The Sleaziness Of The Libby Clemency

Ken AshfordBush & Co., Courts/Law, PlamegateLeave a Comment

Get20out20of20jailHow can this be viewed as anything other a brazen admission that Bush & Co. feels they are above the law?

Scooter Libby was convicted by a jury consisting of the American people who heard all the evidence, and concluded that he committed purjury and obstructed justice.  Even Bush admits that he respects the jury’s verdict; his only issue was with the "excessive" sentence.  So the unquestioned guilt of Scooter Libby is not a disputed issue.  Why then he is spending less time in prison than Paris Hilton?  Is that the message — serving any time in prison for obstructing justice and lying under oath is "excessive"?  WaPo editorial:

The probation office, as the president noted, recommended less time — 15 to 21 months. But Mr. Bush, while claiming to "respect the jury’s verdict," failed to explain why he moved from "excessive" to zero. It’s true that the felony conviction that remains in place, the $250,000 fine and the reputational damage are far from trivial. But so is lying to a grand jury. To commute the entire prison sentence sends the wrong message about the seriousness of that offense.

Also, let’s remember that Bush — both as governor and president — is notorious for not giving pardons and clemency

Bloomberg notes, “Bush has granted fewer pardons — 113 — than any president in the past 100 years, while denying more than 1,000 requests, said Margaret Colgate Love, the Justice Department’s pardon attorney from 1990 to 1997. In addition, Bush has denied more than 4,000 commutation requests, and hundreds of requests for pardons and commutations are still pending, Love said.”

A death row inmate was born-again, and even a plea from the Pope himself would not stop then-governor George Bush from sending that woman to the chair.

So why does Libby get special treatment?  Not because he was innocent.  But because he was one of the Bush Administration’s "inner circle".

[UPDATE:  Did I write "special treatment"?  Incredibly, the White House is trying to pass this off as — what chutzpah! — "routine":

“The president spent weeks and weeks consulting with senior members of this White House about the proper way to proceed,” said [WH Press Secretary Tony] Snow, adding, “I think it handled it in a routine manner in the sense that the president took a careful look.”

This exchange with a reporter is mind-numbingly telling:

QUESTION: Can I follow on that? If there are more than 3,000 current petitions for commutation — not pardons, but commutation — in the federal system, under President Bush, will all 3,000 of those be held to the same standard that the president applied to Scooter Libby?

SNOW: I don’t know.

QUESTION: Tony, I’m trying to get a handle on it. Are you saying this White House handled this in an extraordinary manner or in a routine manner?

SNOW: I think it handled it in a routine manner in the sense that the president took a careful look.

Snow is not even trying to answer the question.  He’s just stuck on trying to say that the whole thing is "routine".  Yet, unlike the pending thousands of petitioners, Libby didn’t even seek a pardon or commutation.  And certainly, Bush is not going to "spend weeks and weeks consulting with senior members of this White House about the proper way to proceed" when it comes to other people.

As Sully says: "If Bush is not actually, you know, creating one system of justice for his friends and employees and another for everyone else, why doesn’t Snow have an answer to that question?"]

How brazenly partisan is that?  For the President to commute the sentences of HIS OWN PEOPLE, who were convicted IN COURT — ist there any other word to use besides "corrupt"?

And where is the right on this?  Many, as suspected, as supporting Bush — and these are the same people who cried "foul" when it came to amnesty for illegal immigrants!!  Go figure.

I also wonder how a sentence which is within the sentencing guidelines can bee deemed "excessive" by Bush.  If it is within the guidelines, is it not, by definition, NOT "excessive"?  Mogolori points to this WaPo story on Rita v. U.S.:

Victor Rita, convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice, asked for a lighter sentence based in part on his past military service. But the judge gave him 33 months, as suggested by the guidelines. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, based in Richmond, upheld the sentence, saying that penalties within the guidelines are "presumptively reasonable."

Anonymous Liberal talks about the "manifest sleaziness" of the whole thing:

Let’s put it this way: if this had happened in the Clinton administration, this would have been the lead count in the House’s bill of impeachment. Does anyone doubt that? Republicans would have demanded Clinton’s immediate resignation.

Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald speaks too:

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.

More reactions:

"This commutation sends the clear signal that in this administration, cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice."—Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.

"The arrogance of this administration’s disdain for the law and its belief it operates with impunity are breathtaking. Will the president also commute the sentences of others who obstructed justice and lied to grand juries, or only those who act to protect President Bush and Vice President Cheney?"—New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

"It is time for the American people to be heard—I call for all Americans to flood the White House with phone calls tomorrow expressing their outrage over this blatant disregard for the rule of law."—Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del.

"The Constitution gives President Bush the power to commute sentences, but history will judge him harshly for using that power to benefit his own vice president’s chief of staff who was convicted of such a serious violation of law."—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

"When it comes to the law, there should not be two sets of rules—one for President Bush and Vice President Cheney and another for the rest of America. Even Paris Hilton had to go to jail. No one in this administration should be above the law."—Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

"This is exactly the kind of politics we must change so we can begin restoring the American people’s faith in a government that puts the country’s progress ahead of the bitter partisanship of recent years."—Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.


The [Washington] Post, which had often mocked the court case, declares today: "We agree that a pardon would have been inappropriate and that the prison sentence of 30 months was excessive. But reducing the sentence to no prison time at all, as Mr. Bush did — to probation and a large fine — is not defensible. … Mr. Bush, while claiming to ‘respect the jury’s verdict,’ failed to explain why he moved from ‘excessive’ to zero.

"It’s true that the felony conviction that remains in place, the $250,000 fine and the reputational damage are far from trivial. But so is lying to a grand jury. To commute the entire prison sentence sends the wrong message about the seriousness of that offense."

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: "President Bush’s commutation of a pal’s prison sentence counts as a most shocking act of disrespect for the U.S. justice system. It’s the latest sign of the huge repairs to American concepts of the rule of law that await the next president."

The Denver Post found that "such big-footing of other branches of government is not unprecedented with this administration. The president’s abuse of signing statements show his disrespect for Congress’ power to make law. His insistence that terror detainees at Guantanamo Bay be denied Habeas Corpus rights mocks legal tradition. It’s a shame that his actions in the Libby affair will add to that list. Libby should be held accountable for his crimes."

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s editorial declares that "mostly this commutation fails on the most basic premise. There was no miscarriage of justice in Libby’s conviction or his sentence. The trial amply demonstrated that he stonewalled. Like President Clinton’s 11th-hour pardons of an ill-deserving few, this commutation is a travesty."

New York’s Daily News: "However misbegotten was the probe by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, the fact is that Libby did commit a federal crime and the fact is also that he was convicted in a court of law. Thankfully, Bush did not pardon Libby outright, but time in the slammer was in order. Sixty days, say, wouldn’t have hurt the justice system a bit."

Chicago Tribune believes that "in nixing the prison term, Bush sent a terrible message to citizens and to government officials who are expected to serve the public with integrity. The way for a president to discourage the breaking of federal laws is by letting fairly rendered consequences play out, however uncomfortably for everyone involved. The message to a Scooter Libby ought to be the same as it is for other convicts: You do the crime, you do the time."

The Arizona Republic: "We thought Scooter Libby was going through the criminal justice system. Just like anyone else. Then, President Bush whipped out a get-out-of-jail-free card. This is the wrong game to play on a very public stage."

San Jose Mercury News: "Other presidents have doled out pardons and the like, usually on the way out of office. It’s never pretty. But few have placed themselves above the law as Bush, Cheney and friends repeatedly have done by trampling civil liberties and denying due process. Chalk up another point for freedom. Scooter’s, at least."

The Sacramento Bee: President Bush, a recent story in the Washington Post tells us, is obsessed with the question of how history will view him. He has done himself no favors on that count by commuting the prison term of I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby."


Atrios: President Bush engages in ongoing obstruction of justice by commuting Scooter Libby’s sentence.

And all of the Wise Men of Washington cheered.

Politely tell the White House what you think about this.

….WH has closed the comment line. We can call tomorrow.

FDL: Demonstrating his complete contempt for trial by jury, rule of law and his own Department of Justice appointees, George Bush thumbed his nose once again at the very concept of democracy and the Beltway Brahmins are cheering. The dirty unwashed masses who populate our juries are fit to judge each other, but evidently not the ruling class. David Broder can breathe a sigh of relief that People Like Him are safe from those overly zealous US Attorneys who might want to hold them accountable to the same absurd standards that the little people must live by.

How quaint.

Josh Marshall: There is a conceivable argument — a very poor one but a conceivable one — for pardoning Scooter Libby, presumably on the argument that the entire prosecution was political and thus illegitimate. But what conceivable argument does the president have for micromanaging the sentence? To decide that the conviction is appropriate, that probation is appropriate, that a substantial fine is appropriate — just no prison sentence.

This is being treated in the press as splitting the difference, an elegant compromise. But it is the least justifiable approach. The president has decided that the sentencing guidelines and the opinion of judge don’t cut it.

The only basis for this decision is that Libby is the vice president’s friend, the vice president rules the president and this was the minimum necessary to keep the man silent.

Glenn Greenwald: What kind of country do we expect to have when we have a ruling Washington class that believes that they and their fellow members of the Beltway elite constitute a separate class, one that resides above and beyond the law? That is plainly what they believe. And we now have exactly the country that one would expect would emerge from a political culture shaped by such a deeply insulated, corrupt and barren royal court.


A lawyer, former prosecutor, and current GW law professor weighs in, and this one a Republican. Orin Kerr at Volokh Conspiracy:

…I find Bush’s action very troubling because of the obvious special treatment Libby received. President Bush has set a remarkable record in the last 6+ years for essentially never exercising his powers to commute sentences or pardon those in jail. His handful of pardons have been almost all symbolic gestures involving cases decades old, sometimes for people who are long dead. Come to think of it, I don’t know if Bush has ever actually used his powers to get one single person out of jail even one day early. If there are such cases, they are certainly few and far between. So Libby’s treatment was very special indeed.

Sanford Levinson‘s cogent and extended remarks are worth reading, especially this part:

As it happens, the commutation also connects with my general theme in most of my Open University postings, which involves criticisms of various aspects of our Constitution. Interestingly enough, if one reads the so-called "anti-Federalist" papers, collected together some years ago in a magnificent edition by Herbert J. Storing, one discovers that a number of the opponents of the Constitution were quite concerned by the power to pardon. George Mason, a distinguished Virginian who refused to sign the Constitution, noted that "the President of the United States has the unrestrained Power of granting Pardon for Treason; which may be sometimes exercised to screen from Punishment those whom he had secretly instigated to commit the Crime, and thereby prevent a Discovery of his own guilt." Luther Martin, another non-signatory, also objected to the potential "attempt [of the President] to assume to himself powers not given by the constitution, and establish himself in regal authority; in which attempt a provision is made for him to secure from punishment the creatures of his ambition, the associates and abettors of his treasonable practices, by granting them pardons should they be defeated in their attempts to subvert the constitution."

No one, of course, believes that Mr. Libby committed Treason; indeed, his most ardent defenders view him as attempting to save the Republic from the like of Joseph Wilson. But, just as obviously, Mr. Libby was convicted of perjury after an extensive trial, and the judge quite justifiably thought that Mr. Libby’s actions demonstrated utter contempt for what the Constitution calls a "Republican Form of Government." Even if one agrees with President Bush that 30 months was "excessive," it is obviously a logical fallacy to assume that the alternative to 30 months is not a single day. More to the point, it is altogether tempting to put the pardon within the framework set out by Mason and Martin: The best explanation of the pardon is not compassion but, rather, fear that Mr. Libby might be tempted to provide more information about the cabal to turn the presidency (and vice-presidency) into "regal," if not out-and-out dictatorial, authorities totally independent from any scrutiny or accountability. This is simply one more illustration of the mendacity and corruption at the heart of the Bush Administration (and, therefore, of the present American system of government).

No one should doubt that we are in a constitutional crisis. And part of the crisis can be found within the Constitution itself. Perhaps it is a good idea that the President can pardon (or commute) convicted criminals. This is the notion that justice should be tempered by mercy. But it is also clear that the pardoning authority can be abused by unscrupulous presidents. Bill Clinton, of course, was roundly criticized for his last-day pardon of Marc Rich, though no one can seriously believe that high issues of the polity were involved. Some attributed it to campaign contributions; others, to the possibility of a "relationship" between the President and Rich’s former wife, Denise. As with so much of the Clinton presidency, the act was tawdry but unthreatening to a Republican Form of Government. Mr. Bush’s commutation, is such a threat, unless, of course, one defines a "Republican Form of Government" as "Government by the Republican Party." It will be interesting to see if any of those who look to the Founding Generation for wisdom about current realities will give any credence to the timely warnings of Mason and Martin (and others) about the potentially cancerous consequences of the Pardoning Power.

Anti-Federalist Paper No. 67, Cato, 1787, weighs in:

It is, therefore, obvious to the least intelligent mind to account why great power in the hands of a magistrate [i.e., a single executive], and that power connected with considerable duration, may be dangerous to the liberties of a republic. . . . [T]he unrestrained power of granting pardons for treason, which may be used to screen from punishment those whom he had secretly instigated to commit the crime, and thereby prevent a discovery of his own guilt; his duration in office for four years-these, and various other principles evidently prove the truth of the position, that if the president is possessed of ambition, he has power and time sufficient to ruin his country.

Though the president, during the sitting of the legislature, is assisted by the senate, yet he is without a constitutional council in their recess. He will therefore be unsupported by proper information and advice, and will generally be directed by minions and favorites, or a council of state will grow out of the principal officers of the great departments, the most dangerous council in a free country.

The public at large:

21% of Americans familiar with the legal case involving former White House aide Scooter Libby agree with President Bush’s decision to commute Libby’s prison sentence, according to a SurveyUSA nationwide poll conducted immediately after the decision was announced. 1,500 Americans were surveyed. Of them, 825 were familiar with the Libby case. Only those familiar were asked to react to the President’s action. 17% say Bush should have pardoned Libby completely. 60% say Bush should have left the judge’s prison sentence in place. 32% of Republicans agree with the President’s decision, compared to 14% of Democrats and 20% of Independents. 26% of Republicans say Libby should have been pardoned completely, compared to 21% of Independents and 8% of Democrats. Conservatives split evenly: 31% say Libby should have been pardoned. 35% say the judge’s sentence should have been left in place. 31% agree with the President’s decision to commute the prison sentence, but to leave the fine and conviction in place.

SO…. what to do?  There’s a call to action:

So, you can sit around grousing and moaning until the cows come home, wallowing in your misery and cursing the heavens about George Bush.  Or…you can do something about him and his corrupt Grand Ole Imperial Party.

I’ll take fighting back for $1000, Alex.


Call your elected representatives and the White House and register your disgust:

White House Phone Numbers Comments: 202-456-1111 Switchboard: 202-456-1414 FAX: 202-456-2461

U.S. Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121