COHEN AND FITZGERALD….Richard Cohen is getting a lot of abuse for a column today suggesting that Valerie Plame prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald should pack up his tent and go home. After all, he says, “it was not the intent of anyone to out a CIA agent and have her assassinated.”

It’s not clear how Cohen thinks he knows this. I’m sure he’s correct on the assassination front, but my guess is that outing Plame might very well have been deliberate, a way of sending a very strong message that this administration was not to be fucked with. I don’t know this for sure, of course, and neither does Cohen, because Fitzgerald has kept a very tight seal on his investigation so far. But that’s exactly why Fitzgerald should finish his investigation and let us know his conclusions.

On the other hand, I do have some sympathy for this:

Now we are told by various journalistic sources that Fitzgerald might not indict anyone for the illegal act he was authorized to investigate, but some other one ? maybe one concerning the disclosure of secret material. Here again, though, this is a daily occurrence in Washington, where most secrets have the shelf life of sashimi. Then, too, other journalists say that Fitzgerald might bring conspiracy charges, an attempt (or so it seems) to bring charges of some sort.

….This is why I want Fitzgerald to leave now. Do not bring trivial charges ? nothing about conspiracies, please ? and nothing about official secrets, most of which are known to hairdressers, mistresses and dog walkers all over town.

I think Cohen is fundamentally wrong to treat the outing of a covert agent in the same way that he treats the nonstop revelation of minor secrets that practically defines official Washington. Outing an agent represents a far more serious kind of breach, and deliberate or not, it’s exactly the kind of thing that anyone with a security clearance should treat as a flashing red line. It just isn’t something you risk talking about, especially for so trivial and malicious a reason as the leakers apparently had.

That said, though, I’m on his side when it comes to charges. If Fitzgerald has evidence that White House officials leaked Plame’s name as part of their PR counteroffensive against Joe Wilson, then he should bring relevant charges ? including perjury and conspiracy charges if those are applicable. But if he can’t make the case ? either because he can’t prove the leak or because he can’t prove that Plame was truly covert ? then he should go home. Like Cohen, I really don’t want to see him hand down indictments solely for tangential perjury or conspiracy charges or some other consolation prize. I’d enjoy seeing Karl Rove frog marched out of the White House as much as anyone, but not at that price.

UPDATE: Well, this is going to go down in history as one of my most unpopular posts ever. All I can say is: Let’s wait and see what Fitzgerald comes up with. If he hands down serious charges, great. If they’re fundamentally trivial, like the stuff that Ken Starr brought against Bill Clinton, not so great. But we won’t know until he finishes up.