Monday, July 02, 2007

Libby Extravaganza

As per Mike's request, I'm putting in my two cents about Bush's recent commutation of Scooter Libby's sentence. There are a whole lot of angles to this. I'll try to at separate them out a bit.

The "Political" / Public Opinion aspect
Bush's approval numbers are in the basement. He's not going to lose anybody by commuting Libby's sentence. In fact, his numbers might actually go up a little. With the amnesty debacle, the base has been more than a little upset with Bush, and this might make some amends. Influential elements of the conservative base have been begging for some relief for Libby, including the editorial staff at National Review and The Weekly Standard - probably the two most important conservative periodicals. (I am a current NR subscriber and a former Standard subscriber.)

Bush is well within his Constitutional authority. So why not grant Libby some relief?

The Justice and Rule of Law aspect:

--Libby was convicted of a crime--

There are quite a few background facts about this case that color public debate, but do not directly address the issue of Libby's crime. First, Libby did not leak Valerie Plame's name to Robert Novak. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald knew this very early on in the investigation, and also had determined that prosecuting the act of leaking the name was difficult to impossible, leaving one to question whether a crime had actually been committed at all. The investigation should have ended at this point. For reasons known only to Fitzgerald, it did not. The untrue and/or contradictory statements Libby made occurred after the investigation should have already concluded.

Now to the question of whether Libby was justly convicted of this crime. It is beyond my current knowledge of the case to say whether Libby intentionally lied to the prosecution, that is, whether he actually committed the crimes of perjury and obstruction of justice. What I do know from media reports is that virtually everybody involved in the case gave contradictory statements, most notably several witnesses for the prosecution who contradicted themselves and other witnesses. Valerie Plame herself is on the record giving massively contradictory statements to Congress regarding her role in selecting her husband for his infamous investigation in Niger. Given this, I was a little bit surprised that Fitzgerald got a conviction. But that's our system. So, let it ever be known that I. Lewis Libby was convicted of a crime.

Given his conviction, was Libby fairly sentenced? No. Libby's sentence was significantly higher than that recommended by court officials and higher than sentencing guidelines. Somehow, Fitzgerald was able to convince the court that the severity of the non-existent crime that Libby was convicted of covering up warrants throwing the book at him. That's nuts.

For some comparison, former Nat'l Security Adviser Sandy Berger was caught red-handed and subsequently pleaded guilty to stealing and destroying documents from the National Archives during the 9-11 Commission investigation. (Remember this the next time you see somebody interviewing Berger on TV.) He got a $50k fine, two years probation, 100 hrs community service, and a temporary loss of his security clearance. Libby, on a malicious prosecution, a questionable verdict about the cover-up of a non-crime was sentenced to a $250k fine and 30 months in prison.

This is the point when the conservative base started making serious noise about the Libby issue. It was at this point the idea was floated of a commutation (if not a pardon), particularly if the judge ordered Libby's prison sentence to begin before the appeals process was complete.

Even after the commutation, Libby's conviction is still on his record, and he's still stuck with his quarter million dollar fine and two years probation. And the utter ruin of his life.

Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame get to go on being heroes, perpetuating their lies about how Wilson allegedly proved a negative over a refreshing cup of tea, and how Plame had nothing to do with the selection of her husband to go to Niger despite her recorded Congressional testimony to the contrary.

I'd say, despite their protests about Libby's commutation, the Democrats won this round.


Anonymous said...

A quick thanks before I go read the post in depth. I'd rather get a measured response than a knee-jerk "THIS IS AN OUTRAGE!" from certain other blogs I know...

Sockless Joe said...

I hadn't planned on discussing the Libby clemency since everybody seems to have done it to death already, and I honestly don't see this as a super-huge deal in the grand scheme of things. There were events in Iraq yesterday that warranted top story more than this Libby stuff.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, but to be perfectly candid, I never ran into a single source which didn't seem to be howling for Libby's blood. Thing is, none of those sources ever presented a convincing argument as to *why* we needed his blood. At the same time, I have a lot of trouble trusting this administration, so the commuted sentence felt sour, and I didn't know if that was justified.

What happened in Iraq? Blog, Joe, blog! (See Joe blog).

Sockless Joe said...

I hate to sound paranoid, but the mainstream media is rather biased. Not biased in an "opposite of Fox News" way, but still biased. I think 99% of the bias is a product of groupthink - a somewhat innocent artifact of the fact that most journalists are left of center. Basically, you don't hear anybody defending Libby because there isn't anybody there inclined to do so.

Defending Libby would also entail questioning the conventional wisdom about every aspect of the Plame scandal. (This ties into the reason why the public needs Libby's pound of flesh.) Conventional wisdom is (1) that Joe Wilson was sent by Cheney to investigate the Niger connection, (2) that Wilson had in fact proved a negative regarding the yellow cake investigation, (3) that Libby, Karl Rove and the W-House in general were out to "smear" Wilson through his wife, (4)callously exposing a "covert" agent, in order to (5) cover up Bush's lies about WMD in order to get us into Iraq.

Given conventional wisdom, I'd want Libby waterboarded just for fun.

But conservative media would argue that (1) Plame got her husband the gig, as per her own Congressional testimony as well as the testimony of others, (2) Wilson proved a negative? (3) Well, yes, if by "smear" you mean "to expose the lies in his NYT op-ed", (4) and it is quite a stretch to say that Plame was "covert"; and (5) As per Colin Powell on MTP (previous blog post), the administration didn't lie, it was just wrong.

Sockless Joe said...

Also, what's up in Iraq:
"Officials: Captured Hezbollah agent helped plan deadly Karbala raid"

"Iran 'baring its teeth' in Afghanistan, officials say"

Clearly we need to negotiate more with Iran.

lunkhead said...

Good post. I would have preferred a full pardon, and I hope Bush considers that down the road.