Update: Bush’s Gift of Libby’s Clemency: Bush and Cheney Walk, Too

Scooter Libby

Update: More on Bush’s Unprincipled Commutation of Libby’s Jail Sentence

Nearly Half of U.S. Public Wants Bush Impeached

A survey by The American Research Group found that 45 percent support the US House of Representatives beginning impeachment proceedings against Bush, and a 54-40 split in favor when it comes to Cheney.  Nearly half of the US public wants President George W. Bush to face impeachment, and even more favor that fate for Vice President Dick Cheney, according to a poll that came out on Friday.  The study by the private New Hampshire-based ARG canvassed 1,100 Americans by telephone July 3-5 and had an error margin of plus or minus three percentage points.  The findings are available on ARG’s Internet site.  The White House declined to comment on the poll, the latest bad news for a president who has seen his public opinion standings dragged to record lows by the unpopular war in Iraq.

The US Constitution says presidents and vice presidents can be impeached — that is, formally charged by the House — for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” by a simple majority vote.

Conviction by the Senate, which requires a two-thirds majority, means removal from office.

Bush’s Commutation of Libby’s Jail Sentence is Unprincipled

In Slate, John Dickerson expresses disbelief about White House statements, “White House aides insist that the president didn’t start his deliberation process with the premise that Libby would never go to jail.  They insist the president made his decision based on the merits.  The evidence they offer, however, doesn’t support that case.  All the sleight of hand and dissembling makes the opposite one.”

Edward Lazarus makes a legally well-reasoned case for why there is simply no principled or coherent defense for Bush’s commutation of Libbby’s sentence.  Whatever your views about the case, the underlying crime and the prosecution, you cannot get past certain facts about the commutation process.  Lazarus concludes that:

“Bush’s failure of justification is damning.  Commutation, especially in a high-profile and politically-charged case, is a serious undertaking.  It is an unreviewable act that has the extraordinary effect of exempting a single individual from the usual application of the law.

Here, the presiding judge, a Republican, deemed the evidence of Scooter’s guilt to be overwhelming.  Moreover, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals, including two Republicans, has concluded that Scooter has no substantial issues on which to base an appeal.

Against this backdrop, Bush bears the burden of showing that his act of commutation served an aspect of fairness and justice that would be otherwise slighted in Scooter’s case.  Absent such a rationale, the commutation must be seen as one of three things (or some combination of any of three): a decision simply to substitute Bush’s sense of justice for that of the court’s; an act of political and personal loyalty; or, more nefariously, an attempt to insure Scooter’s silence.

To varying degrees, all three possibilities point to an Administration that considers itself above customary legal constraint – a consistent and dangerous theme for this Administration.  Since I write this on July 4, it seems only fitting to describe this as un-American – or at least hostile to the America we desire to be.”

Edward Lazarus is a former federal prosecutor who writes about, practices and teaches law in Los Angeles.  You can read his entire article here at FindLaw.

President Bush Commutes Prison Sentence of I. Lewis Libby

The New York Times has reported that:

“Before commuting the prison sentence of I. Lewis Libby Jr., President Bush and a small circle of advisers delved deeply into the evidence in the case, debating Mr. Libby’s guilt or innocence and whether he had in fact lied to investigators, people familiar with the deliberations said.

That process, in weeks of closely held White House discussions, led to the decision to spare Mr. Libby from a 30-month sentence rather than grant a pardon.  But Mr. Bush, defending the move Tuesday, left the door open to a pardon in the future.

I weighed this decision carefully,” the president told reporters after visiting wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  “I thought that the jury verdict should stand.  I felt the punishment was severe, so I made a decision that would commute his sentence but leave in place a serious fine and probation.  As to the future, I rule nothing in or nothing out.”

The decision has resulted in a storm of criticism, as well as a new investigation on Capitol Hill.  Representative John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan and Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, announced on Tuesday that he would hold a hearing next week to examine “the use and misuse of presidential clemency power” for executive branch officials.”

Bush’s commutation of Libby’s 30-month prison sentence for perjury and obstruction of justice is seen by many observers as a decision made on the grounds of political expediency in an impetuous attempt to cling to his remaining hardcore base for the remainder of the 18 months in office, no matter how politically damaging it will prove to be to his legacy, or to Republican prospects in upcoming elections.  It was also seen as essential in order to sustain Libby’s deliberate concealment of information that could directly implicate Cheney, and perhaps Bush himself.

The exclusive rationale that Bush has offered for the clemency, that Judge Walton’s sentence was “excessive,” is plainly a fabrication.  Clearly to the contrary, the sentence falls squarely within the normal guidelines for such a crime.  “The sentence in this case was imposed pursuant to the laws governing sentencings which occur every day throughout this country,” said Patrick Fitzgerald, the Special Prosecutor.  “In this case, an experienced federal judge considered extensive argument from the parties and then imposed a sentence consistent with the applicable laws.”  The only thing that is unusual or exceptional about the length of the sentence is the defendant who received it.

It was not the judge who went beyond limits of the sentencing guidelines.  It is Bush who has violated federal standards for commutations, which have established that a convicted person must have served some time before actually being eligible for an act of clemency.  Bush’s disingenuous claim to faithfully be following the law masks his own disregard for the law in the name of benevolence and mercy.

Angry Reactions to Bush’s Action

Here is an overview of some of the reactions of outrage and disappointment over the president’s decision to commute the 30-month prison term of Vice-President Cheney’s former Chief of Staff:

Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald released a statement that argued, “The sentence in this case was imposed pursuant to the laws governing sentencings which occur every day throughout this country.  In this case, an experienced federal judge considered extensive argument from the parties and then imposed a sentence consistent with the applicable laws. “

Senator Barack O’Bama sharply censured Bush’s action, issuing this immediate statement: “This decision to commute the sentence of a man who compromised our national security cements the legacy of an Administration characterized by a politics of cynicism and division, one that has consistently placed itself and its ideology above the law.”

Obama’s First Reaction to the Commutation News

In a telephone interview Tuesday evening, Senator Hillary Clinton strongly denounced Bush’s directive.  Clinton claimed that, “This (the Libby decision) was clearly an effort to protect the White House….There isn’t any doubt now, what we know is that Libby was carrying out the implicit or explicit wishes of the vice president, or maybe the president as well, in the further effort to stifle dissent.”

One national poll summarizing immediate reactions to Bush’s decision found that most Americans were opposed to the decision to commute Libby’s sentence, with 60% stating that the judge’s prison sentence should have been left intact.

Conservative columnist Andrew Sullivan wrote in The Atlantic, “If you needed a reason to rid Washington of the president’s corrupt party, you just got one.  Get angrier.”

Sanford Levinson argued in The New Republic that Bush’s act exposes the “mendacity and corruption at the heart of the Bush administration….No one should doubt that we are in a constitutional crisis.”

In Salon, Sidney Blumenthal characterized Bush’s commutation of Libby as “the ultimate obstruction of justice in the Plame affair.”  The headline for Blumenthal’s column is a fairly accurate portrayal of what seems to be the general opinion about Bush’s act: Bush and Cheney Walk, Too.

During his July 3rd, 2007, broadcast of “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” on MSNBC, Keith Olbermann presented the following as part of his Special Comment:

“We enveloped our president in 2001. And those who did not believe he should have been elected — indeed those who did not believe he had been elected — willingly lowered their voices and assented to the sacred oath of nonpartisanship.

And George W. Bush took our assent, and reconfigured it, and honed it, and shaped it to a razor-sharp point and stabbed this nation in the back with it.

Were there any remaining lingering doubt otherwise, or any remaining lingering hope, it ended yesterday when Mr. Bush commuted the prison sentence of one of his own staffers.

Did so even before the appeals process was complete.  Did so without as much as a courtesy consultation with the Department of Justice.  Did so despite what James Madison — at the Constitutional Convention — said about impeaching any president who pardoned or sheltered those who had committed crimes “advised by” that president.

Did so without the slightest concern that even the most detached of citizens must look at the chain of events and wonder: To what degree was Mr. Libby told, “Break the law however you wish — the president will keep you out of prison”?

In that moment, Mr. Bush, you broke that fundamental compact between yourself and the majority of this nation’s citizens, the ones who did not cast votes for you.

In that moment, Mr. Bush, you ceased to be the president of the United States.  In that moment, Mr. Bush, you became merely the president of a rabid and irresponsible corner of the Republican Party.”

Keith Olbermann’s Special Comment: J’Accuse

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