Monday, February 5, 2007

Why Dick Cheney Cracked Up: FRANK RICH - Cover-Up Crumbles


The New York Times

Why Dick Cheney Cracked Up

Published: February 4, 2007

Thanks to the commotion caused by the White House leak case, damning evidence has slowly dribbled out.

IN the days since Dick Cheney lost it on CNN, our nation’s armchair shrinks have had a blast. The vice president who boasted of “enormous successes” in Iraq and barked “hogwash” at the congenitally mild Wolf Blitzer has been roundly judged delusional, pathologically dishonest or just plain nuts. But what else is new? We identified those diagnoses long ago. The more intriguing question is what ignited this particularly violent public flare-up.

The answer can be found in the timing of the CNN interview, which was conducted the day after the start of the perjury trial of Mr. Cheney’s former top aide, Scooter Libby. The vice president’s on-camera crackup reflected his understandable fear that a White House cover-up was crumbling. He knew that sworn testimony in a Washington courtroom would reveal still more sordid details about how the administration lied to take the country into war in Iraq. He knew that those revelations could cripple the White House’s current campaign to escalate that war and foment apocalyptic scenarios about Iran. Scariest of all, he knew that he might yet have to testify under oath himself.

Mr. Cheney, in other words, understands the danger this trial poses to the White House even as some of Washington remains oblivious. From the start, the capital has belittled the Joseph and Valerie Wilson affair as “a tempest in a teapot,” as David Broder of The Washington Post reiterated just five months ago. When “all of the facts come out in this case, it’s going to be laughable because the consequences are not that great,” Bob Woodward said in 2005. Or, as Robert Novak suggested in 2003 before he revealed Ms. Wilson’s identity as a C.I.A. officer in his column, “weapons of mass destruction or uranium from Niger” are “little elitist issues that don’t bother most of the people.” Those issues may not trouble Mr. Novak, but they do loom large to other people, especially those who sent their kids off to war over nonexistent weapons of mass destruction and nonexistent uranium.

In terms of the big issues, the question of who first leaked Ms. Wilson’s identity (whether Mr. Libby, Richard Armitage, Ari Fleischer or Karl Rove) to which journalist (whether Mr. Woodward, Mr. Novak, Judith Miller or Matt Cooper) has always been a red herring.

The explanation for the hysteria has long been obvious. The White House was terrified about being found guilty of a far greater crime than outing a C.I.A. officer: lying to the nation to hype its case for war.


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