Cheney pulled the strings in outing of CIA agent Plame

The Wizard of Oz was discovered by Dorothy to be nothing more than an old man behind a curtain, pulling the strings on a completely bogus empire, making people believe he was the “all-powerful Oz” when, in fact, he was nothing more than a fraud avoiding responsibility — or as he put it, “a humbug.”

Enter Dick Cheney and exit I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

Now, we know, from Libby’s own testimony before a D.C. grand jury, that the man behind the curtain pulling the strings, driving the story that led to the outing of a CIA agent — all because of vengeance and political pique — was the vice president.

This is the same man who suggested recently that Speaker Pelosi's positions in opposition to the Iraq War mess validated the goals of Al Qaeda; who has consistently suggested Democrats were giving aid and comfort to the enemy because, like almost two-thirds of the American people, they consider the Iraq War a disaster.

So now it’s time for the man behind the curtain to come out, step up to the plate, and take responsibility for what happened to Scooter Libby — and for what he did in attacking a man through his wife.

Why didn’t Cheney take on Ambassador Joe Wilson directly — on the merits, in the open, on the record? Why did Cheney, instead, send Scooter Libby to reveal selective portions of highly classified intelligence documents — and then whisper in reporters’ ears anonymously “on deep background” about Wilson’s wife working at the CIA, a fact itself that could have endangered her life?

There is a historic pattern in Cheney’s conduct that explains why.

The same man who went to Australia while Mr. Libby was sitting in a courtroom about to be convicted of perjury.

The same man who even refused to talk openly to the media when he shot a man in a hunting accident.

Up to now, Mr. Cheney has refused to answer any questions about the outing of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, because Mr. Libby was in the middle of a prosecution and trial. Fair enough.

But now what’s his excuse?

What he should do is pull a “Geraldine Ferraro” — i.e., hold a press conference, answer all the questions about his own role in and responsibility for what happened to Plame, and apologize to her and the American people.

At such a press conference, will he condemn Scooter Libby for lying to a grand jury with the same fervor with which he condemned Bill Clinton for lying about sex in a civil deposition?

What are the chances that Mr. Cheney will do any or all of that?

Here’s a better bet.

When the press and the public and especially the Democrats ask him to be transparent and take responsibility, it is more likely he will respond with the same two words he said to Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy on the Senate floor — two words that rhyme with “Luck yourself.”

I give President Bush, an old friend of mine from college days whom I have always liked and respected, the benefit of the doubt. I am assuming (and hoping) that he really didn’t know that his vice president was running this whole scheme to get at an administration critic by whispering anonymously his wife’s name and CIA status in reporters’ ears.

But now that he knows, the George W. Bush that I know should say to Plame: “We are sorry.”

And to his vice president, President Bush should say: “Come out from behind the curtain, be accountable, and take responsibility — just as I have expected the generals in charge of Walter Reed to do.”

Lanny Davis writes for The Hill website’s Pundits Blog (pundits.thehill.com). He is a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of the law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. A resident of Potomac, Md., he has authored several books and been a commentator on many TV political programs.