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’.

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