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October 25, 2005: New York Times Columnist Warns that Fitzgerald Indictments Might Be ‘Overzealous’

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof writes that the Fitzgerald investigation of the Plame Wilson identity leak is running the risk of moving too far, too fast, and may end up jailing Bush administration officials without good cause. Kristof cites two Republican-driven investigations from the 1990s—the “fanatical” Kenneth Starr investigation of former President Clinton and the “appalling” 10-year pursuit of former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros—to warn that the Fitzgerald investigation, like those he cites from the 1990s, may be moving into murkier areas than originally warranted, i.e. the investigation into who leaked the name of a clandestine CIA agent. Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald may be “considering mushier kinds of indictments,” Kristof writes, “for perjury, obstruction of justice, or revealing classified information. Sure, flat-out perjury must be punished. But if the evidence is more equivocal, then indictments would mark just the kind of overzealous breach of prosecutorial discretion that was a disgrace when Democrats were targeted. And it would be just as disgraceful if Republicans are the targets.” Kristof acknowledges that White House officials “behaved abominably in this affair,” and says, “the idea of a government official secretly using the news media… to attack former Ambassador Joseph Wilson [is] sleazy and outrageous. But a crime? I’m skeptical, even though there seems to have been a coordinated White House campaign against Mr. Wilson” (see October 1, 2003). “My guess is that the participants in a White House senior staff meeting discussed Mr. Wilson’s trip and the charges that the administration had knowingly broadcast false information about uranium in Niger—and then decided to take the offensive. The leak of Mrs. Wilson’s identity resulted from that offensive, but it may well have been negligence rather than vengeance.” Kristof doubts that anyone in the White House knew that Plame Wilson was an undercover agent, and believes that “some official spread the word of Mrs. Wilson’s work at the CIA to make her husband’s trip look like a nepotistic junket.” He calls such behavior “appalling,” and says that columnist Robert Novak “was absolutely wrong to print the disclosure” (see July 14, 2003). “But there’s also no need to exaggerate it,” he concludes. The entire Plame Wilson affair is an example of “backstabbing politics,” he writes, “but not… obvious criminality.” Therefore, Fitzgerald should be wary of handing down indictments, both in the interest of legal restraint and for fear that indicting “White House officials on vague charges of revealing classified information… will have a chilling effect on the reporting of national security issues.” [New York Times, 10/25/2005]

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Nicholas Kristof, Clinton administration, Robert Novak, Henry Cisneros, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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