Friday, June 16, 2006

The Politics of Indictments.

Michael Barone has an excellent article on the criminalization of politics.

The announcement that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald would not seek an indictment of Karl Rove left not only the left side of the blogopsphere and Democrats in Washington in a funk, but I'm betting it also left the key players feeling some pain. I was reading this month's Vanity Fair and Dominick Dunne (famous crime writer) included an interesting snippit in his column. He said he was recently walking down 5th avenue in New York and heard someone call his name. It was Joe Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame, whom Dunne had not met previously. This was how Dunne describes the entire meeting after introductions:

"Oh My God," I said. I'd seen pictures of Plame. She is very pretty, and she was smiling and friendly. "Karl Rove was called before the grand jury today, for the fifth time." said Wilson. After a few moments I said, "Congratulations on what you wrote." Then I kissed the no-longer-covert operative, and we went our separate ways.

It is obvious that Wilson and Plame were practically drooling over the prospect of a Karl Rove indictment. Even though as Michael Barone points out:

"Still, it was clear early on that the likelihood that Mr. Rove violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act was near zero. Under the law, the agent whose name was disclosed would have had to have served overseas within the preceding five years (Valerie Plame, according to her husband's book, had been stationed in the U.S. since 1997), and Mr. Rove would have had to know that she was undercover (not very likely). The left enjoyed raising an issue on which, for once, it could charge that a Republican administration had undermined national security. But that rang hollow when the left gleefully seized on the New York Times' disclosure of NSA surveillance of phone calls from suspected al Qaeda operatives abroad to persons in the U.S.

In all this a key role was played by the press. Cries went up early for the appointment of a special prosecutor: Patrick Fitzgerald would be another Archibald Cox or Leon Jaworski. Eager to bring down another Republican administration, the editorialists of the New York Times evidently failed to realize that the case could not be pursued without asking reporters to reveal the names of sources who had been promised confidentiality. America's newsrooms are populated largely by liberals who regard the Vietnam and Watergate stories as the great achievements of their profession. The peak of their ambition is to achieve the fame and wealth of great reporters like David Halberstam and Bob Woodward. But this time it was not Republican administration officials who went to prison. It was Judith Miller, then of the New York Times itself.

Interestingly, Bob Woodward himself contradicted Mr. Fitzgerald's statement, made the day that he announced the one indictment he has obtained, of former vice presidential chief of staff Scooter Libby, that Mr. Libby was the first to disclose Ms. Plame's name to a reporter. The press reaction was to turn on Mr. Woodward, who has been covering this administration as a new story rather than as a reprise of Vietnam and Watergate."

It seems clear to me that since the Democrats couldn't win during elections, they decided that trying to make everything the administration does somehow criminal was the way to go. But I am afraid that backfired a bit. It helps when you accuse someone of being a criminal, that they actually have committed criminal acts. First of all, this undermines (yet again) the press's credibility and it makes the Democrats look like school children intent on revenge. The litany of Bush illegally using the NSA surveillance is a prime example. The American people weren't buying it either. If Tom Delay is cleared of his charges, then then the picture of revenge for revenge sake will be complete for the Democrats. People do not see them as trying to clean up bad behavior, they see them as "getting back" at enemies.

Another problem with this determination to criminalize politics is that it keeps good men and women out of politics. Who needs the hassle? It's one thing to go up against political differences, it is quite another to face criminal charges because you did so.