Wednesday, July 04, 2007

On this Fourth of July, my head is still spinning from reading all of the commentary on Bush's commutation of Libby's sentence.

The always-astute Dick Polman summed things up nicely:
A show of hands: How many of you are surprised that President Bush has put his thumb on the scales of justice and decreed that a convicted perjurer in a national security case, a felon who was enmeshed in a White House campaign of deception to discredit a critic of the Iraq war, is somehow less deserving of jail time than Paris Hilton?

No, it’s hardly a surprise that the same guy who once promised to “restore honesty and integrity to the White House,” the same president who had previously denied more than 4000 commutation requests, has now opted to grant Scooter Libby his very own Independence Day.
[J]ust 12 days ago, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that makes it tougher for convicted felons to reduce their jail time (the high court upheld the 33-month sentence of Victor Rita, who had been convicted of making false statements in a weapons investigation; Rita, like Libby, had been punished in accordance with federal sentencing guidelines).

None of those little details matter a whit to those Republicans who are cheering Bush this morning (the same Republicans who, during the Bill Clinton era, routinely invoked the primacy of “the rule of law”).
That recent Supreme Court ruling cracking down on convicted felons and the Republicans cheering this decision vs. their jeers for Bill Clinton years ago -- these guys are always good for irony and outrageous hypocrisy.

Dan Froomkin poses several good questions:
Bush's decision yesterday to commute Libby's prison sentence isn't just a matter of unequal justice. It is also a potentially self-serving and corrupt act.

Was there a quid pro quo at work? Was Libby being repaid for falling on his sword and protecting his bosses from further scrutiny? Alternately, was he being repaid for his defense team's abrupt decision in mid-trial not to drag Cheney into court, where he would have faced cross-examination by Fitzgerald?
It's true that the Constitution grants the president unlimited clemency and pardon power. But presidents have generally used that power to show mercy or, in rare cases, make political amends -- not to protect themselves from exposure.
Argue with Bill Clinton's pardons all you want, none were granted to someone within his administration who had the potential to implicate him in a crime if only he/she told the truth. In this respect, Marc Rich is a far cry from Libby.

More questions from Froomkin:
* Does the president approve of Libby's conduct?

* On whose behalf did Libby act?

* Did the White House make any sort of a deal with Libby or his defense team?

* What did Bush know and when did he know it?

* When did he find out that Karl Rove and Libby had both leaked Plame's identity? Before or after he vowed that any leakers would be fired? Did anyone lie to him about their role? Why didn't he fire them?

* How does the conduct of his aides comport with Bush's vow to restore ethics to the White House? How does the commutation?

* What factors did the president take into account in deciding to commute the sentence?

* What does the president consider an appropriate punishment for perjury and obstruction of justice?

* What was Cheney's role in the commutation?
Want to further compare the Clinton/Rich pardon with this eventual-pardon? Where appropriate, replace Libby's name above with Rich. See, no comparison.

Froomkin makes another good point concerning Bush's decision to commute instead of pardon: "For Bush to state he believed Libby to be innocent would at least have been defensible. Instead, what Bush is saying is that acknowledges the guilty verdict -- but, when it comes to his friends and colleagues, he just doesn't care what the justice system concluded was a fitting punishment."

So instead of having the guts to proclaim Libby innocent with a pardon, GW attempts a sleazy middle-ground move by agreeing with the jury's verdict (i.e. Libby is a 100% guilty man), but then decides to free him anyway because he's a close friend who saved his and Cheney's ass.

But if Bush felt the sentence was unreasonable, why didn't he just lessen it? Instead of 30 months in jail, why not 20 or even 10? (This from a guy who never, ever displayed anything close to such compassion while governor of Texas). Nope, Bush decided this guilty person deserved zero days in jail. As many have been saying, Paris Hilton served more prison time than Libby (and unlike Libby she also expressed remorse, a necessary condition for commutations/pardons).

Prosecutor Fitzgerald offered this statement in response to Bush's questioning the 30 months:
We comment only on the statement in which the President termed the sentence imposed by the judge as 'excessive.' The sentence in this case was imposed pursuant to the laws governing sentencings which occur every day throughout this country. In this case, an experienced federal judge considered extensive argument from the parties and then imposed a sentence consistent with the applicable laws.

It is fundamental to the rule of law that all citizens stand before the bar of justice as equals. That principle guided the judge during both the trial and the sentencing.
In other words, Bush's stated reason for the commutation -- that the sentence was too harsh -- is complete bullshit.

It was also well-reported that Bush did not consult with lawyers at the Justice Department nor did he consult with the lead prosecutor (Fitzgerald) in the case, both routine procedures for commutations or pardons (yet Snow claims the steps taken were "routine"). But then again, when commuting a guilty friend out of sheer loyalty, Bush likely felt consulting with lawyers would be a waste of time. Why bother? For Bush, this matter has very little to do with laws or anything legal and everything to do with dodging accountability and covering up unlawful involvement.

Josh Marshall wrote:
The deeper offense is that the president has used his pardon power to shortcircuit the investigation of a crime to which he himself was quite likely a party, and to which, his vice president, who controls him, certainly was.

The president's power to pardon is full and unchecked, one of the few such powers given the president in the constitution. Yet here the president has used it to further obstruct justice. In a sense, perhaps we should thank the president for bringing the matter full circle. Began with criminality, ends with it.
Again, compare vs. Clinton's pardons. Bush's commutation prevents Libby from having to tell the truth about Bush/Cheney's involvement in the Plame leak. It's what the mafia does: commit wrongs in an effort to cover-up their prior committed wrongs, forming an endless domino-line of criminal offenses. Libby did it by lying, and then Bush did it by commuting him.

Interestingly, both John Dean and Jonathan Turley stated last night on Olbermann's Countdown that either Fitzgerald or congress could immunize Libby and force him to testify (again) about Bush and Cheney's involvement. Pressure should mount for this to happen. Perhaps justice still has a fighting chance of being achieved.

This commutation is the penultimate betrayal capping Bush's now-infamous 2000 campaign promise to return ethics to Washington. The presidency has not sunk this low in the craven, scum swamp in decades. Nixon is looking a bit saintly in comparison.

Wingnut blogger Glenn Reynolds wrote, "My prediction: Bush will rise in the polls as estranged conservatives warm to him in light of lefty indignation."

Oh, so free a thoroughly guilty man, one found guilty by "overwhelming" evidence by a Republican-appointed judge, and then unanimously confirmed by three other justices (two appointed by Republicans), and in the end conservatives will applaud the decision for no other reason than it's a win for their side. Partisan score-keeping trumps the rule of law. Perhaps the only saving grace? Never again will these hypocritical creeps be able to pull a Bill-Clinton-impeachment-like charade.

Finally, Sheryl Stolberg wrote in the NY Times, "President Bush’s decision to commute the sentence of I. Lewis Libby Jr. was the act of a liberated man — a leader who knows that, with 18 months left in the Oval Office and only a dwindling band of conservatives still behind him, he might as well do what he wants."

I've written before about this frightening fact with detached Bush who "has much time left in office, a woefully awful president who listens to no one, realizes his legacy is shit, and yet still must confront many serious problems facing this country -- well, he's very capable of doing some go-for-broke things that could really be huge whoppers, even by his standards." Yes, a president as off his rocker as this one and who feels "liberated" enough to "do what he wants" is a hair-raising combination. Scary to think what he'll feel like doing next, just for the hell of it.

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