Don't let the Republicans distract you. Treasongate isn't just about deposed vice presidential chief of staff Scooter Libby, who has been charged with five felony counts and faces 30 years in prison, or even deputy presidential chief of staff Karl Rove, who may soon be charged as well. The Libby charges clearly point to the real culprit: Dick Cheney, who told Libby about Plame's covert status in the first place. Cheney abused his security clearance to find out. "Libby understood that the vice president had learned this information from the C.I.A.," reads page five of the indictment.
"Cheney doesn't have a legal problem, but he has a political problem," a White House official told The New York Times. For now.
The stink on Karl Rove rubbed off on his boss. When Treasongate first broke in 2003, Bush promised to get to the bottom of the Plame leak and fire everyone involved. Now we know that he is the bottom of the cover-up. "An angry President Bush rebuked chief political guru Karl Rove two years ago for his role in the Valerie Plame affair," reported the New York Daily News, which owns the story of this scandal, in an account the White House tacitly confirmed with a meaningful inside-the-Beltway no-comment: silence = truth. "A second well-placed source said some recently published reports implying Rove had deceived Bush about his involvement in the Wilson counterattack were incorrect and were leaked by White House aides trying to protect the President," says the News.
An earlier News report revealed a secret White House Iraq Group (WHIG) that "morphed into a virtual hit squad that took aim at critics who questioned its claims [that Saddam Hussein had nuclear and biochemical weapons]" from late 2002 to mid-2003. WHIG members included Rove, Libby, and disgraced Times reporter/Bush stenographer Judith Miller.
"In our system," Bush reminded, "each individual is presumed innocent and entitled to due process and a fair trial." Unlike the thousands of people Bush tossed into prison after 9/11--without charges or access to a lawyer--Libby is a rich guy with pale skin. He gets to confront his accusers.
Democrats, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory as usual, say they'll settle for an apology. The media is equally accommodating. "The Wilson affair is not Watergate," wrote Todd S. Purdum in The New York Times, a paper known for its desire to be helpful to the Bush White House. He's right. Treasongate is worse.
Much, much worse.
Watergate became the umbrella term for several scandals: "dirty tricks," including money laundering and the burglary of Democratic headquarters, to steal the 1972 election in favor of Richard Nixon; illegal wiretaps and break-ins used to silence and smear anti-Nixon critics like Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers; and the cover-up symbolized by the erasure of 18 crucial minutes from a subpoenaed tape.
Together, these crimes painted a portrait of a lawless president with advisers indistinguishable from gangsters. Nixon was a cheat, a thief, a liar and an all-around scuzball, and Congress was right to initiate impeachment against him. But, bad as he was, Nixon didn't jeopardize national security for political revenge.
Treasongate includes many of the essential components of Watergate: smearing opponents of the Iraq war and their loved ones, financial shenanigans and a cover-up. Actually it was a cover-up of a cover-up; they lied about trashing Plame, who they targeted because her husband revealed their lies about Iraqi WMDs. Outing a CIA agent is the rancid cherry on top of a triple-dip blob of corruption. You can bet there's more to come.
The question posed by the Libby indictment, and by extension asked of Bush-Cheney-Rove, is whether or not they knew that Plame was undercover at the CIA. Though the answer determines their susceptibility to prosecution under a 1982 law that bans knowingly revealing the name of an intelligence agent, it is a distinction without a difference. The Bush Administration wants us to believe that they're incredibly stupid and reckless with highly classified material. During a time--Lord knows they say it often enough--of war.
Trust us, they ask. We're incompetent, not evil. That's their defense.
"One can believe that the neocons are utterly wrong without also assuming that they are evil," Nicholas Kristof argues in a Times op-ed. But people willing to lie their country into war and stab the people who protect it in the back--if we're to believe them, by not bothering to check Plame's status--are evil.
It's like a case of vehicular homicide: Did Bush and his goons hit Plame on purpose or was it an accident? Either way, I want them off the road.