Bloggers jump on Libby indictment

Online commentators polarized over indictment, which accuses White House official of lying about his private conversations with reporters. Related story: Will bloggers get to cover Libby trial? Image: Read the Libby indictment

Declan McCullagh
Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
3 min read
The Friday indictment of Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff and a senior White House aide, was probably the most anticipated event of the political season.

So it didn't take long for online commentators to react to the five-count indictment, which accuses Libby of lying to the FBI and a federal grand jury about his private conversations with reporters.

Web sites quickly took sides. "Mad Melancholic Feminista" applauded: "Break out your champagne. Good cheer for all!" BlackWednesday.org took a broader view of what it dubbed "Plame-Gate": "The Republican party is literally on the ropes, and it is now up to the opposition to stake their claim on the legislative branch of government."

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"It does show the world that this is a country that takes its law seriously--all citizens are bound by the law," said Patrick Fitzgerald, a special prosecutor appointed to investigate the origin of the leaked information about Valerie Wilson's employment at the CIA.

Democratic politicians frequently invoked the phrase "culture of corruption." House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said on her site that "the criminal indictments of a top White House official mark a sad day for America." (There's no response on House Speaker Dennis Hastert's new blog, but another top House Republican said the Bush administration can "now move forward.")

While TheSmokingGun.com may have been the first to post the indictment, most reports linked to the copy (PDF file) on Fitzgerald's Web site.

The indictment accuses Libby, who resigned his position on Friday, of lying to the grand jury and FBI about conversations he had with New York Times reporter Judith Miller, Tim Russert of NBC News and Time magazine correspondent Matthew Cooper. Each count carries a maximum sentence of between five to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $250,000.

Many conservative (or at least not Democratic) bloggers noted that Libby is not accused of divulging classified information--he's accused only of a cover-up. (Federal law does prohibit "communicating" national defense information to anyone not authorized to receive it, but Libby is not charged with that offense.)

At a press conference, Fitzgerald said: "I am not speaking to whether Valerie Wilson was covert...We have not made any allegations about whether Mr. Libby had knowingly, intentionally outed a covert agent."

Conservative site RedState.org pointed out that Libby "was not indicted for leaking the name of Joe Wilson's wife, super secret agent Valerie Plame." The Wall Street Journal's editorial page has argued in the past that the desk-bound Valerie Wilson wasn't exactly a covert agent operating overseas.

Glenn Reynolds, the University of Tennessee law professor best known for Instapundit.com, wrote: "This isn't the Libby-Rove-Cheney takedown that the lefties have been hoping for--there's not even a charge of 'outing' a covert agent--and the very extravagance of their hopes will make this seem much less significant. If there's no more, this will probably do Bush little harm."

Even veteran critics of the Bush administration seemed to feel the same way. A post on DailyKos.com griped: "Very disappointing if this is all we get. Very."

So where does that leave "Fitzmas," the word proudly coined by liberal bloggers to describe their expected day of celebration on Friday? One wag revised it to "Fitzween." ("Fitzmas" already has its own Wikipedia entry, and adaptation in verse.)

During Fitzgerald's press conference, he painstakingly avoided speculating about what might happen next--including whether someone like Bush aide Karl Rove could be indicted. The 22-page indictment, however, does mention an unnamed "Official A" who is already being fingered as Rove.