Saturday, October 29, 2005

The Fitzgerald Press Conference - Judgement Reserved For Now

Fitzgerald's press conference made it clear that he is a process-oriented individual who doesn't see philosophical nuances regarding matters of law. This came out in his refusal to discuss any results of the investigation not directly related to the indictments issued against Scooter Libby, and in his reaction when a reporter suggested that some (she said, "Republicans") might consider failure to indict on the original focus of the investigation an indication that Libby has been indicted on "technicalities". Fitzgerald repeated several times that the charges against Libby are "very serious", invoking the name of national security as it applies to unmasking a CIA agent.

This begs the question, "would the best interests of national security have been served better by having Valerie Plame remain covert?", a question clearly outside Fitzgerald's bailiwick.

The evidence suggests that the answer is "probably not". An agent with a politically active husband, who uses her official pull to further that activism, may be doing more harm than good to national security. And having her husband assigned to an investigation in Africa certainly smacks of nepotism, especially when he completes his "mission" by filing "an oral report". The CIA was formed from the World War II OSS, the Office of Strategic Services. It's critics said that OSS stood for "Oh So Social" referring to the rampant cronyism that characterized its early days, when it drew its members from the upper crust of society and their friends and relatives. It doesn't serve the national interest for the CIA to revert to this behavior.

The press conference also raises the question, which, one hopes, will come out during trial, "how were the FBI interrogations of Libby conducted?"

Having once been interrogated by a former FBI agent and his partner regarding suspected union activity while in federal employ (they were on the wrong track, but that's a different story that I'm not at liberty to discuss), I can speak to some of the techniques used. I can't tell you if these are standard FBI interrogation techniques, but people do usually exploit their training, even when in new positions.

First and throughout, they attempted to bring the power of their authority and position to bear. This was not a friendly chat, it was confrontational to the point of being abusive. The object was intimidation; truth through fear. Things like standing while I remained seated and deliberately invading my space. Some "good cop, bad cop", played to the hilt and beyond (I actually believe the "bad cop" had a personal dislike for me, and that he was surprised that I wasn't visibly rattled by it). The questioning was deliberately repetitious and punctuated by interruptions and changes of subject in order to see if my answers changed (they didn't). Some questions were combative, questioning my loyalties. Question:"Oh, now you're trying to put it on (name of another employee). Response: "There isn't anything to 'put' on anyone." The "bad cop" kept telling me that he didn't " it."

As soon as the "interview" began I knew instinctively that showing any fear to these men would be as dangerous as showing it to a snarling dog. My interrogation lasted only about 45 minutes, yet I was shaky and more than ready for a smoke once I'd left that room and those men behind. This was one of the most intense experiences of my life.

The point is this - I didn't come out of that interview unscathed simply because I was innocent. I came out alright because I maintained rigid self control, I was being questioned on events that had occured the previous week (so they were fresh in my mind), I didn't allow the interrogators to rattle me, and...oh yeah, I was innocent.

As I said, I don't know the circumstances of Libby's interviews with FBI agents, but I would not be willing to dismiss out of hand any claims from him that he was confused or misspoke.

Now, the final question that Fitzgerald's press conference raised for me was this, why was it held? Why did Fitzgerald feel the need to justify his actions past the posting of the indictments on the Department of Justice website? Fitzgerald has no duty to the reporters who were sitting in that room. His duty was to investigate, and is now to prosecute. There should be no notation of "public relations" in his job description. The press conference was superfluous, gratuitous and could only have served to prejudice Libby's case.

One last note on process-oriented people. They don't make value judgements about the laws on the books. Libby is facing 30 years for allegedly lying about an alleged crime for which Fitzgerald could not find enough evidence to charge anyone. Fitzgerald finessed this by stating the gravity of testimony before a grand jury. Those who revere the process have an almost pious respect for its details, a sort of tunnel vision that's useful in a prosecutor.

During World War II, if a man in the Naval Service was caught engaging in homosexual relations, he was sentenced to 85 years in Portsmouth Naval Prison while the details of his charges were read publicly, pour encourager les autres. I doubt that many prosecutors lost any sleep over their fates.

Scooter Libby is innocent until proven guilty. Some people aren't really taking that to heart. I'll decide for myself after the trial. I'll also be deciding whether or not the appointment of a special counsel was worth the damage it will cause to national security. And there will be damage, once the partisan hounds get into full throat.