The Scoot Man
O.K., let me preface this by saying I’ve not followed the saga very closely. (Mostly because I knew it would end in a manner something like it has). Nevertheless . . .
One, W’s rationale for the commutation is a load of b.s. Here’s his statement:
Mr. Libby was sentenced to 30 months of prison, two years of probation and a $250,000 fine. In making the sentencing decision, the district court rejected the advice of the probation office, which recommended a lesser sentence and the consideration of factors that could have led to a sentence of home confinement or probation.
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 30 months in prison.
My decision to commute his prison sentence leaves in place a harsh punishment for Mr. Libby. The reputation he gained through his years of public service and professional work in the legal community is forever damaged. His wife and young children have also suffered immensely. He will remain on probation. The significant fines imposed by the judge will remain in effect. The consequences of his felony conviction on his former life as a lawyer, public servant and private citizen will be long-lasting.
The Constitution gives the president the power of clemency to be used when he deems it to be warranted. It is my judgment that a commutation of the prison term in Mr. Libby’s case is an appropriate exercise of this power.
This is a pretext. When it comes to clemency, W is the stingiest president of the last hundred years. I’m sure he’s denied hundreds of cases with much more compelling facts than Scooter’s. And in Scooter’s case W did not even follow his own procedures for clemency requests. Normally he ignores them for years – until long after the appeals are finished – then gets the opinions of attorneys on the appropriatness of clemency before perfunctorily denying the requests. Here, though, he unilatterally commuted the sentence prior to even the beginning of the appeal. In other words, it’s not like W is a guy in the habit of sua sponte granting clemency requests prior to the end of the appeals process. The gift he just gave to Scooter is an aberration in procedure and results. Here’s what Orin Kerr had to say about it:
I find Bush’s action very troubling because of the obvious special treatment Libby received. President Bush has set a remarkable record in the last 6+ years for essentially never exercising his powers to commute sentences or pardon those in jail. His handful of pardons have been almost all symbolic gestures involving cases decades old, sometimes for people who are long dead. Come to think of it, I don’t know if Bush has ever actually used his powers to get one single person out of jail even one day early. If there are such cases, they are certainly few and far between. So Libby’s treatment was very special indeed.
So why the special treatment for Scooter?
Well, it isn’t that he thinks Scooter is innocent. In the statement, W said “I respect the jury’s verdict.” In other words, he admits that Scoot-man did obstruct justice and committ perjury.
And it can’t be that he thinks perjury or obstrucion of justice are less than serious crimes, as DOJ prosecutes them every day.
Nor could the problem be that the sentence was somehow unreasonable or disproportionate to the crime, as the administration recently argued in favor of a similar sentence on nearly identical facts.
Could it be that the whole thing was a politically motivated witch hunt? Well, as someone much smarter than me explains, if that’s what W thinks, he’s pretty much insane:
As I understand it, Bush political appointee James Comey named Bush political appointee and career prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate the Plame leak. Bush political appointee and career prosecutor Fitzgerald filed an indictment and went to trial before Bush political appointee Reggie Walton. A jury convicted Libby, and Bush political appointee Walton sentenced him. At sentencing, Bush political appointee Judge Walton described the evidence against Libby as “overwhelming” and concluded that a 30-month sentence was appropriate. And yet the claim, as I understand it, is that the Libby prosecution was the work of political enemies who were just trying to hurt the Bush Administration.
I find this claim bizarre. I’m open to arguments that parts of the case against Libby were unfair. But for the case to have been purely political, doesn’t that require the involvement of someone who was not a Bush political appointee? Who are the political opponents who brought the case? Is the idea that Fitzgerald is secretly a Democratic party operative? That Judge Walton is a double agent? Or is the idea that Fitzgerald and Walton were hypnotized by “the Mainstream Media” like Raymond Shaw in the Manchurian Candidate? Seriously, I don’t get it.
If the decision was based on any of those reasons, I’d be fine with it. I was a criminal defense attorney, after all. No one would be happier than me if this was actually a signal that W was about to begin making real use of his clemency power. There’s no shortage of folks serving unjust sentences.
Unfortunately, W’s actions offer little hope to Genarlow Wilson and others who are truly suffering from draconian sentences, because it appears that the reason for the commutation was pure cronyism and self interest. That is, this was the reward W gave to Scooter for keeping his mouth shut, and at the same time – by removing the coercive effect of prison – it ensures Scooter will never reveal the truth. So what this means is that if you do the crime, you’ll do the time, unless you’re a friend of the president. If you’re just a poor black kid from Georgia, well, you’re shit out of luck.
Second point, listening to all the party drones on T.V. discuss this issue has once again left me shaking my head in amazement at how anyone could ever become an active supporter of one of the major parties. The reaction from both parties was as predictable as it was hypocritical. One side goes on and on about how serious these crimes were and how the penalty was appropriate; the other acts like perjury is a technicality and that the commutation is a just act. I’m not even going to bother taking each quote and googling the speaker’s name and “Clinton impeachment.” We all know exactly what I’d find.
Really, folks, party and personal loyalties should never be absolute. If you are one of the people who is defending W here, well, your party loyalties have trumped your ability to think indendantly and reasonable. I’m not saying the Dems are independant and rational, though. Just that this time their blind loyalty happens to coincide with reason. Both parties are blind hogs, just the Dems happened to find the acorn this time.
Finally, Sentencing Law and Policy is the place to be for news and commentary on the commutation.