Monday, July 09, 2007

I. Lewis Libby - Free At Last, Free At Last

After months and months of withholding comment due to an on-going investigation, President Bush finally stepped forward to commute the sentence of I. Lewis Libby after his conviction and loss on appeal of his sentencing to thirty months in prison. When speaking of the commuting of the sentence of the former chief of staff for Vice President Cheney, Bush said that while the conviction would stand, the sentence by the judge was too harsh for the crime.

This from a former Governor of Texas who saw fit to allow Betty Lou Beets to be executed - a 62 year-old great-grandmother. Thirty months in prison to harsh a sentence?

It would be highly embarrassing if there was a case similar to Libby's in the press at about the same time which might cast doubt on whether or not the sentence was too harsh. Enter Victor Rita, who was challenging his sentence to 33 months in prison for a perjury charge. The Supreme Court rejected that appeal and Mr. Rita will be placed in federal prison to serve his time. No word from the Executive Mansion about whether he will have his sentence commuted or not.

So it is that this saga closes. Or does it?

An interesting point occurred to some in the press that at about the time when Libby was going to be placing before the court his defense, including calling several key witnesses such as Karl Rove and the Vice President himself, his defense team suddenly reversed course and summarily wrapped up its case without so much as a statement by the defendant. At the time it was presumed that either the defense did not need to place Libby and other officials on the stand or that it was too much of a risk to place them on the stand. As Andrew Cohen summarized it:
"Any way you slice it -- at least any way I see it sliced -- today's news bodes ill for the defense. I have been surprised before in cases like this, and good defense attorneys often have a knack for knowing when less is more. But I just don't see it."

If the defense might have known that the President was considering a commutation or a pardon, the theory goes that Libby and the others involved in this affair would have more than enough reason to stay silent. Libby would be at no further disadvantage - he was going to be convicted for telling FBI officials and the grand jury that he did not disseminate Wilson's identity but only heard it from Tim Russert (who then testified to the exact opposite of that alibi) - and the protection of further releases of information for those currently within the Administration would be maintained as well.

But fair is fair, the President has the power of the pardon and that is just the way the Constitutional cookie crumbles, correct? Not exactly. That would be tampering with justice, and very much in line with a cover-up if events followed that path. Naturally Congress would wish to do a bit of sleuthing in order to ensure that all of this transpired quite the opposite way as outlined above. All one would need to do is ask that I. Lewis Libby testify before Congress and then have him, a convicted liar, explain that everything was above the board and that would be that. Here is where the commutation comes in. Libby still must serve the probationary period of his sentence (even though Judge Walton was not so certain of this at the time of the President's actions) which in effect means that he is still serving time in a way. If only he had a full pardon from the President, then his fine ($250,400) and his probation would have been wiped clean and a call before Congress might likely mean he would have no reason to plead the 5th. This is by far the worst of stretches to entertain though, as any deal made behind the scenes between the White House and Libby's defense team would almost certainly have illegal implications providing for an extremely good use of one's 5th amendment right to avoid self-incrimination.

Yet this President and Vice President have played pretty rough with legalities over the course of six years. It would be worth a cursory look by the House and Senate just to make sure that nothing untoward occurred during the months of January and February 2007 that cut short jury and the court's ability to mete out justice.

Until that point, Libby's bank account is presumably smaller, and Victor Rita is doing time.

Postscript:
There was so much hand wringing by defenders of the Bush decision that it became rather humorous to see where people would go to defend the commuting of the Libby sentence. One of the less enlightening comments was from David Brooks on July 3rd, and one of the more artful parries came in David Corn's response to Brooks' article. Sometimes the truth can be a weapon.

1 comment:

Kris said...

I've heard some liberal folks say that the commuting of Libby's sentence might not be a bad thing in the grand scheme because it shines more light on the questionable practices of the administration.