Wait a Sec -- What Is a Bush Administration Official Supposed To Do?

I. Lewis Libby is being indicted for lying to the government -- a substantial offense, if he's indeed guilty. But Jeralyn Merritt of TalkLeft complains at the Huffington Post that Karl Rove might avoid serious punishment because he told the truth to the government. Merritt outlines a scenario (which as best I can tell has to be strictly theoretical at this point) in which Rove would "make a plea deal with Fitzgerald under which he agrees to plead guilty if Fitzgerald agrees to request a sentencing reduction to probation, because of his cooperation against others." She then concludes:

As a devout critic of the Bush Administration, I bring it up because I don't like rats. If Karl Rove isn't indicted, or gets a sweetheart deal, I can't conceive of any reason why other than he sang his heart out.

So what's a Bush Administration official supposed to do? I would have thought that telling the truth to investigators about criminal misconduct, including your colleagues' misconduct, is generally part of a government official's job. It's also sometimes the self-interested thing to do, but while that might mean you deserve less credit for it, it doesn't mean you should be condemned for it.

Merritt's view, though, seems to be that Rove would be a "rat," whom she "do[es]n't like," for "s[i]ng[ing] his heart out." Should he compound his initial offense (if he had committed an offense) by failing to do his duty? I've heard people condemn the Bush Administration for placing too much premium on loyalty over other virtues -- but surely few (on the Left or on the Right) would think that Administration officials should place such a premium on loyalty that they refuse to testify about others' criminal conduct? Or is it damned if you do (covering up your colleagues' crimes; shameful!), damned if you don't ("singing" about your colleagues' crimes; shameful!)?

I'm not trying to defend Libby, Rove, or anyone else here against allegations that they committed a crime -- I have't been following the details closely enough to have much to add about that. But I do want to speak out against this facile condemnation of people who actually do what the legal system rightly wants them to do, which is to reveal information that they have about crimes that the legal system is investigating. Loyalty is a virtue in some contexts; but not in this context.

Thanks to Mark Moore, who takes a similar view, for the pointer.