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Shortly after the March 6 announcement that a federal jury had found former vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby guilty on charges of perjury, obstruction of justice, and lying to federal investigators, both Fox News Washington managing editor Brit Hume and syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak peddled various falsehoods regarding the CIA leak case. On Fox News' Live Desk, Hume claimed that special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's investigation "was exploded right from the beginning" when Fitzgerald learned that then-deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was the original source for Novak's July 16, 2003, column revealing Valerie Plame's CIA employment. Hume repeated his previous claim that Armitage's disclosure was "the only leak that made any difference" and went on to say that Fitzgerald nonetheless "found it necessary to press on and ... he's now convicted somebody of a crime that did not occur until the course of his investigation."
In fact, as Media Matters for America has noted, while Armitage was Novak's primary source for Plame's identity, the information Armitage divulged was confirmed by White House senior adviser Karl Rove. Further, Hume overlooked the fact that, while Libby did not leak Plame's identity to Novak, he was reportedly the original source of the information for at least two other reporters during the summer of 2003. As The Nation Washington editor David Corn noted in an August 27, 2006, post on his Nation weblog, regardless of the fact that Armitage was Novak's primary source, "the public record is without question: senior White House aides wanted to use Valerie Wilson's CIA employment against her husband."
Earlier in the broadcast of The Live Desk, Novak asserted that Fitzgerald "did not feel" that the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act "was violated" in Plame's outing, although Fitzgerald "has not said so." Novak added that Fitzgerald "did not believe there was a violation of the law, which was, I believe, the primary purpose of his being called in as a special prosecutor." But as Media Matters has noted repeatedly, Fitzgerald has stated that he was unable to determine whether any laws were violated in the leaking of Plame's identity because his investigation was impeded by Libby, who was convicted on four of the five charges brought against him.
In an October 28, 2005, press release summarizing Libby's indictment, Fitzgerald indicated that he had not been able to reach a conclusion about whether a crime had been committed in the leaking of Plame's identity, saying that Libby impeded the grand jury's investigation:
Without the truth, our criminal justice system cannot serve our nation or its citizens. The requirement to tell the truth applies equally to all citizens, including persons who hold high positions in government. In an investigation concerning the compromise of a CIA officer's identity, it is especially important that grand jurors learn what really happened. The indictment returned today alleges that the efforts of the grand jury to investigate such a leak were obstructed when Mr. Libby lied about how and when he learned and subsequently disclosed classified information about Valerie Wilson [Plame].
And in a press conference that same day, a reporter specifically asked Fitzgerald whether the investigation was over and whether the probe would fail to "lead to a charge of leaking." In response to the first question, the special counsel said that the investigation had not concluded. In response to the second question, Fitzgerald compared himself to an umpire who, while attempting to determine whether a pitcher intentionally hit a batter, had sand thrown in his eyes.
Media Matters posted an item shortly after the verdict was announced in anticipation of such misinformation.
From the March 6 edition of Fox News' The Live Desk:
MARTHA MacCALLUM (host): Now, when Richard Armitage shared that information with you, what was your understanding of what he was trying to tell you?
NOVAK: I had asked Mr. Armitage in the course of a background interview, why it was that Joe Wilson, who had been in the Clinton White House and was a critic of Bush policy, who had no experience in nuclear policy, who had not been to the African country he was sent to in many, many years since he was a junior officer, why in the world was he sent? And Mr. Armitage smiled and said because his wife suggested it -- she is -- works in the counter-proliferation division of the CIA. He was in answering a question to me, and I put that in the middle of a very long column. I didn't think it was the scoop of the century.
MacCALLUM: But when he said that to you, he said it in the context that you were talking politics with him really. You were saying, "So, Joe Wilson goes to Niger. He comes back and finds that what the administration is saying is not the case, according to his findings, and comes back and reports that," and you were saying to Mr. Armitage, "Why would they send Joe Wilson of all people," right?
NOVAK: That's right, and he said -- and he gave the answer that his wife worked at the CIA, and she suggested it. That was not the lead of my column. It was not the main point of the column, but it was a fact inside the column.
MacCALLUM: And when Armitage was questioned by Patrick Fitzgerald, he let him go, and it's my understanding that the reason that he didn't press charges against him was because he didn't believe that Mr. Armitage had disclosed anything that was illegal to disclose.
NOVAK: That is right. The whole question is -- although Mr. Fitzgerald has not said so and doesn't have to say so -- he did not feel that the secret agents identity act was violated. He did not believe there was a violation of the law which was, I believe, the primary purpose of his being called in as a special prosecutor.
Now, obviously, if this had -- not obviously -- but if this had not been -- if the Bush administration had shown any guts and had kept this case in the Justice Department, not given it to a special prosecutor, they could have said no law was broken, end of case, case dismissed.
Instead, a special prosecutor -- I think Mr. Fitzgerald is an honorable man who wanted to do the best job he could, but he has no supervision. He is a completely free agent, and that's why Congress did not renew the Independent Counsel Act. Now, we have a special counsel being named in this case because the then-Attorney General Mr. Ashcroft said that he was not willing to take the heat of keeping the case with inside the Justice Department.
HUME: Remember what we were originally about here. This was an investigation -- at least supposed to be an investigation in the outset -- about whether something really quite serious had happened: whether the cover of an active covert CIA operative had been blown for, essentially, political reasons -- that is to discredit a critic of the administration's Iraq policy. That is the -- and that is, of course, a crime to deliberately out someone in that position. That's what this special prosecutor was named to investigate.
Well, it quickly turned out -- and he knew it, did the prosecutor -- that the person who actually carried out the only leak that made any difference, that is to say the only leak that ever got published, which is the one to Robert Novak that got into his column, which he just described to you a few minutes ago -- that that was done by someone not connected to the White House and someone who was in fact himself a war critic. So, that whole theory of the case was exploded right from the beginning, but Fitzgerald found it necessary to press on and, eventually, he's now convicted somebody of a crime that did not occur until the course of his investigation.
Now obviously, you can't take lightly a perjury or obstruction of justice conviction. On the other hand, we are very far afield from where this case originally began, and I think that it's probably a good thing for the reputation of Patrick Fitzgerald that he got this conviction because had he not, he would have ended up looking very foolish indeed to have gone this far afield to bring forth what, in the larger context, can certainly be seen as a minor charge.