Sunday, October 30, 2005

The dreaded comparison ...


I've been waiting for some other blogger to make the point better than I can, but nobody seems to be biting. Brad DeLong comes closest and his take is worth reading, but when you want something done, I guess you have to do it yourself. So, here goes:

The Republicans are throwing a Hissy fit. Literally.

Let me backpedal a bit. Some Republican and conservative bloggers are taking the Libby indictment seriously. Their opinions range from "Jesus, Libby was really stupid -- why didn't he just get all up in Fitzgerald's grill and say 'yeah, I outed her -- no law broken, though, so back off, man?'" to "this is a serious matter. The whole Saddam's nukes/WMD/Iraq war issue has been under a cloud for more than two years now because this geek lipped off to the press and then tried to cover it up. Throw the book at him."

Others, however, run more in the direction of "that's all ya got, huh?"

Bill Quick at Daily Pundit -- "Even the bigstream media is suddenly noticing that there is no 'there' there. ... the moonbats at moveon.org and the Kossacks at the Kosa Nostra were going crazy in slavering anticipation. Now they get one aide charged with lying about sex what he said to some reporters. Pretty thin gruel to feed such a pack of howing beasts, eh?"

Mark R. Levin at National Review's "The Corner" -- "Frankly, this has the smell of Lawrence Walsh, who claimed that top Reagan officials violated various laws without charging them, and his defenders waived around Walsh's public statements as evidence of crimes. ... we have strained efforts now to accuse Libby of passing classified information without the benefit of an actual charge."

Let's take this from the top:

Alger Hiss was accused of (but not charged with) delivering classified information to the Soviet Union. Scooter Libby is accused of (but not charged with) delivering classified information to ... well, pretty much everyone who reads The New York Times or Time magazine, presumably including operatives of every intelligence agency, friendly or unfriendly, in the world.

A brief note on classified information: There are different levels of classification, and we don't know which one covered Valerie Plame's status at CIA. The key thing to remember is that all levels of classification assert damage to the security of the United States as a potential consequence of mishandling the information. The disclosure of "confidential" information could "damage" the national security. The disclosure of information designated "secret" could cause "serious damage" to the national security. And "top secret" information is information which, if disclosed, could cause "grave damage" to the national security. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald asserts in the Libby indictment, and asserted at his press conference, that Plame's employment by the CIA was, in fact, classified information -- and in so asserting, he implicitly also asserted that its disclosure was damaging to the national security to one degree or another. Now, back to our regular programming:

In the case of Hiss, the statute of limitations had run out by the time his alleged activities came to light, and espionage charges could therefore not be pressed. In the case of Scooter Libby, US law was "reformed" in the 1970s, over the objections of Republicans. It ceased to be automatically illegal to divulge classified information. Specific criteria of both offense and intent were written into law, and the lines dividing whistleblowing, indiscretion and crime got a lot more blurry.

In the case of Alger Hiss, the prosecutor went instead for perjury charges; in the case of Scooter Libby, the prosecutor charged perjury, then threw in false statements and obstruction for good measure.

Hiss, of course, was convicted (and it appears, according to records released after the collapse of the USSR, that he was, in fact, a Soviet spy). Libby may or may not be convicted.

The Republican line on Hiss is -- and has been for 50 years -- that he was guilty as hell and deserved what he got (44 months in prison). The Republican line on Libby, at least in some quarters, is that if Fitzgerald can't nail him for outing Plame, charging him with perjury is just sour grapes.

Republicans are agitating, in other words, for the rehabilitation of Alger Hiss (not to mention Bill Clinton). Isn't it a little late for that?

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