Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh, and Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund mischaracterized the October 28 indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby to claim that special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's investigation determined that no underlying crime had been committed in the outing of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame. In fact, neither the indictment nor Fitzgerald indicated that any conclusion has been reached as to whether a crime was committed in leaking Plame's identity.
Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, is accused of lying to and misleading FBI agents and the grand jury during Fitzgerald's investigation of the Plame leak; he was indicted on two counts of perjury, one count of obstruction of justice, and two counts of making false statements.
As Media Matters for America documented, the claim made by numerous conservative media figures that the Libby indictment established that no "underlying crime" was committed is baseless. Fitzgerald's October 28 press release summarizing Libby's indictment explained that the grand jury's attempts to fully investigate the Plame leak "were obstructed when Mr. Libby lied about how and when he learned and subsequently disclosed classified information about Valerie Wilson." Moreover, in an October 28 press conference, when asked by a reporter, "Is this another leak investigation that doesn't lead to a charge of leaking?" Fitzgerald responded using a baseball metaphor: "And what we have when someone charges obstruction of justice, the umpire gets sand thrown in his eyes. He's trying to figure what happened, and somebody blocked their view. As you sit here now, if you're asking me what his motives were, I can't tell you; we haven't charged it. So what you were saying is the harm in an obstruction investigation is it prevents us from making the fine judgments we want to make." Fitzgerald never stated, or even suggested, that the leak itself was not a criminal act.
Nevertheless, on the October 31 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, Krauthammer, when asked by host Hume if it was "established in this indictment that someone had leaked the identity of a CIA agent," responded: "Well, absolutely not. Nobody was indicted on that charge, the original charge that sparked the investigation. If there were a crime committed or at least a suspicion of it, this prosecutor would obviously have indicted someone. He did not."
Limbaugh, on the October 31 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio program, mischaracterized the October 28 press conference, putting words in Fitzgerald's mouth to falsely claim that no crime had been found in regard to Plame's outing:
LIMBAUGH: He said two things in that press conference that will stand out above anything else that I hear about it. He said, "Despite all of our investigation, we did not find any evidence of the outing of a covert agent," so it means that our investigation turned up nothing, so we decided to turn up a crime as part of our investigation, so they've got this crime of Libby covering up a non-crime.
On the October 31 edition of the Christian Broadcasting Network's The 700 Club, Fund claimed that "if you look at the indictment carefully, there is no indication that Valerie Plame, ambassador [Joseph C.] Wilson's wife, was even a covert agent, and certainly the law was not violated. So given all that, of course perjury is a serious charge, but it's isolated with Mr. Libby." Fund later repeated the claim, saying: "Again, there is no underlying crime, no national security was directly violated and there was no charge on that basis." Contrary to Fund's claim that the indictment gave "no indication" Plame "was even a covert agent," the indictment claimed: "At all relevant times from January 1, 2002 through July 2003, Valerie Wilson was employed by the CIA, and her employment status was classified. Prior to July 14, 2003, Valerie Wilson's affiliation with the CIA was not common knowledge outside the intelligence community."