Scooter Walks

I am greatly annoyed at the President's decision to commute Scooter Libby's jail sentence, and even more annoyed at the hypocrisy of those on the right who think it is a wonderful idea. Some are even angry that Libby isn't getting a full pardon. Be patient - you'll get your wish if his appeals are not successful or the day Bush leaves office, whichever comes first.

The reason Scooter Libby was sentenced to prison is that he intentionally lied to a grand jury. This fact is really not in dispute. Even Libby's defenders concede that he did commit the crime of perjury. Consider what one law enforcement official had to say about the case.

... a jury of citizens weighed all the evidence and listened to all the testimony and found Mr. Libby guilty of perjury and obstructing justice. They argue, correctly, that our entire system of justice relies on people telling the truth. And if a person does not tell the truth, particularly if he serves in government and holds the public trust, he must be held accountable. They say that had Mr. Libby only told the truth, he would have never been indicted in the first place.

This completely correct statement came from President Bush himself. He nonetheless decided that the prosecutor he appointed asked for, and the judge he appointed imposed, a sentence that was much too harsh. He therefore overruled them, having forgot what he said in 1999 when he was governor of Texas and running for president.
"I don't believe my role is to replace the verdict of a jury with my own unless there are new facts or evidence of which a jury was unaware, or evidence that the trial was somehow unfair." Source

Now one could quibble by saying that Bush didn't technically overrule the jury's verdict. Fine. Want to bet that Bush won't go all the way to a full pardon if Libby's appeal isn't successful? Anyway this is a distinction that makes no difference. Bush doesn't do this sort of thing for regular people, only his political cronies.

Some argue that there was no underlying crime. So what? As the president says, our system of justice relies on people telling the truth. We cannot allow people to lie under oath to law enforcement officers and grand juries, for any reason. Period, end of story. Libby lied. Now he should pay the price.

Republicans had no problem understanding this back in 1998 when Clinton lied to a grand jury about his sex life. There was no underlying crime then, either, but it was enough to get him impeached. Even some of Clinton's defenders argued that he could and should face criminal justice after leaving office. Only now, when it is a GOP stalwart in the crossfire, do they decide that perjury is no big deal after all.

The whole affair again reveals what a lawless monarchy the Bush Administration has become. Here's a nice summation:
Tell the American people the core narrative of this monarchical presidency: this president believes he is above the law in wiretapping citizens with no court oversight; he has innovated an explosive use of signing statements to declare himself above the law on a bewildering array of other matters, large and small; he has unilaterally declared himself above American law, international law, and U.N. Treaty obligations in secretly authorizing torture; he has claimed the right to seize anyone in the United States, detain them indefinitely without trial and torture them; his vice-president refuses to abide by the law that mandates securing classified documents; and when a court of law finds a friend of the president's guilty, he commutes the sentence. Source

Once these kind of precedents are established, they don't disappear. Our next president will claim the same privileges. If it's President Obama or Clinton, look for Republicans to suddenly become devoted to the rule of law again. Power is now the only principle left in politics.

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