When President Bush issued holiday pardons for 19 miscreants past and present on Tuesday, former Cheney chief-of-staff Scooter Libby wasn't among them. But with the two year campaign by right-wing pundits, GOP politicos and even Republican White House hopefuls now reaching a crescendo, Libby may yet get his slate wiped clean by the outgoing President. And to be sure, nothing in George W. Bush's past statements would suggest the Plamegate felon won't get the same Weinberger treatment the President's father offered the Iran-Contra crowd this week 16 years ago.
The drumbeat to save Scooter started anew on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal. While Libby was convicted for perjury and obstruction of justice in the investigation into the retaliatory outing of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame, the Journal portrayed the criminal as martyr and the President's July 2007 commutation of Libby's sentence as a "half measure." Bush, the WSJ argued, should undo the "injustice inflicted" on Libby:
The judgment by a Washington, D.C. jury was more a verdict on the Bush Administration than it was about the confusing facts of Mr. Libby's alleged deceit. The Plame affair was a proxy for the larger political dispute over Iraq, and Mr. Libby became the Beltway sacrifice. By trumpeting his guilt, critics were able to impugn Mr. Bush's policies by insisting the President had "lied us into war"...
...In this dark episode, an honest man became the fall guy in a larger political war over the war. Mr. Libby deserved better -- and Mr. Bush owes it to Mr. Libby, and to future occupants of the White House, to give him a full pardon.
Writing in U.S. News, reliable Republican mouthpiece Michael Barone regurgitated the Journal's dishonest plea to rehabilitate Libby from the taint of his own law-breaking.
Writing on the same day Murray Waas revealed Vice President Cheney's essential role in authoring White House talking points to deflect Ambassador Joseph Wilson's damning July 2003 charges about bogus claims of Iraq seeking uranium in Niger, Barone announced, " Libby was a dedicated and hypercompetent public servant who was brought down by a prosecutor investigating a scandal that wasn't a scandal." (Conservatives, of course, would learn to love U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald when his target was Illinois Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich.) Barone concluded by begging, "please, Mr. President, pardon Scooter Libby."
Of course, these are just the latest salvos in the right-wing war to liberate Libby that began long before his conviction in March 2007 and sentencing that June. And as is usually the case, it was Weekly Standard editor and New York Times columnist Bill Kristol who was leading the charge.
"Bush should pardon Libby. He should do it now. It would be fantastic. The Democrats would go crazy."
In March 2007, Kristol argued that President Bush needed to come to Libby's defense because "Fitzgerald will keep repeating that there's a cloud over the White House." Anything less than a pardon, he insisted, would "demoralize his supporters":
"Not to pardon him and to go into a defensive crouch, which is where the White House is now, is to leave that cloud hanging over his White House and over the war."
When Bush ultimately issued his commutation and erased Libby's 30 month prison sentence that July, Kristol lauded the President's "courageous decision." Blasting "all the screaming and yelling" from Americans opposed to the commutation as "ridiculous," Kristol proclaimed Libby should not serve time in jail "for having a different recollection about a conversation with Tim Russert, which is the only thing he was indicted or convicted on."
Of course, Kristol was far from alone in the Republican jihad to free Scooter. On March 6, 2007, Kristol's fellow-traveling editor at the Weekly Standard Fred Barnes demanded a pardon for Libby because the Cheney chief-of-staff "didn't really seriously impede the investigation." In the summer of 2007, virtually all of the Republican presidential candidates called for Bush to pardon Libby. (Chief among them was Fred Thompson, an advisor, fundraiser and spokesman for the Scooter Libby Legal Defense Fund.) And Congressman Darryl Issa (R-CA) went so far as to accuse Valerie Plame herself of perjury, charging:
"I believe that his wife will soon be asking for a pardon. She has not been genuine in her testimony before Congress, if pursued, Ambassador Wilson and Valerie will be asking to put this behind us."
As for President Bush, nothing in his past comments about the Libby imbroglio suggest a strong aversion to a pardon before exiting the stage on January 20.
After all, Bush while discussing the leak of Plame's identity on October 7, 2003 stated that "I don't know if we're going to find out the senior administration official." When Libby was indicted on October 28, 2005, President Bush responded to his subsequent resignation by announcing, "We're all saddened by today's news" and heaped praise upon the soon-to-be convicted felon:
"Scooter has worked tirelessly on behalf of the American people and sacrificed much in the service to this country. He served the Vice President and me through extraordinary times in our nation's history."
After Libby was sentenced in June 2007, President Bush did not bemoan either his crimes or the betrayal of the American people. Instead, Bush repeatedly lamented "a sad day for him, and my heart goes out to his family."
But it was Bush's statement of executive clemency on July 2, 2007 which revealed his inclinations over Libby's fate. While proclaiming Patrick Fitzgerald "a highly qualified, professional prosecutor who carried out his responsibilities as charged" and his own "respect [for] the jury's verdict," Bush gave short shrift to those who "argue, correctly, that our entire system of justice relies on people telling the truth." Instead, Bush emphasized the straw-man arguments of Libby's conservative apologists:
"Critics of the investigation have argued that a special counsel should not have been appointed, nor should the investigation have been pursued after the Justice Department learned who leaked Ms. Plame's name to columnist Robert Novak. Furthermore, the critics point out that neither Mr. Libby nor anyone else has been charged with violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act or the Espionage Act, which were the original subjects of the investigation. Finally, critics say the punishment does not fit the crime: Mr. Libby was a first-time offender with years of exceptional public service and was handed a harsh sentence based in part on allegations never presented to the jury."
For its part, the White House made clear that President Bush may still have more pardons up his sleeve. "I think the president has maintained his authority to do that until," spokesman Tony Fratto said Tuesday, "until his last day as president." Until that time, Bill Kristol, the Wall Street Journal and their allies among the conservative chattering classes will keep up their 30 month campaign (ironically, the same duration as Libby's original sentence) urging Bush to pardon Scooter Libby.
(This piece is crossposted at Perrspectives.)