Gettting Off Scoot Free
"Fireworks on the Fourth of July at the Watergate?"
When I saw the news that the President commuted Lewis Scooter Libby’s prison sentence, I was numb. A couple weeks ago I had asked what the over-under would be on Libby spending more time behind bars than Paris Hilton. While I’m not shocked by the way that one turned out, I’m not sure what it means. On the day of the Libby pre-Independence Day announcement, I was at the airport and happened to pick up a copy of People Magazine which did a cover article on Paris’s post-jail interview.
In jail, Paris Hilton got to pray a lot, read the Bible and other books of spiritual inspiration, and got to think about what really matters in life. Given how positive the experience appears to have been for Paris Hilton in the long term, I’m sorry that the former vice presidential chief of staff didn’t get the opportunity to benefit from the experience. One of the reasons Judge Walton gave him a relatively stiff sentence was that Libby showed no signs either of contrition or respect for a Federal investigation. I’ll always wonder what might have happened if Scooter had been given the chance to consider the nature of his crimes, examine his soul, and perhaps consider that the underlying crime might have killed several people.
When Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon more than thirty years ago, he balanced the act by setting up an amnesty plan for Americans who had reported to Canada instead of their local selective service office. At the time, the former President had already resigned his office and several of his former aides had either been convicted or spent some time in prison. In 1976, I didn’t like the fact that Nixon had been pardoned by the man he had chosen as his own successor. Looking back, I can see the argument that America needed to get past both Watergate and the War in Vietnam, both of which ended during the Ford administration. I don’t necessarily agree, but I don’t now think that Ford’s motives were purely political.
George Bush the Less Ignominious pardoned most of the principals in Iran Contra, a scandal in which the older Bush had also been implicated. It’s not talked about a lot today. Robert Gates and John Negroponte didn’t get pardons but they were tied to Iran Contra in some way and both possibly escaped being implicated more because of the pardons given the six individuals spared by Bush 43.
It’s worth pointing out that Libby’s sentence was only commuted. At this point, he remains a convicted felon and must pay a 250 thousand dollar fine. The President said that he was concerned that Scooter’s sentence was excessive (apparently the average sentence for obstructing justice is something like 64 months and 3 of 4 first time offenders do prison time). At this point, the President and Scooter’s actions sentenced some thirty five hundred Americans to death along with possibly hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. All indications suggest that the President plans to stay in Iraq at least another year and half which means that another thousand Americans have received the equivalent of a death sentence. He doesn’t seem nearly as worried about them, nor has the President apologized to either Valerie Plame or Joe Wilson. These compassionate conservavtive sure seem to be selective with it.
I believe the President should have the power to pardon, but this President has been militant about not giving pardons up to now. To me, it’s pretty simple, this wasn’t an act of clemency, it’s a cover up. I don’t think it’s what Jefferson had in mind when he wrote the Declaration of Independence.