Is James Comey the new Eliot Ness?

The media is pushing the notion that James Comey is the reincarnation of the original FBI Untouchable, Eliot Ness. 

A brief trip down Memory Lane may cause some to reserve judgment on that claim.

On July 14, 2003, one line in a Washington Post article written by the late Robert Novak initiated a multi-year run of D.C. drama called Plamegate

Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction.

On September 29, 2003, two weeks after it received a letter from the CIA requesting that the Department of Justice (DoJ) investigate the leak, the DoJ advised the CIA that it had requested that the FBI identify the source who revealed Plame’s CIA employment to Novak.

Then, as noted by the U.S. Government Accounting Office in "B-302582, Special Counsel and Permanent Indefinite Appropriation":

On December 30, 2003, Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey, acting in his capacity as Acting Attorney General, appointed Patrick J. Fitzgerald, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, as Special Counsel to investigate the alleged unauthorized disclosure of a CIA employee's identity. Special Counsel Fitzgerald's delegation reads as follows:

"By the authority vested in the Attorney General by law, including 28 U.S.C. 509, 510, and 515, and in my capacity as Acting Attorney General pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 508, I hereby delegate to you all the authority of the Attorney General with respect to the Department's investigation into the alleged unauthorized disclosure of a CIA employee's identity, and I direct you to exercise that authority as Special Counsel independent of the supervision or control of any officer of the Department."

Patrick J. Fitzgerald and James B. Comey were, and may well still be, longtime “best friends.”  In fact, Fitzgerald is godfather to one of Comey’s children.

After an investigation that lasted three years and three months costing $2,580,000, on March 6, 2007, Special Counsel Fitzgerald’s investigation ended with the conviction of Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, on four counts of having failed to testify fully and frankly to a grand jury.

Despite the conviction of Libby, who was never accused of revealing Plame’s identity to Novak, a few questions still hang over Plamegate.  Here’s where they come from.

Soon after Novak’s article appeared on July 14, 2003, Deputy of State Richard Armitage realized that he was, in his words, the “initial” source for Novak’s reference to Plame’s CIA connection.  

The posted video of one Armitage mea culpa interview was accompanied by this narrative:  

In an exclusive interview with CBS News national security correspondent David Martin, Richard Armitage, once the No. 2 diplomat at the State Department, couldn't be any blunter.

"Oh I feel terrible. Every day, I think I let down the president. I let down the Secretary of State. I let down my department, my family and I also let down Mr. and Mrs. Wilson," he says.

When asked if he feels he owes the Wilsons an apology, he says, "I think I've just done it."

In July 2003, Armitage told columnist Robert Novak that Ambassador Wilson's wife worked for the CIA, and Novak mentioned it in a column. It's a crime to knowingly reveal the identity of an undercover CIA officer. But Armitage didn't yet realize what he had done.

So, what exactly did he tell Novak?

"At the end of a wide-ranging interview he asked me, 'Why did the CIA send Ambassador (Wilson) to Africa?' I said I didn't know, but that she worked out at the agency," Armitage says.

Armitage says he told Novak because it was "just an offhand question." "I didn't put any big import on it and I just answered and it was the last question we had," he says.

Armitage adds that while the document was classified, "it doesn't mean that every sentence in the document is classified.

"I had never seen a covered agent's name in any memo in, I think, 28 years of government," he says.

He adds that he thinks he referred to Wilson's wife as such, or possibly as "Mrs. Wilson." He never referred to her as Valerie Plame, he adds.

"I didn't know the woman's name was Plame. I didn't know she was an operative," he says.

He says he was reading Novak's newspaper column again, on Oct. 1, 2003, and "he said he was told by a non-partisan gun slinger."

"I almost immediately called Secretary Powell and said, 'I'm sure that was me,'" Armitage says.

Armitage immediately met with FBI agents investigating the leak.

"I told them that I was the inadvertent leak," Armitage says. He didn't get a lawyer, however.

"First of all, I felt so terrible about what I'd done that I felt I deserved whatever was coming to me. And secondarily, I didn't need an attorney to tell me to tell the truth. I as already doing that," Armitage explains. "I was not intentionally outing anybody. As I say, I have tremendous respect for Ambassador Wilson's African credentials. I didn't know anything about his wife and made an offhand comment. I didn't try to out anybody."

That was nearly three years ago, but the political firestorm over who leaked Valerie Plame's identity continued to burn as Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald began hauling White House officials and journalists before a grand jury.

Armitage says he didn't come forward because "the special counsel, once he was appointed, asked me not to discuss this and I honored his request."

So, early on, the Special Counsel appointed to find the leaker told the leaker to keep his guilt a secret. 

Why?

Consequently, (1) a three-year-plus sustained investigation sought to identify a source who had already confessed.  

And (2) the top three officials in the Department of State and the DoJ special counsel, who was appointed by his best friend, all knew that the stated purpose of the investigation had been achieved before it started.

It is reasonable to assume that the “best friend” who appointed the special counsel also knew that the leaker had confessed. 

So what was the prolonged drama really about?

We don’t know.  But knowing might offer clues as to how long the FBI investigation into Secretary Clinton’s unauthorized use of a private server could last and how it might end. 

If the Plamegate pattern is repeated, it could end with a plea bargain involving several former Clinton staffers – negotiating with the DoJ through one shared attorney – for having unwittingly facilitated, through their ill-advised and unprofessional behavior, Mrs. Clinton’s innocent and inadvertent transmission of classified information via an unauthorized server.  

But then, as President Obama recently suggested, there’s “classified,” and there’s “classified.”

The media is pushing the notion that James Comey is the reincarnation of the original FBI Untouchable, Eliot Ness. 

A brief trip down Memory Lane may cause some to reserve judgment on that claim.

On July 14, 2003, one line in a Washington Post article written by the late Robert Novak initiated a multi-year run of D.C. drama called Plamegate

Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction.

On September 29, 2003, two weeks after it received a letter from the CIA requesting that the Department of Justice (DoJ) investigate the leak, the DoJ advised the CIA that it had requested that the FBI identify the source who revealed Plame’s CIA employment to Novak.

Then, as noted by the U.S. Government Accounting Office in "B-302582, Special Counsel and Permanent Indefinite Appropriation":

On December 30, 2003, Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey, acting in his capacity as Acting Attorney General, appointed Patrick J. Fitzgerald, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, as Special Counsel to investigate the alleged unauthorized disclosure of a CIA employee's identity. Special Counsel Fitzgerald's delegation reads as follows:

"By the authority vested in the Attorney General by law, including 28 U.S.C. 509, 510, and 515, and in my capacity as Acting Attorney General pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 508, I hereby delegate to you all the authority of the Attorney General with respect to the Department's investigation into the alleged unauthorized disclosure of a CIA employee's identity, and I direct you to exercise that authority as Special Counsel independent of the supervision or control of any officer of the Department."

Patrick J. Fitzgerald and James B. Comey were, and may well still be, longtime “best friends.”  In fact, Fitzgerald is godfather to one of Comey’s children.

After an investigation that lasted three years and three months costing $2,580,000, on March 6, 2007, Special Counsel Fitzgerald’s investigation ended with the conviction of Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, on four counts of having failed to testify fully and frankly to a grand jury.

Despite the conviction of Libby, who was never accused of revealing Plame’s identity to Novak, a few questions still hang over Plamegate.  Here’s where they come from.

Soon after Novak’s article appeared on July 14, 2003, Deputy of State Richard Armitage realized that he was, in his words, the “initial” source for Novak’s reference to Plame’s CIA connection.  

The posted video of one Armitage mea culpa interview was accompanied by this narrative:  

In an exclusive interview with CBS News national security correspondent David Martin, Richard Armitage, once the No. 2 diplomat at the State Department, couldn't be any blunter.

"Oh I feel terrible. Every day, I think I let down the president. I let down the Secretary of State. I let down my department, my family and I also let down Mr. and Mrs. Wilson," he says.

When asked if he feels he owes the Wilsons an apology, he says, "I think I've just done it."

In July 2003, Armitage told columnist Robert Novak that Ambassador Wilson's wife worked for the CIA, and Novak mentioned it in a column. It's a crime to knowingly reveal the identity of an undercover CIA officer. But Armitage didn't yet realize what he had done.

So, what exactly did he tell Novak?

"At the end of a wide-ranging interview he asked me, 'Why did the CIA send Ambassador (Wilson) to Africa?' I said I didn't know, but that she worked out at the agency," Armitage says.

Armitage says he told Novak because it was "just an offhand question." "I didn't put any big import on it and I just answered and it was the last question we had," he says.

Armitage adds that while the document was classified, "it doesn't mean that every sentence in the document is classified.

"I had never seen a covered agent's name in any memo in, I think, 28 years of government," he says.

He adds that he thinks he referred to Wilson's wife as such, or possibly as "Mrs. Wilson." He never referred to her as Valerie Plame, he adds.

"I didn't know the woman's name was Plame. I didn't know she was an operative," he says.

He says he was reading Novak's newspaper column again, on Oct. 1, 2003, and "he said he was told by a non-partisan gun slinger."

"I almost immediately called Secretary Powell and said, 'I'm sure that was me,'" Armitage says.

Armitage immediately met with FBI agents investigating the leak.

"I told them that I was the inadvertent leak," Armitage says. He didn't get a lawyer, however.

"First of all, I felt so terrible about what I'd done that I felt I deserved whatever was coming to me. And secondarily, I didn't need an attorney to tell me to tell the truth. I as already doing that," Armitage explains. "I was not intentionally outing anybody. As I say, I have tremendous respect for Ambassador Wilson's African credentials. I didn't know anything about his wife and made an offhand comment. I didn't try to out anybody."

That was nearly three years ago, but the political firestorm over who leaked Valerie Plame's identity continued to burn as Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald began hauling White House officials and journalists before a grand jury.

Armitage says he didn't come forward because "the special counsel, once he was appointed, asked me not to discuss this and I honored his request."

So, early on, the Special Counsel appointed to find the leaker told the leaker to keep his guilt a secret. 

Why?

Consequently, (1) a three-year-plus sustained investigation sought to identify a source who had already confessed.  

And (2) the top three officials in the Department of State and the DoJ special counsel, who was appointed by his best friend, all knew that the stated purpose of the investigation had been achieved before it started.

It is reasonable to assume that the “best friend” who appointed the special counsel also knew that the leaker had confessed. 

So what was the prolonged drama really about?

We don’t know.  But knowing might offer clues as to how long the FBI investigation into Secretary Clinton’s unauthorized use of a private server could last and how it might end. 

If the Plamegate pattern is repeated, it could end with a plea bargain involving several former Clinton staffers – negotiating with the DoJ through one shared attorney – for having unwittingly facilitated, through their ill-advised and unprofessional behavior, Mrs. Clinton’s innocent and inadvertent transmission of classified information via an unauthorized server.  

But then, as President Obama recently suggested, there’s “classified,” and there’s “classified.”