Wednesday, 31 January 2007

A Whiff of Watergate? More Like a Pinch of Plame...

As Peter at Liberal Review has pointed out, over on Comment Is Free Martin Kettle has been questioning Ed Davey's assertion that the ongoing investigation into the 'Cash for Coronets' (© Andrew Rawnsley) affair has a "whiff of Watergate" about it. Martin Kettle asserts, rightly in my view, that one must be careful in making judgment before due process has been allowed to take its course. He is right, of course, that "The dynamic of the Watergate affair was the process whereby that clear-cut crime was linked to President Nixon and his subordinates and their attempts to cover-up their involvement." Thus far, no crime has been proven, and commentators should take care not to besmirch the names of those who are currently innocent in the eyes of the law: Tony Blair no less than anyone else.

To my mind, however, the Valerie Plame Affair appears to be a much more relevant point of comparison, if one is needed. In this incident ('Plamegate', as convention now dictates any political scandal must be called) senior White House officials leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame in order to undermine the contention of her husband, former U.S. ambassador Joseph Wilson, that the Bush administration had knowingly made the false assertion that Saddam Hussein had attempted to purchase yellow-cake uranium from Niger.

Even during Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation, it was argued back and forth whether a crime had actually taken place, since in the eyes of some it was the prerogative of the executive to declassify information that was formerly classified (somewhat reminiscent of Nixon's "If the President does it, it's legal" argument). Despite having discovered that Bush advisor Karl Rove and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, and Dick Cheney staffer Scooter Libby were all sources behind the leak, none of the men was charged. Why? Because, Fitzgerald alleges, his investigation was obstructed.

So now I. "Scooter" Lewis Libby stands trial, accused of perjury. Libby, the prosecutor alleges, lied to a grand jury investigating the original allegations, and impeded his investigation. Fitzgerald compared it to a baseball player kicking dust in the face of the referee so he couldn't make a fair call on a foul.

The point no longer becomes whether there was a foul or not, but the actions of the player kicking the dust.

This is where Martin Kettle is wrong, and where Lord Levy should be worried.

Even if he and the others under investigation by the police stayed just on the right side of the law in the cash for coronets affair, but did not co-operate fully with the investigation, then whether peerages were sold or not loses significance.

Did Levy kick dust in the eyes of the ref?

In another political era, Tony Blair might have been able to withstand Levy being charged with perverting the course of justice so long as there are no actual charges brought for the selling of peerages, just as Dick Cheney remained safe in his job since no-one was charged with leaking classified information.

But we are where we are: and that means that any charges against "Scooter" Levy will spell the end of Tony Blair.

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