Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has finally issued indictements in the Valerie Plame case, charging Dick Cheney's chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby with perjury, obstruction of justice, and making a false statement to the FBI. For those who don't know Valerie Plame was the partner of former Ambassador Joe Wilson, who was sent to Niger by the CIA to investigate claims that Saddam Hussein was attempting to purchase Uranium in that country. He inconveniently concluded that those claims - central to the Bush Administration's case for war - were false. The Administration retaliated by outing his partner as an undercover CIA agent, ruining her career and possibly endangering the lives of covert agents overseas.
Outing an undercover agent in the US is a crime, as is passing on classified information to someone not entitled to it. Plame's outing thus led to an investigation which pointed directly at the White House. But rather than charge Libby with the crime itself (which would be difficult to prove). Fitzgerald has fallen back on easy to prove charges of perjury and obstruction. This is based on more than just a "technical" slip up; as Kevin Drum notes:
Fitzgerald didn't charge Scooter Libby with mistakenly making a few unimportant false statements to the grand jury. He charged him with deliberately constructing a false story about how he learned about Valerie Plame, and then repeatedly telling this story to both FBI agents and the grand jury. That story was a lie, and it was a premeditated lie designed to cover up the fact that he had engaged in a long and persistent effort to uncover information about Joe Wilson's wife and disseminate it to reporters.
Libby could have told the truth, but then he would have had to admit his role in outing a CIA agent in order to score political points against a critic of the administration. He didn't want that campaign to become public, so he invented a cover story, repeated it under oath, and stuck to it on multiple occasions.
And this doesn't mean he's going to get off lightly; according to BBC, he faces up to 30 years in jail plus a fine of US$1.25 million on each count if the charges are proven.
From a distance, I find this vastly amusing. Firstly, it's good to see a Straussian believer in the "noble lie" hoist by his own petard. And secondly, I get to watch a bunch of Republicans, who just a few short years ago were crying that perjury was the greatest crime on earth, show how deeply hypocritcal they are by trying to excuse it and pretend it doesn't matter. It's also good to see the US media explicitly linking this to the Bush Administration's pattern of using selective intelligence and outright lies to "justify" the war - a war that has now killed 2000 US soldiers.
Unfortunately, the Bush Administration has no shame, and I suspect that Bush will simply issue a pardon rather than see a key underling found guilty.