dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

Free at last.

So, he did it. He really did it. The convicted purjurer Libby is guilty still, but the president found the prison sentence "excessive," so he commuted it (Scooter still has to pay the fine, though--see, crime doesn't pay). In making the decision, the president opted out of running it through the normal channels (and it's highly unusual for sentences to be commuted before being at least partly served). David Brooks is pleased. Andrew Sullivan is not. Doesn't look like Patrick Fitzgerald is thrilled either. Ditto for the Times' opinion page.

Lakes of ink have already been spilled on the happy subject: Libby is a good man, his friends say. And he deserved better--from his superiors, who seemingly hung him out to dry, and from the judge, whose sentence was quite tough. For all I know, they're right. But even good men commit crimes. And the judge in this case--a Bush political appointee--called the evidence against Libby "overwhelming," and sentenced him accordingly. I suspect it would have been reduced on appeal, but after the court rejected Libby's request that the jail sentence be suspended until the appeals process was complete, the president apparently couldn't wait for a punishment more in line with his thinking. So by splitting the difference--already rather amusingly being called an "elegant" political compromise--Bush has demonstrated, like Clinton before him, why this particular presidential power ought to be seriously restricted, or done away with altogether. Presidential pardons: what are they good for?

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

Presidential pardons - presumably a President is not permitted to pardon himself? How unfortunate. The whole thing sounds like the parable of the Unjust Steward. "Here, take your bill, sit down and write - what ?" When in a tight spot, it's important not to increase the number of one's enemies. Besides, who would know better than the President what Mr Libby might say if actually imprisoned? Admire the sagacity of the man - you cannot be too careful.

Well, one Thanksgiving turkey per year is spared the cleaver...at least for that day/year.

The famous advice from Strunk and White--"omit needless words"-- should apply here. We don't need to spill more ink on this sorry affair; two words should suffice. Impeach Bush.

The sentence was within the guidelines. The Court of Appeals would not have shortened it. People everyday are subject to lengthy sentences that might shock one or more of us, given the surrounding circumstances. How about that doctor who is in the federal slammer for 30 years, for instance? Unless you study sentencing in a systematic way I don't think you (or anyone) should have an opinion on a single sentence given to a single person.Of course I think it was a miscarriage of justice to commute it. For approximately the same reasons.

Ho-hum. Bush covers his sorry backside by commuting the sentence of a perjurer. What did anyone all expect? Read through that long list of letters on Libby's behalf, and you'll understand that little Scooter wasn't going to spend a nanosecond in prison. The fusion of self-pity and arrogance in the Beltway elite was there for all to see. Libby's one of them, and when one of them breaks the law, then we see the real meaning of compassionate conservatism.The counters to outrage are already being formulated. A caller to C-SPAN this morning reminded us that Bill Clinton had pardoned, not only his wealthy friend Mark Rich, but a Congressman who had been convicted of child molestation. The argument, such as it was, was that since Clinton had pardoned some loathsome characters, Bush's commutation of Libby's sentence shouldn't bend anyone out of shape. The proper response to this is, of course, So What? As horrific as it is, child molestation doesn't, like perjury, threaten the very integrity of the judicial system. (And that's not to mention revealing state secrets, something which many of Libby's friends still contend wasn't even a crime.) Sullivan's post hits the nail on the head. Brooks is an embarrassment -- but then, the larger embarrassment has always been that Brooks is allowed to write for anyone. And Sullivan is also right that when Bush expresses his contempt for the rule of law this openly -- and when Cheney believes that he is a fourth branch of government, unaccountable to any other branch -- it's time for revolt. Paul Lauritzen is right: Impeach Bush. But also send a fusillade of subpeonas raining down on the White House, jump-start the whole array of nonviolent resistance. God save us from this pestilence on the Potomac.

For Bush, cronyism trumps everything else. I notice he never pardoned or commuted anybody on death row in Texas-- in fact, he made fun of appeals for clemency.

"Little Scooter" -- that's a good one.

Sentencing guidelines were instituted (after some debate) to ensure "fairness" in sentencing - that folks convicted of similar crimes would receive similar sentences. Scooter Libby may be a good man to some, but perjury to protect others and failure to admit guilt/cooperate are major factors against him in a case that impacts so much on the already heated topic of government accountability.What bothers me are those who pushed for a pardon. It's obvious they value ideology over honesty in government and reasonable accountability.Talking heads who resort to talking about other Presidents skip the question of this one and the political context of how close to home was the affair Libby.A former spokesmen for the California Governor ubn CNN noted it was within the President's perogative as if there is no value judgementone should make after that,There is a certain moral bankruptcy in all of this not only in the White House but in those who support the continuing lack of accountability there.

Mitt Romney has come out strongly in favor of the commutation of Libby's sentence. No surprise there, since Romney wants the same conservative base that is in favor of the commutation. Yet, it's one more flip-flop for Romney to add to his growing lst of about faces on issues. IMO, this flip-flop is particularly galling when Libby's commutation is compared to the pardon sought by one of Romney's constituents, one Anthony Circosta. According to the AP:"As governor [of Massachusetts], Romney twice rejected a pardon for Anthony Circosta, who at age 13 was convicted of assault for shooting another boy in the arm with a BB gun a shot that didn't break the skin. Circosta worked his way through college, joined the Army National Guard and led a platoon of 20 soldiers in Iraq's deadly Sunni triangle.In 2005, as he was serving in Iraq, he sought a pardon to fulfill his dream of becoming a police officer.In his presidential bid, Romney often proudly points out that he was the first governor in modern Massachusetts history to deny every request for a pardon or commutation during his four years in office. He says he refused pardons because he didn't want to overturn a jury.During the four years Romney was in office, 100 requests for commutations and 172 requests for pardons were filed in the state. All were denied."

Of course you'll remember Bill that GWB ,as governor,turned down the Pope's plea not to execute tjhhe woman in Texas who became a born again ChristianThese guys are so tough on criminals...

Bob--Tucker Carlson, the conservative commentator, wrote an article about an interview he had had with Bush when Bush was governor of Texas and a presidential candidate. Apparently, the Karla Faye Tucker case came up during the interview, and Carlson said that Bush told him that Tucker had written him about her death sentence. Carlson asked Bush what she had said, and Bush, according to Carlson, sniggered and replied, "She said, 'Don't kill me.'" Bush later denied that he was making light of her commutation request. I don't know if the story is true, but the fact that it comes from a fellow conservative would seem to undercut any claim of partisan politics.Frankly, the whole pardon/commutation process seems rife with political pandering to me. Bill Clinton caved into rich and powerful Democratic Party contributors in pardoning Marc Rich, who fled the U.S. for almost 20 years after being indicted for tax evasion. True he wasn't a political figure or government employee like Libby was, but he was certainly not deserving of a pardon. Clinton also pardoned former HUD secretary Henry Cisneros, who lied to the FBI during his background check about questionable financial payments. Cisneros eventually pled to a misdemeanor and got no jail time, but there was certainly politics behind the pardon. On NPR this afternoon, there was a piece on Hillary Clinton's campaigning in Iowa for the next few days. She has been criticizing the Libby pardon. She's got husband Bill in tow, however, (could it be the $10 million more Obama raised from April-June? Nah. :) ), and it seems to me she should tread carefully when commenting on Libby's commutation. In many diverse ways, having Bill along is both a blessing and a curse.One piece of trivia from the NPR piece. Can you guess who was one of the lawyers representing Marc Rich when he was seeking a pardon from Clinton?(Hint: It's a name in the news.)Scooter Libby.

The Canticle of ScooterMy soul proclaims the greatness of the Decider,my spirit rejoices in the Commander Guy, my saviorfor he has looked with favor on his well-connected servant.From this day, all generations will call me loyal:the Unitary Executive has done great things for me,and holy is his Base.He has mercy on those who cover for himin every investigation.He has shown the strength of his arm,he has confirmed the proud in their conceit.He has cast down the lowly from their thrones,and has lifted up the mighty.He has filled the rich with good things,and the hungry he has sent away empty.He has come to the help of his servant Deceptionfor he has remembered his promise of clemency,the promise he made to our fathers,to Dick and his cronies for ever.

Bill Collier is certainly right about the pardon/comutation process being open to the worst kind of pandering.What's vital here to me is that the secrecy of the executive branch in matters that were not only criminal(outing Valerie Wilson) but as revenge for exposing a weakness in their run up to the war(Joe Wilson, This is important information for the American people now (Mark Rich, Ollie north etc. were then).The argument takes on more import in view of recent claims of privlege and discretion about questionable at least inner executive workings.The weaknesses of the arguments that the sentence to Libby was "excessive" and the notion that the process was "routine" (as Tony Snow alleged yesterday) only underscores the desperation in this.