Where do you put a one-time undercover CIA agent when she's no longer under the covers with anyone important?
If you're Valerie Plame, you'll soon be relegated to the back pages of the newspapers, and then out. The next time she can count on making the papers will be a nice obituary in the Washington and New York newspapers and a few lines of a telegraph dispatch on a page with the truss ads in Topeka.
The 15 minutes of fame for our gal Val, which she had to share with her husband Joe, is just about over. The newspapers that promoted "the biggest scandal since Watergate" are trying to wrap up e.g., justify their over-the-top coverage of the biggest nonstory since all the world's computers didn't crash with the beginning of the new millennium.
The mainstream media, for the millions of readers who haven't been following the story, reported with anonymous innuendo and confirmed with rumor and speculation that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and Miss Beasley the White House dog conspired to "out" Valerie, the queen of the clipping scissors and pastepots at the CIA. This put her at risk of life and limb just to punish her husband for going to Niger to investigate yellowcake rumors, and returning with only scorn and calumny for the war in Iraq. "Outing" an undercover agent is against the law, but under closely circumscribed circumstances. If the law can't find someone who deliberately did the deed, there's no crime. But the pundits and correspond-ents on the left breathed a lot of hot air into the credulous claims by the husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, and now the mainstream newspapers have to tug their fanciful yarn about Val and Joe IV back to earth.
Only last Saturday the New York Times, whose editors have chapped lips from reviving this story with endless mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, reported gamely that the collapse of the investigation "has become the subject of rich debate on editorial pages and in legal and political circles." But what's frankly rich is that the New York Times, having midwifed this scandal about something that never actually happened, is now the subject of the rich debate.
The underlying scandal has been the success of Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor, in keeping rouge on the corpse. He has spent upwards of $20 million of the government's money over three years, he's still in search of a crime, and he still hasn't indicted the ham sandwich. If he can't find a crime, he might make it into law-school literature as an object lesson into how to milk a client. This is the most important lesson law students learn, how to extract the maximum number of billable hours with a dead dog of a case. Lawyers can usually count on judges to cooperate in the game of delay, dally, loiter and linger. "The law is a ass," as Mr. Dickens reminded us. Sometimes the lawyers are, too.
What did Mr. Fitzgerald know, and when did he know it? As it now turns out, from his very first day on the job. Richard Armitage, Colin Powell's deputy at the State Department, confessed years ago that it was he who first divulged Valerie Plame's name to columnist Robert Novak. Messrs. Armitage and Powell could have stopped the investigation then, saving the president and the nation they were sworn to serve a lot of grief. Only they know why they didn't. (The rest of us can speculate.)
The disclosure might have been inadvertent, since by his own admission Mr. Armitage gossips like an old woman. Mr. Fitzgerald knew this before he put Judith Miller in jail. Before he indicted Scooter Libby. Before he called Karl Rove to the grand jury, knowing that Mr. Rove couldn't have been the leaker but also knowing that every time he was called to testify, running a gauntlet of newspaper and television cameras, the impression was planted that Mr. Rove was a crook with something to hide. But the prosecutor told Mr. Armitage to keep his mouth shut, lest he give the game away.
Prosecutors are sworn to protect the innocent as well as to prosecute the guilty, so what are we to make of a prosecutor who knows that his investigation is a fraud but proceeds with it, anyway?