Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Time to bring in two slices of ham
By Wesley Pruden
Published October 25, 2005
This is the week when Patrick Fitzgerald has to come up with someone to indict for blowing Valerie Plame's CIA cover, if indeed she ever had one. He's desperately searching for the ham sandwich that courthouse lore insists that any district attorney can be the master of.
Some sandwich. Valerie and her husband, the diplomat Joseph Wilson IV, styled themselves as the beautiful couple famous (in the words of Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen) to "hairdressers, mistresses and dogwalkers all over town." When she was "outed" she didn't have far to go. (When you're a Wilson and want to keep a name running through four generations shouldn't you come up with something more poetically thrilling than "Joe"?)
Mr. Fitzgerald, the Chicago D.A. who got the Plame assignment two years ago and has spent upwards of $2 million in pursuit of the ham sandwich, wants to indict Karl Rove, the president's campaign guru, or I. (for Irving) Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Dick Cheney's chief of staff. But to get an indictment you have to have a crime.
Ay, as we Robert Burns fans are wont to say, there's the rub. There may not be one. So Mr. Fitzgerald has to invent one. Perhaps a violation of an obscure clause in the Espionage Act of 1917, enacted in the frenzy of the war to end all wars. It's not like Messrs. Rove and Libby have given information to the Krauts about the disposition of troops at Chateau Thierry, or along a salient of the allied line in the Argonne Forest, or have been conducting secret talks with the kaiser (though you never know), but a savvy D.A. knows how to fit a defendant to a 1917 crime when he can't fit a 1917 crime to the defendant.
The winsome Judy Miller, the New York Times reporter who went to jail and got this investigation back in the headlines just when it looked like it was about to join Smoot and Hawley in the Teapot Dome, would make a believable Mata Hari. But she is not suspected of violating the Espionage Act of 1917, and nobody would mistake either Karl or the Scooter as a hottie, even in fans, bubbles or feather boas.
If you think all this sounds like the muddled plot of a made-for-cable TV movie, you're right. Nobody really knows any longer what the Valerie Plame/Judy Miller/CIA/Yellow Fruitcake/Karl Rove/Robert Novak/Joseph Wilson IV/Bill Keller caper is about. All that those of us paid to follow it have figured out is that it's vaguely about the media, sort of, and nobody three miles beyond Tyson's Corner has the foggiest idea, or wants one. We're going to bore you with it as long as Patrick Fitzgerald keeps the scam going, which will be as long as Congress keeps him in the style to which he has become accustomed.
The first serious, sensible development in this calcifying caper emerged yesterday, when New York magazine scooped us with the news that Matthew Cooper of Time magazine -- the Washington correspondent who was supposed to go to jail with Judy but who cut a last-minute deal to avoid prison stripes -- was working on a comedy while Judy was learning to make license plates. Matt is a part-time stand-up comic, known in the stand-up laff-riot community for his John Kerry bon mot: "Kerry's idea of rebellion is having red wine with fish." (If you didn't laugh, don't laugh. Nobody else did either, and certainly not Teresa, who thought he was serious.) "The question," a friend of Matt Cooper's told Boris Kachka of New York magazine, "is whether publishers are going to have the intelligence to want a funny book about this, instead of one that huffs and puffs about 'a crucial turn in American history.' "
This scandal is already more farce than comedy, but it's just the farce for Washington, where farce is mistaken for fact, and if nobody out there cares enough to read about it that makes it all the more delicious for insiders. Few of her colleagues have cried for Judy; she has beaten too many of them on too many important stories over the years. Mickey Kaus, one of the most widely read of the bloggers, sent a prescient note to her yesterday: "The left hates you. The right isn't going to come to your rescue. You have no base of support except the man at the top. Just like Harriet Miers. It's not enough for her and it's not enough for you."
The man at the top for Judy is Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of the New York Times, who appears to be so humiliated by this latest episode of "As the Times Turns" that he is encouraging Judy's editors to throw her out in the snow. The lefties in the media are angry, beyond their usual ravenous envy of anyone more important than they are (which is nearly everybody), because Judy rode Scooter's scooter to the war in Iraq, and they didn't.
Right-thinking critics think anything bad that happens to the New York Times is good. Ham abounds, but the D.A. can't find the mustard.
Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.