Cover-Up, Nothing but the Cover-Up

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Charles W. Colson, the Watergate conspirator turned prison reformer, watched with a sense of déjà vu as I. Lewis Libby Jr., chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was indicted Friday in the C.I.A. leak investigation.

"For years in Washington, they've all ended the same way - perjury and obstruction of justice," said Mr. Colson, who pleaded guilty in 1974 to an obstruction charge and served seven months in prison. "I don't know why people don't learn this lesson."

From Watergate to Iran-contra, from the Monica Lewinsky case to the current one, the pattern has been the same. The offense that launched the investigation rarely ends up in the bill of particulars when indictments come down. Instead, the charges are often related to the cover-up, which, Mr. Colson recalled, President Richard M. Nixon could be heard on the White House tapes presciently declaring as potentially more dangerous than the original crime.

Mr. Colson, who was Mr. Nixon's counsel from 1969 to 1973, said his crime closely mirrored the allegations facing Mr. Libby. He was convicted in a case involving efforts to discredit Daniel Ellsberg, who had leaked the Pentagon Papers. Mr. Libby is accused of lying about his efforts to gather information on Joseph C. Wilson IV, a critic of the Bush administration's use of intelligence to justify the war in Iraq.

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