Outside editorial: Separating sheep from the goat

Posted: Monday, January 29, 2007

This editorial appeared in the Chicago Tribune:

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The High Priest of the ancient Jews would confess the sins of the people on the Day of Atonement over the head of the goat. Then the animal would be released. It is depicted in art as a burdened animal wandering the desert weighed down by sins, the scapegoat.

In modern times, we are led to believe, this was Lewis "Scooter" Libby's fate, to be the scapegoat released to carry the sins of others into the wilderness of the federal criminal justice system.

That, at least, is the defense argument as the former vice-presidential aide goes on trial.

Libby is facing federal perjury charges stemming from special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation of a leak to the media that outed Valerie Plame, a CIA agent. It is a convoluted case that doesn't involve the actual leak, but the alleged cover-up after the leak occurred.

The agent's husband, former diplomat Joseph Wilson, had been dispatched to Niger by the CIA to check on a report the Nigerians were eager to sell yellow cake uranium to Saddam Hussein for his nuclear program. Wilson said that was not likely and later wrote about it in The New York Times. That drew the ire of an administration that responded by outing his agent wife.

The article, Fitzgerald said, set off a "firestorm" in the White House. Libby's claim to a grand jury that he simply had forgotten what he knew about the leak didn't wash with Fitzgerald. Hence the perjury charge.

Libby, who at the time was Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, claims he was "put through the meat grinder" by a White House determined to hide the role of Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political adviser, in disclosing the agent's identity, the defense team says.

It will be interesting to watch this complicated case play out. Thus far, it has taught us that the news media can be very easily manipulated, that it's risky to speak truth to power and that deviousness is a job description for lots of folks in Washington. And that if Libby was a goat who left the White House and headed for the desert, he left many active sinners behind.

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