Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Scapegoat Defense

Some Democrats were apparently gleeful that Scooter Libby's lawyer chose, in his opening argument, to claim that Libby was being made to take the fall for Karl Rove. The celebration, I want to suggest, is not just premature, but fundamentally misguided. This is almost a no-lose proposition for the White House.

The argument -- as I understand it -- is that Rove came up with the idea of outing Valerie Plame as a means of discrediting or at least downplaying the importance of Joseph Wilson. Nonetheless, Scooter was the one who was sent to talk to the press to sell the story, and because Scooter was a busy guy with important things to do like keeping us safe from terrorism, he got confused about what he learned about Plame, from whom, and when. But really Rove -- who also talked to the press about Plame -- was the bad guy.

I fail to see how this will harm the White House (any more than it already had before the trial began). Rove apparently acknowledged in his grand jury testimony that he mentioned Plame to reporters. That's why he wasn't charged with perjury. He wasn't charged with blowing her cover because Fitzgerald concluded that this wasn't criminal.

If the jury convicts Libby, that can be read as a rejection of the fall-guy defense. On the other hand, if Libby is acquitted, it will be spun as simply a case of faulty memory. It's not as though Libby's acquittal would result in Rove's indictment. The scapegoat defense is basically a non sequitur.