Tuesday, July 03, 2007

President Bush and Scooter Libby

The big news out of Washington yesterday: President Bush commuted the prison sentence of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. The president's action has enraged liberals, but Bush is not getting much satisfaction on the conservative side either. Robert Novak, a central figure in the Valerie Plame affair, argues that Libby himself is the only one who's really pleased by Bush's move:

President Bush's commutation of Scooter Libby's sentence pleased but did not fully satisfy restive conservatives, while enraging his liberal critics. Libby himself can breathe a sigh of relief that he does not have to serve prison time, but hardly anybody else is all that happy.

The conviction of Libby on perjury and obstruction of justice charges in the Valerie Plame CIA leak case has taken on overriding symbolic implications. Libby, as Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, is seen by Bush's enemies as typifying deception that led the U.S. into war in Iraq. His conviction was seen by conservatives as part of the bitter assault on the Bush administration, targeting Cheney in particular.

By standing apart from the Plame affair and the Libby affair, Bush has subjected himself to abuse from both sides. The abuse from the left certainly will expand thanks to his decision Monday, while praise from the right is a little bit muted.
Novak goes on about how conservatives are upset that Bush did not grant a full pardon to Libby. Novak notes that, in fact, by accepting the verdict in the Libby trial, the White House has legitimated the actions of Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in charge of investigating the Plame affair, thus making a full pardon difficult politically.

Over at the Wall Street Journal, this morning's lead editorial argues that the administration's handling of the Libby ordeal is not a "profile in courage." While the Journal editors note that the Libby trial was the result of "meritless and excessive partisan attacks," the Libby commutation marks a low point in the administration's tenure. The former vice-presidential chief-of-staff was hung out to dry early on:

Joe Wilson's original, false accusation about pre-war intelligence metastasized into the issue of who "outed" his wife, Valerie Plame, as an intelligence officer. As the event unfolded, it fell to Mr. Libby to defend the Administration against Mr. Wilson's original charge, with little public assistance or support from the likes of Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell or Stephen Hadley.
The Journal's editorial probably doesn't delve deep enough into the political background and circumstances surrounding Libby's commutation. (I see both Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson as politically expedient, materially opportunistic, and lackeys of the radical left. The Vanity Fair cover story especially seemed like a glamor sell-out, and Wilson's over-the-top rhetoric attacking the administration seems particularly unseemly for a former ambassador). I can see Bush's strategy, of course. He's frankly trying to appease all sides, but as Novak notes above, he's not likely to gain enough points among conservatives short of a full pardon. I concur with the Journal's editors as well, in that the president took an easy, even shortsighted approach on Libby -- and perhaps the whole Plame affair -- with his reluctance to back his partisan operative more forcefully.

There's a lot online about the whole deal. See the
roundup of editorial commentary on the Libby case at Real Clear Politics. Check out as well this entry over a Memeorandum, which always has voluminous links to all the relevant blog commentary.

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