There has been quite a deal of chatter in the newspapers, blogs, and talk radio about a potential pardon for Scooter Libby. Some of this talk is not about "if", but "when". Are you kidding me?
Scooter Libby might deserve our sympathy. The guy is going to jail. That must be pretty hard on anybody, it doesn’t matter who you are. But, sympathy aside, the man deserves no pardon.
Here is a write-up from the Washington Post that gives an overview of the verdict and the current situation Libby finds himself in: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/15/AR2007061500200.html?tid=informbox.
I did a search for anyone on the internet that could possibly argue the case for the Libby pardon, and I found a couple sites and articles that try to state the case. So, I thought I would spend some time retorting some of their viewpoints.
For starters, the first destination you have to see so as to best understand Libby’s support network would have to be http://www.scooterlibby.com/. This is a site 100% dedicated to getting Libby pardoned. From what I can tell, it serves primarily as an information clearinghouse for those who are concerned about Libby’s plight, with new article links being posted quite regularly. One big demerit, however, is the big quote from Dick Cheney at the top of the site, explaining how great a guy Libby is. Now, I don’t care who you are, and what part of the political spectrum you subscribe to. Even if you are a hardcore republican, do you really think that anything Dick Cheney says is honest and believable? Geez, it would be better to get Nixon to phone in a recommendation from beyond the grave, as opposed to Cheney, the creepiest man in politics.
Anyhow, this site *does* take a crack at arguing Libby’s case, which is as follows:
The Nice Guy Argument
ScooterLibby.com, as well as many other sites as blogs, first lead with the "nice guy" argument. Scotter Libby, it turns out, was the nicest goddamned guy in the whole world. He was a caring and loving father. He was a friendly and helpful neighbor. He sacrificed for his country. Ya da ya da ya da.
This argument is utterly ridiculous. Following this logic, we should pardon a bank robber, if we found out that he helped raise abused and abandoned pets in his spare time. You break a crime, you do the time. I don’t care how saintly you are in the spare time you have when you aren’t breaking laws.
The "What He Did Wasn’t So Bad" Argument
The next article I read was from Christopher Hitchens for Slate.com. You can read the article here: http://www.slate.com/id/2168642/. He has a few arguments he makes against the Libby verdict, but I’ll start off with what I’ll call the "What He Did Wasn’t So Bad" argument. Hitchens flippantly describes Libby’s offense as being simply a set of minor inconsistencies while under oath.
There is a major problem with this argument. If you go back and read the Washington Post article, you’ll see that there was "overwhelming" (the judge’s words!) evidence that the reason he gave false statements under oath was to thwart investigators. That’s called obstruction of justice. So, to say that he only committed "minor inconsistencies" is a bunch of baloney. He was trying to undermine a federal investigation, in order to protect someone. Either himself, or someone else in the administration.
Here’s a good description of obstruction of justice from wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obstruction_of_justice.
We could obviously then argue about whether obstruction of justice is a big deal. But, that would be silly. You need the punishment for getting caught covering up a crime to be very high, since they are then basically getting away with whatever crime they are covering up. So, since you can’t get them for that crime, you need to assume they did something very bad. It’s like losing your parking ticket at a parking garage. If you tell them you lost it, tough darts. You pay the maximum fee, since the attendant can’t just trust you, or everyone will start accidentally losing their tickets if they have been there for a long time, since lying about losing your ticket would be cheaper than being honest about how much time you’ve been there.
The Procedural Error Argument
In Hitchen’s article, he references two more arguments that both fall under the "Procedural Error" class of arguments. Meaning, some technicality in the way the process was carried out that could potentially have some bearing on the outcome.
His first jab at this is some arcane legal issue about whether Fitzpatrick was a legal choice as prosecutor. Note that this isn’t about his competency, but something to do with his stature in the federal hierarchy. I’m not an expert, but this seems like a distraction at best. And, Hitchens goes off on some indignant tangent about how the court thumbed their nose at this argument, when they formally replied to it and largely dismissed it (although I do think some sort of investigation is still pending on this).
His second jab is about the defense not being able to put memory experts on the witness stand. I can’t really refute this one, but the comments section of Hitchen’s article on Slate seemed to rip this argument apart. So, I’ll leave this argument to be batted about by people who know more than I on the topic.
The Naked Political "Protect My Peeps" Argument
Nobody beats William Kristol from the Weekly Standard for being nakedly political. The guy doesn’t even attempt to hide it. Kristol has posted two articles on the Libby Pardon debate; one in March, and one a couple weeks ago.
His primary argument, which can be read between the lines fairly easily, is the obvious one that Republicans all understand. They don’t want to see Libby photographed in a prisoner uniform, right on the cover of the New York Times. Having someone so close to the current administration doing time makes the crimes the Bush/Cheney presidency have committed so much more real to the American public.
It goes without saying that this is a poor argument. Although preventing an embarrassing perp walk to the slammer being shown on CNN is a reason for wanting to see Libby pardon, is certainly isn’t a valid argument for why he deserves it.
The "If Sandy Berger Can Do It" Argument
Another argument that Kristol alludes to is the situation with Sandy Berger and the missing records from the National Archives. If a Democrat can get away with this sort of thing, why can’t a Republican? To be honest, I wasn’t paying attention to this one when it happened. You can read about it here, in this Washington Post article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/07/AR2007060702278.html.
So, this is pretty crazy. I don’t know what in the hell this guy was doing. If you do some searches for more articles, you’ll find some pretty crazy accusations about how and why he smuggled this documents out of the Archives, but to be honest, most of these are on GOP political sites, so I had a bit of a challenge finding objective articles about it. Let’s just assume he was doing something bad.
But, to be clear, he got charged for a misdemeanor, not a full-blown obstruction of justice charge. I think it could be argued that the Justice Department should have probably gone the distance and hit him with obstruction of justice if that is what they thought he was doing. For some reason, they didn’t. And, this was the Bush Administration doing the prosecuting.
So, it can be either see that Berger didn’t commit as severe as a crime, so therefore he got less of a penalty. Or, it can be seen that he was poorly prosecuted by the Bush Administration’s Justice Department. But, in what world would their poor ability to argue the case with Berger mean they should take it lightly with Libby, when they *did* have a strong case of obstruction of justice?
The "Because You Can" Argument
The last major argument I can deduce from Kristol’s articles is simply, the president should pardon Libby because he has the power to. Kristol spends a bunch of time describing the powers of the presidential pardon, and explaining why this power is an important part of the American system.
I couldn’t agree more. I think the presidential pardon is a great thing. We don’t live in a world of black and white. You can easily construct hypothetical cases in which pardons make a lot of sense. Although not a proponent of torture and any breaking of the Geneva convention, an example often cited is that character from the TV show "24" who has to torture someone to save L.A. from being nuked. You can imagine he could be prosecuted and convicted, and then pardoned for saving millions of lives. Again, a horrible example, and I apologize for it. Torture is really dumb. But, you get the point.
Well, it’s also a horrible argument for pardoning Libby. It’s a good justification for why you would ever do a pardon, but it sure isn’t a good reason for why he deserves one.
How About, He’s Guilty of a Really Bad Coverup?
Which leads me to the one reason he shouldn’t be pardoned. Because he’s guilty. He’s guilty of protecting someone from some crime they committed. Maybe he was protecting himself. Maybe he was protecting Cheney. I don’t know. We probably will never know. But, for every "nice guy" in the administration who is asked to jump in front of a bus to protect someone higher up, they should know that noone is going to swoop in and pardon them and clear things up. They are going to jail. So, they should think about who they are truly allegiant to. Are they allegiant to the current crew of turkeys that run the executive branch of the US government? Or are they allegiant to the USA, our justice system, and the proper prosecution of crimes?