In his tenure as governor of Texas and as president, George W. Bush has demonstrated that he doesn’t believe in pardons and clemency. That’s for whimps… unless, of course, it’s your own advisor who’s involved, and he’s caught flatout lying to a grand jury. In that case, of course, things are different.
Today a federal appeals court rejected Scooter Libby’s request that he be permitted to stay out free pending argument of his appeal. Within minutes, President Bush intervened to prevent Libby, his national security advisor, from serving time in prison. He commuted his sentence.
I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby’s sentence that required him to spend thirty months in prison.
This act put the lie to Bush’s claims that he was not following the case and was not prepared to intervene. He obviously decided at the outset that his friend would never serve time in jail. Moreover, the White House has acknowledged that it did not consult the Department of Justice on this decision and that the decision violates the Department of Justice’s guidelines. Again, Bush’s actions fit a pattern. Political judgment is substituted for the judgment of an independent prosecutor. The Department of Justice exists to receive and implement political instructions, nothing more.
Libby was prosecuted by a special prosecutor of unquestioned independence and integrity. On the other hand, evidence is now mounting all across the country of politically tinged prosecutions brought by Bush’s Justice Department designed to attack political adversaries.
The Bush Administration’s double standard has just gotten much more intense. Democrats – like Don Siegelman in Alabama and Georgia Thompson in Wisconsin – will be convicted and have the book thrown at them, though they are innocent and have been the target of a corrupt vendetta. But Bush’s inner circle and those it values will be protected from harm, though they have been justly prosecuted and are certainly guilty. Bush has every right to intervene to protect his friend, and his motives in doing so cannot be challenged in any process but the political one.
But this act can only heighten concerns about the putrid state of justice in Bush’s Administration, and it must heighten our resolve to stand against it.
And by the way: Siegelman’s lawyers make the obvious point. If Libby gets a commutation, what about us? Under the reasoning articulated in Bush’s commutation statement, Siegelman should be out of prison within hours. Of course, he belongs to the wrong party… Laura McGann has the story at Talking Points Memo.