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.
- 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 . . . .