I'm not much of one for sign and portents, the stars aligning, etc., but I was struck by a certain confluence of events yesterday.
First came the news of Watergate felon E. Howard Hunt's death. Then came the opening statements in Scooter Libby's trial.
Hunt was always irked by the fact that he was remembered for the wrong crime. His Associated Press obituary notes,
Yet the bulk of his notoriety came from the one thing he always insisted he was not — a Watergate burglar. He often said he preferred the term "Watergate conspirator."
"I will always be called a Watergate burglar, even though I was never in the damn place," Hunt told The Miami Herald in 1997. "But it happened. Now I have to make the best of it."
Likewise, people often get the crime Libby is on trial for wrong. He's not on trial for leaking information about undercover CIA agent Valerie Wilson (or Plame) to punish a political enemy of President Bush. He's charged with perjury for lying during the course of the investigation of the leak.
Hunt was bitter about doing prison time, while Nixon was allowed to retire to private life and write tedious books.
Hunt eventually spent 33 months in prison on a conspiracy charge, and said he was bitter that he was sent to jail while Nixon was allowed to resign.
"I felt that in true politician's fashion, he'd assumed a degree of responsibility but not the blame," he told The Associated Press in 1992. "It wasn't my idea to go into the Watergate."
Libby seems to have gotten an early start on bitterness towards the president he served. Instead of waiting for the jailhouse door to swing shut, he's making it a cornerstone of his defense.
According to [Libby's attorney Theodore] Wells, when the federal investigation of the leak began in the fall of 2003, Libby was not worried about his job, but was "concerned about . . . being scapegoated." Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary at the time, said publicly that Rove was not responsible for any leaks, Wells said, but did not say the same about Libby.
Libby, Wells said, told Cheney he feared "people in the White House are trying to set me up." Wells then showed the jury the text of a note Cheney had jotted that said: "Not going to protect one staffer + sacrifice the guy that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others."
Wells said: "That one person was Karl Rove. He was viewed as a political genius. . . . He had to be protected. The person who was to be sacrificed was Scooter Libby." According to Wells, the vice president tried to persuade White House colleagues to publicly clear Libby's name as the source of the leak.
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And of course, the news regarding both Hunt and Libby came just hours before Bush delivered his State of the Union address-- an address that in at least one important way harkened back to the days when Hunt was a presidential henchman and the Pride of Yorba Linda was in the White House. ABC reported Monday,
President Bush faces the nation this week more unpopular than any president on the eve of a State of the Union address since Richard Nixon in 1974.
As I said, I'm not really one for signs and portents, but I am struck by the confluence of events, and even wonder a little if there's not a message somewhere in there.