Water Man Spouts

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Beg pardon?

The possibility that President George W. Bush will pardon I. Liar Libby has become a topic of conversation, from the cable talk shows to internet discussion sites, as the nation waits for the jury to return its verdict. Libby’s supporters are spreading the rumor that Bush will grant the pardon, as part of their perception management campaign. Of course, these are the same folks who insist that Plame was not covert, and a variety of other lies. We have no more reason to believe anything they say, than we have reason to believe VP Cheney when he tells us that things are going well in Iraq.

At this point, we can only speculate on the likelihood of a pardon after Libby is convicted. There are a number of reasons that support the idea that Bush will save Scooter; there are also a number of reasons to think that Bush will not interfere with the outcome of the case. Let’s take a few minutes to look at both possibilities.

First, it is important to look at recent history, which provides some interesting examples for our consideration. The first example is the Watergate scandal. We know that President Ford granted Richard Nixon a pardon, saving the ex-president from the legal consequences for his role in the series of crimes that brought down his administration.

Equally important, though often overlooked in the current discussions, is how Nixon knew his aides were suggesting that those who were either facing or experiencing incarceration would be pardoned. "The Presidential Transcripts" (Washington Post; Dell Books; 1974) contains fascinating discussions between Nixon and his staff, where they consider pardons in terms of rewarding loyalty vs protecting Nixon. In the end, those who believed they would be pardoned ended up behind bars.

The second example comes from the Iran-Contra scandals. Unlike the first example, in this case, President Bush the Elder granted pardons to a number of his associates, and derailed the justice system’s efforts to provide consequences for those who had participated in serious crimes. Many progressive democrats point to this example to support their belief that Bush2 will pardon Scooter.

A third example, which is important in ways that differ from the first two, Bill Clinton pardoned Marc Rich. This took place in the final days of the Clinton administration. It was a slimy episode, and it is no coincidence that Scooter Libby was Rich’s attorney.

All three of these examples are worth considering as we explore some of the possibilities in the Libby case. Now let’s look first at reasons Bush might pardon Libby, and then at some reasons he might not.

Reasons for a pardon:

Bush may believe that a pardon would help to protect his administration. Having Libby convicted of these serious charges is damaging to the Bush administration, and Bush may feel he can lessen the damage with a pardon.

Dick Cheney wants Scooter pardoned, and the vice president is running the show.

The Libby Support Group, which has been lobbying for a pardon, pulls the puppet strings, politically and financially.

Bush values "loyalty." And he will be moved to tears – much like Teddy Wells – by Scooter’s dog-like loyalty to Dick Cheney.

Bush has no problem with lying. We know he has told more lies than Carter has pills. Included among these lies was his promise to "take the appropriate action" if anyone in his administration were caught in the Plame investigation. A pardon is this liar’s idea of the appropriate action.

Power. President Bush is correctly viewed as a man who is carried away with the sense of power that the presidency has provided for him. He will enjoy proving that he, rather than the judicial system, has the "ultimate power."

The weasel factor. Like the two presidents before him, he will wait until the last days of his administration, and use them as cover for a pardon.

Now, let’s look at some of the reasons President Bush might not grant Scooter Libby a pardon:

Timing. If Bush wanted to avoid the damage to his presidency, he would have pardoned Libby in October, 2005.

Timing, part two. The Libby Support Group had lobbied Bush for a holiday pardon in 2006. That would have saved the administration from the damage the trial has done. But the pardon didn’t happen.

The Plame scandal created a serious conflict between the Office of the President, and the Office of the Vice President. This isn’t something that Teddy Wells made up for his opening statement to the jury – it is something that Joseph Wilson details in his book (see page 444).

Bush is intent upon being different than his father. This is something that has been clear in many of the decisions that he has made throughout his presidency. He has noted that he looks to a "different Father" for help in his decision-making. And Bush clearly views life in the punitive sense of the "Father" from the Old Testament, rather than one who pardons sins.

Bush really enjoys watching others suffer. For but one example, on the day that Scott McClellan "retired," when he and Bush walked out on the lawn to talk to reporters, Bush was trying not to grin. He could not stop from showing his pleasure in his friend’s pain when Scott’s voice cracked, and he almost cried in front of the cameras.

Bush would like to blame others for his mistakes. He lacks the capacity to sincerely admit that he has done anything wrong in his life. Scooter’s conviction and incarceration will allow Bush to make clear that "the buck stops in the OVP."

On page 232 of Isikoff & Corn’s book "Hubris," they quote an angry president: " ‘Oh, yeah, just like the WMD we found,’ Bush snapped…" He wants to distance himself from the yellow cake lies; this is evidenced by Ari Fleischer’s telling reporters that the infamous 16 words didn’t meet the standard for being included in a presidential speech. Pardoning Scooter would be viewed as embracing the yellow cake lies.

Mr. Fitzgerald will offer a deal to Libby, through Teddy Wells, after the jury returns its verdict, but before sentencing. The president would not attempt to interfere at that point. There are numerous people around Libby who are encouraging him to stop protecting Cheney. It’s one thing for Scooter to be a tough guy when incarceration is a possibility, in the distant future; it’s entirely different when it stares him in the face, and he considers the toll it imposes on his family.

Bush does not wish to have a confrontation with Congress on the Plame scandal. On November 8, 2005, the Democratic Leadership from the Senate sent Bush a letter requesting that he not grant a pardon to Libby or anyone else who might be charged in the scandal. Bush does not have the same advantages in the House and Senate that he had in 2005. A Congressional investigation would uncover significant evidence that would tarnish VP Cheney, and possibly Bush himself. That evidence includes documents that Mr. Fitzgerald has from the OVP, which have Cheney’s notes on them – these were, in large part, why Cheney did not want to take the witness stand.

President Bush tends to think in rigid terms. He views the world in black and white. He has already complimented Mr. Fitzgerald, and is not likely to take a step that indicates those in his administration are above the law.

At this point, an interesting case can be made to support people’s belief that Bush will, or will not, grant Convict Libby a presidential pardon. I do not think that Bush will pardon Libby. However, nothing surprises me these days.


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