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Papers roundly condemn Bush on Libby

As has been noted here on POLJUNK and elsewhere, most of the country is responding to Bush's commutation of the Libby sentence with dismay and condemnation. This morning, the editorial boards at many of the country's papers take the president to task for his actions. But what can we really expect from this administration? Faithful execution of and adherence to the law, and its spirit? Now you're just talking crazy...

Anyway, here's what some of the country's papers are saying on the topic:


The New York Times - Soft on Crime:

Judging from his decision yesterday to commute the 30-month sentence of I. Lewis Libby Jr. — who was charged with perjury and convicted — untarnished ideals are less of a priority than protecting the secrets of his inner circle and mollifying the tiny slice of right-wing Americans left in his political base ... Presidents have the power to grant clemency and pardons. But in this case, Mr. Bush did not sound like a leader making tough decisions about justice. He sounded like a man worried about what a former loyalist might say when actually staring into a prison cell.

Washington Post - Too Much Mercy:

We agree that a pardon would have been inappropriate and that the prison sentence of 30 months was excessive. But reducing the sentence to no prison time at all, as Mr. Bush did -- to probation and a large fine -- is not defensible ... But Mr. Bush, while claiming to "respect the jury's verdict," failed to explain why he moved from "excessive" to zero. It's true that the felony conviction that remains in place, the $250,000 fine and the reputational damage are far from trivial. But so is lying to a grand jury. To commute the entire prison sentence sends the wrong message about the seriousness of that offense.

San Francisco Chronicle - Trumping the rule of law:

In commuting the sentence of former White House aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby, President Bush sent the message that perjury and obstruction of justice in the service of the president of the United States are not serious crimes.

Never mind the president's words about our system of justice relying on "people telling the truth" -- and that those who don't "must be held accountable." His bottom-line action speaks louder than all the platitudes and caveats in the president's statement.

And we'll round it out with this quote from the Dallas Morning News:

Nearly a decade ago, a GOP-led House impeached President Bill Clinton for lying under oath and obstructing justice in a civil deposition. Yesterday, a Republican president commuted the sentence of former top White House staffer Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who was convicted of the same thing in a criminal investigation.

Republicans are known for being tough on crime. Apparently there's an exception when the criminal is a member of President Bush's inner circle.

If there's only one thing you can say about Bush and his administration, it's that they're consistent - consistently hypocritical, obstructionist, and contemptuous of the rule of law. This is just another case in point. Impeachment, anyone? Anyone? Bueller?


Just another shamelessly bald-faced move from the worst presidential administration in our country's history. It's a shame when the president tells you that he doesn't give a fuck what you think about his actions.

I think it is a crying shame that you democrats are whining about the commuting of Mr. Liddy. After all, Did Bill Clinton spend anytime in jail when he perjured himself during his impeachment for his lewd behavior while in the Whit House? No he didn't. He and the democrats didn't care obvioulsy how he shamed our country. And you are worried about G. Gordon Liddy not spending time for a lie??? Get Real

So who wants to tell Kitty that G. Gordon is off the hook this time, and that Lewis "Scooter" LIBBY is in the cross hairs of we Democrats' ire. And we all thought Emily Litella had retired... ;-)

Of course Bill Clinton was acquitted by congress and G. Gordon Liddy DID go to prison for his crime, but what's a few details between friends?

Kitty, I have to wonder whether you believe in our legal system? What almost removed a twice elected President from office is suddenly "a little lie?" That table turns mighty quick.


I can't tell if you're trying to make a joke with your comment about G. Gordon Liddy, or if you're just a typical misinformed "conservative." (If it's the former, your delivery needs work.) For fun, I'll assume the latter.

If you want to understand why the commutation of "Scooter" Libby's sentence is a far more serious matter than anything Slick Willie was involved in, check out Mike Visser's recent post above regarding the constitutional crisis.


Also, Clinton was impeached for actions that really had nothing to do with the functionality of government. It was the product of sex-starved Republicans in search of a scandal. I don't recall Clinton being sentenced to jail. Did anybody pardon Clinton?

Libby was, however, sentenced to jail. Bush's decision to overrule the courts, in contrast to the Clinton case, sets a dangerous precedent that basically puts the presidency above the law. This is especially odd coming from Republicans who used to care so much about law and order.

If you want to see what a true conservative has to say, check out Andrew Sullivan's thoughts in the article below.


And don't get me started on who has "shamed" this country.

Jude, what are you smoking and can I have some?

A constitutional crisis? Putting the presidency above the law? Have you read the Constitution. The power of presidential clemency is one of the most explicit portions of the President's powers under the Constitution. Whether he should or shouldn't have commuted (not pardoned) Libby is one thing, but whether he can is not at issue. Only people bereft of the most basic of civil education think that.


I have to take issue with your statement that "[o]nly people bereft of the most basic of civil education" think that Bush and his administration have created what could be termed a constitutional crisis. Sandy Levinson, who wrote the article on the constitutional crisis referenced here, is a professor of law and government at the University of Texas at Austin. Whether you agree with his analysis or not, I'd wager that he has a better understanding of our republican form of government than anyone posting or commenting on this blog.

Your argument is one that the right has attempted to make in a couple of areas related to the constitutional authority of the president. While the Constitution does provide for pardons by the president, that doesn't mean that the power can't be abused by an over-reaching executive. Which is exactly what happened here. It is quite clear that Bush commuted Libby's sentence to keep him quiet and also signal to other Bushies who might be prosecuted at some point in the next year that they can also expect clemency. So they can keep their mouths shut about what this lawless administration has done while in office. Same goes for the U.S. Attorney purges. The president has the constitutional authority to appoint and replace U.S. attorneys. But that doesn't mean he can't abuse the power - which is exactly what he and Fredo did with their mid-term purge for political reasons.

And of course, if we substituted Bill Clinton for George Bush, and assigned the same behavior to Clinton, the right would be apoplectic over the same behavior.


"The power of presidential clemency is one of the most explicit portions of the President's powers under the Constitution."

Right you are. Hence the crisis. I'm not going to pretend that this is the first time a president has granted clemency or a pardon to a crony, but the message is clear; Bush Administration officials are accountable to nobody, and especially not to the justice system. An unscrupulous administration could easily cite pardon powers and other executive privileges to effectively establish an autocratic regime immune to the rule of law. This administration is well on its way to achieving this; hell, the other day Dick Cheney virtually declared himself his own branch of government.

Conservatives went into hysterics when Clinton issued pardons at the end of his term, especially the Marc Rich pardon. http://archives.cnn.com/2001/ALLPOLITICS/02/28/clinton.library/

Conservatives were right to raise a fuss over Marc Rich, but they see nothing wrong with suspending justice when it is one of their own on the hook. The hypocrisy is staggering.

It's one thing to issue a pardon in a case where a genuine miscarriage of justice has occurred. It's quite another to simply issue get-out-of-jail-free cards to your friends. Look for a full pardon of Libby in the next few weeks.

Jude, Mike2

You can't have a constitutional crisis when exercising powers explicitly granted by the Consitution!
That's like saying that because our taxes are too high, the Congress has caused a crisis. You may disagree with the amount of taxes levied against the people, but the Constitutional crisis doesn't exist.

Secondly, I'd be very interested to hear your analysis of the Libby situation. Why was he charged? Why was he even interviewed? Don't you think it a bit strange that Fitzgerald even approached Libby considering the knowledge of the leaker, the reason Fitzgerald was supposedly investigating, was already known. The leaker was Armitage. Case over. There was no need to even talk to Libby. Now, he may have obstructed justice (I think his memory was understandably shoddy, but he was probably being unduly opaque as well) which is why I support him paying a fine and having a record.

Whay was he charged? He lied to the FBI and prosecutors and lied under oath to the gran jury. This isn't a complex case, it's a simple perjury and obstruction case.

As far as why he was interviewed, it was the same reason the President and Vice President faced interview: they were material witnesses to the alleged crime. The original investigation was prompted by the CIA filing a complaint to the DOJ that one of their covert agent's (the CIA's designation, by the way)cover had been compromised. It had been compromised by AT LEAST two leakers, later identified as Armitage and Rove. In interviewing White House staff, Fitzgerald ran into multiple roadblocks, including those put up by Libby's lies.

The idea of his simply having a faulty memory was dismissed by the jury and upheld by the Republican-dominated appeals court who denied Libby's request to remain free while on bail.Those judges found it unlikely that the verdict would be overturned.

Mind you, Libby didn't just "forget" events, he told detailed versions of events (like his conversation with Tim Russert) that turned out to be completely fabricated.


I'm interpreting "constitutional crisis" as being a situation where, as you point out, the constitution grants a power that can be employed to undermine justice. It is basically a giant loophole. Perhaps "constitutional paradox" would be more appropriate.

Do think that when the Constitution was written, the intent was to create a power to correct faults in the justice system, since it is not perfect, or was the intent to create a safety net for presidents' political allies?

If it was clear that the leaker was Armitage, then who or what was Libby trying to protect by obstructing justice?

Thanks for your thoughts, by the way. I appreciate challenging debate.

Mike, thanks for keeping the discussion going. It's an important topic, worth discussing. Just to be clear, I was referencing a piece by Sandy Levinson, where he is asserting we are in the midst of a constitutional crisis. But I do agree with his assertion.

Here's how Wikipedia defines a constitutional crisis:

"A constitutional crisis is a severe breakdown in the smooth operation of government ... Most commonly, constitutional crises involve some degree of conflict between different branches of government ..."

Well, that's exactly what we have going on here. Because of the Bush administration's lawlessness, in this area and others, the 110th Congress is (finally) exercising its constitutional oversight role. But it's running into roadblocks from the White House every step of the way. Regarding the Libby commutation, the House Judiciary Committee is planning hearings on the presidential power to grant clemency. Here's a statement from the committee, via Raw Story:

"In light of Monday’s announcement by the president that he was commuting the prison sentence for Scooter Libby, it is imperative that Congress look into presidential authority to grant clemency, and how such power may be abused. Taken to its extreme, the use of such authority could completely circumvent the law enforcement process and prevent credible efforts to investigate wrongdoing in the executive branch."

Also, the judge in the case said on Tuesday that the relevant sentencing law, strictly interpreted, does not allow for commuting a sentence unless a portion of it has actually been served.

So here we have members of the two other branches of government - judicial and legislative - questioning the legality of an act by the executive, albeit for different reasons.

Sounds like a constitutional crisis to me.

Under your definition, the Supreme Court striking down legislation passed by Congress and signed by the President is a constitutional crisis because they thwarted the efforts of two branches. (And keep in mind, the power of judicial review is even less explicitly granted than the exec's ability to grant clemency. judicial review was granted to the Court by itself in Marbury v. Madison.) Another example would be the Congress overturning the veto of the Executive Branch.

As to whether the Framer's wanted this, I going to go out on a limb and say that you in your normal affairs you're not an ardent "original intent" buff (I'm going to bet that you're in favor of a living constitution) so we can save each other this sort of posturing. The Founders created a power that allows the Executive branch to grant clemency - period. There is no loophole, when you are exercising an expressed power. A loophole is "a means of escape or evasion; a means or opportunity of evading a rule, law, etc." The ultimate law of the land is the Constitution, so if a power expressly granted is being exercised, there is no loophole being exploited. Again, you're upset about the action, but you can't question his ability.

Thanks for the nice comments.

I am actually going to agree with New Mike here. I don't think there's a constitutional crisis at all, even though I completely disagree with Bush's actions. To me, it's clear as day that he has the authority to grant pardons and commute sentences for ANY reason.

Just the same, there's a strong cloud of suspicion around why President Bush would break character and pardon a former staffer who is accused of lying to protect the President and/or Vice President. Legal or not, it stinks to high heaven.


Perhaps it is a semantic trap that I find myself in. I recognize that you are right in that the president can pardon whomever he wants for any reason at all. He could pardon Charles Manson for that matter. Perhaps the root of my problem with Libby's sentence commutation is that I feel that it cheapens the whole system. Not that Bush is alone in doing so (see the Marc Rich pardon). Libby got off for no reason other than that he was connected.

RE: "Under your definition, the Supreme Court striking down legislation passed by Congress and signed by the President is a constitutional crisis because they thwarted the efforts of two branches. (And keep in mind, the power of judicial review is even less explicitly granted than the exec's ability to grant clemency. judicial review was granted to the Court by itself in Marbury v. Madison.) Another example would be the Congress overturning the veto of the Executive Branch." - Here your'e talking about the process of creating legislation (or the rejection of legislation). The powers of clemency allow a president to override existing legislation in specific cases. Again, I understand that the president has this power, but it seems that Bush has played a bit fast and loose here. (Not that I really expected otherwise - what does Bush have to lose at this point?)

BTW, I learned today that Libby has "paid" the $250,000 fine. I'm sure there was no shortage of donations to his legal defense fund. So he basically gets a free pass. Now he can write the book and clean up. (sigh)

Thanks for the conversation, Mike.

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