This column was written by John Nichols.
Here is the latest from the front page of the Scooter Libby Legal Defense Trust, the group that has been shaking down Republican donors for the money needed to maintain the convicted felon's silence until an appropriate moment arrives for him to be pardoned by President Bush:
"Former Senator Fred Thompson, a member of the Advisory Committee for the Libby Legal Defense Trust has graciously offered to host another fund raiser for the Libby Legal Defense Trust. We will be providing additional details in the coming days."
Thompson's schedule is getting busier and busier these days, as the man who reversed Ronald Reagan's career trajectory by going from the Senate into acting prepared to bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
But, hopefully, Thompson will find time to further identify himself with Libby, who the TV attorney identifies as "a man with nothing to hide."
The Thompson-Libby relationship, particularly Thompson's recent statements regarding it, tells Americans everything they need to know about the man who seeks to replace George W. Bush in the Oval Office.
Thompson is either a longtime acquaintance of Libby or someone who rushed to the side of Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff when he determined that an injustice was being done.
According to a February 23 report by Associated Press, "Trust spokeswoman Barbara Comstock says Thompson knew Libby from serving on the Senate Intelligence Committee and dealing with top White House staff."
According to Thompson, in a speech delivered May 12 to the Council for National Policy, "I didn't know Scooter Libby, but I did know something about this intersection of law, politics, special counsels and intelligence. And it was obvious to me that what was happening was not right. So I called him to see what I could do to help, and along the way we became friends. You know the rest of the story: a D.C. jury convicted him."
Whatever the facts of their relationship, however, there is no debating Thompson's loyalty to Libby. He is the leading proponent of a presidential pardon for the convicted felon. And he regularly uses his prominence as a TV lawyer to accuse the man who brought Libby to justice, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, of "perverting the rule of law."
In the faux-conservative circles that define the modern Republican Party, Thompson is more closely associated with the defense of the disgraced White House aide than with any particular stand on the issues facing the nation. That's one of the reasons why so many of the true believers in the Bush presidency are so very enthusiastic about Thompson's now likely candidacy to replace Bush.
Since Libby was convicted in March on four counts of obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements about how he learned the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame — the wife of former Ambassador Joe Wilson, who was targeted for attack by Cheney's office after he exposed the administration's manipulation of intelligence when it was lobbying for war with Iraq — Thompson has maintained that special counsel Fitzgerald, the federal judges associated with the case and the federal grand jury that decided it were all part of "the Beltway machinery" that railroaded an innocent man because "he worked for Dick Cheney."
"The Justice Department, bowing to political and media pressure, appointed a Special Counsel to investigate the leak and promised that the Justice Department would exercise no supervision over him whatsoever — a status even the Attorney General does not have," Thompson explained in his May 12 speech. "The only problem with this little scenario was that there was no violation of the law, by anyone, and everybody — the CIA, the Justice Department and the Special Counsel knew it. Ms. Plame was not a 'covered person' under the statute and it was obvious from the outset."
Thompson was, of course, speaking as an experienced player in courtroom dramas on NBC.
Here is what an actual prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, said in the 18-page Libby sentencing memorandum released two weeks after Thompson asserted that "everybody knew" Plame-Wilson was "not a covered person" under the rules that protect covert agents: "[It] was clear from very early in the investigation that Ms. Wilson qualified under the relevant statute (Title 50, United States Code, Section 421) as a covert agent."
Fitzgerald also detailed how Libby had blown Plame-Wilson's cover in conversations with reporters and White House aides, and explained that, "Mr. Libby kept the Vice President apprised of his shifting accounts of how he claimed to have learned about Ms. Wilson's CIA employment."
To all of this, Thompson says, "In no other prosecutor's office in the country would a case like this one have been brought."
Fitzgerald says: "To accept the argument that Mr. Libby's prosecution is the inappropriate product of an investigation that should have been closed at an early stage, one must accept the proposition that the investigation should have been closed after at least three high-ranking government officials were identified as having disclosed to reporters classified information about covert agent Valerie Wilson, where the account of one of them was directly contradicted by other witnesses, where there was reason to believe that some of the relevant activity may have been coordinated, and where there was an indication from Mr. Libby himself that his disclosures to the press may have been personally sanctioned by the Vice President. To state this claim is to refute it. Peremptorily closing this investigation in the face of the information available at its early stages would have been a dereliction of duty, and would have afforded Mr. Libby and others preferential treatment not accorded to ordinary persons implicated in criminal investigations."
This is, frankly, a better debate than any that will broadcast during the course of the presidential race.
Thompson, a career politician who plays a prosecutor on TV, says that it is wrong to prosecute someone who knowingly used a position in the White House to punish critics of the Bush administration and then lied about his abuses of authority and the public trust.
Fitzgerald, a career prosecutor who tends to avoid the cameras, disagrees.
Thompson is preparing to seek the presidency as the standard bearer of the wing of the Republican Party that turns a blind eye to official misconduct.
Fitzgerald is preparing to return to his work as one of the nation's most trusted enforcers of the rule of law.
Here is a real contest for Americans to decide. They can choose between two tickets: Thompson/Libby versus Fitzgerald/Rule of Law.
By John Nichols
Reprinted with permission from the The Nation