Fitzgerald on “technicalities” and the war

Patrick Fitzgerald, the impressive federal prosecuter in the Plame case, had some good answers to questions at a press conference after the indictment of Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff Scooter Libby.

One question dealt with Republicans– like Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas– who claimed indictments for “technicalities” like perjury would be excessive.

Fitzgerald responded:

I’ll be blunt.

That talking point won’t fly. If you’re doing a national security investigation, if you’re trying to find out who compromised the identity of a CIA officer and you go before a grand jury and if the charges are proven — because remember there’s a presumption of innocence — but if it is proven that the chief of staff to the vice president went before a federal grand jury and lied under oath repeatedly and fabricated a story about how he learned this information, how he passed it on, and we prove obstruction of justice, perjury and false statements to the FBI, that is a very, very serious matter.

And I’d say this: I think people might not understand this. We, as prosecutors and FBI agents, have to deal with false statements, obstruction of justice and perjury all the time. The Department of Justice charges those statutes all the time.

…And if a truck driver pays a bribe or someone else does something where they go into a grand jury afterward and lie about it, they get indicted all the time.

Any notion that anyone might have that there’s a different standard for a high official, that this is somehow singling out obstruction of justice and perjury, is upside down.

If these facts are true, if we were to walk away from this and not charge obstruction of justice and perjury, we might as well just hand in our jobs. Because our jobs, the criminal justice system, is to make sure people tell us the truth. And when it’s a high-level official and a very sensitive investigation, it is a very, very serious matter that no one should take lightly.

I suspect we won’t be hearing any more “technicalities” talk from Republicans.

Fitzgerald also dealt with a question about opponents of the Iraq war who “might see this indictment as a vindication of their argument that the administration took the country to war on false premises.”

This indictment is not about the war. This indictment’s not about the propriety of the war. And people who believe fervently in the war effort, people who oppose it, people who have mixed feelings about it should not look to this indictment for any resolution of how they feel or any vindication of how they feel.

This is simply an indictment that says, in a national security investigation about the compromise of a CIA officer’s identity that may have taken place in the context of a very heated debate over the war, whether some person — a person, Mr. Libby — lied or not.

The indictment will not seek to prove that the war was justified or unjustified. This is stripped of that debate, and this is focused on a narrow transaction.

And I think anyone’s who’s concerned about the war and has feelings for or against shouldn’t look to this criminal process for any answers or resolution of that.

Unfortunately that is unlikely to stop at least some war opponents from turning Libby’s indictment into a general indictment of President Bush’s Iraq policy.

There is room for criticism of the Bush administration’s use of flimsy evidence of WMDs to justify the Iraq invasion. I’ve made my share of that criticism. But as Fitzgerald said, no one should look to the Plame case for vindication of whatever they believe about the war.