Jewish World Review Nov. 18, 2005/ 16 Mar-Cheshvan 5766

Wesley Pruden

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Mortuary Bob exposes another cover-up | It's not the crime, it's the cover-up.

Mortuary Bob Woodward made his career by establishing that as an article of capital faith. You could ask the ghost of Richard Nixon.

Mortuary Bob became a Washington legend for cultivating sources among both the quick and the dead, and he's guilty so far of no known crime. Well, except the crime of not taking seriously the game of who outed Valerie Plame, Washington's most famous airhead, as a covert operative of the CIA. That "crime" may yet get him "terminated" with extreme prejudice.

The husband of the airhead yesterday demanded the pursuit of Mortuary Bob by the famous special prosecutor from Chicago who has spent $20 million in vain pursuit of a crime, and could only manage to indict Scooter Libby for not remembering who told him about something that didn't happen.

Somebody even now is writing a play about the Plame game, and it's a musical comedy. It's easy to see why. We can only hope the music will be better than the words. Mortuary Bob wrote the best review of what's happened so far, when he told an interviewer for NPR that "when all the facts come out in this case it's going to be laughable because the consequences are not that great."

The consequences, great or not, are likely to fall hardest on the head of Patrick Fitzgerald. The big wind from Chicago has seen his case against Scooter fall apart over the last 48 hours. Scooter stands charged with perjury, a serious crime that rarely yields a conviction, because he said he learned of Valerie Plame's supposed status as a covert CIA agent from Tim Russert of NBC News, and not from a government official, which would have made it a violation of the law. Mr. Russert says that's not how he remembers it.

Even if Scooter was telling a lie, and not merely misremembering something from a long time ago, this is pretty thin soup on which to go to a grand jury. But if you're a special prosecutor who has just blown $20 million, even if merely taxpayer money, you're likely to be in a mild panic to come up with any old bone to throw into the pot.

But now comes Mortuary Bob with his story that he talked to Scooter before Tim did, and his notes reflect that he wanted to talk about "yellowcake" and "Joe Wilson's wife." This suggests that a lot of people in town knew about Val and Joe, who covert or not devote a lot of their time trying to get their overt pictures in the papers. If Scooter, who talks to a lot of reporters, all of whom look alike in the dark, got Tim and Mortuary Bob confused who could blame him? Probably not a jury, unless it's a jury packed with diehard Democrats eager to nail a Republican hide to the barn door. Where but the District of Columbia could you find a jury like that?

The operating manual for U.S. district attorneys sets out the dilemma for Mr. Fitzgerald. The manual requires that no prosecution can commence unless the D.A. believes he has the evidence to get a conviction. Losing is for losers, and that's why the government lawyer always holds the winning card (sometimes in his sleeve or sock).

If all this strikes the average American who actually has a life as a lot of stuff about not very much, he's excused. That's what Mortuary Bob thought, too, and that's what his newspaper and other organs of the bag-Bush-at-any-cost movement are unlikely to forgive. Mortuary Bob apologized to The Post for not coming forward with his admission until now. The editors put the apology on Page One, taking up space usually reserved for sad stories about helpless gay, black, female victims of our dirty, rotten, no-account society where the sun never shines, children never smile, lovers never woo and the river never runs smooth to the sea.

Mortuary Bob repented, The Post reported, "even as an investigation of who disclosed [Valerie Plame's] identity mushroomed into a national scandal." Of course it's a national scandal. Doesn't everybody from Pottstown to Yuma get up every morning eager to know what's going on at The Washington Post?

The irony is that this investigation into the fluff from an airhead's navel came about because first the New York Times and then The Post demanded it, nurtured it and gave the story mouth-to-mouth resuscitation every time it began to fade into the mist along the Potomac. And to think that only yesterday Scooter was on his way to prison, Karl Rove was about to be flung into hell, and George W. Bush was looking for impeachment lawyers. Now all we've got are a gang of media stars with hot notebooks. But any story with a journalist in it is a candidate for Page One. You could look it up.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2005 Wes Pruden