How many times can the Democrats get away with saying, "Faked intelligence! We're shocked, shocked! If we'd only known that, why, we might have come out against the war in . in. well, maybe by November 2004"?

The Democrats are now howling in Congress for yet another investigation into the fictions the Bush administration engineered to justify the attack on Iraq in 2003. This follows on their forcing of a "closed debate" in the Senate on the failure of Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas to deliver the second part of his report on intelligence failures before the invasion.

I can understand why the Democrats are spinning their wheels in what must now be the most exhaustively documented chronicle of government deception in the history of the Republic. These endless investigations help them avoid the more challenging question of where they now stand on a war to which over 60 percent of the American people are now opposed.

As a matter of record, by the fall of 2002, the fakery about Saddam's supposed drive from the late 1990s to acquire nuclear weapons and the alleged alliance with Al Qaeda had been exposed as fictions.

By early 2003, the CIA/UNSCOM debriefings of Saddam's nephew, Hussein Kemal, had surfaced in a story by John Barry in Newsweek. In the 1995 debriefing in Amman, Kemal, the man who ran Saddam's WMD program, detailed his compliance with Saddam's orders in the early 1990s to destroy everything in Iraq's WMD arsenal. The Clinton administration knew of these debriefs, too, but simply tightened sanctions and persisted in spreading the myth about Saddam's efforts to build up Iraq's WMD program.

The Democrats plainly feel they can run their current game of Gotcha! right through to the midterm elections and maybe even the trial of Scooter Libby, with Vice President Cheney on the witness stand being grilled by Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.

Nixon's White House lawyer, John Dean, is arguing somewhat persuasively from a close reading of the indictment and ensuing press conference that Fitzgerald has Cheney in his sights and his likely intent to throw the Espionage Act at Cheney for divulging to Libby, his chief of staff, Valerie Plame's employment by the CIA.

Barely had Fitzgerald stepped away from the microphone after his press conference the day his grand jury handed down the indictment before liberal columnists like Tom Oliphant of the Boston Globe and Robert Scheer of the Los Angeles Times were seizing on one of Fitzgerald's remarks that if Libby had not lied, his investigation would have been over in October 2004, on the eve of the presidential election.

From this jumping-off point the columnists concoct the following scenario: Libby lied and thus obstructed the investigation in order to drag Fitzgerald's probe past Election Day. If Libby had simply told the truth, Fitzgerald would have indicted Libby and Rove in a deluge of publicity that would have cost Bush the election.

The problem with this theory is that there's no evidence that Fitzgerald would have brought any indictments in late 2004 on the leaking of Plame's name. He could have, and most likely would have, closed up shop without even issuing a report. After all, a year later, there were no counts in Libby's indictment addressing the substantive matter of breaches in the law, part of U.S. Title 18, criminalizing the naming of CIA employees. Even though his indictment of Libby sketches out a conspiracy, Fitzgerald did not avail himself of this legal lasso relished by all prosecutors.

Fitzgerald may well have concluded that the outing of Plame by Libby and Rove simply wasn't a crime, which means there would have been no history-changing indictments in late 2004. It was only by the fall of 2005 that Fitzgerald got Cooper of Time magazine and Judith Miller of The New York Times to testify to the grand jury. Indeed it was only when The New York Times turned over Miller's notebook that the Libby's indictment for perjury, lying and obstruction of justice became a likelihood.

So you could argue that maybe the journalists' refusal to testify saved Bush-Cheney in 2004. I don't agree with that, because I don't think that an indictment of Libby would have prompted enough voters in Ohio to vote for John Kerry.

In fact, the Democrats didn't use Plamegate at all in late 2004, any more than they made an issue of faked intelligence. They simply said they could fight the war better.

Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at COPYRIGHT 2005 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.