I was just reading over a few of the articles about the Libby trial and Vice President Cheney's central role in orchestrating the attack on Joe Wilson in order to cover-up Cheney's complicity in and essential authorship of one of the central lies at the core of the Bush administration's case for war. The truth, though, is that we are not really examining the cover-up in this case so much as we are still living within it. Most of the key facts of this episode either remain entirely concealed or buried under a mass of government produced misinformation. The Senate intelligence committee report, authored by Republicans, but shamelessly and with great cowardice okayed by senate Democrats? I've been asked many times why the Democrats signed off on this fraudulent document. I think there are two basic reasons -- or two categories of reasons.
First, as hard as it is to say, shallow and poor staff work on the Democratic side, abetted, caused and hopelessly bound up with senators unwilling to get their noses dirty or their ribs bruised. Second, there was a more specific and complex error. In so many words, the Democrats agreed to let the Republican authors of the report lie and deceive as much as they wanted on the Niger/Uranium and Wilson/Plame fronts in exchange for allowing a semi-revealing look at other instances of flawed Iraq intelligence. For the minority party to bargain for lies in some areas and portions of the truth in others is a tactic with rather inherent drawbacks. But in this case it displayed a telling obliviousness to the political context of that moment.
In this case, the senate Republicans (and the White House officials who were directing their actions) knew what they were doing; the Democrats didn't. The Niger-Wilson-Plame saga had become a singular one in the larger debate over the administration's use of falsified intelligence in driving the country to war. Whether it merited that singular importance on the merits is certainly subject to debate, though I believe there's a good case that it did. But as the debate had evolved it was that singular.
It was the most damaging to the White House and particularly to Vice President Cheney whose bad acts had tracked the evolution of the story from beginning to end. Killing that story or doing it great damage was critical to the White House. Airing the details of this or that technical discussion about aerosolization of chemical agents or precision machine parts, while important in itself, would count for little in the broader public debate. Bargaining one for the other made perfect sense for the White House and senate Republicans. And the Democrats went along with it because at a basic level they were simply in over their heads. In doing this the Democrats failed twice over -- first on the more substantive level of signing of on a fraudulent report and then second in not even grasping the political context or consequences of the report itself.
As long as that report remains the official word on the matter, the Democrats on the Intelligence Committee remain complicit in the web of official lies about the lead up to war.
And what about the law enforcement investigation of the Niger forgeries themselves? Here too the White House has taken effective steps to prevent any real investigation. I've written at length before about the joke which has been the FBI's investigation of the Niger matter. But roughly a year ago, a colleague and I sat down with two federal law enforcement officials with detailed knowledge of the bureau's investigation of the Niger matter. The trail, of course, led to Italy. So any progress in getting to the bottom of the matter would require the Italians to cooperate with US law enforcement to get to the bottom of what happened. Only the Italians didn't want to cooperate. That's not altogether surprising given that Italy's lead intelligence agency was implicated in the fraud. But to get action, the FBI needed the US government to make clear to the Italian government that we desired their cooperation. But the Bush administration simply refused to do this. They had a tacit understanding with the Italian government to stonewall the investigation.
The catalog of official lies in this matter goes on and on.