Libby Commutation Reactions
As one would expect, last evening’s news that President Bush has commuted Scooter Libby’s jail sentence has spawned a huge amount of controversy in the blogosphere, with some decrying it as the greatest outrage since Watergate and others complaining it didn’t go far enough.
From the Left:
- Nancy Pelosi: “The President’s commutation of Scooter Libby’s prison sentence does not serve justice, condones criminal conduct, and is a betrayal of trust of the American people.”
- Marcy Wheeler: “This amounts to nothing less than obstruction of justice.”
- Jane Hamsher: “This president’s contempt for the rule of law is thorough and complete.”
- Jeralyn Merritt: “President Bush’s commutation of I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby’s sentence is simply stunning, both in its hypocrisy and its arrogance.”
- Reid Stott: “[T]he Bush administration simply no longer gives a damn, about public opinion or the rule of law.”
- Doug Berman: “It will be interesting to see if, after the President has made clear that he views the guidelines are “excessive” for one of his pals, others with sentencing power begin to give less respect to the guidelines when the fates of less connected defendants are in the balance.”
- Anonymous Liberal: “Libby, apparently, doesn’t deserve to be treated the way the law demands that others be treated. He’s special. And what makes him special? Clearly nothing other than the fact that he is a well-connected Republican.”
- Bob Cesca: “If Scooter Libby had been some unfortunate nobody who was either black or poor or retarded . . . “
- Digby: “This is a very, very depressing day, even though we knew it would happen in one way or another. It’s just a continuation of this administration’s complete disregard for the law and their belief that they are entitled to special treatment because, well, they are just, so special.”
- Duncan Black: “President Bush engages in ongoing obstruction of justice by commuting Scooter Libby’s sentence.”
- Taylor Marsh: “George W. Bush today proved that the rule of law doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican. It’s all about the rule of politics.”
From the Right:
- Patrick Frey: “You do the crime, you do the time. The jury said Scooter Libby did the crime. He should do the time.”
- Steven Taylor: “One cannot lie to a grand jury and since he was a public servant at the time, that would seem to make the lying all the more problematic.”
- Ed Morrissey: “It strikes a balance that few will appreciate now, but later will accept as wise, as far as it goes.”
- Jay Currie: “Justice would have been served by a full pardon; but Bush rarely gets stuff right.”
- Rob Bluey: “Libby still has to pay a $250,000 fine and will be left scarred permanently, a penalty that’s harsh enough.”
- Andrew Sullivan: “When there are no normal channels of governance in this White House, it means the fusion of Cheney-Bush acting as extra-legal agents of their own power. We really no longer have the rule of law operating. We have the privileges and lies and policies of two men. The law is no competitor. And shamelessness is their ally.”
- Orin Kerr: “I find Bush’s action very troubling because of the obvious special treatment Libby received.”
The claims that this is somehow and “obstruction of justice” or outside the “rule of law” are simply bizarre. This power is expressly granted to the president in the Constitution. Indeed, it’s in the first sentence of the part of the Constitution which delineates the powers of the president (Article II, Section 2):
The President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States; he may require the opinion, in writing, of the principal officer in each of the executive departments, upon any subject relating to the duties of their respective offices, and he shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.
It’s listed before the enumeration of his foreign policy duties, for goodness sakes. The issuance of a pardon or commutation isn’t a sidestepping of the process: It is expressly a part of the process.
Further, this power is plenary. He doesn’t need anyone’s permission to exercise it nor does he need to jump through any hoops. Yes, there are long-established bureaucratic processes whereby the Justice Department vets petitions. They were put in place because presidents seldom know anything about the cases in question and don’t have time to read petitions that come pouring in. That obviously doesn’t apply in this case. As Bill Dyer observes,
Critics see it as cronyism, but in fact, no one is better qualified to judge the value of Libby’s public service than President Bush. Huge, huge portions of what Scooter Libby did as a key inside figure in implementing the Administration’s response to 9/11 and global terrorism is still highly classified. But the President knows on a first-hand basis what the man contributed, what its value has been, and under what critical and pressure-filled circumstances he served. And as it happens, George W. Bush is the one person in whom the Constitution entrusts the power to weigh that public service against the serious crimes of which Libby stands convicted. And he clearly thinks “this particular convicted felon” is deserving, even though there will be a political price to pay.
As to the “special treatment” issue: Of course it’s special treatment. Were Libby not a senior administration official, he’d never have been in this mess to begin with.
I heard Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this morning on NPR saying that Libby’s conviction “was the one faint glimmer of accountability for White House efforts to manipulate intelligence.” That’s exactly why he should have been pardoned, in my view.
First, because there was no underlying crime in the “efforts to manipulate intelligence.” Despite spending millions of dollars and years investigating the leaks, no one was ever charged. Indeed, we quickly found out who had told Bob Novak about Valerie Plame’s CIA job — and it wasn’t Scooter Libby. Yet, Richard Armitage, the actual leaker, was never charged.
Second, and more importantly, the responsibility for “efforts to manipulate intelligence” goes to the top. To the extent that information supporting going to war was cherry picked, it wasn’t Scooter Libby’s doing. Yes, he was in a powerful position as the VP’s chief of staff. He was not, however, a decision maker. If someone is going to be “accountable” for whatever offenses Reid imagines occurred, it should be George W. Bush. He is, after all, The Decider. He, not Scooter Libby, is The Commander Guy.
If Reid and Pelosi think the administration should be held accountable for manipulating intelligence, the same Constitution that empowers President Bush to commute Scooter Libby’s sentence gives them a remedy: Begin impeachment proceedings. In my view, that would be about the dumbest thing they could do, politically. But that’s the appropriate recourse if they actually believe the administration lied to get us into a war. If, on the other hand, it’s just cheap political rhetoric, they should pipe down.