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Administration: A Felon Goes Free

President Bush yesterday commuted Libby's 2.5 year prison sentence, hours after an appeals court ruled that Libby could not delay serving his jail time while he appealed his convictions.

JULY 3, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley
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ADMINISTRATION

A Felon Goes Free

I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby will not serve a day in prison for his felony convictions of perjury and obstruction of justice. President Bush yesterday commuted Libby’s 2.5 year prison sentence, hours after an appeals court ruled that Libby could not delay serving his jail time while he appealed his convictions. Bush’s commutation comes at a noteworthy time. Three years ago this week, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson published his New York Times op-ed revealing that the Bush administration had “twisted” intelligence “to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.” For this act, which began to expose how Bush misled the nation into war, Wilson became the target of an aggressive White House smear campaign that culminated in the outing of his wife Valerie Plame, a covert CIA officer. Arthur Brown, a CIA division chief who retired in 1995, described the actions taken against Plame as the “moral equivalent to exposing forward deployed military units.” Yet when federal investigators tried to investigate this potential grave national security crime, they ran into a roadblock: Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff Scooter Libby. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald compared Libby’s lying and obstruction to throwing sand in an umpire’s eyes. “He’s trying to figure what happened and somebody blocked their view.” Now Bush, who once pledged to “return the highest standards of honor to the highest office in the land,” has condoned this criminal conduct, to the cheers of leading conservative politicians and pundits around the country.

SELECTIVE COMPASSION: “I respect the jury’s verdict,” Bush said in a statement yesterday. “But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive.” This explanation “only underscored the way this president is tough on crime when it’s committed by common folk,” the New York Times opines. As governor of Texas, Bush infamously joked about the impending execution of Karla Faye Tucker, a killer who became a born-again Christian on death row. (“Please don’t kill me,” Bush whimpered to a reporter while imitating Tucker, “his lips pursed in mock desperation.”) As president, Bush has repeatedly put himself and his administration above the law, on matters from torture and warrantless domestic spying to congressional oversight and the use of signing statements. Bush’s treatment of Libby’s sentence is extraordinarily rare by his own standards. “Bush has granted fewer pardons — 113 — than any president in the past 100 years, while denying more than 1,000 requests.” In addition, Bush has “denied more than 4,000 commutation requests, and hundreds of requests for pardons and commutations are still pending.”

A DEEPLY UNPOPULAR DECISION: Bush’s disregard for the rule of law is not popular. A SurveyUSA instant poll found just 21 percent of Americans agree with the decision to commute Libby’s prison sentence. Sixty percent said Bush “should have left the judge’s prison sentence in place,” and only 17 percent wanted a full pardon.

‘EXCESSIVE’ PUNISHMENT: Bush’s claim that Libby’s sentence was “excessive” doesn’t hold water. As Fitzgerald pointed out yesterday, “this case was imposed pursuant to the laws governing sentencings which occur every day throughout this country.” In this case, a federal judge appointed by Bush “considered extensive argument from the parties and then imposed a sentence consistent with the applicable laws,” Fitzgerald wrote. “It is fundamental to the rule of law that all citizens stand before the bar of justice as equals.” Ohio State University law professor Douglas Berman, an “expert on federal criminal sentencing policies,” said Bush’s excuse is “hypocritical and appalling from a president whose Justice Department is always fighting” attempts by judges and lawmakers to lower the punishment called for under federal sentencing guidelines. Berman said Bush’s message amounted to, “My friend Scooter shouldn’t have to serve 30 months in prison because I don’t want him to.”

BUSH’S DISHONESTY: White House spokeswoman Dana Perino stated in June that Bush was “not going to intervene” in Libby’s case; Bush later promised not to intrude until Libby’s appeal process had been exhausted. Yet Bush stepped in as soon as it became clear that Libby would have to begin a prison sentence. “With the denial of bail being upheld and incarceration imminent,” Bush said, “I believe it is now important to react.” Margaret Colgate Love, who served as Justice Department pardon attorney from 1990 to 1997 called Bush’s action “very unusual” and recalled that her office would not consider applications for a commutation “unless the person had already started serving his sentence.” Indeed, Bush’s decision came “without a formal request from Libby or consultation with the Justice Department.” Subsequently, it “seemed to catch Justice Department officials, and even some of Bush’s closest aides, off guard. At the Justice Department, several senior officials were on their way out of the building shortly before 6 p.m. when news flashed on their Blackberries. They were floored.

UNDER THE RADAR

CIVIL LIBERTIES — CHERTOFF: ‘LIEBERMAN IS DEAD RIGHT’ IN CALLING FOR MORE WIRETAPPING AFTER FOILED LONDON ATTACKS: On Sunday, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) used the foiled terror attempts in London to call for greater domestic spying in the United States. “I hope these terrorist attacks in London wake us up here in America to stop the petty partisan fighting going on about…electronic surveillance,” Lieberman said, referencing the Senate Judiciary Committee’s recent subpoenas of documents related to Bush’s wiretapping program. Yesterday, on Fox and Friends, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff echoed Lieberman’s call, arguing that Lieberman was “dead right” in calling for increased domestic surveillance: “I’m concerned about losing the tools that I can tell you we use every single day to catch the kind of plotting which we’ve just seen. … I think Joe Lieberman is dead right.” But British surveillance did not prevent the London attacks. In fact, “[t]here had been no prior intelligence of planned attacks from the terror organization.” Instead, vigilant London residents helped prevent the bombings by alerting authorities after noticing suspicious activity such as the smell of smoke and gasoline. Currently, the White House is refusing to cooperate with Congress by not explaining why current surveillance methods are insufficient and why it feels it needs even more intrusive spying on American citizens.

ADMINISTRATION — BUSH ADMINISTRATION’S QUIET, DILIGENT ATTEMPTS TO EXPAND THE POWER OF THE EXECUTIVE:
Yesterday, the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) released a new report documenting the continuing campaign of the Bush administration to “reconfigure the executive branch to conform with their preference for absolute power rather than with clearly established constitutional boundaries.” The report outlines Vice President Dick Cheney’s attempts to “quietly, but diligently…establish case law that equates the power of the vice presidency with the power of the presidency” and the administration’s desire to expand “the power of executive privilege well beyond constitutional bounds.” The report cites specifically a “small sampling” of the administration’s most significant departures from precedent, including the recent attempt by Cheney to “unilaterally [exempt] himself and his office from the executive order that governs the safeguarding of classified national security information” and the administration’s attempt to bar public access to White House visitor logs by “reclassify[ing] Secret Service documents as presidential documents under the exclusive control of the White House.” CREW hopes that such public attention to “the efforts of the president and vice president to expand their powers act as a deterrent against any future rogue abuses and highlight the need for congressional and judicial intervention to restore the proper balance of power between the three…branches of government.” The report concludes: “Sadly, given the record, this seems overly optimistic.”

HUMAN RIGHTS — BUSH ADMINISTRATION SEEKING ALTERNATIVE TO GUANTANAMO ON U.S. SOIL: The New York Times reports today that “senior advisers to President Bush are exploring whether the White House and Congress can agree to legislation that would permit the long-term detention of foreign terrorism suspects on American soil.” The speculative idea is part of an effort to find “a legal path to shutting down the Guantanamo detention facility” in Cuba, according to “Pentagon and administration officials” who spoke to the Times. The emerging proposal would create three legal categories of foreign detainees: high-risk intelligence assets who “would be placed indefinitely in military brigs on American soil,” lower risk detainees who would be moved to the United States to “face trial in military courts,” and the lowest risk detainees who would be released to their home countries. The Bush administration is under heavy pressure to close Guantanamo after a series of court decisions challenging its detainee system. Though it is unclear at this point whether the proposed legislative ideas are the correct means to shutting down the facility, it is clear that Guantanamo should be closed. The lawless environment at Guantanamo has dangerously tarnished the reputation of the United States abroad. As former Secretary of State Colin Powell has noted, bad actors and “authoritarian figures” around the world are “using Guantanamo to hide their own misdeeds.” The administration is split over the proposed plan, with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arguing for “a legislative remedy,” while Vice President Dick Cheney and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales are worried that “moving detainees to the United States would invite crippling legal challenges.” The Center for American Progress has previously urged shifting detainees to Fort Leavenworth, KS, and prosecuting the remaining detainees in court under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

THINK FAST

“For the first time in his presidency, Bush commuted a sentence without running requests through lawyers at the Justice Department, White House officials said. He also did not ask the chief prosecutor in the case, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, for his input, as routinely happens in cases routed through the Justice Department’s pardon attorney.”

The Washington Post reports House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers is “expected to move swiftly to conduct hearings on the commutation, congressional sources said.”

“Seeking a legal path to shutting down the Guantanamo detention facility, senior advisers to President Bush are exploring whether the White House and Congress can agree to legislation that would permit the long-term detention of foreign terrorism suspects on American soil.”

“The U.S. yesterday publicly accused Iran of intervening in the Iraq conflict, claiming that its Revolutionary Guard played a role in an attack that killed five Americans and was using Lebanese militants to train Iraqi insurgents.”

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) responded by beating the war drum. “The fact is that the Iranian government has by its actions declared war on us,” he said. While stopping short of advocating an immediate military strike, he claimed that “our diplomatic efforts are only likely to succeed if backed by a credible threat of force.” 

Vladimir Putin yesterday surprised the Bush administration by proposing to let the United States build a new radar facility in southern Russia. Bush and Putin also said they agreed in principle to involve NATO in any plans for a missile defense system in Europe, but Putin continued to oppose Bush’s plan to anchor the missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Although gas prices are currently lower than in May, analysts believe that “the price relief may have run its course.” “‘Gas prices will be going up like the fireworks,’ said Phil Flynn of Alaron Trading Co. in Chicago, adding that prices nationwide could rise 5 cents to 10 cents over the next month.”

Yesterday, the federal government announced that it would not be accepting any new applications for employer-sponsored green cards, affecting “tens of thousands” of legal immigrants.

And finally: Within the first half-hour of the new Transformers film, “as a miniature Decepticon (one of the bad Transformers) makes mischief aboard Air Force One, the camera zooms in on the feet of ‘the president,’ who is lying down in bed. Only his bright-red socks are visible as he utters — in a faux accent that could only be that of our Texan president — his first and only line of the film: ‘Could somebody go rustle me up some Ding Dongs?'”

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GOOD NEWS

U.S. governors, including the mayor of Washington, D.C., are now allowed “to order U.S. flags flown at half-staff at federal buildings in their states as a means of paying tribute to those killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.”

STATE WATCH

UTAH: After a budget crisis, state re-enrolls thousandsof children in its Children’s Health Insurance Program.

MASSACHUSETTS: A panel convened by Gov. Deval Patrick (D) has pledged to better ease the transition to civilian life for Iraq veterans.

ARIZONA: Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) signs legislation targeting employers of undocumented immigrants with “the most aggressive action in the country.”

BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) panders to the right wing, drops calls for media diversity.

DANGER ROOM: Generals: Army spending too much time fighting insurgents, “undermining conventional capabilities.”

MEDIA MATTERS: Fox News’s Sean Hannity pulls quotes out of context to claim Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) has “socialist views and intentions.”

NATIONAL SECURITY NETWORK: Four years ago, President Bush said, “Bring ’em on” to Iraqi insurgents. Since then, Iraq has only deteriorated.

DAILY GRILL

“But given the fact that the judge has set up a process for appeal and given the way that the President has handled this for the past year or so, he’s not going to intervene.”
— White House spokesperson Dana Perino, 6/5/07

VERSUS

“I respect the jury’s verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby’s sentence that required him to spend thirty months in prison.”
— President Bush, 7/3/07