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Dear Richard Cohen (Part II)

cohenrichard.jpgHello again, Richard:

It’s been a while since we’ve corresponded, but I feel the need to, yet again, point out the obvious.  As I wrote to you all the way back in October of 2005:

If you don’t know any actual prosecuting attorneys, let me help you out. For people who uphold the law as their vocation — and there are an awful lot of them in this country who take their jobs very seriously — putting people in jail for breaking the law, and seeking justice, is their job.

Sure, they are mean to the jerks who break the law. (btw, these people are called criminals.) These criminals may be poor, uneducated and even mentally unstable — and sometimes they are wealthy, highly educated and people you seem to want to continue to hang out with at cocktail parties.

Here’s a clue: the laws apply to EVERYONE, across the board, whether they are rich and powerful or poor and powerless. (You might want to read up on what Martha Stewart has been doing for the last year or so. Might be illuminating on this point.)

This goes for ALL the jerks who break ALL the laws, not just the laws you happen to have thought were important at the time you turned in your column….

Oh, and in case you were wondering how Judy Miller got caught up in all of this mess, we prosecutors like to call it “accessory” — as in potentially prosecutable along with all the other folks involved if she was aiding and abetting the conspiracy to commit a crime. Poor Judy, carried water for people breaking the law and got caught. How dare a prosecutor want to see her treated like every other living, breathing citizen in this country?!? (Okay, I’m not really outraged, but I was trying to appear empathetic to you here. How am I doing?)

Perhaps you journalists (if I can be so bold as to count you among them) ought to reconsider being human shields for people who use you to commit odious crimes, and then leave you to rot in jail because they are too craven to accept responsibility for what they have done.

Unfortunately the realization that the laws ought to apply to everyone, regardless of social standing, job description and the number of mutual friends inside the Beltway that you may have with a particular multiple-federal-felony-convicted former Vice Presidential minion, didn’t quite sink into your thick noggin, because today you wrote this:

With the sentencing of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Fitzgerald has apparently finished his work, which was, not to put too fine a point on it, to make a mountain out of a molehill. At the urging of the liberal press (especially the New York Times), he was appointed to look into a run-of-the-mill leak and wound up prosecuting not the leaker — Richard Armitage of the State Department — but Libby, convicted in the end of lying. This is not an entirely trivial matter since government officials should not lie to grand juries, but neither should they be called to account for practicing the dark art of politics. As with sex or real estate, it is often best to keep the lights off….

Accountability is one thing. By all means, let Congress investigate and conduct oversight hearings with relish and abandon. But a prosecution is a different matter. It entails the government at its most coercive — a power so immense and sometimes so secretive that it poses much more of a threat to civil liberties, including freedom of the press, than anything in the interstices of the scary Patriot Act. The mere arrival of a form letter from the IRS will give any sane person a touch of angina.

I don’t expect George Bush to appreciate this. He is the privileged son of a privileged son, and he fears nothing except, probably, doubt. But the rest of us ought to consider what Fitzgerald has wrought and whether we are better off for his efforts. I have come to hate the war and I cannot approve of lying under oath — not by Scooter, not by Bill Clinton, not by anybody. But the underlying crime is absent, the sentence is excessive and the investigation should not have been conducted in the first place. This is a mess. Should Libby be pardoned? Maybe. Should his sentence be commuted? Definitely.  (emphasis mine)

I want to be certain that I understand what you are saying here:  lying under oath is a crime and should be punished.  But Scooter Libby shouldn’t be punished for his lying under oath because he was just playing politics, and thus should be excused from any and all crimes committed under some sort of “lights out political shield.”  Is that about right? 

Frankly, Richard, that makes no sense.  And you’ve missed his other felony convictions for lying on multiple occasions to FBI agents and for obstructing the further investigation into this matter.  But then, that was your point — to minimize the conduct of poor, law-breaking, multiple-felony-convicted Scooter, wasn’t it? 

Yes, going to jail is a scary, difficult experience for people who are convicted of crimes — it’s called “punishment” and not “soccer and ice cream camp” for a reason. But this asinine notion that you have that public officials (or, as you probably say to yourself, “people like me”) shouldn’t have to pay their debt to society for lawbreaking in the same way as everyone else is…well, frankly Richard, it’s elitist and wrong. 

You don’t get a pass on going to jail just because the mere thought of it makes you want to pee your pants — imprisonment is, after all, meant to be a deterrent.  And, as Mr. Libby is a lawyer who has done his share of white collar criminal representation, he knew exactly what the risks and penalties were for his lawbreaking conduct before he ever started down his illegal road to self-ruin.

Further, Richard, and this is a very important point:  Mr. Libby was convicted of multiple federal felonies by a jury of his peers who reached a unanimous verdict that he, indeed, violated the laws of the United States with his conduct.  These were smart folks, Richard, not potted plants, who asked multiple questions of witnesses from both sides of the case and listened intently to all of the evidence presented — and their verdict is deserving of far more respect than you give it.

Additionally, one of the charges for which Mr. Libby was convicted was obstruction of justice.  Meaning, and this is really important so I am going to type very slowly here so that you can follow along, sir:  there were potentially more crimes committed that could not be prosecuted fully because Mr. Libby blocked further investigation into criminal conduct by others with his obstruction.  Perhaps Vice President Cheney, perhaps Karl Rove, perhaps Richard Armitage…perhaps even the President — we cannot know because Libby “obstructed justice,” for which he was convicted by a jury after a lengthy trial.  Mr. Libby knows, but he is refusing to divulge his knowledge to authorities.  Hence, the obstruction conviction.  (See how simple that was?)

And, further, there was a LOT of evidence and testimony that pointed to Mr. Libby’s guilt — even Judge Walton, a conservative, GOP-appointed federal judge has said, repeatedly, that the evidence of Mr. Libby’s guilt was overwhelming.  Judge Walton, by the way, respects the laws as they are written, without exceptions for the rich and powerful.  (Funny how people who enforce the laws day in and day out don’t have a lot of sympathy for people who break them, regardless of their stature, isn’t it?  Sheesh…the nerve of some people.)

But you, Richard, you missed the factual point that while Richard Armitage talked with Bob Novak about Valerie Plame Wilson, both Karl Rove and Scooter Libby also talked with multiple journalists on multiple occasions about her as well.   So, that would be multiple members of the Bush Administration spreading classified information around town for political and personal payback which you appear to believe is hunky dory so long as they are playing politics with it?  In your mind, we are just better off not knowing about the lawbreaking, putting our fingers in our ears, and pretending it didn’t happen — a mental lights out moment for you is better than upholding the rule of law inside the Beltway?

Are you seriously paid to be this daft?

Here is what I know, Richard:  you do not get a pass for breaking the law because you are a governmental employee doing your boss’s dirty work.  You do not get a pass because you are one of the “important people.”  And, while jail does suck, you don’t get a pass from going to jail just because your friends think your lawbreaking ought to be excused.

It sure doesn’t work that way for any of the thousands of criminals who are sentenced in federal and state courts all over this country every single day, and it sure as hell shouldn’t work that way for Scooter Libby.  Libby chose to tell multiple lies — to the FBI, to the grand jury under oath on multiple occasions — and to obstruct the further investigation by telling those lies.  No one is to blame for the lies that came out of Libby’s mouth but Libby himself.  It’s called taking responsibility for one’s own actions.  Libby is no different than any other criminal convicted of those offenses — he lied, he broke the law, he has been convicted and sentenced, and that sentence should now be carried out.  Period.

You certainly don’t get a pass for your criminal conduct solely because you have friends in the important Beltway Crowd social circuit of which you are clearly a part.  That is elitism at its most odious, frankly — the whiff of “people like us should be allowed to do as we please” is appalling on its face.  I think my pal Glenn Greenwald sums this up quite well today, and I suggest you read his piece and really think about it.  (You do remember thinking, don’t you, Richard?  Take the cocktail weenies out of reach for a few moments and think on your own.)

Best, Christy

PS — And stop hanging out with Hitchens, you guys are clearly huffing too much of Barbara Comstock’s Chanel No. 5.  Cheers!  And do tell FFFH I said howdy. 

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com