Jacob Weisberg writes in Slate:
Opponents of the Bush administration are anticipating vindication on various frontsâ€”justice for their nemesis Karl Rove, repudiation of George W. Bush’s dishonest case for the Iraq war, a comeuppance for Chalabi-loving reporter Judith Miller of the New York Times, and even some payback for the excesses of independent counsels during the Clinton years.
Hold the schadenfreude, blue-staters. Rooting for Rove’s indictment in this case isn’t just unseemly, it’s unthinking and ultimately self-destructive. Anyone who cares about civil liberties, freedom of information, or even just fair play should have been skeptical about Fitzgerald’s investigation from the start. Claiming a few conservative scalps might be satisfying, but they’ll come at a cost to principles liberals hold dear: the press’s right to find out, the government’s ability to disclose, and the public’s right to know.
At the heart of this misbegotten investigation is a flawed piece of legislation called the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. As Jack Shafer has written, this 1982 law is almost impossible to break because it requires that a government official unmask covert agents knowingly and with the intent of causing harm. The law was written narrowly to avoid infringing free speech or becoming an equivalent of Britain’s Official Secrets Act. Under the First Amendment, we have a right to debate what is done in our name, even by secret agents. It may be impossible to criminalize malicious disclosure without hampering essential public debate.
No one disputes that Bush officials negligently and stupidly revealed Valerie Plame’s undercover status. But after two years of digging, no evidence has emerged that anyone who worked for Bush and talked to reporters about Plameâ€”namely Rove or Scooter Libby, the vice president’s chief of staffâ€”knew she was undercover. And as nasty as they might be, it’s not really thinkable that they would have known. You need a pretty low opinion of people in the White House to imagine they would knowingly foster the possible assassination of CIA assets in other countries for the sake of retaliation against someone who wrote an op-ed they didn’t like in the New York Times.
I don’t know that my opinion of people in the White House is too high to imagine that, but it does seem that the law under which this prosecution is taking place is pretty creepy and illiberal, and while there’s a delicious irony in seeing an illiberal, creepy administration taken down by an illiberal, creepy law, that doesn’t make it a good law or a healthy prosecution, or, overall, a good thing for America.
There are much worse things people in the administration have done — horrible knowing lies they’ve told, in comparison to this possibly damaging truth. I’d rather not see them taken down for one of the few times they actually told somebody the truth, no matter what that truth is.