Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Libby goes free

Man, I shut off the computer for the night, and 30 seconds later Bush commutes Libby's prison sentence. Sometimes I think it's personal.

Here's the White House statement on the commutation. It's a pretty balanced document, but in the end it mostly pays lip service to the arguments favoring at least a short prison stay. He stripped away the 30-month jail term, leaving the $250,000 fine and a lengthy probation term.

Bush made the decision after consulting just a handful of advisors. He explicitly did not consult friends of Libby, who wanted to lobby for clemency. But neither did he consult the Justice Department or the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, as is routine in such cases.

Previously I noted that some clemency was probably warranted, but Libby needed to serve at least some jail time or else the president's political capital would all but evaporate. I still think that's true.

Here's what might have been going through Bush's head:

The White House appeared to be calculating that no matter what he did to keep Libby out of prison, Bush would not make Democrats happy, and if he did nothing, he would infuriate his strongest conservative supporters.

He's probably right about the Dems, but they now have even more reason to be even more opposed to him. Meanwhile, polls show a strong majority of voters didn't want Libby pardoned. They'll view comutation as essentially the same thing, so now Bush has lost them. A large minority felt that the jail sentence was excessive, but also feel that no jail time at all is too lenient. Further along the spectrum, many of his conservative supporters were demanding a full pardon, and consider the partial commutation too little, too late.

As well, hanging over it all is the question of whether Libby is being protected because he lied to protect his superiors in the Plame case.

Had Bush waited to commute Libby's sentence; or commuted it to even six months in jail, he would have demonstrated that actions have serious, tangible consequences -- not a fine that will be paid by well-heeled supporters and a meaningless probation. Yes, Libby has had his reputation smirched. But not in the circles that matter. He will land on his feet, in some silk-stocking law firm or lobbying outfit, and his conviction will simply be a footnote in his biography.

The only part of the sentence with real teeth was the jail term. And Bush has now made that disappear entirely.

It was a poor move, politically, legally and morally. It sends entirely the wrong message, and seems to confirm that the administration considers itself above the law, willing to let the legal system do its work only as long as it reaches a conclusion that the administration likes. This may not be a fair or accurate impression; but Bush has brought it on himself.

Update: Just as a refresher, here's a month-old excellent debunking of five common Libby myths by the Washington Post. The summary: Plame was covert; Libby did leak her identity; there's no solid evidence Rove was involved; Cheney dislikes bad press, however much he might pretend otherwise; and the White House has yet to discipline anyone involved in the leak of Plame's name. (h/t: Centrisity)

Update II: Bush's split-the-difference move has created a small legal kerfuffle. Libby was sentenced to two years of "supervised release" after his prison term, a condition Bush left intact. But in order to qualify for supervised release, a defendant must serve prison time. So what happens now? If the requirement of prison time is clear, I don't think the judge has the authority to make up something to address this situation. So look for Libby's sentence to be modified to unsupervised probation. that leaves the $250,000 fine as the only remaining part of the sentence -- and even that will likely be paid by someone other than Libby.

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4 Comments:

Blogger PatHMV said...

Sean, when you look at the recently history of political-type investigations, few of the targets, at least those who have not been convicted of charges involving financial corruption, have served any time in jail. In the Reagan and Clinton Administrations, how many of those convicted went to jail? Both Clinton and Reagan pardoned or commuted sentences of administration officials. Sandy Berger got no jail time.

On the whole, I think no jail time is appropriate when looked at in that history.

7/03/2007 9:12 AM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

Agreed on the common thread, but I don't think that makes it appropriate; it merely demonstrates that others have acted badly, too. I wasn't too thrilled by Reagan's or Clinton's pardons, either, particularly Iran-Contra (pardoned by Bush the Elder) and the avalanche of last-minute pardons by Clinton.

In earlier musing on the possibility of a Libby pardon, I suggested a good rule would be "no pardons for anyone directly connected, politically or personally, to the president or his administration."

Though given that the president's pardon power is enshrined in the Constitution, the only way to enforce that would be an executive order or a constitutional amendment, which makes it about as likely to happen as a manned mission to the center of the galaxy.

7/03/2007 3:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your suggested rule..."no pardons for anyone directly connected, politically or personally, to the president or his administration" would encompass a LOT of people. And don't forget...this is often exactly the ones who get targeted politically just because of their relationship with the President.

And if Plame was really actually covert and covered under that statute a the time her name was leaked----WHY DIDN'T FITZGERALD ARREST RICHARD ARMITAGE??? He found out early it was Armitage who was the leaker to Novak and asked him to keep quite and he proceeded on his political witchhunt. So why aren't you clammoring for Armitage to be in jail? I'll tell you why. Because most people in their hearts realize there was no underlying crime here. There certainly wasn't obstruction or cover-up on a non-crime.

Actually, Novak found Plame's name by looking it up on "Who's Who." It was clearly listed as the wife of Joseph Wilson.....and Armitage had not mentioned her name, but that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and sent him to Niger.

Hooray for Pres. Bush for doing the right thing. And BTW, Democrats can be as mad all they want. That's no different than it was in December of 2000. Nothing's changed in that respect. If you don't know it by now, you should: Bush does what he believes is right; not what he thinks will help him politically.

JP5

7/03/2007 7:47 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

Your suggested rule... would encompass a LOT of people.

Yep.

And don't forget...this is often exactly the ones who get targeted politically just because of their relationship with the President.

Too bad. It's worse when people doing the president's bidding have a "get out of jail free" card.

And if Plame was really actually covert and covered under that statute a the time her name was leaked----WHY DIDN'T FITZGERALD ARREST RICHARD ARMITAGE???

Because, as has been pointed out repeatedly, for a leak to be a crime, the leaker had to know Plame was covert and deliberately reveal her identity anyway. No one has even suggested Armitage knew -- and he had no motive in any case.

Proving such knowledge is difficult in any case. In the end, Fitzgerald decided he couldn't do so with regards to Libby, Rove or Cheney.

That does not conclusively prove there was no crime. And it has no bearing at all on the justness of Libby's perjury conviction. He lied; he was convicted of felonies involving the lying. He was thus sentenced to jail and a fine.

There certainly wasn't obstruction or cover-up on a non-crime.

How on earth can you say that as if it's established fact?

Libby lied; it's only logical to assume that he lied for a reason. The most plausible reason is that he was covering something up, be it the illegal, deliberate outing of Plame or something legal but embarassing a la the Clinton/Monica scandal.

At the end of the day, a covert agent was outed by the administration. You can claim it was simple incompetence, that they didn't know -- and didn't bother to check -- that she was covert. But we won't actually know if it was stupidity or actual malice unless one of the participants comes clean someday. Either way, though, the administration screwed up.

7/03/2007 8:04 PM  

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