According to the “big” theory, a sinister cabal of senior administration officials deceived the United States into fighting an unnecessary war in Iraq. When threatened with exposure by Ambassador Joseph Wilson, they attempted to punish him by naming his wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA secret agent—compromising the nation’s security and the lives of Ms. Plame’s contacts.
Under the “little” theory, there was no deception, no conspiracy, no punishment, and no compromise of security. All that happened was that Mr. Libby, as chief of staff to Vice-President Dick Cheney, called reporters to contradict a false story that Ambassador Wilson had told about his boss. A New York Times columnist had reported in May, 2003, that it was Cheney who had dispatched Mr. Wilson on his famous mission to Niger in February, 2002. Mr. Libby pointed out that it was Mr. Wilson’s wife who had chosen him for the mission—and that Mr. Wilson had grossly exaggerated his own role in the whole business. The “little” theory agrees that Mr. Libby disclosed that Mr. Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA—but it denies that she was an undercover agent or that any important secrets were compromised. If Mr. Libby had only told the truth about what had happened, there would have been no crime at all.
Might a conviction stall the Bush presidency? Not necessarily, writes Fred Barnes:
Bush doesn’t face the obstacles Reagan did in 1986. He is blessed with Republican majorities in the House and Senate. Reagan faced a Democratic Congress. Reagan was old, tired, and afflicted with both skin and colon cancer. Bush is relatively young and vigorous. When Reagan vetoed a highway spending bill, Republicans joined Democrats in overriding his veto. Bush’s political condition is hardly that pathetic. Still, it’s bad enough to say there’s nowhere to go but up.
Former Clinton special counsel Lanny Davis:
The Democrats are playing up the idea that White House officials may have endangered national security in playing hardball politics. Well, I can remember all the times I picked up the phone and talked “on background” to reporters, “pushing back” against rumors damaging to President Clinton and citing information that I thought was “out there.” I don’t remember ever worrying about whether the facts that I felt were public knowledge might have been classified. But even if I had, I would probably have rationalized that anything I had heard on the grapevine couldn’t possibly be a state secret. If every political aide was prosecuted for those kinds of conversations with the press corps, I’m afraid there wouldn’t be enough jails to hold us.