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Beginning of the End? Watergate 2005? Gotterdammerung for the Bushies?

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

and JEFFREY ST. CLAIR

Scooter Libby was the lawyer who got the charges dropped against billionaire scamster Marc Rich back in Clintontime. But that had more to do with Rich’s billions than with any legal talents Libby may have. On the evidence of the indictment brought by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald on Friday, October 28, one fact stands out: SCOOTER LIBBY IS INCREDIBLY STUPID.

And this is what CounterPunch gets from the Fitzgerald indictment as a whole.

Special prosecutor Fitzgerald could have suggested that there is a cancer growing on the presidency, metastasizing out of Dick Cheney’s suite. He could have stated, or even hinted that yesterday’s indictment of Libby is the first drum roll in a mighty symphony of prosecutorial onslaughts on felonious conduct in high places.

But special prosecutor Fitzgerald did none of these things. He trailed his coat plenty of times. In his indictment of Libby he opens a couple of doors a few inches, so that the attentive reader can see footprints that head off towards the vice president’s office. But then the door shuts and there’s no evidence that special prosecutor has an appetite to prise it open again.

Despite all the enormous hopes vested in the Plame affair, that it is playing the same role in the downfall of the Bush administration as did the “third-rate rate burglary” that kicked off Watergate, this could be the end of the story, even if Fitzgerald has said there might have to be further investigation of Karl Rove, identified in the Indictments as Official A.

Back to Libby and his stupidity. Put yourself in his shoes. You are about to go before a grand jury and testify under oath. You know that the special prosecutor has successfully subpoenaed White House and CIA logs. Your lawyer whispers in your ear that the three most beautiful words in the English language are “I don’t recall”. He claps you on the back and, alone and unarmed, you enter the grand jury room. You raise your right hand and swear solemnly that you will testify to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God.

And here’s nice Mr Fitzgerald asking you questions and you tell one staggering lie after another. Not sneaky little half truths. Not mincing little evasions. No, Sir! Not this Scooter! I work for Dick Cheney and I can really, really tell a lie. And you do! You fire off volley after volley of brazen falsehoods, stretchers so ripe with willful and considered mendacity that it’s a marvel the words don’t explode in the jury room like methane in an overheated pile of manure.

Fitzgerald: If you did not understand the information about Wilson’s wife to have been classified and didn’t understand it when you heard it from Mr. Russert, why was it that you were so deliberate to make sure that you told other reporters that reporters were saying it and not assert it as something you knew?

Libby: I want –I didn’t want to –I didn’t know if it was true and I didn’t want people –I didn’t want the reporters to think it was true because I said it. I –all I had was that reporters are telling us that, and by that I wanted them to understand it wasn’t coming from me and that it might not be true. Reporters write things that aren’t true sometimes, or get things that aren’t true. So I wanted to be clear they didn’t, they didn’t think it was me saying it. I didn’t know it was true and I wanted them to understand that. Also, it was important to me to let them know that because what I was telling them was that I don’t know Mr. Wilson. We didn’t ask for his mission. That I didn’t see his report.

Basically, we didn’t know anything about him until this stuff came out in June. And among the other things, I didn’t know he had a wife. That was one of the things I said to Mr. Cooper. I don’t know if he’s married. And so I wanted to be very clear about all this stuff that I didn’t, I didn’t know about him. And the only thing I had, I thought at the time, was what reporters are telling us.

And of course there in the investigative dossier on the table in front of nice Mr Fitzgerald are all the records of Libby’s urgent probes into Wilson and Plames’ relationship and activities weeks and months before he talked to Russert or to Cooper. The grand jurors must have looked at Libby, thinking, This idiot spouting perjuries at us is Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff? Our taxpayer money is paying this moron’s salary.

This is what CounterPunch gets from Plamegate, and what we always got from Plamegate. The people in charge of the nation’s destinies these last five years are very, very stupid. Only really stupid people could have thought that outing Valerie Plame as an undercover CIA employee was a good way of undercutting her husband, Joe Wilson. Cheney is stupid. Rove is stupid. Bush is stupid. Libby, about whom we now have a heap of useful material, is very, very stupid.

It’s only because we have a lazy and venal press that this hasn’t been conclusively rammed into the public’s mind years ago. But the press is lazy, venal and complicit.

Tim Russert wasn’t calling on Libby to probe for secrets. He was there, according to Fitzgerald’s indictment, to listen to Libby’s complaint that a staffer of MSNBC had been rude about him, Libby. Cooper of Time wasn’t there to disinter the dark mysteries of the yellow cake scam. He was there to have a good gossip.

Now it could be that Scooter Libby’s next lawyer will sit down with his client and tell him that he’s going to the joint for a lot longer that Judy Miller’s 85 days in prison unless he opens up for special prosecutor Fitzgerald some investigative avenues so promising, so sensational, that Mr Fitzgerald begins to see himself as a major star in the political firmament. Maybe.

Or he may say, Scooter, cop a plea asap, do some time and then let the President pardon you on his way out of Dodge, same way as Clinton pardoned your former client Marc Rich, and the same way Bush’s Dad, as one of his last acts in power, on December 4, 1992, pardoned Caspar Weinberger, Duane R. Clarridge, Clair E. George, Robert C. McFarlane, Elliott Abrams, and Alan G. Fiers Jr., all of whom had been indicted and/or convicted of charges by Independent Counsel Walsh in the Contragate affair.

In fact Bush Sr pardoned Weinberger, though he was scheduled to stand trial two weeks later, so maybe Scooter will hang tough and just try to run out the clock.

So we somehow doubt that the Plame Affair still has legs, but even so, we have to go back to the early 1970s to find rubble so satisfactorily piled up around our imperial government.

In Nixon’s case, top officials and aides forced into resignation and in many cases prison, included the vice president, the head of the FBI, two attorneys general and four senior White House staffers.

On March 1, 1974, a grand jury named President Nixon, among others, as an unindicted coconspirator, for obstruction of justice concerning suppression of evidence such as the White House tapes. In August of that year Nixon resigned.

Yes, it was quite a holocaust at the top executive level. But many imperial institutions sailed through the crisis supposedly ennobled. Kissinger’s stature was not dented and indeed his sway over State Department and Empire was consolidated. President Ford had no option but to maintain him as the arbiter of America’s policies around the world.

The US Supreme Court sailed on, led by Nixon’s chosen instrument, Warren Burger. Both the US Senate and House of Representatives gained an heroic aura as the tv cameras turned Sam Ervin and even Howard Baker into saviors of the Republic. The Democratic Party emerged with credit and huge majorities in November ’74.

Most of all, the Fourth Estate was anointed (mostly by itself) as the vanquisher of despotism.

Contrast this to the inferno that now threatens the Imperial Establishment on every front. Since Nixon-time the Republic has had 31 years to run to seed, fatter and more corrupt.

Already the most powerful politician in Washington, House majority leader Tom DeLay, is under indictment and in consequence stripped of his official position.
The future looks grim for Senator Bill Frist, who faces SEC and Justice Department probes for insider trading.

On Capitol Hill there’s open warfare between various factions of the Republican Party, which this week climaxed with the conservative faction successfully rejecting Bush’s nomination of Harriet Miers to the US Supreme Court, an incredible humiliation for the President. With midterm elections looming and Bush’s public approval ratings tumbling, the collapse of discipline will only accelerate amid the general panic.

The Bush high command is in utter disrepute, openly attacked by Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, as a dictatorial cabal.

Bush’s deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove, has been distracted and — so the Miers fiasco showed, offered poor counsel his boss, whose presidency hangs over the precipice of ruin.

Consider the gloomy vista from Bush the Unlucky’s Oval Office, where even the birds in the Rose Garden are omens of yet another national crisis (which is scheduled to provide a bonanza to the drug companies, which a US Senate subcommitee just voted to hold free of any liability if their flu vaccines have the same lethal potential as they did in the swine flu panic a generation ago.)

In Iraq the war is faring disastrously and here in the Homeland it’s increasingly unpopular. The hurricanes have blown away all remaining public illusions about the venality and incompetence of the President and his cronies. The economy is rickety and a long-feared end to the housing boom may be upon us. Symbolizing the sense that the jig is up, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan is heading into retirement just before the roof falls in.

Internationally, the US has rarely been more despised. The armed forces are demoralized and the reserve system in ruins.

Is there any institution not compromised, not held in popular contempt? This crisis has no Woodward or Bernstein to lend it luster. There is no doughty popular hero at hand. The journalist’s name on every lip is that of Judith Miller, named coconspirator in the fomentation of a war that has seen the deaths of 2000 Americans thus far. The New York Times is in a state of civil war, just like the Republican Party.

There’s no sign that the Democratic Party is gaining any traction from the Republican collapse. With good reason. Never has a party been offered so many opportunities and taken so little advantage from them. So far as the war is concerned, powerful Democrats like Joseph Biden and Hillary Clinton are calling for more troops. Greenspan’s long and pock-marked tenure as the bankers’ bulwark draws tearful cries of gratitude from Democrats like Senator Paul Sarbanes.

In 2005 it is impossible to link the Democrats with a single courageous stand or even constructive idea. This week the party’s top strategists — mesmerized by the twenty-first century’s answer to the Framers, Dr George Lakoff’s childish nostrums — were wrangling over two possible slogans, “Together, we can do better,” or “Together, America can do better.”

Meanwhile over 100,000 older Americans lined up in mid October to file bankruptcy before the old wipe-the-slate-clean Chapter 7 law expired. More than half of these bankrupts have been ruined by health costs. The new bankruptcy law, written by the banks and credit card companies, made it through the Congress only with the help of Democratic votes in the senate, which were duly forthcoming as they always are.

If a Democrat, John Kerry, had captured the White House in 2004, would this have made a difference? Yes. The imperial machine would be probably be running more smoothly. The war in Iraq would have been given a new infusion of malign energy. You doubt this? It’s hard to keep up with his somersaults, but listen to Professor Juan Cole, liberal Democratic guru on Iraq. He now says (in an interview with the Nation Institute’s Tom Engelhardt) that for the US to “up and leave” Iraq would be to become an accomplice in genocide. He counsels the heightened use in Iraq of “special forces and air power”. In other words, assassinations and saturation bombing. Come home Robert McNamara, all is — yet again — forgiven.

It’s not the role of radicals to call for the election of a more efficient strategist and engineer of a bloodthirsty and rapacious empire, Kerry’s only claim on the voters’ attention anyone remembers. So let us give thanks that Bush is in the White House, and holding the Imperial fleet on a steady course to the rocks.

Footnote: Portions of the second half of his column ran in the edition of the Nation that went to press last week.

 

 

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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