Friday, October 03, 2003

Plame v. Rove

John Dean, a man uniquely qualified to speak on these matters, says that the outing of Valerie Plame was an act even viler than anything he saw while working for Richard Nixon ("More vicious than Tricky Dick").

I thought I had seen political dirty tricks as foul as they could get, but I was wrong. In blowing the cover of CIA agent Valerie Plame to take political revenge on her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, for telling the truth, Bush's people have out-Nixoned Nixon's people. And my former colleagues were not amateurs by any means.

For example, special counsel Chuck Colson, once considered the best hatchet man of modern presidential politics, went to prison for leaking false information to discredit Daniel Ellsberg's lawyer. Ellsberg was being prosecuted by Nixon's Justice Department for disclosing the so-called Pentagon Papers (the classified study of the origins of the Vietnam War). But Colson at his worst could barely qualify to play on Bush's team. The same with assistant to the president John Ehrlichman, a jaw-jutting fellow who left them "twisting in the wind," and went to jail denying he'd done anything wrong in ordering a break-in at Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office, where the burglars went and looked for, but did not find, real information to discredit Ellsberg.

But neither Colson nor Ehrlichman nor anyone else I knew while working at the Nixon White House had the necessary viciousness, or depravity, to attack the wife of a perceived enemy by employing potentially life-threatening tactics.

Dean may be engaging in a bit of hyperbole to make a point. Does he really believe that Nixon's people would have never or indeed never did employ "life-threatening tactics"? If he really believes that than I think he is being naive. Dean may have never witnessed such activities, but Nixon's people were certainly capable of threatening people's lives, if not worse.

Still, his column is a good one because it offers some practical advice on what Wilson and Plame should do if they are really serious about keeping this scandal alive and exposing those who wrong them: they should sue. He highlights the little commented fact that the Watergate scandal was kept alive in part because of a civil lawsuit filed by the DNC against the Committee to RE-Elect the President (CREEP, one of the most descriptive abbreviations ever created). The "career prosecutors" at Justice could have been relied upon to conduct a perfunctory investigation of the DNC break-in. But a civil lawsuit, backed up with the power of subpoena, held their feet to the fire and may have forced the investigators to dig deeper lest they suffer the embarrassment of missing something that private investigators might dig up. It also allowed the DNC to leak damaging details of the investigation on their own and thus keep the story alive in the press.

Dean has done some investigation of this already and it is his opinion, and the opinion of several prominent legal scholars that he interviewed, that Wilson and Plame would have a strong case. Who would they sue? Rove would be the most obvious target. While he hasn't been fingered as the initial leaker, there is evidence out there that he condoned the campaign to hurt his wife (Wilson has apparently heard from multiple sources that Rove has said that Plame was "fair game"). That would be sufficient cause to bring Rove in for a deposition and quiz him, under oath, about what he knows.

Also, since the allegation is about an activity that was not part of any legitimate governmental duty, Rove would not be entitled to free representation by the Justice department. He would have to pay for it himself. Meanwhile, Dean says he knows of several lawyers who would be willing to take the case pro-bono. (Crazy idea: I wonder if Larry Klayman would take it?)

I hope Wilson and Plame are seriously considering this option. If Wilson is really serious about wanting to "frog march" Rove out of the White House, this might be the best way to go about it.


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