Well. What can one say about President Bush’s decision to commute Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s sentence that hasn’t been said already?
Okay, so you know if I make a statement like that, I’m obviously going to add to the pile. In spite of the extensive coverage of this issue, over the past few days I’ve found myself trying to explain to a lot of people just why this is such an issue. Most people didn’t follow the investigation of Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, who was trying to determine who revealed the identity of CIA operative Valarie Plame, much less Libby’s indictment and subsequent conviction of purjury and obstruction of justice.
Okay. We should start from the beginning, to put this all into perspective.
In late February 2002, responding to inquiries from the Vice President’s office and the Departments of State and Defense about the allegation that Iraq had a sales agreement to buy uranium in the form of yellowcake from Niger, the CIA authorized a trip by former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson to Niger to investigate the possibility. Wilson decided that there “was nothing to the story,” and presented his report in March 2002. The Bush Administration ignored this report and continued to use the yellowcake story as part of its justification for an impending invasion of Iraq.
After the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, Wilson, frustrated by the White House’s rejection of his conclusions, wrote a series of articles questioning its factual basis. In one of these op-eds (published in the New York Times on July 6, 2003), Wilson argued that President George Bush, in the State of the Union Address, misrepresented intelligence leading up to the invasion and suggested that the Iraqi regime had indeed sought uranium to manufacture nuclear weapons.
According to federal court records, beginning in mid-June 2003, Bush administration officials discussed with various reporters the employment of a classified, covert, CIA agent, named Valerie E. Wilson (Joseph Wilson’s wife, oddly enough, who is also known as Valerie Plame). On July 14, 2003, in a newspaper column, Robert Novak disclosed Plame’s name and status as an “operative” who worked in a CIA division on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Mrs. Wilson’s husband, stated in various interviews and later writings that his wife’s identity was covert and that members of the administration had knowingly revealed it as retribution for his op-ed (especially the one entitled “What I Didn’t Find in Africa”, published in The New York Times on July 6, 2003).
On September 16, 2003 the CIA sent a letter to the US Department of Justice, stating that Plame’s status as a CIA undercover operative was classified information. They requested a federal investigation. I should probably mention here that Knowingly leaking the identity of a covert agent is a criminal violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, and the CIA is required by law to report any such possible criminal violations. If convicted of such an act, one faces possible charges of treason. It is considered a treasonous act by the United States Government.
Then Attorney General John Ashcroft referred the matter to the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Special Counsel, which was directed by Patrick Fitzgerald, who convened a grand jury. The CIA leak grand jury investigation resulted in the indictment and conviction of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Chief of Staff of Vice President Dick Cheney, on five counts of obstruction of justice, perjury, and false statements to the grand jury and federal investigators.
On March 6, 2007, Libby was convicted on four counts of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements. On June 5, 2007, he was sentenced to 30 months in prison, a fine of $250,000, and two years of supervised release after his prison term.
End of story, right? Justice done, right?
Aw, not so fast. We’re talking about a member of the Bush Administration.
On July 2, 2007, President Bush commuted Libby’s sentence. Libby will not see one day of his prison term. Following the traditions of his Presidency, Bush made a statement that generally was met with derision by everyone but Conservatives.
“I respect the jury’s verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive,” he said in a statement. “Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby’s sentence that required him to spend thirty months in prison.”
“My decision to commute his prison sentence leaves in place a harsh punishment for Mr. Libby,” Bush continued. “The reputation he gained through his years of public service and professional work in the legal community is forever damaged. His wife and young children have also suffered immensely. He will remain on probation. The significant fines imposed by the judge will remain in effect. The consequences of his felony conviction on his former life as a lawyer, public servant and private citizen will be long-lasting.”
Okay. I’ve read this many times. I’m still trying to follow the logic. What Bush is saying is that if you are a member of his administraiton, being convicted on four counts of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements in a Federal investigation, is no big deal. What is important is not the crimes for which Lewis Libby was convicted, but that he might suffer because of it.
Ironically, in a recent, almost identical separate case, a former federal employee and a decorated Vietnam veteran, Victor Rita, was convicted of lying to a grand jury, making false statements and committing perjury. He was sentenced to 33 months. President Bush apparently did not see fit to commute Victor Rita’s sentence. Therefore, one would think Rita’s crimes were worse that Libby’s, right? After all, a decorated Vietnam veteran with a 25 year career in the military would have to do something pretty bad for such a sentence. Right?
Here’s what he did. Rita had made two false statements to a federal grand jury. The jury was investigating a gun company. Prosecutors believed that buyers of a kit, called a “PPSH 41 machinegun ‘parts kit,’” could assemble a machinegun from the kit, and that the company had not secured the necessary permits to import machine guns. Rita had purchased one of the kits and, when he was contacted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, he agreed to let the agent inspect the kit. But before meeting with the agent, he sent back the kit and, instead, substituted a kit that did not amount to a machine gun. The government contended that he lied to the grand jury about his actions and he was convicted for making false statements and committing perjury.
Wow. That’s so much worse than lying to Federal investigators about who committed treason by revealing the name of a covert CIA agent, and, worse, who was involved in covering it up (Conservatives, please note here that this is what we call “sarcasm”).
One would think that Bush would commute the sentence of a decorated Vietnam veteran, since he’s in the mood for bypassing the Judicial system. Sadly, Victor Rita will receive no such consideration from President Bush. The President is very selective with his compassion. In his previous political capacity as governor of Texas, Bush showed none of those on the state’s death row the compassion he reserved for “Scooter” Libby. He sent 150 men and two women to their deaths — executing the first female in Texas in 100 years, Karla Faye Tucker, after being petitioned by The Pope to commute her death sentence to life in prison, and then publicly mocking her plea that he spare her life.
So what makes Lewis “Scooter” Libby so different? Why does he deserve such special treatment when Bush has been more than willing to let everyone else swing from the trees?
Oh, come on!
Even worse, the President refused to rule out granting a full pardon at some point down the road that would wipe Libby’s slate completely clean. Libby still has a $250,000 fine to pay, two years of probation and can’t practice law to help pay for his mountain of legal bills.
“I rule nothing in or nothing out,” Bush said, further describing the commuted sentence as “a very difficult decision.”
Does anyone seriously believe that Lewis “Scooter” Libby will have any trouble making a living? He’s now free to be a hero to Bush administration supporters (who gave $3.5 million to his legal defense fund and sent almost 200 letters in his favor to the judge in his case).
“He is a hero among many conservatives who feel he was wrongly prosecuted,” George Washington University law Prof. Jonathan Turley said. “He could be the next Ollie North.”
Fred Thompson, unabashed conservative and soon-to-be-declared Republican presidential candidate, who helped organise a Libby defence fund, said “I am very happy for Scooter Libby. This will allow a good American, who has done a lot for his country, to resume his life.”
Poor Scooter. How he has suffered.
Others were not so kind. In regard to Bush’s assertion that “I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive,” the Washington Post pointed out Tuesday that the sentence was anything but excessive.
“Three of every four people convicted of obstruction of justice have been sent to prison over the past two years, a total of 283 people, according to federal judiciary data,” the Post reported. “The average term was more than five years. The largest group of defendants were sentenced to between 13 and 31 months in prison, exactly where Libby would have fallen on the charts.”
According to Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald; “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.”
Former Ambassador Joe Wilson, whose wife Valerie Plame’s covert CIA status was compromised, starting this whole thing, had a few thoughts of his own.
“The fact that the president short-circuited our system of justice by giving Scooter Libby a get-out-of-jail-free card, thereby eliminating any incentive that he would tell the truth to the prosecutor, guarantees that there is a cloud of suspicion put over the office of the president and makes him potentially a suspect in an ongoing obstruction of justice case,” declared Wilson, adding, “This was a coverup.”
Indeed. Anyone who believes that the justice in this issue is not Lewis “Scooter” Libby being convicted to 30 months in prison for four counts of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements, but President Bush commuting Libby’s prison sentence, is, at best, deluded, or worse, a Conservative idealogue who believes that “Republican” translates to “unerringly moral”. Libby was left off of the hook to remove any incentive he might have to cooperate with Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. With the specter of prison removed, why would Libby talk?
By commuting Scooter Libby’s sentence, President Bush has perhaps laid to rest the investigation into the “outing” of Valerie Plame’s status as a covert CIA operative. We may never know the details now, unless at some future date Libby has a sudden upswelling of morality and decides to clear his conscience.
One has to wonder if on Tuesday night, somewhere in the dark, damp lair of Vice-President Cheney that’s hidden a hale mile underground beneath the White House, President Bush and Vice-President Cheney drank a toast to the successful culmination of their campaign to shut down the investigation into the Plame Affair. One can imagine the maniacally evil laughter that echoed through the hallways as they celebrated snatching justice from the grasp of the courts of law. And one also has to imagine if somewhere in those hallways, a Secret Service agent looked down at his shoes in shame and shuddered.
– Wicasta Lovelace