The Libby Indictment: It's All So Familiar The indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, prompts memories. It seems almost every Washington scandal comes with a coverup included.

The Libby Indictment: It's All So Familiar

The Libby Indictment: It's All So Familiar

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The indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, prompts memories. It seems almost every Washington scandal comes with a coverup included.


With the indictment of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, machinery has been set in motion. We start from the premise that he's innocent until proven otherwise. Mr. Libby has already resigned his position in the vice president's office. Possibly his case will go to trial; perhaps there will be an agreement to avoid a trial. That's all coming. But meanwhile, the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, spent quite a lot of time at his news conference on Friday explaining why he has not charged Mr. Libby with the crime he was originally brought in to investigate. Mr. Libby has not been charged with revealing the name of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson, whose status at the CIA was top secret. He has been charged with lying to investigators and to the grand jury and with attempting to obstruct the prosecutors. Mr. Fitzgerald turned to baseball to explain why that's important. He concluded a long and complicated baseball analogy by saying that, `When someone throws sand in the referee's eyes, he can't make an accurate judgment about what happened.' But putting baseball and Mr. Libby's case aside, the prosecutor's decision brings back memories.

Obstruction of justice, making false statements and perjury are legal terms for what we think of as `the cover-up.' Almost every Washington scandal comes with a cover-up included, like an extra set of teaspoons. And the cover-up often becomes a far bigger event than whatever it was that whoever it was was trying to cover up. Consider the classic case: Watergate. It began with a break-in at an office building on the banks of the Potomac. Efforts to cover up the genesis of that break-in grew into a national tragedy which toppled a president.

There was the Iran-Contra affair: officials in the White House secretly sending arms to a group in Nicaragua after Congress had forbidden such expenditures. In that case, a young woman who worked in the White House stuffed documents in her clothing and smuggled them outside, an attempt to obstruct the investigation.

We all heard a later president of the United States say, `I did not have sex with that woman,' a famously failed attempt to cover up a relationship with a White House intern. And there have been dozens of lesser events; nominees to high office who've tried to keep information about their past secret only to find that efforts to keep the secret will keep them from getting the coveted appointment. Sometimes people are trying to protect themselves, their families, their job, the boss. Sometimes they appear to think that if they do it, being on the side of the angels, it somehow won't be wrong.

Years ago, my friend, the commentator Mark Shields, said, `There are two important rules to remember about Washington investigations. Rule number one, they never get you for what you did; they get you for trying to cover it up. And rule number two, nobody ever remembers rule number one.'

And it's 18 minutes past the hour.

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