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Loosening The Beltway

Last week saw some extraordinary events in our nation's capital, where the law and politics intersected once again in a way that left even the chattering classes on television and in the blogosphere scrambling for meaning. Many politicians and lawyers said many things, and a few of those things actually made sense, were candid, and somewhat insightful. But, as usual, these rare nuggets of reason were buried under a mountain of mindless, spinning, cynical junk.

Wouldn't it be great if our government officials had the courage to actually act like humble, selfless, public servants during tumultuous times like this? Isn't it insulting to you that they repeatedly do not? Doesn't it frustrate you that the words they recite are so far removed from the deeds they perform? More and more obviously, politics is the art of self-survival at the expense of the collective good. There just isn't any shame anymore. With that in mind, here is what some of the past week's major players should have said as they strode, involuntarily, to the spotlight.

White House counsel Harriet Miers: "I am withdrawing my nomination to the Supreme Court because I simply don't merit at this point in my life the opportunity to sit on the highest court in the land ahead of much more qualified candidates. There are many more experienced attorneys, and certainly many fine judges, whom I think are better prepared to handle the immense responsibilities that go along with having that job. I am a fine attorney, a decent public servant, and a loyal political supporter. But those qualifications simply aren't enough to make it to the Supreme Court and never should be.

"I never should have accepted the President's job offer knowing as little as I do about constitutional law. I never should have accepted it after the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina and the resignation of Michael Brown at FEMA. I should have known that my old friend, the President, would be pilloried for so quickly thereafter choosing another political friend for a top spot in government. To my critics on the conservative right, I say: Shame on you for not trusting your president. To my critics on the liberal left, I say: If you think I was a bad choice, just you wait."

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Former Deputy Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby: "Regardless of how my pending criminal case plays out, I apologize to the President, those in government and media, and the American people, for playing it fast and loose with a federal grand jury and federal law enforcement officials. I thought I could outsmart the justice system and I could not. As a White House official, I had a special duty to ensure that the investigation into the source of the disclosure of Valerie Plame's name was conducted as quickly, accurately and productively as possible and in this duty I failed. I was arrogant and rude and deceptive about matters involving the national security of the United States, which is precisely the opposite of what I promised to do when I accepted my job.

"After I resigned, my bosses in the White House praised me for my years of loyal service. But had I been truly loyal I would have been perfectly candid with the special prosecutor and then accepted whatever consequences resulted from my candor. I lost sight of the fact that as a public official my deepest responsibilities were to the American people, who pay my salary, and not to my political patrons. To those reporters whose stories I fudged during my grand jury testimony, I apologize, especially since the administration in which I served has been so hostile to journalists. To those government colleagues whose lives I made more miserable by my words and deeds, I apologize. But, mostly, I apologize to Valerie Plame Wilson, and her husband, Joe Wilson, for jeopardizing their careers and perhaps even their lives."

Presidential adviser Karl Rove: "I realize how fortunate I am to have evaded indictment this week. But "not being indicted" is not exactly a badge of honor in any White House. I played a role in the public disclosure of Valerie Plame's name and I did it for reasons contrary to the public interest. In doing this, I caused embarrassment to the White House, and my president, and helped unleash a series of events whose ramifications are yet to unfold. My job at the White House was to help ensure that the president obtained and maintained political power and capital and in that duty I, too, have failed. I hereby resign my position, effectively immediately, in order to help ensure that this White House can more quickly move beyond the problems that have revealed themselves over the past few months."

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald: My specific job here was to determine whether any crimes had been committed by anyone involved in the public disclosure of the identity of a covert CIA agent. My general job as a prosecutor in all matters is to bring to trial only those criminal cases where the evidence proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This standard, which all prosecutors have but which some conveniently ignore, explains why Mr. Libby so far has been the only person indicted as a result of my investigation. Please do not mistake the lack of other indictments to suggest that I do not believe that many other White House officials acted inappropriately, even despicably. I hope these people will be judged more harshly in the court of public opinion than the law allows them to be judge in a court of law."

Vice President Dick Cheney: As the indictment of my former deputy makes clear, I was involved in the public disclosure of Valerie Plame's identity. I did not commit any crime but I should have been more candid with investigators, and with the public, when asked about my role in this affair. For example, when it was reported in newspapers that "Scooter" Libby was telling people that he had learned of Valerie Plame's name from reporters, I should have immediately and publicly corrected the record to state that he learned it from me.

As a nationally-elected official, second-in-line for the presidency, I owed a special responsibility to the American people to tell all I knew about this matter because it relates directly to this Administration's controversial decisions about, and rationale for, the current war in Iraq. Furthermore, my actions, and the actions of my direct subordinates, have helped damage our nation's ability to recruit covert agents at a time when we need them most. It also has tarnished our nation's image abroad and our government's reputation for candor. So, in these respects, I have committed in deed the precise opposite of what I have promised in word. And for that I am sorry."

President George W. Bush: "First, with respect to the Plame investigation, I apologize for the conduct of many of my top subordinates, including the Vice President, and for my own conduct in failing to ensure that all material information was revealed quickly to the special prosecutor. I came to office promising a level of integrity and candor at the White House that I believed was sorely lacking during my predecessor's regime. This sorry episode tells me that we have fallen short in many ways of that baseline goal. The investigation also has revealed to me the sad depths to which my Administration has too often gone in trying to stifle dissent, both within and without government, by using odious means like leaking the name of a covert agent in order to destroy her husband's credibility about a vital issue of national significance. This is simply unacceptable."

"With respect to the Miers' nomination, I apologize first to Ms. Miers for putting her into an impossible situation. I also apologize to members of the Senate, of both parties, for putting them in the difficult position of having to vet a candidate for the Supreme Court who failed to meet appropriate levels of experience and training. I apologize to Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, whose selflessness in staying at her post at the Court ought to have inspired me to do better. The American people deserve for the High Court the brightest, most qualified, most respected jurists this country produces. When I choose the next nominee that will be the only litmus test I use. And if that means my next nominee is less conservative than some of my most ardent supporters want, then so be it."

I know. I know. None of these people ever will say anything close to what's set forth above. But a fellow can dream, can't he?

By Andrew Cohen

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