Thursday, 02 February 2023

Taking care of those who break the law

I wanted to let the dust settle for a while before leaping into the Scooter Libby-Bush commutation fray, for several reasons.

First, this was not unexpected, at least not to anyone who has consistently watched this administration distance itself from any problems or hints of illegality (except for that part about defending the Constitution, which Bush never really meant anyway).

Second, when it did happen, either a pardon or some other intervention, it was clear the Democrats would scream and the loyal GOP members would praise it as the right thing to do, since “there was never any underlying crime in the first place” and Libby should never have been prosecuted or tried or found guilty or punished, apparently.

And third, how can the Dems complain about this when President Clinton (perhaps we’ll have to start referring to him as Clinton I soon) lied to a grand jury and faced impeachment and walked away without punishment? That third point is the most partisan and intellectually dishonest of the arguments.

Here’s why: Lewis “Scooter” Libby was a career administrative operative, and worked in his last government job as the chief of staff for the vice president of the United States. He got caught up in the Valerie Plame-CIA outing incident, and we know that Scooter did not leak her name or identify to anyone. (We actually know that Karl Rove did that, and probably Cheney, too, but they’ll never be prosecuted.)

So Scooter didn’t give up a CIA agent, but learned that someone had. And then under oath to a grand jury, he lied about what he knew, who he got it from and when, and basically protected the backsides of his bosses and his bosses’ bosses.

He was prosecuted by a Republican-appointed special attorney, tried in a federal court before a Republican-appointed judge and found guilty unanimously by 12 people from all persuasions.

The federal law specified a sentence for lying to a grand jury and obstructing justice, and the judge imposed that sentence. Bush said “Tut-tut, too much” and while giving lip service to honoring and respecting the jury system and the verdict, essentially wiped away any punishment but a fine.

I hope Bush sees fit to do so for all those currently incarcerated for perjury and/or obstruction of justice who have no prior records, because if it’s too much for Libby, should it not be too much for anyone similarly situated? We are, after all – or so I’ve been told – a nation of laws not of men. Or are we?

Enter the Republican pundits who say Bill Clinton did the same thing and went unpunished. Wrong, wrong, wrong and here’s why that is dishonest: Clinton faced impeachment, and articles were voted out of the House and delivered to the Senate. That’s the same as the filing of a complaint, and it’s up to the Senate (think court) to conduct the trial.

The Senate did, and was unable to convict Clinton of any of the charges contained in the articles.

“That’s just politics!” one harumphs, and should have been impeached anyway.

Remember who held the majority of both houses in 1998 when this entire Clinton-Lewinsky thing occupied our spare time (and way too much of the media)? That’s right, the Republicans. And they couldn’t convict a Democratic president.

Libby convicted, not punished. Clinton not convicted, not punished. Not quite an even equation, is it? George Bush stated for the world to hear when the Plame case emerged that if someone in his administration was responsible for breaking the law, he would take care of them.

He certainly has.

Doug Rhoades is an attorney. He lives in Kelseyville.


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