A “principled” Stand for the Rule of Law?

Back in 2003, President Bush stated that the leak of a CIA agent’s identity was a “very serious matter” and a “criminal action”: “This is a very serious matter, and our administration takes it seriously,” Mr. Bush said during a press conference. While the President didn’t go quite so far as to say “you’re with us or against us” or that he would ‘smoke out’ the leaker, he and other members of the Administration pledged to do everything they could to bring the leaker to justice.

Today, Mr. Bush showed us just how serious he was by commuting Mr. Libby’s sentence for obstructing the investigation into the leak. While claiming that he “respected” the jury’s opinion, Mr. Bush “concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive.” It should be noted that Mr. Libby has yet to serve any of that overly harsh sentence.

As I’ve noted before, conservatives called for President Clinton’s head on exactly the same charges that Mr. Libby was convicted of: lying to a grand jury. For just one example, let’s look to conservative hero and mouthpiece, Bill Kristol. Mr. Kristol said at one point, “if anyone lied under oath the way Bill Clinton did–knowingly and purposefully in order to thwart a legitimate legal process, or if anyone engaged in an obstruction of justice, the way Bill Clinton did, then indictments would be proper.” In September of 2006, the very same Mr. Kristol said, “Bush should pardon Libby. He should do it now. It would be fantastic. The democrats would go crazy. We could have a debate for two months about whether one should criminalize what was a totally innocent attempt to respond to, as Juan said, a mendacious critic of the administration. It’s really an outrage. The one guy indicted here is Libby. And that outrage is that criminalizing works.”

The above quotes are not an aberration amongst conservatives, but rather the norm. While many conservatives will spin the commutation of Mr. Libby’s sentence as a triumph of justice, Mr. Libby’s lies to the grand jury certainly thwarted a “legitimate legal process.” As Mr. Fitzgerald argued throughout the trial, Mr. Libby’s obfuscations were not the end of the investigation, but rather the insurmountable roadblock that stopped the investigation in its tracks. As Mr. Fitzgerald pointed out, a “cloud” hangs over this administration, a cloud sketched in all its dark glory by the Washington Post last week in its profile of Mr. Cheney.

Mr. Bush today has dishonored this country and its legal system. Mr. Libby is not a hero, he is not a warrior, he is not an honorable public servant. He is a man who lied to protect his boss and the dirty political tactics of this administration. While Mr. Libby’s crimes may pale compared to those he carries water for, his release should not be rejoiced: justice has been thwarted, and those who have corrupted our political process continue to escape responsibility.

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