Let’s convict them ALL!

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