Bush “Commutes” Libby’s Sentence to Zero (2 Updates)

As predicted by almost everyone, including me, Scooter will not spend a single day in jail.

President Bush commuted the sentence of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby yesterday, sparing Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff 2 1/2 years in prison after a federal appeals court had refused to let Libby remain free while he appeals his conviction for lying to federal investigators.

Bush, who for months had sidestepped calls from conservatives to come to Libby’s aid, broke his silence early yesterday evening, touching off an immediate uproar from Democrats who accused the White House of circumventing the rule of law to protect one of its own.

The president announced his decision in a written statement that laid out the factors he had weighed. Bush said he decided to “respect” the jury’s verdict that Libby was guilty of four felonies for lying about his role in the leak of a covert CIA officer’s identity. But the president said Libby’s “exceptional public service” and prior lack of a criminal record led him to conclude that the 30-month sentence handed down by a judge last month was “excessive.”

“Excessive”. For protecting the people who blew an undercover agent’s status and career by lying and destroying evidence, 2 1/2 yrs – out in a year or so on parole – was “excessive”. And this from the man who laughed about signing death sentences in Texas – 152 of them – the leader of a so-called “law-and-order” party.

Zero jail time and two years’ probation for the man who covered up for traitors. I guess we know now that to Bush and the rest of the GOP, “law and order” is just the title of a tv show.

Douglas A. Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University who is an expert on federal criminal sentencing policies, said it is “hypocritical and appalling from a president whose Justice Department is always fighting” attempts by judges and lawmakers to lower the punishment called for under federal sentencing guidelines. Berman said Bush’s message amounted to “My friend Scooter shouldn’t have to serve 30 months in prison because I don’t want him to.”

That about sums it up.

Not that it’s exactly a surprise that the “law and order” crowd thinks laws and punishments apply to everybody but them. That’s been their MO from the beginning. Just recently, CBS reported this (via Digby):

The Bush administration is trying to roll back a Supreme Court decision by pushing legislation that would require prison time for nearly all criminals.

The Justice Department is offering the plan as an opening salvo in a larger debate about whether sentences for crack cocaine are unfairly harsh and racially discriminatory.

Republicans are seizing the administration’s crackdown, packaged in legislation to combat violent crime, as a campaign issue for 2008.

In a speech June 1 to announce the bill, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales urged Congress to re-impose mandatory minimum prison sentences against federal convicts — and not let judges consider such penalties “merely a suggestion.”

IOKIYAR has been their rule since the Gingrich Revolution in ’94. The moment they had power, Pubs excused each other from any and all consequences of wrong-doing – unless they got caught in a highly public way, in which case they were “punished” with minuscule fines and the loss of a minor privilege or two until things quieted down. “Law and order” was for Democrats and Democratic constituencies – for minorities and the poor, for employees and union members. For the privileged class? A pat on the back and a promotion. Scott Horton points out that the right-wing has adopted a Nazi slogan that they stole from Nietzsche.

[T]his episode tells us one of the most deeply guarded truths of the Inner Party of the Neocon movement, namely: the ends justify the means. That is, to accomplish a goal accepted by the Inner Party, you are entitled to do anything—break the law, by all means, and indeed set the law into oblivion if you can. That explains the fate of the Geneva Conventions, which were, alas, simply inconvenient—they got in the way of the notion that no rules can stand between us and the accomplishment of our objectives. For the Nietzschean Neocon man (let’s call him Übermensch or perhaps even better, Scooter Libby), there are no rules; they exist for the people of the herd. And that explains the indignation when the rules for the herd are applied against Scooter.

(emphasis in the original)

At Salon, Tim Grieve notes that “even the lawlessness was lawless”.

The Department of Justice maintains published standards for clemency orders like the one George W. Bush gave Scooter Libby Monday.


Did the president follow any of these guidelines in commuting Scooter Libby’s prison sentence Monday? Not so far as we can tell. He didn’t refer the case to the Department of Justice pardon attorney, who therefore didn’t consult with Patrick Fitzgerald and didn’t ask for an opinion from Judge Reggie Walton. And Bush granted Libby’s request — wait, did Libby even make a request? — before Libby began serving his sentence and while he was still challenging his conviction.

Why didn’t Bush follow the guidelines set by his own Justice Department — guidelines that were meant to put into action the rules laid down by presidential executive orders? Maybe he didn’t know they existed. As the Washington Post reports today, the president’s gift to Scooter Libby represents the first time he has ever commuted a sentence without consulting the Justice Department at all.

Also at Salon, Glenn Greenwald explains why the pardon “commutation” was inevitable.

That Lewis Libby has been protected by George Bush from the consequences of his crimes only highlights how corrupt and broken our political system is. It reveals nothing new. This is the natural, inevitable outgrowth of our rancid political culture, shaped and slavishly defended by our Beltway ruling class and our serious, sober opinion-making elite.

The disasters and rampant lawlessness and fundamental erosion of our country’s political values and institutions are exactly what Fred Hiatt and David Broder and Time Magazine and Tim Russert and Tom Friedman and the New Republic geniuses have spent the last six years protecting, enabling and defending. We have the country we have — one in which our most powerful political leaders are literally beyond the reach of the law in every sense, where we casually invade and bomb and occupy countries that have not attacked us, where our moral standing in the world has collapsed with good reason, where we are viewed on every continent in the world as a rogue, dangerous and lawless nation — because we are ruled by a Beltway elite and political press that is sickly and cowardly and slavish at its core.

That Dick Cheney’s top aide, one of the most well-connected neoconservatives on the planet, is protected from the consequences of his felonies ought to be anything but surprising. That is the country that we have. It is a result that is completely consistent with the “values” that define official Washington. No other outcome was possible.


In response to this most audacious declaration of Presidential Omnipotence, our Sober Guardians of Political Wisdom shrugged. Those who objected too strenuously, who used terms such as “criminal” and “lawlessness” or who raised the specter of impeachment — the tool created by the Founders to redress executive lawbreaking — were branded as radicals or impetuous, unserious partisan hysterics. The only crime recognized by official Washington is using impetuous or excessively irreverent language to object to the lawbreaking and radicalism of the Leader, or acting too aggressively to investigate it. That is the only crime that triggers their outrage.


What kind of country do we expect to have when we have a ruling Washington class that believes that they and their fellow members of the Beltway elite constitute a separate class, one that resides above and beyond the law? That is plainly what they believe. And we now have exactly the country that one would expect would emerge from a political culture shaped by such a deeply insulated, corrupt and barren royal court.

In Federalist No. 70, Alexander Hamilton described the defining power of the King which made the British monarchy intolerably corrupt: “In England, the king is a perpetual magistrate; and it is a maxim which has obtained for the sake of the public peace, that he is unaccountable for his administration, and his person sacred.” Thomas Paine proclaimed in Common Sense “that so far as we approve of monarch, that in America THE LAW IS KING.” But little effort is required to see how far removed we now are from those basic principles.

(emphasis in the original)

If the Libby pardon “commutation” doesn’t finally prove beyond any doubt that we have an autocratic, even despotic, govt that has no respect for law, only a respect for their “right” to twist the law to suit themselves and an appreciation for how the law can be used to eliminate their enemies, then we have in effect forfeited all right to call America a democracy.

This action is incontrovertible evidence that what we now live in is a plutocracy where the privileged class runs things to suit itself – including elections – and considers the rest of us “commoners” – not to say “peons” – who exist to be exploited and abused for the enrichment of the plutocrats’ bank accounts.

We’ve lost our democracy and it isn’t going to be easy to get it back.

Update: I ought to have mentioned that Bush’s “commutation” is a transparent attempt to have it both ways: to appease right-wing pundits who’ve been screaming for a pardon on specious grounds (House Pub Whip Roy Blunt ran through the usual, patently false RW TP’s – “The prison sentence was overly harsh and the punishment did not fit the crime. The sentence was based on charges that had nothing to do with the leak of the identity of a CIA operative.” I’d like to know how he figures that.) and at the same time dodge the firestorm everybody knew a pardon would generate.

Adam Liptak, charter member of the NYT’s Bush Enablers Club, takes a shot at defending his boss by splitting legal hairs.

A commutation lessens the severity of the punishment. A pardon excuses or forgives the offense itself.

Mr. Bush commuted Mr. Libby’s 30-month sentence, for obstruction of justice and perjury, saying it was excessive. But he left in place two years’ probation and a $250,000 fine.

He did not disturb the underlying conviction. To the contrary, Mr. Bush said in a statement, “The consequences of his felony conviction on his former life as a lawyer, public servant and private citizen will be long-lasting.”

That means Mr. Libby’s appeal of his conviction and his remaining sentence can continue. The original sentence was within the range called for by federal sentencing guidelines.

Had Mr. Bush pardoned Mr. Libby, it would have been easier for Mr. Libby to rebuild his life. Mr. Libby’s ability to practice law, for instance, may be affected by the fact that Mr. Bush chose to commute his sentence rather than pardon him.

There you go. You have the word of America’s newspaper-of-record that Bush is personally making sure that Libby will be severely punished by maybe not being able to practice law again, and what more could you dirty liberals ask?

The mainstream US press apparently has no more shame than the Bushies themselves.

Update the Second: Paperwight of Paperwight’s Fair Shot reminds us that Bush I did the same during the Iran/Contra mess.

Bush 43: Commutes Scooter Libby’s prison sentence, removing Scooter’s incentives to rat out the rest of the Bush 43 gang of criminals.

Bush 41: Pardons Caspar Weinberger, Robert McFarlane, Elliott Abrams, three CIA staffers involved in Iran-Contra and the subsequent cover-up, terminating a prosecution that was climbing the Reagan Administration hierarchy.

The parallels are remarkable…

Indeed. Word-for-word, excuse-for-excuse, you could say. Go see for yourself.

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