Getting off scoot free: President Bush commuted Scooter Libby’s 30-month jail sentence Tuesday after a court rejected the defense’s request to remain free during the appeals process. Bush deemed the sentence “excessive” and did not rule out an eventual pardon. Bloggers scuffle over whether Bush went too far, or didn’t go far enough.
“Repeat after me: obstruction of justice,” writes Christy Hardin Smith at the liberal site Firedoglake, which covered the Libby trial with a cadre of correspondents. That said, Smith isn’t altogether unhappy: “With one commutation of sentence, W, you just handed us the next election—the White House, a much stronger hand in Congress, and a club to beat your party with for years to come: you think you are better than the rest of us, and that the laws don’t apply to you.” Liberal Steve Benen at The Carpetbagger Report calls the decision “truly contemptuous,” but points to the “upside” that it “brings the Plame leak scandal into the Oval Office (even more so). It necessarily gives the impression that Libby lied and obstructed justice in order to shield Bush and Cheney from their role in an even bigger crime.”
Conservative Ed Morrissey at Captain’s Quarters figures that commutation “makes sense” for Bush, but is “not convinced that the administration should have intervened at all. The sentence fit within the sentencing guidelines championed by Republicans for years as a bulwark against soft-on-crime federal judges … The underlying crimes go to the heart of the rule of law, and those who commit perjury and obstruction should go to prison—especially those who occupy high offices in our government.”
At The Volokh Conspiracy, Orin Kerr finds the commutation “troubling because of the obvious special treatment Libby received. President Bush has set a remarkable record in the last 6+ years for essentially never exercising his powers to commute sentences or pardon those in jail. … So Libby’s treatment was very special indeed.” Conservative Paul Mirengoff at Power Line isn’t convinced: “[Kerr’s] argument is not persuasive because, so far as appears, there is no one in jail under anything like the circumstances … that obtain here.”
Andrew Sullivan supposes that Bush is just protecting his rear: “Libby knows a very great deal about the war crimes of the president and vice-president and even more about the vagaries of the use of WMD intelligence before the war. By commuting his sentence, Bush is obviously trying to ensure that Libby doesn’t talk. He is making sure that there’s no pressure on Libby to cop a plea and give Fitzgerald more evidence of malfeasance in the White House.” Marcy Wheeler at The Next Hurrah points out that, whereas Congress might have forced him to testify after a pardon, Scooter can now take the Fifth.
Liberal Tom Watson digs up a ghost from Bush’s past: “Remember when candidate Bush openly mocked a Texas prisoner he had just put to death? When he pursed his lips and squeaked ‘please don’t kill me’ in imitation of Karla Faye Tucker, who had appealed to Governor Bush for clemency? … “This believer is rough justice just couldn’t let Scooter Libby trade his fine pinstripes for those shabby prison clothes, could he?”
At Just One Minute, Libby fan Tom Maguire celebrates “Independence Day” and lauds the manueuver:. “The commutation is a slick straddle—Bush claims to respect the jury’s verdict but disses the judge’s sentencing decision.” The crowd at the National Review Online’s The Corner is pleased, too. John Podhoretz agrees that “[n]obody should lie to a grand jury. But it’s simple logic that there should be some relationship to the purpose of the lie and the effect of the lie and the punishment meted out for the lie.” And his colleague Jonah Goldberg thinks justice was pretty much served: “On the merits I think Bush probably got it about right. On the politics, I think Bush would have been smarter to give Libby an outright pardon. But, having just watched Joe Wilson sputter in pompous rage on the Today Show, I’m tempted to argue that Bush should have used eminent domain to take Wilson’s convertible Jaguar and give it to Scooter Libby.”
A few bloggers take on the argument by Slate’s Timothy Noah–no fan of the Bush administration—that the president did the right thing. The lawyer writing as The Anonymous Liberal disputes what he calls Noah’s “knee-jerk contrarianism” and challenges Noah’s claim that to treat Libby more harshly than Bill Clinton would constitute a “double standard”: “To borrow a phrase, that’s nonsense on stilts. As an initial matter, it’s worth pointing out that Clinton lied about a sexual affair in a deposition in a frivolous civil lawsuit. … Libby lied and obstructed a criminal investigation that was focused on him and his boss, the Vice President.” Noah has a friend, however, in Pejman Yousefzadeh of AChequer-Board of Nights and Days, who writes: “[A]s we all know, there are a number of public officials who paid little to no penalty at all for perjury coughbillclintoncough and it is amusing to see many of the supporters of one of those public officials coughbillclintoncough now say that perjury should be punished fully, completely and even beyond the standard extent of the law.” Still, that’s not enough to stop Atrios from dubbing Noah “Wanker of the Day.”
Digby at liberal Hullabaloo laments that the commutation is “just fine with a good portion of the DC establishment. The oh-so-jaded political observers like Tim Noah see this whole thing as some sort of partisan game of tag. Let the plebes natter on about the following the rules—we’ll call the play by play and let the little people know who’s ‘winning.’ ”
Read more about the Libby commutation. Whereas Noah defends the commutation, elsewhere in Slate, Harlan J. Protass says that Bush was out of line with his own administration’s practice of fighting for tougher sentences.