Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Exit Strategy for Plamegate

More and more people are reporting that Fitzgerald has his eye on Cheney and maybe even Bush as well. I predicted that here but it's nice to get confirmation. Some are predicting that Cheney won't be indicted but will be named as an "unindicted co-conspiritor" but even that might force him to resign.

I find it difficult to believe Bush would let Rove be imprisoned. Bush couldn't function without Rove, for starters. But more important is what Rove knows. Has Rove already been "flipped" to the point of incriminating Bush? Is the recent news that Bush apparently lied to Fitzgerald about knowing Rove was involved enough for an indictment of obstructing justice? I know Bush wasn't under oath at time but that, apparently, is no protection. Even if Rove hasn't incriminated Bush yet, might he be inclined to see if he can cut a deal after a few months in prison? I'm willing to bet that Rove has a lot more he could reveal about Bush and Cheney than just an involvement in Plamegate.

So what's Bush's exit strategy? Well,a "plane crash," a "lone gunman," and an "accidental overdose of sleeping pills" have been employed in the past. But Rove, Libby, and all the others dying within days of each other would be rather suspicious. And since Fitzgerald will already have sworn depositions and other evidence, it wouldn't do much good. It might protect against Rove trying to cut short a prison stay by coming up with juicy stuff unrelated to Plamegate but he might already have done that anyway. A few covert assassinations might prevent others coming forward about other matters but there could already be enough from Plamegate to do Bush major damage.

He could try the "Nixon" gambit of firing Fitzgerald before the indictments are drawn up. Nixon's Attorney General resigned rather than carry out that order; so did the AG's number two. Nixon eventually got his way, but the truth came out anyway. There is reason to believe that Fitzgerald has taken precautions to make this tactic ineffective. Fitzgerald would have explained to the grand jury that they have a legal and constitutional right to pursue whatever they wish, despite the direction the prosecutor may wish to lead them (if they do their own thing they are termed a "runaway" grand jury). So even if Fitzgerald gets fired and replaced by a prosecutor who is in Bush's pocket, the grand jury will carry on with their investigation and present bills of indictment.

He could try the "Reagan" strategy of handing out pardons to everyone convicted. Reagan only got away with that because he was a popular president and was losing his marbles. The Republicans persuaded the Democrats not to take things any further (and so veep George HW Bush escaped without his part in Iran-Contra and all the other nasty stuff coming out) and criminals like Poindexter and (ironically) Libby got away with only short terms in prison before the pardons were issued. But pardons could prove to be too late if some of them have already cut deals and given incriminating testimony.

He could try the "George HW Bush" strategy of giving everyone pre-emptive pardons for any criminal act, past or present, committed by members of his administration. God knows how Bush was allowed to get away with that, but he did. Surely it only makes sense to pardon somebody after imprisonment, or at least after conviction. It was obviously a way of stopping all his nasty secrets coming out at the trials, and for that very reason his pardons should have been overturned by the Supreme Court as obstruction of justice. This sounds like Dubya's exit strategy and is probably why he is so eager to get his adoring puppy Harriet on the SCOTUS.

Then again, his popularity is going downhill fast. Ninety Senators, including many Republicans, voted to insert a measure into the military spending bill that prohibited torture. Some of them no doubt did so cynically knowing that the House is likely to remove the measure and that if, by some miracle, the measure survives then Bush will veto it and the House is unlikely to get the two-thirds majority needed to over-ride the veto. You might even suspect that Bush told them they could vote for the amendment so they can look good to their constituents because the House will kill it. But that's unlikely: Bush looks out for number one and threatening to veto a military spending bill during a time of war because he wants to be able to continue torturing people made him look very bad. I doubt Rove would have sanctioned such a strategy (but then he's been a little preoccupied lately). So it looks like the Senate Republicans, at least, increasingly see Bush and his disastrous policies and scandals as a threat to their re-election.

So if Bush handed out pre-emptive pardons he might just face impeachment. It's a very slender chance, I admit, but it's just possible. The mood of the country is such that those who voted against impeachment would have a hard time getting re-elected. The mainstream media is also speaking out against Bush these days (a sign that they now feel less threatened by Bush and less sure that he has any power to give them any rewards like allowing more mergers). There's also the "feeding frenzy" factor at work: any mainstream media outlet that doesn't jump on a story like that will lose market share to the ones that do.

Once impeached, Bush could then face indictment on whatever charges Fitzgerald turns up. Impeachment only removes him from office and bars him from ever holding public office again. But the Constitution makes it quite plain that impeachment would not protect him from any criminal charges arising from the same issues. There is no "double jeopardy" get-out. So Bush handing out pre-emptive pardons might not get him off the hook. If he is impeached for protecting people with pre-emptive pardons then he is certainly also guilty of obstructing justice even if Fitzgerald has nothing else on him.

Could Bush get around this by giving himself a pre-emptive pardon too? There is nothing explicitly in the Constitution to prevent it. But even then he could still be impeached for doing so (and the mood against him might be a lot stronger if he tried a trick like that). And after that he might face charges of obstruction of justice for pre-emptively pardoning himself. Of course he'd appeal all the way up to the Supreme Court, and he's trying to stack it with his buddies. But would even Clarence Thomas put the shreds of his reputation on the line to protect Bush? Would puppy-dog Miers (if she's appointed, and if the appointment happens prior to the appeal) recuse herself? Even if she did not, could she be guaranteed to stick by Bush if things looked really serious? Once she's on the Court she doesn't have to pay back any favours, and she'd have her own reputation to think about. Plus, even Supreme Court justices can be impeached.

He could, of course, resign and hope nobody is vindictive enough to pursue matters. But he's not the sort of man who is likely do that (stay the course). But even if he did there's no guarantee it would stop there. It did with Nixon, despite his unpopularity. It did with Reagan, because of his popularity and dementia. It might work again, because the Democrats seem to lack balls. But what if they realized that with the DeLay scandal, the Frist Scandal, and whatever comes out of Plamegate that going after Bush would be supported by the majority of the US, might turn up even further scandals, and probably result in the Democrats taking one or both Houses? They're probably too wimpy to try, but...

But maybe resignation is an option if he can guarantee that whoever takes over will grant him a pardon. But he cannot be sure who that will be. If Bush is forced to resign then Cheney will have gone too. So might several others in his cabinet. Hastert may yet face corruption charges over taking bribes from Turkey. Whoever is left after all this settles will probably not be close enough to Bush to feel much loyalty. Certainly not close enough to give him a pardon in the face of the majority of the country thinking (correctly) that Bush has been a n absolute disaster.

So how about another "terrorist attack"? It worked before. Boosted his popularity no end. But that was before Hurricane Katrina showed that rather than being the strong defender he claimed to be, he was spectacularly inept at protecting the country. Another "terrorist attack" would not be seen as his finest hour but as yet more incompetence.

Ah, but he now has legislation that would let him declare martial law. General Tommy Franks stated his opinion that if there were another "terrorist attack" all civil liberties would be suspended and there would be martial law. So that's a possibility. Could he gain anything else that way? You betcha!

Imagine a suitcase nuke detonated in Washington. Imagine that the circle of total destruction just happened to include where the grand jury meets, killing them all and destroying all their evidence. Of course it would be pretty damned obvious that it (like 9-11) was an inside job and what its purpose was. Everyone in the rest of the world would know it and say so. But the US would be under martial law and anybody who spoke out would find themselves "disappeared" to Gitmo.

Would Bush try such a thing? He's cornered and desperate and has nothing to lose and everything to gain. Is he evil enough to do it? He lied the US into a war of conquest for oil. Is he bright enough to think of it? Probably not. Rove is, but he may already have been "flipped." Cheney is, and it seems there is more evidence against Cheney than against Bush.

But maybe they both think that with pre-emptive pardons, Congress (currently) in their pockets (most of the time) and Harriet on the Scotus they won't need to do that. Their window of opportunity is closing fast. Fitzgerald might keep things going until the very last day or he might present indictments tomorrow. If they were going to do it they probably already would have because speculation that Fitzgerald was going to issue indictments very soon has been around for the past week.

None of the exit strategies looks good. Pre-emptive pardons is probably the way he'll go, along with hoping that Congress won't impeach him. They probably won't. But without Tom "Hammer" DeLay there to push people around, that's not guaranteed.


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