It's never the crime. It's the cover-up.
There has been a lot of discussion about whether Patrick Fitzgerald will limit his charges to obstruction of justice, perjury and other "technicalities," as some Republicans have described them, or go for an indictment on the underlying charge of violating the Identities Act. That Act forbids unauthorized disclosure of a clandestine intelligence officer's identity.
Within five weeks of being appointed and within two weeks of hearing his first witnesses, Fitzgerald asked for and received permission from the Justice Department to expand his investigation into perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence and intimidation of witnesses.
In recent days, some on both the Left and the Right have suggested that such charges as these would make the prosecution "troubling" in that they don't reach the level of gravitas that violating the Identities Act does. Somehow, they suggest, this would be either less satisfying [Left] or less serious [Right]…as if this was the first time such charges had been used in Washington scandals.
However, a reading of key charges filed in Watergate, Iran-Contra and the Clinton sex scandals show that these charges are what special prosecutors have used in the past, almost exclusively, to pursue government wrong-doing, particularly in complicated cases. The defendants in these cases, like the Plame case, always find themselves dealing with conspiracy, perjury and obstruction charges.
In Watergate, Attorney General Mitchell and White House Domestic Affairs Adviser John Ehrlichman were convicted of conspiracy, perjury and obstruction. White House chief of Staff H.R "Bob" Haldemann was convicted of conspiracy and obstruction. John Dean, the White House counsel, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and counselor Charles Colson pleaded no contest to the same charge. Jeb Magruder, who headed the Committee to Re-elect the President, pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to obstruct justice.
None were charged with burglarizing the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate.
In Iran-Contra, a case involving sending the ill-gotten profits of Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan contras, Lt. Col. Oliver North was charged and later convicted of accepting an illegal gratuity, aiding and abetting in the obstruction of a congressional inquiry, and destruction of documents. John Poindexter, the National Security Adviser, was convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, lying to Congress, the alteration and destruction of evidence and defrauding the government.
Neither were charged with illicit arms sales.
Both men had their convictions overturned on appeal because of issues related to immunity granted them by congressional committees.
And in the case of President Clinton, impeachment charges were also based on laws governing perjury and obstruction of justice rising from the Lewinsky scandal.
He was not charged with having sex with a former intern.