This is an archive of the old Stones Cry Out site. For the current site, click here.

« Scooter Libby's Commuted Sentence | Main | "Chavez and Farfour and Lenin, Oh My!" »

July 03, 2007

The Libby Clemency

President Bush's clemency for the prison time for Scooter Libby is, in my estimation, wrong. Certainly there is the case that the President said that whoever was responsible for the leak should be punished, and even though Libby wasn't the source of the leak (and the source of the leak goes uncharged for any crime) he was still found guilty of lying to a grand jury. That's the same crime that brought impeachment onto Bill Clinton. In my mind, Democrats are right in protesting this decision. Is 2 1/2 years too long for Libby, with the punishment being overkill for the crime? The President's statement notes that he thinks so, especially when the judge didn't take into consideration a number of mitigating circumstances. Nonetheless, even though Libby will still be on probation and still have a felony on his criminal record, I think the President should have stayed out of this. Lying in the justice system shouldn't be any easier when a politically-aligned President is in office.

President Clinton, in defending his pardon of Mark Rich, et. al., had this to say.

First, I want to make some general comments about pardons and commutations of sentences. Article II of the Constitution gives the president broad and unreviewable power to grant "Reprieves and Pardons" for all offenses against the United States. The Supreme Court has ruled that the pardon power is granted "[t]o the [president] . . ., and it is granted without limit" (United States v. Klein). Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes declared that "[a] pardon . . . is . . . the determination of the ultimate authority that the public welfare will be better served by [the pardon] . . ." (Biddle v. Perovich). A president may conclude a pardon or commutation is warranted for several reasons: the desire to restore full citizenship rights, including voting, to people who have served their sentences and lived within the law since; a belief that a sentence was excessive or unjust; personal circumstances that warrant compassion; or other unique circumstances.

The exercise of executive clemency is inherently controversial. The reason the framers of our Constitution vested this broad power in the Executive Branch was to assure that the president would have the freedom to do what he deemed to be the right thing, regardless of how unpopular a decision might be. Some of the uses of the power have been extremely controversial, such as President Washington's pardons of leaders of the Whiskey Rebellion, President Harding's commutation of the sentence of Eugene Debs, President Nixon's commutation of the sentence of James Hoffa, President Ford's pardon of former President Nixon, President Carter's pardon of Vietnam War draft resisters, and President Bush's 1992 pardon of six Iran-contra defendants, including former Defense Secretary Weinberger, which assured the end of that investigation.

All true, none of it in question, and all of which applies here, too. It's just that most folks who would be inclined to do this don't pick up on the nuance and unique circumstances of a particular pardon. Punishment not only helps deter the offender from doing it again, it helps convince others not to try it. It needs to be allowed to work.

Sorry Dubya. Can't get behind you on this one. (In the post below, Tom agrees with the clemency. See, we don't march in lockstep here. >grin<).

Posted by Doug at July 3, 2007 11:44 AM

Trackback Pings


Thanks George. Thank you, thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my '08' heart.

Posted by: mick at July 3, 2007 05:23 PM

For what it's worth, the editors at National Review make a fairly compelling case for a complete pardon of Libby. I think the President made the right call in this case.

Posted by: Tom at July 3, 2007 10:14 PM

Good decision, Dubya! Better one would have been a full pardon.

Posted by: wannie at July 4, 2007 09:57 AM

I found Clinton's politically-based pardons offensive and wrong. I find Bush's commutation to be wrong, as well.

The use of pardons should not be to cover one's own political butt (or the butts of one's cronies). To do that is to make a mockery of our justice system and undo our Republic.

Thank you, Doug, for being consistent and right on this issue.

Posted by: Dan Trabue at July 5, 2007 10:20 AM

By the way, my first post didn't take, because my email is at yahu dotcom - I can't use that term in the text here, either (or that's the reason it gave). I changed my email address to (which is not accurate) and it took my comment.


Posted by: Dan Trabue at July 5, 2007 10:24 AM

(Fixed the "y-a-h-o-o" issue. Spam blocking took it out.)

If you read Bush's explanation, and the NR article that Tom noted, it can be reasonably argued that it's the sentence itself that was political. No one's going after Richard Armitage, and yet Fitzgerald suggested Libby be sentenced as though he was the leaker, and the judge accepted that. To me, that smacks more of politics, or at least a CYA maneuver on Fitzgerald's part. Given that, the clemency is instead trying to right a politically-motivated wrong. Punishing someone for the wrongs of another makes a mockery of our judicial system, too.

But even with all of that, I think the President should still not have commuted the jail time. I see the sentence to be political and the clemency to be honest, but this was still not the right thing to do. He should have let the system run its course. I believe the sentence could be appealed, and Libby could make that very argument to a judge.

Posted by: Doug Payton at July 5, 2007 11:19 AM