The Lewis “Scooter” Libby trial will be remembered as a marker in the now-lengthy list of questionable behaviors within the George W. Bush White House.

The result of the trial — a conviction for the former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney for obstruction of justice and perjury — is in the history books now. Libby was found guilty of the aforementioned acts in the leaking of the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame to reporters. Plame’s husband had accused the Bush administration of manipulating intelligence prior to the invasion of Iraq.

Less memorable than the verdict, to some, will be the words of the chief prosecutor in the case, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who spoke to a herd of reporters after the news of the conviction broke. Fitzgerald eloquently reminded his listeners that perjury is a serious crime that in all cases cries out for justice.

This is important to note, because apologists for the Bush Administration have concluded that the sins of Libby — and those of his boss, Cheney — are of a minor order. The case was political in nature, they say, and need not even have gone to trial had the White House more deftly handled the Washington firestorm that surrounded it. Basically, Libby finds himself in danger of serving prison time merely for misstating, or not remembering, when he first heard the identity of the wife of persistent administration critic Joe Wilson.

Others would say the case is serious, indeed — that it exposes a corrupt administration willing to, at the vice president’s word, attack a critic of what turned out to be faulty intelligence that led us into an unwinnable war.

But for a moment, let us focus upon what Fitzgerald stated in that first hour after the verdict — that statements before courts and juries matter a great deal regardless on what some might consider to be the gravity of the case. Lies before the court threaten the very fabric of our system. If people are allowed to lie before the court, if they are only to receive a finger-wagging, all that our justice system rests upon will crack and ultimately crumble.

Amen to that. And it should be pointed out that justice ought to be blind on the importance of truth-telling before courts. Hypocrisy has no place in it. On one side of the political aisle, there are many who downplay Libby’s indiscretions, and they are the ones who loudly complained of Bill Clinton’s protestations, under oath, that he had no sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky. There were Clinton apologists then who pooh-poohed the president’s false statements because, after all, the investigation was “only” about sex. In both cases, the falsehoods mattered. They do not matter only if the other political party is involved.

It is a good thing that this White House has now paid a legal price for playing fast-and-loose with facts. This administration, and future administrations, we hope, will weigh the merits of honest governance more seriously because of it.

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