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No Pardon. No Commutation. No Way.

It took FFFH all of one day to gin up a “Free Scooter The Felon” op-ed. At least this morning’s offering isn’t from the usual sources, but honestly, it is unseemly for a former federal prosecutor to be arguing commutation of sentence by a jury of Libby’s peers for undercutting the heart of a criminal investigation into a betrayal of national security secrets. But then again, perhaps that is just my commitment to the Rule of Law and not to the Bush administration’s rule of loyalty talking.

In any case, I found it an incredibly appalling bit of rationalization for conduct that was not only illegal, but also unbecoming of a person to whom so much power and trust was given.

Sidney Blumenthal has a fantastic piece this morning on why, exactly, Libby ought to serve every minute of his sentence in full. To wit:

Unmoved by these letters, Judge Reggie Walton imposed a sentence of two and a half years and a $250,000 fine, and told Libby, “Your lies blocked an extremely serious investigation, and as a result you will indeed go to prison.” Almost immediately, Cheney praised Libby’s “personal integrity,” and added his wish that the sentence will be overturned on appeal: “Speaking as friends, we hope that our system will return a final result consistent with what we know of this fine man.” Thus, Cheney encouraged his former chief of staff to maintain his steadfast refusal to implicate his former boss in the crimes Libby felt compelled to cover up with his lies to the grand jury.To be sure, others convicted of crimes often submit similar testimonials before sentencing. But most of those who throw themselves on the mercy of the court express sorrow at what they have done. Libby, however, refused to show remorse. He offered no contrition, only an exercise in victimhood. Like the child who has killed his parents and demands mercy for being an orphan, Libby tried to murder the truth and then got dozens of people to plead for leniency based on his good character.

The act of procuring these letters is further evidence of Libby’s stove-piping of disinformation. Libby could not reasonably have expected to sway the judge, but there is a higher authority to which he is appealing. These letters constitute the beginnings of the Libby Lobby’s pardon campaign.

Ironically, the longest, most detailed and among the most personal letters supporting Libby is also the most damaging. In “Re: Character Reference for I. Lewis Libby,” Paul Wolfowitz writes, “I am currently serving, until June 30 of this year, as President of the World Bank.” Either obtusely or obliquely, Wolfowitz’s opening line emphasizes the symbiotic nature of their careers, both men having fallen from grace within weeks of each other after years of collaboration. “It is painful for me to reflect on the fact that his life would have been very different if we had never met. He would almost certainly now be a successful attorney in Philadelphia.” Wolfowitz describes their 35-year association, going back to when he was an assistant professor at Yale and Libby was his assistant, and how he recruited Libby to serve as his assistant in the State Department and then in the Defense Department. According to Wolfowitz’s account, Libby was an indispensable man in ending the Cold War, winning the Gulf War and waging the “global war on terror.” But he was also, Wolfowitz writes, of “service to individuals.”

The leading example he offers is a stunning revelation, which does not reflect on Libby’s charity, compassion and sympathy as Wolfowitz might imagine. The story about Libby “involves his effort to persuade a newspaper not to publish information that would have endangered the life of a covert CIA agent working overseas. Late into the evening, long after most others had left the matter to be dealt with the next day, Mr. Libby worked to collect the information that was needed to persuade the editor not to run the story.”

Unintentionally and foolishly, Wolfowitz has hanged the guilty man again. Wolfowitz’s defense of Libby is composed with the same care and skill that Wolfowitz brought to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, creating the opposite effects of what he desired. In this bizarre disclosure, rather than exculpating Libby, Wolfowitz incriminates him; for this story is damning evidence of Libby’s state of mind — that he knew he was engaged in wrongdoing in leaking the identity of a CIA covert operative, Valerie Plame Wilson, to two reporters, Judith Miller of the New York Times and Matt Cooper of Time magazine, and in vouchsafing it to White House press secretary Ari Fleischer for the purpose of his leaking it to the press, which he promptly did.

In their filings and sentence pleading, Libby’s lawyers argued repeatedly that he did not know that Plame was covert, that he did not “knowingly disclose classified material,” and, as his lead attorney, Ted Wells, told the jury in his closing statement, that Libby acted in “good faith,” always believing that he was operating within the law. On Oct. 30, 2006, his lawyers filed a claim denying that “any damage to the national security, the CIA, or Ms. Wilson herself was, or could have been, caused by the disclosure of that status.”

Once again, Wolfowitz has blundered. Just as he has undone himself at the World Bank, this time he has inadvertently exposed Libby’s “good faith” for bad faith. Indeed, the Wolfowitz letter shows that Libby knew the consequences of revealing the “status” of a CIA operative. As evidence introduced in the CIA leak case proved, Cheney had confided the secret to him and ordered him to spread it. But Libby has never mentioned the previous incident of apparently trying to protect a covert CIA operative. If Wolfowitz remembers the story, and it’s credible, so Libby must recall it too. Therefore, he must also have known that his defense was based on false premises contrary to what he understood to be right and how he had acted in the past. He sent his attorneys to court to make a case he consciously knew was wrong from his own prior experience of having protected a national security asset from exposure. One can only wonder if Libby ever told his lawyers the story that Wolfowitz has recounted or whether he misled them, too.

Libby knew — absolutely knew — what his obligations were under his SF-312 agreement for high-level clearance.  As does every other individual who holds one and signs off on the agreement.  No dissemination of classified information, on threat of criminal sanction.  An affirmative obligation to check out each and every bit of information prior to dissemination to be certain that it is not held closely.  And, further, such information is only — ONLY — to be distributed when it is held so closely on a “need to know” basis. 

Not only would he have been aware of that from the multiple times in his governmental service when he would have had to undergo refresher training on the rules and regs — but according to Paul Wolfowitz, Libby took it seriously enough at one point at least to go “above and beyond” to keep such classified information out of the public purvue.  But he did not do so for Valerie Plame Wilson — indeed, he went above and beyond to ensure that such information was disseminated in a calculated and deliberate manner.  And then lied repeatedly about his conduct to federal investigators and under oath to a grand jury, on more than one occasion.

No pardon.  No commutation.  No way.

As emptywheel points out, loyalty to the neocons and the Bushies trumps every other consideration, including in the letters that so many of Libby’s governmental pals wrote to Judge Walton, including a number of people who were implicated in and interviewed and/or deposed or asked to testify throughout Fitzgerald’s investigation.

But for Wolfowitz, who leaked what may have still been a classified document at Libby’s request? For Edelman, who may have suggested the leaking campaign in the first place? For Mayfield, who appears to have been a dutiful functionary trying to limit the circulation of evidence incriminating Dick and Libby?These people have no business calling for leniency. They’re basically calling for the guy shielding their own roles in this case to be rewarded. And doing it, I might point out, all the while emphasizing the virtue of loyalty.

Exactly so. What a tangled web these people weave — not just to deceive the public, but also to continue to deceive themselves into thinking they are full of great deeds and even greater virtues. What a crock. 

Loyalty to one’s friends and one’s political party — and especially to one’s ideological soulmates — should never, ever trump one’s duties and obligations to nation and to the rule of law when one is in such a position of trust and power.  If anything, in that position, an individual has an even greater obligation to live up to the trust placed in them by the public.  That the political cronies and ideologues who populate the Bush Administration, from its lowest functionaries to its highest ranks among the Cheney faithful and beyond, cannot see this is their greatest weakness.  For it is their failure to recognize a duty to something greater than their self-dealing selves that will be the downfall of the modern Republican party.

We are already seeing this in the disaffected disgust that seeps out among Republican moderates and libertarians and the so-called “Reagan democrats” who are sickened once the mist of public relations haze gets wiped away a bit.  All the tap-dancing in the world cannot obscure this fact:  these people are all arguing that a felon, convicted of multiple counts, who abused his position of power to endanger covert national security agents and assets as directed by the Vice President of the United States, a man who was more interested in keeping his public image intact than continuing work on nuclear weapons proliferation in Iran, among other things — that these people are the ones to whom the entire Republican party has been swearing fealty and obedience for the last six years?  They are not to be trusted.  And anyone who says otherwise is not to be trusted either.

The web of lies and half-truths and manipulative machinations has been laid bare for what it truly is:  a raw seizure of as much power as they could hold, for their own purposes, ends justifies the means and the rest of the nation be damned.

There can be no pardon for Scooter Libby.  No commutation of sentence.  And all of the screaming neocons who are so hell-bent on a PR campaign for one know that already.  For in pardoning Libby or excusing him from serving time in prison via commutation of sentence, George Bush would be confirming publicly the one thing that he has been trying so hard to conceal…from himself:  that he does not run things, Dick Cheney does.

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak.  H/T to Swopa for the find.)

UPDATE: Realworld makes a point in the comments that needs to be said out loud here:

I Think the WaPo POC is very clever. What is being suggested is that we take away all real disincentive to obstruction and perjury by commuting the jail time but that we also not pardon him so that he can still take the 5?th. Hmm, I like that, too sophisticated for the MSM to pick up on. A real split the baby strategy except justice gets the diaper.

It is a weasel maneuver from Libby’s supporters to allow Libby to continue to be the Cheney firewall, while never having to pay any price in terms of prison time for doing so. No. Absolutely not. Without a full pardon, Libby would maintain his ability to assert his 5th Amendment privilege, and thus would not be subject to subpoena by Congress for oversight on this issue — as he would still be able to assert the 5th while appealing his sentence. This is an attempted cheat, a stall tactic and a delay — and ought to be called for what it truly is: a manipulation of our system of justice, disrespectful of the rule of law, and an appalling attempt to continue to cover for Dick Cheney at the nation’s expense.

Yesterday, Dan Froomkin had a link to a Bruce Fein op-ed in the Washington Times that was spot on in this regard:

Lewis “Scooter” Libby deserves a stiff prison term to deter his erstwhile Bush administration colleagues, for example, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and White House political guru Karl Rove, from equivocating with Congress and the courts. A stiff punishment is imperative also to honor the rule of law, the nation’s crown jewel.Libby committed his crimes while chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, serving under oath to support the Constitution of the United States. He was a role model for youths because of his position and prestige. His prevarications to the FBI and grand jury were reminiscent of former President Clinton’s perjury and obstruction of justice that occasioned his impeachment by a Republican-controlled House of Representatives. U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton should reject Mr. Libby’s plea for an anemic sentence of probation.

Nothing is as dangerous to the Constitution’s checks and balances and protections against government abuses as a belief among high-ranking officials that they are above the law and may lie or connive with impunity. Associate Justice Louis D. Brandeis sermonized in Olmstead v. United States (1928): “In a government of laws, existence of government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it invites everyman to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.”

Truthful testimony is the lifeblood of the rule of law. Justice John Paul Stevens elaborated in ABF Freight System, Inc. v. NLRB (1994): “False testimony in a formal proceeding is intolerable. We must neither reward nor condone such a ‘flagrant affront’ to the truth-seeking function of adversary proceedings.” Yet Libby, thoroughly schooled in his constitutional obligations, lied to both the FBI and a grand jury during special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation of the leak of Valerie Plame’s CIA nexus. Libby was convicted of false statements, perjury and obstruction of justice. Mr. Fitzgerald, a highly regarded Republican United States attorney, was appointed by then Attorney General John Ashcroft. Libby was not the victim of a political witch hunt.

Fein is a former Deputy Attorney General in the Reagan Administration. He has been a conservative, and one with whom I generally disagree, on a regular basis. But in this, he is spot on: the rule of law is not a convenience, and in our society you cannot simply bursh it aside because your party is, for the moment, in power. If anything, when you hold such a position of power, you ought to hold yourself and be held to a higher adherence to the rule of law — because such scrupulous conduct when you are working on the public’s dime strengthens the reputation of the government as a whole.

Calls for a pardon and/or commutation are an attempt to set aside the basic principles of government in a noblesse oblige return to a pseudo-monarchy wherein loyalty to the crown is rewarded above all else.  No thank you.  No pardon.  No commutation.  No way.

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com