Smoke And Mirrors

Brendan Nyhan notes the unfounded assumption that there’s some sinister conspiracy behind the Libby commutation:

Note how quickly the tables have turned here. People (like Marshall) who bemoaned the guilty-until-proven-innocent attitude of Republicans during the Clinton years have now decided — based on no hard evidence — (a) there was an underlying crime and (b) that President Bush “is a party to” it. To believe this to be true, you have to believe that Richard Armitage innocently leaked Valerie Plame’s status to Robert Novak before other Bush officials could unleash a plot that demonstrably violated the relevant statute. In addition, you have to believe that Libby’s testimony would reveal this plot. While it’s possible that all of this happened, assuming that it did is completely unreasonable.

Nyhan speculates about what really happened:

Libby is by all accounts a loyal servant. Couldn’t he just be protecting his superiors from exposure of embarrassing but non-criminal conduct? In the end, we have no idea what happened. There is no proof of a criminal conspiracy. Asserting or speculating that one took place is irresponsible.

There’s another potential scenario that fits as well: despite what the jury thought, Libby didn’t lie or obstruct anything. He simply didn’t remember the timeline for who he talked to when, and couldn’t get a clear enough story to satisfy the jury. Everyone seems to assume that there’s something to this case, when the reality is that at every point, there seems to be less and less. We know that the White House wasn’t the source of the leak to Novak. We know that Joe Wilson’s NYT op-ed is contradicted by his own statements, and we know that he and Plame are making out like bandits from this whole escapade. Nobody was charged with violating the IIPA, and there’s no evidence which suggests that there even was such a violation or surely Fitzgerald would have nailed someone with it.

It’s a lot easier to believe that Robert Novak got his info from Richard Armitage than it is to believe in some sinister and labyrinthian White House conspiracy — but some people so fervently want there to be some big story that they’ll assume one based on nothing more than their own presumptions.

Let’s face it, the White House that bungled Harriet Miers, the Dubai ports deal, and just about everything else couldn’t keep a secret without everyone and their dog knowing about it. At this point, the only way that there could be some big coordinated conspiracy to “out” Plame and attack Wilson is if the White House actually managed to keep a secret this long without some former Cabinet member smearing it all over his or her autobiography — which would be rather unprecedented for this Administration.

Occam’s Razor cuts this story to shreds — despite what many want to believe about the Bush White House, the idea that they could keep this whole thing under wraps just doesn’t jibe with reality. It’s a lot more likely that Scooter Libby couldn’t keep his story straight than it is to believe that Scooter Libby somehow is the fall guy for some vast right-wing conspiracy. While the latter would play into the general atmosphere of hyperbole and paranoia that surrounds the White House Press Corps when it comes to the President, the former is the most likely scenario.

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