Defendants in criminal cases involving lying are taking note of President Bush's defense of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, convicted felon who will now serve no time behind bars. The Alberto Gonzales Justice Department wants to throw the book at Democrats and decorated veterans, but appears to want special treatment for Republicans accused of similar crimes. We get some serious snark from Digby on the agony of President Bush as he seeks to decide between commuting Libby's sentence and between full pardon. Hint: If Libby is fully pardoned, he cannot "take the Fifth" if brought up to Congress to testify about the Valerie Plame Wilson case. If his sentence is "merely" commuted, he can still claim that he risks self-incrimination by speaking about it. The WaPo did a "Clinton accused" special on impeachment and the intent of the Founding Fathers in constructing the President's pardon powers. James Madison assured his fellow framers that "[I]f the President be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person, and there be grounds [to] believe he will shelter him, the House of Representatives can impeach him; they can remove him if found guilty. . ."
Dan Froomkin of the WaPo is collecting a list of questions to ask at press conferences about the commuting of Libby's sentence. One very good one is "When did [Bush] find out that Karl Rove and Libby had both leaked Plame's identity? Before or after he vowed that any leakers would be fired? Did anyone lie to him about their role? Why didn't he fire them?" Froomkin's email address.
A strongly pro-Bush article in the NY Times raises many more questions about the purposes of the commutation. The author comments several times about how unusual the case was and how unprecedented Bush's actions were. Question: If Bush felt that Libby's sentence was "excessive," why wait until long after the verdict to say so? Libby was sentenced on 5 June. President Bush commuted his sentence on 2 July. Funny, but I don't remember Bush commenting that Libby's sentence was too harsh until he needed to cast about for a reason to free a crony of his.
Update: Tony Snow, the President's Press Secretary, said: "The president believes pardons and commutations should reflect a genuine determination to strengthen the rule of law and increase public faith in government."
Fine words, but his actions did precisely the opposite. His action in commuting Libby's sentence demonstrated that no such determination had been made, that it weakened the rule of law and that it decreased the public's faith in the government.
"Presidents have customarily commuted sentences only when someone has served substantial time." As Libby didn't serve as much as a single day, it's hard to credit Bush's explanation that he merely considered Libby's sentence to be excessive. BTW, the usual sentence for the obstruction of justice charge is 70 months. Libby was scheduled to serve 30.
Finally, just how much concern has Bush shown towards those appealing for pardons? Answer: Not much. The question of special favors, of a quid pro quo, is very much alive.