Libby Pardon Issue Bursts Onto Political Scene
We’re clearly now in a new political and legal era for the Bush administration…one that some Bush critics contend has overtones of Watergate.
The White House is now getting peppered with the question about whether it intends to let justice take whatever course it will eventually take in the case of Vice President Cheney’s aide “Scooter” Libby, convicted in the Plamegate case — or do an…intervention.
And the White House’s response is essentially: “Pardon me?”
It’s an issue that’s exploding and is likely to be a key one in the 2008 elections with liberals and some centrists saying Libby should serve his term — and the administration’s supporters (particularly those belonging to the base and followers of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity) arguing that no crime has REALLY been committed (although zero tolerance of perjury was a bit of an issue when a certain Democratic President was accused of it a few years ago..).
The issue is a ticklish one. For one thing, a juror has now called on Bush to pardon Libby, who she said was a “really nice guy” caught “in the initial lie.” But it was notable that reports indicated the White House would not rule out a pardon. And, in the New York Post, John Podhoretz said a Bush pardon of Libby was “inevitable”:
IN HIS last days as president, George W. Bush will pardon Scooter Libby – that is, if the convictions secured yesterday don’t get overturned on appeal.
For political reasons, Bush can’t pardon Libby earlier than that. His responsibilities as head of the Republican Party, heading into an election year, would preclude such action.
But Bush won’t leave office without issuing that pardon.
Why? Because if Bush fails to pardon Libby, he will implicitly be accepting the contention that Scooter Libby was part of a White House conspiracy at the highest levels to destroy the career of a CIA agent whose husband had proved Bush & Co. had lied us into the Iraq War.
Without a pardon (again, assuming an unsuccessful appeal), Bush will leave office with a former employee in jail on charges that rise directly from the most damaging charge against his administration – the “Bush lied and people died” charge.
So is it all about “legacy?” And if Bush pardons Libby on the way out, will that further enhance his standing among historians who now seemingly have their eyebrows, nose, and hair follicles raised when asked about how the administration will rank in history?
But CAN Libby be pardoned? Newsweek reports that Bush can do it but he’d have to ignore Justice Department guidelines to do it:
But thereâ€™s one significant roadblock on the path to Libbyâ€™s salvation: Vice President Dick Cheneyâ€™s former chief of staff does not qualify to even be considered for a presidential pardon under Justice Department guidelines.
From the day he took office, Bush seems to have followed those guidelines religiously. He’s taken an exceedingly stingy approach to pardons, granting only 113 in six years, mostly for relatively minor fraud, embezzlement and drug cases dating back more than two decades. Bushâ€™s pardons are â€œfewer than any president in 100 years,â€? according to Margaret Love, former pardon attorney at the Justice Department.
Following the furor over President Bill Clintonâ€™s last-minute pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich (among others), Bush made it clear he wasnâ€™t interested in granting many pardons. â€œWe were basically told [by then White House counsel and now Attorney General Alberto Gonzales] that there werenâ€™t going to be pardonsâ€”or if there were, there would be very few,â€? recalls one former White House lawyer who asked not to be identified talking about internal matters.
So even if he pardoned Libby right before leaving office, Bush would set off a hornet’s nest of political controversy.
The New York Times notes that the pardon issue has now turned into a (sigh) left/right political fight (there is a lot of that going around these days):
If some people imagined a verdict in the criminal trial of I. Lewis Libby Jr. would calm the political passions surrounding his fate, they may have forgotten two words with a combustible history: presidential pardon.
The 11 jurors had barely pronounced Mr. Libby guilty of obstruction of justice and perjury on Tuesday when a new donnybrook broke out.
â€œNow President Bush must pledge not to pardon Libby for his criminal conduct,â€? declared Senator Harry Reid, the Senate majority Leader, a stance echoed by other Congressional Democrats, editorial writers and bloggers on the left.
On the right, The Wall Street Journal thundered in an editorial today, â€œThe time for a pardon is nowâ€? â€” a point of view shared by The Weekly Standard, The National Review and conservative admirers and friends of Mr. Libby. Many of the calls for his pardon demanded immediate action, instead of a wait for appeals to wend their way through the courts.
President Bush has avoided comment on the pardon question, telling an interviewer today from the Spanish-language version of CNN that in view of Mr. Libbyâ€™s plans to seek a new trial and, if necessary, to appeal his conviction, â€œitâ€™s inappropriate for me, or the administration, to be issuing comments about this serious matter.â€?
That statement and those of various White House officials suggest a pardon is not ruled out and is perhaps likely by the time Bush leaves office. White House press spokesman Tony Snow called questions about a pardon “interesting speculation” — which if you are in the news business you know is not the same thing as a denial.
Meanwhile, the real loser in the case is Vice President Dick Cheney whose sagging image is now tarnished. If this keeps up, he’ll be lower than President George Bush in some polls. Reuters notes that the White House was forced to emphatically declare it’s support for Cheney and to confirm that he still has influence:
The White House offered support on Wednesday for U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, a powerful proponent of the Iraq war, after the conviction of his top aide dealt a fresh blow to Cheney’s political reputation and raised new questions about his influence.
The trial of Lewis “Scooter” Libby showed Cheney, often portrayed by critics as the shadowy Darth Vader behind the war in Iraq, was deeply involved in an effort to discredit a critic of the administration’s pre-war intelligence.
Libby’s conviction on perjury and obstruction of justice charges placed Cheney squarely in the centre of a new political storm. Democrats said Libby was “the fall guy” for his boss, who was not charged in the case and not called to testify.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said Cheney would remain an influential and trusted adviser to President George W. Bush.
“To the idea that somewhere the vice president has been ‘diminished’ … No, not true,” Snow told reporters. “The vice president still remains a trusted aide. The vice president is somebody upon whose counsel the president depends.”
But Reuters also has this:
“Publicly he may be scarred, he’s a damaged commodity, but the question is whether he still has clout in the administration and the answer has to be yes,” said Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution.
“He really has a constituency of one — U.S. President George W. Bush,” Hess said. “We really don’t know what that relationship is, but there is no evidence that it has been impaired. The president still seems to listen to him.”
So, in the end, Cheney remains an unusual force within the government, seemingly cushioned from a lack of clout and, some have said, consequences.
But, above all, when the Plamegate affair ended it was Dick Cheney who was left standing.
HERE’S A CROSS SECTION OF BLOG REACTION (these are excerpts so please read linked posts in FULL):
—Ed Morrissey:“Again, if Libby lied to investigators and a grand jury, then he did commit crimes and the jury had no choice to convict. However, it certainly doesn’t give any confidence in the verdict to have one of the jurors ask for the President to let off the hook the man she just put on it.”
—Crooks and Liars has some conservative reaction on video and John Amato writes:”The NRO wankers want Scooter free so it’s no surprise to hear Kate O’Beirne say that she thinks everyone that is guilty of a crime by a jury, but says they are innocent should be pardonedâ€¦The juror thinks Scooter should be pardoned because he was a nice guy. He lied, what the heckâ€¦No biggieâ€¦She’d rather be on juicer cases anyway.”
They may be winning the spin war on Scooter but they are losing it on Cheney – that’s what’s important. Scooter may have been a high ranking officer but the ultimate source of the evil is the General, Cheney. When Libby told his lies he thought Ashcroft would be handling the case. Would he have lied if he knew there would be a special prosecutor? Libby knew however he was taking a chance which would indicate he was attempting to cover up something really big, probably involving Cheney himself. That’s what we should be concerned with not Libby. There are plenty of reasons for outrage but Scooter is way down the list.
This is very interesting. It sounds like this juror didn’t appreciate Patrick Fitzgerald putting her in the situation where she had to judge Libby for something so unrelated to the crime being investigated. Now that one juror has asked President Bush to pardon Libby, I have a question: if other jurors come out in support of a Bush pardon for Libby will Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi support their requests the way they supported their verdict?
—Dr. Melissa Clotheir:”If Seinfeld was a show about nothing, than the Libby Trial was almost certainly a trial about nothing. Lots of people are covering it. I just can’t get enthused. It’s more of the same: the Left railroads someone on the Right for a triviality and tries to make it something it isn’t, the Right plays defense yet again. Tired. Of. It.”
–But Ezra Klein makes the case that Bush will NOT pardon Libby. Read it in full but here’s a key part of it:
I doubt it. Bush has never been one to keep loyalty a two-way street. It’s long been his M.O to cut loose even the most faithful of servants after they outlive their usefulness. And Scooter Libby has definitely outlived his usefulness. To pardon him would refocus the blame onto the presidency, make it clear the administration felt indebted to an underling doing their bidding. That’s all true, of course, save for the indebted part. Libby was doing their bidding and now it is done. End of transaction.