Soft on Crime
NY Times Editorial
Published: July 3, 2007
When he was running for president, George W. Bush loved to contrast his law-abiding morality with that of President Clinton, who was charged with perjury and acquitted. For Mr. Bush, the candidate, “politics, after a time of tarnished ideals, can be higher and better.”
Not so for Mr. Bush, the president. Judging from his decision yesterday to commute the 30-month sentence of I. Lewis Libby Jr. — who was charged with perjury and convicted — untarnished ideals are less of a priority than protecting the secrets of his inner circle and mollifying the tiny slice of right-wing Americans left in his political base.
Mr. Libby was convicted of lying to federal agents investigating the leak of the name of a covert C.I.A. operative, Valerie Wilson. Mrs. Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson, was asked to investigate a central claim in Mr. Bush’s drive to war with Iraq — whether Iraq tried to purchase uranium from Africa. Mr. Wilson concluded that Iraq had not done that and had the temerity to share those conclusions with the American public.
It seems clear from the record that Vice President Dick Cheney organized a campaign to discredit Mr. Wilson. And Mr. Libby, who was Mr. Cheney’s chief of staff, was willing to lie to protect his boss.
That made Mr. Libby the darling of the right, which demanded that Mr. Bush pardon him. Those same Republicans have been rebelling against Mr. Bush, most recently on immigration reform, while Democrats in Congress have pursued an investigation into whether Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney lied about Iraq’s weapons programs.
All of this put immense pressure on the president to do something before Mr. Libby went to jail. But none of it was justification for the baldly political act of commuting his sentence.
Mr. Bush’s assertion that he respected the verdict but considered the sentence excessive only underscored the way this president is tough on crime when it’s committed by common folk. As governor of Texas, he was infamous for joking about the impending execution of Karla Faye Tucker, a killer who became a born-again Christian on death row. As president, he has repeatedly put himself and those on his team, especially Mr. Cheney, above the law.
Within minutes of the Libby announcement, the same Republican commentators who fulminated when Paris Hilton got a few days knocked off her time in a county lockup were parroting Mr. Bush’s contention that a fine, probation and reputation damage were “harsh punishment” enough for Mr. Libby.
Presidents have the power to grant clemency and pardons. But in this case, Mr. Bush did not sound like a leader making tough decisions about justice. He sounded like a man worried about what a former loyalist might say when actually staring into a prison cell.