Back to the Future: From Scooter Libby to Donald Trump

Do we remember today the media hysteria between 2003 and 2007 that surrounded the special counsel’s investigation, prosecution, and trial of Scooter Libby?

During the progressive furor over the Iraq War, media-driven charges arose that Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, had deliberately leaked the covert status of Valerie Plame—a supposedly undercover CIA operative.

Soon all hell broke loose. Remember, these were the unhinged years of Michael Moore, Cindy Sheehan, the Bush-Hitler slurs, snuff Bush novels and films, and “Bush lied; people died” gospels.

Sensing a chance to embarrass or wound the Bush Administration, the political and media opponents of Cheney and Bush advisor Karl Rove first went after Libby. They apparently had hopes that he could be charged with something to leverage confessions and thus indictments of his superiors as co-conspirators in the supposed Libby leak of Plame’s CIA status. The leak purportedly was a way of punishing Plame’s stridently anti-Bush husband, Joseph Wilson, who had made unsubstantiated accusations of conspiratorial wrongdoing against the Bush White House.

Finally, the Bush Administration bowed to the growing media-driven pressures. We may forget now that it was none other than acting Attorney General James Comey on December 30, 2003, who appointed his friend Patrick Fitzgerald (sound familiar?) as special counsel. He had appointed Fitzgerald to conduct an investigation “into the alleged unauthorized disclosure of a CIA employee’s identity.”

If we review news stories from this year alone that did not warrant a special counsel investigation—FBI investigators assigned to Robert Mueller’s legal team exchanging venomous texts about the target of their supposed disinterested inquiry; the Obama Administration secretly shutting down government investigations of the terrorist organization Hezbollah’s global drug-trafficking to enhance its signature Iran deal; or the Clinton-funded phony Steele/Fusion GPS file that was peddled to the FBI and may have been used as an argument to get a FISA order to surveille Trump campaign officials and leak their names during and right after the 2016 election—we can remember just how hysterical those times were. The entire country was set afire over the ambiguous status of a single CIA employee and the loud, unfounded conspiracies theories of Plame’s often buffoonish spouse, Wilson.

Much Ado About Little
Fitzgerald spent more than 45 months and $2.5 million to investigate whether Libby had violated federal laws concerning the supposedly confidential status of Plame. Yet Fitzgerald never did fulfill his original mandate of indicting Libby for leaking Plame’s status.

Fitzgerald apparently had learned that Plame may not have been a covert agent after all, given her employment status at the CIA was more or less common insider knowledge. And to the degree some thought she was a covert agent, her status was likely first disclosed to the media by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, a close friend and subordinate of Secretary of State Colin Powell. That fact was known to Powell, who never volunteered that knowledge to the president when Bush had vowed to find the supposed leaker.

Fitzgerald himself never disclosed those bothersome facts to the public, as he pursued Libby in Inspector Javert style, given that he had neither a real crime nor the right suspect.

Understandably, Fitzgerald could never find Libby guilty of disclosing Plame’s status, much less using him as a tool to indict either Cheney or Rove. Fitzgerald settled instead for charging Libby with obstructing justice and making false statements—and hoped to convict him of something or other before a liberal Washington jury. And he did—before 11 Democratic jurors and one Green Party member.

In other words, the special counsel found Libby inconsistent in his testimonies about a supposed crime that was likely not a crime. And if it was a crime, it was committed by someone else. The final irony was that New York Times reporter Judith Miller, a supposed prime source for Fitzgerald’s accusation of Libby’s leaking, later wrote that in fact she had not been told by Libby about Plame’s status.

So came the final Kafkaesque insult: Libby was found guilty of a crime that did not exist. But had it existed, someone else committed it—a fact known to prosecutor Fitzgerald, who convicted Libby on a lesser charge by relying in part on a source who later confessed that her testimony was inaccurate, a fact also likely known to the prosecutor.

More than a decade later, does all this special counsel runaround sound familiar? After months of the Mueller investigation, no one has yet been charged with colluding with the Russians—the original justification for the media-driven special counsel investigation.

Instead, a few Trump subordinates have either been indicted on various charges apart from collusion, or confessed to fallback counts of making false statements, again with the assumed intent that they might be flipped to testify against their boss Trump. None so far have.

Was there Trump team collusion with the Russians?

No evidence has yet suggested such. The source of most rumors that Trump colluded with Russian operatives seems increasingly likely to have been the so-called Christopher Steele Fusion/GPS dossier. It was a purchased hit-piece folder, cobbled together from various scurrilous rumors about Trump. Many of the salacious details were supplied to ex-British spy Steele by Russian sources with close ties to or actually within, the Putin government.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign team had hired Steele to create a file on Trump as part of its larger opposition research efforts during the 2016 presidential election—an irony given the special counsel’s mandate to find Russian-Trump collusion.

At some point, the Clinton campaign made sure that those in the Obama Justice Department and FBI knew about the fake news dossier—as if the careerists in the FBI and, likely, those in the Obama Justice Department needed much convincing to peruse and disseminate the file and pursue their own investigations of the perceived unseemly Trump—especially given the perceived likelihood of a Clinton victory in 2016.

Turns out, the wife of a former Obama and later Trump Department of Justice official also worked on the file. And the FBI may have paid Fusion GPS to access and confirm its contents.

Further, we may eventually learn that the fraudulent Steele/Fusion GPS documents were used to justify before a federal court surveillance on various Trump campaign employees.

If confessions of false statements were leveraged from former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn by comparing his interviews with FBI agents to FISA-ordered surveillance of prior Flynn’s conversations, would Flynn have grounds for legal action? Had he been entrapped through the use of FISA-ordered surveillance, based on fraudulent information that the FBI submitted to the court and whose veracity James Comey at one point admitted the bureau could not confirm?

How Soon We Forget
We have learned little from the Patrick Fitzgerald fiasco of over a decade ago about the problems of appointing special counsels during periods of media-driven hysteria and then endowing them with generous budgets, wide parameters, and no deadlines.

Once again, a friend of a special counsel is prominent in engineering his appointment as special counsel.

Once again, we bent to media-generated political frenzies and appointed a special counsel to investigate the minutiae of the lives of mid-level officials in hopes of getting the scalps of high administration officials, whose views were considered politically unpalatable, as politics warped the investigation.

Once again, it quickly proved an unlikely gambit because there was likely no crime—in this case, evidence of Donald Trump colluding with the Russians.

Once again, it turned out if there had been a crime, it was more likely committed by someone else—in this case, the Clinton campaign that hired investigators who ultimately worked with Russian sources to find dirt on Trump and thereby undermine his campaign.

Once again, it may turn out that evidence used to convict or coerce a confession from a subordinate was itself based on fraudulent information, a fact that may well have been or should have been known to prosecutors.

Once again, special counsels are running investigations that may ruin reputations, bankrupt defendants, and serve political agendas—but otherwise find little evidence for the crimes for which they were originally appointed to investigate.

We have a word for doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is an American military historian, columnist, former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He was a professor of classics at California State University, Fresno, and is currently the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush. Hanson is also a farmer (growing raisin grapes on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author most recently of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict was Fought and Won (Basic Books).

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45 responses to “Back to the Future: From Scooter Libby to Donald Trump”

  1. The word? Totaitarianism

    Power corrupts
    Big Leftist Government power ultimately corrupts

    IG Horowitz of DoJ could finally burn down this weaponized Deep State akin to Stalin born of obama

    Let us pray

  2. It was as plain as the silly grin on Muellers face when they discussed appointing him, that he was thinking:
    “You want me to make up some silly reports that will drive the media into a feeding frenzy, and pay me all this money?
    What fool could pass this up?”

  3. And in both cases a Republican administration caved in to the media and allowed this investigation.

    • In a way, best thing to happen. Set a trap and the swamp creatures walked right into it.

      • I wish you were correct.
        But to the uniformed masses (i.e., MSM viewers) the eventual exoneration will be forgotten in the orgy of unproven media charges.

      • “But to the uniNformed masses….” Big difference. LOL. Sometimes spell-check just falls flat on its face, doesn’t it?

      • I don’t know… somehow uniformed fits too…. as in uniformly duped!

      • Trump has fought the media to a standstill. Two years of telling every lie they could invent has not dented Trump’s support. They have failed because we have learned they lie all the time and have for years. It took a long time for that reality to sink in, but millions today know the media is nothing but a propaganda machine for the left.

    • BIG DIFFERENCE here is Trump. I suspect he will release all the information and documents tied to this case when he pardons Flynn. Trump is a disrupter, not a Patrician masquerading as a Texan. I believe he will not leave a good man behind.

  4. The IGs are or should be a large part of the solution to draining the swamp.

    • Two beat cops from Muncie should be running a non corrupt investigation

  5. Give it time Victor, the trap has not been triggered. I expect a Grand Jury will be formed in January to investigate and bring charges against deep state players in the FBI and DOJ. This may very well force Mueller to expand his investigation to Russian Collusion by the Clinton’s and DNC. I admit this is not likely but merely a possibility based on Mueller trying to save what is left of his reputation. Vanity is a powerful force for good at times.

  6. This has everything to do with Democrats and their media driving hysteria. They got Scooter…. but they are the worse for this one… They are all destroying their credibility and their reputations in this witch hunt, which is blowing back on them…. it’s out of control alright .. the Democrats and the media have lost control of the narrative and the cudgel…as have the idiotic GOPe who went along with the demands instead of dismissing it… just like they stand aside for the very real corruption and sedition that has been uncovered… their silence is telling. The swamp is deep, but it’s in trouble.

    • They’ll set their own houses on fire to score a hit on PRESIDENT TRUMP, and even sacrifice their own loved ones if they get a few gullible fools to believe their psychotic obloquy.
      The psycho’s are not only running the asylum, they’ve taken control of the asylum’s daily bulletin!

    • True. So as the days go by, Mueller’s team becomes more and more loathsome and his investigation is ridiculed for the charade it is. It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic for the low hanging fruit Mueller plucked from the branch. It’s also tragic that the MSM is keeping millions in the dark intentionally.

  7. The word is evil. The perpetrator is the Democrat Party. With acquiescence from most Republicans in leadership positions.

  8. Scooter lobby has to have gotten the rawest of raw deal except maybe excepting the martin pre school fiasco. I think trump should give him a full pardon not the half baked bush semi pardon and have him as his political director to expose the canard of the Russian collusion farce

  9. There are even more parallels between the Mueller and Fitzgerald investigations. Within a month of their confirmations as Deputy AGs, Comey (in 2004) and Rosenstein (in 2017) got Attorneys General Ashcroft and Sessions to recuse themselves, and then appointed Comey’s friends Fitzgerald and Mueller. And in each case, the loudest voice in the Senate calling for a special counsel was Charles Schumer. It should also be noted that Fitzgerald led Judith Miller to misinterpret her own notes in order to get a conviction of Libby. Mueller is no less unscrupulous.

  10. This is more tangled than a John Le Carre’ novel. As a big fan of Occam’s razor, here’s what happened (I bet the farm on it):

    1 – To assuage their fear of a loss on the even of the 2016 election, a gaggle of Liberal deep-state operatives concocted an “insurance scheme” to pull out of their sleeve in the unlikely case of a Trump victory.

    2 – In a spiteful mix of self-justification and revenge, the team Mook-Podesta concocted this “Russian collusion” narrative 24 hours after Clinton’s unexpected loss to Mr. Trump. This dovetailed with the “insurance scheme” listed above.

    3 – Part of this scheme involved fabricating a document that would, black on white, speak of crimes and/or unethical acts on the part of the Trump team. Lawyers for the Clinton team paid Fusion GPS to have this document created (“fabricated” would be a more accurate word): we now refer to it as “the dossier.”

    4 – Never reluctant to wield power like a two-bit jungle-dwelling autocrat, Obama and his acolytes used the dossier as an excuse to produce FISA warrants to spy on members of the transition team. A last-minute rule-change by the criminally-opportunistic Obama administration made this (and the sharing of information thus obtained) easier and more guilt-free.

    5 – Enter the usual mix of Dem hysteria and 24-hr-newscycle media frenzy, and any excuse (in this case, Comey’s long-overdue firing) to appoint a special counsel, and voila’, here we are with Comey’s buddy Mueller and his merry band of Obama-ites and Clintonistas, no underlying crime to have triggered this appointment (as called for by the rules) and a time- scope- money-no object mandate to investigate anyone and anything at any point of any time.

    Anything surfacing drip-drip fashion will validate this very obvious sequence of events. Meanwhile, our laughably avuncular Attorney General snoozes, and this truly shameful charade continues, to the detriment of the country’s unity, the rule of law and the supposed impartiality of the FBI and DOJ. Ultimately, what will suffer the most in the long run–perhaps irretrievably so–is the public’s confidence in the institutions of Government, which should be the foundational bedrock of a civil society governed by consent.

    Democrats: the party of “the end justifies the means,” the end being their own hydrophobic rapacity for power.

  11. You could also have gone a little further back and cited the Ken Starr investigation into a real estate transaction that somehow morphed into a case of lying about a blowjob.

    • Actually it morphed into 15 friends, business partners and associates of Bill Clinton going to prison. Among those were no “process crimes” like lying to the FBI. Most centered around bank fraud.

      The famous missing billing records of Hillary’s showed she was as guilty of bank fraud as Webb Hubbell, who went to prison. They didn’t emerge until the statute of limitations had passed

  12. “We have a word for doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
    This time that word isn’t “insanity”, it’s “corruption”.

  13. As it turns out it was Hillary’s crew and the FBI colluding with the Russians to turn the election, ala Ted Kennedy. Why haven’t any indictments gone out?

  14. “We have a word for doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
    That word is “insanity” but it doesn’t apply here. The investigators were never looking for the truth, they were looking to politically damage an opponent.

  15. I’ve been comparing these cases from the start; I’m glad to see it brought out.

  16. The one time I saw Cheney visibly angry during an interview was when Chris Wallace asked him if Bush should have pardoned Libby. I thought it was a disgrace that he didn’t.

    • W did a number of disgraceful things. That was certainly one of them.

  17. one common characteristic of all contemporary American liberals is their complete lack of personal integrity ethics honesty morality and common sense

  18. Has Victor Davis Hanson ever given up his Democrat Party registration?

  19. In AUGUST, the house intelligence committee served a subpoena on the FBI asking whether the Fusion/GPS dossier had been used as a basis for the issuance of FISA court warrants to spy on US citizens. In a normal law office, the day the subpoena was served, one of the senior partners would look at the subpoena, ask the subordinate responsible for FISA court applications to come to his office and yell :”Hey. Did you use the fusion/gps dossier in any way as a basis for a FISA application?” Done. Over in 5 minutes. The fact that the FBI has not answered the subpoena means it has something to hide. It is, of course, hiding the fact that the Steele dossier WAS used as a basis for FISA warrants.

  20. Maybe we should start requiring special prosecutors to be financially responsible for damages done to people who are not proven to have committed crimes that they are investigated for by such unscrupulous ‘prosecutors’. Only when such bad behavior begins to have actual physical and practical costs will it stop.

  21. The plamwgate coverage is the gold standard of biased media overcoverage. And the crickets coming from those same pundits during fast furious, bengazi irs scandal etc is telling

  22. Best part of the plamegate thing was that from reading what Wilson said sadam was looking for wmd but Wilson was too dumb to realize it