Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Wen Ho Lee with a twist

Remember Judge Reggie Walton? He was the one who presided over the Scooter Libby trial, the one who wasn't very happy when Bush commuted his sentencing. Now he's ruled in another high-profile but quietly controversial case, one that could become quite loud should things go astray:
Walton said Hatfill's search for government leakers is "strikingly similar" to the civil suit filed by Wen Ho Lee, a nuclear scientist who became the subject of a flurry of media stories identifying him as a chief suspect in a nuclear-secrets spy case. Those stories also relied on anonymous sources. Lee was never charged with espionage; he pleaded guilty to mishandling computer files. He sued the Justice Department, and reporters were facing a court order to reveal sources. But the case ended last year when the news companies and the government paid Lee a $1.6 million settlement .
[emphasis added] I described this last year with a post titled 'Win' Ho Lee. Clever, eh? Yep, still have the day job. Anyway, Hatfill was no doubt taking notes.

So what happens next (other than appeal)? Will we see a massive flurry of reporters going to jail to protect sources? Government officials scurrying around for cover or coverups? Lids exploding far and wide? Probably none of the above. Predictions are risky but let's make some anyway, since this is a blog.

How about this--nothing happens, for a couple of reasons.

  • Waxman and Reid aren't likely to schedule high-profile investigations since John Ashcroft is now a pseudo cause celebre in the Gonzo hospital story escapade,
  • Anthrax is a creepy subject nobody wants to think about,
  • had Wen Ho Lee decided to fight and not settle the reporters involved (including the WaPo's own Walter Pincus) would have been forced to disclose which Clinton administration officials leaked his name. At last check Hillary and Richardson are still running,
  • the Bush government most likely has no desire to disclose who started the Hatfill 'person of interest' story (and why) nor explain why he was never charged. Or for that matter, why NOBODY was ever charged,
  • there may be legitimate national security issues involved. Refer to the Cheney post below.
All things considered a Lee-type cash settlement offered to Hatfill wouldn't be the most surprising outcome. And who knows, maybe it's for the best.

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