Patrick Fitzgerald acquitted himself superbly today. A country weaned on the corrupt, leering hackery of Ken Starr -- who squandered millions of taxpayer dollars in a partisan witch-hunt -- got to watch as a guy with an inner core of decency stood up and spoke frankly about his investigation with professionalism and honesty. We got to be proud of the Justice Department again. We got to enjoy a moment of confidence that if there is a bottom to be gotten to in all of this there is a man in charge who will honorably and doggedly find it.
But hopes were set high that an array of kleptocratic scalps would be waving in the wind by this time today, and that was not the case. Did we pin them unrealistically on a man and a situation to whom they did not rightfully belong? Perhaps.
But perhaps the only thing in the situation that is wonting is time.
If I were Karl Rove right now, I'd be kicking myself around the room. The thing that got him into this mess in the first place is spinning stuff he didn't need to spin, and it looks like he's done it once again.
Fitzgerald held his cards close today and gave no indication that Rove was on the hook for anything, giving pause to many who were hoping that he would offer some signal that Turd Blossom's goose was yet to be cooked. But on Thursday evening, Rove's people were spinning furiously to everyone who would sit still -- NYT, WSJ, AP -- telling them that Rove was not going to be indicted today, but his attorneys had been told that he was "still under investigation."
Wow. If they'd just shut up, all the talking heads would be chattering today about how Rove was in the clear. Flip on the TV and listen for a while, you'll hear how even partisan wonks like Andrea Mitchell and Bob Woodward -- who are certainly parroting every other talking point Unka Karl sent them out with today -- are still not saying that Rove is in the clear. They don't know what the heck to say. Fitzgerald has thrown them all for a loop.
So what are we to make of all of this? Well, consider:
1. Although Fitzgerald gave little away today (much to the exasperation of those whose continued liberty depends on accurately reading him), he let it be known that he could not investigate the underlying claims of violations of the Identities Protection Act because another crime was being committed that prevented him from doing so, of which Scooter Libby now stands accused.
2. He's not done. As he said, "We recognize that we want to get this thing done. I will not end the investigation until I can look anyone in the eye and tell them that we have carried out our responsibility sufficiently to be sure that we've done what we could to make intelligent decisions about when to end the investigation."
3. In the Libby indictment most individuals who are cited as witnesses are indicated by their job title -- Assistant to the Vice President for Public Affairs, Under Secretary of State, White House Press Secretary (guess that explains where Ari Fleischer's been in all this, he's a cooperating witness). The exception is the anonymous "Official A," who purportedly spoke with Robert Novak in the week prior to July 11, 2003 (p. 8, pp 21). That's a distinction you would make if you were still investigating someone and you did not want to prejudice that investigation. AP is reporting that three people have now identified "Official A" as Karl Rove.
4. When pressed about why members of the press (read: Robert Novak) could not discuss their dealings with the grand jury openly, Fitzgerald said he had requested that they remain circumspect so as not to compromise the investigation. But when asked later whether this now meant that they were released from this obligation, it was the only time I saw Fitzgerald waffle during the press conference -- he wasn't prepared for that one, and he said he couldn't answer. If the investigation were really over, then why not? Wouldn't he want to free everyone in the press up as soon as possible to tell their stories?
5. As Billmon noted, there is reason to believe that Fitzgerald had enough evidence to go after Libby under the Identities Protection Act. Why didn't he? Especially since the one time Fitzgerald stepped beyond his role as Special Counsel to editorialize was when he underscored the damage that had been done to the intelligence community by the outing of Plame. This guy probably hugs the Patriot Act in his sleep. He is a total law'n'order true believer. He would not pull his punches on that front, and has in the past been extremely aggressive -- some would say draconian -- in protecting what he saw as threats to the national security.
As it stands now, Fitzgerald has Libby on 30 years worth of counts and he's got him cold. No wiggle room. Libby may not do 30 years, but he ain't doing 6 months. Scooter's screwed. It was the Vice President's boon companion himself, David Gergen, who said on MSNBC today that this is squeeze time. John Dean reiterated it later on. It really matters little to a man of 55 whether he is looking at 30 years or 60 -- he'd rather have 60 thrown at him if some of them were shaky and he thought he could use the wobbly ones to get out of the rest.
There is no wobble in the indictments handed down today. It's pretty clear. Libby can cut a deal with Fitzgerald or swing.
Which brings us to David Radler. Who is David Radler? David Radler was the number two man at Hollinger International. The day after he was indicted by the US Attorney for Northern Illinois Patrick J. Fitzgerald for liberating large sums of cash from the stockholders of Hollinger, he announced he'd rather "cooperate with investigators" (read: rat out his boss, Conrad Black) than spend the rest of his life perfecting the ultimate starch job in the prison laundry. Radler decided he would take door number three and do twenty-nine unpleasant months and pay a fine when the prospect of life in prison became a reality.
That's just the way Patrick Fitzgerald works. If the Hollinger case, and the Ryan case, and the Daley Case, and the Al Quaeda case and the Gambino case are any indication, Fitzgerald will now use what he's got to get more.
So if I were Dick Cheney, I wouldn't be sleeping very easy tonight. At the very best, his chief of staff was just popped for lying to protect him, and he can now look forward to being questioned in open court. Do you think Andrea Mitchell could spare some TV time from mewling over what a loss it will be not to have Scooter in the Hamptons during the summer season to discuss the serious implications of the Vice President's role in this highly dubious affair? Well probably not, but if there's a God in his heaven tonight the tightly-stretched skin of her face will soon snap and whiplash her into inactivity.
Do not make this mistake of thinking a presidential pardon will be a panacea for those involved. Fitzgerald's honorable and straightforward presentation today made it nigh impossible for the Rovians to fall back on their old tricks and launch a smear campaign -- Chris Matthews pretty near crowned him Pope this afternoon, and any attempt at a pardon will just make Bush look like an impeachment-worthy crook out to thwart the efforts of an honest public servant.
All the solutions that have worked so well for Team Bush in the past only serve to complicate things now. The only successful strategy to use with an honest prosecutor is honesty. I wonder how long it will take them to think of it?