A few more quick thoughts on John Ashcroft's recusal in the Plame investigation.
First, I've heard a bit more about Patrick Fitzgerald, the man Deputy Attorney General James Comey appointed to serve as a special prosecutor in the Plame case. And, thus far, everything I've heard leads me to believe he'll lead an independent investigation.
One can never know in advance of course what motives or predispositions a person might have. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating(hackneyed phrase? yes. but clear and to the point). But one can look at clues from past performance. And those clues point in the right direction.
And then, another issue. Why did this happen? And why now?
A few possibilities suggest themselves.
One might surmise that Ashcroft, after some time to think it over, decided that it was the wiser course to recuse himself and appoint a special prosecutor.
You could surmise that. But then you'd be pretty stupid. So let's pass on that possibility.
Let's consider two other possibilities, both of which assume this was triggered by on-going developments in the investigation.
One possibility is that the investigation has come up with more and more evidence and that has made it increasingly likely that there will be an indictment or at least some extensive grand jury proceedings. Because of that, it's now no longer tenable for Ashcroft to remain in charge of the investigation, since it's now clear that some serious wrong-doing occurred.
This seemed to be what Comey was getting at when he said: "It's fair to say that an accumulation of facts throughout the course of the investigation over the last several months has led us to this point."
But there's another possibility: that is, that this decision isn't the result of the general progress of the investigation or the accumulation of evidence, but something specific. Or more to the point, a specific person. And that something has just taken place.
Obviously these are general scenarios, which may, in reality, overlap quite a bit. But what strikes me about this announcement today was its timing. And the timing leads me to think the third scenario is the most likely.
The other news developments from the administration on the Plame case have come at what you might call press-appropriate times. As in, late on Friday afternoons. Stuff like that -- the times guaranteed to get you as little press notice as possible.
This was early afternoon on a Tuesday, albeit, yes, the day before New Year's Eve. If this was just a matter of a slow accumulation of evidence, tomorrow afternoon would have been just as good, and would have gotten the story buried. Same goes for Friday.
Now a third point.
It's always been more or less an open secret who the perps are in this case. And they're very high-level folks -- people with deep influence of the formulation and implementation of policy. And the wrong-doing here is directly related to the execution of policy. So if a crime was committed, and if an indictment is forthcoming, it will bring under scrutiny a whole complex range of wrong-doing (though not necessarily criminal wrongdoing) relating to administration war policy and intelligence manipulation and other stuff we can go into at a later date.
The Washington Post this evening has an article quoting "Republican legal sources who have discussed the case with the White House and the Justice Department" who say that this will give the administration cover and 'depoliticize' the case.
If the real perps are indicted, the political implications will be obvious and undeniable. And the fall-out will be rapid.