By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, June 7, 2007; 1:16 PM
An avalanche of newspaper editorials today is urging President Bush not to pardon I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former vice presidential chief of staff sentenced to two and a half years in jail this week for obstructing justice in the CIA leak investigation.
"No pardon for Libby," proclaims the Los Angeles Times: "A pardon would be bad politics, deep injustice and an insult to the nation. Libby was convicted of a serious crime and sentenced in accordance with federal guidelines. President Bush has no legitimate reason to disturb that sentence. . . .
"Libby's apologists also are recycling an argument from the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s, when the special prosecutor who pursued Oliver L. North was accused by defenders of the Reagan administration of 'criminalizing policy differences' over Nicaragua. But Libby faces prison not because he was an architect and promoter of the war in Iraq. As a high government official, he lied to agents of that government; he did so to foil a prosecution. As he well knew, that was a crime, and one for which he deserves to go to prison."
"No pardon for Libby," proclaims the Chicago Tribune: "Bush should steer clear of this matter. First, because he has a conflict of interest -- Libby was serving the political interests of the administration when he committed his crimes. Second, because a pardon would be as indefensible as some of the pardons Clinton issued as he exited the White House.
"Bush shouldn't add to the taint -- now or in the final days of his term."
"No pardon for Libby," proclaims the Seattle Times: "A presidential pardon for I. Lewis Libby would grievously compound the abuse of power that led to obstruction of justice and perjury convictions for Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff. . . .
"A presidential pardon sends one cynical message: Powerful, well-connected people can lie with impunity. The administration behaved as if it were above challenge and rebuke."
USA Today writes: "Pardoning Libby would send a message that it's OK to attempt to thwart the criminal justice system if you're an important player in Washington. Washington already sends enough messages of that sort.
"A pardon would also say that people who work for the White House are above the law if they think they're doing the president's bidding, because the president could always let them off the hook."
The San Francisco Chronicle writes: "Clearing Libby [would suggest] a final payoff in a political bargain: He takes the fall without naming others and in the end receives a pardon that keeps him out of prison.
"What you can do: Contact the White House and urge the president not to pardon Libby. You can deliver a comment through the White House Web site: www.whitehouse.gov/contact/.
Newsday writes: "The spin that Lewis 'Scooter' Libby got a raw deal with prison time and a hefty fine for lying to investigators probing the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame is ludicrous. Truth is the raw material of justice. Without it there's no way to reliably convict the guilty or exonerate the innocent. Lying to authorities is serious business, something that Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, had to know. He did it anyway, so now he's a convicted felon, the same as those who never wore white collars or reported to work at the White House."
The Denver Post writes: "Americans are increasingly concerned about the real toll of death and destruction in Iraq, so the Libby case may seem a sideshow to many. But Judge Walton did the right thing, and we hope the president does as well."
The Milwaukee Journal and Sentinel writes: "Yes, the truth matters. For that and other reasons, the president should resist any temptation to pardon Libby."
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram writes: "The public doesn't have a good answer as to why this highly intelligent, loyal, self-effacing, diligent man would subvert the truth. But the evidence showed that he did. And a pardon would sanction expediency, lawlessness and disrespect for the judicial process."
The Albany Times-Union writes: "Mr. Libby's apologists are trying to make him out to be a victim of overzealous prosecution.
"Their desperate arguments go something like this: How could Mr. Libby really have obstructed justice, as Judge Walton said he almost certainly did, when no one was ever even indicted for the crime of outing Ms. Plame?
"The reality, though, is that the crimes for which Mr. Libby was convicted -- false statements, perjury and, yes, obstruction of justice -- impeded special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation of the leak that exposed Ms. Plame. . . .
"The leniency Mr. Libby's loyalists seek for him would undermine confidence in the judicial system. Respect for the law must come before empathy for the man and his painful fall from grace. Mr. Libby has to serve his time."
The Day of New London, Conn, writes: "If President Bush were to pardon him now, it would send a chilling message to Americans that powerful people are above the law. They're not. They must follow the rules just like other people are expected to.
"It would also send a message to others in this and future administrations that if they lie to protect higher ups, they can bank on the redemption of a presidential pardon. . . .
"If [Bush] bows to the pressure of Mr. Libby's friends, particularly Vice President Cheney, and overrides the sentence via a pardon, it will be a travesty and further erode faith in the Bush White House.
"Mr. President, please don't let us down again."
The New York Times came out against a pardon yesterday.Alternately
As I noted in yesterday's column, What About the Rule of Law?, the National Review, the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) and William Kristol of the Weekly Standard all demanded a presidential pardon yesterday.
So did the New York Post, which writes: "President Bush should end Libby's personal agony -- an agony he publicly professes to feel, and almost certainly does -- and not wait until he's about to leave office or until Libby prevails on appeal.
"Pardon Scooter Libby.
The Orange County Register writes: "As one of the major behind-the-scenes architects -- from his position as Vice President Cheney's chief of staff -- of the lamentable war in Iraq, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby has a great deal to answer for, whether in the depths of his conscience or in the annals of history. For the crimes of which he was convicted in March, however, it is outrageous that he has been sentenced to 30 months in jail and a fine of $250,000. . . .
"President Bush should pardon Scooter Libby immediately and end this politically motivated farce."Yet to Be Heard From
The Washington Post.On the Op-ed Pages
Federalist Society member William Otis writes in a Washington Post op-ed, suggesting a third way: "Scooter Libby should not be pardoned. But his punishment -- 30 months in prison, two years' probation and a $250,000 fine -- is excessive. President Bush should commute the sentence by eliminating the jail term while preserving the fine. . . .
"To pardon Scooter Libby would not be consistent with the imperative that the mechanisms of law be able to demand, and receive, the truth. But to leave the sentence undisturbed would be an injustice to a person who, though guilty in this instance, is not what most people would, or should, think of as a criminal."
Libby supporter Victoria Toensing writes in a USA Today op-ed: "Patrick Fitzgerald abused his prosecutorial powers when he indicted Scooter Libby for a faulty memory. The only remedy is a presidential pardon.
"From the day he took office as the unsupervised special counsel, Fitzgerald knew that Richard Armitage had first revealed to Robert Novak the fact that the spouse of administration critic Joe Wilson worked at the CIA. He also knew that Libby had never spoken to Novak about Valerie Plame.
"Any non-obsessed prosecutor would have closed the investigation at that moment."Fitzgerald, In His Own Words
Fitzgerald, clearly taking the grand-jury secrecy rules to heart, has been exceedingly tight-lipped about the whole case. He's not exactly writing op-eds to defend himself.
But he did address the concern that Toensing raised in his press availability on the courtroom steps immediately after the jury reached its verdict in March.
Here's the exchange, as captured by CNN:
"QUESTION: You've received a lot of criticism in the last couple months, because Rich Armitage had come forward and said he was the first leaker, that you knew that at the beginning.
"Do you think this now justifies your investigation? And what do you have to say to those critics?
"FITZGERALD: I would say this: It's not the verdict that justifies the investigation, it's the facts.
"If people would step back and look at what happened here, when the investigation began in the fall of 2003, and then when I got appointed special counsel at the end of December 2003, what is now clear is what we knew at that time.
"By that point in time, we knew Mr. Libby had told a story that what he had told reporters had come not from other government officials but from reporter Tim Russert.
"It's also now public that by that point in time the FBI had learned that, in fact, Tim Russert did not tell Mr. Libby that information. In fact, Tim Russert didn't know it. Tim Russert could not have told him.
"And for us, as investigators and prosecutors, to take a case where a high-level official is telling a story that the basis of his information wasn't from government officials but came from a reporter, [when] the reporter had told us that was not true, other officials had told us the information came from them, we could not walk away from that.
"And to me, it's inconceivable that any responsible prosecutor would walk away from the facts that we saw in December 2003 and say, 'There's nothing here; move along, folks.'
"And one responsibility we have as prosecutors is we cannot always explain what we do, why we charge or why we don't charge. But at the end of the day, if we look you in the eye and say, 'We made a decision: Charges are not appropriate,' we have to feel comfortable ourselves that that's the case.
"And none of us on the team can walk away from what we knew in December 2003. . . .
"And so we've brought charges, we went to trial and we've proved the case. So we think the facts justify themselves."Politically Motivated?
I should add that there is no evidence that Fitzgerald -- a Republican appointee -- was in any way motivated by politics. At least not by anti-Bush politics.
One could easily make the argument, in fact, that Fitzgerald could have cost Bush his re-election had he chosen to do so. Even one or two pre-election leaks out of his office -- letting the public know, for instance, that Libby and Karl Rove did indeed talk about Plame to reporters despite their public denials -- could have had a dramatic effect on the campaign. But unlike independent counsel Kenneth Starr, Fitzgerald and his staff kept to themselves.
Heck, I'd even bet that a lot of other prosecutors would have indicted Rove.The Pardon Battle
Jim Rutenberg writes in the New York Times: "A pardon for Mr. Libby would attract more painful attention to a case from which Mr. Bush had managed to keep his distance for more than three years, a case inextricably linked to the flawed intelligence used to justify the Iraq war and an administration effort to discredit a critic that ultimately exposed a C.I.A. officer. The Democrats who control Congress would be none too pleased, either.
"A decision not to pardon Mr. Libby would further alienate members of Mr. Bush's traditional base of support in the conservative movement, a group already angry about his proposed immigration policy, his administration's spending and his approach to Iran. . . .
"A conservative with close ties to the administration, who requested anonymity to speak frankly, put it another way: 'Letting Scooter go to jail would be a politically irrational symbol to the last chunk of the 29 percent upon which he stands,' a reference to the low percentage of Americans who tell pollsters they support Mr. Bush. . . .
"A former senior administration official with his own ties to the case said Mr. Libby had failed to meet the general standard for a pardon by not showing contrition or serving any time. This official also noted that Mr. Libby had also been found guilty of lying to investigators, the same offense that led to the impeachment of Mr. Clinton.
"The former official, who requested anonymity to speak frankly about the president, said: 'It would show a deep disregard for the rule of law if he was to do it right now, when there has been no remorse shown by a convicted felon and no time has been served. How's this going to fit in his long-term legacy?'"
Rutenberg also noted Bush's one brief comment on the Libby matter in his roundtable discussion with reporters with him in Germany yesterday: "It wouldn't be appropriate for me to discuss the case until after the legal remedies have run its course," Bush said.
Writes Rutenberg: "He cut off a reporter's follow-up question on a possible pardon by moving on to another reporter, Terence Hunt of The Associated Press, who changed the subject to the new tensions with Russia. 'Nice going, Terry,' Mr. Bush said."
Sidney Blumenthal writes in Salon about all those letters Libby supporters wrote to the court: "Libby could not reasonably have expected to sway the judge, but there is a higher authority to which he is appealing. These letters constitute the beginnings of the Libby Lobby's pardon campaign."
If my Live Online discussion yesterday is any indication, a lot of you are poring through those letters yourselves.Timing Watch
Bush has repeatedly (and indefensibly) said he would not comment about the CIA leak investigation until it concluded. By his definition, that period now extends until all of Libby's appeals have been exhausted.
But if you take White House spokeswoman Dana Perino at her literal word, then what she said on Tuesday means that if Bush were to pardon Libby, it wouldn't happen until then either. "[G]iven the fact that the judge has set up a process for appeal and given the way that the President has handled this for the past year or so, he's not going to intervene," she said.
Since the appeals may last for months, and Walton is widely expected not to let Libby remain free on appeal, that means that any pardon would not come until well after Libby reports to prison.Some History
Susan Jo Keller offers up a history of controversial presidential pardons in the New York Times.
Bush, so far, has avoided any pardons that would make that list.
Former U.S. pardon attorney Margaret Colgate Love writes in a Los Angeles Times op-ed: "Bush has been more sparing in his exercise of the constitutional pardon power than any president in the last 100 years, including his father. He has pardoned only 113 people in more than six years in office and denied more than 1,000 pardon applications. He has granted only three of more than 5,000 requests for sentence reduction from federal prisoners. Many hundreds of applications remain to be acted on. . . .
"Bush's pardons have not only been few in number, but they have been remarkably unremarkable. Not one of his grants has been even remotely controversial, an amazing accomplishment at a time when every presidential action is subject to intense scrutiny and may be used as fodder for partisan advantage.
"For a president who has been willing to stretch his other constitutional powers to the limit and beyond, Bush has proved strangely hesitant to exercise the one power that is unquestionably his alone."
Here are some examples of the kinds of people Bush has pardoned in the past.About Reggie B. Walton
Richard B. Schmitt writes in the Los Angeles Times: "That Walton would put the Bush administration in an uncomfortable position of having to consider a politically charged pardon for Libby is highly ironic: The 58-year-old jurist was one of the first appointments that Bush made to the federal bench in October 2001, a prime example of a new law-and-order mentality that the administration wanted to infuse in the courts.
"'Bush wanted people to know that "I appoint tough guys to the bench," ' said Roscoe Howard, the U.S. attorney in Washington during Bush's first term. 'They appointed him just for what he did to Scooter; they were just not expecting it to happen to Scooter.' . . .
"The 2 1/2 year sentence was within the range of guidelines that the Bush administration has created and espoused for federal judges to follow to ensure that defendants are punished the same regardless of the judge hearing their case. The administration and Republican members of Congress have admonished other judges who give defendants a break under the guidelines -- as lawyers for Libby sought Tuesday when they asked Walton to give him probation only."Cheney and the Warrantless Wiretapping
Dan Eggen writes in The Washington Post: "Vice President Cheney told Justice Department officials that he disagreed with their objections to a secret surveillance program during a high-level White House meeting in March 2004, a former senior Justice official told senators yesterday.
"The meeting came one day before White House officials tried to get approval for the same program from then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, who lay recovering from surgery in a hospital, according to former deputy attorney general James B. Comey."
Richard B. Schmitt writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Vice President Dick Cheney blocked the promotion of a Justice Department official who had raised questions about the legality of a secret administration surveillance plan during an unusual standoff with the White House in 2004, Senate investigators were told Wednesday.
"The objections raised by the former official, Patrick Philbin, helped persuade the Bush administration to make changes in the National Security Agency program, but not before Philbin was denied a promotion by Cheney, former Deputy Atty. Gen. James B. Comey said in written answers to questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee. . . .
"Comey previously said that Philbin had been denied a promotion because of his role in the surveillance dispute.
"He said in the written testimony that it was Cheney who led the opposition, and that the vice president had made his views known to Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales, who apparently did not pursue the promotion.
"'I understood that someone at the White House communicated to Attorney General Gonzales that the vice president would oppose the appointment if the attorney general pursued the matter,' Comey wrote. 'The attorney general chose not to pursue it.'"
Ari Shapiro reports for NPR that Comey's new information "puts not just high level staffers but the vice president himself at the center of this. Many people have been dumbfounded that Gonzales and Card tried to get a sick John Ashcroft to override Comey. . . . This meeting shows for the first time that not only White House aides but the vice president himself dealt with Comey directly about this matter, and then later punished one of the Justice Department officials involved in it. . . .
"There are two big questions. One is, Who was it who sent Gonzales and Card to the hospital room that night in March? Was it President Bush? Was it Vice President Cheney? Was it someone else altogether?
"And then the second big unanswered question is, What did this program look like, that the Justice Department thought was illegal in the first place? . . . President Bush has publicly described what the program looked like after the Justice Department changed it -- after the standoff, so they were convinced the program was legal. But we still don't know what this program looked like originally, that James Comey, Patrick Philbin and even John Ashcroft objected to."
See my May 16 column, High Drama -- and High Crimes? for more on Comey's story.Bush and Putin Stand Down?
Jennifer Loven writes for the Associated Press: "Russian President Vladimir Putin, bitterly opposed to a U.S. missile shield in Europe, told President Bush on Thursday that Moscow would drop its objections if the radar-based system were installed in Azerbaijan. . . .
"Appearing together before reporters, the president spoke before Putin and did not mention the alternative presented by his Russian counterpart. He only said that Putin 'had some interesting suggestions.'"
Caren Bohan writes for Reuters: "After meeting U.S. President George W. Bush at a Group of Eight summit, Putin said through a translator that if Washington and Moscow cooperate transparently on missile defence 'then we'll have no problems.'"On Climate Change
Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes for the New York Times: "As leaders of wealthy nations converged Wednesday on a Baltic Sea resort for their annual meeting, the White House effectively derailed a climate change initiative backed by one of President Bush's strongest European allies, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.
"The White House said it would hold firm against concrete long-term targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a major priority for Mrs. Merkel, the host of the Group of 8 meeting. . . .
"After lunch with Mr. Bush, Mrs. Merkel seemed to concede -- without explicitly saying so -- that her plan was off the table.
"'There are a few areas here and there we will continue to work on,' she said, standing side by side with the president outside an elegant white castle on the grounds of the Kempinski Grand Hotel. When Mr. Bush turned to her and said he has 'a strong desire to work with you' on the issue, the chancellor pursed her lips."
Here's Bush's view of how to address climate change, from his joint appearance with British Prime Minister Tony Blair today: "And I told Tony that we're deadly earnest in getting something done; this is serious business. And the fundamental question is how best to send proper signals to create the technologies necessary to deal with this issue."Loser in GOP Debate
Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post: "If there was an unexpected loser in Tuesday's Republican presidential debate, it was President Bush and his administration's record.
"The Republicans criticized their Democratic opponents, but more surprising was that, on issue after issue, they systematically shredded the president's performance over the past four years. Iraq? Badly mismanaged. Katrina? Bungled. Immigration? The wrong solution. Federal spending? Out of control.
"At times it got personal."Shocked!
Jon Ward and Ralph Z. Hallow write in the Washington Times: "President Bush did not intend to single out his conservative supporters for criticism in a speech on immigration reform last week and was 'surprised' that his remarks angered Republicans, White House spokesman Tony Snow said yesterday.
"'He was surprised by the reaction,' Mr. Snow said of Mr. Bush's speech in Glynco, Ga., last week. 'The speech in Georgia was, 'We've got a serious problem, and we need to fix it.' It was not in any way designed to be pointed at Republicans.' . . .
"Some Republicans on Capitol Hill said that Mr. Bush seemed to be questioning their patriotism, and several conservative activists said the president was splitting the Republican Party by insulting those who have been his most loyal supporters."Froomkin Watch
Due to a child care issue, I'm taking tomorrow off. The column will resume on Monday.Cartoon Watch
Tom Toles on Bush and Putin; Mike Luckovich on Bush and the GOP.
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