The jury has finally delivered its verdict: I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby is guilty on four out of five counts pertaining to perjury, lying to federal investigators, and obstructing justice. Dick Cheney's former chief of staff could face twenty-five years in prison, according to the Reuters news article that came out today.
As The Nation's David Corn waits for attorneys to finish preening in front of the cameras to write up his complete evaluation of the trial, its outcome and its consequences, fellow Nation writer Max Blumenthal gives his own take on the verdict. In order to understand the full scope of this trial and its consequences, it is necessary to explain some important historical facts.
NOC, or Non-Official Cover, means exactly what the designation implies: Valerie Wilson's status as a member of the Central Intelligence Agency was classified -- unknown to all but her superiors, her immediate household and most of her colleagues operating inside the clandestine operation she led. Her cover, working for a dummy corporation called Brewster Jennings, was set up to protect her real job at the Agency: head of a counter-proliferation outfit on alleged Iraqi WMD. NOCs are different from Official-Cover agents, who typically claim to work for other areas of government; NOCs must pretend to be private citizens, completely unaffiliated with the federal government. These agents come and go from the field as needed in the course of their intel-gathering work. Although assigned to a desk job at the time her cover was blown, Valerie Plame-Wilson maintained her NOC status. Her identity as a Central Intelligence Agent was still top secret. She was undercover.
This cover was blown, not by some foreign enemy, but by her own employers in the Bush regime. They did this horrible thing because her husband called bullshit on a lie told by that regime, in which Iraq was falsely accused of having tried to purchase 500 tons of "yellowcake" uranium from a Nigerian mine. The lie was debunked in July 2003, in an op-ed by former ambassador to Niger, Joseph Wilson. He was sent to determine the validity of claims that Iraqi officials had tried to purchase the uranium in an attempt to obtain the materials necessary to make nuclear weapons.
But Wilson's trip proved the exact opposite of what Cheney and Bush wanted to be told. The uranium consortium was and remains tightly controlled by the French, and no one would have been able to make inquiries without raising red flags. Furthermore, documents allegedly proving a transaction were exposed as crude forgeries. Wilson came back and reported this to the CIA in 2002. Nevertheless, despite the lie having been successfully ommitted from Bush's speeches that same year, then-undersecretary of state John Bolton managed to get the deception inserted into the Shrub's 2003 State of the Union address.
Months after the invasion and occupation of Iraq, bolstered in large part by the Iraq-Niger lie, Wilson wrote his op-ed telling the public what he knew. The column was printed in newspapers across the nation, including the New York Times. In retaliation, the Bush-Cheney White House leaked the identity of his wife, Valerie Plame-Wilson, to members of the press, hoping some of them would publish this classified information in the right-wing media's attempts to discredit the former ambassador.
In spite of empty promises to fire anyone caught being involved in the leak, the people directly involved in leaking Plame's identity to the press were never shown the door. But when special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald got hold of the case, indicting Libby on five charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, Cheney's chief of staff was forced to resign.
The investigation stalled, because Libby lied to the FBI and to the grand jury. Concocting a bullshit defense of poor memory, Scooter's attorney's tried unsuccessfully to get their client acquitted. Fitzgerald brought out witnesses from both the press and the Bush regime, all of whom contradicted Libby's earlier testimony before the grand jury. The defense failed to knock holes in the prosecution's case, at least on four of the five charges. And it failed to deliver promised testimony from Libby, and Cheney himself. Which isn't surprising, since Cheney would have committed perjury in order to protect himself from disclosures of his own involvement in the leak.
The revelations in the trial have made clear that Cheney, Karl Rove and other high-ranking officials in the regime (including former White House spokesliar Ari Fleischer) were along with Libby actively engaged in leaking Valerie Plame's CIA identity to members of the press. The reasons for doing this were two: to retaliate against her husband for telling unpleasant truths in a most public manner, and to intimidate other, potential whistleblowers from coming forward with what they knew about the campaign of deception in the run-up to the Iraq war.
So Libby is guilty of lying to the FBI and a grand jury, and of obstructing justice. And on the one charge of which he was acquitted, lying to the FBI about his conversation with former Time Magazine reporter Matt Cooper, the jury only found him not guilty because the charge was lying to the FBI and not lying to Matt Cooper; Libby had lied to the Time reporter when he had said he didn't even know Wilson had a wife. Even though the jury believed Libby had been honest with the FBI in saying he had lied to a reporter about what he knew, the eleven-member group (one was dismissed for becoming "contaminated" by outside news). But this was the least offensive charge Libby was acquitted for; he was convicted on the more serious charges. What does this mean, then, for the investigation into who leaked the identity of a CIA 'NOC' after her husband called the Bush regime out for one of its bigger lies in the run-up to the Iraq war? Will we see Cheney indicted for illegally disclosing Plame's covert CIA status? Will Karl Rove now face charges, having been revealed to have vetted right-wing columnist Robert Novak's piece outing Mrs. Wilson as CIA? And if either of them do face the prospect of indictment, will it be enough for Democrats to finally begin the impeachment process?