October 20, 2005
SALAMI, SALAMI, BALONEY
Both Billmon and Newsweek’s Christopher Dickey have speculated that Judith Miller’s Plamegate source may have been Ahmed Chalabi, one time Iraqi political exile and current VP of that particularly beleaguered Middle Eastern nation. Billmon flatly doubts it, and Dickey doesn’t say anything about why he suspects it besides Chalabi being one of Miller’s frequent sources regarding Saddam’s imminent and looming WMD capacity during the run up to the invasion.
Billmon goes further, saying it would take a Byzantine mind indeed (I’m paraphrasing) to come up with a scenario in which Judith Miller would end up going to Chalabi to find out who Joe Wilson’s wife was.
Well, perhaps my mind is more devious than most, I don’t know. What I do know is I have little trouble coming up with such a scenario, in which, rather than Judith Miller going to Chalabi for confirmation of a rumor that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA and lined up the Niger job for him as a plum, Chalabi actually planted the information on her.
Like this: the Shrub Administration decides it would be useful to make it look like Wilson is a slacker who basically used the Niger trip as a government funded vacation, and only got the assignment through his wife. (This is the kind of cronyism/nepotism they all instinctively understand from personal experience.) They need to get Plame’s status as a CIA operative involved in this area of investigation out there to the press, but don’t want to leak it directly, either because they know it’s classified information and that’s a big bad, or simply because the leak won’t be as effective if it’s obviously a smear job. (I suspect whoever decided to leak it knew damned well it was classified and could, technically, be viewed as illegal, which is why they looked around for a way to do it that couldn’t be traced back to them.) Now, if history teaches political conspirators anything it’s that anyone will rat anyone else out if a prosecutor starts passing around indictments, so, looking at it from that angle, the best filter imaginable in this kind of potential evidentiary chain is someone no U.S. prosecutor can ever slap paper on.
So it’s not that Miller went to Chalabi specifically for information on Plame. However, she would almost certainly have gotten in touch with Chalabi at some point during this period just to see if he knew anything, and Chalabi, as a favor to the people who put him into power, would have made sure he worked into any conversation the fact that Joe Wilson’s wife is a CIA operative and that’s how Wilson got the ‘pleasure cruise’ assignment to investigate Nigerian uranium.
Whether this is true or not we obviously at this point can have no real idea, but assume for a moment that it is. This would mean that someone on the highest levels of the U.S. government leaked the identity of a CIA operative working under cover to, not an American journalist while ‘playing hardball politics’, but to a foreign national… and not just any foreign national, either, but to someone who is arguably the most well connected, amoral and opportunistic political player on the current Middle Eastern scene. Saddam Hussein may have had only insubstantial ties at best to Al Qaeda, but Chalabi should be able to get in touch with nearly anyone on any side of the board. If he suddenly knows the real name of a CIA NOC, he’s also going to know that everything in her recent work history is probably Company-derived, and one can assume that, as he’s been asked to leak the information back to the American press anyway, he’s going to make sure he gets as much mileage out of leaking it to his Middle Eastern contacts first as he can. All of which is to say, if you want to endanger CIA operatives working under deep cover, well, running a commercial announcement on Al Jazeera providing their names, phone numbers, and home addresses is probably a better way to do it than leaking it to Chalabi… but only slightly.
What makes this an interesting speculation for me is that apparently (I gather from the blogopshere) Fitzgerald has some really really smokin’ piece of ‘secret evidence’ that he’s shown to various judges to back them off any time someone starts making noises about him ‘exceeding the scope of his original investigation’. Nearly every working journalist and every blogger of note has speculated at one time or another as to what that evidence might consist of; me, I’m wondering if it might not be, say, a copy of a phone log showing a call placed at an interesting time on an interesting date directly to Chalabi… or something similar.
Let’s take this speculation further. Treason is, of course, one of the very few things that bypasses even the vague, generally all encompassing concept of ‘executive privilege’ (which is in no way specifically mentioned in the Constitution, anyway, but has been generally accepted to exist since Nixon first asserted it). Treason is, in and of itself, a somewhat subjectively defined crime, but the Constitution has this to say about it:
Now, I’m fairly sure that further work has been done to define ‘treason’ under statute, but, even if we simply go with the basic Constitutional text, well, it’s not hard to see how a U.S. official telling an Iraqi government official the real name of an undercover CIA operative would comprise ‘giving Aid’ to ‘enemies’ of the United States. One can bluster all one wants to about how leaking that kind of information to a member of the U.S. press isn’t anything remotely like a criminal act, but when it comes to whispering this kind of data into the shell like ear of the biggest favor-trader in the Middle East, that argument starts to ring a little hollow.
In this particular case, I suspect that if, say, a sitting President or Vice President were to have personally given that information, either to said foreign national in person or over a secure line, they’d actually be pragmatically safe from all fear of legal repercussion… after all, Fitzgerald can’t subpoena Chalabi, nor can he realistically threaten him with anything, and Chalabi has a great deal more to gain from going along with his buddies in U.S. government than he has from stabbing them in the back.
All of which means, if, say, someone hypothetically named ‘Beney’, or maybe ‘Chush’, were to have told some grubby foreigner about an undercover CIA agent in person, he would almost certainly get away with it.
This strikes me as the unlikeliest of eventualities, however. In such a case, however safe this might be in this particular instance, well, decades of experience at slinking around the highest levels of global politics would tend to instinctively inhibit one from being the person who actually made such a phone call or, worse, face to face request. One would, at the very least, have just handed the greasiest, most conniving desert rat currently alive a huge lever for potential future blackmail… not the kind of thing an experienced political campaigner is going to want his fingerprints on.
Going beyond highly developed political survival instincts, I find it difficult to believe that ‘Beney’ or ‘Chush’ would see this sort of thing as being on their own level. Each of these guys has to regard himself as being the most powerful single human being in the world, while Chalabi is, well, a player, sure, and clearly a successful one, but, nonetheless, a man like ‘Beney’ would have to view a guy like Chalabi as a subordinate. The instincts of a ‘Beney’ or a ‘Chush’ are going to tell them that they just don’t have to take meetings on that level any more. And for both reasons, I tend to think they would farm this out.
If Fitzgerald has some kind of evidence that, in fact, the leak to Miller in re: Plame did originate with Chalabi, his next obvious question is going to be, where did Chalabi hear that from? One assumes a competent prosecutor would already have subpoenaed the White House phone records from that period, as well as all their email, so if we continue with that supposition, there would probably be some kind of circumstantial evidence there that would support the hypothesis. From there on, it’s simply a case of finding the top level aid who took the order from his boss and then made the leak/asked for the favor from Chalabi. Find that guy and you can threaten to bury him forever on a treason charge – and a Constitutional argument could be made that treason against the United States is one of the few things that the Chief Executive can’t pardon.(I’m not going to elocute it right now, but you can find a copy of the U.S. Constitution online pretty easily. Search it for terms like ‘treason’, ‘impeach’, and ‘pardon’ and see what you think.)
Whether it’s treason or not – and I admit, you could certainly try to persuade a judge that Chalabi isn’t (currently) an ‘enemy of the United States’, so leaking classified CIA info to him could, if you were deranged enough, not be considered ‘treason’ – certainly conservatives, even (or especially) the hardcore, hydrophobic, braindead ones we have in Congress, as well as all the zombies out there in TV land taking their marching orders from Hannity, Limbaugh, and O’Reilly, would be inclined to regard revealing classified information to a goddam towelhead as being an offense rather more serious than simply passing a note to Judy Miller. In fact, conservative biases are going to make ‘it’s not a crime’ a much harder argument to sell if it turns out that the person Bush or Cheney revealed Plame’s identity to was wearing a burnoose rather than a NY Times press pass. Even if the combination of ‘executive privilege’ (whatever that may be) and the pardon card still manages to shield both Dubya and the Legion of Idiots from viable prosecution, Dubya’s plummeting approval ratings and a growing perception on the part of pragmatic Republican politicians on the Hill that they need to distance themselves from King George if they want to have the slightest chance of keeping their own jobs may combine to create an atmosphere where even our current Congress might be willing to entertain the idea of impeachment… always assuming the polls come back in favor of it.
Many pundits analyzed the results of the 2000 Presidential election as having come about due to a ‘perfect storm’ created by, among other things, the Monica Lewinski scandal, Gore’s relative lack of electronic charisma, an utterly ruthless Republican ratfucking campaign of unprecedented and mind boggling proportions, and a newly created alloy of various right wing fringe elements underneath the Bush/Cheney banner. I’m not sure that’s true; most people seem to be forgetting that America swung hard to the right in 1980 when the voters first elected Ronald Reagan as a result of Carter’s weak response to the Iranian hostage crisis, and many seem to erroneously feel that Clinton’s two terms in office represented a consequent swing back to the left. That isn’t true; Clinton achieved election because of a strong conservative third party candidate running in 1992 that split the right wing vote, and he retained office based in large part on his own enormous charisma, especially as compared to the lugubrious troll the Republicans chose to run against him in 1996. However, Clinton was never a leftie to anyone but the most raving of John Birchers; his ‘mandate’, such as it was, was moderate and centrist, and the secret of his success, even without Ross Perot as a spoiler, was that he was capable of pulling a few crucial percentage points of the conservative vote away from the hardcore base and over to the nominal ‘left’… which he repositioned much much closer to the center than any previous ‘Democratic’ President ever had.
The common wisdom, that Bush’s win in 2000 represented a clear shift in American values back to Sunday school, conventional marriage, and apple pie, isn’t necessarily true either. In retrospect only the most zealous of conservative dupes still even attempts to deny that Bush stole the 2000 election outright. His mandate has never actually existed, and the so-called new alloy of fiscal conservatives with right wing radical Christians is, in fact, the exact same coalition of deficit hawks, foreign policy adventurists, and Moral Majority morons that first lifted Reagan into office. (And there is even a lot of deceptive crap out there being reported as ‘history’ about Reagan’s mandate. Reagan achieved an electoral college landslide by winning a large number of states, but each state was very nearly split down the middle between Reagan and Carter in 1980, and Reagan and Mondale in 1984. Reagan’s ‘landslide’ would never have happened at all without John Anderson running as a strong independent candidate from the left in 1980… and all of this simply means that the idea that the country ‘swings’ from left to right every twenty years is foolish; the country is now and always has been almost exactly split between conservative and liberal ideologies, and Presidential elections are largely won or lost by factors like electronic charisma and whether or not there are any strong independent candidates running in any particular Presidential election.)
Whether the ‘perfect storm’ analogy holds any water for the 2000 Presidential election, I do think it’s possible that Hurricane Katrina, the long series of military blunders in Iraq, a tailspinning economy, the Miers Supreme Court nomination, and, finally, Plamegate itself, may combine into the kind of ‘perfect storm’ that would be necessary to see even as avidly partisan a Republican-dominated Congress as this one become willing to impeach, and even convict, Bush and/or Cheney on charges of treason. If Fitzgerald is planning to shoot that high, now may well be the best of all possible times to do it… and if that isn’t the most eloquent argument for some kind of intelligent design to the universe I’ve ever heard, well, I’ve never heard one.
Lest we get our hopes too far into the stratosphere, I hasten to add that even were any or all of this true, I doubt Bush will ever actually see an impeachment proceeding from inside the defendant’s chair. He’s much too well connected; if the Republican power structure started to see this as something that was plausible and practical, he’d be offered the opportunity to cut a deal. Cheney, however, might have to do a little time, and it’s even possible that to placate the voting public and retain any kind of chance at a majority in the mid terms, the Republicans might have to let someone else be installed as Veep in Cheney’s place, to ascend to the throne when Bush resigns in disgrace. The Republicans would, of course, commit ritual suicide en masse before they’d let a Democrat take crown and sceptre, but nobody who’s been touched by the Plamegate scandal would be tolerated by an outraged American public, either… so… at the end of this chain of ridiculous supposition, what do I see?
Anyone up for President McCain?