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Administration: The Wrong Type of Amnesty

The overwhelming majority of Americans are deeply upset over the President's clemency for a felon who helped launch the country into war.

JULY 5, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley
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ADMINISTRATION

The Wrong Type of Amnesty

After commuting the 30-month prison sentence for Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, President Bush on Tuesday left the door open for a future pardon, stating, “As to the future, I rule nothing in and nothing out.” Despite Libby’s conviction of obstruction of justice, giving false statements, and perjury in federal court, Bush has shown a disregard for the rule of law with the commutation. In his own book, A Charge To Keep, Bush stated, “I don’t believe my role is to replace the verdict of a jury with my own,” in reference to why he signed death warrants for 152 inmates as governor of Texas. But by commuting Libby’s sentence, Bush abandoned both his own principles and the legal guidelines set by the federal government. Instead, he made a overtly political decision, appearing “to calculate that he would antagonize his conservative base too severely if he did not provide Libby some form of reprieve.” While Bush’s right-wing base is cheering the decision, the overwhelming majority of Americans are deeply upset over the President’s clemency for a felon who helped launch the country into war.

WHITE HOUSE SPIN ZONE: Faced with a country who by 3 to 1 did not favor any form of pardon for Libby, the White House desperately attempted to spin the commutation. Not surprisingly, it was unable to keep a straight story. On Tuesday, White House spokesperson Tony Snow claimed the commutation was simply a “routine” procedure for Bush. But according to the Justice Department, commutation requests “generally are not accepted unless and until a person has begun serving that sentence. Subsequently, “[f]or the first time in his presidency, Bush commuted a sentence without running requests through lawyers at the Justice Department,” according to White House officials. Bush previously had commuted only three sentences, “all for drug offenses, from more than 5,000 requests. He has issued 113 pardons, fewer than other modern presidents.” Dana Milbank of the Washington Post pointed out several other contradictions in Snow’s arguments: that the commutation was handled “in a routine manner” yet it was also “an extraordinary case,” that Bush wasn’t “granting a favor to anyone” but that the case got his “special handling,” and that it was not done for “political reasons” even though “it was political.”

‘THE LIBBY TREATMENT’: Bush’s commutation for Libby contradicts the precedent set by his own Justice Department. For example, in a case recently decided by the Supreme Court, the Justice Department persuaded the Court to preserve a 33-month sentence of a defendant whose case closely resembled Libby’s. “The defendant, Victor A. Rita, was, like Mr. Libby, convicted of perjury, making false statements to federal agents and obstruction of justice. Mr. Rita has performed extensive government service, just as Mr. Libby has.” In fact, Rita’s perjury concerned simply “a possible violation of a machine-gun registration law.” But when Rita “argued that his 33-month sentence had failed to consider his history and circumstances adequately, the Justice Department strenuously disagreed.” Many legal experts argue that Bush’s clemency for Libby is “an unexpected gift for defense lawyers” across the country, who are already claiming, “My client should have got what Libby got, and here’s why.” “What you’re going to see is [defense lawyers] quoting President Bush in every pleading that comes across every federal judge’s desk,” said attorney Susan James, who is using Bush commutation arguments to grant former Alabama governor Don Siegelman, convicted of obstruction of justice charges, “the Libby treatment.

CONTRADICTING THE ‘LOYAL BUSHIES’:
Bush’s commutation has provoked a nationwide legal debate over sentencing guidelines. In arguing for Libby, Bush considered Libby’s individual circumstances, stating that the punishment was “excessive” and had already “damaged [Libby’s] career and reputation and caused his wife and young children to suffer.” Cheney said the punishment was not fit for the “fine man” that Libby is. “The Bush administration, however, has consistently maintained that at sentencing, judges should be precluded from thinking about precisely the sort of individual circumstances the president raised in lending a hand to Libby.” Last month, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the Department “would push for legislation making federal sentences tougher and less flexible,” which would reverse the 2005 Supreme Court decision United States v. Booker, “which authorized sentencing judges to consider factors like a defendant’s life story and the nature and circumstances of his or her offense.” Thus, Bush’s reasons for Libby’s clemency directly contradict Gonzales’s legislation.

AMNESTY FOR WAR ENABLERS: Libby’s commutation marks a continuation of Bush’s consistent granting of amnesty for his top war architects. As Cheney’s chief of staff, Libby repeatedly pressured CIA analysts to report that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and ties to al Qaeda. “He provided classified government information to New York Times reporter Judith Miller that formed the basis of a series of articles highlighting Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction that were later entirely discredited.” Similarly, architects of the Iraq war continue to reap rewards for their incompetence on Iraq-related policies. Several, such as Stephen Hadley, Elliot Abrams, John Hannah, David Wurmser, Andrew Natsios, and Condoleezza Rice, have been promoted within the administration. Others, such as Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz have joined think tanks that have the President’s “ear” on national security issues, such as the American Enterprise Institute. To this day, none of Bush’s war architectshave been publicly admonished for their corruption.

UNDER THE RADAR

IRAQ — ‘BUILDING AND SAFETY BLUNDERS’ CONTINUE TO GROW AT U.S. EMBASSY IN BAGHDAD: The “sprawling, 21-building embassy” compound in Iraq is roughly the size of Vatican city, projected to cost $592 million to construct and $1.2 billion per year to run. The embassy has been plagued by accusations that it is being “built with coerced labor,” its staff is “too young” and “not qualified,” and reports that the embassy compound is already too small to accommodate the extremely large embassy staff. Today the Washington Post reports that a “toughly worded cable sent from the embassy to State Department headquarters on May 29” reveals that such problems continue to grow. According to the cable, as “the kitchen staff tried to cook the inaugural meal” in a new facility designed to “house the security guards protecting the embassy,” they discovered that “some appliances did not work,” “workers began to get electric shocks,” and a “burning smell enveloped the kitchen as the wiring began to melt.” When further “wiring problems, fuel leaks and noxious fumes” were discovered, the embassy was left “with no recourse but to shut the camp down.” The cable stated that work completed by the firm in charge of constructing most of the embassy compound, First Kuwaiti General Trade and Contracting Co., “fails to meet basic safety standards.” James L. Golden, managing director of the embassy’s construction wrote a “stinging response” to the cable in which he “berated personnel in Baghdad for sending their message over an open embassy system, rather than keeping the complaints in-house.” Further, he “accused the embassy…of making false claims to deflect attention from their own errors.” Until the problems are resolved, the embassy guards must stay in what was referred to in the cable as “tents and deplorable living conditions.”

ADMINISTRATION — JUSTICE DEPARTMENT REFUSES TO INVESTIGATE BUSH APPOINTEE WHO LIED DURING HIS CONFIRMATION HEARING:  Though Brett M. Kavanaugh, a former aide to President Bush appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last year, appears to have lied during his confirmation hearings about his role in forming White House policy on detainees, the Justice Department has not responded to a formal Senate Judiciary Committee request for an investigation. During the hearings, Kavanaugh responded to a question about his White House activities by saying, “I was not involved and am not involved in the questions about the rules governing detention of combatants.” Yet the Washington Post reported in a series about Vice President Cheney that Kavauagh contributed to a “heated meeting in [Attorney General Alberto] Gonzales’s corner office” in 2002, at which the administration made critical decisions about its detainee policy. Kavanaugh has not responded to Sen. Richard Durbin’s (D-IL) letter asking him to “recuse himself from cases involving detainee issues” and a spokesman insists that his “testimony was accurate.” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, “I don’t believe that he was truthful with us,” and formally asked Gonzales to investigate the apparent discrepancy. The New York Times reported yesterday that Gonzales, who himself has provided misleading testimony to Congress and ultimately made the decision in his capacity as White House counsel to deny “enemy combatants…access to lawyers” in the 2002 meeting in question, has not responded to Leahy’s request. Because of Gonzales inaction and Kavanaugh’s refusal to recuse himself, Kavanaugh continues to enjoy his lifetime appointment to the D.C. Circuit, where the first case he heard involved the fate of Guantanamo detainees.

ETHICS — LAND SALE TO REP. CALVERT VIOLATED CALIFORNIA STATE LAW: 
The sale of four acres of public land to Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) and his investment partners by the Jurupa Community Services District in 2005 violated California state law, according to a grand jury report released on Tuesday. The report said that the group should have first offered the land to other public agencies, including the local park district that wanted it, before quietly selling to Calvert. “The grand jury recommends that the water and sewer agency turn over the $1.2 million it pocketed from the sale, minus costs, to the Jurupa Area Recreation and Park District.” Calvert, who was recently placed on the House Appropriations Committee to the chagrin of conservative activists, subsequently pushed water legislation that benefited Jurupa. He has been tied to other questionable land deals in the past. Less than a year after buying land near the March Air Reserve Base in California, “without making any improvements to the run down parcel, [Calvert and his partners] sold the property for $985,000, a 79% increase.” During the period of his ownership, Calvert used his seat in Congress to earmark $9.5 million for development near to the land. According to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, “by using his position to earmark funds to increase the value of his own property, Rep. Calvert violated the prohibition against using his position as a member of Congress to advance his own financial interests, as well as the House rule requiring all members to conduct themselves “at all times in a manner that reflects creditably on the House.”

THINK FAST

President Bush equated the war in Iraq with the U.S. war for independence during a speech yesterday. “Like those revolutionaries who ‘dropped their pitchforks and picked up their muskets to fight for liberty,’ Bush said, American soldiers were also fighting ‘a new and unprecedented war’ to protect U.S. freedom.”

Associates of Bilal Abdulla, the doctor “who is accused of riding a flaming Jeep into Glasgow’s international airport on Saturday, say he was a religious zealot and a lone wolf whose anger about political developments in Iraq may have driven him to an act of terrorism.”

453: Number of unidentified corpses, “some bound, blindfolded, and bearing signs of torture,” found in Baghdad during June, an increase of 41 percent since the escalation began in January.

In his upcoming memoir — The Prince of Darkness, 50 Years Reporting in Washington — Robert Novak “will seek to settle some scores with colleagues in the nation’s capitol. But he won’t be expressing any regrets for printing the name of and ‘outing’ covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson.” He writes, “Judging it on the merits, I would still write the story.” 

Contractors returning home from Iraq with the same combat-related mental health problems that afflict American military personnel, “are largely left on their own to find care, and their problems often go ignored or are inadequately treated.” Many who file claims for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder are denied coverage.

Ever since Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections in Jan. 2006, the Bush administration has pursued a strategy — crafted by deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams — that “helped to exacerbate dangerous political fissures in Palestinian politics [and has] delivered another setback to the president’s vision of a stable, pro-Western Middle East.”

The Senate is expected to join the House next week in blocking the Bush administration’s plan to place elements of a missile defense system in Eastern Europe by reducing funds for “construction of 10 interceptor missile sites in Poland and for deployment of an X-band radar in the Czech Republic.”

And finally: Yesterday in Clear Lake, IA, “thousands of people cheered along the Fourth of July parade route.” They were most “gaga” over a “tall man with the familiar white hair.” “Bob Barker! It’s Bob Barker!” two women shrieked. But it was actually President Bill Clinton, marching with his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY). The women weren’t disappointed. Realizing “who it really was, they seemed just as thrilled, shouting, ‘Ohhhh!’ and clapping madly.”

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GOOD NEWS

After 114 days in captivity, BBC correspondent Alan Johnston has been freed by kidnappers in the Gaza Strip.

STATE WATCH

MARYLAND: State Board of Education rules in favor of a progressive sex-ed curriculum, complete with “new lessons on sexual orientation and condom use.”

MINNESOTA: State reaches an agreement with its two largest labor unions, granting over 30,000 workers “their biggest wage increase in eight years.”

FLORIDA: New government report indicates the Everglades restoration project is doing more for suburban development and less for the environment.

ENVIRONMENT: Much of the Southeast is “wilting” due to the “region’s most severe drought in over a century.”

BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Laura Bush rebukes President Bush on abstinence-only requirement for AIDS relief.

DAILY KOS: The Washington Times, along with other Bush apologists, criticizes the commutation of Scooter Libby’s sentence.

ON POLITICS: President Bush and former President Richard Nixon are the most unpopular presidents ever.

VNUNET: The Federal Trade Commission “has decided to abandon net neutrality and allow telecoms companies to charge websites for access.”

DAILY GRILL

“I think it handled it in a routine manner in the sense that the president took a careful look.”
— White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, 7/3/07

VERSUS

“For the first time in his presidency, Bush commuted a sentence without running requests through lawyers at the Justice Department, White House officials said.”
— Washington Post, 7/3/07