Judge Reggie B. Walton
U.S. District Court
Dear Judge Walton:
My name is Christopher Manion. I am the last U.S. government employee to have been accused of leaking, and then to be publicly cleared. That occurred 20 years ago. My, how the time does fly.
I open with that awkward introduction in accordance with the instructions from William Jeffress, who apparently represents Mr. Lewis Libby, recently convicted of several felonies in your courtroom by a jury of his peers. Mr. Jeffress provides advice on how to write letters to you regarding Mr. Libby’s sentencing. He says I should identify myself in the first paragraph.
Like Mrs. Joseph Wilson, for whom I hold no personal portfolio, I was once a midlevel functionary — in my case, I worked on the staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in the 1980s. Like Mrs. Wilson’s husband, my boss, U.S. Senator Jesse Helms (R- N.C.), was unpopular with various elements in the Executive Branch, especially in the State Department.
In July 1986, a prominent Reagan appointee in the State Department was mad at Senator Helms. So, in a conversation with the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, this official accused me of leaking classified information to a foreign government. Senator Ted Kennedy heard about it and received a briefing from the committee. A few days later, the story was mysteriously leaked to the New York Times, and made headlines worldwide.
For the next eighteen months I was the subject of intensive investigations. Finally, in October 1987, the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Justice Department publicly released their conclusion that "no leak occurred." It had all been a frame-up. (While the person with whom the false charge originated was not prosecuted for that act, he was later convicted of other counts of lying to Congress. For these crimes he was eventually pardoned by the first President Bush. He now works in the White House. I forgave him long ago, but have never heard from him since).
Senator Helms defended me strongly. My exoneration came as a result of his trust and support, as well as the volunteer legal efforts of crack attorney Terry O’Donnell, and, critically, the tireless efforts a Senator of the opposition party, Democrat David Boren of Oklahoma. Senator Boren had assumed the chair of the Intelligence Committee in 1987 and was outraged by the whole fiasco.
The only time I had ever met Senator Boren was in 1987, on the Senate floor. I introduced myself after learning of his efforts to set the record straight on my behalf. "I’m going to make sure you get a fair shake," he said, and he firmly put his hand on my shoulder for emphasis. That moment remains suspended before me in my mind as a profound occasion of providential magnitude.
Had Senator Boren never come to my defense — had my accuser had his way — I’d probably be getting out of jail about now. As it was, I never lost my job, or my security clearances (I never lost any sleep, either). Once I was cleared, the ombudsman of the Washington Post informed me of the facts of media life (and their refusal to run a story). "When you were accused, it was news but it wasn’t true. Now that you’ve been cleared, it’s true but it isn’t news."
Your honor, I relate all this to you to underscore a simple fact: malicious lies have profound consequences on real people. When they break the law, they should be punished.
I do not have a recommendation about the length of sentence your court might impose on Mr. Libby. But I do believe that those who have security clearances should live up to the implicit contract we made when we received them. Namely, that we keep secrets ourselves, and should not encourage others to reveal them.
What about the role of the press? Sure, they encourage leaks. They have a "get out of jail free" card (at least, they used to). In that regard, I once had the pleasure of hanging up on William Safire, then of the New York Times, when he called me at my Senate office and ask me to reveal the content of a classified hearing that had been held earlier that day. "You know you don’t like the guy," he said, referring to the subject of the hearing.
"It’s classified," I said, and hung up.
I later discovered that Mr. Safire was actually a friend of the person testifying, and surmised that he merely intended to use any information I might supply simply to share with his friend, and not with his readers. Nonetheless, he was asking me to commit a felony. I assume he must have done that sort of thing a lot. Strange.
Yes, I do have respect for security clearances. Yes, I do agree with many of my conservative friends (and some of my liberal targets in debate) that too many simple facts are classified in Washington. And that our intelligence agencies are profoundly inept. But that is "flour of another sack," as Mr. Anzures, my Spanish teacher in Mexico City forty-four years ago, used to say. If you say you won’t leak, you shouldn’t leak. And if a malicious Executive Branch official tries to use the leaking process to advance his own political agenda, it is wrong. And if, as a part of that effort, the leaker, or his superiors and colleagues encouraging the leak, tries to ruin the career of a government employee who is playing by the rules, it also constitutes an injustice. And, if the story leaked is also a lie, the injustice is compounded by slander.
Judge Walton, these are mortal sins, as well as breaches of the natural law and positive law.
I have no specific recommendation as to Mr. Libby’s sentence. But please do not be fooled by the assertions of Mr. Libby’s supporters that only the "far left" advocates your lawful role in the rendering of justice. Quite the contrary. If "leftism" means the concentration of illicit political power in the hands of a few, and the destruction of competing sources of authority in the society, then leftism is a vast and bipartisan enterprise in Washington these days.
Those who uphold the rule of law are hardly leftists. You should be aware that many conservatives throughout America do take the Constitution seriously. And it is hardly "leftist" to believe, with Thomas Aquinas and Thomas Jefferson, that telling the truth is an act that we owe to our neighbor under "the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God." Indeed, it is the virtuous citizens of Federalist 57 that we are striving to emulate, their freedoms to preserve.
True conservatives expect our government officials to tell the truth (with regard to testifying under oath) to keep their word (with regard to leaking classified information), and to follow the Constitution. With regard to Mr. Libby’s sentencing, I can only encourage you to do your duty.
Front Royal, Virginia
P.S. Mr. Jeffress apparently suggests that letters to you should be sent to him so he could forward them to you. I somehow doubt that this communication would reach you, were I to follow his advice.