Richard Cohen on White-Collar Crime

Richard Cohen is probably the single worst columnist in America today. He’s the worst because he combines all the worst traits of a lazy Beltway journalist with a spot on the coveted Washington Post op-ed pages. Richard Blair reminds us that Mr. Cohen is at least…consistent. When George Herbert Walker Bush pardoned the Iran-Contra crew on Christmas Eve 1992, Cohen was ecstatic. I’ve got some excerpts from the column via Lexis-Nexis.

…when Weinberger was indicted by Lawrence E. Walsh, the special Iran-contra prosecutor, I despaired.

…Back when Caspar Weinberger was secretary of defense, he and I used to meet all the time. Our “meetings” — I choose to call them that — took place in the Georgetown Safeway, the one on Wisconsin Avenue, where I would go to shop and Cap would too. My clear recollection is that once — was it before Thanksgiving? — he bought a turkey.

I tell you this about the man President Bush just pardoned because it always influenced my opinion of Weinberger…

Cap, my Safeway buddy, walks, and that’s all right with me. As for the other five, they are not crooks in the conventional sense but Cold Warriors who, confident in the justice of their cause, were contemptuous of Congress. Because they thought they were right, they did not think they had to be accountable. This is the damage the Cold War did to our democracy…

But [Bush} is wrong in asserting that a mere difference of opinion constituted the charges against the pardoned six. They were accused of lying to Congress. In a political context, that might not warrant jail time, but it’s something short of noble.

Lying to Congress ‘might not warrant jail time’ if it is done in a political context. Fifteen years later, Cohen makes the same assertion about lying to grand juries.

I have come to hate the war and I cannot approve of lying under oath — not by Scooter, not by Bill Clinton, not by anybody. But the underlying crime is absent, the sentence is excessive and the investigation should not have been conducted in the first place. This is a mess. Should Libby be pardoned? Maybe. Should his sentence be commuted? Definitely.

Why is Mr. Cohen lazy? Because the underlying crime is not absent, the sentence is at the low end of the sentencing guidelines, and the outing of an undercover intelligence operative should certainly be investigated.

I keep writing about this because the enemies of the truth are so relentless. The ‘underlying crime’ was not charged. There’s a reason it was not charged…but before I get to that let me return to Patrick Fitzgerald’s response to the ‘no underlying crime’ defense.

FITZGERALD: I’ll be blunt.

That talking point won’t fly. If you’re doing a national security investigation, if you’re trying to find out who compromised the identity of a CIA officer and you go before a grand jury and if the charges are proven — because remember there’s a presumption of innocence — but if it is proven that the chief of staff to the vice president went before a federal grand jury and lied under oath repeatedly and fabricated a story about how he learned this information, how he passed it on, and we prove obstruction of justice, perjury and false statements to the FBI, that is a very, very serious matter.

But why wasn’t Libby charged with an underlying crime, like leaking classified information or violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act? Fitzgerald explained that, too.

QUESTION: The indictment describes Lewis Libby giving classified information concerning the identify of a CIA agent to some individuals who were not eligible to receive that information. Can you explain why that does not, in and of itself, constitute a crime?

FITZGERALD: That’s a good question. And I think, knowing that he gave the information to someone who was outside the government, not entitled to receive it, and knowing that the information was classified, is not enough. You need to know at the time that he transmitted the information, he appreciated that it was classified information, that he knew it or acted, in certain statutes, with recklessness.

And that is sort of what gets back to my point. In trying to figure that out, you need to know what the truth is. So our allegation is in trying to drill down and find out exactly what we got here, if we received false information, that process is frustrated. But at the end of the day, I think I want to say one more thing, which is: When you do a criminal case, if you find a violation, it doesn’t really, in the end, matter what statute you use if you vindicate the interest.

If Mr. Libby is proven to have done what we’ve alleged — convicting him of obstruction of justice, perjury and false statements — very serious felonies — will vindicate the interest of the public in making sure he’s held accountable.

It’s not as if you say, ‘Well, this person was convicted but under the wrong statute’.

I know Mr. Cohen is dumb, but what Fitzgerald is saying here is that it is very hard to prove both that Libby knew all the information (about Plame, and from the NIE) was classified AND that he acted with recklessness. He’s saying that Libby’s obstruction of his investigation made it difficult for him to prove the underlying crimes. But, since there were underlying crimes..thirty months in prison will vindicate the public’s interest.

The money quote?

“It’s not as if you say, ‘Well, this person was convicted but under the wrong statute.'”

That’s how the Justice system works. And it doesn’t matter if you push your own shopping cart in the supermarket. And it doesn’t matter if you have a white collar.

As any prosecutor knows — and Martha Stewart can attest — white-collar types tend to have a morbid fear of jail.

Sorry, Cohen, I don’t care if your friends don’t want to go to pound-me-in-the-ass prison. If they had done something about prison rape when they were in positions of power the experience of jail wouldn’t be so terrifying to them now.

Fifteen years ago, Cohen said the Iran-Contra six didn’t deserve jail time for lying to Congress in a political context. Today, he says this:

This is not an entirely trivial matter since government officials should not lie to grand juries, but neither should they be called to account for practicing the dark art of politics.

If I hadn’t just written this, I’d say ‘I’m speechless’.

5 comments for “Richard Cohen on White-Collar Crime

  1. x00
    June 19, 2007 at 4:43 pm

    Don’t you find it odd that 4 columnists (Hitchens, Joe Klein, Broder and Cohen) in the last couple weeks have used identical republican talking points:

    –No charges on the underlying crimes
    –Libby wasn’t first to leak
    –Sideshow, mole hill etc
    –Out of control Prosecutor

    And factual misrepresentation:

    –Ignoring the conviction on the obstruction of justice
    –Plame’s cover status in doubt

    The articles these otherwise “intelligent” men are writing are truly awe inspiring in their disregard of the facts.  Why would they do it?  

    The more you look at this it is a coordinate campaign.  The only thing that makes sense is that these men are being compensated in some way.  Who is paying for it?

    This smells like a Armstrong Williams type scandal.





  2. June 19, 2007 at 4:29 pm

    Li’l Debbie Howell is a total hack.  She doesn’t exactly understand the job of ombudsman works.  So good luck with getting anything resembling a satisfactory answer out of that wretched waste of flesh.

    As for Dick Cohen, who had an affair with Peter Jennings wife, and was later accused of sexual harasssment at the Post (and got away with it, the wanker, pardon the freep link), he’s a serial liar who wouldn’t know what a fact was if it punched him in the face.

    the reason they keep him on the Post’s op-ed page is he’s one of those pretend liberals who does nothing but attack real liberals.  And he does exactly that in today’s steaming pile.

  3. x00
    June 19, 2007 at 2:27 pm

    I wrote a letter to the Ombudsman (see below) and here is the reply:

    I do not believe either Mr. Cohen or Mr. Broder are on the take. They write what they believe to be true. Deborah

    Deborah Howell
    Washington Post Ombudsman

    Notice she didn’t answer my question.  I asked her to ask the columnists point blank–Are you receiving compensation from the RNC, Libby defense fund, or an organization affiliated with the Republican party.

    She says she does not “believe” they are on the take and that they “believe” what they write.  I have sent another letter asking for their on the record denials.

    Original letter follows:


    I have a serious question about the  recent Broder and Cohen Columns.  Are, like Armstrong Williams in 2005, David Broder and Elliot Cohen receiving payment from the Bush Administration, the RNC, the Libby defence fund or any other organization affiliated with the Republican party?

    In both columns Broder and Cohen use established “No underlying crime” republican talking point  They state the investigation was “sideshow” (Broder) or “making a mountain out of a molehill” (Cohen) again established republican talking points.  They also insinuate that
    Fitzgerald was an out of control prosecutor, another talking point.

    Finally, While they both discuss the perjury convictions, they fail to address the obstruction of justice conviction.  The main reason Fitzgerald failed to bring charges on the underlying crime(s) was Libby
    successfully obstructed the investigation. Neither mentions this even though your own paper’s reporting has done so numerous times.

    So, Misters Broder and Cohen are using three well known republican talking points and have factually inaccuracies in there Libby apologia pieces.  There can be only two explanations.  One, they are ignorant of the underlying facts in the Libby case or two, they like Armstrong Williams, are being paid to advance either republican talking points or Libby’s views.  Which one?  Please ask them and publish their responses
    as we begin a FOIA search.

    In “Judge Watson’s Lesson” Broder writes:

    “Despite the absence of any underlying crime, Fitzgerald filed charges against Libby for denying to the FBI and the grand jury that he had discussed the Wilson case with reporters. Libby was convicted on the
    testimony of reporters from NBC, the New York Times and Time magazine — a further provocation to conservatives.

    I think they have a point. This whole controversy is a sideshow — engineered partly by the publicity-seeking former ambassador Joseph Wilson and his wife and heightened by the hunger in parts of Washington
    to “get” Rove for something or other.

    Like other special prosecutors before him, Fitzgerald got caught up in the excitement of the case and pursued Libby relentlessly, well beyond
    the time that was reasonable.”

    In “The Runaway Train that hit Scooter Libby”, Cohen opines:

    “I cannot approve of lying under oath — not by Scooter, not by Bill Clinton, not by anybody. But the underlying crime is absent, the sentence is excessive and the investigation should not have been
    conducted in the first place. This is a mess. Should Libby be pardoned?  Maybe. Should his sentence be commuted? Definitely.”

    Thanks for your prompt attention to this serious question on journalistic integrity.

  4. June 19, 2007 at 1:43 pm

    Glenn Greenwald’s take on this says it all.

    Cohen’s column should be enshrined as one of the all-time  textbook examples of our media’s dysfunction over the last decade.

    Richard Cohen earned his Gold Medal in Beltway Punditry with this column.

    I’ve read it twice and I am still awestruck at his stupidity.

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