The White House is finally challenging the Clintons’ “outrage” about the President’s decision to commute Libby’s sentence:
The White House on Thursday made fun of former President Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, for criticizing President Bush’s decision to erase the prison sentence of former aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.
“I don’t know what Arkansan is for chutzpah, but this is a gigantic case of it,” presidential spokesman Tony Snow said.
In his commutation decision, Bush left a $250,000 fine. Libby paid the fine on Thursday.
Libby’s friends and supporters have raised more than $5 million to cover legal fees and were continuing to raise money but Libby paid the fine himself, according to someone close to the fund who spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the account are private. The cashiers check filed with the court was issued in Libby’s name.
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has scheduled hearings Wednesday on Bush’s commutation of Libby’s 2 1/2-year sentence.
“Well, fine, knock himself out,” Snow said of Conyers. “I mean, perfectly happy. And while he’s at it, why doesn’t he look at January 20th, 2001?”
In the closing hours of his presidency, Clinton pardoned 140 people, including fugitive financier Marc Rich.
That’s a pretty soft challenge, if you ask me, but the Bush White House always has taken the high road on these things, which is a principled stand, although sometimes one that looks weak and can be downright stupid in the face of sustained attacks based on false or twisted accusations.
What really caught my eye about this story, though, was the equal coverage the article gives to Bill Clinton, so that he can defend his own position vis a vis pardoned criminals and still attack Bush’s position. This is what Clinton had to say (emphasis mine):
President Clinton tried to draw a distinction between the pardons he granted, and Bush’s decision to commute Libby’s 30-month sentence in the CIA leak case.
“I think there are guidelines for what happens when somebody is convicted,” Clinton told a radio interviewer Tuesday. “You’ve got to understand, this is consistent with their philosophy; they believe that they should be able to do what they want to do, and that the law is a minor obstacle.”
I think that ranks as one of the single most stupid things ever to come out of a lawyer’s mouth. There is, in fact, a guideline for when someone is convicted: It’s called the United States Constitution. Under Article II, Section 2 of that document,
Alexander Hamilton, in the Federalist Papers No. 74, waxed eloquent about the reaches of and necessity for, this power:
Humanity and good policy conspire to dictate, that the benign prerogative of pardoning should be as little as possible fettered or embarrassed. The criminal code of every country partakes so much of necessary severity, that without an easy access to exceptions in favor of unfortunate guilt, justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel. As the sense of responsibility is always strongest, in proportion as it is undivided, it may be inferred that a single man would be most ready to attend to the force of those motives which might plead for a mitigation of the rigor of the law, and least apt to yield to considerations which were calculated to shelter a fit object of its vengeance. The reflection that the fate of a fellow-creature depended on his sole fiat, would naturally inspire scrupulousness and caution; the dread of being accused of weakness or connivance, would beget equal circumspection, though of a different kind. On the other hand, as men generally derive confidence from their numbers, they might often encourage each other in an act of obduracy, and might be less sensible to the apprehension of suspicion or censure for an injudicious or affected clemency. On these accounts, one man appears to be a more eligible dispenser of the mercy of government, than a body of men.
In other words, a single man, such as the President, under the kind of scrutiny that surrounds all Presidents, can be expected to engage in a careful check and balance to ensure that an individual, even if justly convicted, doesn’t find himself in an untenable situation where his punishment far exceeds his crime. And before you get your knickers in a twist and start going on about how Scooter Libby broke the law and committed perjury, keep in mind that even such good liberals as Alan Dershowitz and Michael Kinsley feel that he got caught in a spider’s web, that he didn’t do anything intentionally wrong, and that the prosecution against him was politically motivated — something that holds true even if the ultimate judgment against him accorded with the letter of the law. As the victim of a political trap, Scooter is the perfect candidate for presidential intervention.
In this regard, Bush’s decision to commute Libby’s sentence so that he takes a financial hit but need not spend time in jail is entirely consistent with both the letter and spirit of the Constitution, as Bill Clinton, a Yale educated lawyer, should know. Less in the spirit of the Constitution was Clinton’s decision to pardon a wealthy, corrupt financier or an entire group of terrorists. Add to this the fact that over a third of his pardons took place on his last day of office, when the disclosure could no longer affect his president, one gets the sense that Bill and Co. were handing out favors, rather than trying to temper justice with mercy.