Monday, July 02, 2007

I guess I'm just naive

So Bush pardoned Scooter Libby the same day the judgment came down that he would not be able to stay out of jail while his appeal was in the works. I was honestly surprised. Not that he would pardoned, really, but that it seems so political -- blatantly political -- without any regard to whether this is for the benefit of the country or not.

I guess perjury and obstruction of justice aren't all that serious when it comes to the rule of law, after all.

UPDATE: Both David and prarie biker mention in the comments that this commutation is significantly different from an actual pardon. I disagree. There were three components to Libby's punishment: probation, a $250,000 fine, and 30 months of jail time. The jail time has now been reduced to zero.

The fine is also meaningless. Libby's defense fund was as high as $4 million a little while ago. Even if the lawyers devour all of that, raising another $0.25 million should be all that difficult for him. I doubt he will actually pay a penny of the fine. That leaves just the probation as his punishment. Big deal. As long as he doesn't drive with a suspended license, he's being punished less than Paris Hilton.

prarie biker's comparison to Sandy Berger isn't particularly apt, either. Berger did not "steal and destroy classified information" from the National Archives. He took copies of classified documents in preparation of his testimony before Congress. At worst, what he did was a security risk, there was no crime against the public interest.

A letter writer at the NY Times I think put it quite eloquently:

When George W. Bush was governor of Texas, he presided over more than 150 executions. In more than one-third of the cases — 57 in all — lawyers representing condemned inmates asked then-Governor Bush for a commutation of sentence, so that the inmates would serve life in prison rather than face execution.

Some of these inmates had been represented by lawyers who slept during trials. Some were mentally retarded. Some were juveniles at the time they committed the crime for which they were sentenced to death.

In all these cases, Governor Bush refused to commute their sentences, saying that the inmates had had full access to the judicial system.

I. Lewis Libby Jr. had the best lawyers money can buy. His crime cannot be attributed to youth or retardation. He has expressed no remorse whatsoever for lying to a grand jury or participating in the administration’s effort to mislead the American people about the war in Iraq. President Bush’s commutation of Mr. Libby’s sentence is certainly legal, but it just as surely offends the fundamental constitutional value of equality.

Because President Bush signed a commutation, a rich and powerful man will spend not a day in prison, while 57 poor and poorly connected human beings died because Governor Bush refused to lift a pen for them.

Bush wouldn't pardon inmates who's lawyers slept through their trials, yet Libby gets off. There's just something fundamentally wrong about that.


David said...

Scooter wasn't pardoned. King George commuted his sentence. A lame distinction, perhaps... but still an indication that while this administration thinks they can get away with a lot, they're realizing they can't get away with everything anymore.

So, Scooter's conviction stands and he still owes the fine. For whatever that's worth in the long run.

Narc said...

I'm not so sure. I realize this wasn't technically a pardon, but I think it's largely a distinction without a difference.

Note that this means that, if Libby is called to testify before Congress, he will be able to take the Fifth, since he can still appeal the rest of his sentence.

prairie biker said...

It's a huge difference. Essentially, having his sentence commuted only allows Libby to stay out of jail. As David said, he is still a convicted felon with a $250K fine to pay.

If you look at it from the context of a comparison with Sandy Berger who plead guilty to stealing and destroying classified documents from the National Archives, maybe their sentences should have been more similar. Or not, Berger's offense was only a misdemeanor for which he received a $50K fine.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not defending Libby for lying during the investigation, but 3 years jail time is very steep for a first offense. And to not allow him to remain free on bond during appeal is almost unheard of for a non-violent offender.

David said...

The thing is, I don't think the pardon is off the table; it's just been hidden under the tablecloth for a little bit. Watch for Libby's to be part of that flurry of pardons that seems to appear during a President's final days in office.

prairie biker said...

Actually, Berger took 5 documents (the original and all the copies) of the same report and had already destroyed 3 copies when he was caught by officials from the National Archives. He fully intended to make sure there was no archived copy of that particular document available in the future. He returned two copies and his notes when confronted.

Libby has said that his fine will be paid from his personal finances and not his defense fund.

While I certainly don't condone his actions, I still think 30 months was a harsh sentence. And this is still not the same as a pardon. He will always (unless he wins his appeal or Bush grants a pardon on the way out the door - not unexpected) be a convicted felon and at the very least will have lost his right to vote, among other things.

I did not intend to draw a direct comparison between Libby and Berger. Their crimes are different and are classified differently. I think I mentioned that. Really my only point is that 2 1/2 years seems excessive for a first offender with no priors and so does denying his request to remain free while on appeal.

prairie biker said...

Sorry, I didn't mean to say that Berger "fully intended", I meant to say that it seems he intended.

Narc said...

According to this report, Berger knew he was not handling the original documents, so he couldn't have had the intent of burying anything.

About the 30 months: Glenn Greenwald pointed out some weeks ago a number of cases where perjury and obstruction of justice charges rated significant jail time. Up to 33 months, in one case. Heck, even Lil' Kim got a year. So this sentence wasn't unusual. Weirdly, Guiliani said back in 1987 that a year for perjury in a corruption case was "very lenient." Now he says Libby should be pardoned.

You also say that his sentence should be light because he's a "first offender." This was a case involving five counts of obstruction of justice and perjury at the highest possible levels of government. If that doesn't call for some jail time, what does?

J.C. General listed two cases of non-violent drug offenders doing, respectively, life in prison and 55 years. Yet they don't get a pardon or even a commutation.

With a level of irony that could smack you in the head, the Justice Department just two weeks ago was pushing for mandatory minimum sentences for all federal criminals.

prairie biker said...

However, Libby's conviction and sentence and Bush's commutation thereof (and wait for the subsequent pardon) have nothing to do with justice and everything to do with loyalty and following the boss's instructions. At that level of government it is purely a political process.

David said...

Both David and prarie biker mention in the comments that this commutation is significantly different from an actual pardon.

Actually I called it, "A lame distinction," not "significantly different." That's pretty much the opposite of what I wrote.

I think you want to debate semantics, when that's not really the issue... at least, not the pressing issue. Legally, a commutation is different from a pardon.

And I think arguing the comparative merits of two very different legal cases and different verdicts is, as my mother puts it, "just looking for something to argue about."

Narc said...

PB: I think it's the fact that it's purely and calculatedly political that's the saddest part of all.

David: Perhaps your comment was a little more nuanced than I first read it as. But your mother is wrong, wrong I tell you! :-)