Friday, October 21, 2005

John Dean, wet blanket

Via the Poor Man, I see that Constitutional crisis emeritus John Dean is more than a little skeptical about the prospects of a Merry Fitzmas. I agree that we need to all calm down and temper our expectations. But Dean's specific reasoning does not persuade me.
The leak of Valerie Plame Wilson's covert identity, if it was part of a plan to discredit her husband's report on his trip to Niger, is directly related to issues of "national security." After all, the Niger uranium claim was part of the basis for the Iraq War, and Joe Wilson's claim that it was bogus, and the President ought to have known as much, is intimately related to the politics of going to war - and also to national security in the sense of responding to genuine, and only genuine, threats to the United States.

But national security is a very gray area. Was the Bush/Cheney White House operating in the best interest of the country, or did they have a private agenda (oil fields in Iraq)? Did Cheney, Karl Rove, and Scooter Libby believe they had national security reasons to discredit Wilson's claims, and act accordingly? This is an area where there is no law, and it compounds the assessment of the actions of those involved.

It is difficult to envision Patrick Fitzgerald prosecuting anyone, particularly Vice President Dick Cheney, who believed they were acting for reasons of national security. While hindsight may find their judgment was wrong, and there is no question their tactics were very heavy-handed and dangerous, I am not certain that they were acting from other than what they believed to be reasons of national security. They were selling a war they felt needed to be undertaken.

In short, I cannot imagine any of them being indicted, unless they were acting for reasons other than national security. Because national security is such a gray area of the law, come next week, I can see this entire investigation coming to a remarkable anti-climax, as Fitzgerald closes down his Washington Office and returns to Chicago.

John Dean has earned some credibility in matters of epochal constitutional crises, of course. But I think he is out to lunch here.

A full statement of his premise from an objective standpoint -- that outing a CIA operative to multiple reporters somehow enhances national security -- is self-refuting. The idea just doesn't pass the smell test. So what he must be claiming is that there is a subjective standard -- that there is a safe harbor for otherwise illegal acts are they are done because the actor believed they had a noble greater purpose.

In effect Dean is adding a purely subjective defense to all possible crimes -- a defense not contained in most of the relevant statutes. And that element would create a pretty reliable get- out-of-jail free card. If outing a CIA agent can be cleansed in this manner, what couldn't?

I'm sure Richard Nixon and the rest of his Watergate cronies believed that there were national security justifications for their actions. And we all know how that one turned out. So there are lots of reasons to keep our champagne corked for now. But Dean's isn't one of them.


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