The right take on Libby?

Conservatives defend and criticize Vice President Cheney's indicted chief of staff.

Published October 30, 2005 2:05AM (EST)

Reaction from conservative pundits to the news of "Scooter" Libby's indictment on Friday varied -- some stuck with positive spin, but a number of others struck a somber tone. The coverage on Fox News Channel was somewhat muted from the outset. Anchor Rick Folbaum opened an interview with Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, by playing up the news that Karl Rove wasn't indicted. "How much of a victory is this for the president?" he asked.

"Well, we shouldn't kid ourselves," Kristol responded. "It's not a victory ... [This is] awfully bad for the White House."

Paul Mirengoff, of the conservative blog Powerline, acknowledged the indictment "looks strong on its face" and that the charges against Libby "are serious," though he predicted that the political fallout "is likely to be almost nonexistent." Fellow Powerline blogger and Weekly Standard contributor John Hinderaker added that the Plame affair has proved to be "the anti-Watergate." "It is evident from the indictment itself," he argued, "that administration officials, including Dick Cheney, Ari Fleischer and others, followed President Bush's order to cooperate fully with the Plame investigation. But it's premature to conclude that the administration is out of the woods until we find out what, if anything, happens to Rove."

"I think Karl Rove is vindicated," talk radio host Hugh Hewitt told Salon Friday in an e-mail. "And I think it is quite obvious that there was no underlying crime of any sort. But that does not, of course, excuse lying under oath if lying under oath occurred, or obstruction," Hewitt added.

Others sought to shift the focus as far away from the White House as possible: Lorie Byrd of the conservative blog PoliPundit declared that former Ambassador Joseph Wilson himself has been guilty of lying throughout the affair, and wondered, "When will Wilson's indictment come down?" Glenn Reynolds, of the blog Instapundit, predicted that it "will be a blue Fitzmas" for some liberals because even Libby was not indicted on the underlying charge of knowingly divulging the name of an undercover CIA agent.

But other conservative bellwethers were somber -- and turned their back on Libby.

"This is not Watergate or Iran-Contra, but neither is it a trifle," wrote the editors of the National Review Online. "Please spare us the excuses warmed over from Democratic talking points in the 1990s: the prosecutor is out-of-control, there was no underlying crime, etc., etc. It is the responsibility of anyone, especially a public official, to tell the truth to FBI agents and grand juries. If Libby didn't, he should face the consequences."

The editors of NRO added that conservatives would be "well-advised" not to attack Fitzgerald personally, though they also expressed their dissatisfaction with "the limits of special-prosecutor investigations," arguing they prevent knowledge from reaching the public. Kristol of The Weekly Standard shared the Review's esteem for Fitzgerald, calling him a careful and "conscientious" prosecutor.

Speaking to MSNBC's Chris Matthews, commentator Tucker Carlson expressed doubts about whether the revelation of Valerie Wilson's identity was damaging to national security -- but his main concern appeared to be how a man as smart as Libby could be so "dumb" as to lie to investigators in the manner that he apparently did. Right-wing commentator Pat Buchanan concurred, calling Libby's actions "a matter of remarkable stupidity."

Back on Fox, convicted Watergate felon and talk radio host G. Gordon Liddy insisted that Libby couldn't have outed Valerie Wilson, because, according to Liddy, her husband had already done it. "Valerie Plame had been outed by her husband numerous times," Liddy said. "He would go to parties, and she'd be on his arm, [with him] saying, 'Meet my CIA wife.'"

Nonetheless, Liddy said Cheney's chief of staff could save his boss and President Bush a lot of trouble by doing a plea deal. And he had some words of advice about what it's like for a political operator who ends up in prison: "I went in there as someone who was determined to prevail in prison, and I did," Liddy said of his own five-year stint. "You know, it's a matter really of being an individual. You're either a strong person or a weak person. That will be detected in prison almost immediately. And your life will transpire accordingly."

By Aaron Kinney

Aaron Kinney is a writer in San Francisco. He has a blog.

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