Three weeks ago CBS News reported that Former White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby was sentenced to 30 months in prison for lying to a grand jury. Katie Couric said, “…even people with friends in high places are not above the law”.
But as it turns out, they are. Yesterday President George W. Bush commuted Libby’s jail sentence using the rationale that the 30 month term handed down was “excessive”.
Here is the CBS announcement from 3 weeks ago:
The following quote comes from Bloomberg.
The reaction was divided along partisan lines. Democrats accused the president of flouting the principle of equal justice under the law, while Republicans praised the decision to commute the sentence of Libby, 56, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.
Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, a candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, said in a statement that it showed the “administration simply considers itself above the law.” Clinton said it “sends the clear signal that in this administration, cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice.”
Other contenders for next year’s Democratic nomination, including Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, also criticized the decision. Obama called it “the legacy of an administration characterized by a politics of cynicism and division.”
Republican presidential hopefuls had a different view. Fred Thompson, a former senator from Tennessee who’s considering a run for the Republican nomination, said he was “very happy for Scooter Libby.” Thompson, who had called on Bush to issue a pardon, said he had “respect” for the president’s move. “This will allow a good American, who has done a lot for his country, to resume his life,” Thompson said.
Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who is a former U.S. attorney, said Bush “came to a reasonable decision, and I believe the decision was correct.”
Libby may appeal his conviction for obstructing justice, perjury and making false statements, which still carries a $250,000 fine and two years of probation. And nothing would preclude the president from eventually pardoning Libby, who also faces disbarment as a lawyer.
Bush issued the commutation proclamation the same day that a three-judge appeals court panel unanimously rejected Libby’s petition to remain free on bail while he appealed the conviction.
A federal jury in Washington found Libby guilty on March 6 of lying to grand jurors and federal agents during Fitzgerald’s investigation into who leaked the identity of Valerie Plame, a Central Intelligence Agency official whose husband had criticized Bush’s Iraq war policy in 2003.
I have every sympathy for Libby if indeed the sentence was too harsh, but I completely disagree with the President stepping in to commute the sentence. This verdict and sentence were handed out by a proper court and Libby’s guilt isn’t being questioned by anyone. As a result one simply cannot assert “well, we grant that he’s guilty… but we don’t want him to have to suffer the consequences”.
If the sentence was too harsh this wouldn’t be the first time, and it won’t be the last. Socrates was put to death for “corrupting the youth of Athens” and although he had the political connections to escape the death penalty he refused because:
“Having knowingly agreed to live under the city’s laws, he implicitly subjected himself to the possibility of being accused of crimes by its citizens and judged guilty by its jury. To do otherwise would have caused him to break his ‘contract’ with the state, and by so doing harming it, an act contrary to Socratic principle.”
Feel free to read dialogues of Plato, more specifically Crito for the details.
I feel like Chris Matthews summed it up best:
Ã¢â‚¬Å“For him to say that the penalty is ‘excessive’ may well be true, but it was the same crime that President Bill Clinton was impeached for by a Republican House of Representatives and in which 50 U.S. senators, Republicans, voted to remove him from office. So Republicans as a party thought perjury and obstruction of justice were sufficient to remove a twice-elected president from office. And now the president is saying that 30 months in prison is an excessive penalty for the same exact crime. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s inconsistent.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“If the president were proud of his decision (and thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s his decision and his right to make it), he would have held something at the Rose Garden. He would have said it in person and not issued a statement on paper. He wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have done it on a 4th of July holiday period with everyone out of town. He would have done it with some flourish and some pride.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Keep in mind that commuting the sentence does not preclude the President’s ability to grant a full pardon later. I’m betting he’ll make that one of the last acts as he’s leaving office. This way Libby won’t go to jail, and later his entire record will be expunged. This just goes to prove that King George W. can get away with anything.
Feel free to read about a billion versions of this story over on Google News. You can also see the actual text of the Grant of Executive Clemency. And if you really, really don’t like it you can feel free to call the White House and share your thoughts at 202-456-1414.