Tuesday, March 6, 2007

WSJ Screener Finance Follow-Up - Libby Conviction

The Wall Street Journal hopped onto the story I reported a couple of days ago regarding airport security collective bargaining, and continues to nail the lunacy of the idea.

Screeners need to adapt to changing threats, often with random and unpredictable methods. Union rules would require negotiating over these methods with labor chiefs at each work site, meaning at every airport. By TSA's estimate, union rules would also require pulling some 8% of the work force offline to meet new management demands. This would require either closing screening lanes or adding thousands of new screeners at more cost to taxpayers.

Additionally, Dick Cheney's former Chief of Staff and current political scapegoat I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was convicted on four of the five charges against him, exonerated only on one charge of lying to FBI Agents.

This is the short story. Below is the slightly longer one.

The entire case has been a political teaser, beginning with a trip Amb. Joe Wilson was asked to take to Niger for purposes of investigating some British Intelligence claims. London said the Hussein regime had attempted to purchase uranium from several African countries, including Nigeria. Wilson's low-key report, which was based primarily on Nigerian government officials, concluded Hussein had attempted to purchase uranium but had been unsuccessful. The former was conspicuously absent from Wilson's NYT Op-Ed alleging the administration "twisted intelligence" on the subject and ignored his (comparatively unimportant) report. With attention like a pregnant poll vaulter, the story amassed criticism of the administration.

On another note (at that point quite unrelated), State Department official and war skeptic Richard Armitage was telling reporters that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. Robert D. Novak published such in his column and publication (The Evans/Novak Political Report, a worthy read to which I subscribe) with Armitage as his confidential source. This sparked controversy as some believed Plame was a covert agent, thus the Bush Administration was taking revenge against Wilson's editorial. She wasn't, this was patently false, and the laws regarding the criminality of exposing agent's identity establish a number of criteria (e.g. the agent must be out of the country, expose must have malicious intent, etc.) which weren't met by this release of information by Armitage.

However, special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald indicted Scooter Libby on five counts, including perjury and obstruction of justice, while concluding there was no crime committed in the alleged "leak." There was some confusion on Libby's part as to when he knew that Plame was a CIA agent, claiming a conversation with Tim Russert was when he found out, and at that time he was "surprised." Russert denies as much. An earlier conversation was shown to be the point at which Libby learned of Plame's identity.

The trial was a confusing one, with conflicting witnesses, several witnesses providing conflicting testimony on different days, and a jury quite lost. The defense claimed Libby had a bad memory, the prosecution claimed he lied. My analysis would be that the top gun under the Vice President has a quantum amount of more important things to remember than whether some incognito ambassador is married to a CIA office agent who's inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. The Wilson's argument and ensuing civil suit (unrelated to these convictions) was that the administration had a deep concern over Wilson's op-ed, so deep in fact that they were willing to go to great detail in order to have Plame's career "ruined." It strikes me as incredibly pompous and arrogant on the part of Wilson and Plame to assume that they're so pivotal to national security along with national policy that they consume the minds of the President and Vice President. Yes, a bit too much to the head.

The jury took ten days to deliberate, repeatedly asking for clarification on basic points (such as what charges were being levied), leading judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano to suggest the defense will ask the judge to throw the ruling out due to a high level of confusion on the jury. This won't happen, but appeals will.

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