Monday, July 02, 2007

The latest Libby mess

So many others have written or spoken on this topic in the last few hours that it would be near impossible to come up with anything unique, or to have much of a thought before anyone else. For that reason, I will be brief, have my say, and continue working on my Supreme Court review due later this week.

I would love to congratulate the president on having the courage to commute the sentence of Libby (it is not a pardon, although some are calling it that) instead of waiting until Christmas after the next presidential election. But it is clearly because the courts will not let Libby wait out the president’s term with appeals and were going to start his time in prison shortly.

After a month of Paris Hilton getting out of jail early (a happy ending – she was put back in; a sickening lawsuit by a judge over a pair of pants for $54 million (another happy ending – he lost); and, the end of the Duke rape case (obviously another happy ending with the prosecutor disbarred and facing criminal contempt charges), the public can now go back to believing with all their cynical hearts that all that matters is privilege and there is no justice. Hard to argue this night.

The pardon power, which includes the power to commute a sentence, is written into the constitution and is probably the president’s broadest, most unfettered power, and often questionably used. For example, Jimmy Carter pardoned, en masse, deserters during the Vietnam War. Clinton pardoned Mark Rich, in my book the worst thing that he ever did as president. Reagan pardoned George Steinbrenner who had violated election laws campaigning for Nixon. George Bush I pardoned 6 from the Irangate scandal, also in my book, the low point of his presidency.

There is no question of illegality here – not even the most liberal Liberal will claim that Bush can’t do this. This one is just bad for the justice system. Personally, I was embarrassed for the Republican pundits who had to state on tv after the Libby conviction that it was wrong and he should be pardoned, throwing away all those years of claiming the tough on crime crown. But this is not a purely Republican fault. Democrats are equally guilty of this type of nonsense. Doesn’t matter. At some point, you have to stop saying “well, the other side . . . “.

Here’s why this one bothers me:

Libby probably did violate or at least conspire to violate an important law even before the cover up which got him in trouble (see my 3/23/07 post). He will never be prosecuted for this, so there never can be a verdict of guilt or innocence.

Bush said he would find out who was responsible for the Valerie Plame leak and that they would be held accountable. Now we know. Not only was Libby responsible, but so was Cheney (who can’t be fired, only impeached). We know this from Libby's own grand jury testimony

Bush says he is commuting the sentence in part because he feels sorry for Scooter’s family. The many children whose parents are still in jail for far less will be so warmed by that sentiment.

Bush says that he is commuting the sentence in part because the sentence was too tough. The people serving mandatory sentences for unimportant crimes, or are three time losers (life imprisonment), those on Death Row based on minimal evidence, and so on, are laughing in their tears. Besides, all that needed to be done was to lessen the sentence instead of completely commuting it. Bush, who couldn’t find it in his heart to pardon those on Death Row while Texas’ governor, regardless of reasonable doubt, has lost the little credibility he had left. Back when running for office, he said the only question for him was guilt or innocence (which it has been shown he spent almost no time investigating). Obviously, there are other things that matter as his statement accompanying the pardon (not given live) accepts the jury’s verdict of guilt.

Having nothing to lost in terms of popularity, Bush simply stepped up and protected a friend and supporter.

I usually wish Congress would not waste time on witch hunts (e.g., enough with the Attorney General stuff). I don’t think they would be wasting their time on this. Revealing a CIA agent’s identify (I don’t even care if she were technically covert or not) for political purposes was a low point for this administration. Obviously, 9/11 changed nothing. Congress being Congress, of course, there is little chance of uncovering anything more.

The good news—whether as K Street’s newest lobbyist, an author peddling his memoirs, or a commentator on FoxNews, Libby has little to worry about. Need proof. Of the six pardoned by his father after Irangate, four of them have served in this president’s administration including Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, Deputy Secretary of State, John Poindexter, who briefly served under Bush II, and Charles Allen (who quite possibly deserved the pardon most), Chief Intelligence Agent in the Department of Homeland Security. Although Libby still has felony status, it probably will not matter much. Nor would it surprise me if Bush pardoned him fully on his way out the door. Although he still has a large fine to pay (quarter mill) that will not prove difficult, should he have to pay it at all.

Not because of this case, but because the pardon power is too easy to abuse (and has been too often) to be given to one person, and is so frequently just a political tool, rather than the act of grace it was meant to be, it should be (won’t though) be modified in the constitution to allow congress to meddle in it so that at least the president’s cannot pardon members of their own administration or major donors to their campaigns without some bipartisan approval.

Candidates for presidents should be pressed on this point. Will they agree not to pardon a supporter without at least going through the usual processes that are already in place (which Bush, who said that was his policy, ignored here). It is not much, but it is something.

9 comments:

  1. Anonymous6:48 AM

    Hey,
    What is this Soviet history?
    Lobby NEVER was accused of, or in fact did reveal anything about Plame. Richard Armitage did. Nor is it wrong to mention that which is known generally in the public domain (that someone driving into Langley evryday works for the CIA. Which he also did not do.
    This was a witch hunt in which a supposed crime was invented after the prosecutor knew that the crime which he was commissioned to investigate never took place.
    -Don

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  2. Knew Don and I would part company on this one. Sorry, but I believe his comment is talk radio spin, much of which has been bought by the more liberal media outlets who do not bother to investigate anything. Although there are a few facts which are in doubt, Libby admitted at his Grand Jury hearings to outing Plame (there is no record that he knew what Armitage did, and, given the antipathy between VP and State doubtful he did). Nevertheless, the fact that Armitage blabbed does not exonerate Libby. Next, Plame was covert. Although the right spent a lot of time parsing difficult statutes and orders, everything points to the fact that she was. They do not give a 00 number to their "secret agents" or issue them weapons for what she was doing. It is meaningless that she went to work at Langley. The definitions of covert only require a little time out of the country under cover,in a long time frame, which she did in the recent past. When overseas, she had a cover, and worked with a few people who knew (and who were put at risk by the revelation). It is also not true that the information was in the public domain. Her neighbor and sometime lawyer did not even know. Friends and family (except her husband did not know). Read her transcript of testimony on C-Span and her review the testimony on Libby's trial. Forgetting even that there was a law concerning this matter, the VP's office, including Libby (all who learned through a source that she was CIA)recklessly through her away (she can no longer perform her job) for political purposes. What do you think Cheney would have said if this was a Gore administration and Lieberman had let this information out. As to Don, a conservative/libertarian with an independent streak, not enough homework on this one -- and do go back to my March post on this topic. I am not a congenital Bush basher and although I regret voting for him, I don't regret voting for him over Kerry. However, on this one, his team was wrong, wrong, wrong. And the complete commutation of Libby's sentence was as wrong as when Sandy Berger walked away from prison after his guilty plea. Who among us unprotected souls would get such leniency? People lie in testifying, and should not always go to jail for it. But when it involves the government, and it is a betrayal of their duties or privileges, greater punishment is needed, not less. People who are lecturing us about a war on terror and confronting Iran should not be so cavalier about these things.

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  3. Anonymous10:22 AM

    She was not, within the time period of the statute, covert in any sense of the word. In fact she probably was never covert. But CIA policy is never to comment on the staus of employees; much like the Navy won't confirm or deny whether a particular ship is armed with nuclear weapons. If one can follow you from your home driveway to the employee lot at CIA headquaters you are not covert. This is not talk radio spin but fact. Also there is no comparison to Sandy Berger stealing classified documents. If you want to compare Berger to a similar case try Ethel & Juliuis Rosenberg.
    -Don

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  4. She absolutely was out of the country during the requisite time. Watch her testimony on C-
    Span archives. If driving to Langley means you are not covert (and it does not in any legal sense) then there are very few covert agents and the CIA, which spends millions every year by law to protect their covert status, is wasting a lot of money. Secret agents aren't what they used to be. Again, even were it not illegal, b/c the law is admittedly, badly written, it was a heinous act to reveal the identity of someone who goes undercover investigating foreign nuclear proliferation under guise set up by the agency. This administration, which feels it necessary to take steps that many people, conservative and liberal, are uncomfortable with, to say the least, like secret wiretapping programs and restrictions on habeus corpus, should not feel justified in revealing an agent's identify if there is even a tiny possibility that it is covert or better left unsaid. As Plame testified to at her hearing, virtually everyone in her section is covert and everyone at the agency knows it.

    I can't compare Berger to E&J Rosenberg b/c they were stealing to give to our enemy, and he was trying to protect himself (from what, no one seems to know) as was Libby. Nevertheless, Berger deserved jail time for what he did and so does Libby. Their public service is only a factor to be considered in sentencing.

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  5. Anonymous12:09 PM

    Being out of the country is not the same as being on a covert mission. The $ that CIA spends is (or wastes) is not dispositive, or even indicative of status. In fact, her veracity in her testiomony is being questioned and she may be being called back for further testimony due to her "inconsistent" answers. We won't even get into her lying husband- who might actually be closer to the Rosenbergs in that he lied to effect foreign policy in a lead up to war. And, much info is given to Journalist by way of background or off the record that we wouldn't want generally known (cuban missile crisis, D-day etc) If some of it comes out that is a far cry from criminalizing the original speaker- depending on the magnitude of the info revealed. This was not big at all.
    -Don

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  6. Actually, being out of the country on a mission is part of the statutory definition of covert (obviously, her CIA connection had to have a cover - which it did). I watched her testimony three times straight through. I'd like to know the inconsistencies. Her husband may have said some inacurrate things or puffed. That, at least, is not a crime. Are you aware how angry the CIA was about this, and that it asked for an investigation they never got, even though in the administration sits an officer whose sole job is investigating these matters?

    You'll like the Supreme Court blog better I suspect.

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  7. 1)Richard Armitage was the first to out Plame to Bob Novak. Libby was next in line. That's from Novak himself, as well as from Wilson and Plame.
    2)The average length of sentence being served by the folks convicted of obstruction of justice and perjury is 60 months. Bush says 30 months is excessive. He is a moron. Yet we get what we deserve since so many people voted for him. Amazing how hard it is to find them now. At least you have the courage to admit that you were one of them.

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  8. "Of the six pardoned by his father after Irangate, four of them have served in this president’s administration including Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, Deputy Secretary of State, John Poindexter, who briefly served under Bush II, and Charles Allen (who quite possibly deserved the pardon most), Chief Intelligence Agent in the Department of Homeland Security..."

    I personally believe that all of the above should have rightly served their last days in government during the George H.W. Bush administration. However, you need to fact check. The four you mention weren't pardoned -- but were "rehabilitated" in that they did return to government service after involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal. None were pardoned and I believe only Poindexter faced criminal charges. Pardons granted by George H.W. Bush in connection with Iran-Contra included those for Elliott Abrams (still in the George W. Bush administration); Robert C. McFarlane; and Caspar Weinberger. A good resource here.

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  9. N-tell appears absolutely correct. Ironically, it was fact checking which messed me up. My belief was that Bush I had pardoned Weinberger (which is true) but when I checked the facts (which I try to do when I am not certain) I got bad information. I should have checked further (especially re: Gates). Thanks to N-tell for correcting me should you read this. However, it does not change my opinion on the overall post.

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .