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October 25, 2005
Will Gray Lady's Attacks On Miller Stop Indictments?

Josh Gersten at the New York Sun reports today that the ongoing attacks on the credibility of Judith Miller at her own newspaper may have an unintended, ironic effect on the grand jury investigation headed by Patrick Fitzgerald. Given that her testimony and writing has been central to the efforts to tie Karl Rove and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby to an alleged conspiracy to discredit Joseph Wilson, the continued disparagement of her truthfulness might well result in an inability to use her in support of any prosecution:

Attorneys closely following the case said the sharp criticism Ms. Miller has received from her editors and colleagues may discourage the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, from bringing perjury charges against Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby.

According to Ms. Miller and others who have testified before the grand jury investigating the leak, Mr. Fitzgerald has shown significant interest in whether Mr. Libby or other White House officials testified truthfully about their involvement in an alleged effort to discredit a vocal critic of President Bush, Joseph Wilson IV, by disclosing that his wife is a CIA employee. ...

"If it's going to be a perjury case, he's got a hard case because his key witness is Judy Miller," a former federal prosecutor, Paul Rosenzweig, said. "She has some issues as a witness."

Last week, the Times published a lengthy story containing unflattering anecdotes about Ms. Miller, including a claim that she referred to herself as "Miss Run Amok." On Friday, the newspaper's managing editor, Bill Keller, sent a memo to his staff asserting that Ms. Miller "seems to have misled" the paper's Washington bureau chief, Philip Taubman, regarding her knowledge about Mr. Libby's alleged campaign against Mr. Wilson. On Saturday, a Times columnist, Maureen Dowd, questioned Ms. Miller's candor and suggested that she no longer be allowed to write for the newspaper.

Mr. Rosenzweig, who worked on the independent counsel investigation of President Clinton, said the attacks on Ms. Miller would complicate any attempt to present her as a witness. "Can you imagine a defense attorney saying, 'So, I understand they call you Miss Run Amok?'" the ex-prosecutor said.

One could try to make the argument in court that Miller would testify against interest in order to build some credibility for her testimony, but while that makes a fine theoretical argument, it would hardly outplay "Miss Run Amok" with a jury. Perjury convictions require proof beyond a reasonable doubt. If it comes down to Miller's word against Rove or Libby, it will be tough to hold Miller up as a paragon of virtue when her own employer calls her a liar in print.

In its zeal to indict Miller for using her extended contacts with the White House to get scoops inaccessible to the rest of the industry, the Exempt Media and most of the punditry have probably crippled a portion of Fitzgerald's work, regardless of whether he has garnered more information elsewhere. He obviously considered the Miller connections at least moderately important to his investigation. If he issues indictments that rely on her testimony, he may as well resign himself to the fact that the administration's opponents will have made it almost impossible to ever get a conviction.

This almost appears too unthinkingly foolish, even for the Gray Lady. I wonder if Bill Keller thinks that Fitzgerald might be aiming at another Times source instead of Scooter Libby, leading him to go out of his way to discredit Miller now. Perhaps these memos and editorials mean to protect Joseph Wilson instead?

UPDATE: John Podhoretz notes the strange strategy of the New York Times in his latest column for the New York Post:

Previously, when newspapers have taken their own work to task, it has resulted from one of two causes. A reporter was caught committing outright acts of plagiarism or fabrication as with The Washington Post's Janet Cooke or the Times' Jayson Blair. Or the paper needed to clear the name of an innocent person whom the newspaper had effectively tried and convicted of a serious crime as the Atlanta Journal and Constitution did to Richard Jewell, falsely accused of the 1996 Millennium Park bombing, and the Times did to Wen Ho Lee, falsely accused of spying.

THE issue that has ostensibly caused this unprecedented character assas sination is Miller's involvement in the public exposure of CIA operative Valerie Plame. And in this case, no one at the paper is accusing Miller of making anything up because she never published anything on the subject. Nor can anyone accuse Judith Miller of harming the reputation of an innocent because, again, she never published.

So what is it she supposedly did wrong? The paper's managing editor, Jill Abramson, says Miller didn't get permission from her editor to pursue the Plame story. If true, that's hardly cause for someone to have her name dragged through the mud and it may well not be true at all. Miller says flatly that she did get her editor's permission and that her editor, in this case, was Jill Abramson.

It's almost as if they want to create a huge distance between Miller and credibility -- and I doubt they're doing it to benefit Rove, Libby, or the Bush administration, although that may wind up being the overall effect. They want to discredit the WMD reports themselves, of course, but those have largely been discounted before now. So why this full-court press on Miller by her own paper?

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 25, 2005 7:03 AM

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» Plaming Around from The Strata-Sphere
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