No Pardon Anytime Soon

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Friday, June 15, 2007; 1:34 PM

The White House has officially ruled out the possibility of a presidential pardon for Scooter Libby until he exhausts the appeals process -- a timetable that is all but certain to lead to significant prison time for the former top aide to Vice President Cheney.

U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton yesterday ordered Libby to start serving his 30-month sentence in a matter of weeks. Libby's appeal will presumably take months if not years.

Libby can avoid prison time only if one of two things happens soon: A special panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit overrules Walton and allows Libby to remain free pending appeal; or Bush goes back on his word and grants a pardon while the appeal is still pending. Both are highly unlikely.

White House officials yesterday amplified earlier assertions that Bush is holding off on any action for the foreseeable future.

"Scooter Libby still has the right to appeal, and therefore the president will continue not to intervene in the judicial process," said White House spokeswoman Dana M. Perino. "The president feels terribly for Scooter, his wife and their young children, and all that they're going through."

Here's Tony Snow, asked about a pardon at his press briefing yesterday: "What the President has said is 'Let the legal process work itself out.' We're just not engaging in that right now."

Here's White House counselor Dan Bartlett, asked about a pardon on CNN yesterday: "It is important that the appeals process be able to be exhausted. Scooter and his team [are] going through that right now. And we'll reserve judgment until those appeals are exhausted."

The White House position must be a bit sobering for Libby's ardent defenders -- including those in the vice president's office . Their belief that Libby was railroaded is evidently not shared by at least some people at the highest levels of the White House.

Today's Coverage

Carol D. Leonnig and Amy Goldstein write in The Washington Post: "A federal judge ordered Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff to surrender in six to eight weeks to begin serving his 30-month prison term, increasing the pressure for President Bush to decide soon whether he will pardon the only administration official prosecuted in a White House leak investigation.

"U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton said both the law and his own sense of fairness required that he reject I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby's request to remain free while appealing his conviction for perjury and obstruction of the leak investigation, an approach that could have deferred the pardon question for years. . . .

"Walton also expressed irritation at a six-page brief filed last week by a dozen prominent constitutional scholars urging that Libby remain free pending appeal, on grounds that the prosecution lacked proper legal authority. The brief from the group, which included Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz but was dominated by conservative legal luminaries, including former Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork, was 'not persuasive' and bordered on insulting, Walton said.

"'The submission was not something I would expect from a first-year law student,' a frowning Walton told Libby's new appellate attorney, Lawrence Robbins. 'It appeared to be produced . . . for the sole purpose of throwing their names out there so somehow I'd feel pressure.'"

Neil A. Lewis writes in the New York Times: "In effect, the ruling means that the only thing standing between Mr. Libby and prison is a pardon from President Bush, which Mr. Libby and his supporters are avidly seeking. But Mr. Bush has so far shown no inclination to intervene. . . .

"The final decision led to the stark spectacle of Mr. Libby's leaving the courtroom for the first time not through the public entrance as he had done dozens of times in the past, but escorted in the fashion of a convict out a private door by grim-faced marshals.

"Under federal procedures, the Bureau of Prisons is supposed to review Mr. Libby's case and determine a location for him. Because federal prisoners are supposed to be placed near their homes if possible, Mr. Libby might be sent to a minimum-security prison camp in Maryland, Virginia or New Jersey. . . .

"Mr. Libby's supporters had hoped that he could remain free while his case was appealed and that Mr. Bush might find it more palatable to issue a pardon later in his term, even just before he left office. . . .

"Democratic leaders in Congress have said that any pardon would be improper and a display of favoritism. The discussion among Republicans has been occasionally vitriolic, demonstrating the vexing political situation the Libby conviction has thrown up for Mr. Bush."

James Gordon Meek writes in the New York Daily News: "Cheney is pressing for a pardon, but other Bush advisers are urging the President not to do it, sources told the Daily News."

Timothy M. Phelps writes in Newsday: "Bush, now dipping below a 30 percent approval rating in some political polls, must decide whether to risk what little political capital he has left with a pardon likely to be unpopular with the general public, or risk the outraged ire of conservatives, particularly Libby's fellow neoconservatives, who are among the few who still support him.

"Chief among those presumed lobbying for a Libby pardon is Cheney, one of the most powerful vice presidents in history, who called his top assistant 'a man of the highest intellect, judgment and personal integrity,' even after his conviction for perjury and obstructing justice in the investigation into who leaked the name of former covert CIA agent Valerie Plame to reporters in 2003. If there were any skeletons in Bush's closet, Cheney would probably be able to call them by name.

"'The dilemma the president faces is whether a timely pardon will win him more support than simply throwing Scooter Libby to the wolves,' said Ross Baker, an expert on the presidency at Rutgers University. 'It may be there's a greater risk in the pursuance of the core loyalists like the Cheney people in the party . . . It might well be argued to the president that this is something he ought to put off until the 19th of January, 2009 [his last day in office]. . . .

"But if Bush waits until he is leaving office, Libby . . . might already have spent nearly a year and a half out of his two-and-a-half-year sentence in jail."

Slate's John Dickerson seems to think a pardon is a done deal: "It has always been the view among Cheney loyalists and former Bush administration officials who have followed the case closely that the president would never allow Libby to spend a single day in an orange jumpsuit. The few people who may have held serious conversations with the president about a pardon are staying mum (this is the Bush administration, after all). But those I've talked to who know the president well and have worked for him predict a pardon for two reasons.

"First: Dick Cheney. The vice president may not be winning as many foreign-policy battles as he used to, but Libby's fate is a highly personal matter for Cheney. He will ask Bush for a pardon, and he is unlikely to back down. If Bush resists, Cheney could argue that his close aide Libby should not go to jail while Karl Rove, another key figure in the scandal, has been protected by Bush and the administration.

"The second reason Libby will walk is President Bush's dismal approval rating. The number of people who would be angered by a pardon who haven't already abandoned the president could fit in an airport shuttle bus. Given the conservative defections from Bush over his support of immigration reform, a pardon of Libby -- which would be popular with conservatives -- might actually improve his approval ratings. Libby's conviction is seen as such an outrage among conservatives that one former Bush aide suggested 'the consequences of not pardoning, if Scooter is led away in shackles, will be uglier than pardoning.'"

Gonzales Watch

Dan Eggen writes in The Washington Post: "The Justice Department is investigating whether Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales sought to improperly influence the testimony of a departing senior aide, two of its senior officials said yesterday, adding a new dimension to the troubles already besetting the nation's chief law enforcement official.

"The Justice Department officials, in a letter released yesterday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, said their inquiry into the firings of nine U.S. attorneys includes an examination of a meeting Gonzales held in mid-March with his then-aide Monica M. Goodling, who testified last month that the attorney general's comments during the session made her feel 'a little uncomfortable.' . . .

"Goodling's account attracted attention partly because Gonzales had told Congress that he could not remember numerous details about the prosecutors' dismissals because he had purposely avoided discussing the issue with other potential 'fact witnesses.'

"Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse repeated yesterday a previous statement by Gonzales that the attorney general never sought to influence Goodling's testimony. A White House spokesman also reiterated that President Bush 'fully supports the attorney general,' who this week was the target of an unsuccessful no-confidence vote organized by Senate Democrats."

For the record, here is the transcript from Gonzales's May 10 appearance before the House Judiciary Committee. Chairman John Conyers asked Gonzales: "But tell me -- just tell me -- how the U.S. attorney termination list came to be and who suggested putting most of these U.S. attorneys on the list and why."

Gonzales said he didn't know, and explained: "I have not gone back and spoken directly with [former chief of staff Kyle] Sampson and others who are involved in this process, in order to protect the integrity of this investigation and the investigation of the Office of Professional Responsibility and the Office of Inspector General.

"I am a fact witness, they are fact witnesses and in order to preserve the integrity of those investigations, I have not asked these specific questions."

Stewart Catches Snow in a Lie

The White House press corps let it slide, but Comedy Central's Jon Stewart nailed Snow last night for lying. Here's the video.

Stewart explained that Snow "was adamant months ago that the dismissal of these attorneys had nothing to do with politics."

He rolled video of Snow from March 15, saying: "It's pretty clear that these things are based on performance and not on sort of attempts to do political retaliation, if you will."

Stewart: "So anyway, that was three months ago. Three months later, a dozen subpoenas, six hearings, . . . thousands of released e-mails, it turns out that their performances were actually pretty good. And all signs are now pointing to political motivations. I wonder how the White House is going to reconcile this apparent discrepancy?"

Stewart then rolled video from Wednesday's briefing, at which a reporter asked Snow: "At the beginning of this story, the President, you, Dan Bartlett, others said on camera that politics was not involved, this was performance-based, but --"

Snow's reply: "No, that is something -- we have never said that."

Stewart's audience jeered.

"Oh," Stewart concluded, "you will reconcile that by -- LYING!"

Griffin Watch

One of the fired U.S. attorneys -- Bud Cummins of Little Rock -- was removed to make room for Karl Rove protege Tim Griffin. Griffin, who recently stepped down, gave a talk at the University of Arkansas' Clinton School of Public Service yesterday.

After ruing his decision to enter public service, he briefly addressed allegations that he was involved in "caging" during the 2004 election.

As Dahlia Lithwick recently explained in Slate: "Vote caging is an illegal trick to suppress minority voters (who tend to vote Democrat) by getting them knocked off the voter rolls if they fail to answer registered mail sent to homes they aren't living at (because they are, say, at college or at war). The Republican National Committee reportedly stopped the practice following a consent decree in a 1986 case."

As John Lyon writes for the Arkansas News Bureau, writer Greg Palast has claimed Griffin, former research director for the Republican National Committee, was involved in such a scheme.

Jan Cottingham writes for "Former U.S. Attorney Tim Griffin said Thursday that allegations that he had participated in voter suppression 'are completely and absolutely false,' . . .

"'This is all made up of whole cloth,' he said. 'I didn't cage votes.'"

Here is video of a part of Griffin's denial.

But how, then, to explain these e-mails mistakenly sent to (and then archived by) the spoof site? The e-mails quite clearly show Griffin thanking another operative -- "thank you, perfect," he writes -- for sending him spreadsheets called Caging.xls and Caging-1.xls, both of which seem to contain lists of voters in Jacksonville whose mail was returned.

One Last Interim

Michael Roston writes for Raw Story: "In a Senate Judiciary Committee business meeting Thursday morning, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) revealed that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales once again used an interim appointment authority at the heart of the US Attorneys controversy that Congress banned in a bill sent to the President for signature on June 4."

Said Leahy: "Senator Feinstein's U.S. Attorney bill. . . . repeals that portion of the Patriot Act Reauthorization that had allowed the Attorney General to circumvent advice and consent with respect to U.S. Attorneys. That bill, the Preserving United States Attorney Independence Act of 2007, has been on the President's desk since June 4. It seems he just cannot bring himself to sign it. Instead, we were informed yesterday through the Justice Department that the Attorney General has used the power that we have voted to repeal, again."

Late yesterday afternoon, after the installation of George Cardona as an interim U.S. Attorney in the Central District of California, the White House announced that Bush had finally signed the bill.

Missing E-Mails Found?

Remember all those e-mails the White House said had somehow been deleted?

Thinkprogress reports: "Today, during a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, Leahy revealed that the White House does indeed have the emails, but has yet to turn them over to Congress."

Said Leahy: "We all remember when they first announced to us that significant e-mails that we wanted had been destroyed. They'd been lost. I stated on the floor of the Senate that it's relatively easy to find those lost e-mails. This brought another blast from the White House, saying that I obviously had no understanding of how the Internet works and of course that couldn't be done.

"To their credit, the White House has now told me they -- well, yes indeed, I was right; they were wrong. The e-mails are found. They were there in a backup system, although they have yet to give them."

Immigration Watch

David Espo writes for the Associated Press: "Left for dead a week ago, legislation to strengthen border security while bestowing legal status on millions of illegal immigrants is showing signs of life.

President Bush said on Friday it's time for Congress to act.

"'Each day our nation fails to act, the problem only grows worse,' the president said at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast. 'I will continue to work closely with members of both parties, to get past our differences, and pass a bill I can sign this year.'"

Jonathan Weisman writes in The Washington Post: "Senate leaders, under pressure from pro-immigration groups and facing a determined push by President Bush, agreed last night to bring a controversial overhaul of the nation's immigration laws back to the Senate floor as early as next week. . . .

"The breakthrough was a clear victory for Bush, whose visit to Capitol Hill on Tuesday appeared to come too late to resurrect a measure that had been pulled from the Senate floor five days earlier. . . .

"For his part, Bush sought to reassure conservatives that the controversial bill would provide resources for more effective border control, endorsing a new plan to devote $4.4 billion in fees raised by the legislation to bolstering border surveillance and preventing illegal immigrants from being hired in workplaces.

"'We're going to show the American people that the promises in this bill will be kept,' Bush told members of the Associated Builders and Contractors. . . .

"House Republicans showed no sign of tempering their opposition yesterday, even after senators backed the immediate infusion of funds for border security."

Middle East Watch

Glenn Kessler writes in The Washington Post: "Five years ago this month, President Bush stood in the Rose Garden and laid out a vision for the Middle East that included Israel and a state called Palestine living together in peace. 'I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror,' the president declared.

"The takeover this week of the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group dedicated to the elimination of Israel demonstrates how much that vision has failed to materialize, in part because of actions taken by the administration."

Come September

Eugene Robinson writes in his Washington Post op-ed column: "Here's a surprise: Remember how we were told that if we just waited until the fall, we'd see that George W. Bush's 'surge' was working in Iraq? Well, now it turns out that we shouldn't expect answers in September after all.

"White House spokesman Tony Snow was purposeful on Wednesday in stomping, trampling, tap-dancing upon and otherwise giving a definitive beat-down to any expectations of a serious, fact-based reassessment of Iraq policy in the fall. Never mind that the White House raised those expectations in the first place.

"The September scenario has been a rhetorical mainstay for the administration and its supporters, a major argument for ignoring all the bad news from Iraq and giving Bush's troop escalation a chance to work. Let's wait for Gen. David H. Petraeus, the man who's now running the war, to submit his progress report. At that point, went the White House argument, the 'way forward' would become clear.

"The fog of war seems to have closed back in. 'I have warned from the very beginning about expecting some sort of magical thing to happen in September,' Snow told the White House press corps, whose collective recollection was somewhat different. 'What I'm saying is, in September you'll have an opportunity to have metrics.'"

Robinson concludes: "Facts on the ground have never been the determining factor in Bush's policy on Iraq. Facts don't even seem to be a particularly important factor. It was considerate of Tony Snow to start preparing us for the inevitable -- and, indirectly, to remind congressional leaders that if they want to change the president's course on Iraq, they won't do it through reasoned persuasion. George Bush can't bring himself to question his basic vision of Iraq, and I doubt he ever will."

Dick Polman blogs for the Philadelphia Inquirer that "from Bush's perspective, weaseling out of the September deadline makes perfect sense, because the idea that the political and security conditions in Iraq would suddenly improve, just because the U.S. had commenced a troop escalation, seemed laughable from the start. And, sure enough, the Surge thus far hasn't made any appreciable difference. . . .

"So it's no surprise that Bush, now tagged with a 29 percent job approval rating, is backing off the statement he made in a Reuters interview. . . . At the time, he characterized September 'as an important moment, because (General) David Petraeus says that's when he'll have a pretty good assessment as to what the effect of the Surge has been.' But today, it's a different story."

Petraeus Watch

And what to make of Petraeus?

Thomas E. Ricks writes in The Washington Post: "The Senate majority leader took aim yesterday at the top U.S. commander in Iraq, who until now has received little criticism from Capitol Hill over his statements or performance.

"Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) charged that Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, who took command in Iraq four months ago, 'isn't in touch with what's going on in Baghdad.' He also indicated that he thinks Petraeus has not been sufficiently open in his testimony to Congress. Noting that Petraeus, who is now on his third tour of duty in Iraq, oversaw the training of Iraqi troops during his second stint there, Reid said: 'He told us it was going great; as we've looked back, it didn't go so well.'

"Reid seemed most provoked by an article in yesterday's edition of USA Today, which quoted the general as saying that he sees 'astonishing signs of normalcy' in the Iraqi capital. 'I'm talking about professional soccer leagues with real grass field stadiums, several amusement parks -- big ones, markets that are very vibrant,' Petraeus told the newspaper.

"The general's comments came on the same day that the Pentagon released to Congress a quarterly report on security in Iraq. It said that the three-month-old U.S. counteroffensive in Baghdad has not curtailed overall violence in the country but has instead shifted it from inside the Iraqi capital to places around it."

Susan Cornwell writes for Reuters: "The newspaper Politico reported on Thursday Reid called [Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] 'incompetent.' It said Reid also 'made similar disparaging remarks' about Petraeus during an interview on Tuesday with liberal bloggers.

"At the White House, spokesman Tony Snow seized on the report, although he noted he did not know if it was true."

Here's the transcript from yesterday's briefing.

Mark Silva blogs for the Chicago Tribune: "Snow's sensitivity bordered on hair-trigger anger today, probably reflecting the depth of discontent among his bosses who send him out each day to meet the press -- and reporters at the daily briefing readily took Snow to task for lashing out at a comment from Reid which may or may not have been made. . . .

"Why not wait to find out if Reid's comment is reported correctly before launching a 'pre-emptive strike,' the WH press secretary was asked?

"'Well, I just think it's appropriate to comment on it,' Snow said.

"Whether or not it's true, he was asked?

"'Well, do you trust the Politico?' Snow, a journalist at heart, replied. 'I don't know. I'll give -- we'll give a call.'

"This is the same press secretary always refusing to comment on hypotheticals?

"'Well,' Snow said, 'you got me.'"

Bush on the 'Front Lines'

Also from yesterday's briefing, Ken Herman blogs for Cox News Service: "The White House today equated President Bush's role in the war with that of front-line troops. The comments came in answers from Press Secretary Tony Snow. The questions came from columnist Helen Thomas during today's White House briefing.

"'How many more Americans is he willing to sacrifice to keep this war going?' Thomas asked about Bush, who in a speech earlier today renewed his prediction of increasing U.S. casualties in Iraq in weeks and months to come.

"Snow talked about the dedication of the troops who 'feel that they're part of something very special.'

"'The president wishes that nobody had to die. This is something that is deeply personal. He quite often meets with families of those who have been wounded and killed,' Snow said, adding that 'many, many more people will be washed away in needless bloodshed' if the U.S. does not complete the mission.

"Said Thomas: 'I have one follow-up. . . . Are there any members of the Bush family or this administration in this war?'

"'Yes,' said Snow, 'the president. The president is in the war every day.'

"Thomas said that wasn't her question. She said she meant 'on the front lines.'

"'The president,' Snow said."

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